Complexes Galore

April 28, 2009

Somewhat reluctantly my eyes scan the last few lines of James Hollis’s book What Matters Most one more time. “To have kept one’s appointment with destiny, to have taken one’s journey through this dark, bitter, luminous wondrous universe, to have risked being who we really are, is, finally, what matters most.” I have just finished a remarkable book and feel somewhat saddened by the realization that the final page has been turned. I always feel this way with a special book; I measure out my reading page-by-page, day-by-day to save some morsel for another time. I wend my way upstairs to comprise a review for Amazon. This is kind of fun as I have never done it before. Humility Combined with Insight to Create a Masterpiece of Understated Wisdom: “I loved this book. Firstly, it is written by a psychologist who believes in soul. Secondly, it is written by a spiritual teacher who does not promise a Pollyanna existence if we follow his teachings. There is a wonderful sense of reality about James Hollis’s writing. In fact one of the quotes I loved went as follows: ‘though I am not against happiness I do consider it a poor measure of the worth and depth of one’s life.’ What matters to James Hollis is living the journey to its maximum; to fully explore the mystery; to live an interesting life. He never takes on the air of knowing all the answers.”

I reflect back on the aspects of the book that touched me most. The recollection that much of our adult behaviours are unconscious and governed by complexes created in our early days. This had really bought my troubled relationship with my father to the fore. I had known for many years the rebellious child complex that I had lived with unconsciously for years. It resulted in me taking on authority, often aggressively and to my own detriment. I recall how, as a teenager, I had been summoned by the rugby coach to tell me that I was to lose my prize position as centre and be moved out to the wing. In my aggressive effort to challenge him I was told that I either accepted it or left the team. “I won’t play then” I retorted therefore ensuring my future as a rugby player was over for the rest of my school days. Only in hind-site was I able to see how self-destructive my behaviour had been. The only person who was hurt was myself. This complex continued to dominate my attitude in certain situations throughout my working career. It was not until mid-life that I started to evolve my reactions to authority figures. I could now see these were thinly disguised reactions to my father.

While reading What Matters Most I encountered a second complex related to my father which I wrote about in This is the mirror complex of the one above. It results in a feeling of childish disempowerment in certain situations. It feels like a default response for occasions when the rebellious child doesn’t show up. I sense that holding the rebellious child archetype was energetically demanding and was frequently greeted by some form of negative reaction or punishment. So there was a second persona that just went along: peace at any price. But the result as an adult is to feel inadequate and weak.

James Hollis was kind enough to engage with me over some of my thoughts and insights. It started when I wrote him a letter thanking him for his second book Why Good People Do Bad Things. In my card I observed that when reading a passage to a friend, she had commented that he writes a bit like me, so I was presumptuous enough to send him a copy of my book Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions. To my surprise and pleasure, he replied, thanked me, and said he would read it. This led to my sending him a piece I had written in response to his chapter on complexes and once again he honoured me with a complimentary response. This encouraged me so when I wrote a reflection on the issue of why some do this in-depth work and not others and whether there is any consequence if you never get around to it, I again e-mailed him. Once again he responded with a reflection of his own. I noticed how much I appreciated this engagement and then, like a dart hitting the bullseye, yet another complex fell into place  I observed that there was an interesting time of anxiety and uncertainty between when I wrote and when he replied. As I reviewed this, I recognized a similar child like quality in my reaction; something like the feeling of disempowerment described above; a reaction perhaps to possible rejection and criticism. I realize that a third complex around my father is a need to be seen, recognized and affirmed by others, particularly someone in a position of authority like James Hollis. This was something I never recall receiving from my father. I noticed the child like apprehension that had made it impossible for me to ask if he had indeed read my book, let alone ask him what he thought.

I think the great gift of his writing is that it encourages us to explore the mystery. I suspect that as we tap into these unconscious behaviours and understand them, it frees us in some way. Perhaps it releases energy or chi and restores for use in our current life. I do know that my awareness has lifted a veil that was over my eyes and has diminished the unconscious power that these complexes were wielding over my behaviour. I think I am finally ready to ask if he has read my book.

