Category Archives: Mythology

Retrospective On Liberty

Retrospective

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Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863)  “Liberty Leading The People” and my favourite Delacroix painting.

The louvre will host a retrospective of his most famous and also his scandalous works in July this year. It is billed as a once in a generation tribute to Delacroix, consisting of 180 works. Alexandre Dumas wrote that: “The genius of Delacxroix is not debatable, it is not demonstrable, it is something one feels.” Delacroix was acknowledged in his lifetime as the leading painter of the Romantic school, but not one who was idealistic, instead he was noted as being passionate about passion. Clearly his paintings are from the heart.

This painting is significant in France because it depicts the the 1830 revolution against Charles X. Liberty leads the people under the Tricolour – liberty, equality, and fraternity, over the dead bodies of struggle. Liberty is a type, a depiction of liberty goddesses. Liberty became a symbol of France and the Republic known as Marianne. Liberty has a long history and was early represented by the Roman goddess Libertas. Ever since there have been various representations, none so grand as the gift of France to the US which we all know as the Statue of Liberty. Latvia has the Freedom Monument in Riga, which is quite impressive to view.

The most poignant for me was the short lived Goddess of Democracy errected by the Democracy Movement during the protest in Tiananmen Square, the hastily constructed statue re-ignited the focus of the waning passion of the movement, only to be crushed by the Peoples Liberation Army (an oxy moron if ever there was one), as the protesters were dispersed, the statue was destroyed, but working from footage of the protest replicas appeared in – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, and several in the US.

The statues, the painting, show how symbols can work to unite, galvanise, enthuse and encourage peopel to a cause. Delacroix shows how the principle of liberty is noble while the destruction of the Goddess of Democracy shows how little liberty is valued by those who hold power. This of course, was the irony of the first French Republic which degenerated into infighting, murder, and the macabre spectacle of the overworked guilotine. True liberty is hard won, and even harder to keep.

What I like most about the painting is the sense that liberty, equality and fraternity are important, and history shows we are drawn to these values to the point that we will gather and fight for them even if we have little chance of winning. The Goddess of Liberty, in whichever form she appears, is a torch, a beacon of hope to rally around. But I don’t see one at the moment! Perhaps this time around we won’t have a singular unifying symbol, but rather, many symbols.

In a more personal sense it raises the question as to what matters most in our lives. In daily practical application will I practice these values on public transport and in public spaces, at home, and in my work? Will I speak justice into the public space? Will I hold more than just my liberty as precious? Will I stand with others? If the WordPress community is any example, then my hope is well founded that I/we can hold and live those values.

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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Filed under art, community, history, life, mindfulness, Mythology, Philosophy/Theology, politics, quote

Archaic Lessons

via Daily Prompt: Archaic

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(Photo: cdn.touropia.com/gfx/b/2015/07/ancient_corinth.jpg) Remains of  the ancient temple of Apollo in Corinth, a city that originates long before the Archaic Period (750 – 480 BC). It was the center for the worship of Apollo. In the time when St. Paul visited Corinth around 49 or 51 AD, Corinth was a city of temples representing many deities, and featured a temple of Aphrodite. It was a major port city with two harbours on each side of a four mile wide isthmus, and critical to those in power for trade, but also for the movement of soldiers, and therfore it was pivotal for Rome.

Corinth was one of the main city states of ancient Greece, it was allied with and against Sparta during the many Greek wars at different points in its early history. It formed part of emerging Greek democracy, was important to Rome when later occupied, and has been a major player in modern European history. Corinth was equally part of Greece’s cultural development as other cities were, it developed art and pottery, contributed to philosophy, and the solidifying of religion and culture.

Corinth has been a robust, tenacious, and adventurous city, it has been host to great events in history, and has seen the long trajectory of cultural development. It has weathered many wars and has been occupied and reoccupied time and again, yet it still seemed to find within itself a particular strength in its own cultural and historical identity. It has been a survivor. Of course, Corinth is not unique in this, but it has had one of the longest experiences. Cities don’t do this in and of themselves, bricks and mortar, stone and glass are to a great degree inanimate. It takes a people, flesh and blood, to do that, to define identity, to build, grow, and develop, to accumulate meaning and culture.

