Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for January 2010

The Man in the Moon – A Mother Complex

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I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a clear photo of the full moon, the first full moon of 2010.  At least, that is, until this morning.  It is an issue of the camera.  Since the moon setting was later this morning, I had enough light for the camera.  Regardless, mission accomplished.  My next camera will have to have better and easier control in low light situations.

That said, the fact that I had to wait until the day in order to fully capture the moon in the photo has many possible meanings for me, psychologically.  The first is that of bringing unconscious contents to enough light so that part of the mystery of the unconscious is able to be appreciated.  Of course, this is only part of what could be uncovered, so to speak.  As I become more aware, I am more able to handle the exposure of more of the unconscious.  As I become a better photographer with a better camera, I can capture a clearer image of something so far away, and for the most part, cloaked in darkness.

On another level, I see this photo as an honouring of my own anima, my own inner feminine.  It also takes on my relationship to the mother archetype.   And, if possible, it evokes relationship.

In an essay in Volume 9i in the Collected Works series by Carl Gustav Jung, the “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Complex,” Jung powerfully looks at various faces of a mother complex, both from a the lens of a woman and the lens of a man.  Daryl Sharp added some insight for me into relationships and conflict and how the mother complex can actually be viewed from a positive manner.

To “turn away” from a relationship does not necessarily mean to leave it, or to stop loving someone.  It may simply involve paying more attention to oneself that to the other person.  But even this much is a heroic feat for a man with a positive mother complex.  It requires a ruthlessness, of self-confidence, that is alien to his ego but characteristic of his unsentimental shadow.  If he is not up to it – which to someone he’s involved with may look like a lack of relatedness, no heart 0 he will suffer the consequences:  loss of soul. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, 2008, pp 109-110)

Now this is just what I needed to hear, that “turning away” from an “other” in order to know more about “self” is not the same thing as leaving, abandoning or giving up on the relationship.  I think that this is where most modern day couples end up in separation and divorce.  The collective level of consciousness is too low for the task of holding the tension between self and other when one or both need to turn away, need to turn within.


The Transparent Self

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The subject line for this post is called “The Transparent Self.”  In a way, they share more in common that would originally be noted.  The Transparent Self is a book I picked up a long time ago, a book that sits on my book shelf back in my home in Canada.  The author of the book is Sidney Jourard.  Since my copy of the book is thousands of kilometres from where I sit as I compose this post, I will have to make do with what I found doing e-searches on the computer.

Jourard’s book as I remember it, is about man learning to disclose his “self” in order to become whole, more capable of a healthy relationship with “self” and “other.”

“We begin life with the world presenting itself to us as it is. Someone – our parents, teachers, analysts – hypnotizes us to ‘see’ the world and construe it in the ‘right’ way. These others label the world, attach names and give voices to the beings and events in it, so that thereafter, we cannot read the world in any other language or hear it saying other things to us. The task is to break the hypnotic spell, so that we become undeaf, unblind, and multilingual, thereby letting the world speak to us in new voices and write all its possible meaning in the new book of our existence.”

“We camouflage our true being before others to protect ourselves against criticism or rejection. This protection comes at a steep price. When we are not truly known by the other people in our lives, we are misunderstood. When we are misunderstood, especially by family and friends, we join the “lonely crowd.” Worse, when we succeed in hiding our being from others, we tend to lose touch with our real selves. This loss of self contributes to illness in its myriad forms.” (courtesy of Coyote Prime)
This agrees well with a lot of what Jung says as well.  Becoming transparent, allowing the unconscious contents to inform consciousness so that we have the courage to cease being desperately straight-jacketed by our personae, is almost another word for “individuation.”
The image of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci is all about wholeness.  The use of both circle and square honours the notion of quaternity and the wholeness of the mandala.  The presentation of the Vitruvian Man as a nude is all about transparency, about the stripping away of masks and being able to see the true man, vulnerable and yet powerful for all that vulnerability.
A question for you, my readers:  “To what extent is being transparent acceptable in a public forum such as this?  What comprises the line of unacceptability?”  I wait for your ideas, your thoughts.

Holding the Tension Until a Third Emerges

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Another sunset photo here in Costa Rica.  This time, I left out the sun and the large surf and the horizon.  Just a hint of the shore, a wet beach and the suggestion of growing depth in the waters.  I know that above this scene is the sun, the sky and the objective world as I know it.  I also know that below the surface of both the sand and the sea there is a depth of darkness, all the stuff that I don’t really know though I have some vague ideas.  Every once in a while, such as yesterday, while walking along the shore, I come across something before unknown that has been thrown up by the sea.  Yesterday, it was a small bright blue crab.  Such vibrant colours and shades.

