Changes.

At the end of the 1960s, and the mystical hippie dawning of the Aquarius age, we were all Still searching for meaning.

The big four philosophers when I was 18 were Hesse, Vonnegut, Brautigan and Tolkien.

Of course I read other influential writers, but at the time I really believed everything I needed to know about being a decent human being was in the works of those four, though it took me another 50 years to really begin to understand why.

There was another influential book I encountered.

In the course of exploring the world I came upon the I Ching. inevitably. It had a great deal of credibility amongst the hippies of my generation. Of course I looked into it. I still have, in my lock-up in New Zealand, a beautiful translation from Chinese through German to English, of the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm.

Yarrow sticks were hard to come by where I grew up, but I was a numismatist, and had in my collection several of those fascinating old Chinese coins with square holes. It seemed appropriate to use them. Having designated which side was heads and which was tails, I had a culturally acceptable method of obtaining a randomly generated hexagram, in accordance with the instructions accompanying the book.

My youthful, hopeful self was quite surprised to find how seemingly accurate and appropriate was the advice I gleaned from the wise words of the Tao. The last remnants of my Roman Catholic superstition we’re slowly fading at the time (now only the guilt remains) and I could possibly have easily fallen into the woo mentally of believing some spiritual power, something beyond myself, was guiding me, through the words of the book.

But I read something – I don’t recall exactly where – some scientific article, perhaps, that said our brains were hard-wired to look for patterns. We look for visual patterns, such as potentially threatening animal or human shapes hiding in the trees, and we look for patterns of events and try to make some sense, often wrong, of the coincidences and causality.

The evolutionary advantage of this pattern recognition behaviour is in the significance of the value of the false positive over the false negative.

If I see what looks like a lion lurking in the bushes, and run, the likelihood of staying alive is increased, whether it is a real or imagined lion. If I decide it’s a trick of the light, and ignore it, my chances of survival are decreased if I am wrong.

The same principle applies if we recognise a pattern of events that seem to coincide. Should it rain enough times after we ask nature politely for a shower to water the crop, we may come to believe that asking causes rain.

The downside of this, is that as there is, or was, an evolutionary advantage to being superstitious. We suffered from pareidolia. It became an affliction. We came to see those shapes and faces in the bark of trees, as beings, and ascribed to them powers and motives. We recognised patterns of events, some like the celestial movements, or the seasons, quite real. Then some smart arse recognised the patterns of our own behaviour, saw an opportunity for power and put himself forward as an intermediary between the common people and the spiritual world. And we got religion.

But I digress. I was speaking of the I Ching. I recognised that my brain was looking for patterns in the events of my own life. I was taking the words from an ancient book written in Chinese, translate first to German then to English, and gleaning valuable meaning from them. But this was not superstition. The advice the book was giving me was good. Why? Because it was written in such a way that it was inevitable that the reader would apply the general advice in such a way that it would most benefit him. Because the Tau was the way of the upright, it had to be good advice. For a few formative years the I Ching helped me make decisions that brought me to where I am now. I have few regrets.

These musings were inspired by coming upon this following little piece in one of the philosophical emails that turn up in my in-box from time to time.

After a few more hours swimming up and down the Bribie Island pool, I may have more to write on the subject.

The following is borrowed from Psychology Today.

Impact of the I Ching on Carl G. Jung & its implications

Jung, Taoist psychology, and cross-cultural communications

Posted Mar 01, 2017 

Although research has examined how world cultures (e.g., independent vs. interdependent ones) each uniquely shaped psychological experiences, few investigations focus on how cultures influence one another in the psychological domains. This issue is important, because cross-cultural information and knowledge exchange, contacts, and influences, though moderate in the past, have transformed all cultures, including the field of psychology. For example, Taoist psychology is one of the main cultural inspirations for Jungian psychology.

In May 1930, Jung gave the Eulogy at a memorial service in Munich for Richard Wilhelm. Jung integrated the Eastern philosophy into his principles of psychotherapy and human psyche through his study of Richard Wilhelm’s translations of I Ching (The Book of Changes), The Secret of the Golden Flower, and their frequent interactions that lasted from the early 1920’s until Wilhelm’s death in 1930 (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung said that Wilhelm “inoculated us with the living germ of the Chinese spirit and we found ourselves partaking of the spirit of the East as we experience the living power of the I Ching. It is capable of working a profound transformation of our thought.” Jung said that Wilhelm’s work was of such immense importance to him because it confirmed what he had been seeking in his efforts to alleviate the psychic suffering of Europeans. The book was both a carrier of human experience and a door to the energy of the archetypes. “I heard from him in clear language the things I had dimly divined in the confusion of the European subconscious. I received more from him than from any other man” (cited in Karcher, 1999; also see Goulding, 2015; Stein, 2005).

