Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ tag
I am again digging into the archives for a photo for today’s post, one from my last winter’s stay in Vietnam. As I turn to active imagination, sometimes I am tempted to believe I might know the stories of these two men, or of any man or woman. I jump into the scene and allow intuition and feeling, my dominant functions build the story. With any luck, an improved ability in using my inferior functions, thinking and sensing will help fill in the gaps. But in the end, all that my fantasies, this journey of active imagination can tell me is a story about my self.
“The vast majority of people are quite incapable of putting themselves individually into the mind of another. This is indeed a singularly rare art, and truth to tell, it does not take us very far. Even the man whom we think we know best and who assures us himself that we understand him through and through is at bottom a stranger to us. He is different.The most we can do, and the best, is to have at least some inkling of his otherness, to respect it, and to guard against the outrageous stupidity of wishing to interpret it. (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 363)
It makes one think about what one expects and why one enters into an activity of active imagination. At times I use my images to wonder about the person in the image and to create some sort of understanding of that person. I should know better for my words don’t really paint an honest picture of that other person, rather the words speak of myself.
How well do I know myself? Well, it seems that I am still figuring this out.
This is an image from HoiVan Pass, the mountain pass that marked the separation between North and South during the American War as it is called by Vietnamese people. When I was there the clouds were hanging low making it into a surreal scene. The “pill boxes” that housed the Americans who sought to keep the North Vietnamese out of the south, as well as to protect the forces stationed at DaNang, stood empty alongside older battlements from older wars.
When I think of the “hero’s journey” that calls one somewhere typically during midlife, this is a scene that comes to mind. Perhaps I had read too much fantasy by Tolkien and Donaldson and others. The image tells me that I am in unknown territory where maps would do no good, at least not a map that is based on land forms and landmarks. This is a territory that holds all sorts of monsters that are just waiting for you to appear out of the mist, while you dread that they will appear out of the mist.
It is one of those journeys where there appears to be little choice. If one decides to not go on the journey, one gets stuck and becomes a husk of a person waiting for his or her days to come to an end, an end that leaves one’s life without a sense of meaning. To take the journey is to risk life itself and to change beyond all recognition marking a different sort of death, that of the old ego.
Setting out on this journey is almost more about compulsion rather than a reasoned choice. Reasonable people do not head into this realm abandoning all life as they know it for some potential other life. No, it is more about knowing one is doomed if one refuses to answer the call to this journey with the result that one would become insane. Is it worth it? I think so – for me, I know so. The mythical treasure I found was a clearer sense of “Self.”
This is a detail from one of the buildings found in the Imperial Palace of Hué, Vietnam, an imitation palace of Beijing’s Forbidden City. I have to say that the idea of a “Forbidden City” is one that is very intriguing and very apt when one thinks of the “self.” The forbidden city in Hué is much smaller than the one in Beijing. I am fortunate to have been able to wander through both of these palace grounds. Needless to say I was not able to see everything in either place with many areas marked as off limits to the public. The doors were locked tight and the windows were boarded up with decorative shutters keeping the contents “in the dark.” One begins to wonder if the idea is to keep outsiders away or to “contain” the shadows within the darkened buildings and rooms.
Hiding places within, places where we keep our secrets. And being human, over time we almost forget the secrets are there and forget how to unlock the barricaded spaces. It comes as a rude shock to ourselves and those around us when somehow the contents long barricaded away in the shadows find a way to ooze out, usually at the most inopportune time where it causes us no end of grief, embarrassment and shame. We get to see a lot of this now because of the social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and My Space. Twitter has “exposed” shadow stuff twice in the past few weeks, once in terms of Canadian politicians and the second time by an American politician. Once exposed, the contents are quickly withdrawn and hidden away but the damage has been done.
It is somewhat easy to understand how our “stuff” leaks out to mess up our best intentions and our well-laid plans; but, it is not so easy to understand that the “forbidden city” within not only contains our personal repressed contents, but is also home to the collective shadow. Again the political world serves as a good example. Major political parties are based on ideologies and polar versions of what the world is supposed to be like. Imagine each political party as an extravagant structure such as the building in the photo above. It looks attractive and as though it has substance. Yet when one waits long enough there is stuff that oozes out to alert one to the real nature of the political beast that has claimed this palace as its home. In listening to the individual voices that adhere to the political party we get to see that collective shadow.
As a wandered through new countries and cultures in search of my “self” I am learning that there are a lot of secret places to discover within my own psyche, in my personal forbidden city.
