Archive for the ‘temenos’ tag
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .“ (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
This is one of the animals on my brother’s small mountain ranch which includes other goats, sheep, donkeys, dogs and cats, and a fair number of horses. When I took the photo the colours were much brighter. I purposely muted the colour for the post, mostly because my mood is muted. Being away from my wife is a large part of my mood. Though the process of taking care of “mother” care is demanding and exhausting emotionally and even physically, there is something about the presence of one’s significant other that gives one a different sanctuary for safe and caring retreat. Temenos is also found in relationship as well as space.
Temenos is also to be found within once one has learned to honour one’s self, when one has learned that this core of one’s being is actually a portal to a holier, holistic presence. Within one can find God, or as Jung identified this holy, holistic presence, the Self. The capitalisation of the word self is purposeful as it brings God within rather than the distant and separate notion of God that most religions would have us believe. Keeping God externalised opens the door for God’s shadow, Satan to gain dominance within. Our psyche needs balance. Too much God within fills us with hubris, allows an archetypal possession which is just as damaging to our psyche as would be possession by the shadow when there is not enough God within.
This is the view I have been meeting each morning while staying with my brother in British Columbia. There is a distinct silence in the early morning so far off the main roads and urban areas. It is as thought the space is inviting one to enter into a different level of consciousness, one that is deeply rooted with the earth, a soul space. I see my brother engage in a ritual of silence before the demands of his life kick in to fill his day with busyness. This is a ritual I have watched happen each of the days I have been here, a ritual I know must be part of his life , a moment of peace in a sacred place.
Rituals and sacred spaces – these are vital to the spirit and to the soul. My writing here is part of my ritual, a ritual that has been abandoned for a few days. Why have I missed posting here? I could say that life has kept me busy and I wouldn’t be lying as it has been an intense number of days, but that would still be an excuse. The ritual also needs a sacred space with both creating a sense of temenos. In Jungian terms, temenos is defined as: “A Greek word meaning a sacred, protected space; psychologically, descriptive of both a personal container and the sense of privacy that surrounds an analytical relationship.” – a physical space, a psychological space, a holy space, a place where one one engages in honesty with oneself and becomes part of an unconscious holiness. I haven’t created such a space for myself because of being distracted. It is only in pulling away from engagement with the local world I finally give myself permission to hear myself and rediscover the portable sacred space that exists within myself.
So what do I learn? There is a place and time that is always there for me if I allow myself to go there. Temenos is found within, not necessarily without.
This is a photo of Writing Brush Pagoda found in Red Plum Park in Changzhou where I currently live while teaching English in a small university. Though I have seen a lot of pagodas while in China, I don’t seem to get tired of them. There is an elegance about them, as one of my readers once mentioned, a “flouncy” appearance that lifts the spirit. I think that is what our churches were once meant to do, to “lift” us out of our ordinariness and point us to something so much bigger, something extraordinary.
I had thought that I was going to save this particular photo for the posts that I intend on writing in response to one of the books I have brought with me written by Eugene Monick. But, that thought disappeared and I knew that this was the time to bring this image forward. There are enough “masculine” photos in the archives to find their way into that up-coming series of posts. And besides, there are always new photos to consider when the time approaches.
I have often wondered at the efforts the western world has taken in its efforts to bring religion down to earth. We have tried to abolish excessive ornamentation, the use of statues, and costumes that invoke spiritual imagery. We have opted for common-sense plainness. No frills and no idols and no distractions. Just the words to cling to and even those are presented in the plainest language possible. And out of all of this, one is supposed to “connect” with something that defies being contained by ordinary and plain words, defies being explained by common sense.
