Archive for September 2013
One of the important things that I have learned over the years is how important images are for me. Besides creating a record of events, images allow me to re-imagine the world and even to enter worlds which I am not sure exist – well at least in an objective sense measured by my conscious self. I have six grandchildren who are constantly travelling between realities through their imaginations. And when we get together, the pull to imagination is felt stronger by me. It leads to a playful way of being without question. But more important for me is the realisation that life is deepened and our relationship as grandparent and grandchildren is cemented as no gift of material object could ever achieve. You can’t buy depth, soul.
Thomas Moore talks about how materialism short changes us as humans and how a “materialistic view of things gives us a half-life, a partial view of experience.” A half-life – this is an interesting way to look at life without imagination. A half-life implies that something is missing, something vital to our sense of well-being. As I look at the image here of one of my grandchildren, I know that there is more than the two-dimensions that are technically present. If the image was limited to the two dimensions, it would not be able to evoke an inner response; and it would likely be tossed out because the image has the subject out of focus.
The lack of imagination leaves us a poorer world, a hungrier world that never seems to ever be satisfied in spite of how much is eaten, how much is owned, how much is done. Thomas captures it well as he says:
“we are a population that is satisfied with sound-bit news, instant and opinionated political analysis, manipulative popular psychology, and insubstantial novels and magazines. At the same time, and understandably, we feel the absence of meaning and are speechless when we learn of atrocities in our society. We don’t know how to think about them because we don’t know how to think, and we don’t know how to think because we don’t believe that thinking for its own sake is worthy of our attention. We educate our children to make a good living rather than to become thinking persons. and often we honor as celebrities those who have not made a genuine contribution to society but who mirror our own madness.” [Moore, Original Self, p. 97]
I have spent most of my life in pursuit of knowledge. When midlife came, that quest for knowing shifted to getting to know myself – self understanding. Maybe it is because of the fact that I am a man that I need to know and so analyze as many things as I can in order to arrive at what I think of as full understanding. Working with others as a counsellor, the task was the same, analyze all the bits to be found – thoughts, desires, dreams, and behaviours. That work was rewarding as there definitely was a shift in awareness that led to a shift in behaviours and attitudes. But, there was always something missing, something that led to a return to my office, or my return to the office of my own analyst. Knowing seemed to stop and get stuck at the surface of life.
“Some ways of knowing do not require understanding. You don’t need to understand a play or a movie to enjoy it. You may know your spouse very well, but as years go by you understand this person less and less. Yet you are profoundly involved in the drama of the marriage. You may know your dog, but you may understand nothing of his experience or nature. You may understand less and less about the world, and yet you may feel more a part of it than ever. [Moore, Original Self, pp 73-74]
Yes, this is what I was finally coming to realise – that I knew so much but understood much less. I am learning that I don’t have to understand, but simply just live. This is the gift of all those experiences that led me to realise that I only find myself knowing less and less the more that I add bits and pieces of data and information into my brain cells. This is the gift of time spent on a meditation cushion simply being. Life is becoming more magical and less frustrating in the process.
I have been busy with my poetry project as usual, but I did take time out to read a few other blogs by some of my favourite bloggers. Writing As Jo(e) has an interesting project called The Naked Photo Project. Jo(e) teaches writing in an American college and takes photographs. Her Naked Photo Project has its own blog site holding the photos which are about as natural and sensitive to the human spirit as can be found in a single collection. Her most recent post adds one more photo to the project, but more important than the photo is her writing which sets the context for the photo. As I read the stories of each of these photos, I can feel how each story has worked on the author as she tells it. I can also see how each participant in the project grows through interaction with the author and through involvement with the Naked Photo Project. I don’t doubt that the process is therapeutic for Jo(e) as well as her subjects. But I am sure she will tell us that in her own words in her book that will grow out of the project.
Another blog site I read contains a lot of humour and often nonsense. I know the blogger personally and that has added immeasurably to how I read his blog site, Spo Reflections. Dr. ‘Spo has just published his 3,000th blog post since the first post in 2006, a site that has had more than a million visits since that time. Dr. ‘Spo is a psychiatrist and there is no doubt in my mind that he finds writing a valuable act of therapy for himself. I know that it is good therapy for anyone simply reading the blog posts.
