Archive for September 2011
It’s another one of those days, there is a brisk breeze and the sky is murky making what little sunlight that did break through feel sticky. Most of the day saw only dreary light and an insipid outline indicating that the sun was in the sky. I had an idea for the blog post, something to do with some dream fragment of this morning, or perhaps it was a small fragment of some fantasy that briefly surfaced in a moment of unconscious idleness. But over the period of a few hours when I busied myself with teaching classes and then with reading a novel and then going for a walk to buy a few vegetables, I somehow managed to sweep away the little bit of something that could have led me to some small insight, another little hint of light in the caverns of my inner darkness. It is as if my mind worked overtime to sweep away this fragment like this groundskeeper does in our courtyard.
I have to admit that my imagination has been bringing stuff forward and that I have, for some reason been brushing away the ideas, feelings and images that have been arriving. I have been busy with dreams, so busy that I have been waking up tired. In spite of all that I know, I have stubbornly refused to deal with the dreams and the images coming out of the dreams. Early morning is private time, a good time for me to be at one with myself and whatever emerges from the night dreams. Yet, for the past few days I have focused on ignoring the dreams, reading on-line newspapers for important sports updates about teams I am not in the least interested in following; or I read about the latest in political news which somehow appears no different from the latest in political news from last week, last month of longer – avoidance, that is all I can say. I am deliberately interfering the process of allowing unconscious contents to enter into my awareness.
“Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, never leaving the psychic processes to grow in peace. It would be simple enough, if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things. To begin with, the task consists solely in observing objectively how a fragment of fantasy develops. Nothing could be simpler, and yet right there the difficulties begin. Apparently one has no fantasy fragments – or yes, there’s one, but it is too stupid! Dozens of good reasons are brought against it. One cannot concentrate on it – it is too boring – what would come of it anyway – it is ‘nothing but’ this or that, and so on. The conscious mind raises innumerable objections, in fact it often seems bent of blotting out the spontaneous fantasy activity in spite of real insight and in spite of the firm determination to allow the psychic process to go forward without interference. Occasionally there is a veritable cramp of consciousness.” (Jung, C.W. 13, paragraph 20)
So now I am wondering why I have been consciously sabotaging my process? And in wondering I am not really being honest for I have a sense that I know why I have done so. I don’t want to know what is trying to emerge. I have an idea that it will make life a little too interesting for me, turn my life again upside down. I don’t know if I am ready for more awareness. Life is just getting to be comfortable again.
Why? Well, with new understanding, new awareness I change. I don’t know if I am ready to change. As I change there are losses, as many losses as there are gains. What will I risk this next time as I transform to another version of self? How will it impact on others around me? Can they hold to more changes in me? Yes, I know that as I transform I become a fuller person, but at what cost? And so, I battle with the unconscious, resisting the appearance of the fragments from the unconscious. I know if I let them be observed objectively, change will occur. I want to be left alone in peace . . . . . maybe.
If anyone was to ask me how I became the way I am, what did I do to become the kind of person I am, I would have to honestly tell them that I haven’t got a clue. I just am. Yes, I know that I am changing, have changed and will continue to change as that is just life. I respond to events, ideas, emotions, interactions with others, the absences, the losses . . . the list is too long to try and name all the environmental, cultural and interpersonal factors that have had a role to play in my development.
In the process of being alive and changing, I have acquired a personal belief system that has a spiritual dimension. Someone recently asked why I don’t start up a new religion or new approach to psychology since I didn’t seem to fit into any of the boxes that currently exist. But of course that would be impossible as I am not the “leader” type in terms of doing the work in having others become followers. I do lead within the context of various groups and professions, but not in something as personal as spirituality. I can’t understand a religion or church as ever meeting my needs. I can’t accept that what works for me could be packaged and sold to others as solutions for their spiritual needs.
“When I examined the course of development in patients who quietly, and as if unconsciously, outgrew themselves, I saw that their fates had something in common. The new thing came to them from obscure possibilities either outside or inside themselves; they accepted it and grew with its help. . . . In no case was it conjured into existence intentionally or by conscious willing, but rather seemed to be borne along on the stream of time.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 13, paragraph 18)
Yes, unintentionally, unconsciously being carried along. It does matter what I consciously and intentionally do with my life and what presents itself to me as I make my way from birth to death, with that stuff which emerges and happens without my control, without my volition. And this only makes me think more about beingness. I basically have no choice other than to be myself, to be my self. Where I do have choice is in being more or less of that self that is there fully beneath the layers of consciousness. Not bringing anything up has me be in life more unconsciously than consciously. As I wrest things out of the darkness and in the process discover hidden aspects of myself, I appear to change to others when in fact I don’t undergo a change at all in terms of self. I just become more of my self.
Now this has me wondering about those things I have set aside, those choices I refuse to consider. Do I choose to not act because of fear of change, fear of what might be in store for me? Does one refuse that which comes up because one doesn’t want to disturb the status quo such as in terms of relationships? Of course I don’t have any answers, just questions and wonderings.
