Archive for August 2013
Today’s post grew out of a conversation yesterday evening while we sat with neighbours on our deck enjoying a glass of wine. The talk turned to local items that for the most part have little if any interest for me. Usually I just smile and add in a word or two to say I am listening. However when the talk turned to how hard it was for a woman and her children when her husband left the marriage. He had come out of the closet after more than twenty years of marriage and declared he was gay. I felt sad not only for the wife, but also for the husband who made the declaration. What is it that has us keep secrets from ourselves as well as those who love us?
I am familiar with hiding in closets. My first memories of hiding in a closet were from when I was either four or five. I hid from the fearsome rages of my father who had returned from the Korean War. I also hid from my mother who seemed to take great pleasure in slapping and pinching. I was a puny little kid. Later, around the age of seven, I hid because I was ashamed. I was involved in sexual exploration with the priest who was responsible for my Catechism lessons. I definitely wanted that secret kept in a closet.
But, there are problems with keeping things hidden in closets and hiding in closets. When you least expect it, things start slipping, things you might even have long forgotten about.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” C.G. Jung
Keeping things hidden in the closet usually results in one becoming unconscious of those repressed contents. And when they begin to peek out from the closet with behaviour which often surprises us leaving us wondering what has just happened, a feeling that leaves us feeling as victims of fate rather than of our stuff in hiding.
But there are other things we hide in our closets, things for which we don’t want others to know about us, our deep dark secrets that would hurt us, or so we imagine, if others were to find out. We are very conscious of these hidden aspects of ourselves. I am no different from you and everyone else in this respect. I have secrets and I try to control how the world will perceive me.
I tell myself, I will be honest with my spouse, my neighbours and friends, with my family, and most importantly, with myself – only not just now. I think there will be a “right time” to make disclosures that I know will let some of the pressure off. But that right time never seems to come. As I wait, the burdens of my secrets grow. I find as I age that I am less patient with myself, angry at myself for needlessly carrying these secrets. And then, just as with unconscious contents, these secrets start to leak out into my life leaving me scrambling to do some cover up hoping that no one noticed. But of course, the mess is noticed. And now I find that the only way out is to let the secrets emerge out of the closet and hope for the best.
As I sat on my back deck looking out as a morning began to unfold, as the sun began to paint colours, I was thankful for the gift of being present and a part of this moment of magic. I know that the photo I took can never capture the essence of what I can only say is something truly spiritual, a scene that gives a sense that something else is present, something more than what can be seen and measured. Jung called it the numinous. I have to admit that being present in moments such as this, moments which can only be hinted at with an image, brings a sense of fullness that is hard to describe.
“Attending to nature is a spiritual exercise whether or not it goes by that name. It is a particular kind of contemplation. Not empty, except that the lens is still. Not full, because there is no agenda. . . . Being a lens is far different from looking through one. . . . To be a lens is to live in a certain way, to be a means rather than a subject, and transparent rather than stuffed with a self.” [Moore, The Soul’s Religion, p. 183]
I have to admit that I have never considered it from this point of view, that I was a lens. Since I typically have my camera close at hand, I think of the camera’s lens as a tool I use to attempt capturing what I see and feel. I did know the idea of attending to nature as a portal for meditation, even as meditation itself. The images I bring here, that I capture with my camera are yet another way of attending as well. I like what Moore has to say about images:
“As we notice the presence of the art images around us, we may come to see everything as an image.” [p. 179]
In a way, being able to shift into a different state of consciousness in which we stop looking at the world and the people in it through a restrictive and literal lens, we get an opportunity to sense the presence of more. Each scene, each moment is then vital, pregnant with more than we can describe or take in with our senses. What we take as real becomes freed from our limited ego consciousness and promises us an escape hatch from the overstuffed busyness of a purely external and objective reality. Entry through the magic that an image contains when we become a lens, leads us to a space that is beyond boundaries, what can best be described as a pregnant emptiness.
Lately I have been much more active with those things in life that are more about being present than being in one’s head. I have always done what has needed to be done, but almost always because someone else has brought my attention to what needed doing. It wasn’t that I was resisting these tasks; I just didn’t see them or think of them. I was busy somewhere in inner-space, too preoccupied to be aware of outer-space.
