Through a Jungian Lens

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Archive for October 2013

Suffering, Swamplands and Meaning

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Swamplands of the Soul - James Hollis

Swamplands of the Soul – James Hollis

I have a day of grace, a day with no projects in hand while waiting for the late afternoon when I will begin handing out treats to the young and young at heart. It’s Hallowe’en in North America and like most, our house and family participate in the ritual of handing out treats. Earlier in the afternoon I will likely cut up some wood which I had gathered from an old building in the countryside which had been abandoned decades ago and was now on the verge of collapsing. I will preparing birdhouse kits for three of my grandsons with that wood. I had thought of buying some new wood for these kits, but when the idea of bringing life back to the wood which would otherwise disappear, rejected and abandoned, I knew that the spirit of the wood would welcome another opportunity to be valued and useful.

That said, I have time this morning to do something I have been thinking of for some time – revisiting James Hollis’ book, Swamplands of the Soul. There was a time seventeen years ago when this book came out, that it served a vital purpose of illuminating a path through my own swamplands of soul. As I revisit the book, I find many passages marked with yellow highlight, reminders of those words that touched me deeply, the words that served as stepping stones upon which I would then walk carefully to avoid sinking into the swamplands of misery. Now, I am able to see other words that I need to attend to with thought and resonances.

With the years between then and now, I have invested more of myself in Buddhism and much, much more study of Jungian psychology, finding that there are more things in common with both than I would have otherwise believed. The first example I can think of is that of is suffering.

In Buddhism, the first of four noble truths is focused solely on suffering: The truth of dukkha – with dukkha translated as suffering, anxiety, unease, a lack of satisfaction that is manifested in both body and mind. Suffering in Buddhism includes a ” basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.” Turning to Hollis’ book, I found these words which echo the notion of suffering as central to the fact that we exist as humans:

“Jungian psychology [is] based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning. . . . Jungian psychology . . . avers that it is the swamplands of the soul, the savannas of suffering, that provide the context for the stimulation and the attainment of meaning . .  Without the suffering . . . one would remain unconscious, infantile and dependent.”

I know that I had read these words in the past for passages before and after these words were highlighted in yellow.  As I think back in time, I reaslise that I wouldn’t have ventured out of the comfort zone of my outer life if circumstances hadn’t basically forced me to do so, inner world circumstances that erupted into my outer life. And now, I find myself thankful that my ego collapsed, that I had been turned inside out. Yes, I suffered. I was cooked in fires that if physical would have consumed my skin and bones, cooked to such an extent that I had little choice – arise like a Phoenix, transformed, or disappear into the swamplands and the darkness. Reject the suffering, deny the suffering and one stays in darkness. Allow the suffering to do its work and one does discover and rediscover the light.

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Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 31, 2013 at 9:55 am

Happy Samhain From a Happy Soul

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The soul is found in the body and mind but is neither.

The soul is found in the body and mind but is neither.

I found this image somewhere on the Internet, probably in facebook or twitter as I scrolled through my threads at both places. I immediately loved the image in spite of the words that were written there. It’s not that the words don’t speak the truth, they do. But, the words seem to imply that it is the whole truth. Perhaps it is just me being a bit ornery, but regardless, it is how I respond to the image’s words. The image on the other hand evokes a sense of alchemy, the stated of nigredo and rubedo. And at another level, it almost feels as though it is a personal avatar. I have ancestral heritage that is that of the red man, and of course, like all men, my shadow is black.

So why did this image catch my attention today? I’m not sure. However, I might hazard a guess that it has to do with my writing. This morning I brought to a close the practice novel which did exceed 50,000 words in thirty days. With that novel now set aside for further work in the future, I turned to preparing for the NaNoWriMo event which begins on All Saints’ Day, November 1st.

All Saints’ Day is part of an older festival of harvest called Samhain which begins at sunset on October 31st and ends at sunset on November 1st. Halloween only accounts for the first half of the festival, the night half which has fire (red) and night (black) as the dominant colours. Ah, now I see the connection. I have just reached a transition point in my writing, a transition that will take me into a time of fire and darkness – a darkness of soul and the fire of promised light. Like my ancestral heritage which blends the Celtic roots in Brittany with the Mohawk roots in eastern Canada, my story will tell the story of a Phoenix rising from the ashes of what used to be to a new life in a new land.

