Archive for the ‘transformation’ tag
As I continue this study of my gender and what it is to be a man, what it is to be masculine, I realise that while I am immersed in this journey of psyche, an inner world journey that is surrounded by an outer world in which I continue to exist as well. While search, I must continue to be a man with my partner, within the community I find myself in for the present here in Corozal which has a number of sub-communities embedded within it. I find myself in a community of expats, Americans and Canadians who have chosen to come here to make a new home or are searching for a new home base; as well as these expats, I have begun to interact with a few local men at the various shops, and on the street. Being a man is assumed by all I meet as I am obviously a senior, adult male. No one questions my identity as a man. That said, at the same time, I am digging deep into my head and heart trying to find answers to questions that are hard to put into words, questions about my identity as a man in this modern world.
“Jung insists that individuation is above all a dialogue with the unconscious psyche. The ego needs to maintain its essential connection with social reality as it attempts to ‘have it out’ with the unconscious forces. As the ego makes its ‘descent’ for the sake of renewal, it must resist the ‘inertia’ of the unconscious, and the forces that would paralyse it, and maintain human integrity at all costs.” [Tacey, Remaking Men, p. 19]
I have been there, finding myself so immersed in the psyche chasing down the shadows that I forgot about connecting with others. For a long time, I self-isolated and spent all my time on reading every depth psychology article I could find, recording and the plumbing the depths of my dreams, using meditation as a diving tool to take me further into the depths, only taking time out to connect with my analyst. My ego inflated as I saw myself as an authority, as a misunderstood and ignored wise man. I forgot that I was a human that was flawed deeply and needing the connection to others, to life, to my body.
“When we make contact with the unconscious, and so become privy to some of the collective secrets of the ages, we must compensate for this ‘dialogue with the Gods’ by increased amounts of humour and humility: two of the best antidotes to spiritual arrogance and inflation.” [ibid]
I know that I am not the only one who gets caught in the dialogue with the unconscious. If anything, when one approaches this dialogue without intention, the danger is even greater. One of my new friends here in Corozal is an American who is searching for property and a home here. He came with his wife and we have been together a number of times, two couples in Belize. His wife has no intention of moving to Belize. He hears her words but is so captured by his need that he can’t respond to her pain that is growing with his obsession with moving. His response is simply “I have been taking care of others all my life, I need to take care of myself, now.” Yet, he doesn’t know what that means or how to accomplish this need. I have learned that it is not achieved by changing addresses. One must wade in the unconscious keeping a line open to the conscious world at the same time. It is the only way to see the ripples that flow from the changes in oneself on others. We need to address these ripples and make conscious decisions based on reasoned outcomes. Will one truly be serving the self living alone in a foreign country when a wife of many decades, children and grandchildren are left behind?
I don’t have the answers to these questions though I do know they need to be faced, questions of one’s participation in the outer world of place, things and relationships. It is hard enough to be a man without getting lost in the shadow land of the unconscious.
I took this photo a few days ago, late in the afternoon, a chance photo. I know that I wrote before about the Black Vulture, but I find that I have more to say. As I searched back into the symbolism of the vulture, I found Nekhbet, a primal goddess from ancient Egypt.
“References in the Pyramid Texts (from the Fifth Dynasty) confirm that Nekhbet was also considered to be a creator goddess with the epithet “Father of Fathers, Mother of Mothers, who has existed from the beginning, and is Creator of this World”. [Ancient Egypt Online, Nekhbet]
It is amazing how things appear if front of one’s eyes. I have recently been writing about creation myths and had not found this reference, one that has a symbol of male and female, masculine and feminine, united in a unity like some holy marriage of body and spirit. But of course, I had to keep looking for more.
I want to put the rest of this post in context. I am in Mayan country. Not too distant from where I am writing this post are the Mayan ruins of Cerros, pre-classical Mayan ruin.