One area that has benefited from my becoming more present in the outer world, is in terms of relationships with family and friends. There is no doubt that in the past few years my children and my wife have not pressed me for too much presence. They knew my struggles and they didn’t want to add to them. However, lately, even though I am an introvert and it demands a drain on my energy systems, I willingly stepped forward into the action, the give and take of being with others in a real way.
Faith in myself, in others and in life has been a major factor in this transformation. It is faith, a spiritual aspect that has its roots in the inner spaces of the human psyche, that retaught me about the sacredness of family and the world within which one’s family is held. It is synchronistic that Moore’s words read last night, highlight this truth.
“As a parent I find that I need yet another dimension of faith. I have to trust that the children will make it through life without my overprotective interference. I have to trust that my own neuroses will not cripple them for life. I have to trust my judgments day after day as the family inches its way forward. I have to be a person full of faith because I don’t know how best to be a parent.
I think of this faith, which keeps me up some nights, as inseparable from religious faith. Family life has its own inherent spirituality, irrespective of any tradition or belief system. It has its traditions, its rituals, and its mysteries. In a real sense parents are the priest and priestess of a family spirituality. If I can be faithful as a parent, I have added a piece to my religious faith. If parents have no faith in their children and in the family process, their religious faith is to that extent weakened, and children don’t learn to trust.” [Moore, The Soul’s Religion, p. 46]
These are powerful words, words I needed to hear, words that let me know that my instinct and intuition that has led me to become more present in life, is well founded. And as I read these words, I thought – “this goes two ways.” Now that my children are parents in their own right, they can and do return to their parents the same trust, the same faith in which they were raised. They trusted that I would find my way back into the world, back into full presence in their lives. They had faith in me, they trusted me. In my opinion, our family is much stronger and healthier because of that faith and trust.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~ Lao Tzu
I am one of the lucky ones in this world. I am deeply loved by someone, and that feeling is one that is returned with as much depth as is possible to hold. We are approaching our 42nd wedding anniversary later this month and I am continually amazed that this vibrant young woman that chose me so long ago, still wants to share my life. Why? Perhaps, it is simply that we both see mystery in each other.
“If we have learned the lessons of emptiness, we are ready to move closer to the mysteries, the real substance of the spiritual and religious life. Mystery is not just a great blob of the unknown. Particular mysteries, full of fantasy and meaning, surround us: death, love, illness, sex, aggression, beauty, failure, and desire.” [Moore, p. 25]
As with almost everyone in the world, I need to have meaning in my life. After more than sixty years of life, the search for meaning has led me over and over again back to the idea and reality and mystery of love. No matter how much I change, or she changes, or the world changes, it is love that provides the will to move through each day ready to embrace yet another day. It is about the mystery of who she is and who I am in relation to her, as much as it is about anything else. We live in the world in a strange dance of relationship that tests both of us. We see each other as almost a part of ourselves. We live in the outer world as “one” and in the process I learn to live whole as I take back projections of my inner feminine, my soul.
The depth of love gives me courage, gives us both courage and strength to dare loving more, to dare risking change. Loving deeply isn’t easy. Being loved deeply isn’t easy either. Loving deeply makes life even more complicated if that is possible. Yet, it also simplifies life in teaching us that “all we need is love.”
I have to admit that I am feeling much better than I have in years. And when I say feeling better, I include the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of feeling. Why? That’s a good question. Someone recently asked me about my efforts at moving from the dark place that had been the centre of almost all of my efforts for the past number of years:
“But how long does this phase last, and when do you go back to finding hobbies, enjoying day to day life without having to put all your energy into healing?”
My answer is simply, it will take as long as it takes. And when the phase of darkness is put aside, there is no going back. So why do I now feel healed?
There is no simple answer, so I will take the time needed to give a more complete answer. I can’t give the full answer because, in the end, there is some parts of the answer that is beyond my knowledge, parts that are wrapped in mystery. Healing began the moment the darkness descended to engulf me in the 90’s. You can’t heal if you don’t know that you are grievously wounded. The wounds had been piling up below my conscious awareness. I was busy with life, with family, with career and had no time to consider why things weren’t going well within me.
