Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mythic Sensibility

This was the scene outside of my apartment window this morning.  The sun did rise though the air was murky.  Some days, this is the best it gets.  The promise of sunshine that quickly gets gobbled up by the elements leaving one in a gray world.

At moments like this, one wants to retreat from the world and lose oneself.  Should it be playing a mindless game against a computer or should it be facing up to the task of navigating through the smog of life, taking on the responsibility of doing rather than being absent?
"The flight from suffering, from consciousness, from personal responsibility in the face of the immensity of the space we traverse, is understandable; we are all familiar with it.  But when we examine the course our life demands, our own nature demands, we commit ourselves to it, then we are obeying the will of the gods, truly.  Such obedience may bring little comfort or security, but it will bring a larger life." (Hollis, Mythologems, pp21-22)
Yes, at times I want to escape it all, blame others for everything, have others be responsible for everything.  Sometimes it is just too heavy.  And at times, I just say the hell with it and abdicate all responsibility and do as little as I can get away with for a while.  But then, something pulls me back into presence, into doing my part, into being responsible, at least for myself and my small space of the whole.  At these times, it isn't as though I have much of a choice, not if I am still to remain a man, a sane man.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Conscious Reflection

I had to take this photo through a dirty plexiglass viewing pane at the YanCheng Safari Park.  I am satisfied with the quality of the image simply because it allowed me to use the photo for this blog.  It isn't a photo for the family photo album.  For me, the photo is simply an excuse for conscious reflection.
"Our lives are an invitation to conscious reflection, a challenge to bear witness to a large symbolic drama which courses through history and through individuals.  While the deeper intent of such intimations may puzzle, even frighten the ego service to those great energies we call the gods obliges a more respectful relationship than that which we have more commonly lived." (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 17-18)
That there are things happening on the collective level that suggest a larger symbolic drama, larger than the drama being enacted within each of us, is not doubted by anyone.  The posturing of minor powers with access to military armament that is more powerful that the weapons of any war in human history, the dance done by the major powers as they broker deals to undermine as many of their opponents as possible while the collective voices of the scientists warn of the repercussions of treating our world as a thing rather than as a living entity speaks loudly of humanity's rejection of its own humanity.  Collectively we have sold our mothers and our children and the voices of the elders for the latest baubles.  There is little room for hope, for harmony, for finding a way out of the mess that we have created.

It is in this cauldron of modern man that I find myself somehow in search of not only myself, but in search of pride in being human, being an actor in dramas shared with gods and goddesses.  And like this little guy, holding on for dear life.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Going Nowhere Faster and Efficiently

I went for a long, long walk yesterday afternoon down a street I had only visited on a bus.  Because of the nature of this area of Changzhou, I wanted to capture the authenticity of an older China before it disappears.  China is good at reconstructing it's architectural heritage, but in the reconstruction, it invents a more nostalgic image, one that has no mess, no real vitality.  This is real life.

I am retired and in my sixties.  With a pension in hand, I don't have many needs that require that I work anymore.  Still,I have been flirting with the idea of returning to the world of being a psychotherapist thinking that there may be a fair number of years left in my life in which I might be of use to both myself and others.  Such thoughts are difficult to resolve for me.  On one hand, I see the "worth" of the work.  On the other hand, I must admit that I travel too much to be of much use to anyone who actually needs to work with a guide.  What kind of guide would disappear for three to five months of winter, or inversely disappear for six to seven months of spring and summer?  What kind of psychotherapist would it make me to be a part-time, seasonal psychotherapist?
"Much modern psychology is hardly worth the name, for it is not, as the etymology demands, a mode for the expression of "soul" (Greek psyche).  Most modern psychology fractionates the person into behaviors, cognitions and neurology, treated in tun by modification, reprogramming and pharmacology.  While these modalities can prove useful in specific situations, the larger question of meaning is frequently discarded in a failure of professional nerve and/or surrender to mass marketing.  When the soul is not attended, what kind of healing can occur?  Why should we go faster to some place, or learn more about some thing, when we have no idea who we are, or what values those bytes of information serve? (Hollis, Mythologems, p.14)
I'm not ready to make a decision and so I will respect that fact.  I have learned to hold the tension and see what emerges rather than rush off.  Perhaps there is an answer that would allow me to stay warm in the sunshine of both Canada and Central America or some other place that is not on my radar.  I have to attend to my own soul and needs if I am ever to again be of use as guide for others.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Myth as Tribal Value System