“The Black Vulture appears in a variety of Maya hieroglyphics in Mayan codices. It is normally connected with either death or as a bird of prey. The vulture’s glyph is often shown attacking humans.” [Wikipedia, Black Vulture]
Vultures feed on death, on carrion, on shit. They somehow transform that which is putrid and gross into something of value. Here I am thinking in alchemic terms, the turning of base material into precious material. As I put the idea of alchemy together with the union of opposites (masculine and feminine) there is no doubt in my mind that the vulture is a worthy symbol of individuation. Now, for a bit more on the vulture:
“Vultures have been called masters of two disciplines: soaring and sanitation (Dunne et al. 1988:136). In towns, villages, and rural communities where there is no modern plumbing or garbage disposal, they provide the only sanitation services. “They eat anything, but especially they like the shit,” observed a worker in a slaughterhouse in Guatemala, who also noted that the vultures showed up only on Thursdays and Saturdays, the two days of slaughter (Maslow 1986:200). The black vulture particularly tends to live close to humans and their waste. Vultures lack feathers around their heads and legs, where they have contact with carrion and feces, so the ultraviolet rays of the sun come down directly on their flesh, discouraging bacteria and parasites. Vultures spread their wings after feeding and the sun disinfects them. Their digestive system is so remarkable that the ejecta may kill germs. Moreover, vultures make the environment healthy (see Reichel-Dolmatoff 1985, II:132; Salinas Pedraza and Bernard 1978:132). They turn the vile into something white that glistens in the sun. In a Chorti Maya narrative, the black vulture is a mason with lime on his apron (Fought 1972:180-181). He boasts that he can make lime and that the white houses in the town look beautiful and he alone has plastered them. Vultures make dark things bright. They are associated not only with death b” ut with transformation of the dead.” [Benson, The Vulture: The Sky and the Earth]
I want to begin by bringing a sort of synthesis of the process as spoken by Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis:
“Grey and black [nigredo] correspond to Saturn and the evil world; they symbolize the beginning in darkness, in the melancholy, fear, wickedness, and wretchedness of ordinary human life. . . . The darkness and blackness can be interpreted psychologically as man’s confusion and lostness . . . The situation is now gradually illuminated as is a dark night by the rising moon. The illumination comes to a certain extent from the unconscious, since it is mainly dreams that put us on the track of enlightenment This dawning light corresponds to the albedo, the moonlight which in the opinion of some alchemists heralds the rising sun. The growing redness (rubedo) which now follows denotes an increase in warmth and light coming from the sun, consciousness.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 306-307)
The alchemical journey is one of moving from the depths of darkness where one is indeed lost, back into the full light of day where we are aware of our own presence in relation to the world which is illuminated by the day. Aware, conscious, alive. There is a vitality that is felt as one is able to breathe freely and deeply and participate in life rather than stand on the sidelines guarding our breath while trying to fade into the shadows so that no one sees us or hears us.
With consciousness, we become aware of our presence in relationships, we become aware of our body and its sensations, we become aware of the dance of contradictions that often find their expression in good versus evil.
This consciousness is not all encompassing, can never be all encompassing. If all the darkness (unconscious) was exposed and brought to consciousness, there would be no awareness. Awareness can only exist in contrast. Day only exists because there is night. Black only exists because there is white.
Now, to finish this first part of exploring the rubedo with a return to Jung’s words:
“This corresponds to the increasing participation of consciousness, which now begins to react emotionally to the contents produced by the unconscious. At first the process of integration is a “fiery” conflict, but gradually it leads over to the “melting” or synthesis of the opposites. The alchemists termed this the rubedo, in which the marriage of the red man and the white woman, Sol and Luna, is consummated. Although the opposites flee from one another they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 307)
This third stage, citrinitas, is particularly difficult to grasp. More often that not, attempts to use an alchemical for psychotherapy limit themselves to just three stages. Jung and his student, Marie-Louise von Franz do include citrinitas in their discussions of alchemy, but noted that it was a fourth and final stage, that of becoming gold. With that said, Jung’s and Jungian focus still limited . I will stick with the idea that citrinitas is the third stage in the process as that is what makes sense to me.
The idea of turning base material into gold is an idea that seems more magical than real. And, it is the magical that emerges during this stage. One is led to think of a magician such as Merlin, or even Christ. Both somehow defied all logic and nature to accomplish magical deeds. But where does this fit in with psychological process in therapy?