This thin veneer of surface between the sky and the depths of the sea is how I see my own conscious self.  My ego tries to tell me that I am almost everything.  Yet, I know that I am like this thin membrane that somehow seeks an identity that is to be carved out of both the depths and the heights.

At times life throws another question at me, I am learning to hesitate in giving an answer.  Why?  Because I know that the answer is not what is needed.  Rather, it is about living the question.  This is the same for most of us.  Take relationships for example.  When there is conflict in relationship, often the question becomes, “Should I stay and honour the other, or should I leave and honour my self?”  It always seems to be a situation where either one in the relationship will be declared a winner, where for one, love overcomes will to power, and for the other will to power overcomes love.

But, it really doesn’t have to be this way.  For in the end, neither side wins and both suffer deep pain.  Hold the tension between love and will to power – in the relationship, both have to hold the tension until it feels ready to explode.  This allows unconscious contents to be activated which literally offers a way out of the polarized choices, a third way.  This is the transcendent function in operation.

Daryl Sharp paraphrases Jung as he says, “Jung advised pursuing (active imagination) in order to come to terms with the unconscious and thus to profit from the tension that naturally exists between rational consciousness and the essentially irrational, instinctive, unconscious drives that can be so disturbing if not attended to.  Naturally, this is possible only when the conscious mind is motivated, as when it finds itself in a critical situation, faced with a choice between metaphorical equivalents of lady and tiger.”  (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, 2008, pp 97-98)

Active Imagination and the Transcendent Function

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Normally, I don’t save photos that aren’t well defined with good colour and texture.  Somehow, this photo made me hesitate.  In the original, before I stripped out the colour, the flowers were bright, bright orange.  I took this photo as quite a distance using the full 15X optical telephoto feature.  I obviously needed a longer telephoto if I am to ever get this shot right for bird identification purposes.  That said, there is something powerful about the image for me, something deeper than the recording of factual reality.

The task in active imagination is to wrestle with the symbol until its meaning and purpose become clear to consciousness. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, 2008, p.96)

There are element in the image that are clear, well-defined.  The bird is the least clear, the least grasped aspect of the image.  In a way, it is not much different than trying to get a clear image of myself.  As I’ve learned and continue to learn, who and what I am is a mystery even to me.  So many filters are in place that it is next to impossible to get a real look at my “self.”  Of course, I can find snapshots aplenty which clearly document one persona or another, but to see the self?  No such photo exists.

So then, how can I approach the self in hopes of getting some personal clarity?  How can I transcend the current state of limited ego in order to see more?  Jung suggests the use of active imagination as the best tool for producing the transcendent funtion.

In order, therefore, to gain possession of the energy that is in the wrong place, he must make the emotional state the basis or starting point of the procedure.  He must make himself as conscious as possible of the mood he is in, sinking himself in it without reserve and noting down on paper all the fantasies and other associations that come up.  Fantasy must be allowed the freest possible play . . . The whole procedure is a kind of enrichment and clarification of the affect, whereby the affect and its contents are brought nearer to consciousness, becoming at the same time more impressive and more understandable . . . This is the beginning of the transcendent function, i.e., of the collaboration of conscious and unconscious data. (Jung, CW 8, pars 166; cited in Sharp, op cit, p. 97)

As you, the reader can tell, this is the prime reason for the existence of this blog site, to use photos in the work of active imagination so that, bit by bit, I can tease out unconscious data in the hopes of learning more about my “self.”

The Alchemy of Sunsets

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It’s amazing how I never get tired of taking photographs of sunsets.  Being fortunate enough to own a camera and being able to take sunset photos over the Canadian prairies, over lakes, in India, China, Cuba, Mexico and now Costa Rica, has been one of the greatest gifts that life has bestowed upon me.  I have been to other places but always in too much of a hurry or engaged with too many people in order to take the time needed for sitting quietly with a camera waiting for that special photo – special for me and to me.

Perhaps it is because I was born almost old, with what some would call an old soul.  But, I don’t really think so.  For me it has to do with being able to get outside of my own ego, being able to see beyond myself as the centre of the universe while at the same time knowing that I am a full part of that universe.

Sunsets are about change for me, alchemical change that goes deep into the soul, deep into the roots of being.  The red sun symbolizes the furnace that heats the elements of self, both conscious and unconscious, a furnace that cooks the elements in order to be ready for rebirth with the next rising sun.

As I went jogging this morning, something that I have returned to as long as my body and mind let me continue, I got to see the sunrise over the low mountains on my return to my starting point.  At that moment, I knew that the idea of rebirth was not just a fiction, but a daily reality.

But saying all of that, I do resist change, even fight it out of fear for not knowing what that change will bring to me, what that change will cost me.