A Troubling Chapter

April 21, 2009

I am deeply immersed in reading What Matters Most by James Hollis, my favourite author of the moment. It is wonderful to encounter a psychologist who believes in soul as well as a spiritual teacher who is not trying to convince me that if I follow his guidance, I will lead a polyanna existence; where everything in my life unfolds with a happy, positive outcome. James Hollis suggests that life is not so much about achieving happiness but exploring self and writes “Though I am not against happiness I do consider it a poor measure of the worth and depth of one’s life.” So why am I now troubled? In what I consider a justifiable criticism of today’s preoccupation of avoiding our story, Hollis comments “Avoiding researching our story, claiming its paradoxes and contradictions as ours is the chief preoccupation of modern life – a culture of addiction, distraction and numbing. This flight from engaging our stories constitutes mauvais froi or bad faith to Jean Paul Sartre, inauthentic being as \”sin” to Paul Tillich, and neurosis to depth psychology.” It brings up the troubling issue of why some do this work and not others and is there any consequence if you never get around to it. It appears that frequently the call to individuation comes from a life crisis or spiritual emergency. In my case it required the classic mid-life crisis and the collapse of a relationship to bring me to an awareness of the work I needed to do however it took years of wandering in the wilderness for me fully appreciate that I was involved in a journey of consciousness. In hindsight it is as though I was chosen to do this work rather than choosing to do it. In fact I think it is fair to say that I was dragged kicking and screaming into the journey of self. There have been inexplicable moments of what I can only describe as grace that supported me in continuing the quest. Today I feel eternally grateful to have such an interesting life and as Hollis writes about shadow \”So what if the work seems overwhelming, endless – it makes for a more interesting life, and it does not get better than that!\”

But why is the call to do this work appear to be so unequally dispersed. Most of my friends from the earlier part of my life as well as much of my family seem blissfully unaware that there is work to be done on themselves. In his book on the shadow called Why Do Good People Do Bad Things, Hollis suggests that there is a penalty for ignoring the call. He writes \”one can divert libido or psychic energy only so long toward goals disconnected from the soul without the butcher\’s bill to pay\”. But the evidence of my own eyes creates a different picture. My more conscious friends seem to have the more challenging lives. I have observed that once the call has been acknowledged there is no going back. The soul does not like to return to sleep. There is no getting off at the next station and returning to the previous one. The cosmic two by four has a way of getting the conscious person’s attention while so many remain content in their smaller, less dramatic worlds.

Consider two siblings; one four and half years older than the other. Both grew up in the same authoritarian, fundamentalist Christian household where the patriarch’s word was the law. The regimen consisted of morning family prayer, no dancing, no movies, no friends to visit the house, quiet whenever the father was home, and church three times on Sunday –  a day when practically everything normal was forbidden. “If you live in my house you follow my rules.” was the dictate and both sons lived with a conflicted relationship with their father and left home around the age of twenty-one. The elder brother maintained a relationship with the beliefs espoused at home, while the younger at the age of fifteen declared his independence and was warned by his father “because you have heard the truth and refused to believe, you are doubly condemned.”

The older brother lived a very conventional life. A good, decent man, he married, had two children and was an attentive father and breadwinner. He has always reflected on his childhood as a happy time. He developed a remarkable capacity as a child to recall only the good things and never the bad; a capacity he has extended into his adult life. Now at the age of 68 he lives the winters in Florida where life is filled with bocce, horseshoes, golf, euchre and touring around the attractions of the Sunshine State. Summers are filled with golf, time with his grandchildren and many other family outings. He has no curiosity about his life at all and the only blot on his recent years was surgery to replace his hip, which he has now totally forgotten about.

The younger brother lived a much less conventional life; being married and divorced twice. At the age of 50 while surviving the tatters of his second marriage, he began a journey, which has since tormented, mystified and yet strangely fascinated him. He had the good fortune of having the opportunity to spend much of his fifties focused on himself. He pursued varying avenues of exploration including theological college, a spiritual guidance program that introduced him to Jung and the shadow. He became aware of the many complexes that had unconsciously governed much of his adult life and developed an intense curiosity for finding meaning in his life. He considers his life joyful, meaningful, with many kindred spirits on this strange journey, yet spends much of his time in confusion and the mystical state of not knowing. His commitment is to serve the dictates of the soul but knowing what they are is another matter. The two brothers were sitting together; the younger was confused about a number of possible directions open to him. His older brother’s response “ Why don’t you do what I do. I decide what is best for me and I just do it.” The paradox is clear but why? Why do some see and take on the mantle of the inquirer and others are not even aware it is there to be assumed?