I want to step back just a little to place this stage in context using symbolism. In the first stage, nigredo,, light was lost as the psyche descended into the inner world of the unconscious where all the negative and fearful aspects of self have been contained as if in some personal hell. In the second stage, albedo, a light appears in the darkness, the light of an awakened soul which is symbolised as a moon (the feminine) shining in the darkness. The third stage, citrinitas, brings forth the light of the sun (the masculine), a light which magically transforms the shadowy and fearful into valuable consciousness. It is as though one has achieved the treasure grace à Dieu, through the Grace of God.
In this stage, awareness deepens. The problem yet remains how to assimilate this in order to return to the balance of being an ordinary human living an ordinary life? The objective of any therapy is to allow each of us to become at one with ourselves so that we can be fully present in our outer world as well as in our inner world. The objective of therapy is not to turn us into mystical and magical beings that don’t belong to the world. Assimilating bits of the unconscious aspects of ourselves is a huge task that sometimes falls off the rails, especially when we meet with the awe that comes with discovering the gold within ourselves.
“One is inclined to think that ego-consciousness is capable of assimilating the unconscious, at least one hopes that such a solution is possible. But unfortunately the unconscious really is unconscious; in other words, it is unknown. And how can you assimilate something unknown?” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
The bits of gold we discover are just that bits. The depths of our psyche reach deeper beyond the boundaries of our personal self. Yet the discovery of these bits does lead to wonder and joy, even ecstasy. There is danger here for us, a danger that we will become so entranced of this ecstasy that we refuse to leave this stage.as it feels like perfection, we feel like perfect beings in a perfect bubble.
“One hopes to control the unconscious, but the past masters in the art of self-control, the yogis, attain perfection in sam?dhi, a state of ecstasy, which so far as we know is equivalent to a state of unconsciousness. It makes no difference whether they call our unconscious a “universal consciousness”; the fact remains that in their case the unconscious has swallowed up ego-consciousness.” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
There is work yet to be done, to bring this gold back to the world, back in the form of a more mature and aware self.
Alchemy is an ancient art that has for its goal the transformation of turning base metals (lead and iron) into noble metals (gold and silver). Alchemy also had the goal of creating the elixir of life which would allow one to retain the appearance and energy of youth rather that the decline into old age and infirmity. Our modern world of chemistry continues the tradition established thousands of years ago, the tradition of transforming aspects of the outer world for the benefit of humans.
But alchemy is much more than about science and chemistry, it is also about the alchemist and the psychology of the human spirit which sees the possibilities going beyond what and who we are. Humans not only want more, they want to be more. We all are unsatisfied with ourselves in some fashion, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, or in our relationships with others. We swallow pills and alcohol, we smoke various substances, we engage in various dietary regimes, undergo surgery or enter into psychoanalysis in hopes of changing ourselves.
I am no different. I meditate, I eat carefully and choose carefully what I eat, I take a few medications to help regulate body systems that have weakened over time. I abandoned practices that kept me subservient to spiritual authority and adopted a spiritual path that felt right. And in the process of doing things differently, I changed, I transformed.
When I bring up the word alchemy here, I will bring with it a psychological rather than a chemical association. I am not interested in test tubes and finding an answer out there. I am interested in finding answers within so that I can better appreciate who I am, and as a result, better appreciate others as individual humans.
I am continuing on with an idea that was presented in my last post, the idea of finding oneself unable to maintain control. About an hour after publishing the last post, while writing out the story of my pilgrimage in Southern France, I turned to Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart. I had taken the book with me on the pilgrimage and had taken opportunities to read little bits of it when I took rests along the trails I travelled. When I found the words I had underlined more than a month ago, I realised that the words belonged here as well for they spoke of the feeling and the state of being that had been uncovered.
“Each day we’re given many opportunities to open up or shut down. The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we cant handle whatever is happening, It’s too much. It’s gone too far. We feel bad about ourselves. There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. Basically, life has just nailed us.” (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 13)
‘Life has just nailed us’ is a good way to put it. Life has hit us on the head and pointed us to the ultimate truths about ourselves and the illusion of our being able to control our own shadow to the point of denying its existence. As I found out, and as others continue find out, the shadow has a way of eluding our control.
