Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for October 2010

Hunger For a Spiritual Life

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A beautiful day with temperatures rising to almost 20 C meant a good time to wander through Hong Mei Park in the city’s centre.  The objective was to check out the fall version of the “Rose” garden.  Of course, I can’t go to this park without taking the camera.  Only moments after entering the park, I got this shot of a Buddhist monk.  Behind him is the Tianning Temple and Grand Pagoda.  I have visited the temple a few times in the past and look forward to another such visit, likely in the spring.  There is something about temples that add a certain sense of spiritualism to an otherwise very prosaic and practical life.  And, where there are temples, cathedrals and other imposing places that seek to connect God and humans, there are the monks and nuns, the men and women who live lives of service to these places and these gods.

The temple, the pagoda and the monk – symbols of the spirit:

“. . . all powerful and religious symbols arise from a common human source and depth, which he [Jung] called the collective unconscious, to which each individual continues to have access in the pursuit of his or her spiritual life.  An experience of this level of one’s own humanity could intensify one’s appreciation of all symbolism as well as the reality from which symbols come and to which they point.”  (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, page 8)

Yes!  This is what I am beginning to appreciate, the power of symbols that are outside my culture.  Perhaps this is not so surprising to others, but to feel it within the self is like a shifting of bedrock.  Having long ago left believing in church – all churches – I almost lost all sense of symbolism that goes with these churches.  A few exceptions for me were experienced when I entered cathedrals, churches that had invested in having the building be as much of a symbol as the contents within.  Those churches that became simple containers, unpretentious places that seemed to rebel against the power of symbols took on an emptiness.  To enter into these “business of religion” places seemed to suck out my energy rather than serve as a catalyst to energize my soul.  It feels good to sense the numinous power of symbols, of images, that call to my hunger for a spiritual life.


The Illness That We Are

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I’ve pulled a different book off of my tiny book shelf here in Changzhou, China.  The Illness That We Are:  A Jungian Critique of Christianity, by John P. Dourley, a Jungian analyst living and working in Ottawa, Canada.  I haven’t yet read any of the book, so this will be a shared reflection here on the blog as I slowly make my way through the book.  I am leaving Daryl Sharp’s book, Jungian Psychology Unplugged for the next while.  I am surprised that I actually sat still with that book for as long as I did as it is hard for me to “focus” so long on anything.  Perhaps I will return to Sharp’s book in the future.  I have to admit that I didn’t have many choices on my bookshelf as most of the books on Jungian psychology that I own are still in Canada.  I have two books by Sharp and two by Dourley as well as a few others and about a half dozen by Jung.  Hopefully this will be enough until my return to Canada next June.

This photo was taken three years ago when I was Changzhou.  I found the photo this morning while going through my photo archive looking for “people” photos in order to prepare for a lecture I will be giving in three weeks  on the topic of non-verbal communication across cultures.  As soon as I saw this photo, I knew that this was the one I wanted to use to begin this next section of my “self” discovery.  I chose this hoping that it would fit what I would find in the opening pages of Dourley’s book.  With that said, it’s on with the “process.”

First, the image.  I have found a fair number of “yin yang” symbols here in China, not surprising since “yin yang” is a Chinese symbol.  Here’s what WIKIPEDIA says about this symbol.

The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and in the valley. Yin (literally the ‘shady place’ or ‘north slope’) is the dark area occluded by the mountain’s bulk, while yang (literally the ‘sunny place’ or ‘south slope’) is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.

Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, or tranquil; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime.

Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, or aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.

When I see these symbols, I see a wholeness, an embracing of dark and light, I intuit that this is an embrace of spirit and soul.  This photo showing the symbol on an old coin, was taken a few weeks ago.  In this image the “I Ch’ing” symbols are also present, broken lines (yin) and solid lines (yang).  As for the symbol of yin yang itself, my university students call it “Tàijítú” or more correctly, 太极图.  For years before ever coming to China, I have felt the power of this symbol, one that brings me a sense of “rightness” or “calmness.”  Perhaps it is that inner spirituality that lays within me, a spiritualism that is at odds with all religion.

Jung discerned in the movement of these energies a drive toward wholeness, understood as a progressive unification of one’s many disparate components, always carrying with it an even more extensive empathy with the world beyond one’s individual life.  This he called the process of individuation.”  (Dourley, p. 7)

This feels right to me, especially the “more extensive empathy with the world beyond one’s individual life.”  It is within this context that I began this blog site, an acknowledgement of the world beyond myself.  Dourley continues:

Jung came to equate the experience of one’s wholeness with the experience of God, and to see its expression in certain transpersonal and transcultural symbols of the deity.”  (Dourley, p. 7)

Yes, tai ji tu as a transcultural symbol of deity.  That fits.  That resonates.

On Being Psychologically Separate

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As I walked  through a park, enjoying the sounds of birds, I came across the this couple who appeared to oblivious of the last bit of summer and nature that surrounded them.  They also seemed to be engrossed in their own private worlds while sitting side-by-side.  It was interesting for me to note that my mobile phone is the same as his phone, interesting but meaningless.