April In The Desert

April 16, 2009


The Arizona desert in April: the very thought triggered a stream of contrasting images; a bit like your average male with the TV remote; red rocks, dramatic vistas, desert brush, warm sunshine, shorts; all flickering rapidly through my mind. I pushed the competing images into my mental filing cabinet, just stayed with the possibility for a moment then let it go. However, it did not go away, I found myself scanning my trusty iCal for a window of opportunity and visualizing the freedom of the open skies and camping in my VW van. Then an amazing conversation with a client about the voice of the soul and the reflection that perhaps it is the desert where I tune in most clearly; followed by the recognition that I had three specific decisions to make each of which would be served by my solitary retreat to the desert. Everything seemed to be falling into place. The plan was set; I would leave on the afternoon of the 16th for the long drive south. It was only eight days before my departure an unwelcome dialogue began in my mind. “Did you draw a rune about this trip?” (One of my commitments to serving soul is that I always draw a rune before I finalize any plan to go away. It helps to reassure me that I am not just being diverted by my ego.) I could feel my resistance to the unwelcome intruder. “I think so; ages ago; anyway I don’t need to; it’s all so clear.” An immediate response “Are you sure you are worried you won’t get the answer you want?” Damn! The argument was indisputable. I either trusted this unconventional relationship I had with oracles as guidance tools or I didn’t. The oracle would always direct me in a path consistent with my highest good. I had learned that many times. I picked up the bag of runes and framed my question “Is my trip to the desert a go?” I drew a stone, hesitated and turned it over; there was no symbol. Blank is the rune of the unknowable and not very helpful. I cunningly reframed the question, “can I plan on leaving on the 16th for a trip?” I drew a second stone from the bag and looked up the meaning of the symbol – Opening Reversed. This did not look promising. I read the words “living for a time empty, waiting for the new to become illuminated. I sighed and resigned myself to enter the familiar state of not knowing. I began to wait patiently for the sign that would confirm that the trip was on. I did have a strange dream that seemed relevant. I was with an attractive woman; we were exploring the possibility of relationship. I was planning to go south to the sun; she was planning on going north to the mountains and snow. I asked if I should go with her and she responded as she kissed me that I had to make up my own mind. I wondered if she was an image reflecting soul. What was in the North? I pondered possibilities but nothing came to me and as sometimes happens the dream’s significance evaporated like a fog in the morning sun. That night I had a friend over for our regular mediation evening. This particular night we each drew cards from the Lynn Andrew’s Power Deck. I pulled Dream, which talked about the feminine power of intuition and suggests that each of us has to awaken from the dream to appreciate our true nature. It was a lovely reading but did not seem to throw much light on my dilemma. The next morning I read the card again and it prompted a recall of my dream. In the Power Deck the direction of the cards is very important. North is the home of strength and wisdom, where the adult lives, the home of spirit and prayer. The South represents trust and innocence, the inner child, physical being. I felt confused. I had no desire to go north but was this a metaphysical choice? North is cold, South is warm. I gave up. I would not solve this in my head. The days ticked by. I could feel my patience being stretched, there were only four days left before my departure and I had received no signs to guide me. Sunday morning I decided to draw another rune. Reverse Movement – another promising omen, I reflected sardonically. I looked up the meaning to read “what is yours will come to you.” I smiled, recognizing that this indeed was another experience to allow the picture to form, like a jigsaw puzzle, from many disparate pieces. I had another dream. This time from a friend in Toronto who called to say she was planning to visit. I called her to check if this was a clairvoyant dream but go no reply. So I waited with a great deal curiosity. On Monday I went for a bike ride and had an insight. I realized that although I was willing to rest in confusion, I had not let go of my desire to go away. I decided to formally surrender my attachment; it was time to let go. I celebrated by drawing a rune. This time I drew Joy and immediately wanted to see this as sign to resume my trip plan. Attachment is obviously hard for me to break. Then I read the final two lines and got this message “There is a new clarity that may cause you to renounce existing plans, ambitions, goals.” I laughed and started to think about planning the time I would now have at home. I sense I should draw another rune to confirm that the period of suspense was complete. Confidently I stretched my hand into the bag and extracted… the blank rune. “Unknowable” I guess the journey is not yet complete. So I did my best to exist in the state of “no – thing” I did not know if I was going or staying. The key I realized was to attempt to let go of expectations or attachment to either alternative. It sounds so simple but in fact it helped me to realize how subtle attachment can be. A bit like trying to keep your eyes away from a TV left on when you drop into see a friend, there is almost a hypnotic pull toward a state of something rather than nothing. Finally it was Wednesday night the day before my original departure. I had not planned to go away nor had I made any plans to fill the time available if I stayed. I pulled one more rune asking where I was on this particular journey. Strength: “prepare for an opportunity disguised as loss” and “the new form, the new life is always greater than the old.” The new form of course is learning patience and letting go without maintaining expectations. And yes at some level my personality was disappointed about letting go of my trip but I also noticed a relief that I followed this through together with a real appreciation for the gift of all this extra, unplanned time. Listening to the soul is not so much about a place, it is more about the space and I had the space here or in the desert.

