Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for February 2010

The Symbolic Life – The Quest of Individuation

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This is a beautiful bird that I managed somehow to capture with my camera even though it was raining.  I was on the balcony of a backpacker’s hostel in Santa Elena when I took the photo.  For this fellow, the ordinary is not what appears to be the norm.  He is flamboyant, almost cheerful with his life, bowing down before whatever it is in life that makes one rejoice in being alive knowing that one has a life with meaning and purpose.

Okay, so that is stretching it a bit, but this is about active imagination as I’ve mentioned many times.  These photos are symbolic, evocative and resonant for me.  I look at life through my lens, both the camera lens and that which is within me that filters all that comes in.  For me, the inner lens sees a world that is framed in Jungian ideas.  The camera simply frames what “I” see and how “I” see it.  The process is more a symbolic quest for me as I rummage through the clutter, cobwebs and ghosts of the unconscious; for me this is a quest for life.

For me, there is no straight line of facts and figures, no template to follow in order to uncover a life that has meaning.  It seems that each time I try to follow a trail that already is in place, someone else’s trail, I get lost and need to retrace my steps back until I find a familiar place.  Then, knowing that it is painful to have to backtrack, defeated, I start to inch forward again making sure that the trail I follow is one that I forge, one that my intuition and gut tells me is the right one for me.  Not doing this would leave me desperate, fearful of being lost; not lost in space and time, but lost to my soul.

You see, man is in need of a symbolic life – badly in need.  We only live banal, ordinary, rational or irrational things – which are naturally also within the scope of rationalism, otherwise you could not call them irrational.  But we have no symbolic life.  Where do we live symbolically?  Nowhere, except where we participate in the ritual of life.  But who, among the many, are really participating in the ritual of life?  Very few.” (Jung, CW 18, par 625)

Now I understand my need to escape the paths taken by others, it is more about the need to participate in a symbolic life.  Following the worn pathways leaves one in a meaningless rut.  Yes, we try hard to construct meaning from our careers, from the lives of our children and/or grandchildren, from our investments and from our social position.  Some expend a lot of effort and money to rebuild a home, to renovate, to upgrade, to beautify according to the latest fashion journal only to feel that once done, they are again missing something forcing them to reinvest more and more of doing the same thing hoping for different results.  These are lives of quiet desperation, banal lives.  I am lucky.  I retired and now have the time and will to follow a different path.  This is the greatest gift to me thanks to living through a midlife crisis.


Earthquake and Tsunami

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I am posting a second time today as it only seems appropriate considering that my location in Central America puts me much closer to the earthquake that took place in Chile early this morning.  Strangely though Playa Jacó is on the Pacific coast, the tsunami that was expected between 8:00 am and 9:00 am didn’t seem to cause much concern.  Only a few American expats quickly took to the hills in order to escape a wall of water.  Most of the others took a more cautious wait-and-see attitude.  Costa Rica has experienced at least three earthquakes in the past two months, two of which topped 5 on the scale.  I plotted the course of the tsunami using data supplied by a number of places and soon found out why there was little worry.  The direction of the tsunami was WNW and we were ENE of the epicentre of the quake.  When the crest finally did arrive here about 8:20 am, the water was about 3/4 of a foot above normal.  Two hours later I was walking the beach along with hundreds of others enjoying the sunshine.  So, for all of those who wonder, I am safe and sound and life is truly back to normal.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

February 27, 2010 at 1:26 pm

One Boy, One Girl Two Hearts Beating Wildly

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Two leaves from the same plant.  though they are joined, they are giving every indication of growing apart.  I initially took the photo because of the contrast of colours between the leaves, a splash of colour in an almost dreary green-blue sea drenched in rain and darkened by the forest and the clouds.  I noted how the red-brown leaf looked so healthy while the green leaf tinged with brown looks unhealthy.  That said, I know that beneath the colours, both are struggling.  I have the feeling that the green one will be falling off before the brown one.  Somehow, no matter how linked both are together, the partnership can’t hold together.  Sometimes there are problems with togetherness.