Jung expressed his deep gratitude for what he received from Wilhelm, because through his translations and teaching, Taoist psychology influenced Jung’s theoretical frameworks by facilitating the formation of his chief conceptions: synchronicity and individuation, in addition to confirming his views about the unconscious and nonlinear or circular psychological development for adult (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung’s comprehension of Tao is much deeper than the conventional translation “the way.” As he commented, Tao is the interaction between the mind and reality. The essential Taoist idea in I Ching suggests that all of the ingredients make up the observed moment. Understanding human experiences involves recognizing a special interdependence of objective events among themselves, as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers (Jung, 1967). In other words, according to I Ching, psychological experiences are determined by the interaction of the mind, time, space, situations, and action or non-action. The mind and reality interaction, rather than being an isolated or independent event, symbolically represents the person’s dialogue with a broad reality transcending a specific moment and space. It is the interactions that serve as the parameter for deciphering psychological experiences.

In short, Jung’s achievements in integrating the East and West demonstrate that psychological phenomena and principles are both cultural and universal.

References:

Goulding, J. (2015). The forgotten Frankfurt school: Richard Wilhelm’s China Institute. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 41:1-2 (March–June 2014) 170–186

Jung, C. G. (1967). Foreword. In The I Ching or Book of changes (C. F. Baynes, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Karcher, S. (1999). Jung, the Tao and the Classic of Change. Journal of Religion and Health, 38, 287-304.

Stein, M. (2005). Some reflections on the influence of Chinese thought on Jung and his  psychological theory. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 50(2), 209-222. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8774.2005.00524

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So, What Did You do While the World was Ending?

Just another day, really. I had the main pool to myself for almost an hour, which is good because I got lane one, with the steps. Starting early pays.

I swam for an hour and a quarter. In the first quarter hour I managed eight lengths of breast stroke in just over sixteen minutes. After that I settled down to a more easily maintained six lengths in around fourteen minutes. Every sixth length I switched to back stroke. I have learned that backstroke is much easier, much more efficient, but also burns much less energy. I want to burn energy.

I also learned it uses completely different muscles, or so it seems. I don’t get the lactic burn and could probably cruise all day doing it. So making every sixth length back stroke gave me a wee break from the building ache, and enough time to fill out the rest of each quarter-hour with some water-assisted step-ups on the pool steps, and some water-assisted chin-ups on the rail of the starting block.

Efficient.

There’s time to muse when swimming, I muse a lot.

It seemed the oddest form of synchronicity to find later the Guardian’s First Dog on the Moon cartoon today covered exactly what I was musing about. Hence my previous post. It should be depressing, but I am way past that. I really have reached a stage in which my philosophy is “Shit Happens, It Doesn’t Matter”.

Also, whilst swimming on my back and looking unfocused up at an overcast sky, I saw just how many floaters I have in my eyeballs. I named the biggest one Eric.

One of my earliest memories is of seeing floaters in my eyes at bedtime and trying to tell my mother what I saw. I must have been four or so. I thought there was snow in my bedroom. She thought I was silly and told me to go to sleep.

I then moved to the indoor therapy pool. I had that completely to myself. The water, at 33C seemed very hot at first, after the cooling swim and a wet walk through a chilly breeze. Half an hour of side stepping, squats and leg stretches and assorted joint mobility exercises a hot shower and shampoo, then off to Aldi to hunt for a kitchen seive. They didn’t have one. When it comes to stuff like that Aldi can be hit and miss.

What they do have is a really good range of good quality foods Fresh meat and really fresh produce at astonishingly good prices. Today for the first time I spent a while just looking around at what they stock. There seems very little need to shop elsewhere for staples or luxury foods.

Almost seems a shame to discover this just as the world is ending.

Living Alone.

THE MORE LOVING ONE

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

By W.H. Auden

Vai

The video is out.

You can buy it here or here on line, or ask your local dealer to get it for you.

I think you should.