"Cultures as well as individuals live in service to values, not simply values that are conscious and rationally apprehended, but values which operate unconsciously as well."  (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 11)
 Today's photo was taken at the YanCheng Safari park here in Changzhou.  I had already chosen the topic for the day and was in search of a photo to "fit."  I had o  riginally thought to use a group photo of one of my classes that I took yesterday, but opted for this photo as soon as it scrolled past my eyes.  The image does evoke tribe, it does evoke instinct as well as awareness.  And whether or not one sits alone or with others, one is part of a tribe - contained.

I commented yesterday about being the "lone wolf" as part of my personal myth.  I have no doubt that I also must include a thread of being part of a tribe,  Living in China is proof to me that I operate both consciously and unconsciously on a tribal level.  Each day is confusing in its own way, a good confusing to tell the truth.  As I walk the streets, it appears as though much that happens in front of my eyes is chaotic and that all have lost "common sense."  I don't understand how there aren't a hundred traffic accidents a day in front of my apartment building.  That, forces me to look at "common sense" or at how I define common sense.  Everything I take for granted about community is based on my home culture.

Of course, this is worrying for me.  What values do I bring with me as I interact with my Chinese hosts?  I consciously work hard to be a good visitor, one that respects the host community.  But, I "know" that I still act out of unconscious values as much as I act consciously.  Being in a foreign environment becomes even more of a blessing as when I act unconsciously.  It becomes hard to pin it on others and forces me to own and to weigh the unconscious tribal value that got acted out.

I learned a long time ago that when one is a teacher, one doesn't really teach a course, or teach students; one teaches one's self to others while thinking one is teaching Math or History or whatever, to a group of students.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Myth as Personal Scenario

Yes, this is  wolf.  Though wolves run in packs, there is always the image of the lone wolf that stands out, one that is near the pack, but almost an outsider at the same time.  The lone wolf does take part in the pack's hunting and mates when it is time.  Yet for all the work, he is still a loner at heart.
". . . we are often bound to life-long scenarios which silently but constantly reveal themselves through the conduct of our lives." (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 10)
 Yes, I am seeing myself in this photo, one of my own personal myths.  I am a loner.  Though my life seems to indicate otherwise as I surrounded by family and colleagues and students.  Those who are closest to me know the truth about my loner distance.  Strange how this continues in spite of all the efforts on my part and the part of those closest to me.

In my own psychology, my own life, I sense more than one myth in operation.  I am beginning to think that there are a number of mythic threads that weave together to create one's life.  The myth of wounded healer, the myth of a lone wolf, of a distant flying eagle are just two of my own myths.  And in finding one's personal myths, one then looks at how they weave together to create the conscious self, the "me" that is the only way one can understand "self."

Images such as this wolf make me take time to sit with myself and be honest with myself.  Who am?  What myths do I live?  What kind of person does that allow me to be in terms of relationship with others?  Always questions that are lived.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Myths as a Psychodynamic Image