Togetherness.  “One heart and one soul.”  That is the typical fantasy-thinking during courtship, and it can last even longer than the honeymoon.  But as time goes on, it becomes clear that life is not always what we want it to be. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book Two, 2008, pp 93-94)

Now, having put in a lot of years together, united in the task of parenting and building careers, social position, and a home; there is an expectation that one is owed for the work.  And one looks to the other for payment.  What is that payment?  To somehow become once again that person they originally married; to do less is a betrayal. Both remember the “real person” they married and the “feelings” that were born.  Here is a song by Tim McGraw that still is played frequently on the radio.  In a way, this song mirrors my story.

At a crowded restaurant way cross town, he waited impatiently
When she walked in, their eyes met,
And they both stared
Right there and then,
Everyone else disappeared, but

One boy, one girl,
Two hearts beating wildly,
To put it mildly, it was love at first sight.
He smiled, she smiled, and they knew right away
This was the day they’d been waiting for all their lives.
For a moment the whole world
Revolved around one boy, and one girl

In no time at all, they were standing there in the front of a little church
Among their friends and family, repeating those sacred words.
The preacher said “son, kiss your bride”
And he raised her veil
Like the night they met,
Time just stood still, for

He was holding her hand when the doctor looked up and grinned,
“Congratulations, twins”

One boy, one girl
Two hearts beating wildly
To put it mildly, it was love at first sight.
He smiled, she smiled, and they knew right away
This was the day they’d been waiting for all their lives,
And for a moment the whole world,
Revolved around one boy, and one girl

Yet, now both have changed. both have matured, both have had time clear some of the projected magic from their eyes.  Little did they know that now that the children have grown up and have moved on to make homes of their own, that they would have to “work” to build something new in terms of relationship.  Yesterday’s post left me with a question or two about the container and the contained, how both somehow became the other, and with the question of one being complicated and one being simple.  I guess it goes back to the projections where the opposite nature becomes the hook.  So, I turn again to Jung for more:

Since the more complicated has perhaps a greater need of being contained that the other, he feels himself outside the marriage and accordingly always plays the problematical role.  The more the contained clings, the more the container feels shut out of the relationship.  The contained pushes into it by her clinging, and the more she pushes, the less the container is able to respond.  He therefore tends to spy out the window, no doubt unconsciously at first, but with the onset of middle age their awakens in him a more insistent longing for that unity and undividedness which is especially necessary to him on account of his dissociated nature.  At this juncture things are apt to occur that bring the conflict to a head. (Jung, CW 17, par 333)

The container needs to be contained.  The contained must learn to become a container.  Both must become whole, conscious of their nature, conscious of their need and to be willing to allow life to be lived differently in their relationship.  I am a container and need to be contained.  And, I am contained.

Sitting here at the keyboard, I am reminded of the words of a villa neighbour, an American single male in midlife, one of many such men here in Costa Rica who has one central goal remaining, to find a good woman to spend the rest of his life with, to find a good woman to take care of him, to be his container.

On Being Married – On Being Container and Contained

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A bench found on the mountain path through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve appears as though it hasn’t been used in quite a long time.  As I walked the mountain paths over a distance of perhaps eight kilometres, there were three benches placed for those who felt they needed a time out from the strenuous trek going up and down the path as it wound around the mountain.

I will admit to doing a bit of touch up to the photo, a reduction of contrast as well as reducing colour saturation in order to come closer to the feeling and reality of the scene as I remember it.  Sometimes the camera lies when it records a scene, giving more contrast or richer colours in one instance or removing contrast, shadows or the richness of colours.

What the eyes see is not always what the lens sees.  What one person sees is not the same as what another person sees either.  And, as I learn as the years pass, what I have seen at one point in time changes over time, not because the scene has changed, but because I have changed.  This is true about seeing people as much as it is about seeing things.

Since this is my experience, I wonder about the experience of others.  For example, I know that my children saw me as someone quite large in life.  Yet, over the years, that vision has been replaced as those children grew into adults.  Now, I am a much smaller person in physical size.  As well as the way I am seen by my children, there is the question as to how I am seen by my partner, the woman I married almost forty years ago.  There is no doubt in my mind that over the years I have become more of a stranger that a constant familiar presence.  In my mind, both of these examples can be seen in a positive light.  My children now look at me from the position of being adults, my wife now sees me as a complex and real person while living her own complexity.  For all of us, the lens has changed.