With awareness that I was descending into darkness, a descent that was seen by others before it was seen by myself, I began fighting the darkness. The first attempt was all about increasing my presence in the outer world, getting even busier with more coaching, more professional activity, engagement with other therapists in a new domain called cyberspace, and entry into another degree program. Darkness laughed and its tendrils wrapped themselves tighter around my spirit and soul. So, I entered into therapy through my professional association. And in the process, more of the contents hidden in darkness began to show their faces properly scaring the shit out of me. I knew that this was serious and needed some serious attention, so I took myself off to another location and began a six-month long course of Jungian analysis. I knew that in depth psychology there would be answers found for my questions, and in the process, perhaps even healing.
Success, at least for the short term. I changed career paths and managed to finish the remaining years until retirement was possible. Economic survival for myself and my wife was my highest priority. I survived, but not all that well. The darkness wasn’t so easily defeated; and yes, the darkness was my number one enemy. Finally retirement arrived and I found myself at a loss of what to do, so I returned to teaching, teaching in China. Again, novelty and busyness kept enough of the darkness away so that I could enjoy the experience of Asia. But, beneath the surface and in the corners of my eyes, the truth of the unresolved conflict between my shadow and myself lurked, waiting.
About a year and a half ago, my mother died and I fell off a cliff into indescribable depths of darkness. I held on to sanity until I could get myself back to my home country from China so that I could once again enter into Jungian analysis, a process I knew that would lead me back into the light. While in analysis, I formalised my practice of meditation through Buddhism. Six months later, I was ready to return home and resume life in an almost normal lane. I gifted myself with a pilgrimage in France to help appease the demons that had yet to be banished. And then, when back home, the decision to return to Mexico for a retirement retreat from winter was booked. And this, was the turning point that made all the difference.
In Mexico, I explored more of my naturist tendencies. The warmth, the sunshine and a location that wasn’t threatening allowed me to open up. I began to be friends with myself and to take better care of my body. My weight dropped and I felt better physically. I continued all those things that had helped me get this far – Buddhist meditation and reading, Jungian psychology and writing, and self-analysis. I stopped fighting for the most part.
Now, back home in Canada, I have found it is possible to honour all of these contributing factors that have helped me heal. I can remain well even when life gets in the way of any or all of these factors that have held me together long enough for me to learn how to simply be me without criticism.
So to now answer the question posed above, I am already here, back from healing. This is my life. I am retired, I read, I hike, I write, I take photographs, I visit and play with my grandchildren. I share what I can with my children. And I cherish my wife who has been beside me through all of these years on the path to wellness. I am wiser and healthier, and perhaps even holier than I have ever been. I am wise enough to finally know that I will never have all the answers. What I don’t know (and it is beyond measurement) will simply exist as mystery for me. I am healthier and have learned to eat better, sleep better and move better to make this state of health last as long as my allotted years. And I have learned that I don’t have to be a saint, to be perfect anymore. I can be ordinary with all manner of idiosyncratic behaviours and mannerisms. I cherish the skills I have and the gifts that I have been given and try my best to share these with others without asking what’s in it for me or mine. It doesn’t get any better than this.
And yes, I am human, still fall flat on my face, still make mistakes and still have fears of darkness and demons. But that is okay. Today I can smile and mean it.
I took today’s photo in late June when I decided to attend a naturist retreat – a retreat with only one participant. I needed the time alone, alone with nature and myself in my natural state. The shedding of clothing was symbolic of a psychological emptying, a stripping away to remove as many layers of self-deception in order to leave myself open to something more. I knew that everything that I held on to wasn’t enough. My anxieties weren’t abating and I just couldn’t find a path anymore – live was unraveling in spite of all of my efforts, all of my intentions.
I don’t know what the intentions of the woodpecker were other than to be attentive to what was happening so that he could get his “fill” of bugs. He was open and was teaching me to be patient, to be open and let life happen. I needed to empty myself of the garbage that was overflowing in my mind and spirit if I was going to have room for what was missing.
