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Archive for October 2011

The Virtues of Caution – James Hillman

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Slow down, you move too fast, you've got to make the moment last

This is my third post on James Hillman in my small voice of tribute to a man who has moved many in North America, especially men. Hillman was the central figure behind the men’s movement that has made a significant impact on American culture in terms of how men relate to women and to themselves. For me, more important was Hillman’s daring to stand outside the norm of modern society and even challenge his own peers in the professional psychological world. In daring to challenge all, he inspires one to challenge one’s own beliefs and prejudices. Yet in challenging anything and everything, Hillman advocated caution in moving to change the things that needed changing. This voice of caution echoes what I have heard from Jung, a voice that continues to sound in my head – hold the tension allowing something new, something unpolarized to emerge.

More from Hillman, this time from an essay published in Resurgence Magazine in the July/August issue of 2002:

A third psychological background to caution is quite simply the endemic background of Westernized societies anywhere: depression. Depression slows all heroic endeavour; the very thought of action is too much! Hence, depression whether of the psyche or of the economy is desperately feared in Westernized societies and every possible measure mobilized against it. The pressures we feel, the drugs we take, the expectations we nurture and the dictates of global economic expansion are all anti-depressive measures. Psychiatry could easily say that the headlong rush of the river itself is a manic defence against depression.” (Hillman, The Virtues of Caution, Resurgence, issue 213, 2002)

Hillman’s words give a value to depression, a value that I had never before appreciated. It is hard to appreciate something that is either physiologically or psychologically painful when one is in the midst of the pain. But almost everyone of us if asked if we would remove the pain from our past, most would say that it was this pain, the wounding that moved us to become the people we are today. If anything, we wear our scars with some pride believing that we have emerged from that pain as better people.

As a coach I would have my athletes (runners) learn how to go into their pain and embrace the pain in order to avoid becoming a victim to their pain. In counselling, the same thing happens psychologically. One doesn’t deny, one takes the time to hold the pain to integrate the pain and thus allow the psyche to move on with a stronger sense of self. Caution doesn’t mean to cease going forward, it simply means moving forward more consciously.

“. . . we must distinguish the moment of arrested movement from an identification with the arrest itself, as if beauty must stand still. But beauty, like caution, is not meant to stand still. The saying is not “Don’t leap,” but “Look before you leap.” Beauty means only for us to arrest for a moment the senseless insensitive forward thrust, in order to open the senses by inviting the aesthetic response.” (Hillman, The Virtues of Caution, Resurgence, issue 213, 2002)

I have to admit that these words take me back to my youth when the same words appeared in a 1967 popular song by Simon and Garfunkel, a song called “59th Street Bridge Song” or “Feeling Groovy.” Even then, the world was moving too fast.

Thank you, Dr. James Hillman.


Permeability – James Hillman and Margot McLean

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Illustration by Margot McLean

I was fortunate to receive an email this morning via a Jungian discussion group called Jung-Fire, an email sent by Carol Spicuzza, an American artist and Jungian. The email contained a link to a relatively recent work of James Hillman and artist, Margot McLean called Permeability. The work was published at ARAS (Art and Psyche Online Journal). The image to the left is the first of many images in the article that flow with the words of Hillman as presented in this essay.

“Fantasy thinking.” Of course almost all of my work here, especially in relation to the images I present here, is grounded in active imagination. It is a hard concept to hold, that of active imagination being any kind of foundation, any kind of grounding. Fantasy thinking is a sharp contrast, perhaps a polar contrast to directed thinking, ego consciousness. Hillman suggests that contrary to generally accepted thought, “directed thinking’s ego is not the center of consciousness.” Hillman paraphrases Jung: “The Psyche is not in you; you are in the psyche.”

Powerful words on both Jung’s part and Hillman’s part. In thinking a bit more of this, it seems to fit with the idea that one’s shadow is grounded in the larger collective shadow which is grounded in the universal shadow. Consciousness, too, must follow or reflect this same truth if there is to be balance – a personal consciousness grounded in a collective consciousness which is in turn grounded in a universal consciousness.

Two kinds of thinking, directed and dereistic, frame our psychological cosmology. They belong to our creation myth, and they are given testimonial witness by Jung in his autobiography as Personality Number One and Number Two. How does fantasy thinking proceed, what is it like? William James – upon whom Jung here relies (CW5: para 18) – describes it as “trains of images,” spontaneous,” “irresponsible,” “accidental,” and composed of “empirical concretes.”