I will say more about this story in the future. For now, it is time to sit back with a glass of red wine and watch night arrive.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 30, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Myth and Memories

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The hero finds himself searching in the wilderness for food.

The hero finds himself searching in the wilderness for food.

I am getting ready to tell a tale, a tale that as I work through the outline, characters, settings and plot, I find is not all that much removed from any other tale of a hero and his journey. Earlier this morning, following a session of meditation in which for some strange reason, a bit of clarity began to emerge. I was able to see the tale in broad strokes and recognised it as both a unique story as well as a universal story. As most of my readers already know, I am going to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. The project is in response to the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)challenge that has existed for quite some time. I thrive with challenges as you already know through my participation for a few years in the SoFoBoMo (Solo Photo Book Month) challenges.

I have spend most of the month of October practicing in order to see if I have the discipline to write with this intensity. The efforts through to this point in time indicate that I can do this. It appears that with writing 21 days out of 31 during the month, I will accomplish the same task. I have learned a lot in the process, a learning that was enhanced as I attended a warm-up event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan last Saturday. That said, I want to turn now to a quote from Joseph Campbell’s book that I found a few moments ago:

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration  of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind.”

I have thought about using this quote before the tale begins. The tale is a very loosely based on composites of people I have known and of real places that I have found myself. The plot vaguely (or not so vaguely) is based on my story as I know it. Of course, memory is suspect with the passage of time. I will be taking care to follow the broad strokes of my story while taking a lot of liberty to reinvent the story for the novel. If all works according to plan, I will cover a period of time from 1969 to 1970 wandering through a broad Canadian landscape following the journey of the story’s hero, a journey that begins with loss where, as Campbell puts it:

The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”

This is the call to the journey. Perhaps writing this novel is another of such calls for me. Only time will tell. Thanks for listening.

Life as a Cyclical Journey Reaching For Gold

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We all have moments of being golden.

We all have moments of being golden.

It looks as though today will be a cold day with the morning only showing brief glimpses of the sun. The leaves on my apple tree have mostly all fallen off the tree which I photographed eight days ago. Life is just like that. First one is green, then one turns into gold and then it is all gone as though to sleep. It makes me realise just how brief our lives are.

When I looked out into the back yard just moments ago, and saw the leaves on the ground, it reminded me of the cover photo of Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart. And that, reminded me of the how life must fall apart so that we can find the will to transform ourselves, to risk the journey of individuation.

The journey begins as we fall from the light of a somewhat limited consciousness. We fall into shadow, into a world that is leafless and populated with ghosts, ghosts of our complexes and their roots in ancient archetypal presences. With almost no light to guide us, we are left to trust to instinct and intuition to navigate the darkness. Eventually we reach awareness, the lights come back on, and we re-enter life with a new sense of presence, no different that the leaves returning a vibrant, translucent green on the apple tree to begin again the birthing of new fruit, of new consciousness.

And, like the eternal cycles of nature of birth, growth, maturing, descending and what appears to be a death of sorts; our journey of individuation cycles again and again, perhaps even as Buddhists tell us, even into future lives.

If Only It Were So Simple Mr. Prime Minister

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PM Stephen Harper on the left side listens while his agenda for the new session of Parliament is read by the GG of Canada

PM Stephen Harper on the left side listens while his agenda for the new session of Parliament is read by the GG of Canada

Yesterday, there was a throne speech to open up a new session of the Canadian Parliament. In my opinion it was quite lame for a government’s plan for a nation. That said, one particular item came up that I can see will only lead to a world of confusion. Before I get into this particular item, I want to go into a bit of history about one particular image and its use here in Canada, an image of Rehtaeh Parsons. Rehtaeh committed suicide in April 2013, not so long ago. Cyberbullying involving the publishing of photos and videos of Rehtaeh were part of the background that led to her suicide [click on the preceding link and it will take you to some relevant information on this]. Images of Rehtaeh were on Facebook and were “scraped” following a Google search by another party who then used her images and others to advertise an online dating service. Once he was made aware of the identity of Rehtaeh, the images were removed and the site was shut down. In Canada, the government is “getting tough on crime” and has promised the following addition to the criminal code as a result of the need to be perceived as doing something relevant in response.