This is the entrance to the Yancheng Amusement Park in the southern part of Changzhou.  The appearance is a combination of Chinese myths, traditions and imagination.  This image is somehow "charged" with a pulse if one allows it to have a depth.  In constraining the image, it becomes just an arrangement of material with the intent to sell, sell, sell.  Yet, it can only "sell" an experience if it evokes something beyond the constructed material, the "face."  So, again, I am taken back to the image being "charged."
"An image is a structure capable of carrying energy and, when so charged, has the power to evoke energic response within us.  Like to like, or dissimilar to dissimilar, the evocation of something in us moves us whether we will it or not.  Our ancestors were right to personify love and rage as gods, for they are powerful possessions of the spirit by affectively charged experiences.  Whoever has been transported to the heights of ecstasy and plunged to the depths of despair has known the god who has already known him."  (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 10)
There is no doubt in my mind that this image is more about a dream state that is intentionally "talking" to me.  In the face-to-face experience of this scene, the living image draws not only the imagination, but often draws the body to enter into that dream state.  One is "invited" to enter into a land of myth, magic and . . .  It is easy to see this in action if one would only stop and look.  The looks on the faces of those about to enter this image, enter into a land of "make-believe" says it all.

I have been learning that the images are there, waiting for me to be ready to sense or intuit their presence and invite me into a dialogue that is impossible to put into words.  But sometimes, the images are so powerful that there is no invitation, only a compulsion as though the darkness within one's self is drawn to the fire of the image, into a collective darkness.  Is "love at first sight" one of these images that are more about darkness than light?  I wonder as in consummating this "love at first sight"one enters into a state of ecstasy an experience of a "little death."

So many questions that will never have answers for my limited little brain.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tension Between Meaninglessness and Meaningfulness

These two birds that I came across in the YanCheng Safari Park looked a bit bedraggled from their journey together.  They remind me a lot of my experience of China so far.  Looking at them, I see how couples here cling together for survival, carving out a small space simply in order to continue the process of life.  They don't know the "why" for their life.  All they know is that they live and that they will do their part for the continuation of life to follow - all practical stuff, instinctual stuff.

This instinctual stuff that lies within our unconscious is not only invested in life, it is invested in death.  As Hollis puts it,
"We hunger for meaning, for God, for love, for connection.  Simultaneously we hurtle toward extinction in seeking sleep, death, the arms of the beloved - all through the great darkness in which we walk."  (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 8)
This is heavy stuff.  As I read these words, I heard echoes in myself and I also wondered about how this plays out on the collective level.  Almost as soon as I wondered, I knew that there is no difference between the individual and the collective.

I know as an individual I want my life to have meaning.  Without meaning, for me, life is pointless.  If there was no meaning other than to be born, to reproduce and then fertilize the earth with my body, then there is no point in being good, in producing art, in music and song.  On the collective level, it seems that all cultures invest in life having meaning.  The rise of religions, the founding of universities, the protection of the arts through wars and all manner of catastrophes speak loudly of the knowledge at an unconscious level that there is meaning.

Yet for all of this desire for meaning, I spend much, if not most of my life in meaningless activity.  I simply fill hours in the day.  It is as though I resist as much as I am pulled to meaningfulness.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Journey of Soul

At the north end of YanCheng, in the southern part of Changzhou, a series of three open arches alert one to the fact that one is about to enter a different world, perhaps a different time.  I have yet to enter into this area of YanCheng as I am saving it for a Friday or Saturday in the not too distant future when sunlight promises good photography conditions.

Perhaps that is not the only reason that I delay the trip to the inner world of YanCheng.  I will only know when I finally make this journey.  If the open arches have any relation to the the journey, it will be one that is challenging, psychologically.  When is one ever ready for the next stage?  Always there is a fear of the creatures one will find that threaten the world as one knows it.  What will result from meeting these demons of the inner world?  How will I change?  Will the change disrupt my life as I know it, the patterns that have now become comfortable?

Perhaps that is the key - life has become comfortable.  I have been resting and gathering strength and courage for the next stage of the journey.  The words of Hollis find resonance within me:
"Clearly, we live in a culture of great spiritual impoverishment: addictive materialism makes us slaves to surfaces; fundamentalist clamor makes us fearful and anxious; and distracting, banal ideologies diminish rather than enlarge the journey of the soul." (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 8)
Ouch! Banality is where I have been finding myself lately.  In between teaching and preparing lessons, I fill in as many of the spaces playing cards against the computer with little ambition to do much more than that.  I have been thinking of buying another guitar and investing time with a return to playing music.  Why?  Perhaps as a diversion, as a way to fill in time and avoid doing some real work.  I am not sure.  And because of this, I sit and wait, holding the tension of waiting, for the pull back into the journey of soul.

