Archive for the ‘Tracking the Gods’ tag
I am again drawing on another photo from Vietnam, a photo that could be taken in so many countries all around the world. I take photos, not simply in search of something unique, something special, but more often because the photo can evoke a collective image of the human psyche rather than just record some objective reality. In this image, the parts of the hibiscus evoke both the masculine and the feminine and how they meet in order to create both life and purpose. The purpose, to regenerate life. Humans, like the hibiscus have a similar purpose, that of survival of the species. But, there is something more that is needed for the human psyche to achieve a psychological meaning, soulful meaning.
“The erosion of the great myths of Earth Mother and Sky Father has left us to search privately for images to guide and support the soul and link it to the cosmic drama. Without such linkage, we are doomed to a life of superficiality. To experience life in depth, as part of a larger context is the central contribution of myth, which as Jung points out, “explained to the bewildered human being what was going on in his unconscious.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 54)
This photo was obviously edited drastically. I looked for this image after putting in the quotation below and writing the first paragraph beneath the quotation. I was looking for something that could evoke a distance from objective reality, evoke fuzziness so that one can dive right into the heart of a matter rather than getting tripped up by distracting bits of the outer ego-world. In the outer world, all seems to be fairly straight forward for the most part – get up, go to work, make a living, make friends, be active, be in relationship, accumulate enough stuff so that one doesn’t feel like a pauper, enough stuff so that food, shelter and clothing are ensured for decades longer than we can possibly live. It is the inner voices that screw us up, make us question almost anything. Without those inner voices we would be somewhat satisfied, like a dog is satisfied with food, warmth and relationship and a bit of loving attention. No questions asked, no answers needed – life just is.
But as I see in this photo, I can diffuse it as much as possible and still there are things emerging that show “heat,” an energy that defies the objective reality. In noticing this, I sense that there is something at depth, beneath the surface within me that seems to be a face of “other.” That is something “numinous,” something archetypal.
“Since we cannot step back into simplicity, and cannot revive images once the energy that animated them has departed, and since we cannot afford to live ; it is certainly less affectively charged than being swept up in the awesomeness of an archetype, but it is our responsibility to become conscious of what is already true, that is, what is already at work within the individual and within history.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 52)
After the recent adventures, it is taking me a bit of time to get back into focus and balance. yesterday was a day of aimless wandering and aimless doing while my body processed the drama. Today I am more “with it” and found myself returning to my reading. As I turned the page of Hollis’ book, I found the above text highlighted (yes, I know, it is a sacrilege to use highlighters in books) and felt the words take on more meaning for me than my previous reading. I am responsible and cannot lay the responsibility onto another, onto any belief system, any faith system. I cannot stand as a victim and give up my responsibility to any outside agency, or more importantly, give up my authority to the unconscious.
I want to look deeper into the drama that was presented as a poem here, yesterday. As I sat through and walked through the “affect” that was more than physical, I began to wonder at a deeper level. If I leave the event as a seemingly “chance” act in which I had the misfortune of being a by-standing presence, the drama has no meaning beyond simply being what it was, a shooting that essentially had nothing to do with me other than that “chance” occurrence of presence. It was what it was and no more. But, if I look beyond the thin skin of reality, something else begins to show its face; something in the depths that is about the connectedness of the universe.
What? What is there for me in those events that is asking to be noticed from the depths? What is there for me to learn? These are questions that acknowledge that life is meaningful, that all life is connected, that there is more than what meets the senses in our world. So now, I find myself trying to understand what was there for me, what was there that would help move me forward from a state of unconscious participation to consciousness?
Of course, I don’t have the answers, but I do have an opportunity to discover, to self-discover. And that, is all I can ask of my self and of the world.
I took this photo from my archives, a photo I took in September of 2006 not long after my first teaching term in China had just gotten underway. I was walking down a street that was “traditional old China” as far as my eyes could tell as the buildings were old and so many had already been demolished as there was a concerted effort to clean up the old in order to bring in the new, tall modern apartment buildings that would hold many more people. The reason I bring this photo here today has to do with my journeys today on both bus and rapid transit train.