A third site visited today was another prolific writer, Pastor Ed Raby Sr., who writes at All Things Rabyd. Recently, Pastor Ed wrote a post on writing as therapy. I invite you to read this post of Pastor Ed’s as well as one of his many developed themes at this site. It will be time well spent.
I brought up all three blog sites as a preface to my own writing as therapy. As a therapist, I know that there is great value, therapeutic value in journalling, in the telling of one’s story to oneself as well as to others. Like dreams, the story-telling works without conscious intention to heal, the goal of all therapeutic activities. We take it for granted that patients, clients, students and parishioners come to learn and in the process, heal from their guides, teachers, doctors, pastors and therapists. Yet, also embedded in this work is a reciprocal healing process, a needed healing for each of us is wounded whether we are conscious of that wounding or not.
As a school administrator I counselled students and staff alike. As a counsellor, I also was counselled by a trusted therapist. Analysis/Therapy/Counselling is a necessity for all in the field of mental health. I often, not always, found it useful for my clients to keep therapeutic journals such as in the image above.
I take photographs and I write. These two things have likely done more for my finding and maintaining a decent level of mental health. Both photography and writing bring balance to my life. I don’t write to figure things out, I write and things straighten themselves out below my level of conscious awareness. In my opinion, it is vital to simply let the words emerge, to listen to those words without analyzing them. Analysis of one’s writing, removes the depth that is naturally embedded, flattening out and trimming off what I could best describe as soul and shadow, two vital components to being whole and healthy.
I am more and more skeptical of my supposed knowledge. Once upon a time I would have said that I was an intelligent man who had a lot of answers for just about any question – just ask my children and my students. I had informed opinions on just about any topic. And, to be honest, others confirmed the idea that I was wise. I kept my eyes and ears open to the world around me and weighed everything that came in against a strong sense of right and wrong. I learned as many facts about each idea that became issues of the time. And, every once in a while I would utter truths which just seemed to come out of thin air. Surprisingly, these statements often turned out to be validated. This is where I began to wonder about just how wise I was.
I didn’t know, had no background, no experience or any other contact with some situations yet I had no hesitation in stating with authority, the response needed for a question asked. I knew I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but my mouth had its own agenda.
Now, I am older and have become convinced of just how little I really know. I tell others that I am no expert, but still there continues to be a flow of questions that come. Rather than always offer answers, I am giving space for others to continue to speak in order to let their own answers emerge. As I get older I learn that facts don’t really contain any truths. However, the voice that offers a knowing that comes from somewhere other than my ego awareness is trusted and welcomed. But more than anything else, I am learning to simply be in the moment with life and with myself. It makes me a quieter person, giving up being in charge and smart about things, about life.
Life had taught me that I never really was in control, that life wasn’t something out there to be quantified, objectified and categorised. Life was and is, something to be lived, to be experienced. Judgmental opinions don’t work some magic to improve the world in spite of all the protests, and all the we have the answers books that flood our markets and book shelves. Life is messy and simply ignores our collective noise, bending and flowing around the messes we make with our individual and collective passage, as brief as our individual lives are. And now, a few words from Thomas Moore with his take on the matter:
“Things happen without any intention to make them happen. We become involved in situations that we may try to own but that resist ownership. things happen freely. Giving up the ego satisfaction of feeling in control and at the center of the action is a pure way simply to be.” [Moore, Original Self, p. 43]
I took this photo just a short while ago in my back yard. Each year, we have a group of yellow-shafted flickers visit our yard. For those unaware, these birds belong to the woodpecker family. We get excited with their appearance, not because of the fact that summer is over, but simply because they are such rare visitors to our yard.
I didn’t take my camera with me as we went for walks these past few evenings around our rural prairie town and so missed taking a few photos that would have done well in my collection, perhaps even making it to this blog site. Yesterday evening it was the moon waxing almost full just as the thin, wispy clouds around it were turning pink and mauve with the setting sun. The evening before it was as if the sky was on fire with the setting sun. The haze of harvest dust served as a filter that heightened the usual sunset colours of autumn. Still, I didn’t fret too much about these lost images for they were captured in my mind and allowed me to experience the moment as yet one more entrance into the liminal world of mystery and soul.
