Jung Meets Polanski

 

That which is too difficult to consciously process is stored in the unconscious mind. It does not disappear. As Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as destiny.”

Nobody wants to be Mr. Potter. We’d all like to think of ourselves as George Bailey. Even misers don’t think they’re the problem; they conclude that free spending other people have money problems. We all would like to experience a generous spirit, a feeling of belonging, the assurance that our contentment does not depend on the actions of others but on our own true nature expressing itself in any and all circumstances.

If we’re not feeling that way now, we conclude it’s because others are holding us back. Circumstances dictate, but once they change, we’ll be able to relax and enjoy the present moment. We’ll choose to go out past the city lights and gaze at the stars. We’ll have the patience to develop a hobby. We’ll finally excel at things that delight us because we’ll no longer be driven by anxiety. We’ll have all the time in the world.

In our best moments, we realize that we’re choosing not to enjoy this contentment. Prodded by unreasonable fears, goaded by illogical desires, we toss and turn in this waking dream. “If only he/she/they would…then I could be happy.” “As soon as (insert somewhat plausible condition here) happens, then I’ll relax and stop fighting things.” Except the happy day never arrives. There’s always another unreasonable fear, another illogical desire.

This is how the unconscious mind manifests in our daily lives. It’s like a malevolent movie director (Polanski?) who makes brilliant but troubling films. We’re fascinated by the stories even though they make us feel troubled. We identify the characters and the tormet they endure, but maybe we’re relieved to find that we’re not that bad yet. Small consolation for a big problem.

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Digital Fog

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Many people smirk when they tell you “I don’t do social media.” They are above it. One imagines they spend hours in blissful contemplation over a good book, or perhaps engaging in what we used to quaintly describe as “writing” but is now known as “content creation.”

Maybe they glance up from their book occasionally, go online and look around. If they don’t like what they see they hunker down and try to tune out the monotonous drone of discourse that is not so much arguing over concepts as it is preaching to the choir. It’s not debate, it’s a pep rally. If you dare to say something on social media which irritates your fan base, you will soon hear plenty back at you. There is ample pressure to conform.

I’m learning some Handel keyboard pieces that he wrote when he was about nineteen. He and Bach were contemporaries and from almost the same part of what is now Germany. It’s hard to imagine one spot on earth turning out more pure musical genius than those two possessed.

I imagine there was a lot of pressure to conform back then when they were young and just making their way, but somehow I don’t think they let it get them down. They were alive with musical ideas, bursting with creativity, and they didn’t need focus groups and research studies that counted “likes” in order to forge ahead. They must have been as delighted by their creative output as we are today.

So we don’t need massive societal support to successfully be ourselves. We don’t even need dialogue. Bach once walked several days to hear a famous organist play. There were no recordings, no radio, no iTunes. None of that is necessary to reach great artistic heights.

If this whole Internet comes crashing down, the world will not be a worse place for it. It will simply be different. Songs will be written and performed, stories read and recited, dramas enacted, all without digital help. The blind English poet laureate John Milton used to compose his verses during the day and when his daughter came to cook him dinner at night, he would narrate to her his output for the day and she would write it down. Even late in life his mind was that sharp.

The digital fog that pretends to be so much will reveal the true nature of things after it’s been burned away.

Purposeful Forgetting

 

Phong Nha Park

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When you’re an American expat and you want to move freely in the world, you have to deliberately not remember a lot in order to experience a sense of ease and comfort. Freedom from guilt means purposeful forgetting. You can’t very well vacation in a country that we bombed repeatedly for years because we disapproved of their self-governance.

The problem for Americans is that caveat rules out most of the developing world. Central America, South America, Indochina, the Middle East, Southern Europe…all have felt the lash of our enormous and deadly whip. If you’ve got enough in the bank you could confine your wandering to Switzerland or Scandanavia without having to flip into denial mode.

True, we didn’t bomb Argentina and Chile, we just sent Kissinger there to tell them they could take care of their Communist problem without worrying about interference from us. OK, in our role as Global Robocop we didn’t kill as many foreign people as Stalin or Mao did of their own, but that doesn’t exactly render us white as snow. We trained the assassins from Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and we gave money directly to the Contras in Nicaragua.

In a few weeks I will be venturing to Dong Hoi,Vietnam. We’ll be taking advantage of a super cheap fare from our home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The city of Dong Hoi is new, because we completely destroyed the old city in 1971. Back then we left the shell of one building and a palm tree standing. Dong Hoi had the misfortune to be the first city of any size north of the DMZ, and planes taking off from Danang airport found it convenient to drop their load there.