I return to the subject of relationships, that as found between men and women, relationships that could be characterised as marriages.  Typically, a relationship has one partner be the container and the other partner being the contained.  This works well until midlife when the rules change:

Middle life is the moment of greatest unfolding, when a man still gives himself to his work with his whole strength and his whole will.  But in this very moment evening is born, and the second half of life begins.  Passion now changes her face and is called duty; “I want” becomes the inexorable “I must,” and the turnings of the pathway that once brought surprise and discovery become dulled by custom. (Jung, CW 17, par. 331)

At this moment, this entry into midlife, the lens through which we view and understand the world has also changed.  And, with the change of the lens, what had been familiar and comfortable now becomes less comfortable.  Above, I mentioned that in each marriage one is the container and the other is the contained.  Well, that is true to a certain extent, but in reality both partners become both.

It is an almost regular occurrence for a woman to be wholly contained spiritually in her husband, and for a husband to be wholly contained, emotionally, in his wife.  One could describe this as the problem of the “contained” and the “container.” (Jung, CW 17, par 331)

Both are containers, both are contained.  I could easily see how this becomes a problem, especially as the lens changes in midlife.  I will draw more on Jung to clarify this business of container and contained.  But as I draw on his words, it is important to realise that references to the male and the female can easily be switched.  Gender has no ownership to a specific relationship that of being either container or contained.

The one who is contained feels himself to be living entirely within the confines of the marriage; his attitude to the marriage partner is undivided; outside the marriage there exist no essential obligations and no binding interests. . . . The great advantage lies in his own undividedness, and this is a factor not to be underrated in the psychic economy. (Jung, CW 17, par 332)

Yikes!  This is as close to a personal portrait as I could ever find in terms of relationship and containment within my marriage.  The problem for any marriage with this is the building up of need in terms of dependence.  Fears, not based on anything in the outer world, but based on one’s shadow, cause one to cling to the other, the container unreasonably.  That fear manifests in a heightened sense of insecurity, fear that at any moment the reciprocal love of the partner who is the container will disappear and with the disappearance of that love, the disappearance of the partner.  It’s as though one begins grieving long before an ending.  But what about the container?

The container, on the other hand, who in accordance with his tendency to dissociation has an especial need to unify himself in undivided love for another, will be left far behind in this effort, which is naturally very difficult for him, by the simpler personality.  While he is seeking in the latter all the subtleties and complexities that would complement and correspond to his own facets, he is disturbing the other’s simplicity. . . . And soon enough his partner, who in accordance with her simpler nature expects simple answers from him, will give him plenty to do by constellating his complexities with her everlasting insistence on simple answers.  Willynilly, he must withdraw into himself before the suasions of simplicity. . . . The simpler nature works on the more complicated like a roon that is too small, that does not allow him enough space.  The complicated nature, on the other hand, gives the simpler one too many rooms with too much space, so that she never knows where she really belongs.  So it comes about quite naturally that the more complicatexd contains the simpler. (Jung, CW 17, par 333)

There is so much here, so much to say, so much to chew on.  I guess I will have to return to this theme again in the next post so that I can say what I need to say.  I want to find out more about container and contained about simple and complicated …

Marriage as a Psychological Relationship

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This is a flower that I found on a dirt trail about three kilometres from the villa one morning.  I was captured by the delicate nature of the flower, especially how it was in very close proximity, almost entangled with its mate.  It reminded me of how a man an a woman are often entangled in each other sometimes to the point of being so enmeshed that they have trouble figuring out who is self and who is other.  I guess one could say that they are so “into each other” that there is no room left for self awareness, for being conscious.