Vai is a “portmanteau” film made by a group of female Pacific filmmakers, filmed on seven Pacific islands, and In New Zealand. It is about the journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai. The theme of water, it’s ubiquity, it’s power, spiritual significance, connectivity and adaptability is a metaphor throughout the movie for the feminine and for the feminist principle.

Vai

One review includes this comment:

The filmmakers developed the script together but nevertheless, the consistency in their interpretation of her character is remarkable. Fierce, stubborn, passionate and strongly connected to her environment wherever she is, she (Vai) pushes at the limits of what women are expected to be at the same time as embodying the traditional feminine values of the region.

There is another very good review here.

Another here. So far I’ve only found very positive reviews.

One of my daughters is one of the directors, so you might expect me to say that her segment was among the best parts of the film, but I am not alone in that opinion. I have heard that said and seen it written by others.

For anyone not familiar with the diversity of cultures around the Pacific, the movie may seem a little bewildering at times because there are not too many specifically scripted explanations of the significance of what is happening in a cultural context. It is all decipherable in context, however, and the one thing viewers need to be aware of is that these cultural differences exist.

One importantly positive aspect is that despite the film being in segments that relate the experiences of the lead character (whose name varies slightly but always translates as “water” in the language used) and despite the character being portrayed by eight different actors of different cultures and different ages, it is easy to follow who she is each time.

What impressed me most is how beautifully this film was shot, with some exquisite camera work and direction, especially considering the limited budget and even more limited time available for rehearsal and shooting. More than one promising young director was involved in making this movie. And some very promising young first time actors also.

Eight and a half stars out of ten, seven if you discount the bit my daughter is responsible for.

🙂

Bloody Hydrangeas

I haven’t seen many hydrangeas since I was in Australia. I came upon a bush the other day while exploring the area around Toorbul. I immediately had a distinct feeling of dislike and anger. I was repulsed by this innocent and seemingly attractive flower that changes colour with the pH of the soil in which it grows.

I had almost completely forgotten how my self-esteem had been smashed by a hydrangea way back in 1959. We then lived in Palmerston North, in New Zealand, and I attended Westend Primary School. In those days the school fair was a popular annual event. Bring and buy, cake stalls, funfair activities, and art and craft competitions for the pupils.

It was decided that my class would participate in a flower arranging competition. On the Friday before the fair we were to bring flowers to school and arrange them artistically in a saucer of wet sand. These would be judged at the fair the next day and the best three would win a prize. I told mum and we went out looking for flowers around the block of flats where we lived. We found a few dandelions and a hydrangea bush. That was it.

By the time I got to school the dandelions had wilted. I threw them away. That left me with a couple of hydrangea inflorescences. I picked apart the individual flowers and florets and arranged them in an artistic spiral with the colour graduating from the palest on the outside to the deepest blue in the centre. When it was done, I did not think much of it, and I knew it would not win a prize, but it was the best I could do.

Next day, with a shilling in my pocket to spend on anything I liked, I went to the fair. In our classroom on a trestle table I found the flower arrangements, arranged in order from best to least favoured. As I expected mine was not amongst the top choices. I went to the other end of the table and was surprised to see it was not there either. Maybe it was better than I thought. I searched along the table to find it, and see exactly where it fit into the scale of artistic expression. After several passes, I could not see it anywhere. I was perplexed. Where was it?

Then with a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of foreboding far more serious than the occasion warranted, I spotted the rubbish bin beside the teacher’s desk and went over to look inside. There, inside was a pile of sand, and my hydrangea arrangement, now tumbled in disarray. I saw the saucer on the teacher’s desk.

I still cannot express how very devastated I was, not that my flower arrangement was not any good, but that it was not even considered worthy enough to be put on display with the other failures. It was the utterest of utter failures.

And therefore so was I.

I still fuckin’ hate hydrangeas.

Many years later…

Snippet.

I sit quietly, regarding the empty compartments of the weekly pill organiser.

Time to refill it. It is Saturday again.

These pills, ten and a half taken every morning and five every evening – plus an iron supplement taken every second day (because it causes constipation), keep me going.

Metaphorically – or not – they replace love, family, professional pride, enthusiasm for sport and hobby, pets, wildlife, aquaria and frog ponds. Things that kept me going.

Again. It is empty again.

I look into the compartments, each a morning or an afternoon, and try to recall how it was I filled them. How I took again from them the medicine of each hour, and used it.

Medications

Hypnopompia

I learned two new words today. Hypnopompic and the related term hypnagogic.

