Archive for the ‘ZheJiang’ tag
As I began yesterday, so I continue today – with relationship. And as with yesterday, I want to continue with a focus on one’s relationship with one’s self. As a parent, I watched my children grow from newborns. I saw them as fully unconscious and saw them begin to meet the world, and themselves. Perhaps the biggest discovery made is that the self is separate from the rest of the world – separate from the mother and father that on the other side of sight. I’ve watched as toes and fingers were discovered and then used as tools to discover more of the world. The learning curve is steep and takes quite a few years before there is some comfort with the fact that self is separate and safe in that separation.
The approach of self awareness and self consciousness precipitates another journey where there is a search for meaning, trying to make some sense of one’s existence, a search for being happy to be oneself. I may have been one of the slower ones in this regard as this part of my journey didn’t start until I was seventeen years old. I admit that flashes of this upcoming journey were felt like speed bumps during my youth, but immersion into this stage of the journey waited until I was in my senior high school years. Hungry for some answers, I found that teachers and extended family members had no suggestions other than to pay attention in class or to engage in distracting activities. So I looked elsewhere for some answers – looked to dead philosophers, theologians and psychologists. I knew that someone else had to have the answers that I needed. Of course, no one did have the answers about who I was or why I was.
I was in community, in a family, in school with classmates and teachers, in a music group playing with a fierceness that was determined to define myself as an artist, as one of the group. Yet even in the little band of five, each of us were separated regardless of how many hours we practiced noisily or how many hours we drove around the streets of Ottawa as a way to pass some of the hours, or the hours hanging out in each other’s company between classes at school.
The band broke up, high school classes ended, I got a job and the world that I had come to know disappeared. Though we promised to keep in touch, the relationships with others came to an end and again I was alone with my self, still a stranger to my self. I don’t know if any of us ever get over finding that regardless of how many friends or family members, one ends up alone in the crowd, somehow unable to bridge the distance between self and other. As I looked at these seniors sitting outside a senior residence in XiTang, not too far from the entrance into the restored ancient part of the city, I can’t help but wonder if they are sitting alone with themselves in spite of the others sitting near them.
This photo taken in XiTang was meant to capture a sense of magic, a sense of the Garden of Eden, of romance and the mystery of an ancient culture. I didn’t know at the time that it would find its way here, but most of my posted photos are taken for other reasons even if most of those reasons are unconscious.
With this photo and this post, I am returning to a theme I often visit, that of relationship. I am not an expert in relationships though I am engaged in being in relationship to my wife, a relationship that is approaching its fortieth year. I am approaching this theme through the work of James Hollis as explored in his book, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other. I make no promises on how long I will stick with this theme. All I can tell you is that the “magical other” that I am in search of is one that is found within myself. I hope that in wandering again through this book I find a few more trails within that will allow me to build a stronger relationship with my “Self” in order to be a better participant in my outer world relationships with others.
But of course, in searching within, I find that I must look at my “self” as expressed in the outer world, in the relationships with others – parents, friends, siblings, children, enemies, colleagues, students, and with my life partner. It all starts with “me.”
When I am honest with myself, I am alone, separate, distanced from everyone and everything. I am even separate from most of what I could consider to be myself. Awareness came slowly, awareness that I actually existed as a separate being. And when the awareness of my own being arrived, I found myself immediately alone in my head. At that moment, I began working to somehow reconnect, to go back to where I had come from before finding myself alone. But of course, before this moment of realisation, “I” didn’t really consciously. In a manner, I was born “separated” from all others.
With time and effort I learned to connect tenuously with others, with a mother and father who were confused in their own roles as parents, as lovers. I knew early that these two individuals struggled with themselves and couldn’t be there for me – I was locked in my head and they were out of reach. The dawn of consciousness within me caused a separation between parent and child. And so a new relationship was born because of that separation. The awareness of “self” and the existence of “other” and the separateness of both was the source of my first experience of relationship.
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.
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.
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/