It began as I headed into the core of Calgary where I was to have today’s session with my analyst. As I sat down on my seat, I saw a young father and his three year old daughter sit across from me. In my usual “grandfatherly” manner, I smiled at the little girl and she smiled back. For the duration of the trip into the city, she continued to look at me, trying various facial expressions as a way to try and keep me looking at her, acknowledging her presence. A few seats further down the bench, a woman in her forties also gave me a number of glances which I acknowledged – again, an “I see you and acknowledge you” kind of non-verbal communication. Later, on my way back home, a young mother and her child sat in front of me on the bus for the last leg of my return trip. The child saw me, smiled, then hid in her mother’s arms. Just two bus stops later, this young family got up to leave the bus. As she was leaving, the little girl being held in her mother’s arms continued to wave good-bye to me which of course had me waving in return.
This isn’t much of a story, but it is interesting to me as I am learning to shift how I see myself in terms of how others see me, to a more authentic understanding of my self. Like every other human, I had to learn that I even existed as something separate from my mother. Like everyone else, that awful knowledge sent me scrambling to find a way back, back into the original state where I was at one with the universe, not separate from mother or father or the universe. And like everyone else, I took that frantic need for connection into the world where I then projected my unconscious need for re-union onto those who somehow twigged the possibility of relationship.
Now that I am older and have slowed down enough to actually start to see what I have been doing unconsciously, I am given the opportunity and choice of releasing my projections and allowing the reality of the others in my life to emerge as separate beings. And that in turn, allows me to learn more about myself.
“If we are to understand ourselves and our time, we are obliged to adopt this essentially psychological view of the world. This is not to speak for any specific theory or behavioral treatment, but rather the need to internalize our responsibility, to see the silent origin of choice within, before we can move through the outer world with understanding, effectiveness and perhaps compassion for self and others.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 51)
Hollis talks about “silent choices,” choices which I understand to be more binding that “voiced choices” for we are more apt to be honest in our silence. For myself, I am learning to be self responsible in terms of self regard and self knowledge. The more I learn about myself, the less I then project of those unknown parts of myself.
But, as I said earlier, this is my task in this last half of my life. For young people such as I met on my journey today, the responsibility is different, that of exploring the world and using a child’s resources to label the discoveries of the day as either positive (gives some measure of pleasure and happiness) or negative (eliciting a fear response). For a child needs to use the outer world as a mirror in order to place self in context with the larger world, and perhaps more importantly as a means of determining the worth and nature of self. Curious in more ways than one.
“Trail closed” so the sign says somewhere in the midst of Fish Creek Provincial Park. As I saw this scene, I saw colours and contrasts framing the sign, a world of animated vitality in suspended animation just waiting to be woken up as if it was some Sleeping Beauty waiting for the kiss of a prince. Taking the photo was a one shot effort as I was walking with my good wife and wanted to catch up with her so that we could continue our walk together.
“Trail closed” – it is important for me to truly understand this idea. It isn’t an idea of permanence, but one of transition or transformation. When I noticed this sign, it spoke to me of my own versions of trails closed or pathways closed. What really is being closed? Closed to whom? Why? And as I ask these questions, it dawns on me that I am closing pathways in my own psyche, nor for the purpose of re-animating, but for purposes of restricting access by consciousness. I am shutting access off to my conscious self and preventing something vital from coming to light. Why? Likely because it would involve too much change, force me to make hard choices which would mean losses. Of course, logic doesn’t play a big role in any of this as the unconscious is not about ego’s logic. Naturally, realising this, I get supremely pissed off at myself and say enough is enough. The signs tell me to stay out, but I am about to say “fuck the signs” and turn on the lights onto these denied paths in order to discover the ugly truths about myself, truths that I have unconsciously worked so hard to deny existence.
“Whoever has not gained a significant measure of self-loathing has not become self-conscious.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 41)
For a moment I saw this quote and said, ‘Yes, I have more than enough self-loathing, therefor I must be more self-conscious.’ And then I quickly caught myself with a bit of a swelled head, a swollen ego that said ‘Hmmn, I am more conscious, better than most others’ and faced a larger truth – I am not better than others, I am just as fucked up as others, just as negative, and cause as much harm as most others. So what if I perhaps see the mess I made earlier, it doesn’t undo the fact that I am nearly as worthy or as special as I try to make myself out to be.
Hollis makes this statement in response to Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground, a book I read many decades ago:
“But I ask of you, who on earth goes around showing off his sickness, and even glorying in it? On second thought though, I’d say that eveyone does. People do pride themselves on their infirmities and I, probably, more than anyone.” (Dostoevsky, Notes From the Underground, p. 93 – as cited in Tracking the Gods, p. 41)
So what exactly am I doing here in this blog post, this blog site if not celebrating my brokenness, my sickness? I sense that part of my sickness is a will to self-denial, to self-destruction. What do I mean by that? Well, I don’t mean a physical self-destruction, but one of burying the unique “Robert” in favour of a “Robert” that would fit well with others, a “Robert” that will find himself at home in community. To get there, in my warped way of thinking means the “real Robert” must be buried, denied, refashioned into a person who is a complete stranger, a person who is more like others.
