Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for September 2010

Assimilating the Shadow

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This is one of my Chinese colleagues sitting at his desk waiting for students to arrive for the next class.  He is one of the less timid colleagues and often stops to talk with me on the stairs or in the hallways as we pass each other on the way to classes or finishing classes.  I chose to use this photo because you can’t identify him in terms of culture or using any other criteria.  All that you can know is that he is likely a male and that he is an older specimen of the male gender, likely in late middle age.

Midlife is a hard time for most of us.  The work of the first half is basically done.  We may have become parents; we likely have taken care of carving a place in the outer world, in the community; and now our mortality is staring at us in the face.  We know we are getting older.  And, we wonder at has become of the time we so carelessly used up.  After all the focus on the outer world, we are left staring at ourselves in the mirror and saying, “Is this all?”  We see a stranger in the mirror, an aged face that causes us to again ask, “Who am I, really?” and we worry about dying without finding meaning for our short lives.  And so if we are not satisfied with the lack of answers and we are willing to risk digging deeper, we begin a new journey, a heroic journey in which we meet ghost-like images in the shadows within.  We battle for survival with these shadows knowing that to fail would mean that our lives would truly be meaningless.  Who will rule, ego or shadow?  It is only when we arrive at the realisation that the only way to survive is to accept the shadow as an intimate part of “self.”  We must assimilate our shadow.

There is no generally effective way to assimilate the shadow.  It is more like diplomacy or statesmanship, and it is always an individual matter.  Shadow and ego are like two political parties jockeying for power.  If one can speak of a technique at all, it consists solely in an attitude.  First one has to accept and take seriously the existence of the shadow.  Second, one has to become aware of its qualities and intentions.  This happens through conscientious attentions to moods, fantasies and impulses.  Third, a long process of negotiation is unavoidable.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 47)

Daryl Sharp has it right.  If one doesn’t do this work, one is reduced to being a victim, to being confused, bitter and angry.  Moods consume us and control us.  We drown our pain in alcohol, in drugs, in chasing the elusive fountain of youth and money trying to deny that the questions are even heard.  We live through the lives of our children and grandchildren rather than face the fact of our own lives and that we are responsible for the quality of these lives.  Better to be the loved, self-sacrificing grandparent or parent than to risk self-discovery.

Perhaps, but not for me.  I must take the risk regardless of the cost in terms of what others will think of me.  I need to find answers to these questions that can only be answered by turning within and assimilating the parts hidden in shadow.

At the Centre

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I am back on-line.  The highspeed modem died leaving me with no Internet service for two days.  I am now using a different modem on a different computer until I get my regular Internet service back.  Thankfully, I have this option as of this morning so that I can again post here in Through a Jungian Lens

I took this photo at a place I had never visited here in Changzhou, the Ming/Qing Dynasty Furniture House.  The colours and the circle with the radiating, swirling spokes just begged me to take another photo.  Since I have learned to listen to that inner voice, I obliged.  You see, the shadow also has a light as well as a dark aspect.

How do I explain this?  Well, I want to try by looking at something different, at the moment of dying.  About thirty-five years ago I read a book that talked of the experiences of those dying, those declared dead only to return to consciousness.  Each person seemed to have the same story to tell of darkness and then going into that darkness to find a bright light at the centre that grew as they approached the centre.  When my father-in-law “died” in the hospital not long after I read this book, he somehow returned to life.  He told me that he wasn’t allowed to die at the time as his wife was not ready to live alone; he had some work to do in order to prepare her for taking care of the accounts and the house.  His story was an exact duplicate of the stories I had read.  He, too, experienced the circle of light that drew him out of the darkness. 

Does this fit the idea of light being within the darkness?  I think so.  But, there are other aspects of this light that are more “prosaic” so-to-speak. 