Heading north from DaNang, Vietnam which is seen here from a scenic rest stop partway up the mountain road that leads to what used to be called North Vietnam, I stopped to take a few photos to mark the occasion, tourist photos for the most part. The light conditions weren’t the greatest for good photos but that rarely stops me from capturing scenes such as this one. For me, this lack of clarity is an important statement with regards to taking a journey, especially into what one consciously considers to be the unknown, new territory. I was travelling through Vietnam, new territory and as a result had suspended judgement about what to expect, an attitude that lets me see things that would otherwise be missed.
I think that this travelling and living in a place where one is an outsider is actually helpful for me. I can’t make too many assumptions about the others I see around me or myself in relation to these others. There is enough foreignness on both sides that clearly differentiates self from other.
When back in my home territory the differentiation is not so evident. I do sense my differences as do those around me. But habit and expectations and a lack of confidence catches me and I slip back into the older patterns of behaving and relating as though in a straight jacket. The collective has a power over me that is hard to dispel because of familiarity, fear and inertia. In a new collective, culture, community there are no patterns, no real expectations that the self has for others or that others have of oneself. No wonder I find a release in being elsewhere.
Returning to the community, it is almost a step back in time and in feeling. After having left, the return is warm but at the same time, it is guarded. By leaving, one has in a small way rejected the community. In spite of the warmth of the “welcome back” an unconscious distance and separation is erected. The community needs assuring, needs proof that the returnee still belongs, is still one of them. And so, in an effort to appease, it is necessary to deny the changes and work hard to prove that one is still part of the community. As I learned, the last thing anyone wants to hear is a new idea that might contradict the locally approved view of the world.
I am rather pleased with how well this low light photo turned out, a photo I took in a cave in Marble Mountain just south of Da Nang, Vietnam. It’s not a perfect photo, but then again, that isn’t the point. The idea is to capture an idea, a feeling, a hint of something beyond the actually image.
I get both a sense of power and of almost acceptance for who I am in relation to the whole, to God, to the Self. I know that I am not the whole though I do feel part of the whole. I know this; it resonates within. Yet . . .
In the face-to-face world, I don’t measure up even a little bit and come up short on too many scales. I am an outsider for the most part. I am distant. I am flawed with a high level of distract-ability which often finds me leave projects in various stages of completion only to have them forgotten and abandoned. I am becoming more and more “selfish” in terms of relation to others. What does this mean? I guess it means taking more time to listen to myself, to honour myself and to accept myself in spite of what others might want, need or demand.
And I get angry with the attitudes that tell me I am getting worse as I get older. I get angry at myself for getting caught up in this anger. And I get angry with others who let me know that I am failing in terms of what is expected of me in relationships. I know that there is no need for anger within me, that I should not take the attitudes of others to heart and let those attitudes wound me. I know that the attitudes are not really about me at all, but about each of those who look at me and evaluate me as “worse.” But, there is this damned “hook” that I carry that catches all of these projections and then suffer the turmoil until the energy has dissipated enough so that I can see what has happened to me, by me.
I have learned a few things along the way during these six decades of living. One of the valuable lessons is to own my own stuff and not take on the stuff of others. Of course, this lesson is always after the fact. At least this allows me some peace when the conflict/complex is deactivated within me. I turn away from the black hole that could consume me, that of being a victim, and turn towards a hint of the numinous that embraces me and tells me that I belong.
I took this photo in Can Tho, Vietnam, a picture of the night market busy with people. Night time is often busier that daytime activity in the market areas. It’s as if with the fall of darkness, there is a sense of freedom to laugh, to hustle, to enjoy an evening of drink, food, friendships and even sex. The primal urges come alive in the darkness. It’s a heady experience walking among the others who are bargaining, or otherwise engaged in the market place area. But of course, the photo really isn’t about a night market in Vietnam.
Night is also symbolic of the unconscious in full motion, with a cast of archetypes, complexes, feeling tones and shadows. Dreams are often taken as the expression of this activity of the night, this activity of darkness. But, it isn’t only a dreamscape; it is also an inner world landscape that exists when one is in the light of day. It is found in those pensive moments when one has lost connection with the outer world, a place many of those people who deny anything that is not about the outer world would call “lala-land;” a place where imagination both of light and dark find an expression. This is a place where I am often to be found during some of my periods of silence.
There isn’t much patience or tolerance by others for those who find that they wander at times through lala-land. It isn’t as though there is a lot of choice when lala-land intrudes on one’s psyche. Yet, with a lot of effort over time, one can recognize the signals that indicate lala-land is just around the next thought and thus allow one to engage in diversionary tactics and avoid disappearing into this inner space. One learns tactics to stay “present” and “accountable” to others who matter. For in the end, it is about the others, not about the self.