Seeing this sign, “Trail Closed” has challenged me to be honest, to be honest with my fuller self rather than continue to betray my fuller self. Some lessons come slowly, and acting on those lessons, even more slowly. I am learning to stop listening to my inner voice of self-loathing and accept that is is okay to be less than perfect, a lot less than perfect. I am learning that I have a right to be here in community in spite of my differences. I am learning that the “real Robert” is real and that I need to learn how to accept and love that so that others can love me, consciously.
Yes, there are signs that the winter freeze is lifting as water begins to appear on the surface of ice as temperatures dance near the freezing point. I took this photo yesterday as I took another walk through a different section of Fish Creek Provincial Park which is found within the city of Calgary. I was fortunate to have good light conditions with sunshine and clear blue skies for most of the long walk which lasted about two hours, conditions that led to taking quite a few photos.
Needless to say, the photo is symbolic of what is happening within my own psyche as I begin to “thaw out” the stuff frozen and boxed and hidden deep and far away as if buried on some asteroid or forgotten and abandoned moon. Yes, I am making reference to the dream posted here a few days ago. There is no doubt that the dream, the synchronistic events and the images I am seeing in nature are all trying to tell me something important. All of these are telling me to get off my high horse and get real, get down to earth. Like many, I have an ego that is often imposing and perhaps a bit intimidating to others. My use of words, philosophical words, psychological words or any kind of über-intellectual words are my pathetic attempt to stand above the crowd and proclaim my uniqueness. It’s all about hubris.
“Hubris is the failure to recognize the distinction between what is human and what is divine, between what is permitted to human consciousness and what remains the proper province of the gods. Hubris may arise either from flawed judgment of from inflated vanity that arrogates to itself capacities it does not posses; in either case there are deleterious consequences.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 31)
Most of my inflation is buried deep in fantasies. I have to admit that fantasy has me being something of a superman in some form or other. In dreams I fly above the world able to fly through mountains and other objects. In fantasies I see myself in various roles of saving the world, or the country, or becoming a world famous writer or musician or photographer. I know that this is all about fantasy as I don’t work near hard enough with anything, perhaps other than with my blog writing and photography, but even then reality slaps me up the side of the head when I look at the statistics for the blog site which now bounces between 150 to 200 visits per day. This is the best it has ever been, but nothing near the tens or hundreds of thousands of visits that “famous” sites receive each day. The numbers quickly give me a lesson in reality. Still, the fantasies are there though I know that they are just fantasies now.
But when I look at our political leaders either American or Canadian, whether they are the parties in power or in opposition, hubris is rampant and there is no arguing with the sense of entitlement and power, the sense of being supermen that these leaders exhibit. Rules are for the rest of us, our self-proclaimed über-men, supermen, believe they make the rules and as such stand outside the rules as if they are the modern world version of super-heroes and mythological warriors. And therein we find the roots of “deleterious consequences‘” that we are now facing in the modern western world.
Today’s image was borrowed from Top News. This is a relatively recent photo of Canada’s Prime Minister. My intention is using this photo is to attempt to capture the attitude of contempt. This is a Prime Minister who has no trouble lying to anyone and everyone in public while promoting a vision of taking down other political parties and destroying the social fabric of Canada in favour of vested economic interests which are not necessarily aligned with any particular nation. In my opinion, he is not much different from many other leaders, acting out of a collective shadow in the attempt to gain and keep power. And, I am sure, that inside of all of this darkness, there is a man who is as lost as the rest of us, a good man, who search for meaning in a world that has descended into meaningless chaos.
Perhaps it is because I spent a fair number of my youth in Ottawa, but I have a passion for political engagement and find myself very worried about the state of Democracy in the modern world, the U.S.A. and Canada in particular. In Ottawa, our present government appears to have obtained its majority government power through the use of dirty tricks and outright fraud - actions which had they been done by ordinary citizens, would result in jail terms. What we get instead of justice is a sneering contempt of the citizens and vitriolic attacks on anyone and everyone that dares point fingers or ask questions. As far as questioning the current government, media is limited in the number of questions they may ask, questions which are provided by the current government, and then having the government choose which journalist from Main Stream Media is permitted to ask these questions. To all appearances, democracy is being dismantled in favour of corporate power, a power that has no geopolitical boundaries. I don’t want to make this post a political rant, but I do want to set the current situation in the spotlight for the purposes of looking at the current myth.
