Archive for May 2011
This woman is slowly making her way upstream on a slow moving tributary of the Mekong River in the delta area not far from Can Tho. She is on her way back to a staging area where she will hopefully pick up another passenger or two to take on a tour of the inner reaches of the river with a destination of some place of refreshment and entertainment for the tourists. The job doesn’t pay well, but it does have the bonus of tips, especially from western world tourists. The ride is mostly done in silence as the boat glides through the opaque waters with the sound of the oar swishing in the water being accented every now and then by a bird sound or the oar bumping against the gunwale of the small boat. It almost seems sacrilegious to engage in idle chat.
As a man, I am always conscious of myself in relation to the women I see, and conscious of their presence. I have learned both about their strengths and their weaknesses and how I somehow figure in relationship to both strong women and weak women. Those in the middle ground seem to not register on my psyche and that tells me even more. The strengths and weaknesses are more about the psyches of these women, psyches that act as hooks for my projections. I think that I am being a caretaker of one, or being dominated by another only to find that in reality, both types of women are more complex than my relationship to them via my projections. And it is at this point, at this realisation where I begin to pull back my projections and discover the reality of the woman beneath the layers of my own anima that had been projected.
As I realise this, I have become more confident in myself. That said, I have a long way to go in order to peel away more of my projected stuff in my basic relationships with women – colleagues, students, children, family relations, neighbours and strangers on the street and in all public spaces. I am at least a little aware of my stuff to catch myself in thoughts of all types in regards to women seen and with whom I interact.
This is curiously freeing for me. I feel like a pressure has been lifted in many areas, pressures that suggest that I have been possessed by my own projections and have blindly taken on the projections of these female others. I am now a bit more free to be myself and to create space and distance between myself and these others – a healthy distance that acknowledges relationship and separateness.
At the beginning of the month when I walked around Hong Mei Park, the flowers were in full bloom and the number of park visitors was significantly high with most of them busy using their cell phones as cameras to try and take in the scene. There is something about spring and the bursting forth of flowers that stirs the life forces within each of us. There is an innate desire to possess all of this beauty, this vitality, this visible image of life energy. It doesn’t matter if one has a DSLR, an SLR or the crappiest camera phone, the focus is the same, the intent to capture and hold the moment.
Humans replicate this in other aspects of their lives, especially in relationships. The moment we feel our inner spaces stirred to the point that life forces start to surge, when in the presence of another person, we want to possess that person, to take that person into our bodies or enter into their bodies and become one with them as though in doing so, we would be complete, full, ready for everything life could throw at us. It really doesn’t matter what the person looks like or who the person is – all that matters is that somehow energy within us has been activated. The feeling, the rush that results tells us that this is what life is all about, this is what we need. And when there is a reciprocal response, the result is a relationship that primal and archetypal. We call it love.
On the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia near Kampong Chhnang, I came across these children who live on the river. These children are a proof that there is a beauty and vitality and hope for life. These children are the product of the human instinct for survival as a species and a deeper instinct for the preservation of the self as an immortal being. One doesn’t think of any of this when one meets the other with whom mating and giving birth and child-rearing becomes a life-consuming task.
Many reasons are given for marrying in our modern times – love, wealth, power, duty, loneliness – but whatever the initial impulse the two entering into a marriage begin to change because of the marriage, because of the intimate contact with an other person. Two people choose to be together in a contractual arrangement that is best described as a marriage. Yet, it isn’t too long before both parties of the contract have changed. Intimacy evokes a response as much as dropping a stone into a still pond affects change in an environment.
“Many marriages simply evolve beyond the implicit terms of the invisible contract. Whatever complexes or programmed ideas of self and Other may have inspired the marriage the psyche has moved to another place. It is not so much that people fall out o love, but that the original controlling ideas have waned in favor of others – or the complex has decided that the Other cannot meet the expectations of the original agenda. (Hollis, The Eden Project, p 44)
Imagine if the two in a marriage became stuck in the initial human psychological developmental stage (it happens). Two who become forever adolescent; two who never move past that initial Magical Other; the result is tragic from the view of individuation as individuals, and perhaps even more tragic if these become parents who are so fixated on each other that the children are basically orphans in a psychological sense.
The binds and blindfolds of the Magical Other deny the growth of self. One is frozen in place and in time. One never does find the person behind the projections. And, one never does find the depths of one’s self.
On a boat going upriver on the Mekong, I came across this young couple who were also making their way upriver in their small boat which serves as both home and workplace. Millions of people live on the Mekong River as it traverses through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Most are small family units, nuclear family units for the most part. Most of them are also in their first half of life. Their journeys on the river are about searching for a home, a place of stability, a journey that will lead them to solid ground.
For myself as someone fairly typical in the western world sense of the world, the search for home has been a search for love.
