Archive for March 2011
While walking down one of the narrow streets of WuZhen which were found just off the various canals of the old city, I found a door partially opened as if an invitation for those curious enough to peer within. This is what I found. This scene spoke to me about what had been lost and the cost of losing. Of course, it wasn’t a statement of lost Chinese culture as much as it was a statement of loss of soul.
For a moment, I was taken aback as I saw in the scene, a vivid reminder of the loss of soul, or should I say loss of connection with soul that I experienced as I shifted from full engagement with the outer world to finally recognizing that my inner self did exist. When I looked within I saw how my abandonment of my connection with that inner self had left my inner self littered with debris, abandoned dreams, hopes – poetry that never was imagined, stories never told.
I was one of the fortunate ones who upon seeing the inner wreckage, decided to do the work of bringing the soul’s home back into a place that would honour the soul. It wasn’t a matter of throwing away very many things, but simply uncovering, rediscovering the treasures hidden and setting them out, dusted off. Shadows were used as accent to the glittering gold and silver of the soul rather than being banished. And, tucked into corners, broken bits are left to remind me that I must never abandon my connection with soul again.
At first glance, there isn’t much remarkable about this photo. Even after a lot of time spent studying it, nothing says “keep me.” I took the photo in WuZhen while my trigger finger was working overtime without my doing much “thinking” about what images were being captured. I often do this just to see what caught my subconscious attention. In spite of the image being basically unremarkable, I am happy with what I found in it.
The image does capture a worn, almost threadbare aspect, probably an authentic image for representing Ancient China. It is also a good image to represent life in the middle half. As usual, in making a statement such as this, I am probably referring more to myself than other people. I am comfortable with growing older, with my hair graying and with my body being more typical of an elder than as a fit and trim mature male. I am ragged on the edges, especially now that I am regrowing a small beard similar to when I was working as a school administrator and therapist – the professorial look as my children used to comment. Like the inscribed lines on the wood, the lines on my visage also have a story to tell, a story of places, people, relationships, events, dreams and disappointments. But more importantly, the lines hint at a mystery yet to be discovered.
As I look at this image, I imagine myself walking down some dusty road in the company of a perhaps three others; with one of them being a woman, one being a warrior-protector and one being a challenging and often obnoxious pain in the ass. As night approaches we are drawn to an ancient pub where we will share a meal and some drink to wash away the day’s dust from our throats. Before night deepens and we head to sleeping pallets, an evening of argument and entertainment awaits as my little band of travellers interacts with those we have met in this tavern. With any luck, the pain in the ass won’t have us end up in an argument with the locals or even worse before I retire to a well-earned retreat to my bed chamber with the woman who shares my life journey.
All of these actors, my fellow travellers are part of the cast of characters that abide within my psyche, personal faces of ancient archetypes, my shadow, my anima, my warrior.
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.
This is another WuZhen photo, one that is not about tourists or a celebration of a restoration of China’s architectural past. This is just a simple scene, one that is played out in many locations in many countries in today’s modern world, a scene behind the scene so-to-speak. l get to see this scene often, a scene in which a woman is crouched beside water, usually water that is far from clean, in an attempt to clean either herself or some articles of clothing. Regardless of what is being washed, the image is there based on real events happening in a real world.
Symbolically, woman is associated with water, birth waters, cleansing waters, dank and dark waters. Somehow out of the clouded dirty water, something is born, dirt is washed away and whiteness emerges. Archetypal images – images that point beyond the facts contained within the images, point to something that goes beyond one person’s understanding and points to a collective awareness. But what is this archetype? Is it the mother who nurtures, to mother who eats her young, the life force that gives rise to libido in men, the receptacle who takes a man with her and sucks out his seed? Because “she” is an archetype, “she” is all of these things and more.
Walking through my life, the archetype is in the dark background out of my conscious reach. As I walk through my life, I find I bump into aspects of her which have been activated by my life experiences. And these appearances are personal to me though they cause a lot of discomfort. These disturbances are not appearances of the archetype, but appearances of my personal complexes. I can never behold the fullness of the archetype, only the “activated” bits that can only be identified as complexes.