Lala-land is a rich place that offers more than it takes in terms of presence and time with the outer world. But typically what is offered has little value to the others who are invested fully in body and in presence, a world where the opinions of others matter more than one’s own opinion. In fact, one’s opinion is formulated on the collective opinion just as much as many follow fashions regardless of the practicality or need for fashion.
Think of how one is “Self” responsible, or “self” responsible and with that responsibility comes a requirement for authenticity, being true to one’s self in order to honour that which is at the root of self, that which can be called god, or SELF, the central and all encompassing dynamic. If we call god as all that is and all that isn’t, then we understand that everything and everyone is part of the one. As an individual, I am me or “self,” an unit of one. Yet, I am a part of a larger one-ness which most call god, a wholeness that is also called the ONE or the SELF. With the inner as well as the outer world contained in this unity of everything, there can’t be a devaluation of any one part of the whole. The inner world is as valid as the outer world. So, in daring to get caught up in lala-land, I find that I am daring to connect with a deeper aspect of self, one that hints at the infinite behind the self.
This isn’t really a good photo but made the cut because of the clarity of the Kingfisher that was sitting on the power post. I must admit that the whole point of the photo was to get a good photo of the bird which I was quietly stalking in the garden area of a village not too far from Hoi An, Vietnam. In truth, I had no idea of background as I took the photo while I was slowly creeping up. I never did get too close to the bird, but now in looking at the photo and seeing the man, the gardener, out of focus, I find so much more than the bird, my intended subject.
This little bird is a close as I can get to capturing a sense of ego-self. I see myself sitting on top of the pole observing the world around me. I see others doing things of worth while I watch. In a practical world, I am not very practical. I am distant, unsure of myself around people and not confident that anyone would actually see something of worth in me. I know that I have a high IQ and that I have abilities to perform useful paid tasks for the collective. But that isn’t really of value in terms of interpersonal relationships. I get stuck in my head, get stuck in “teaching” or as could be said in a different manner, taking care of others’ needs.
People looking at me, working around me, being my students or acquaintances find me a quiet and kind type of person, good adjectives but when placed alongside of distant and cool, it doesn’t enable many friendships. As one who is nearest to me comments, I am a man without friends, a man who doesn’t need friends, a solitary man. And these words, are actually truthful words. I don’t have friends. There is no one in the face-to-face world with whom I talk about psychology or other topics with freedom and abandon. When I do dare to approach any topic that has depth, I carefully choose my words as experience has shown me that otherwise people tune me out as though I am a visitor from an alien species.
At times I forget and in my excitement the words flow and I dare to challenge, to debate, to argue only to leave wreckage in terms of relationship. The friendships I am able to maintain are those in which I serve as a good listener, confirming the ego of the other and in doing this leave the other feeling valued. I manage relationships rather than engage authentically in relationship. One of the hazards in keeping my own counsel is that my quiet, kind, listening self feeds a silence within. I catch myself managing the inner world, keeping things within my head where they can be more easily controlled. I am certain that this shows up here in how I post, how few feelings are evident in the hundreds of thousands of words here. Though you, my readers, see these words and photos, you only get to see the persona that I dare to present. Even here I censor or limit my expression.
I have been told that my only friends are the people I meet here in cyberspace. These friends are also disembodied and as such, not real people. Real people are messier. Are you real? Am I real here in cyberspace? Or are we just blurry shapes like this gardener in the photo, in a land of spirit where bodies don’t exist?
While cycling down back lanes, paths and secondary roads in the rural Mekong Delta of Vietnam, I came across this scene of two young men who were busy taking the husks off of coconuts so as to ready the coconuts for sale. At the same time, these coconut husks were being collected for other uses including use as fuel. The scene has likely been played out over thousands of years ever since man had discovered the milk and fruit of the coconut and wondered about the left over husks. The image talks about a simpler time in Asia, a time before philosophy and psychology.
Why do these guys work? It isn’t something that needs a lot of thought. They are adult males and work is part of what they do as members of their community, as mates to females and as fathers to children. Unlike the modern man who needs to find meaning, psychological and physiological relevance in his work, even an identity that is somehow beyond the roles given by community and family.
Mulling on this, I wonder about the original man who happens upon the original woman and how relationship and identity must have seemed to them. With no level of personal consciousness of of a collective consciousness, they were drawn to each other through primal and instinctual needs. They bonded and without thought, perhaps without language, they gave birth to the next generation. Their relationship did not offer choices of others, of soulmates, of magical others. I want to turn to a Gao XingJian and Soul Mountain to present a Chinese myth that talks of this original man and woman:
“The general name for the woman who created man’s intelligence is Nuwa. The first woman, Nuwa, and the first man, Fuxi, constitute the collective consciousness of men and women.
