Archive for the ‘WuZhen’ tag
While walking down one of the narrow streets of WuZhen which were found just off the various canals of the old city, I found a door partially opened as if an invitation for those curious enough to peer within. This is what I found. This scene spoke to me about what had been lost and the cost of losing. Of course, it wasn’t a statement of lost Chinese culture as much as it was a statement of loss of soul.
For a moment, I was taken aback as I saw in the scene, a vivid reminder of the loss of soul, or should I say loss of connection with soul that I experienced as I shifted from full engagement with the outer world to finally recognizing that my inner self did exist. When I looked within I saw how my abandonment of my connection with that inner self had left my inner self littered with debris, abandoned dreams, hopes - poetry that never was imagined, stories never told.
I was one of the fortunate ones who upon seeing the inner wreckage, decided to do the work of bringing the soul’s home back into a place that would honour the soul. It wasn’t a matter of throwing away very many things, but simply uncovering, rediscovering the treasures hidden and setting them out, dusted off. Shadows were used as accent to the glittering gold and silver of the soul rather than being banished. And, tucked into corners, broken bits are left to remind me that I must never abandon my connection with soul again.
At first glance, there isn’t much remarkable about this photo. Even after a lot of time spent studying it, nothing says “keep me.” I took the photo in WuZhen while my trigger finger was working overtime without my doing much “thinking” about what images were being captured. I often do this just to see what caught my subconscious attention. In spite of the image being basically unremarkable, I am happy with what I found in it.
The image does capture a worn, almost threadbare aspect, probably an authentic image for representing Ancient China. It is also a good image to represent life in the middle half. As usual, in making a statement such as this, I am probably referring more to myself than other people. I am comfortable with growing older, with my hair graying and with my body being more typical of an elder than as a fit and trim mature male. I am ragged on the edges, especially now that I am regrowing a small beard similar to when I was working as a school administrator and therapist – the professorial look as my children used to comment. Like the inscribed lines on the wood, the lines on my visage also have a story to tell, a story of places, people, relationships, events, dreams and disappointments. But more importantly, the lines hint at a mystery yet to be discovered.
As I look at this image, I imagine myself walking down some dusty road in the company of a perhaps three others; with one of them being a woman, one being a warrior-protector and one being a challenging and often obnoxious pain in the ass. As night approaches we are drawn to an ancient pub where we will share a meal and some drink to wash away the day’s dust from our throats. Before night deepens and we head to sleeping pallets, an evening of argument and entertainment awaits as my little band of travellers interacts with those we have met in this tavern. With any luck, the pain in the ass won’t have us end up in an argument with the locals or even worse before I retire to a well-earned retreat to my bed chamber with the woman who shares my life journey.
All of these actors, my fellow travellers are part of the cast of characters that abide within my psyche, personal faces of ancient archetypes, my shadow, my anima, my warrior.
Another photograph of a photographer. I have to admit it wasn’t the only such photo taken in WuZhen. I’ve done some thinking, after the fact, and have come to the conclusion that such photos are pseudo self-portraits, a way of looking at one’s self. Just in case anyone is wondering, no, this isn’t a photo of me. My coat is blue and my umbrella is a checkered blue and black affair. Those two facts aside, yes, I do hold both umbrella and camera much as this man does when taking photos on rainy days.
In a way, it is a bit unnerving to see oneself in action, especially when the action is slightly dissociated and silent, set off from the others though not set aside. There is a relationship between the photographer and his or her subjects regardless if the subjects are animate or inanimate. There really is no fully objective distance in spite of what the photographer thinks. How often do I have my subjects looking at me as I take the photos? When I look at the photos afterwards, I can still feel their connection, their attention to my presence in spite of the camera that could be used as a screen to hide behind.
As I think more about this, I see that it isn’t only in taking photos that I see myself as separate from others, an interested and mostly silent observer. This is how I co-exist with my world whether it is in the classroom with my university students or at a family gathering or wandering down some narrow street or watery canal in a foreign country. That which is “me,” a private sense of self, is tucked away behind the scenes while I use an array of varying personae which I use to suit the occasion and the situation. For example, in my university classes, my students get to see a humorous and active teacher who is more about using a theatrical presence as a teaching style than about elucidating on academics that must be memorized or internalized depending upon the tasks at hand. There is a lot of laughter in the classroom. Yet, once outside of the classroom, the extravert is given a rest and a quiet person emerges, one who is content with being closer to the edge. Sometimes others would see me as aloof or perhaps even a bit of a cold fish.
The truth lies behind the various masks that I put on throughout the days and weeks in family and community. And that truth is vividly captured in this photo.