There remains so much to say on this topic. Perhaps I will find some of the words to help myself better understand this. I will come back again with another image and more thoughts to explore this territory.
A Chinese magnolia tree in Sunshine Gardens is about to blossom. This flower bud will become a large pink blossom. All the white magnolia blossoms are already on display. Spring in ChangZhou is all about colour and vitality. Yes, the image chosen today is very evocative of the masculine, something that I didn’t notice when I was busy with the camera taking a raft of photos for a posting on my other blog site, the one which chronicles my life in China as a laowai (foreigner) teaching ESL, a posting about the flowers in the gated community in which I live. However, once I went over the photos, the masculine aspect became evident. Using a little editing, the colour and texture made that fact even more obvious.
One of my readers remarked to me once, “What is it with you and erection?” in response to yet another post and photo that highlights the masculine. I guess the question was really more of a “What is your story that notes these images as you pass through life?” Each of us has a story, or more correctly, stories that compose the foundation of our identity, of how we see ourselves and how we understand and decode the world.
Well, I’ve been thinking about how I would answer the question posed to me and realise that I have been answering the question about my stories with each of these posts. The posts are more of a living story telling about my own psyche as if this space was no different from the container of an analyst’s office and that the stories told here are those I could have spoken to an analyst. Each of the images I have brought here illustrate my personal myth. I want to call on the words of James Hollis to somehow explain this idea of a personal myth.
“To ask, what is your story? is to be obliged to ask what are your stories, for we are no single narrative. What is humbling is the acknowledgment through age, repetition and the growth of consciousness that we have less autonomy in the construction of our lives than we had fantasized. In the end, the chief result of a long-term analysis is not a solution to our dilemma, for life is not a problem, but a progressive unfolding of mystery. The joyful discovery is that our lives become more interesting to us as we discern that we are part of a larger mystery. This is a proper relocation of the ego from its imperial fantasy to its unique, personal place. We become amazed witnesses of the great theater wherein we play our part, and are reminded of the progressive incarnation which occurs in even the most modest of moments.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 113)
So the answer I have found is that there is nothing “the matter” with me. Rather, I am discovering, uncovering, my self in a way that is transparent and honest. There is nothing to hide, nor any reason to hide that which I discover as bits of shadow enter into consciousness and cease being shadow.
Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk around the gated community within which I live, a place called “Sunshine Gardens” (Yang Guang Hua Yuan). To be fair, it is very much a place that deserves the name as the private homes and the public spaces in this community is mostly garden. As you can see in the photo, the word “sunshine” is also apt. The community within the exterior barriers, the face presented to those on the outside, is a different world. The exterior, for the most part, doesn’t have a “garden” look. Rather, it is mostly non-descript.
Outward appearances are important, but one must remember that these appearances are “contrived” and serve as a mask. I know that I am not that much different than Sunshine Gardens in the fact that I present an unimposing figure to the outer world, someone who is easily overlooked and ignored. And, this is something that feels comfortable for me after all the years where I stood out like a sore thumb in a smallish community as the principal of the community’s school. When I stood out, I drew negative heat and the positive energy of the community. I was both the hope and the scapegoat for the community, two roles that I resisted as much as possible as I feared being caught in the collective images of “self.”
But, so much of my inner world, my “Sunshine Gardens” is a mystery to me. My ego consciousness can only understand some of what is found within. My outer world is simple in comparison, a world that for the most part, is one of my own crafting that has been built stone by stone over the decades with each choice, and each omission of choice that has been made. I am not a victim of the world, never have been a victim of the world regardless of what I thought or believed. Rather, I was and remain, a living and breathing part of the whole.
I guess I could say that I have been a master builder of my ego and the personae that are met by the world. Yet for all of this skill, I know that I, the conscious self, am on shaky ground in assuming “I” am in control. There is something bigger than “I” at work.
“The invisible world governs the visible world, which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to be wholly, or even partly, conscious. Every life is the enactment of not one story, but many. The story we consciously know, or believe we know, is seldom the whole story which is unfolding within us.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p.112)
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.