“Exclusive appeals to faith are a hopeless petitio principii, for it is the manifest improbability of symbolical truth that prevents people from believing in it. Instead of insisting so glibly on the necessity of faith, the theologians, it seems to me, should see what can be done to make this faith possible . . . . And this can only be achieved by reflecting how it came about in the first place that humanity needed the improbability of religious statements, and what it signifies when a totally different spiritual reality is superimposed on the sensuous and tangible actuality of this world.” (Jung, CW 5, par. 336)
Looking at the actuality of the world, the places of grandeur, the places that invoke awe – this is where our spiritual roots are found. It is within out attempts to use images and architecture that we have tried to “inspire” a sense of the spiritual, to create a sacred space, a place of temenos, that we have given birth to religions. And all of this was done so that we can get a sense of the improbable, so that we can be taken outside of our prosaic simpleness to see the depths that dwell “within.”
This pagoda does this for me. It points upwards, begging me to surpass ordinariness, to reach as high as I can. And in seeing the reflection of the pagoda in the water, I know that in reaching up, I also reach within, into my own depths.
Looking into a hole left at one of the work sites along the sidewalk near my apartment while it was raining, I saw this photo opportunity. It’s amazing how one’s eyes get drawn into dark holes hoping to see treasure, or perhaps see proof of hell.
It’s interesting how one can see something and then load the thing with all manner of meaning. It’s important to realise that it the “self” who holds the meaning and not the object. Again, it is all about projection. Images allow us to project safely for the most part. However, this isn’t the case when we project on others.
When a relationship hits a rocky patch, it pretty much looks like everything is going downhill, down into a dark hole. One’s field of vision is reduced to a narrow band of possibility, and the possibility is in darkness, a damp darkness that reminds one of a swampland at night where sinkholes are just waiting to suck one down. In an instinctive reaction we lash out hoping to back off the demons and find a bit of breathing space. The enemy is out there, and the enemy is wearing the body of one’s partner in relationship.
“You work on a relationship by shutting your mouth when you are ready to explode; by not inflicting your affect on the other person; by quietly leaving the battlefield and tearing your hair out; by asking yourself – not your partner – what complex in you was activated, and to what end. The proper question is not, “Why is she doing this to me?” or “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “Why am I reacting this way? – Who do I think he or she is?” And more: “What does this say about my psychology? What can I do about it?” Instead of accusing the other person about driving you crazy, you say to yourself, “I feel I’m being driven crazy – where, or who, in me is that coming from?”
That is how you establish a container, a personal temenos.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 71)
Sharp’s words make sense, but they aren’t so easy to put into practice. It seems that “knowing” and “doing” are two different things completely. I know in my case, it has taken so many stumbles with a lot of personal conferences of one in which I have asked myself these questions after the fact. Maybe this is part of the learning to build a level of consciousness about relationship, in relationship.
There are only a few days left for my wife and I here in Costa Rica. On Tuesday we fly back to Canada. One of our frequent activities is to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. It is a time of peace. Having no church, no religious faith, moments such as these become a place of awe and wonder, a spiritual place.
Our days have taken on a pattern of sorts that we follow for the most part. Up early, usually at 5:30 AM and enjoy a coffee while the sun rises from the hills behind this beach community. With this morning ritual complete, I typically come here to finish up a post begun the previous day. I like to have some time to let most of the post sit and settle within me so that I can ensure that this is really what I want to say. Then I turn over the computer to my wife who often talks with grandchildren using Skype.
By nine, it is time for our long beach walk, a walk of about nine or ten kilometres. Then it is back to the villa where I slip into a private walled area for some sunbathing. The afternoon is spent catching up on reading, or surfing the Internet. Currently I am reading a Dean Koontz novel called Velocity. As you can tell, I am not all about Jungian psychology. Yet even while reading novels I am sensitive to what can be found in these novels. Below is an example of meaningful coincidence between my psychological readings and resonances in recreational reading.
“In another age, men on the eve of battle had gone to churches to prepare themselves spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. To incense, to candlelight, to the humility that the shadow of the redeemer pressed upon them.
In those days, every church had been open all day and night, offering unconditional sanctuary.
Times had changed. Now some churches might remain open around the clock, but many operated according to posted hours and locked their doors long before midnight.