It’s all about control, the illusion that one can control not only oneself, but also others and nature. Parents attempt to control adult children when they haven’t mastered how to control themselves. Husbands and wives try to control, mould their partners into some vague inner model which can’t be explained or held constant. Any slippage in one’s personal control is blamed on others or some undefined vagary of life in general. At all costs, the fault has to lie outside of oneself. To be caught in this illusion leaves one a bitter, angry and frustrated person. It is only when life nails us to our own cross that we can find an opening out of the illusion so that we can enter into reality. Sadly, not many will walk through that opening, choosing instead to deny, deny, deny.
Three times I had taken the wrong path, the path marked with crosses that indicated I was not to follow this path if I was to stay on the true path. Three times I walked until someone stopped me to tell me that I had erred. Thankfully, I listened and retraced my steps. I guess I was ripe to listen, to accept that I was fallible and lost. After the third time, it was my turn to open myself to listening to the inner voices that I had long denied, voices that tried to tell me that all that I had buried in the darkness and shadows.
It was time for me to accept all the shadows that helped define the reality of who I was. I thank the universe, life, for nailing me to my own cross where I could be held still long enough for the truth of who I was emerge.
I was fortunate to get this photo from the ground as the nest was set quite high on a pole found on the cutline south of Canmore. I walked far enough away up hill in order to attempt to get more than a bit of the osprey’s head in the image. For those interested in learning more about osprey birds, check out the wikipedia entry here.
Being a parent is a great experience and I treasure all the moments of fathering and parenting two daughters and one son. They have grown up and are now experiencing the role of parent as well. As with the baby birds in this nest, the children grow up and leave “home” to make their way in the larger world. For a parent it is as if things have fallen apart, as if one’s world has been broken. As I get older, I am finding more and more that things are falling apart. But what is important for me to understand is that in falling apart, things transform. Life presents me with an opportunity to be a new and improved version of myself.
Things fell apart for me in a significant way during the past winter as many of my readers know. I have finally reached the point where I am somewhat thankful for this. Without the falling apart, I would have delayed even longer the healing that was waiting deep within. Perhaps I would have waited too long, never getting the opportunity to put things right for my soul, my heart.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 8)
Today is the day. This afternoon I join into a community of like-minded souls that have adopted a Tibetan Buddhist (mahayana) view of the world. This act of taking refuge is not about becoming Tibetan, or a monk, or a lama or about becoming anything more than myself. Taking refuge is in a way, finding that space within myself that is the bedrock of who I am as a spiritual, ethical and whole human that recognizes that I am not alone but am held within the collective of humanity, a child turned adult of a culture that extends back millenia carrying the heritage of the past into whatever the future holds for myself and all of humankind. Of course, I have had to think long and hard on taking this step. I had to come to understand exactly what taking refuge meant both within the Buddhist frame of reference and within the frame or through the lens of how I see and know the world and myself.
Taking refuge – refuge being a physical place of safety, or a mental state of being in which one can find protection. Why do I need to take refuge, to find this place both internal and external in which I can be safe? I guess I would have to say that it is about creating a space and place for my soul/psyche to nurtured and mature, a place that will act like a protective shell in a world that has little concern for the truly spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals. In psychological work, there is a need for a place of temenos, a sacred space/place/container in which one can risk facing inner demons with the purpose of finding personal healing and mental and spiritual health
Today I will take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in Buddha is a state of mind, not some external God to whom one prays. The Buddha is that state of mind that “enlightened” or in Jungian terms, one in which the psyche has individuated into a state of wholeness (holiness) where self and other are seen as inseparable parts of a whole. Dharma is the path – the teachings and practice. One can’t know everything or how to get there on one’s own. If there was a book with all the questions and answers to guide us through every situation in life, it would be a big help. But information is not enough, we also need help in developing the practices to make our lives better and to heal our souls which enter the world bruised. Tibetan Buddhist teachings come first from the work and the words of Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha). These teachings have one goal in mind, that of waking up to the fullness that is enlightenment or nirvana. C.G. Jung is not in the same league as Buddha, but he did work and put forth his ideas within the context of a modern western world culture for the same purposes. The goal, consciousness a consciousness that is both personal and universal. Sangha is the community that exists within which one finds support for this journey of dharma towards awareness, consciousness, wholeness. Community is important in helping one stay strong as well as helping us get back up off our knees when we fall on our journey. In spite of the fact that the journey is individual, the fact that one can know that in spite of doing this lonely work, one is connected to others and held within a family of spirit, a family of intention. In Jungian psychology, there is a hint of this when one joins within a collective such as a Jungian Society, when one takes part in workshops and seminars where the spirit is uplifted and the hard work of individuation is supported.