Metaphor and Symbol

Water and reflections on the edges of YanCheng in Changzhou create a soft autumn scene.  When I look into the water, I sense an invitation to enter into a different world, one in which everything is turned on its head, a place where the impossible becomes possible.

I would imagine that it is because of the depths behind the reflections, especially the reflection of self and the world as we know it, that water has become symbolic of the unconscious - or at least one of the reasons for the symbolism.
". . . myth is perhaps the most important psychological and cultural construct of our time.  It is not only that the concept of myth has degenerated in popular parlance into something synonymous with falsehood.  Or that myth, as it has been said, is someone else's religion.  It is that, in a culture committed to the world of matter, access to the invisible world - which myth makes possible, along with its two chief instruments, metaphor and symbol - has never been more critical in allowing some balance of the spirit."  (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 8)
 As I teach here in Changzhou, I make sure that one of my first lessons include the topic of metaphor.  In cross-cultural situations when learning/teaching a second language, the images that words evoke are vital to successful communication.  It only makes sense then that images, both verbal and symbolic, are just as vital when trying to enter into the realm of the unconscious, the realm of the spirit and the soul.  The language of metaphor and symbol are my tools for the work I do in trying to uncover the hidden and buried aspects of myself.  The work is not much different that peeling away the layers of an onion wherein after the peeling of a layer, the onion is still an onion, but one is closer to the essence of the onion.

As I descend, layer upon layer, a bit more of myself is exposed to both myself and others around me.  It is as if I am being stripped of artifice and masks.  When the last layer is peeled away, one could conceivably say that nothing is left - or, one could say that the self has somehow expanded to include everything.  In Jungian terms, this is close to what one means when we say that the self morphs into the SELF - where there is no separation, where there is only the ONE - all that is and isn't held together - some would say this is God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Numinous World of Myth

Yesterday, it was a beautiful fall day here in Changzhou, China.  Taking advantage of pleasant temperatures and the sunshine, I spent about five hours walking around the zoo in the southern part of the city, in the YanCheng area.  I hope to use more photos from this excursion in the next while.  I am looking forward to a return in order to capture other parts of the YanCheng area, especially the old water city area and the ruins that date Changzhou to more than 2,500 years.

But for this walk, I simply enjoyed nature and the colours of fall.  This grass was especially captivating for me.  I loved seeing the white feathery presence in contrast to the darker shades in the background.  The image gives me a fairy-tale feeling, about a time and place that is just at the edge of my reality.  It is scenes such as this that pull me into a readiness for seeing beyond the limits of my senses.

Today's post, and those that follow for the next while, will draw on thoughts, words and ideas from another James Hollis book called Mythologems: Incarnations of the Invisible World.  As I have pointed out before, Hollis is one Jungian analyst and author that I have come to respect.  That said, I want to turn to a few of his words in the introduction:
". . . myth carries from its origin, shrouded in mystery, and through a glass dimly, the intimation, respect, awe, frustration and longing for something larger, much larger.  That numinosity (from the metaphor, "to nod," as something which bows toward us, acknowledges us, summons us) is our source, our home away from home, and our journey's end. (Hollis, Mythologems, 2004, p. 7)
The numinous - this is what lets me know that I have entered the realm of the almost impossible, the land of myths and legends which are projections of the personal and collective unconscious, where archetypes take on faces and character.  As I come to "nod" in awareness, to resonate with an "ah-ha," I have begun the process of making the unconscious, conscious.  For me, the invisible begins to take shape allowing me to follow the inner stories and discover a fuller sense of who I am.  For it is only here that I will ever be able to answer the ultimate question - Who am I?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gods and Goddesses Within