It is true that the unknown is always more or less frightening because it threatens the stability of the ego,  Hence we are prone to imagine that the influence of the unconscious (from the shadow and other complexes) is deleterious and ought to be resisted.  This is often so, but not necessarily, for ego-consciousness can get off-track in terms of individuation – who and what a person is meant to be.  It follows, then, thanks to the self-regulating nature of the psyche, that the ego is well advised to attend to the possibilities “voiced” by the unconscious via, for instance, dreams, fantasies and synchronistic events. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, 2008, pp 90-91)

That is it, “possibilities.”  That is what all the work in trying to become more aware of one’s own shadow, one’s unconscious contents is about.  Focusing on dreams, fantasies, active imagination simply to wallow in the shadow hoping that somehow one emerges a guru is fool’s game.  the risk of getting lost is too great.  The work of individuation isn’t supposed to be a threat to the ego, it is supposed to be a gift to the ego in which “self” becomes, bit by bit, better understood and know.  In doing the work, there is just a bit less darkness.

Darkness will always be there just as night must separate the sunset and the dawn.  Daring to meet the darkness allows us to grow, to transform, to re-emerge in each new day, more complete.

On Being Different and Living Together in Peace

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Cattle and cattle egrets found together in a field on the outskirts of Playa Jaco somehow find a way to live together in spite of being very different.  Theirs is a symbiotic relationship, providing each other something that is needed and receiving equal benefit.  When I think about this, it isn’t much different in many human relationships.

Of course, I don’t think I can include most intimate relationships, most marriages in this willingness to both give and receive in spite of differences,  Rather, I am speaking of many other community relationships.  For example, a friend is skilled in various crafts but doesn’t have much skill with communications technology.  Since the opposite friend has the skills needed in communication technology, but is lacking in working with tools, a relationship is able to grow and thrive giving each person a sense of worth in relation to the other.

In another situation, one who has a need to talk, to have someone listen compassionately is a valued friend for someone else who is grateful for friendship where there is little demand for talking, something that is a difficult task other than to offer a few pleasantries.  Most of our human lives including in the workplace are filled with just this kind of symbiotic relationships.  Yet, in intimate situations?

The difficulties that regularly arise between different attitude-types are legion … Jung’s observation was that what initially seems to be an ideal union may in time become uneasy and embittered.

One might think an understanding of typology would forestall such enmity and allow two people to live in peace, each acknowledging and appreciating the value of the other, but the reality is that even many individuals who have a good grasp on their psychological make-up may find it difficult or even impossible to tolerate an intimate relationship with someone of a different attitudinal orientation.  Hence so many acrimonious divorces and separations. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, 2008, pp 86-87)

I think that this is easily enough understood in itself.  Intimacy requires a high level of trust where one’s “self” is held in esteem by the “other.”  When intimacy between opposite types is enacted, it becomes critical to deny the “self” in favour of “other.”  Where on dominates, the other is diminished.  This takes me to the words of Jung:

Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.  The one is but the shadow of the other. (Jung, CW 7, par 78)

And therein lies the problem.  Especially when life causes us to fall to our knees, bruised and wounded, when we begin the work of healing the self and the soul, that is when strive to survive knowing that in the end, regardless of whom we engage in intimacy, we are alone.  Our journey is an individual journey even if shared with an “other.”

Persona and Shadow – A Curious Dance Before the Fall

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This butterfly is unidentified and will likely stay that way.  In honesty, I take photos of various butterflies because they are beautiful, but without any interest in knowing their names.  With birds, it is different for me.  With butterflies, I see a graceful, gentle and almost ephemeral presence.  Yet underneath that presence it isn’t all that beautiful – it is a bug.

It is kind of like us as humans.  We can dress ourselves up and paint ourselves to appear as perfected beauty.  The mirror will tell us that we are attractive, that we are alluring, that we are worthy of the attention of others.  Yet, this is only a painted surface.  Beneath the painting we are typically unhappy with what we know really exists.  Worse, we are frightened by the shadows that hint of even worse, darker sides of ourselves.

Not only do we craft a physical appearance, we craft our persona as well with a desire to be more acceptable, more worthy of people’s attention, and perhaps even friendship.

When I was a teacher, between periods of being a school principal, I strove to be friendly, charming, knowledgeable, innovative with my students.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to reach all of my students, especially teaching an unpopular subject; but that didn’t get in the way of my efforts, efforts which paid off for my students in general.  While expending great amounts of energy, it seemed to be like I was caught on a wheel, running like a hamster getting nowhere.  Something would have to go, but I didn’t want it to be the perception of me by colleagues and students.  I knew that the shadow was working just as hard to escape the tight confines I created, perhaps working even harder than my conscious self to maintain the barriers.

What broke?  Relationships outside of the role of persona, administrivia behind the role of persona.  Thankfully, before I was exposed as a complete fraud, I was gifted by midlife crisis which allowed me an out, which allowed the pressure to ease, and which eventually forced me to deal with so much stuff denied.