Rather than travel from church to church, trying their doors and finding only sanctuary by prior appointment, Billy went where most modern men in need of a haven for contemplation were drawn in post-midnight hours: to a truck stop.” (Koontz, Velocity, 2005, pp 341-342)
Spirituality, religion, sanctuary, the shadow – all these elements find their way into the novel.
So where do I find sanctuary? For now, it is in the tiny private courtyard, a place of temenos, a sacred place that is honoured. There, I return to ancient roots where man worshipped the sun. There, the silence and the privacy is not much different than that found in the medieval monasteries, a silence and a privacy that is meditative. As for religion, the closest I can come is through the journey of individuation, the journey of bringing a bit more light into the dark interior of my psyche. Of course, it is there that I meet with shadow. In the return home, most of the this doesn’t change for me – except for sanctuary.
That will be something that I will have to re-discover. I only hope that it won’t be some late night truck stop.
This photo was “staged,” not something I found in nature. The setting is in a prairie pond, a left over from the spring snow melt. In another week I expect that the pond will have disappeared. I took it because I wanted somehow to evoke a sense of container, of temenos. I do have a version of this photo in the final collection for the second SoFoBoMo book. Now on to part two of the Refusal of Return.
Stranger in a strange land
Why can’t they see me?
Though I found myself in a different school which had a different history, a different community culture and different needs, I was still the golden wonder child of school administration in my own head. My success in the first school left me believing that the force of my vision was enough to carry all those who now saw me as the leader into a brighter future.
The lessons learned in approaching the first school were forgotten. I wanted to just continue from where I had left off in the previous school, to build on what I had learned. And so, I found myself alone in a strange place that was filled with people.
I was the wounded healer coming to heal the wounded found in this new school. The problem was, I didn’t know these wounded people; I didn’t do the work of getting to know them, to hear about their wounding and their healing needs. I assumed that they would simply follow the bright shining star which I was following, a star that burned within me.
Even before the first day of school, the cracks began to show. The lack of connection between myself and the staff widened from simply being strangers to a level of fear on their part. Who was this stranger who seemed to walk without actually touching the earth? I had sown the seeds my own downfall in this school.
Unaware of the state of relations, I listened to each complaint and masterfully resolved each issue that came forward. However, instead of moving toward a better state of being, the complaints began to multiply. I problem-solved faster and faster only to find myself sinking further and further into a black hole.
Another photo from India, this time from Jaisalmer. Actually, the photo was taken just outside of the city at a cenotaph. It was January, 2008 in the late afternoon when the sunlight was accentuating the golden colour of the sandstone used to build most of the buildings in Jaisalmer which led to the city being called the Golden City. Besides the ornate memorials, there were a number of small piles of rock marked with a single stick, often with a red rag attached which indicated where ashes had been interred. The urn above is a symbol of sacred containment, a feminine symbol.
The psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic encounter is also a place of sacred containnment. The dialogues between other and self in the pyschoanalytic/ psychotherapeutic container are held as sacred, not the stuff of common communication. There would be no purpose is taking the contents out of the container with the intention of engaging others in a dialogue about the contents as context would not be present. By context, I mean the tension of the moment being shared in the psychoanalytic encounter. For me, this carries on to most of my interactions with others. I have learned to keep my counsel. The sacred containment, temenos, of authentic “I-Thou” interactions prevents contamination. Translated, when dealing with the psyche of others, keep it confidential. It’s more than about therapist ethics.
In the early morning hours on a hacienda in the Yucatan, magic makes itself felt. The mists of early morning allow one to sense the numinous and to almost hear the voices of the past. A place of old Spanish legend. A place of even older Mayan ceremony.
Sitting on the damp grass listening to the early morning birds one gets the sense of being in a sacred place, a place of temenos. And as the sun begins to burn off some of the mist, the faint images become clearer taking away some of the magic. The moistness of the morning mist allows one to access an inner self and to touch the porous aspect of the unconscious. For a moment one knows more than can be ever expressed in words. One feels the presence one’s deeper self, one’s anima.