This small church, St. Antoine de Padoue Church, is located in Saskatchewan, in what is now a National Park called Batoche.  There is a history lesson in the story of this church, but that story is not for this blog.  Just an aside, the church is still in use for occasional services for the Métis community that lives in the area.  I took my brother here for a visit in order to see if there was any connections to be made.  Though we are Métis, the tiny rural community and church didn't provide any threads of connection.  I should have known that quest was doomed to fail as I was again looking outward for connection, for validation, for salvation.  To be honest, I must own my story and my own quest and not place it on a community or a "faith."
"By identifying the unconscious as the source of every God or Goddess who ever, in whatever guise, addressed mankind, Jung challenges humanity to take heed of this side of itself, to gain a heightened awareness of the direction from which it is approached by the deities and to enhance its appreciation of the continued power.  Put briefly, Jung is saying that since mankind cannot divest itself of its relation to Gods and Goddesses, it wold therefore be in its best interests to face that side of itself from which they come, in the hope of teasing from them a myth which would be safe for its collective survival and enrichment." (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, pp 75-76)
It's tempting to cling to one of the new and revised holistic "faiths" as it would mean that I could have a rest from owning the roots of my own spiritualism.  But, for whatever reason, each of these new containers of "hope" leave me resisting.  I am left saddened and worried.  I ache for the loss that is lived by all those who migrate to new faiths, loosing their old faiths as much as I ache for those still unconscious of their own worth as they worship a God that is more and more distant, Gods who promise a holocaust for the human race.  I ache for those who almost gleefully grab the latest books proclaiming the end of the world.  If only they could discover the beauty within themselves, the gods and goddesses within themselves.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Avoiding Evidence and Rational Thought

I went walking through a park and came across this scene - a fly and butterfly resting on the new flowering pods of a different looking plant.  The walk was pleasant as I enjoyed the sun's warmth on an autumn day only hours from Shanghai, China.  China is teaching many things, not only about China, but about myself.  I've been reading a novel by David Rotenberg called Shanghai, a book I borrowed from my home library in Canada as an e-book.  It was interesting to me how just a short while after taking this photo I came across these words in the book:
". . . their beliefs were their beliefs.  They brooked no questioning.  Neither their failures nor their successes with the people of the Middle Kingdom had altered an article of their faith - or enticed them into any form of rational thought."  (David Rotenberg, Shanghai, page 907)
These words "fit" right into what I have been talking about in terms of religion and the damage that externalizing "God" has on the psyche.  I see the same damage being done by expats who deny the evidence in front of them in order to hold to preconceived ideas of what China is and what the people of this country are.  Ethnocentrism is gripped firmly as though to let go of these beliefs would cause them to lose heaven.  These people become blind to the land and its people.

As one would expect, it's a two-way street with both sides holding fast to their beliefs about self, the chosen people, and others, the heathens, gentiles, laowai, étranger, ragheads, chinks, nips, kikes, spicks, niggers . . . the list is too long, too painful to even write.

But what happens when one tosses out these derogatory and distancing terms?  What happens when one tosses out the beliefs that keep a fine-line separation between "I" and "other," between "self" and the spiritual aspect of self that is cast out and exalted as "God?"

I don't know the answer, but I am living it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Taking Life Seriously

This little girl was playing in the park near her mother just before Halloween.  Yes, Halloween has made it to China, but it is not the full-blown version of Halloween.  It is simply an opportunity to add colour and playtime for young people - no trick and treating, no pranks, no associations with the nether world of ghosts on the eve of All Saints Day.