This student is a bit different from his classmates at the university. He dares take a position that is opposite of all of his peers and finds reasons for his individual opinions. This is not a typical way of relating to others here in China. Usually students find out what others will say so that they know what they will say. There is a definite hesitancy to be different.
I find that I am different in spite of what I want. I could blame it on others and a constant travelling from town to town and school to school, but that wouldn’t be fair at all. My brothers and sisters also lived the same life and are not all that different from the norm. I know that I have worked hard at trying to fit in with colleagues and the communities in which I have worked while raising a family and pursuing a career. In the process I thought that I did a decent job of fitting in.
The truth though, was different. I was accepted in spite of my differences because of my efforts. I learned to listen and keep quiet about what I thought, what I knew. I said the right things and did the right things and as a result was able to sit comfortably on the edges of these communities – always and outsider, but one that was accepted as long as I didn’t impose my differences on them. To them I was different because I was an easterner living in western Canada; I was different because I was francophone in a francophobe community; I was different because I didn’t come from a rural background and share the same histories; and., I was different because of some unknown factors that shouted to them that I was different.
But deep down, I knew that I was different in some internal fundamental way, one that had nothing to do with my family of origin or in which communities I found myself raising a family and working. I didn’t know why I was different or exactly how I was different. I just knew I was the one not like the others.
“We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little chinky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves. We, too, must enjoy amazement at what unfolds from within us while our multiplicious selves continue to incarnate in the world, contribute, and confound”. (Hollis,What Matters Most , page 11)
It was this pull to be more and more my self that set me apart. This being set apart doesn’t mean that I have to take on the job of trying to twist myself into all kinds of shapes in order to fit in. It has taken me a long time to accept that I am different and that it is okay to be different. I have learned to forgive myself for being different, for being the odd man out. And in the process of accepting my differences I am becoming even more different, more of a contrast. And to my mind, this is now good.
I have been wondering about the use of the word, Jungian here on my site. Over the decades I have been influenced by a lot of people, dead and alive. In trying to explain this recently in terms of my use of the word Jungian, I tried to explain how each writer or each individual in face-to-face contact brought forward ideas that had me realise that for my self, these ideas resonated and I felt that these ideas contained some truth-to-me. Nietzsche was one of the earliest of influences when I began to question the authority of the Catholic Church. It wasn’t long before I was reading the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and wandering through the philosophical writings of Sartre, Heidegger, Spinoza, Kant, Kierkegaard, Teillard de Chardin, Buber and too many others to remember from those formative years as an adolescent and very young man.
I began to wander through a variety of Christian churches in vain hopes of finding a spiritual home, looking for somewhere that would resonate with my inner core. I was always repelled at the thought of being contained-restricted by any of the churches I found. It seemed that one had to give up thinking, questioning in order to become at one with each community. And this was something I couldn’t do, couldn’t even pretend to do. In my early twenties I turned to meditation, Transcendental Meditation, something that grew out of my love of music, the influences of John Lennon and his fellow musicians who discovered another world in India and another form of music through Ravi Shankar. It wasn’t the first experiment with meditation, but it was the first experience that was structured.
Through music, I discovered another way of being and thinking, that of Hinduism and Buddhism. Before I could invest much of myself in learning more, I became a father and that became the focus, the centre of my life for many years. During those years, as a teacher, I invested what time I had in the world of psychology. Being a teacher of adolescents I sought to find ways that would allow me to be a better mentor, teacher and guide. Jung, Pearls, Rogers, Frankl most resonated though there were parts of other systems and beliefs that I felt contained something of value for me. Courses in cognitive psychologies and therapy models provided me with tools to work with immediate problems but couldn’t help me in terms of deeper rooted questions, existential questions. I was caught between the worlds of psychology, philosophy and religion. It was with this realisation that I began to think of finding the links, taking from each of these areas as well as from my life experience as a son, father, teacher and community citizen in order to attempt an understanding of my self.
The links are there – Buddhism, Humanism, Jungian, Gestalt, Existentialism, Christianity, Hinduism, poetry, music, and nature – symbols all over the place all pointing towards something that is vibrant but yet undefined, maybe never to be defined or contained. And so I turn to active imagination and sati so that I can pay attention to what happens in my own mind, pay attention to the resonances without letting ego take a controlling presence in order to make things fit thus distorting what emerges.
And in the end, I am left with only one thing – I do not belong to any “ism” or any belief system. All that I can know is a small fragment of who I am through the echoes that come from the “ah-ha” moments and the resonances from the interactions with others, others who are both dead and alive.
It took some time to get this photo as the butterfly was loathe to sit still long enough for me to get a photo. There is no doubt that to my mind, it was elusive. But, for whatever reason, I took one last photography, mostly out of desperation as I knew it would be the last photo as I had to return to the classroom and begin teaching a classroom full of eager university students, eager because the topic of the day was money, another elusive target. The result of the last photo was only evident later when I cropped the photo – Ah ha! I had captured the essence of what I knew was this next blog post.