In the beginning, a relationship based on love is not a relationship built on consciousness.  It is a relationship built on projections and hooks.  Both man and woman see the “other” as the ideal that is buried within the unconscious, a projected anima/animus.   For me, it was unquestionable, it was love at first sight.  Three hours after meeting the woman I was to marry, I proposed and she accepted.  What did I “know” about this woman?  Nothing and everything; I knew nothing about her as a person, but I knew everything about her that somehow connected to a deep inner place within me.  I didn’t need anything more other than the inner confirmation.  I guess it was the same for her as she accepted my proposal immediately.  Now, decades later we are working at trying to understand, trying to get to know the reality of the other.  It is only now that a real relationship is being examined for its possibilities.  That said, there is so much still in place that is based on unconscious responses based on complexes.

Young men and women cleave to each other on the whole for instinctive gratification, not because they are enamored of the loved one’s psychology.  This may not be all bad, for at least it perpetuates the human race.  But the truth is tha the heart-felt words, “I love you,” are generally motivated by physical desire, social standing and the like. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book Two, 2008, p. 89)

This is very evident in marriages between young people, but I am finding out here in Costa Rica, that it is no different for those in midlife who have come here alone and soon pair up with a local Costa Rican.  The same was seen in China and Mexico.  It is enough just to have someone to cling to in order to escape loneliness, to escape too much of being with the “self.”  What I am seeing suggests most of the pairing is instinctual, a meeting of needs rather than a conscious assessment of the self and the other in order to establish a relationship based on both parties being conscious. The problems of relationship are not solved in clinging to a new partner if the relationship isn’t based on being conscious of what is going on within self and other.  When the needs change and the blinders again fall off, relationship is again doomed.  Patty Loveless sings about what remains when projections are withdrawn and one is faced with the stranger they married . . .

“She left the car in the driveway
She left the key in the door
She left the kids at her mama’s
And the laundry piled up on the floor
She left her ring on the pillow
Right where it wouldn’t be missed
She left a note in the kitchen
Next to the grocery list

It said, you don’t even know who I am
You left me a long time ago
You don’t even know who I am
So what do you care if I go

He left the ring on the pillow
He left the clothes on the floor
And he called her to say he was sorry
But he couldn’t remember what for
So he said I’ve been doing some thinking
I’ve been thinking that maybe you’re right
I go to work every morning
And I come home to you every night

And you don’t even know who I am
You left me a long time ago
You don’t even know who I am
So what do I care if you go
You don’t even know who I am
So what do I care if you go”

So, what to do when one feels misunderstood, when one’s needs are not being met, when the feeling is “you don’t even know who I am?”   I guess the best place to start is with your “self.”  It’s hard to blame the other when even the self is a stranger.  Will this solve the problems and allow the relationship to be saved?  Well, not necessarily.  But, what is the alternative?

“On the whole, depth psychology . . . is suitable more for older couples whose relationships have foundered, run aground, precisely because of the lack of the partners’ self-knowledge.  Even later education may not heal a broken relationship, but it can prepare both parties for another kick at the can, without blindfolds.  After divorce or separation, they are indeed often ripe to know, open to learn, about the role played by their respective psychologies – typology, projection, complexes, shadow, animus and anima – in their unhappy situation.

I am not suggesting that marriage counseling is the answer, or even individual therapy, though often it is.  Truth to tell, becoming conscious is responsible for quite as many break-ups as kiss-and-make-ups.  When projections are taken back, there is often nothing or very little , to hold people together.” (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book Two, 2008, p. 89)

Ouch!  Not too hopeful is it?  I guess if nothing, it is about honesty, and that is worth quite a bit in itself.  At least in becoming more conscious one one’s self, one is able to avoid most of the blind mistakes as one moves through what remains of life.  It might not be as hopeless as it looks as it all depends on the willingness of both to become conscious and to re-approach each other consciously with the intention of fulfilling the promise of “for better or worse until death do we part.”  For, as one learns, it is about balance, not perfection; it is about providing a safe place for both darkness and light within the relationship.

Creativity as a Force of Nature

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I thought that this was a tree until I looked with greater care – it was a fern plant that was as large as many trees in the cloud forest of Monteverde.  It was impressive to say the least, a true picture of the force of nature.  Somehow, something small became huge, became more than expected.  For myself, this is encouraging for it points to the possibility that I will become more than expected regardless of my now being well into the second half of life.