“Everything, everything, seems to ride on this thing called love. We love nature, we make love, we fall into and out of it, we pursue love and ask it to save us. Romantic love, by which we mean that élan, that heightened ardor, that intense yearning for the Beloved, that frantic grappling, that profound sorrow when the Beloved is lost, that anxious uncertainty about the fixity of the Other – all this and more is both the greatest source of energy and the chief narcotic of our time. Given the erosion of tribal myths which once helped connect our ancestors to the gods, to nature, to the tribe and to themselves, romantic love may prove to be the primary region of existential hunger in our century. One may even suggest that romantic love has replaced institutional religion as the greatest motive power and influence in our lives.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp 41-42)
There is no question that whether one is searching for land, searching for a home, searching for family or searching for that one person that will be soulmate, all of us are living with yearning. And it doesn’t matter that we find land, find a home, build a family or get married to the one we have fallen in love with, head over heels; the yearning continues. What we yearn for, what I yearn for, is not to be found in the outer world, in things, activities, or other people.
One of the stops I made as I toured through Cambodia was at these three floating schools; a kindergarten, an elementary and a secondary school. These schools were found just a few hundred metres from the northern end of Tonle Sap Lake, an area that floods during the rainy season. I got there before classes began in the early morning in order to catch the light and avoid the heat of the day. I checked in with the kindergarten classes and got a few interesting photos which I then showed the students which only made them more willing to be photographed. This was followed by a visit to a classroom of older students in the elementary school. In the late afternoon while returning from a visit to a floating village on the lake, I stopped off at the high school to catch some boys playing soccer (football) and talk to some other high school students before they headed home for the day. There is little doubt that I find a lot of pleasure in meeting students and talking with them, I seem to be at home when with young people, listening to them and having them listen, with interest and respect to what I have to say to them.
Young people are willing to trust a guide, a teacher as they prepare themselves for a life of adulthood. The teacher-student relationship is precious for both the teacher and the student. But, one can’t take the relationship for granted. The moment the teacher becomes puffed up with his or her importance, students retreat from listening and respecting the teacher. There is a shift from student to resistance fighter. The key relationship activity of authentic presence that recognizes the other (both teacher and student) has been sabotaged and the resultant loss leads to grieving on the students’ part. And, also to a delayed sense of loss and grieving on the teacher’s part.
A lifetime in the classroom has taught me a lot about relationships with young people – but not so much with peers. I lack confidence and have built a fairly impenetrable fortress around my psyche with “friendly” personae to suit the adult audience. I am on edge trying hard to please, to keep the focus on the other rather than have anyone see my “self” in any depth. I hide behind a mirror while giving the egos of those I meet positive strokes. People in general don’t know me though they think I am a quiet and kind man who smiles easily and listens without trying to monopolize the conversations. I was a good school principal in terms of ethical behaviour and in caring for the students and being there for them. I wasn’t all that good with the teachers though because as more than one teacher and support staff mentioned over the years, I wasn’t tough enough. I didn’t want to be tougher, couldn’t be tougher – I didn’t want to open the pandora’s box that contained my shadow as I feared I would become too tough and do more hurt than healing. Now, six years later, I am again teaching and enjoying it.
I still haven’t given up on adults hoping that somewhere along the way, some adult will want to listen to me, to engage with me authentically sharing ideas, dreams and visions.
Heading northwest on the Mekong River not too far out of Ho Chi Minh City, these homes on stilts made me realise how life along this river must be always subject to the unpredictable water of the river. Looking at the network of supporting poles, small sticks that would by themselves seem insignificant spurs me to think about all the differences I encounter while living in Asia and in China in particular.
Working at a university, I get to see young men and women every day as they move through the steps from childhood to adulthood. Teaching them a second language allows me to find out a lot about their ways of understanding the world. When teaching a second language, the quickest method is to use base knowledge of the first language and life experience as hooks for the second language. In other words, teach them what they already know, only in the target language. Since at this stage of life, relationships are the biggest focus of these young people, giving them a chance to talk about relationships and their beliefs allows them to speak with more confidence as they don’t have to learn new concepts, just the vocabulary and expressions. Aside from their romantic notions that come out of watching American films, these young people have a very practical sense of what marriage is all about. Love is not synonymous with marriage as it is in the western world.
“Historically, love and marriage have not been synonymous . . . As a matter of fact, only in the last century and a quarter has the vox populi claimed marriage and love as one and the same. This is not to say that happily committed people have not loved each other, but rather that for most of human history the purpose o marriage was to bring stability to the culture rather than make an individual happy or serve the task of mutual individuation. Possibly the greatest number of history’s marriages would, by today’s standards, be described as loveless, for they were contracted arrangements made to produce, protect and nurture the young, thus to preserve the tribe, to transmit social and religious values and to channel anarchic libido in socially useful directions.
Similarly, in many marriages love, whatever love may prove to be, is simply not the determinative value. What more commonly has brought people together, the energy which seeks synergy, are the operative complexes of each. One or both may seek to find the good parent in the other, may even wish to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or may be seeking what was missing in the family of origin. Or, one may marry for a sense of transferred power.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp41-42)
With these words, I understand better how the young men and women in my classes dutifully abandon a “love” mate because the parents don’t support the union. I understand better why young Asian women willingly enter into relationships with older western men. As one young female told me, it is about power. The want to marry power and thus gain power themselves, a sense of security in a crowded and competitive world where there is not enough for everyone. These young people believe in love, fall in love and rebel for love. But, for the most part, these young men and women fall back into line in order to fit in with the needs and demands of their culture.
Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we (I) put too many demands on the people we marry making all of us crazy in the process?