Trains of images that are empirical concretes. The train crosses over into the terrain of Bachelard’s material imagination. The stuff of things; the sensate, the tactile, the colored, noise and smell, and strings of words. The stuff of the arts: “empirical concretes.” (Hillman and McLean, “Permeability”)

A few years ago, as part of an explanation of permeable relationships that educational administrators needed to consider, I produced a graphic similar to the image I have crudely reproduced here. Though we have separations between self and other, there is a porousness that goes two ways where the whole influences the self and the self influences the whole. This is an imaginal rendering of the concept which places the self at the center. And if Hillman and Jung are correct then it allows one to imagine, allow the dereistic form of thinking, that one is indeed touched by gods, one is a god.

This is a powerful concept. If we take the gods within then we are forced to assume our own authority as gods. We are forced to take our responsibility for the planet and for others into ourselves. We cease to be victims. We are required to lead ourselves and our fellow humans from the wasteland that we are currently creating on our planet and in our societies. We are not allowed to defer responsibility to some church, some creed, some philosophy, to others with self-proclaimed answers. No gods will come riding out of the sunset to save us. We must save ourselves as humans and as we do this, we save others around us and the home within which we live.


Letting the Silt Settle, Letting the Psyche Settle

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This was taken along the shores of one of the river-canals that wend their way through the city of Changzhou. As I understand it (and understanding reality in China is not all that easy or certain), there are three rivers that wind their way through the city. A river doesn’t look any different from a canal from an observation point of view. Asking others who are Chinese gets mixed responses as few actually know the city other than their particular neighborhoods, even those who have spent their whole life in this city. This makes me think of how we only know parts of our own self, parts that are the easiest to access down familiar well-worn trails of thought and feeling.

I have been feeling both full and empty of late, a feeling that has resulted in me standing still and doing very little other than teaching my courses at the university. I have been doubling up on a number of classes pushing my teaching load so that I can take a week off in mid-November in order to take a sunshine and snorkeling  holiday in the Philippines. I am looking forward to the warmth and the sunshine and the long beaches. I will have Internet connectivity so I imagine that time will be found in the evenings for posting here. As well as extra teaching, I have been listening to a number of Shrink Rap Radio podcasts that have a Jungian focus. The result has been a whirlwind of stuff floating within my head with nothing settling long enough so that I could find a calm period for writing here, writing with more depth.

Meditation remains an important part of my day that I try not missing. Sitting still, like this empty shell in the photo, brings me back to my core self, puts life back into place as things sort themselves out and settle.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

James Hillman – A Mythic Journey

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James Hillman -- author of the "Soul's Code"

James Hillman died yestday at the age of 85. I have quite a few of his books on my shelves back in Canada and have found them to be interesting and challenging and worthy of remaining in my collection of books that curiously is smaller than it was a decade ago. As most of my readers likely already know, Hillman is a Jungian, or should I say a post-Jungian who has added his own touch to the world of psychology. I took this photo from another website, from “Soul’s Code” which is named after one of Hillman’s more famous books.

This morning, moments before heading to teach my university classes for the day, a funeral procession passed in front of my apartment building, a procession that dated to a time centuries before Christianity, a religious practice that most in the western world would call pagan because of its roots in ancient folk customs. I found this quite synchronistic and appropriate as Hillman advocated a return to paganism, a return to the gods and goddesses of our archetypal past. In Hillman’s opinion, the gods never left, they are still here on the earth ready to be taken back into our awareness.  As he stated in one of his presentations, they are even to be found standing on the corner of the street waiting to cross.

I am attempting to bring you James Hillman here via YouTube, one of a number of such videos that were produced as Hillman spoke about the Mythic Journey. I am glad that I was able to have had Hillman’s words and ideas become part of my process on my own journey.

Thank you, Dr. Hillman.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Inter-relatedness of Human Psyche and Planet Earth

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Build on a foundation of water

The city of Changzhou is on the south shore of the Yangtze River not all that far from the ocean and Shanghai. As a result, one doesn’t have to dig very deep in order to hit ground water. This photo was taken not too far from where I live in an area undergoing intensive development with new high rise apartments. Some fields such as this one sit for the most part undisturbed, for the moment when the tall cranes migrate across the busy street to begin another set of housing and apartments that promise paradise. And all of it is being built in what I could best describe as swampland.

Interesting how the outer world often serves as a metaphor of our inner psyche’s landscapes – or is it the other way around? As I capture so many images of the world and see, through active imagination, so much that touches on the core being of self that lies buried under our skin, I wonder if there is meaningful design and with that design, integral linkages between the human collective psyche and nature. Does the collective shadow impact nature to such an extent as to serve as a foundational cause for the earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc.? Intuition is telling me that a single creative designer must lie behind and within the universe, that the bits and pieces of that design are all linked.