“The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle.  The creative urge lives and grows in him like a tree in the earth from which it draws its nourishment.  We would do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche.” (Jung, CW 17, par 115)

So, does that make the artist a victim?  I don’t accept that idea in the least.  Am I an artist?  In my opinion, yes I am an artist.  Do I feel that I am a vehicle for some “unborn work?”  Without question I accept this as a truism with regards to my “self.”  For some time I thought that it was music that was my art, my gift; then it was the images I would make with paint, water colours or charcoal; and then it was photography.  But predating all of this was the notion that it was with words that I was to bring forward some “work.”  I knew it wasn’t a matter of choice, but of some compulsion.  Jung here shows some of the wellsprings of that compulsion.  Yet for me, the wellsprings go deeper, born out of my “raison d’être.”  I have a need to poke into life, to examine life and my presence in that life, to question everything in search of what lies beneath.  Thanks to JF for sending me a document containing these words:

“The urge to know the things of life, to doubt them and reason about them, became for Plato a daemonic grace, a “force” of human nature that grabs hold of one, not a mere “technique” that one is free to choose or not, not a mere slave to be kicked about at whim.  For Plato the rationality in whose name Socrates accepted the sentence of death was not its own ground but the sublimest for of participation in a divine “giveness.” (Heisig, “The Mystique of the Nonrational and a New Spirituality”)

Powerful words that echo Jung’s words while pointing to that sense of deeper and bigger that I keep talking about.  Again the lack of choice, of freedom is mentioned.  I want to challenge this as I do see a way out of the compulsion – a messy out in which the “host” decided to quit, saying no to life and the divine madness.  There are enough examples of artists going mad and ending it all rather than continue being the vessel through which work as yet unborn could emerge.

For me, it has been lying within, waiting for the right time.  I sense that my life is more about being tempered and made ready to do the work.  I sense that in this process I am to become a part of the process, not simply a victim.  When?  What is this work?  Good questions which, as of yet, have no acceptable answers.  And in thinking about all of this, I wonder if this isn’t more about delusions of grandeur, pathetic attempts at manufacturing some mystical meaning for my life.  But even this must wait to be proven true or untrue.

The Myth of Happiness

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Here is another photo from the cloud forest near Santa Elena, Costa Rica that has a sense of darkness, a sense of hidden spaces and places.  Looking closely there is little doubt that this is a beautiful place, but one that is also filled with suffering and sorrow, filled with darkness.  I guess I could say that it is an honest photo of what life is really about, what life should really be about.

This is a different scene from that of the sunny beaches and palm trees, where the birds bask in bright light.  Living in the sunny zone, I have come to realise that it isn’t all happiness here.  All around me there is incredible dysfunction.  My neighbours have hookers and johns for friends.  As a result, we are getting to know these people, including the hookers and johns, better.  Beneath their tragic lives I glimpse something beautiful but broken.  Why do so many with wealth and privilege come to such desperate straits?  What have they lost along the way of their lives?

More importantly for me is the question, “Why am I not as happy as I should be?”   I have everything that I need and want.  I don’t lack for financial security.  I have the freedom of movement and expression and a good home in a safe country.  I have healthy and secure children with their own homes and young families.  I have it all.  Yet, I don’t.

Instinct cannot be freed without freeing the mind, just as the mind divorced from instinct is condemned to futility.  Not that the tie between mind and instinct is necessarily a harmonious one.  On the contrary it is full of conflict and means suffering.  Therefore the principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophical patience in face of suffering.  Life demands for its completion and fulfilment a balance between joy and sorrow. (Jung, CW 16, par 185)

What?  Happiness is impossible?  Two days ago while sitting and waiting for a bus to travel from Puntarenas to Playa Jacó at a small outdoor restaurant, I was listening to that old song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  The mad quest for happiness is causing more grief that joy.  Maybe it is okay not to be happy.  Maybe it is okay to not be in full flight from the shadows within that seek to destroy the satisfaction and complacency of midlife and later.  Again, it call comes down to balance.  Even resorting to psychotherapy and  analysis won’t result in life as a state of bliss – perpetual bliss or happiness is not a state of psychological health as it isn’t a state of balance.