What had changed between my earlier attempts at photographing the butterfly and this successful attempt? Well, basically, I had given up, realised that the problem was not one I could solve. I had to turn to another approach, one that trusted the workings below my ego. I had learned the craft of photography years long past and had taken tens of thousands of photographs. My eye and the trigger finger have seemed to developed their own awareness. So, when times like this arise and I get frustrated with my ego’s attempt at controlling the shutter and the subject, I admit defeat and withdraw from the conflict. Then, unintentionally, I shoot or I don’t shoot.
This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a man – that I can’t fix everything, that I can’t control everything, that I can’t solve all the problems. The truth is, I don’t get to solve many problems other than those that I create. Problems that come out of my behaviour, my attitude or lack of knowledge can be solved with time and effort, as long as I admit that it is my behaviour, my attitude, and my own ignorance that is the cause of the problems at hand. That is the crucial starting point. But the other problems, the real big problems? No, I can’t solve them. All I can do is let them defeat me or acknowledge the problem and move on as best I can.
“Now and then it happened in my practice that a patient grew beyond himself because of unknown potentialities, and this became an experience of prime importance to me. In the meantime, I had learned that all the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, for they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. I therefore asked myself whether this outgrowing, this possibility of further psychic development, was not the normal thing, and whether getting stuck in a conflict was pathological. Everyone must possess that higher level, at least in embryonic form, and must under favourable circumstances be able to develop this potentiality.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 13, paragraph 18)
It now seems to me that I can be kinder to myself unlike patterns in the past where I would get angry at myself for being so weak, so helpless, so impotent. And, I wonder how this plays out in the bigger world. Perhaps the big problems are not to be solved, but to be outgrown, one by one, community by community. Polarity must exist – black and white, good and evil. And, when one looks deeply into each psyche, I think one will find no pure goodness, no pure evil. And in saying this, I do realise that it is also necessary to do something, to try and right wrongs, especially the wrongs we commit. To focus on the wrongs of others is simply acting outwardly, projecting one’s own darkness.
The road from here to there is not a straight line – ever!
This man is a grandfather who is often standing outside of his restaurant not too far from the apartment. I see other members of the family usually sitting inside the restaurant during the slow hours between meals when the university students are busy with classes. Obviously, he is Muslim and his restaurant offers the typical Muslim meals that are wallet friendly for university students. The main staple is noodle soup, chicken or vegetable stock, no pork.
He is who he is. Each time I see him he appears to be comfortable with himself, accepting who he is, where he is, and how he is. This seems to be a common thing here in China. It is as though there is less agitation to be someone else, somewhere else. There is a sense of peace, acceptance and even harmony. I would not describe this as “settling” for less that what one could be or should be. Rather, a calm realisation that regardless of situation, one is left with accepting who one is.
And in seeing this, sensing this in those who are around me here in China, I find that I am in the same state of being – I am comfortable with myself, with my self.
“When a man can say of his states and actions, ‘As I am, so I act,’ he can be at one with himself, even though it be difficult, and he can accept responsibility for himself, even though he struggle against it. We must recognize that nothing is more difficult to bear with than oneself. (‘You sought the heaviest burden, and found yourself,’ says Nietzsche.) Yet even this most difficult of achievements becomes possible if we can distinguish ourselves from the unconscious contents. (Jung, C.W. 7, paragraph 373)
This young woman was picking a rose from one of the many rose bushes found along the boulevard that passes the apartment where I live. The roses belong to the city and are rarely touched by the citizens. Yet, here this one young woman was selecting just one of the roses. Carefully, she chose one and then slowly walked on, lost in her solitude. I didn’t see happiness in the picking or the leaving of the scene. It made me wonder what sad story she had to tell. Of course, I will never know her story.
But in taking this photo yesterday, I wonder what I was really photographing. I have have more than enough photos to be simply recording daily life in China. It hardly needs saying anymore, but I will say it anyway, I was taking the photo in order to allow some otherwise silent part of myself to have a voice.
Usually I take such an image and allow active imagination to bring out the voices of the various aspects of the personal unconscious. But, this isn’t always necessary, in fact it might even be counterproductive if used to an excess. Sometimes all that is necessary is to acknowledge the presence (here, the face of anima) and leave it at that.
The same is true with dream work. I used to religiously record all of my dreams and then work overtime on mining these dreams. But the effort was not often rewarded with satisfactory results as far as my ego was concerned. I had thought that each dream must be pregnant with deep meaning. In many things I am a slow learner or take things too literally. After many wasted hours, I turned to Jung only to find that the effort I was putting into the process was excessive. Just being aware of the presences in a dream, being aware that the dream took place was enough. There is an interior dialogue that occurs without the mediation of the ego that is vital for psychic health.
And this is the lesson I take to my photography. Often, most often, it is enough that I have taken the photo with either intuitive intention or ego intention. Taking the photo is much the same as unconsciously picking a rose and then wandering away with the rose with no questions asked