I think we are in the midst of a great shift in culture now, we are seeing the fearlful and resentful cling to older, archaic ways in order to retain power and control, even if only in their own minds. We can see the ruling powers trying to come to grips with the mercury-like behaviour of markets, internet, politics, alliances, and the real events of climate change. Governments must be very conscious that high tech policing cannot hold people together permanently and thus the world is in a new place of flux with governments trying to guide populations towards manageable political goals. In the end compromise and friction will dictate otherwise, and the pasaage of time will make much of today’s anxieties redundant tomorrow.

As the world shifts and weaves, the Corinthians of old have something to offer, something archaic, to read the times and discern which way to go. Whether to fight with Sparta or against it, to adapt to Roman ways and cultural influence (ironically infusing Roman culture instead), to weather war and occupation, to be part of new ventures and cultural developments, and in the end – to simly be. They didn’t sit down and plan it, they were themselves just living into the experiences of push and pull, just as we should be, but in a global sense. The Corinthians weren’t Archaic in the midst of their great cultural leaps, they were themselves. To be archaic is to remain in the past. Make like the Corinthians is hardly a catch-phrase, but it is a great ideal, live in the moment, let go the past, adapt, weather, learn, and move on, together.

“The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vansished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes untill they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also inteligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking” Martin Luther King Jnr.

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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A Little Reflection (Don’t Smash The Mirror)

via Daily Prompt: Narcissism

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Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Liriope was told by the blind seer Tiresias, that Narcissus would have a long life so long as he didn’t recognise himself. As the story goes, Narcissus was rejected by the nymph Echo (though in earlier versions, he was rejected by Ameinias). He went to a pool and gazed in and was captivated by his own image. Narcissus was know for his beauty. He fell in love with himself, and could not leave his reflection, and as a result he died there. The ancient Greeks are said to hold the belief that to see your reflection was fatal (there is a third story that says Narcissus was consumed with grief by the death of his sister, but this is not commonly accepted).

Freud took the term and utilized it as a clinical descriptor. For Freud, narcissism is when you have an excessive degree of self-esteem or self-involvement (focus) which usually denotes immaturity. Freud noted that narcissists become their own sex object (sexual overevaluation), are experts on everything, have no understanding of other people’s boundaries, are likely to exploit others, suffer envy, and more. There are seven types listed, ranging from Positive Narcissism to Success Oriented Narcissism. Many confuse Narcissim with being egotistical, or with being arrogant. The fact that Narcissism memes float around Facebook with indiscriminate likes and comments is proof of this, too many think they can diagnose someone as a narcissist by a single trait. It’s more complex than that. That sort of thing is best left to those professionals trained to make such judgments.

But clinical diagnosis aside, there are still things we can attend to in this story.

It raises a number of valid questions. Am I consumed with myself (am I just gazing into myself all the time)? Am I aware of others? Do I know other people’s boundaries? Do I claim to know things when I really don’t know? Do I exploit other people? Do I shame others regularly? Am I crippled with envy? A yes to any of these would warrant some self-work to effect change. If we don’t we might just die! There is a body of evidence in the public sphere now where medical researchers have show connections between health problems and anger, jealousy, hate, egotism and more. Such things literally eat away at us. But we also die in others ways, constant anger kills relationships, as does egotism, envy, lack of boundaries and so on. And when we live an unfiltered life we not only have an impact on others around us, we also affect ourselves deeply, often crippling oursleves emotionally.

The way forward is not to smash the mirror, but rather to set the mirror aside and notice the world around us, to respond to others in our lives, to not love the self more than another (balance), to respect our own and other people’s boundaries … Our health is in each other, we are the key to each other in some ways and should value each other as reflections to learn from rather than being absorbed in solely ourselves. We are not singular repositories of excellence, we all have pieces of the puzzle of life and we need each other to be able to put the whole picture together as best we can, it still won’t be perfect (and my view is that life can’t be perfect, nor was it meant to be). Alone we may flounder and stagnate. Together we can thrive and flourish and grow. The best reflection is not our own image but the things we give out into the world.

Paul,

pvcann.com

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Filed under history, life, mindfulness, Mythology, psychology

The Gordian Knot

via Daily Prompt: Complication

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In downtown ancient Phrygia in Anatolia, in Asia Minor (now modern Turkey) the population were without a king for sometime, and a prophecy was given that the new king would be a man who drove an ox-cart through the city gate. And, a peasant farmer did just that. His name was Gordias, and as per the oracle’s prophecy, Gordias was named king of Phrygia.