We learn in our elementary science classes that every biome, every ecosystem depends on the health and presence of all of its constituent parts. If one part is hurting, all of it hurts. I think of the environmental hurt in Louisiana due to hurricanes and the relatively recent BP oil disaster as I write this, and how that hurt flows through the rest of the planet sending its shock waves which reverberate through other systems and through the human psyches touching each of these ecosystems. I wonder which came first, the hurt within us as humans, a hurt that about our own darkness, our collective shadow. Does our collective shadow feed the physical world causing disruption and disharmony? When I read the words of Richard Chachere, a Jungian analyst from Louisiana, in his “Tears for Louisiana” there is little doubt that we humans stress the planet with our psychic upheavals as much as the planet stresses humans with its physical upheavals.

I admit that I am troubled by the darkness of the human spirit and the restlessness that is buffeting the earth.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

On Being One With the Whole

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One of these is not like the others

As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to take a number of photos on a walk through a new area. Many of the images were of man-made objects, my recording of yet another face of the city in which I live here in China. But as usual, nature scenes also caught my eye and the camera lens, scenes such as this one. I was particularly drawn to the translucent qualities of the one flower as well as the large leaves from which the flowers rose on tall stems. All the flowers except this one in the center were red. This golden yellow and orange flower stood out like a sore thumb, or should I say, like an angel hovering above the collective group below.

How else can we describe something that is the same as other things of its genus and species that is different, something that glows with a numinous quality as though embraced in a halo? For some reason individual bits of life rise above, step outside the norm lived by its peers and captures the attention of psyche. Looking closely at the flower, the individual bits of life that rise above, one finds that in all manner of observation, they are the same as all their surrounding peers. The biology is the same, as much the same as is necessary to be considered one of the species.

As humans, we are all built the same for the most part. We have bodies that age to maturity and then begin to descend into old age before ceasing to exist as life as we know it. We all have the same basic needs and develop our lives according to how these meets are met or not met. Regardless of our accomplishments, our brilliance, our failures or our legacy to future generations, we are as one with our fellow humans as human beings.

We exist for our moments and then we don’t. But somewhere our psyche gets in the way and demands something more of us, something more than passing through the years to leave a new generation to follow. Our psyche demands that there is more than the survival of the species at stake in our existences. We crave meaning, we demand meaning – yet only ourselves can bestow this meaning upon ourselves. Somewhere along the way, we lost a collective meaning; we learned that the collective meaning was no more than a developmental level for the individual psyche. Now, we are left with creating our own meaning.

The challenge is in creating meaning that re-members humanity as a whole. We need to fit meaning for self with the context of the collective of humanity. The failure to do so results in a narcissistic dysfunction that results in just another act of nature culling the misfits out. The modern challenge is to find a way to create meaning that includes the planet – mother earth and father sky. We cannot step outside of the whole and survive – we can rise within the whole and provide a bit more light in order for the whole, a fresh new idea that honors the individual and  the collective.

Is The Ego Really In Charge?

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Walking down an unfamiliar path

Yesterday’s walk to me to a new part of the city, the northeastern outskirts of the city proper. It was a surprise to find such a quiet and undeveloped space only two kilometres from the apartment. Needless to say, that meant a lot of new photo scenes were captured. As most of my walks go, I didn’t walk alone but with my wife who is seen walking down an unfamiliar path. Off to the right is a canal and off to the left is swampland that has a series of small vegetable gardens, evidence that there is no such thing as wasted land, useless land. There is little doubt that this area will be visited a few more times this fall and winter.

This Chinese city is similar to the typical human psyche. I will explain that it a moment but first, a bit more about this city. The core of the city has a population of just under two million with the population of the governance area of just over four and a half million. Though it is given one name, Changzhou is really a series of old cities, towns and villages. Today, the city is divided into five districts (each with its own administrative centres, towns and villages) and two sub-city administrative departments. Changzhou has a mayor as one would expect as well as five vice-mayors, one for each of the administrative districts, and two sub-city mayors. Within this administrative nightmare are the small towns and villages with each having their own administrative structures which are under the umbrella of the district government which is under the umbrella of the Changzhou prefecture-level government. That is a lot of government for what could say is a single entity.

As I said above, the city makes me think of the human psyche where ego serves as the “mayor” thinking that ego is actually the boss. But under the conscious governance of the ego, there are a a host of competing power structures.  Some of these structures come out of the experiences of ego with the world, structures called complexes. Some of these structures come out of the collective human unconscious, structures called archetypes.  Underlying complexes and archetypes there appears to be a undefinable presence that permeates everything, unifies everything.