Learning Empowerment – part 2

April 12, 2009

A forty-five year old man sits in front of his father, feeling like an errant student in front of the principal, waiting for a scolding for breaking the rules. Does this sound at all familiar? I had arrived in the UK; freshly divorced; armed with my new girlfriend; a successful senior executive in an advertising firm, yet a summons from my father caused this collapse into the personality of a nine –year old. At the time, now almost twenty years ago, I had no idea what had occurred. I consoled my self with the fact that he was over eighty and the last thing that he needed was to be upset by me. However, I had never explored or got in touch with the feelings that had made me so uncomfortable, nor the reasons why I had become so disempowered when confronted by my father.
Recently I began to understand what had transpired. It started with a mundane visit to a repair shop to pick up my recently repaired Macintosh Computer. It was pouring with rain and my parking angel found me a spot right across the street from the store. When I went to pick up the computer, the technician advised me that it was fixed but there may be something else wrong. “Take it home and if it doesn’t boot up bring it back.” Immediately I noticed I felt disconnected from my centre. I tried to ask an intelligent question to throw some light on this ominous news but he kind of brushed me off and then disconcerted me by asking me where my car was. When I told him it was across the road, he immediately suggested I drive it over to the back of the store before taking the computer. Ignoring the voice of common sense that suggested this was not a good idea, I compliantly took the proffered parking pass and did as I was told.
From this point on things deteriorated rapidly. First I backed into the car behind me, then there was no parking where he had suggested, thirdly when I returned to the store the person I was dealing with had disappeared as had my computer and finally to add insult to injury the walk back to my car was further and wetter than it would have been to my original spot. Feeling thoroughly disconsolate I drove home to find they had kept my power cord. At this point I decided a walk in the rain would do me good to return my sense of balance so I returned to the store feeling somewhat puzzled by my experience.
The next morning during my “morning pages” I wrote about and developed some curiosity around the meaning of the experience. My world-view suggests that my soul creates experiences for my higher good. Just what was the lesson I was being given. Nothing immediately occurred to me so I prepared to throw the I Ching to seek advice. (The I Ching is a Chinese divination tool that using a random system to create a relevant reading.) I sat and posed the question and threw the coins six times to create the requisite hexagram. I sat and recoiled slightly when I read the reading that was selected: “work on that which has been spoiled.” It suggested that there was an old problem to be addressed, likely connected to family tradition and that I should spend three days contemplating the issue. I resigned myself to the journey and decided to start by identifying other times in my life when I could recall similar feelings. There were a surprising number, often not connected with overt authority figures. I had encountered previous lessons around my conflict with authority through rebellion and confrontation. This felt quite different. It was when I seemed to get trapped in a child state feeling totally disempowered and submissive. I made a list: with car salesman, my gas fireplace repairman, vehicle repair shops, with my ex wife; it went on and on. I tried to find an early example when I was at a vulnerable age but nothing came. I felt a little disappointed as I sensed it was critical to identify when I may have formed this pattern but decided to let it go.
It was a couple of days later when the “eureka” moment occurred; there was no specific occasion when I was a child because my early years had been lived under this kind of submissive regime to my father’s authority. As children we had always been taught to conform to his wishes: be quiet when he is the house, attend morning prayers, go to church, no dancing, no movies, no TV. There was no questioning of his absolute authority. I had learned to be submissive to survive and as an adult it had become an ongoing default mechanism in certain situations, particularly when I was unprepared.
James Hollis in his wonderful book What Matters Most suggests that much of our lives we are often unconsciously governed by complexes that develop in our childhood. He talks abut “these energy charged clusters of our history…. (that) write our biographies, frame our futures and circumscribe our freedoms.”  Finally I could understand the forty-five year old’s feelings in his confrontation with his ailing father.
And once we understand and throw light on why we feel a certain way; it opens up the door to healing. Now when I observe this feeling of disempowerment, I will be able to see the image of a child who could do little in the face of such a power imbalance; and console him. Only then will I feel empowered to respond from the adult and take another road.