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As you can see, I have missed a few days since this post was started. Life has a way of messing up one’s best intentions. Thomas Moore talks about value in these kinds of missteps:
“It (soul’s progress) is created more by loss than gain. One forgets, and life enters. One doesn’t understand, and life increases. One experiences the loss of health or a loved one, and mysteriously life takes a promising course.
In order to have soul, we need to be taken from, and that necessarily emptying requires some collusion on our part in the theft, some neglect in our defenses, some distraction that interferes with our intentions.” [Moore, Original Self, pp 27-28]
And yes, there has been some movement that could be considered as soul making progress in coming more and more out of the shadow and into the light, in my life. But that will have to wait until another time, another post.
The last day of summer was spent in the city of Saskatoon where I had lived while going to university at different times in my adult life. I have memories of the place from 1973 when I was en route to my teaching certificate before I became a father, and again five years later to again attend university classes as a parent with two little daughters. Both times the trails that today form the Meewasin Valley Trail system were frequently visited. Memories were a big part of hiking. The body was telling both of us to pay attention but our thoughts drifted to our years in the city which have, like these leaves, taken on golden hues.
How does one deal with memories? It seems that no sooner do we move on to new activities, new locations, new careers or new homes; our memories begin to shift-shape in curious ways. Each of us has a tendency to create stories to fit in with our perceived identity of the moment. People in these stories cease being ordinary and take on mythic qualities. Some are cast in dark roles and as adversaries. We need to use these darker than real-life characters to explain our own dark attitudes. Others are cast as light-filled beings which have aligned themselves with us against the forces of darkness.
As I walked along, I thought of the present and the people that I know, ordinary and good people for the most part with some of them a little more broken than others. No one in my present world is ready to be cast in a dark role or a heroic role. That will only happen when and if there is a shift into a new version of the present and the need to place what has passed into a new story, a new mythology that will explain how I have arrived into the new story.
I took today’s post subject line from Thomas Moore’s book which uses it as the title of one of the chapter-like entries. I am finding this book very, very interesting; and part of that interest is sparked by the composition style of the book which reminds me of blog posts. Each section is self-contained but also at the same time, a part of the whole. In this particular entry, Moore talks about ego and about our social problems.
“It is essential in modern life to adore the ego, to think that our social problems and our personal struggles will be resolved one we understand the situation and gain control over it. The current idea of a well-adjusted person is one who is unusually conscious and in charge. It is assumed that the purpose of life is to be more of an ego, successful in the eyes of the world and sanctioned by a swelling egotistical bank account.” [p. 59]
Well, to be honest, I have subscribed to this basic notion for a long, long time, especially the part about being unusually conscious and in charge. I have made a life-long process of learning as much as I could as I have always believed that in knowing, in being conscious and aware of as much as possible, I would be protected from harm and would avoid becoming a victim of the power of others. To be fair, growing through childhood and living with physical, emotional and sexual abuse, I learned early that the world was not kind to the naive. I built up my barriers of protection using degrees, certificates, big words and a study of human psychology and communication – all of these things so that I could be in charge – in charge of myself. I had it all – a career, a family and high social standing in the community with a bit of money in the bank and all of my bills paid. I was, in a word, successful.
Thankfully a midlife crisis took charge and taught me otherwise. Knocked down, I found myself a victim again, but this time a victim of my ego which had worked overtime to convince me of the lie of my belief in the supremacy of my ego. I was knocked down low enough to catch a glimpse of my soul.
“When we live from a deeper, we become palpably aware that life is fundamentally mysterious and is ultimately incomprehensible to our rational ways of thinking . . . As we move closer to a soulful life, we learn to live with unruly passions and unpredictable fantasies.” [p. 60]
But I was a slow learner and not so willing to give up my control and my carefully crafted identity. I made a project out of my entrance into psychoanalysis, that of mastering the process so that I could direct the analysis to meet me ego’s ends, to return back to business as if nothing had happened. But my night dreams and the wakened and stirred contents of the soul protested and continued to try and knock some sense into me. But I held my ground and made it to retirement with my reputation intact and my economic future secure. Now, I have the time and luxury of a life of relative ease. Well, the soul had other plans for me.