“However, the shadow is not only the dark underside of the conscious personality.  It has a bright side too:  aspects of ourselves that might yet be lived out, our unlived life – talents and abilities that have long been buried or never been conscious.  They are potentially available, and their conscious realization often releases a surprising amount of energy.  That is why a depressed person is counseled to go into the mood rather than try to escape it.  You don’t find buried treasure unless you dig.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 47)

Yes, a better self is there to be uncovered, discovered.  Doing the hard work of digging into the shadows, trying to become more aware will yield us awareness of our potential good as well as our potential evil.  As we discover, uncover more about “self,” we get to decide how and who we will be with that knowledge.  We cease being victims.

As Soft as a Feather

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Today’s photo was taken in Hong Mei Park, Changzhou’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, only definitely Chinese in look and feel.  There is a lot of water in the park as well as hills, trees, flowers and music weaving in and out of the carefully hidden speakers.  Hong Mei Park (Red Plum Park), is one of my favourite places to spend free time.  Though there are a lot of people in the park almost all the time, the winding pathways and scattered benches give a sense of peaceful nature, an oasis in the heart of the city.

I think this is a type of “silver” grass, an ornamental grass that is common to China.  Regardless of what it is called, it is beautiful to look at hinting at a softness and a delicateness.  Every time I have seen this grass, it has always been near water.  And, in this photo, there is water in the background, a dark contrast to the whiteness of the feathery tip.

Darkness and light – contrasts – these are symbols of consciousness and the unconscious.  I look at the grass and see the ego’s presence manifested, on display to the eyes of others as persona.  I also see that the roots of the ego lies in the darkness of the unconscious, the shadow land.  And as in this photo, the shadows have a presence that is sensed though not clearly.  One knows their presence, but that is about all one knows.  One also senses their power and that makes us uneasy for we don’t know if that power will have the face of good or of evil.  Somehow we know the real potential for evil from this shadow land.  We don’t know if good is also waiting to emerge from the shadows.  We don’t know, all we can do is hope.

By and large, then, the shadow is a hodge-podge of repressed desires and uncivilized impulses.  It is possible to become conscious of these, but in the meantime they are projected onto others.  Just as we may mistake a real man or woman for the soul-mate we yearn for, so we see our devils, our shadow, in others.  This is responsible for much acrimony in personal relationships.  On a collective level it gives rise to political polarization, wars and the ubiquitous practice of scapegoating.

Again, the realization of the shadow is inhibited by the persona, the ideal image we have or ourselves.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 45)

It’s hard to admit that the darkness and evil are really just parts of my”self” that I don’t want to known by others.  It makes it harder for me to judge others whose ego barriers have fallen allowing their darkness free reign.  I know that but for “grace” it could be myself that lives on the dark side in society.  There is so much to be said for doing the work of shining a light into this darkness, even if only to trace the outlines of these repressed personal contents and the inherent contents of the collective unconscious.

Out of Reach?

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I took this photo of the moon two days ago.  I had hoped to get another photo yesterday, one of the full moon, the harvest moon; but the weather wasn’t cooperative.  I guess the intuitive side of me wanted me to be prepared and so “moved” me to take the photos of the moon a day early.  I did take quite a few images using different settings.  Just as I was ready to say “enough” this image came into my view.  I knew I had to take this one, that this one was the important one.

“Identification with a social role is a frequent source of midlife crisis, because it inhibits our adaptation to a given situation beyond what is collectively prescribed.  Who am I without the mask?  Is there anybody home?  I am a prominent and respected member of the community.  Why, then, is my wife more interested in somebody else?

We cannot get rid of ourselves in favor of a collective identity without some consequences:  we lose sight of who we are without our protective covering; our reactions are predetermined by collective expectations (we do and think and feel what our persona “should” do, think and feel); those close to us complain of our emotional distance; and worst of all, we cannot imagine life without it.

Many married people have a joint persona as a “happy couple.”  Whatever may be happening between them, they greet the world with a united front.  They are perfectly matched, the envy of their friends.  What is going on behind the curtains is anybody’s guess.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 43)

So much to think about here.  The image seems to reinforce this idea of being trapped in a collective identity leaving me looking for my “centre” which is a hazy light, the image of a soul I know is there but seems so distant, so ephemeral.  Unconsciously I reach out to grasp my soul, a soul projected on an other.  Does one only recover access to the soul when one withdraws the projection of anima/animus?  With the loss of the holder of one’s  projections, , there is no guarantee that one will turn within to find the soul.  More often than not, one feels the loss of the projected anima/animus and thus seeks to find a different other to hold the projections.  For, the community is about relationship with others, not with the self.  Relationship after relationship in search of connection to anima/animus only to continually find that the soul remains out of reach.