“The crises of the world are not just “out there” in the geopolitical sphere but “in here” in the individual soul. The questions, explanations and great rhythms that once guided the soul by way of living myth are still within us, still guiding our lives. And we are obliged to render this process more conscious lest we live blindly, false to ourselves and false to nature. . . . we must more consciously create our own myth or be enslaved to the myth of another. (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 29)
And important reminder – the darkness and chaos we sense in our communities and countries are a reflection of the darkness and chaos within us. As I listen to the strident voices ranting, condemning, preaching, threatening and pleading – all the energy directed outwards in an effort to refashion the world into a different world of which there is no common vision – I become more and more certain that the real work to be done is to first get one’s own house in order; take care of one’s inner world, the inner darkness and chaos. I do have hope, but that hope isn’t for a quick turn around on the collective level. I get the feeling that there is a lot of hurt to come for as Carl G. Jung once said: ”What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.” And to my mind, there is little evidence of collective consciousness governing our world. We push out the darkness, our personal and collective inner darkness, onto others and as a collective we then find that inner darkness running amok in our outer world.
I have always been drawn to feathery scenes involving nature, a face of nature that is gentle in comparison to the pounding waves of a rough surf. There is a sense of peacefulness, a sense of sleeping and dreaming. But the image also points to death as well as rebirth; both co-exist.
I am currently upset with some of the politics of the world, especially the politics of my home country where soul seems to have died leaving a vacuum, a long pause in limbo before there is a renewal of soul. I was grateful to find these words in James Hollis’ book which helped me frame the current situation in the world.
“Where once a peasant could look forward to the towers of the medieval cathedral embodying sacred authority, or the castle expressing secular authority, now the powers of miter and mace are exhausted, replaced by the authority of the state and populist ideologies, fads and fevers – all of which are haunted by a mythological vacuum. The beatific vision is converted to an early retirement on the Sun Coast, the Madonna of Chartres is replaced by the Madonna of MTV, and salvation is found through Halcion, angel dust and the form of crack cocaine called Ecstasy.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 25)
One could easily now suggest that the power of mace that was replaced by the state has now been replaced by the corporate entity and the economy. The mitre has shifted more and more to an ever-expanding burst of churches, New Age philosophies and practices and fundamentalist and repressive theologies, as well as drugs, virtual reality and every sort of addiction and fanaticism one could ever imagine.
This is all so depressing. Thankfully this image reminds me that in the deepest part of the winter, in the bleakest part of the human psyche, there is rebirth, the renewed promise of light, of hope, of animation in which the human soul is recovered.
This is one of the small creeks which feed into the larger Fish Creek in Calgary. It really isn’t the season for thawing, but the effects of global warming has meant a lot of days of higher than normal temperatures. I don’t want this post to be a rant about humans misusing and abusing the planet as this is not something new in human history. Rather, I want simply to use this image to talk about a thawing out in my own psyche, an event for which this image serves as a serendipitous metaphor.
By now, most of my readers here realise that I am engaged in exploring my own myth, creating my own myth and that I am using photographic images in the process.
“As may be clear by now, myth represents the crystallization of basic experiences of life construed through various forms of imagery. Such imagery lies beyond intellectual comprehension yet is experienced meaningfully. Mythic images help us to approach the mysteries. Myth draws us near the profound depths of love and hate, life and death – precincts of the gods, the mysteries, where categories of thought falter and slip into dumb-found silence. Myth is a way of talking about the ineffable.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 23)
“Talking about the ineffable,” talking about the energies, the impulses to spiritualism and meaningful existence for which words fall short. A simple word such as love shows us the impossibility to capture exactly what love really is. Humans have tried to capture that meaning in dance, sexual activity, poetry, novels, philosophical examination and even in scientific studies. We know that love exists and often find ourselves embraced in the energies that we call love. Yet for all of this knowing, we can’t prove the existence of love or adequately describe love. So we invent stories, myths that point towards that mystery, try to present an explanation for ourselves.
I create my myth as a way of trying to explain to myself who I am, what I am and why I am. I remain a mystery to my “self” at least to my conscious self. I am so much more than my biology, my factual history that is remembered and forgotten. I create my myth as an attempt to understand those with whom I engage in relationship whether that relationship is that of husband, father, grandfather, teacher, therapist, analysand, friend, acquaintance or any other role in which I have participated through the years. And in reaching for my myth I find myself using images as hints, as pointers to what I want to say but can’t say because of the poverty of words in trying to explain the mystery of my self.