If my prior visit to Dong Hoi will serve as any indication, I expect to be treated cordially by the people I meet. The family members who run the hotel I booked were very nice to me last time. I rented a motorcycle from them and drove to Phong Na park, a lush forest preserve that hosts some of the most attractive limestone caves in the world. Fifty years ago there wasn’t much there to bomb, but we did drop tons of Agent Orange on the vast canopy of trees, because we called it the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” and saw their vegetation as an affront to our security.

There is also a lot of unexploded ordinance there, so I won’t do a whole lot of hiking off the trails. The United Nations has done their best to help Laos and Vietnam clean up the cluster bomb mess we made, but they haven’t made much progress yet. We may have to pitch in.

In my search for a place to live out my golden years I’ve traveled to many former hot spots in Central and South America.

When I was in Argentina they were making efforts to remember and honor the victims of the military killing orgy that went on after Kissinger promised them a free hand. In Chile, our puppet Pinochet had his troops bomb the Presidential Palace while Salvador Allende, former President of the University of Chile and the first democratically elected Communist ruler of any country was inside.

The first time I visited Hanoi, I was staying in a hotel in an old part of the city and reading a book on the history of our war with that country. It turns out that Kissinger and Nixon hatched a plan to make the Vietnamese think Nixon was insane, and thus drive them to hurry to the negotiating table and sign a truce. On Christmas day we bombed Hanoi. Unlike our efforts at the end of World War II in Japan and Germany, and our police action in North Korea, we had reverted to the genteel notion of obeying the Geneva Conventions and not directly targeting civilians. Before the Chrtistmas Bombing (Operation Linebacker) most of our bombing in Vietnam was restricted to military targets. In Laos, because there were few military targets, we bombed anything that moved and kept that up for ten years. But anyway, on Christmas day, 1972 a bomb dropped from a B-52 pierced the roof of the hospital next door to the hotel in which I was now staying and exploded in the operating room killing everyone. I put down the book and stared at the wall that separated my hotel from the hospital. Why had the desk clerk smiled at me when I checked in? Why wasn’t there an angry mob outside demanding my head?

As the ugliness of global economic disparity continues to grow, there will be more refugees. Countries like Nigeria send thousands of young men north to Libya, where they climb into rafts and hope to make it to Greece or Sicily. Some of them do, and then they find their way to Calais, where nobody is glad to see them. They don’t know what else to do. The bottom billion people on this planet are sliding backwards. Their countries are not just falling behind, they’re falling apart.

Of course, it’s only matter of time before we bring them democracy, one bomb at a time.

 

 

the author reading this essay:  http://chirb.it/Mkxhp3

 

 

Here And Now Is Where It’s At

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The voices in my head cry “If you’re this old, how come you’re not rich yet? And even if you’re not presently hurting for money, how come you’re not happy?”

 

The present moment and the profundity it contains is sufficient for my happiness. I can’t experience the present moment if I’m judging or analyzing. There may be a time for that later, but right now I merely want to notice what’s happening here, right now. I want to dig the bliss of the present moment.

 

Nothing is required of me but stillness and appreciation. Not even a new thought is necessary. If I want to take action, I don’t need to brainstorm and come up with an action plan. Right actions will follow naturally if I can sit with comfortable and contented absorption.

 

Not every idea I have is worth acting on. Thoughts that come with urgency are often the least reliable. All I need to do is focus on doing the next obviously right thing, and forego the temptation to rush into action.

 

Sometimes the hardest and wisest thing to do is nothing at all.

 

Action could be about the thing I had been thinking about or something else entirely. Whenever I feel anxious, my attention doesn’t just wander, it leaps light years. I might not be able to remember which idea seemed so important ten seconds ago, but I can remember the girl sitting across from me in third grade over sixty years ago. Margie. She often wore a green sweater. 

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run which path I take as long as I am not acting from addiction or compulsion. As a free agent enjoying free will, I’m capable of surprising both myself and others.

Be Yourself Because There’s Really No Alternative

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If you’re not at least attempting to please yourself, whom do you intend to please? You probably won’t be very good at pretending to accomplish another person’s will for you. You will do better dropping the pretense and simply intending to please yourself.

If you’re trying to be what other people want you to be, then who will be you?

People who are truly themselves ring true and are often a delight to watch and be around. Jimmy Cagney was an actor as well as a real character. Even when pretending to be somebody else he was enjoying himself. We only know of his acting in movies where he pretended to inhabit character parts written and directed by others, but he brought so much of himself along for the ride that he retained ownership of the performance. In doing so, he inspired and pleased others. From all accounts, he lived a long and happy life.