Withdrawal of projections without rejecting the other who has held the projections opens the doorway to soul recovery, a reunion of self and soul.  The door opens, but does one dare to enter that doorway, or does one cling to the old myth though it no longer exists?

Somehow I wonder if there is coherence in these words.

Will the Real Robert Please Stand Up

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I love the architecture of old China.  Here just one block off the main downtown street in Changzhou, one of the last older sections is being removed so that modern China can rise in its place.  This is a story that has been happening for thousands of years in China and all over the world.  We build, we tear down, we build again.  Purists claim that we are losing the authentic and real China in the process.  Really?  Which version of China over the thousands of years of history would be the real China?  I could ask the same about any country.  Of course the answer will always be, the “real” China is the one in which one is standing at that moment in time.  The “real” anywhere is that which “is,” not that which “was.”

This building on the foundations of what “was” is what happens every time a bit of light uncovers some of the shadow contents within.  As I withdraw projections I have placed on others, those I love and those who serve as hooks for my other shadow contents, I become a changed man, a new man.  Does this constant changing make me any less authentic?  Is the only authentic Robert, the one who existed with little awareness of the depths of “self?”  I don’t think so.   Each change is simply a change, Robert is always Robert though the person seen by others might see a changed Robert, wishing for the old Robert to re-appear.  This can’t happen.  I can’t undo the fact that light has allowed me to see my self more clearly, revealed things about me to which I was blind.  But, I can control what others see.  This is one reason for carefully rebuilding one’s persona.

“The development of a collectively suitable persona always involves a compromise between what we know about ourselves to be and what is expected of us, such as a degree of courtesy and innocuous behavior.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.  In Greek, the word persona meant a mask worn by actors to indicate the role they played.  On this level, it is an asset in mixing with other people.  It is also useful as a protective covering.  Close friends may know us for what we are; the rest of the world knows only what we choose to show them.  Indeed, without an outer layer of some kind, we are simply too vulnerable.  Only the foolish and naive attempt to move through life without a persona.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 42)

Protecting oneself, yes, that is important.  I think it is also about respecting others and where they are in their own development of self.  I do have a a different opinion when it comes to what Daryl Sharp says about “close friends.”  I don’t think that anyone can know me as I know me.  Some of what I “know” is always going to remain behind a veil.  It is simply enough that I know.  There is nothing to gain in terms of relationships to expose all.  As well, I don’t know if I have the words to share this knowing with others.  I may be aware of these things of my “self” but must live with my “complexes” that moderate my exposing of these contents, even to the closest person in my life.

Another point I would like to make is that others know things about myself to which I am blind.  Should I be told about them, I would likely protest that I am not like that, that I never said those things, or showed those attitudes.  I still have blind spots and my complexes do come out to play without my permission or awareness.  As much as I would like to think I control everything about my presentation of “self” to the world, my ego consciousness is limited in terms of the overall “self” that lays under the persona and ego.

Like Changzhou, China, I continue to build on the foundations of who I was.  Tomorrow, I will be yet a different man with a different face.  But each day, the Real Robert stands here, an authentic man even though each day will transform who that Real Robert is – this is what individuation is all about.

Dawn’s Early Light

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I have chosen a different photo this morning, one that I just finished taking.  As usual, I was up at 5:30 am just before sunrise.  Believe it or not, others are up earlier as I can hear them on the street outside my window.  For a change, there are no clouds in the sky and there is a definite shade of blue in the sky as the sun’s rays catch the edges of the tall buildings.  There is something about dawn that brings a warm glow that travels deep within me.