This is another WuZhen photo, one that is not about tourists or a celebration of a restoration of China’s architectural past. This is just a simple scene, one that is played out in many locations in many countries in today’s modern world, a scene behind the scene so-to-speak. l get to see this scene often, a scene in which a woman is crouched beside water, usually water that is far from clean, in an attempt to clean either herself or some articles of clothing. Regardless of what is being washed, the image is there based on real events happening in a real world.
Symbolically, woman is associated with water, birth waters, cleansing waters, dank and dark waters. Somehow out of the clouded dirty water, something is born, dirt is washed away and whiteness emerges. Archetypal images – images that point beyond the facts contained within the images, point to something that goes beyond one person’s understanding and points to a collective awareness. But what is this archetype? Is it the mother who nurtures, to mother who eats her young, the life force that gives rise to libido in men, the receptacle who takes a man with her and sucks out his seed? Because “she” is an archetype, “she” is all of these things and more.
Walking through my life, the archetype is in the dark background out of my conscious reach. As I walk through my life, I find I bump into aspects of her which have been activated by my life experiences. And these appearances are personal to me though they cause a lot of discomfort. These disturbances are not appearances of the archetype, but appearances of my personal complexes. I can never behold the fullness of the archetype, only the “activated” bits that can only be identified as complexes.
There remains so much to say on this topic. Perhaps I will find some of the words to help myself better understand this. I will come back again with another image and more thoughts to explore this territory.
Sometimes a picture just jumps out and says, “See me, see me!” This was one of those pictures for me. I often take doorway and window shots as they are “natural” frames. Doorways and windows are structures that provide openings into another place. Closed doors and windows leave one wondering and leave one shut out. Open doors and windows are almost an invitation to enter, to risk.
This photo has a hint of colour amid the darker colours of the wall that separates this side of existence and the version of existence on the other side of the window which is a curious blend of door and window – that has been opened. Within the inner world, green leaves on a small bush that talks about life on the opposite side. The wall behind the bush is a blend of darkness and white, a suggestion that this alternate world is not necessarily a perfect place.
As you can see, I am projecting a lot on this scene, using the image through active imagination to create a dialogue with my inner self. This inner world is more mythological than it is defined. The inner world is a place that defies clarity. But then again, as I am learning as the years and decades pass, the outer world is also a place that defies clarity. The lack of clarity often leads to a sense of depression, a questioning of purpose and meaning. Many, unable to handle the ambiguous nature of living in this outer world, turn to some sort of religion in an attempt to find answers to their personal questions of self and meaning, especially during times of unrest such as is being experienced in the world today.
“Or, consider anxiety, that steady state affect of our existential, precarious existence. It is hard to imagine an organism which experiences equanimity in the face of its imminent annihilation, although that counterpoise has been the chief goal of most world religions. Many of those religions seek surcease of suffering through sleight of hand, the promise of an afterlife, which after all is simply offering the ego the promise of a second go at it, presumably under better conditions. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 104)
Is this why I am drawn to doorways and windows? With no religion to turn to with their promises of another life, another world, I am forced to find a different answer to my personal questions of purpose and meaning in a world that isn’t particularly concerned with my personal continued existence.
Today’s photo comes from those I took last weekend at WuZhen in ZheJiang province. Though the place is for tourists to glimpse at a China that no longer exists, perhaps never existed, there is enough of today’s Chinese psyche in evidence, bits of what could be called a “lived in” kind of evidence such as these containers that are hidden behind the building which is yet another tourist shopping stop.
These containers do have a purpose, a mundane purpose that has more to do with daily living than about the human psyche. These containers hold water, oil, and often the slops of the kitchen. These are the things we place behind us as we work hard to present a more palatable “face” to the world. Yet, it is in the daily living that one truly discovers the human psyche.
We often get side-tracked with the outliers, the things that are different or unique. We look to cataclysmic events, bigger-than-life poets, philosophers, artists, leaders and gurus in hopes of discovering that which is hidden from our consciousness. We are always looking outwards for we believe that what is within is worthless, almost empty.
Each of us is a container with our own water, oil and slops hidden within. We deny our worthiness or we deny our contents. Either way, we dishonour the truth about self. That which we hide is shadow stuff and the resonances of soul. It is hard for us to believe that we truly are holy vessels, each of us a holy grail containing soul. We see ourselves as just so much dross, not gold. We are too wrapped up in the darkness, the shadow that exists within and expend most of our time projecting the shadows onto others in a hope of exorcising this darkness. Whatever time is left, whatever energy is left is spent in trying to bribe or lure an external holiness to accept us, to save us.
Yet all the while, it is always here, within. Each of us is a container, a holy chalice that is home to soul.
As you can tell, I took some liberties with the photo I took at WuZhen. Using Photoshop, I went in search of what I was seeing in this scene, a mood and perhaps even place that existed as a layer under the scene caught by the camera. It is as though there was an alter universe peeking out at the edges of “reality.”