Mobile phones are evident everywhere.  I see people using them on bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, in cars and on the street.  While riding on public transit, it is normal to hear a half-dozen conversations being carried on – people on their phones talking to someone not on the bus, and talking at full volume.  While the conversations are taking place the majority of the other passengers are staring at their phones, some texting.  Somehow, I rarely use my phone though the opportunities are there.

The photo makes me think of proximity and distance.

When you are psychologically separate, not identified with your partner, you don’t need the other to agree with you and you don’t need to be right.  You don’t expect the other to change in order to suit your needs, and you don’t ask it of yourself either.  And if over time you can’t the other but still can’t leave, well, that is the stuff of analysis:  conflict and complexes.

The bod between two people is a precious and mysterious thing, not entirely explained by the theory of complexes ad the phenomenon of projection.  But this much at least is true:  there is an optimum distance in every relationship that evolves through trial and error and good will – it you know who you are and can stop pressing for more than you get.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p 75)

As I see this couple together, yet obviously at a distance as well, I get the sense that they “work” as a couple.  Maybe it is more about the culture in China in which the expectation of what is needed from one’s partner is different.  The need for the other to be a soulmate, to hold one’s heart is not near as powerful as it is back in Canada and most other places in the western world.

What is expected?  To be there, to do one’s part, to be loyal, and more importantly, to respect the fullness of self and other.  Perhaps I don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes.  But then again, the whole point is about how I resonate with the photos I take – it’s not really about this couple, but about my consciousness trying to emerge out of a personal and collective shadow.

Understanding Others

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I’ve chosen a different photo today, one that is decidedly more messy, more full of life.  When I first came to China in August of 2006, I took a stroll down this street.  The left side was much like the right side, jam-packed with small shops and apartments that hugged a narrow street, a stark contrast to the city area in which I live which has wide streets with boulevards filled with grass, roses and sculpted bushes.  My first taste of street food was on this street in a little tarp-covered stall that sold noodle and dumpling soup to construction workers for the most part.  It still remains, at least in this small section, a messy place bursting with life.

Understanding all of this “life” that I encounter in China is problematic for me, and probably everyone else as well.  How can I really be expected to understand a foreign culture, let alone my own culture when I struggle with understanding myself.  It is a rare person who can say with honesty that he or she truly understands him or her “self.”

“Understanding oneself is difficult enough; understanding others is their responsibility, if they are inclined to do so and have a mind for it.  What one can know of another is just the tip of an iceberg; the far greater part of anyone’s personal identity is beyond the ken of an outsider.  For that matter, those who have worked on themselves enough to be comfortable with who they are – as opposed to those arrogant souls who are simply narcissistic – do not need, nor do the ask, to be understood by others.  I am what I am; take it or leave it..

The appropriate attitude for a long-term relationship is not understanding, but acceptance.  Each accepts the other, to the extent one can, and makes no issue of the rest.  This is not easy.  It means accepting not only the loved one’s persona, but also his or her shadow and other complexes.  It certainly requires empathy, but it also involves a mutual acknowledgement that one is responsible only for oneself.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, pp 74-75)

What I am learning to apply to my relationship with those I hold closest to me in my life, I am learning to use here in China as I build relationships with a country, a swirling mass of conflicting cultures, and the few individuals who see me and are willing to allow me into their orbit of relationships whether as friend, colleague, teacher or simply “laowai.”

Intimacy and Space

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I took this photo a while ago while strolling down the street.  At first, I simply saw the humour in the photo, humour from a Canadian male point of view.  Young men in Canada would not be caught dead carrying their girlfriend’s purse, let alone a pink purse, down a public street where other young men would see them.  Yet, here, the scene is not that rare.  Proving “love” to  the “other” has so many quirky twists and turns regardless of the culture one finds oneself in.  When there is a focus on “self” in the situation of “love,” it is usually about insecurity and the need for proof that one is valued by the “other – “Prove you love me,” kind of thinking takes over.  When there is a focus on “other” then the “self” feels abandoned and almost valueless.  There is no space where two become one.  Does it matter which one is suppressed and which one suppresses?  The result is the same for both, albeit from different viewpoints – the individual, unique self is no longer is valued.

The last day I wrote about distance and intimacy.  I want to return to that topic in order to add to the idea of what “distance” really means in terms of intimacy and relationships.

“A relationship based on intimacy with distance does not require separate living quarters.  Intimacy with distance means psychological separation, which comes about through the process of differentiation – knowing where you end and the other begins.  Intimacy with distance can be as close and warm as you want, and it’s psychologically clean.  Togetherness is simply fusion, the submersion of two individualities into one.  That’s symbiosis, identification, participation mystique.  It can feel good for a while but in the long term it doesn’t work.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 73)

In China, I see this “psychological distance” every day on the street, especially in crowds.  It is as though each person, though surrounded by a sea of others, is alone, is separated as if on a deserted island.  People walk by each other only aware on a peripheral level that there are others present, but oblivious of the them other than as objects to navigate around while walking.