Is it possible to drop the facade and find your true self later in life? Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish Shakespeare, found himself chained to a wall in debtors prison in Madrid when he came up with the idea for Don Quixote. He became a successful writer in his sixties, and the Man of La Mancha made a lot of people a lot of money. Unfortunately, since copyright was a novel concept at the time, he didn’t become super rich, but at least he was comfortable by the time he died at the age of sixty-eight.

So late bloomers can take hope. Some people seem to have little choice in the matter. Elvis was such a weird creature that he had no hope of being anyone other than Elvis. He had no way to hedge his bet. His choice was either to be the King of Rock and Roll or be a garage mechanic.

How can you know when you’re being your true self and doing what you’re uniquely equipped to do? You enjoy it. It’s not drudgery. Anything else is a sell-out, for you and the world in general. No matter how much of a chameleon you think you are, you’ll be far more effective as yourself. You’ll have more fun and the people around you will enjoy your presence and activity.

 

here’s an audio clip of me reading this essay 2:40  http://chirb.it/cqvAAM

 

A Blank Slate

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No Plan, Still Time Passes

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.
At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.

No, I can’t blame Thailand for whatever difficulties I face as I trudge the lonely trail of senescence. Well, actually, there are a lot of us on that trail, only some are using walkers, others four-pointed canes, and the rest of us are hobbling with an uneven gait.

But again, what’s the alternative? The good doctors here are as good as they are in the States, at least as good at the doctors who will accept Medicare patients, and since the prices for medical intervention here are about ten times lower than in the States, that would about equal my deductible if I chose to return home to use the medical policy I paid for over a span of forty five years. That one, the one I don’t get to use over here.

Oh sure, the weather is too hot for me most of the year. Even most Thai people would agree with that. From November to January it gets cool enough up here in the north of Thailand so that a Westerner might consider putting on a light wrap after dark. That’s when the Thais think it’s time to unpack some serious gloves and fur-lined parkas.

I’m sure Lake Como or Martha’s Vineyard would be more to my taste. I hear Norway is spectacular from June to August. All of that has nothing to do with me now, nor will it ever unless Fate has some amazing twists and turns in store for me.

But none of that matters, because I’m happy with my current station. After a week in Krabi, at the beach, I’m home again with my piano and my Chiang Mai routine. I don’t do a lot, my days are pretty free, and I make sure to rest plenty after the smallest of exertions. You can never be too relaxed in retirement.

In Krabi we had comfortable hotel rooms for around sixteen and seventeen dollars, the flight there and back came to eighty five dollars each. The only thing there that significantly more expensive than Chiang Mai was massage, which was double the price, so we mostly avoided it.

Tomorrow I’ll go to my swimming pool and do a kilometer. Takes me half an hour. I’ll be the only person in the water, an Olympic-sized fifty meter pool. Then I’ll take a nap in the afternoon, because even though a kilometer is some swimmer’s idea of a mere warm up, to me it’s the whole enchilada.

Even though my e-mail provider Microsoft Outlook would like me to believe otherwise by sending me my calendar for the day, which contains events and tasks apparently set by others, some of whom I don’t even know, I think I have the day off. I do know for certain that I didn’t create these “events” or “tasks” they insist are real and fixed. As far as I can see, my days are pretty much a blank slate. Most of the time, I have not consented to be anywhere or to do anything.

Today my virtual assistant informs me that I have three events, but it soothingly assures me “you don’t have any tasks for today.” Free to come and go as I please, I intend to hop on my motor scooter or bicycle and zip around town, or drive into the nearby mountains. My photo blog shows lots of pictures of hills and trees. They all look the same, but I keep taking more.

I will also find time to play Handel on my electronic keyboard.

The interesting and encouraging thing about practicing a musical instrument is that you get better even if you take a week off. In that time when you weren’t practicing, you still improve. If you take more than a week off, that effect begins to reverse itself. It is, however, counter-intuitive that progress can be made by not practicing. I guess the chemical bath in which my brain cells seep gets work done even when I’m not on board with that.

When you make a deliberate attempt to stop doing, you find that your body is doing many things for you. I was already impressed by the fact that my heart continues to beat without my permissions, and my lungs go about their breathing business without my direction or urging, but this brain percolating thing is really something. It does so without being plugged into the Internet or a power source. It’s half-an-hour before dawn and it’s still working fine, which means it’s not even solar-powered. Who thought this one up? Give that guy a prize!