New legislation will be introduced to address cyberbullying and invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse. The legislation will include a new criminal offence that prohibits the non-consensual distribution of images.” [CTV news]

Now, after an initial thought of “certainly one should have the permission of the person in any photograph” before publishing that photo to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, any blog site or elsewhere. The truth is, one should get permission for taking a photograph. But this is the real world. Though I often ask verbally or non-verbally when language is an issue, I have taken photos of people all around the world without even this courtesy. Some of those photos have appeared on this blog site including today’s photo of our Prime Minister. With the new law, would I be required to take down all of these photographs? If so, I would comply. Or, is the law only prohibiting the non-consensual publishing of images that are related to cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse? If the latter, then there is a lot of work to define all of these to a significant degree. If the former, then it is simple. No permission [and here I assume that the permission can’t be assumed but must be witnessed oral permission or written permission with a signature to avoid creation of false permission data] – the image can’t be published. Publish it and you can be criminally prosecuted. Either way, I can live with it and comply.

But, and there is always a but, what about . . .

  1. Politicians who “scrape” images of their political competition in order to create “attack ads’? This is definitely bullying using images. Does the proposed “law” include politicians? Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper who has just proposed this law has to think seriously about this as he is the worst offender of this in Canadian political history. Can he be criminally charged? Is he responsible for such attack ads created on his behalf and paid for by his staff who then air them on television AND in cyberspace? Are the members of his staff who commission these attack ads liable for prosecution?
  2. Media – television and print media present newsworthy events using images of people, almost always without the permission of the person or people in the images. Are they then going to be culpable for publishing those  images and potentially facing jail time? If so, then the paparazzi profession is dead in the water.
  3. Police forces – what criminal will give permission for the publication of his or her image, especially when the police are using those images to try and capture the “criminal.” Or, are our police forces to be exempt from following the criminal code as it is to be amended?
  4. Think of all the social media sites that thrive on images. How will Facebook et al., ensure that the images hosted on their sites are there with proper, legal authorization of the person or people in the images? I imagine that wedding scenes and other similar social activities will cease being published because of the onerous permission trail that would need to be in place.

Yes, a law is no simple task. I wonder if our Prime Minister will think hard and long and in depth about this proposed law? Somehow, I doubt it.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Probably it was something I ate last night

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I was sitting in the living room this morning with my wife, enjoying a cup of coffee after breakfast. We were looking out the window at the autumn prairie landscape and talking as we usually do before we get busy with planned projects for the day. At one point, the idea of people trying to build up their own sense of worth by putting down others came up. Both of us found many examples of this basic human tendency from our workplaces where there is a fear of superiors and a disdain for inferiors in the pecking order of the workplace. The idea that we are all simply just humans doing a job the best we can, that we all have lives that are not our jobs, seems like a foreign concept. And, as usual, that got me thinking. I knew that this needed to be taken here, if not for you, my readers, then for myself so that I could spill out what I needed to say and free up energy for the projects of the day that lay ahead.

We are born naked; every last one of us was born without clothes, without much more than an immediate fear of an unknown world, born hungry. Somewhere along the journey babies learn that the world contains others somewhat like him or herself. Typically there is power in those relationships where the baby is powerless and learns that she or he is powerless in the face of the parent. Every baby also learns that she or he has a body and that the clothes on the body is not part of who they are. And when the baby is able to slip out of the clothes and become familiar with the body, there is a real pleasure in the sense of discovery about the self.

Babies soon become toddlers and the lessons begin to teach the child that the self needs to be hidden behind clothing as well as lies. And at this point in time, the need to find a new way to define the self arises. Does the child learn to relate to others and thus re-establish a relationship to self in terms of equality? Or. does the child learn to compete, to dominate, to retaliate with passive resistance? Whatever lesson the child learns, that lesson is carried forward into adulthood following years and years of practice.

Perhaps the child becomes a manager of a facility. As the manager, work relationship patterns emerge that can be traced to lessons learned while growing up. Will the manager dominate the supporting cast of characters in the workplace? Will the manager collaborate and validate the staff to achieve workplace needs? Unknown to the manager is that this is all occurring at the unconscious level.