I have frequently experienced these phenomena and, frankly, in my younger days they scared me. Some of the times I experienced this, it seemed to suggest I might have some form of prescience because in a vivid dream I had apparently “predicted” an event that later did in fact happen. I wondered if I was psychic. I was pretty sure there would be a completely rational explanation. I posited to myself that perhaps my brain, subconsciously aware of data I had not consciously considered, had worked out a likely scenario which was later confirmed, as “predicted”.

I believe I got that right. It still makes sense to me. More sense than having psychic abilities, anyway.

Many times I have awoken thinking “Wow. How did my brain come up with all that? Where did it come from? Then within a few minutes I have totally forgotten everything except how impressed I was with myself for having dreamt it. Occasionally I have had such a frightening dream that I have never forgotten it.

Once I dreamed I was holding my infant child’s cold, grey corpse and weeping. I awoke still weeping and could not shake the dread that I felt. At that time June had taken our baby girl back to Solomon Islands to present her to the family. I had stayed in NZ. I couldn’t afford a ticket for myself as well, nor spare the time off work.

When I awoke, the dream had been so real I was panic stricken. In those days there was no way I could contact the family in the village to assure myself all was well.

I was working in the area of home that day so I called in to check the mail at lunch time. There was a letter from June. It was postmarked a week ago. Sumana was seriously ill in hospital in Muda. It was a Wednesday, which just happened to be the one day of the week there was an Air Pacific flight to Honiara via Nadi in Fiji.

I immediately called the bank and arranged for them to cover payment for a flight to Honiara, and contacted a cousin in Honiara to arrange a flight for me to Muda as I could not arrange it myself or through a travel agent. I then called work, told them I was taking leave, packed a bag and headed for the airport. That night I slept in a hotel in Nadi and by ten the next morning I was in Honiara. My relative’s wife met me at arrivals with a ticket for the next flight to Western Province. An hour or so later I was in Muda, where I borrowed a bicycle and pedalled from the airport terminal to the hospital. There I learned that Suma had been discharged. I pedalled back to return the bike, then headed down to the wharf by Agnes Lodge resthouse. As I arrived I called out to a passing canoe in my grammatically poor Roviana to ask if they were going anywhere near Nusa Hope village. “Of course we are” answered my sister in law, whom I had not recognised.

So it was that barely 24 hours after reading June’s letter, I arrived in Nusa Hope village, where Sae, my father-in-law said “I told them all you would arrive today. No one believed me”. He added ” You are looking fat” and then, knowing why I was there, and to my great relief, “Leana hola sa komburu.” The baby is fine.

It turned out that Suma had suffered what was probably heat prostration and was taken to hospital where she was tested for, and diagnosed as having, malaria. Despite being already on prophylaxis she was treated with a massive dose of chloroquine, which made her sicker. Hence the letter.

She was well again by the time I arrived. Apparently someone had mixed slides in the lab. Another child had not been diagnosed when he should have been.

**********************************************************

Shortly after I arrived in Halls Creek, I had another weird hypnogogic experience that I still remember distinctly. I was, I was quite sure, completely awake, staring through the darkness at the green glowing digits on the air conditioner, telling me it was running at 18 degrees. I heard three sharp knocks on my bedroom door and turned to see an elderly aboriginal gentleman standing in the doorway, smiling at me. He was very old, dressed in shorts, with white hair and beard, and a long stick or spear. He looked at me with a penetrating gaze and a friendly smile. I felt no unease, though I was surprised, because I was sure I had locked the doors before coming upstairs to bed.

“Hello”, I said. “How did you get in?” Then, for some strange reason, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

I got up, turned on the light in the hall, and went downstairs to put the kettle on. Then I went to check the doors, which were just as I thought, locked. I turned to ask again how my visitor had gained entrance. Of course he wasn’t there. Standing in the kitchen I realised I could not possibly have seen him as clearly as I believed, because the room had been dark with only the green glow of the LED digits of the aircon to illuminate it. And where had he gone when I arose and turned on the light?

Afterwards, realising I had imagined it, I wondered whether I had actually got up and gone downstairs, or had I imagined that too?

These two events are examples of a few that are different from most I have experienced because I have never forgotten them, and can still picture in my mind what I dreamed, or thought I saw at the time. Most are forgotten within minutes of waking.

The mind is an odd thing.

I can well believe it when someone says “It came to me in a dream”.