Complexes – Finding The Silver Lining

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A $500 Complex disguised as ski boots.

It was a stunning Vancouver Fall day. I was driving across the Lions Gate Bridge, snow tipped mountains ahead, unusually blue water reflecting an equally clear sky. I had made a major life decision which felt good. It resulted from the liners of my twenty-year old ski boots completely falling apart. In fact the one time I used them last April, I had to slide my foot into a plastic bag to ski in them one last time. It was an intensely annoying occurrence because I had hoped they would survive as long as I wanted to ski as  the age of seventy-one how much longer was I going to ski?

I was driving to North Vancouver because after some soul searching I had made the decision to spend $500 on new boots and was headed to pick them up and have my ski bindings adjusted to the new boot. I entered Destination Slope and Surf Outfitters carrying my skis hoping for a tranquil experience as my helpful salesperson Lucas had told me it was his day off.

It did not begin well, when I mentioned that Lucas had said I could have the bindings adjusted while I waited, my server huffed, “It’s all right for Lucas, he doesn’t have to do them.” Then she could not find my bill of sale however my sunny disposition was not to be disrupted until….. “you know you have to pay another twenty dollars?” It was fascinating to observe the flush of emotion that was triggered. It was like a current that travelled through my body. My mood shifted and I began to protest. “No-one mentioned it; I have already spent $500 and you want another twenty dollars for a simple adjustment?” I felt surly, wanting to prolong the argument but she was resolute and uncompromising, my suggestion that this did little for their reputation for customer service was like water off a duck’s back. “Do you want it done or not?”

I stood momentarily frozen, not uncommon when in the grip of a complex until I finally I said, “I feel too bothered by this so no.” I signed a release that said if I killed myself wearing these boots it was my fault not theirs.” And walked out feeling I had lost my centre, unsure if I had made the right decision or not.

Fortunately as those of you who have followed my musings know I have had a lot of experience studying complexes. I knew this was not so much about the present moment – it was only $20 – it was about history emerging into the present moment. It seemed all too familiar – the sense of unfairness, of feeling powerless and being taken advantage of. Eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis, the master of understanding these reactions, explains that complexes are actually autonomous, we don’t control them but we can learn to manage our reactions to them. They are centres of stored energy in the body that under certain circumstances are triggered and replay our history.

As I sat in my car processing, I noticed a sense of shame that after all the personal work I have done, I can still instantaneously assume the persona of an angry, surly teenager. I gave myself a little credit for not totally losing my composure but I was left with the resulting negative mood.

Suddenly I recalled a lecture by Hollis that I listened to while at the gym the previous day. He was asked by a student “how much time does it take to go through these stages because he seems to make progress then slides back.” Hollis responded that it is indefinite and no outcome is certain which feels intolerable to the ego because of the ambiguity.” However he also reminded them that it is essential to practice understanding and that although change is easy to embrace in the head, everything within us resists it.”

It made me feel less alone and my judgment of myself was mitigated however I still felt the lingering impact of the experience and wondered how I could shift it.

I turned on the car and was immersed in the divine music of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto. I sensed that my relationship to this exquisite music could support me in transitioning into a more up-beat frame of mind. It wafted over me like a gentle breeze. I found myself traversing the bridge once again and the glorious sound combined with the majesty of the scenery. Instinctively I turned off to travel through beautiful Stanley Park where giant red cedar and ocean views augmented the impact and suddenly I was free. The negative energy dissipated and found myself in joy.

It was remarkable and I sensed I had discovered in Beauty a tool for transition that could help support me on the twists and turns of life’s journey. I may not be able to prevent my complexes being triggered but I could deal with them in a more conscious way. It occurs to me that during much of the eighties I was totally at the mercy of these splinter personalities and lived semi permanently in a reactive state so progress has been made.

Hollis reminds us that despite the continued defeats, there is an energy within encouraging forward motion. It is a comforting thought because the only choice is to retreat from ambiguity to old certainties and that will not work. It reminds me of the Matrix and the metaphor of the red pill and the blue pill. Once you take the red pill you can never go back.

 

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