So what did I see in place of a few tourists on a canal boat in a tourist area celebrating a Mythical China? I saw colour, a coolness that hinted at an approaching darkness touched with sadness, a sense of almost being lost. I looked at the scene before the shutter clicked capturing an image and saw the faces on the boat, faces which evoked a sense of souls being transported across the river Styx en route to Hades, a realm of darkness, chaos and possession and annihilation. Three faces in this photo, the woman sitting in the open doorway with a look of resignation, another face framed in the window staring at me giving the impression of a ghost, and the face of the boatman carrying a determined look – there is no evidence of joy.
Gratia tua illis succurrente
Mereantur evadere judicium
Fac eas de morte transire ad vitam
Et in memoria aeterna erit
Lord, have mercy
By the help of Thy grace
May they be enabled to escape the judgement
Grant them to pass over from death to life
And they shall live in memory everlasting.
Tantus labor non sit cassus
Ne me perdas
(Such travail must not be in vain
Do not let me be lost)
Cor Contritum quasi cinis
Quem patronum rogarturus?
ne me perdas
(My heart is as though ground to ashes
To which protector shall I appeal?
Do not let me be lost)
I found this song by accident while looking for an article referencing the River Styx and immediately saw how it fit here. I was prepared for the accompanying music to be Gregorian in mood and sound and was rudely jolted by a harder sound, one that evoked K.I.S.S. (Knights In Satan’s Service). The words to the song, the image, the music – all pointed me towards something beyond me, beyond what I expected in terms of my personal shadow. I guess that this isn’t surprising when each day I hear more and more of what appears to be the collective unconscious let loose in the outer world. And in watching and listening, I sense my own powerlessness in relation to this collective unconscious.
“Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during the individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning.” (Jung, CW 9ii, par. 13)
And so, like the woman in the boat, I wonder where we are headed as a collective. All I can do, is search my own soul and deal with my own personal moral challenges knowing that I am on this boat that will take me to another way of being hoping that I don’t get lost on the way.
This is one of the scenes I met with yesterday at WuZhen in ZheJiang province which is just south of JiangSu province where I live in China. Taking photos of water and boats is something I am drawn towards, something that isn’t necessarily planned consciously. And as usual, there is nothing about these kind of photographs that are about recording an event such as the event of yesterday which involved five foreign teachers being shown an ancient water city. Of course, I did take event photos as well as the photos that were simply moments of communion with unconsciousness, the collective unconscious as well as my personal unconscious.
I use Twitter and Facebook, two forms of social media, in order to connect with a larger world as well as reading a number of online newspapers. The words are sometimes overwhelming and confusing. It is easy to get lost in the words, in the constant flow of data that by its expression assumes a legitimacy. Yet I find the truths that run rampant do not fit together well, more often than not, they contradict each other. Images, words, sources, voices – - – all proclaim their truths. How can they all be truths? Wading through the flood of words, I hear voices that proclaim themselves to be masters, gurus, and leaders. I also here voices in panic as they echo the voices of the experts whom they come to trust. ”God is punishing Japan!” is a chant taken up by many fundamentalist Christians talking to other fundamentalist Christians. ”The world is coming to an end!” proclaims another group who study the stars and planets. I just shrug my shoulders and shake my head at these pronouncements and move on to search for something more rational to read. Yet, the echoes of these leaders found in others almost desperate to find something to hold onto is troubling. Words are powerful.
And so again, I look for other words to find something that resonates, something that will bring balance back for me. And, I find words from C.G. Jung, words spoken in 1959:
“. . . the danger that faces us today is that the whole of reality will be replaced by words. This accounts for the terrible lack of instinct in modern man, particularly the city-dweller. He lacks all contact with the life and breath of nature. He knows a rabbit or a cow only from the illustrated paper, the dictionary or the movies, and thinks he knows what it is really like – and is then amazed that cowsheds “smell,” . . . (Jung, CW 10, par. 882)
Words and voices and images that are not experienced in context are dangerous. I think of what is occurring in Libya knowing that there is a rebellion, even a revolution that has now engaged many nations. The planes, the bombs, the fear are real. Death is real. I felt the anger of the world on Twitter, an anger that is polarized with no one sitting in the middle. No one knows where the middle is anymore, a middle ground for the psyche and spirit of a people connected by culture, language and history. Outsiders rant, take sides, supply military weapons to the side of their choice and the encourage their team to kick ass.
All of the noise lets me know that consciousness is missing, that darkness assaults darkness breeding even more darkness. And we look at each other with the belief that we are more conscious than ever because of media, because of words. Personally, I need to be immersed into nature, into the numinous where babble is silent. I sense that it is only there that I can find a reality that isn’t so easily contained and explained, a fuller reality/