Gordias’ son Midas was so grateful that he tied that ox-cart to a post using an complicated knot made from cornel (cornus mas) bark and dedicated it to the god Sabazios (or as the Greeks would say – Zeus). The knot was said to be very complicated, it was described as being several knots together, so intertwined that it was impossible to find the beginning or the end of it, hence its entry into legend as the Gordian Knot.

The legend went on, with a new prophecy that whoever undid the knot would rule all of Asia. Enter Alexander the Great. There are two stories of Alexander undoing the knot, in the first he simply slices it in two with his sword after wrestling with it. In the second, he discovers the central strand and successfully unravels it. Either way, he went on to rule Asia Minor and beyond.

Today it carries the meaning of complication. We use the term “cut the Gordian Knot”, which refers to decisively solving a problem or puzzle. The term also refers to any problem or conundrum that can only be solved with lateral or creative thinking.

We all carry an internal Gordian Knot or two. I think where love is concerned when we meet our life partner we are the key to unravelling the complications of attraction, bonding, and releasing each other in new creative ways. I think there are other knots we carry. Some carry the whole world on their shoulders, others carry depression, anxiety, heartache, grief. Others carry hate, jealousy, anger. Some carry physical knots of illness. It’s a complicated world, and none of these knots can be treated as simple or trite. These knots can’t be dealt with like Alexander slicing them open, nice as that would be.

The ancients believed that the knot was actually a code to be unravelled first, so that the knot would also unravel. In a way it is a metaphor for life – to be patient, to learn the clues to self, to understand self and one’s passions, abilities, and possible paths in life. For me the Gordian Knot is life opening up as I attend to the mindful path, strand by strand, not being too concerned with slicing or loosing the whole, but discovering each intricate strand and its role. Life is a Gordian Knot, and it cannot be short circuited, you cannot succeed by simply getting frustrated and slicing it open. Life, as the cliche goes, must be lived. Our clues to success are in the living into the glorious chaos we call life, remembering Samuel Butler’s comment: “Life is not an exact science, it is an art”, and finding our way. But above all, we are often the key to each other’s unravelling our inner knots, it is an imprecise science or art, sometimes we are totally unware it is happening, it’s called relationship, it begins with dialogue …

Paul,

pvcann.com

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Mentor

via Daily Prompt: Mentor

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In Homer’s epic Odyssey, Mentor was the trusted friend of Odysseus, and, during the Trojan war, Mentor remained in Ithaca to care for Odysseus’ son Telemachus. Mentor’s role was to prepare Telemachus for leadership of the family while Odysseus was away fighting the war.  The goddess of wisdom Athena advised Telemachus anonymously when she assumed the identity of Mentor.

Later, the French author, and archbishop of Cambrai,  Francois Fenelon (1651 – 1715) wrote, “The Adventures of Telemachus”, in which Fenelon establised a connection between mentoring and education. Something we accentuate today in school programs and community groups.

I have had many mentors in my life, and still do, too many to name all of them here. But John, Skip, Wilfrid, Colin, John, Jeff, Thelma, Harry, Brian, Laurence, Derry, Greta, Peter, Ken, Hughie, Penelope, David, Hillary, Roger, Ken, Adrian, are just a few that are probably more significant overall, and deserve particular mention. Some are perhaps anonymous, or indirect, the people I have encountered briefly, or I have read about, or observed in films and some detail or practice has made sense.

We all need a mentor (and plural too) because our significant others, even our primary mentors and guides may be engaged in something far away, and not necessarily geographically far away, but perhaps psychologically, physically or spiritually. Death has taken several of mine, and diverging paths or points of view has taken others, but for a season, they were there for me when I needed someone most. I have found mentors wherever I have been and in many unlikely places. And for me a mentor is not so much a formal educator, but more of a muse, a stimulous, sometimes a radical sometimes other, occasionally gauche, bohemian, or not. For me it is the trusted person who can hold the space for me to speak, to ponder, to rail, to doubt, to envision and dream. We all need those people in our lives. I have been fortunate to know that others have called me mentor, a privilege I never sought in itself, but one that came through friendship and being there.

Paul,

pvcann.com

 

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Chiron’s Parallel Process

via Daily Prompt: Parallel

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The sort of parallel lines that matter to me. I’ve long held a passion for railways, and as a child loved following train tracks, I still do. This photo was taken at Dwellingup, at Hotham Valley Tourist Railway.