So, in a way, taking refuge is like adding another layer, adding another dimension to the work within which safety and support are held sacred.
These two objects have a history with me. The green stone was given to me in 1994 by a gentle bear of a man who was my therapist at that time. I was to hold the rock when life was overwhelming so that the rock could take me back into the moments of safety in his office. The rock has travelled with me and hopefully will continue to stay with me reminding me of the gentle, bearded giant of a man who had unconditional positive regard for me as a man.
The second object is a chalice of sorts that I made in 1998 at a workshop. The chalice is a container that is meant to hold what I called the “Source of Life.” Another man was responsible for this, the man who lead the workshop on a cool and windy May weekend. Little did I know at that time that I would meet this man again fourteen years later, a meeting between analyst and analysand. Again, I feel that I am in a safe place, a place where I am again held in unconditional positive regard as a man.
Today, these two symbolic objects are like totems for me, and when I use the word totems, I mean it as symbols of relatedness as though kin - father and brother figures. As totems, these objects carry a spiritual dimension in which the notion of shaman is attached to the objects. For me, these two men take their place in my life story as guides through the inner worlds, the spiritual worlds – true shamans in a modern world.
How does one engage in the process of individuation and avoid becoming caught in the trap of narcissism? What does taking care of oneself become selfish? When one asks the question “What is right?” how can one decide on an answer when what is right is different for different people? These are tough questions, questions I am wrestling with at the moment.
Cowardice asks the question: “Is it safe?”
Expediency asks the question: “Is it politic?”
Vanity asks the question: “Is it popular?”
But conscience asks the question: “Is it right?”
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one what is right.” ( Martin Luther King Jr., ”Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” - 31 March 1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr. also asks tough questions that strike at the heart of where I find myself. I can see my cowardice, my trying to please others at the expense of what I believe is right, doubting what I believe is right in the process. I have been running almost all of my life – running away from my abusive childhood, running away from my dreams, running away from . . . all of that running was/is about fear. But the truth is I survived my abusive childhood, and I am now a mature adult. I shouldn’t be running any longer from the dark shadows of the past.
Now, I find myself being “politic,” a strategy I learned in childhood in which I kept quiet about what I knew and believed and focused on the needs and wants, the beliefs of those who where responsible for my growing through childhood. I became the agreeable peacekeeper, the pacifier, the one who tried to reduce storm waves to smooth waters. I didn’t disagree, but would swallow my truth to avoid censure, to avoid pain, to avoid loneliness. As an adult, the pattern continued. I would make only small noises and only if those noises would not threaten too much my growing family. I continued to swallow my swelling anger and let it explode within me while keeping a safe smile on my face. We all make decisions everyday that compromise our sense of truth because of both personal fear and fear or retribution upon those whom we love. We all become “politic” even within our primary relationships in order to ensure that the relationships survive rather than testing the true depths of our relationships.
We turn our cheek when our truths are assaulted and present the other cheek. We also turn our eyes away from our truths so that we can pretend we don’t know. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, do no evil.” These are words we live for the most part in order to insulate ourselves from what appears to be a very nasty modern world. I am as guilty of this as anyone, perhaps more so. And when I consider other words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr, I feel shamed: “”He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
It’s time for me to wake up and be courageous. It’s time for me to risk learning the truth and living those truths.
“There are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening, which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep a man in a state of sleep. (G.I. Gurdjieff)
The process of waking up is my current journey. Will I have the courage to truly wake up, or will I go only so far as to find a more comfortable way to spend the last of my years and days on this planet?