Beneath the roles and the relationships each of us finds ourselves involved with as adults, we are still naked. Stripped of our roles, our titles, our wealth, our own ignorance, we are all vulnerable and naked. Why do we cower and grovel like some insecure pet before our bosses, our mates to whom we given over our own power of self, our authorities be they presidents or shift bosses? Each of these powerful others are really no different at all. They are all naked beneath their clothing in spite of how much they may have paid for that clothing. They all have to deal with the elimination of body wastes using the same body parts. They all have to deal with body health issues that come with passing viruses and other nasty sources and that come with aging. Beneath the veneer of job or social rank, the same insecurities weigh in to trouble sleep and give rise to troubling dreams or frightening nightmares.

What pisses me off are those who adopt a fundamentalist way of being in the world which needs to deny the value and worth of others in order to shore up their own insecurities. False truths and supporting dogma are used as weapons of mass psychological destruction. Young girls and boys, women and men are all enemies until and unless they mindlessly adhere to the dogma and enter the crusade to purify the world of others. Particularly frustrating and devastating is the crusade to deny the body, to wrap the body in darkness and declare it to be the tool of the ultimate enemy of humanity.

What brings on this rant? Well, it has several sources. The first that pops into my mind is how a government such as exists in Canada, has devalued the feminine, defunding groups that have women’s issues at their core, and has no will to deal with the issue of so many aboriginal women going missing in Canada. The message is clear – they are not worth it.

The second issue is that of how a political group in the U.S.A. has shut down government using the issue of entitlement, the right to good medical care by the lower classes within the country, the funding of which would eat into the entitled wealth of those who are working so hard to deny and defund.

And the last issue? Probably it was something I ate last night.

Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

A Way Back to the Garden of Eden

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The problem with human sexuality

The problem with human sexuality

As I am busy writing my practice novel, I am finding myself flooded with ideas, scenes, and plots and characters. It became a headache as I tried to sort through all of this knowing that there was so much there that was important. It was only after I realised that what was coming forward was really material for a number of different stories that it all began to make sense. I wondered why all of this was coming out now rather than over a longer period of time. After all, how was I to actually remember all of this between now and some hopeful future time. Well, it took a session of meditation for some sense to emerge – this wasn’t really about the writing, but about the unconscious trying to find its expression.

It dawned on me that with my work on bringing anima to life in my practice novel, I was touching on something deeper, something that was as much a collective experience as it was a personal experience. Then, last night while taking a break, I picked up the small book by Alan Watts, called Nature, Man and Woman, a book I am reading slowly, very slowly, I came across the following words:

There is a way back into the Garden of Eden

There is a way back into the Garden of Eden

“when sexuality is set apart as a specially good or specially evil component of life, it no longer works in full relation to everything else.” [Watts, p. 134]

In my novel I have given anima two faces, two characters. Enid, a name that means soul is the white face of anima. Tricia, a name that means passionate desire, is the dark face of anima, the character which haunts the protagonist’s nights. Unconsciously, I have portrayed the good wife with the evil harlot, two different faces of sexuality, projected contents of my conflicted soul that is bound up in the collective unconscious’ conception of sexuality. Watts goes on to say:

the problem . . . the fruitlessly alternating dualism . . . is now good and now bad, now lustful and now prudish, now compellingly grasped and now guiltily inhibited” [Watts, p. 135]

For me, these are powerful words; they lend credence to the work I am engaged in as a writer and my wrestling with the idea and practice of naturism. I begin to sense that there just might be a purpose in all of this madness. My first thought was that this was exactly what C.G. Jung was talking about and living – the problem of the masculine and feminine within and without and how the only way out of the turmoil was through the holy marriage of both masculine and feminine within. Yet, by keeping that vision of holy union to be an inner process, one is torn apart and left hurting. The body must share in this union in its own manner. Humans are built this way – naturally. All beings from insects to the highest level of mammals  live this truth. It has only been the human who has adopted a belief system that denies the body.

Maybe there is a way back to the Garden of Eden where we were comfortable with our bodies, our sexual nature, while fully aware. There, something for me to chew on for another twenty or so years.