This morning, while sitting on the sofa waiting for the sun to rise, I caught the first rays that came through the window and saw how they created a sense of gold even though nothing in this scene has any actual golden colour. Golden light appeared for a moment and painted a scene, then it left leaving in its wake ordinary reality.
After I had taken the photograph, I returned to sit with my cup of morning coffee and noticed that the golden glow had disappeared and everything was back to normal. If I hadn’t taken the picture when I did, I would have soon forgotten the shifted moment in time when another world had appeared. I could look upon this moment in time as simply a moment in time that has no meaning other than natural light shifting. Or, I could look upon this moment as meaningful – meaningful to me.
I know that I see the world through a lens that catches nature as if all of nature is alive, even the reframed nature at the hands of man. I see purpose and meaning in all that is around me. I can’t accept the idea of a meaningless world.
“If one feels that the universe is absurd and devoid of meaning, then the burden of meaning falls directly upon the shoulders of the individual. If meaning is not implicit in the structures of nature and the evolution of history, then it is clearly the task of humans to render their lives meaningful through the quality of their choices.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 13)
I know quite a few people who view the world as having very little meaning for them. As Hollis suggests, these people I am thinking about have invested all of their meaning in their work, their families and perhaps their possessions. Outside of these boundaries there is no meaning. It is hard to say one way is right and another way is wrong, but I do feel that the loss of the numinous, the magical and the mythical leads to a life of spiritual poverty. Possessions get old and need to be replaced over and over again in an attempt to recapture that momentary sense of satisfaction of ownership. Career often is more concerned at sucking all of one’s energies for the benefit of unseen others and a fickle economy. Families grow, change, expand, contract and through all of these passages and transformations still leave us feeling alone – one becomes dependent on others for meaning and when alone, meaning evaporates.
I have retired which has forced me to search elsewhere for meaning. My children have grown, built their own small families in different communities. Things have long lost their magic and have become only functional objects. I have been forced to choose between a meaningless universe and a universe in which animate and inanimate have worth, meaning and purpose on a scale that is beyond my capacity to fully understand. I choose a universe filled with gods, goddesses, magic and meaning; I choose a universe in which everything I do, say, think, and dream has meaning.
This is a photo I took yesterday while wandering through Fish Creek Provincial Park which is located within the city of Calgary. Even though the weather was quite wintry, it was an enjoyable walk with my wife and camera. After two days of analytical sessions, I was ready for a change of mind and scene, so nature was what I needed. I am fortunate that this provincial part is only a short two kilometre walk from the place I am renting.
I use images as my way of honouring the unspoken and unseen aspects of my inner self as well as searching for ways to connect to Gaia, Mother Earth and to other humans at a level of collective depth. This little fellow, a squirrel in the park, knew I was there and was accepting of that up to a certain point. As long as I remained as a nonthreatening presence (as perceived by him), I was able to remain in a presence even if that presence also held a certain level of tension. The image of this squirrel evokes more than the fact of the squirrel; it is a dynamic image, pregnant with a vitality that connects me with a larger reality.
“Images can manifest in words, movement, plastic arts, science, architecture, or any other form of cultural or personal expression. In other words, anything that can carry the imprint of divine energies can be a temporary vessel of the mysteries, or the gods.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 12)
“Temporary vessels” – it is vital that I remember this. The image itself isn’t numinous; what is numinous is the temporary presence within my consciousness, even sub-conscious state, of an attitude that is willing to see yet another sign and face of the divine. Once that moment has passed, the image returns to be a photography. It could easily said that for a moment, the Divine manifested in the image as a way of talking with me. Then with that dialogue finished, the Divine leaves the image which then becomes perhaps a piece of art or simply a snapshot. It is the Divine that chooses the time, place, space for dialogue with the soul.
As Hollis tells us, we can sometimes find the presence of the Divine in a song, in dancing, in an act of painting or building. The Divine can become manifest in any thing, any doing, and especially in our moments of openness to the Divine such as when we are asleep through dreams. But one must not expect the presence of the Divine every time we sing, dance, create, make. The Divine is present, but at those moments when we cannot evoke the Divine, it is because we attempt to contain the Divine in all of these things and these acts. The Divine can’t be contained for that reduces the Divine to being a servant of ego.