The depiction on Han Dynasty tiles of the mythical union of Fuxi and Nuwa, both with the bodies of snakes but human heads, is derived from the sexual impulses of primal humans.
At that time the individual did not exist. There was not an awareness of a distinction between “I” and “you”. The birth of I derived from fear of death, and only afterwards an entity which was not I came to constitute you. At that time people did not have an awareness of fearing oneself, knowledge of the self came from an other and was affirmed by possessing and being possessed, and by conquering and being conquered. He, that third person who is not directly relevant to I and you, was gradually differentiated. After this the I also discovered that he was to be found in large numbers everywhere and was a separate existence from oneself, and it was only then that the consciousness of you and I became secondary. In the individual struggle for survival amongst others, the self was gradually forgotten and gradually churned like a grain of sand into the chaos of the boundless universe.” (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 307-308)
On a boat going upriver on the Mekong, I came across this young couple who were also making their way upriver in their small boat which serves as both home and workplace. Millions of people live on the Mekong River as it traverses through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Most are small family units, nuclear family units for the most part. Most of them are also in their first half of life. Their journeys on the river are about searching for a home, a place of stability, a journey that will lead them to solid ground.
For myself as someone fairly typical in the western world sense of the world, the search for home has been a search for love.
“Everything, everything, seems to ride on this thing called love. We love nature, we make love, we fall into and out of it, we pursue love and ask it to save us. Romantic love, by which we mean that élan, that heightened ardor, that intense yearning for the Beloved, that frantic grappling, that profound sorrow when the Beloved is lost, that anxious uncertainty about the fixity of the Other – all this and more is both the greatest source of energy and the chief narcotic of our time. Given the erosion of tribal myths which once helped connect our ancestors to the gods, to nature, to the tribe and to themselves, romantic love may prove to be the primary region of existential hunger in our century. One may even suggest that romantic love has replaced institutional religion as the greatest motive power and influence in our lives.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp 41-42)
There is no question that whether one is searching for land, searching for a home, searching for family or searching for that one person that will be soulmate, all of us are living with yearning. And it doesn’t matter that we find land, find a home, build a family or get married to the one we have fallen in love with, head over heels; the yearning continues. What we yearn for, what I yearn for, is not to be found in the outer world, in things, activities, or other people.
Heading northwest on the Mekong River not too far out of Ho Chi Minh City, these homes on stilts made me realise how life along this river must be always subject to the unpredictable water of the river. Looking at the network of supporting poles, small sticks that would by themselves seem insignificant spurs me to think about all the differences I encounter while living in Asia and in China in particular.
Working at a university, I get to see young men and women every day as they move through the steps from childhood to adulthood. Teaching them a second language allows me to find out a lot about their ways of understanding the world. When teaching a second language, the quickest method is to use base knowledge of the first language and life experience as hooks for the second language. In other words, teach them what they already know, only in the target language. Since at this stage of life, relationships are the biggest focus of these young people, giving them a chance to talk about relationships and their beliefs allows them to speak with more confidence as they don’t have to learn new concepts, just the vocabulary and expressions. Aside from their romantic notions that come out of watching American films, these young people have a very practical sense of what marriage is all about. Love is not synonymous with marriage as it is in the western world.
“Historically, love and marriage have not been synonymous . . . As a matter of fact, only in the last century and a quarter has the vox populi claimed marriage and love as one and the same. This is not to say that happily committed people have not loved each other, but rather that for most of human history the purpose o marriage was to bring stability to the culture rather than make an individual happy or serve the task of mutual individuation. Possibly the greatest number of history’s marriages would, by today’s standards, be described as loveless, for they were contracted arrangements made to produce, protect and nurture the young, thus to preserve the tribe, to transmit social and religious values and to channel anarchic libido in socially useful directions.
Similarly, in many marriages love, whatever love may prove to be, is simply not the determinative value. What more commonly has brought people together, the energy which seeks synergy, are the operative complexes of each. One or both may seek to find the good parent in the other, may even wish to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or may be seeking what was missing in the family of origin. Or, one may marry for a sense of transferred power.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp41-42)
With these words, I understand better how the young men and women in my classes dutifully abandon a “love” mate because the parents don’t support the union. I understand better why young Asian women willingly enter into relationships with older western men. As one young female told me, it is about power. The want to marry power and thus gain power themselves, a sense of security in a crowded and competitive world where there is not enough for everyone. These young people believe in love, fall in love and rebel for love. But, for the most part, these young men and women fall back into line in order to fit in with the needs and demands of their culture.
Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we (I) put too many demands on the people we marry making all of us crazy in the process?