There’s a lot of talk today in therapy and social work circles about parallel process. Carl Jung coined the term to explain that those who take up psychotherapy and counselling do so because they have faced pain in their own lives. Jung turned to Greek mythology to help define what he meant. He used the myth of Chiron.

Chiron (if you remember) was the child born by the union of kronus and the nymph Philyra. Kronos was out looking for his son Zeus and he encountered Philyra and lusted after her. Philyra was having none of it and changed into a mare in order to escape. But Kronos changes into a stallion and overtakes her. Kronos rapes Philyra and departs, the result of this union is Chiron, a centaur. Philyra rejects the child. So the child Chiron is abandoned by both his parents. But Apollo adopts Chiron. Apollo (god of music, poetry, healing) taught Chiron everything he knew, and Chiron became a mentor to many.

Chiron became friends with Hercules, which was unusual because Hercules was always fighting with the Centaurs. One day in a skirmish, Hercules accidentally wounds Chiron in the knee. The arrows Hercules had used caused a would that would never heal (they were dipped in the blood of Hydra), and for an immortal like Chiron, this was an eternal would, a would never to heal. Hercules and Chiron work out how to end it, Chiron must become a mortal and die, so Chiron does by trading places with Prometheus. In death Chiron was rewarded for his deeds with the constelation Centaurus.

Jung was referring to the pain of Chiron’s abandonment as leading him to be such a great and understanding mentor for so many. In a clinical sense the term refers to how there is sometiems a similarity betwen the client’s and the therapist’s situations. Because they are similar, thus parallel. Sometimes the therapist may not realise and sometimes the therapist may erroneously beleive that what worked for their situation should work for the client and they may risk becoming directive.

For the rest of us it may be helpful when we are simply sharing, to note what comes up for us, and like Chiron, to find ways of reaching out to those we know and love, and to find ways of compassionately journeying with them, reflectively listening, and holding the space for them to speak and unburden. There’s nothing greater than love, especially offering non-judgmental love, and being able to share doubts, anxieties, joys and hopes. People around us may be in similar experience or situation, and though it is never the same, and though we must never be directive, we can all be there for each other and hold the space knowing we need that too, and knowing we can, in the end be part of the healing process by sharing our stories with them. And we all have something to share. In that sense we are wounded healers, helping others and ourselves to find healing through our woundedness.

As Irving Yalom says: “We are fellow travellers in our pain and joy.” 

Paul,

pvcann.com

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Betrayal Hurts

via Daily Prompt: Betrayed

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Photo: moviedb.org  – Richard Burton as Alec Leamas, the spy who takes on one more mission in East Germany, only to discover layer upon layer of deception, and his own betrayal (‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ by John le Carre), a story often used, and most recently in Atomic Blonde (from the graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’).

We’ve all tasted betrayal.

Betrayal is an auspicious topic for Good Friday. Today recognises the crucifixion of Jesus. One particular detail in the story, is the cold and public betrayal by his disciple Judas. Judas is dazzled by money, he’d been stealing from the communal purse and now he was enamoured with the thirty pieces of silver he was offered to publicly identify Jesus to an arrest party. As the story goes, Judas leads a party of soldiers and police to where Jesus is, and identifies Jesus by greeting and kissing him. Essentially the kiss of death for a man he professed to follow.

There are many classic stories of betrayal. The Song of the Niebulungs which tells of the betrayal of the dragon slayer Siegfried. Odin was considered by the Norse to be the god of frenzy and betrayal. Euripides’ famous story of how Jason abandons his wife Medea for a younger woman is chilling, it ends badly.

Modern stories abound. Anything by Graham Greene, but especially ‘The End of the Affair’, and classic spy stories are essentially betrayal stories especially as written by John le Carre.

The stories of betrayal, whether true or fiction, actually bear out the popular saying: “The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies, it comes from your friends and loved ones.” That’s why it hurts so much. Siegfried’s wife takes revenge, Medea kills the children, Alec Leamas chooses death even when he is able to reach freedom. We’re not told what Jesus thinks about betrayal, but he is consistent with his teaching about forgiveness and love, he refuses to stoop to the level of those who whip and kill him.

But for us mere mortals there is a piece of very sound advice to heed: “If someone betrays you once, it’s their fault; if they betray you twice, it’s your fault.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) Clearly boundaries matter. But even then …

I find myself drawn to what Jesus lived and taught – that forgiveness (properly understood) is life giving.

Paul,

pvcann.com

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