As the light and the warmth make the journey inward, I get a better sense of who I am.  Each ray seeks to illiminate, to make known what lies in the shadows.  And I see my self exposed.  This “self” is not the full self that I am, just the self that I know, my ego’s vision of self.  Most of that knowledge of self is placed into a holder, the persona.  Of course we all have a sense of “person.”  We see ourselves as individuals with personality and identity that is unique.  We tell ourselves that we are complete beings, basically understood by others.  Yet, we rarely admit that we are still mysteries to ourselves.  Persona is our sense of being a person, one among many.

“Jung describes the persona as an aspect of the collective psyche, which means there is nothing individual about it.  It may feel individual – quite special and unique, in fact – but such designations as “struggling writer,” “father,” “teacher,” “doctor” and so on are on the one hand simply social identities, and on the other ideal images.  They do not describe a particular person; they do not distinguish on doctor or father or teacher or writer from any other.”  (Sharp,Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 41)

These words make me think about how I see myself, how I even describe myself.  On Sunday I met a new classroom full of students for the first time. As always, I introduced myself to them before having them do the same in return.  I used the words, father, teacher, writer, photographer, grandfather, husband and so on.  I was deliberately using these words because of the universal images they invoke so that the differences between myself as an English-speaking Canadian, would be bridged by these images into their collective and individual consciousness as Chinese students.  I thought I was telling them about myself as an individual when in truth I was placing myself in the collective, defining myself in collective terms.

Thankfully I can hear these words and realise that I have a long way to travel yet before I can truly say I know myself.  For now, it is enough that I wake and again seek to become more conscious of the stuff within, the stuff of “self.”  This morning’s early light makes me think of how each day there is an opportunity for me to become a bit more conscious as a human being.  With “grace” I might be able to bring a little more light into the darkness within, to bring the hidden shadows forward to be recognised.  It isn’t a one-day project for me, it is one that will last until my mind loses sense of “self.”

Flying High

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I was able to catch this fellow during the ten minute break while teaching yesterday morning.  Yes, I take the camera with me when I teach on campus as well.  You never know when an image will show up.  To capture this image I had to use a fast exposure time (1/640) .  I took a few quick shots (burst) in a row hoping for at least one good image.  Luckily a few good ones were my reward.

I have been talking about love and complexes, about how we seem to be possessed and lose conscious control.  We love in spite of what we tell ourselves.  We also hate in spite of what we consciously tell ourselves.  And we think that this love and hate are about the other people rather than “stuff” that lurks unknown to us in our inner depths.  This “stuff” is just another name for complexes.  Yes, more than one complex hides in the darkness of inner spaces.  In fact, there are quite a number of these complexes, each with its own “personality” so to speak.  In the most severe instances, we have MPD – multiple personality disorder – where these different complexes forcibly take control of the “self” shoving the ego aside as if it is the weakest link, which in fact is most likely the truth.  Thankfully for the vast majority of us, MPD is just something we read about in books, often books that mistakenly believe that there are “outer” forces taking over as if an alien invasion.

That said, the complexes do exist and do find a way to have a say in our lives.  As both Jung and Sharp point out, these complexes form our personality in conjunction with our typology – a harmonious blend, so to speak.  But not always so harmonious:

To sum up:  complexes have a tendency to live their own lives in spite of our conscious intentions.  Both our personal unconscious and the collective unconscious consist of an unknown number of these fragmentary personalities.  This actually explains a lot that is otherwise quite puzzling, like the fact that one is able to dramatize mental contents.  When someone creates a character on the stage, or in a poem or novel, it is not simply a product of that person’s imagination.  Writers may deny that their work has psychological meaning, but in fact you can read their mind when you study the characters they create.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, pp 40-41)

I want to add to Sharp’s final words – one can not only read their mind, one can also read their shadow contents, stuff that they are even aware of as existing within themselves.  No wonder they are so quick to deny.  They really are unaware of their own inner personalities, their complexes.  The ego doesn’t know it all, it only knows what is on the surface.  Like this butterfly flying high, the only reality is that which is exposed to the light of consciousness.  The rest?  Well, one can always believe it doesn’t exist and find themselves “victims” of life.