Learning Empowerment- part 1

April 7, 2009

The message was not one I particularly wanted to hear. “You have a faulty logic board and it is not worth fixing.” I have owned my iMac G5 for about four years; it is long outside its warranty period however I am not ready to let it go. For most of its life it has performed faultlessly. I have backed up all my files so I have no fear of lost data but I felt quite devastated that after only four years I had to condemn it to the scrap heap. The voice went on to say that it would cost $800 for a new logic board and $160 for labour so by the time I paid taxes I would be out almost $1100 and a new computer would only be $1500. (My mind tangents on a rant about why the sum of the parts has to so dramatically exceed the whole. I swear my VW Camper which cost $30,000 has cost me at least $80,000 in parts replacement.) I listen to the message again and observe that the technician strongly recommends that I call Apple and complain that a major component should fail so soon. A logic board (or motherboard if it is for a PC) can easily last more than 15 years. I sit for a moment and recognize the pattern that this problem contains. I have faced this type of situation many times; facing a conflict with an authority figure where I feel I am being unfairly treated. For much of my life I believed that the more upset I became the more likely I was to get a result – “the squeaky wheel theory”. My strategy would be to become more and more demanding, at times angry and attempt to shame or humiliate my opponent into giving me what I wanted. However I had realized that this type of behaviour was not consistent with my current self-image. I knew it was not necessary to get angry to feel empowered. That type of response was a reaction of a child facing an authoritative period. I needed a measured response. I noticed my resistance to facing up to this challenge. The arguments building in my head like bricks stacked in a wall: “it’s an old computer, it’s time for a change, the new ones have more features and even a camera!” Yet I also sensed that this was a test from my soul and not to be denied; it would only reappear in another disguise if I walked away. I prepared myself by calling the technician who was very helpful. He had opened up the machine and had observed bulging capacitors in the logic board. (I had no idea what they were or what they did but it sounded serious) I asked him what causes that and he said it was an original manufacturing problem. I inquired whether I should ask for a replacement and he said he thought that was reasonable. Armed with this information I called Apple and after the familiar battle with the telephone menu I found myself talking to a very empathetic (I suspect young) customer service person, who seemed totally sympathetic to my problem. I calmly and good humouredly explained my dilemma and he seemed so willing to resolve things in my favour that I sensed it was going to be a slam dunk. Then as we conversed further I realized that he actually had no power to do anything other than move my call up the chain of command and soon I found myself conversing with the product specialist. He too seemed entirely amiable and empathetic. (I sense Apple do a wonderful job of training in empathy but empathy does not mean any positive action). Sergio, as his name was, did his research, and then explained he could do absolutely nothing for me. “It is outside warranty” he reiterated, “and there is no contingency to allow me to cover your repair.” I sensed a certain testiness creeping into my voice; the slam-dunk had deteriorated into a fumble. He even admitted that up until last year they were fixing this problem but not anymore – I was too late. He did not deny it was a manufacturing defect; he just wasn’t able to make an exception. I pressed my case “So because my logic board lasted for a year longer than most I get penalized.” He was unimpressed. I played my final card “But I have been a loyal Apple customer for 17 years, doesn’t that count for anything?” I pleaded. He remained unmoved. Finally I told him I was very unhappy and was there anyone else I could talk to. He responded by saying that he had managerial status and was empowered to rule on these decisions. “Then I am powerless in this situation,” I observed. “However, I am very unhappy to be forced to junk a perfectly good computer before its time because of a manufacturing defect by Apple. There was a moment’s pause then he asked if he could put me on hold. “Before I let you go I will ensure that this is the final answer.” I sat feeling no hope for a positive outcome, and then I went through an amazing perspective shift. I could detach from the outcome. I had done my best. It did not matter if I had to buy a new computer. I had known all along this was about the experience. I felt a sense of relief flooding my body; it was over and I could let go of the stress and anxiety that I had been holding. I had done the best I could; I had stayed relatively calm and held my power and now it was complete. Then a strange thing occurred. Sergio came back and told me that Hilary from customer relations would like to speak to me. Hilary came on the phone. She had a sweet manner and asked me how I was feeling. I knew that Sergio would have apprised her of my challenge so I responded, “How do you think I am feeling?” Her reply surprised me, “you have come to the right place.” My tired brain tried to grasp what that may mean as she asked me some questions about whether I had previously had  a major claim from Apple, where my computer was at the moment and who was working on it. Suddenly she asked if she could put me on hold. After a couple of minutes she came back and told me that she had authorized the repair and I should call the service technician and check on the status in a couple of days. I felt tears of relief, joy and gratitude start to choke my response. Finally I stammered out my gratitude and told her that she had made my day. I sat and reflected on the past hour; it was as though I needed to let go in order to achieve a positive resolution. I thanked my soul for this amazing journey.