I know that I take life too seriously most of the time and don't make much room for play for myself.  Watching the youth in Canada as they grow up in the school system, I saw them too old for their years - they, too, took themselves seriously.  They wanted to be teenagers years before their time; they wanted to be  old enough to drink just barely into their teen years; they wanted to be seriously in love and acting accordingly before childhood had finished.  And parents, wanted their children to hurry up with the growing up so that they could go on with their own lives or find a way to live vicariously through their "hurried children."   Imagine my surprise when I found that the youth in their early twenties that I taught haven't been rushed.  If anything, the college years are the final playground before they get tossed out into the adult world.

Growing up in the Catholic religion, children are expected to be miniature adults, serious in their intention to be on the battlefields of good versus evil.  With confirmation at the age of seven calling on the children to become "soldiers of Christ," there is no room left for being a child.  One was made aware of an external god that was ever-vigilant and had the power to condemn even a child to the fires of an eternal hell.  One was made aware of an almost as equally powerful devil that would be working overtime to tempt one into sin, the route into hell.  And, one was made aware that the robed men of the church were the only ones who could help save your soul, something that even the parents couldn't do.  One was taught not to trust one's self.  One was told to trust the church, to believe what could never make sense, to have faith in an idea that defied one's experiential knowledge of the world.  Catholicism is just one sect of the big three western religions that demand the same from each child - blind faith and obedience.

Awakening from the cocoon that religion wraps around the psyche is a shock.  One is adrift, removed from the community of "faith" that has provided all the answers and the road maps.   Before venturing too far into this unfamiliar realm, one must learn to begin trusting the "self."  And that, is what one didn't learn when one took life seriously as a child.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lotus and Clarity


I took this lotus photo not too long ago in the village of XueJia which is part of Changzhou.  The photo has so many sharply defined elements, yet the lotus flower itself is "fuzzy."  However, rather than throw out the photo, I saw potential in it for an idea, the idea of "numen."  Somewhere within our depths, there is an urge to transcendence.  We can sense this urge, but we can't wrap our minds around it in order to claim this wholeness, this holiness, as being "self."

This lotus flower is obviously there, but it is refusing to be seen fully even though all around it is in crystal clear focus.  Within the psyche, one senses the existence of a self that is bigger and better than the self that we claim as "I."  Refusing to believe that this presence is part of the self, humans have invented external gods and goddesses to account for the presence.  With the creation of external divinity, one then claims an omniscient power of this deity to wander at will into our very being, either to torture our soul or to bestow grace.

But, there are a few, perhaps too few, who examine the evidence of nature and arrive at the realisation that religions, with their various faces of gods and goddesses,  are exercises in burying one's head in the sand refusing to accept that the seat of spirit is within in the individual psyche.  With that dawning awareness, there comes an obligation to then live accordingly with that spirit.  To deny the spirit within is self-destructive when one chooses to return to a meaningless existence.
"The unconscious has a thousand ways of snuffing out a meaningless existence." (Jung, CW 14, par. 675)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relocating Around a Firewall

Toronto, Ontario Skyline, August 2010
The problems with the Wordpress™ service in China has forced me to find a different host for the blog series that I have maintained for the past two years.  I hope my readers will follow me here and bare with me until such time as I either return to the Wordpress™ site or establish my own domain name site.  With that said, I want to continue on with the posts.

Today’s photo was taken in Toronto in late August just the day before I boarded the plane for China.  This is the modern version of a cathedral for the religion of commerce in the service of the god, Mammon.  Mammon as a god, is a god outside of the human psyche, a god located in power, in money, in things, in stuff.  The route to this god is in pursuit of money and power, and the worship of money and power.  And, like any other "religion," it can only lead to an emptiness, a realisation that one's individual humanity and spirit has been betrayed and one has lost all meaning.
"What one could almost call a systematic blindness is simply the effect of the prejudice that God is outside of man."  (Jung, Psychology and Religion, par. 100)
Somehow, as I struggle with meaning, for my own "raison d'être," I find myself shedding stuff, needing less.  Perhaps it is simply more about aging than about individuation and I delude myself into thinking that becoming more conscious leaves one less "needful" of the stuff of Mammon.  Perhaps . . .