How does one move to being self-contained rather than as half of a couple?  This is the real problem for our heads, at least for mine.  How can one be “separate” without having one’s partner feel abandoned?  Living in the same place together and having a privateness is often taken as a rejection by the other.  Somehow, it takes two moving through individuation and arriving at the idea of intimacy with space for relationship to survive.   When it is a journey only one chooses to take, the relationship is threatened and all hell breaks loose.

“Togetherness is to intimacy with distance as being in love is to loving.  When you’re in love, you absolutely need the other.  This is symptomatic of bonding, which is natural at the beginning of any relationship, at any age.  But need, finally, is not compatible with loving; it only shows the degree to which one lacks personal resources.  Better take your need to a therapist than dump it on the one you love.  Need in an intimate relationship easily becomes the rationale for power, leading to the fear of loss on one hand, and resentment on the other.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 74)

In the photo, this expression of love is about power.  At what point will this young couple move from “falling in love” to a fear of loss and of resentment?

Intimacy and Distance

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Another look at the architectural style that is being preserved in quite a few locations in the city shows classical lines and contrast.  The colour, or should I say the lack of colour as in comparison to Latin America speaks loudly about keeping it simple yet classy.  But of course, it isn’t an either/or for me.  I enjoy both, colour, and black & white; both China and the colourful heat of Latin America.

I love the intensity of colour and heat in Latin America as well as the language.  I could easily see myself in my private villa enjoying the best of the winter season in warmth.  But then again, the vitality and contrasts in China invites me to remain here as well.  But of course, I don’t have to choose one or the other.  I can choose both without thoughts of exclusivity.  By spending most of the time in neither, I can better appreciate these places from a distance.  I know that to actually choose one over the other would have me become poorer.  It is the same with relationships.

Like almost all other modern men and women, I have bought into the idea of “Soulmates.”  Thomas Moore’s book as well as a number of others by various authors, as well as classical literature over the centuries have painted high expectation on us poor humans in terms of relationships.  Anyone who dares partner up with us is bound, in the end, to disappoint and give rise to anger.  A mere human being cannot hold all the the word “soulmate” encompasses.  Yet, we willingly put out their, our “lost other,” the half of ourselves that will make us whole, even holy.

The mistake is expecting to find our “lost other” in the outside world.  In fact, it is our contrasexual self inner other, animus or anima, who should be the object of our search.  Outer relationships, already hampered by personal complexes and a multitude of day-to-day concerns, cannot bear the extra weight of archetypal expectations.  Although individuation is not possible without relationship, it is not compatible with togetherness.

Individuation, finding your own unique pat, requires a focus on the inner axis, ego to unconscious – getting to know yourself.  The ideal of togetherness lets you off that hook.  Togetherness doesn’t acknowledge the natural boundaries between people, and it gives short shrift to their differences.  All you are left with is unconscious identity.  When you are on the path of individuation, focused on your own psychological development, you relate to others from a position of personal integrity.  This is the basis for intimacy with distance.  It is not as sentimental as togetherness, but is’s not as sticky either.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 73)

There’s a lot to chew on here.  Hmmm?  Time to sit quiet and think.

White on Black

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I have to admit that I find old Chinese architecture very interesting.  This is a detail from a traditional roofline found on most older buildings still found in China.  As I wander the city of Changzhou, I see frequent examples of this style still remaining.  Most are in some state of disrepair though functional.  Some, such as this one, have been carefully restored using original materials.  I chose this photo because of the simplicity of colour – just black and white against a “whitish” sky.

Then after choosing the photo and cropping it so that it seemed to be right for inclusion here, I saw more, the layering of the tiles as though I was seeing the layering of shadow.  I also saw in greater detail, the white flower which appeared to be growing out of a tree.  And then I saw the tree and was struck by the image that emerged, a symbol of man, potent man.  Out of the darkness, the light grows upwards.

I find my mind caught is a number of contradictions here, just as I find my mind caught in the contradictions of relationship.  The key to a good relationship is communication.  However, from what I said yesterday, the key to a good relationship is keeping one’s stuff to one’s self.  Sharp sums it up nicely:

Those who think that talking about a relationship will help it get better put the cart before the horse.  Work on yourself and a good relationship will follow.  You can either accept who you are and find a relationship that fits, or twist yourself out of shape and get what you deserve.

The endless blather that takes place between two complexed people solves nothing.  It is a waste of time and energy and as often as not actually makes the situation worse.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 72)

Communication is served by silence, and consciousness is arrived at through darkness, through the unconscious.  How can I sense any truth to these paradoxes?  The image helps me.  I see the swollen member bursting forth with life and I think how that swollen member gives life only in the darkness of the mysterious, dark and moist inner world.  And in giving up the essence of self, there is a unity that allows the self to disappear into a wholeness in which there are no separations between darkness and light, between masculine and feminine, between self and other.