“Spiritual emptiness is not only an open mind but also an open self. We have to get ourselves out of the way – our explanations, our goals, our habits, and our anxieties.. We often try to avoid disaster and fill life with order and meaning, but just as often life unravels all our careful preparations. At that moment we can complain, but I have found it is best to go with the loss and be educated by it. The willingness to stand in our ignorance gives us character and keeps us honest.” [Moore, The Soul’s Religion, p. 10]
In the past, and by this I mean the not-so-distant past, I worked overtime trying to anticipate life: “What did my wife want? What did my children want? What did the world want? What should I do to having the world come crashing down on me?” It seemed as though I was just a half-step ahead of disaster. I didn’t realise it, but I was actually cultivating disaster rather than “cutting it off at the pass.”
The retreat did teach me something. With no one to blame or complain to, I found myself becoming silent, listening to almost nothing. For three days the silence continued and in the silence my anxieties abated. I began to breathe more freely. I felt alive and that, “being alive” was enough of a “meaning” to satisfy the ache within my soul. And then I began to smile.
“Deep emptiness lies in the vacant feeling you have when complaints and words of self-defense fall away.” [p. 11]
Wild strawberries. We found these berries while walking down an old stone-pocked trail on a mountain side in British Columbia, Canada. We had stopped for a break at a roadside rest area on our way to my brother’s home; and while stretching our legs, we found the trail that looked inviting. There was no plan for talking a long hike at the moment, but that didn’t stop us from following the trail that had appeared inviting us to follow. As the trail zigzagged down the mountain side, I stopped frequently to take photos of flowers, of the snow-capped mountains peering above the break in the tree line on a straight stretch of trail, and of anything else that caught my eye and attention. I walked without intention; empty of expectation or intention I received so many gifts and felt my being swell with spiritual nourishment. Then it was time to return up the trail and continue on our way to visit my brother and his wife. And all it took, was for me to see, and in turn, to be seen by this universe.
“To be is to be seen, and to be seen is to feel the weight of existence. We need to be seen by our friends and our communities. But we also need to be seen absolutely, to know that our lives are not lived in a vacuum of meaning. . . . that we live in relation to an absolute eye that regards us with interest and affection. It is not impossible for a sophisticated modern man or woman to look into the sky and, in a certain manner, behold angels and a trace of divinity.” [Moore, The Soul’s Religion, pp. 6-7]
“To be seen is to feel the weight of existence.” For me, at this moment and time of my life, the weight of existence is not a heavy weight, but a welcome weight that tells me I am alive and a vital part of the whole. When I unconsciously emptied myself of intention, I was able to see and be seen. At that moment, I realised that regardless of what I do, or don’t do, I am seen whether or not I am aware of being seen.
As I wrote these words, a small scene from my past flickered at the edges, a moment when I was fifteen years old, travelling with my family back to Ottawa from a two-year sojourn in Alberta. We stopped for gas and a quick meal at a cafe-gas station in Nipigon, Ontario. As I stood near the counter waiting for the food order to come, I caught the eyes of a girl near my own age. Two sets of eyes coming into contact affirming the existence of the other. It was one of those moments that Martin Buber talked about in his book I and Thou. We saw each other and for me at least, a heaviness entered. I knew that as our family moved on I was to miss out on something vital, something that would enrich my universe. Less than an hour later our family was back in the car and we travelled on to Ottawa. I knew I had just learned about something important about who I was and of my belonging in a larger universe.
There are many occasions in life that beg us to see and to be seen. Sadly, I don’t always lift my head long enough to disengage from my inner world of ego and thought long enough to see. I know that I am not alone in this, that many pass through years with their heads weighted down with worries, with their eyes shut tight. Like me, they miss the grace of being seen, of being affirmed. Like me, they have filled themselves with worries, plans, busyness, distractions, and addictions – so full that there is no room for being seen, for seeing “angels and a trace of divinity.” There is a way out of this fullness that imprisons our soul’s need for space.
“A first step om spiritual progress is to find the empty place, the hole in the fabric of meaning and culture through which the infinite and mysterious can enter. That emptiness may be a lull in time, a moment of reflection, a day off, or an uninvited reverie. Spatially it may be represented in a broad expanse of land or in an empty chapel or meditation room. Emotionally it may be a painful loss or breakdown. Intellectually it could be an open question, a doubt, or even a new way of thinking.” [p. 8]