Sunday, 27 October 2013

the first step to live more like yourself

Wanting to live more like oneself is probably one of the most natural desires people could have.  Sometimes we are hesitant to follow this desire, however, because it looks rather selfish in a given situation or disturbing for relationships with others.

There is a well known fairytale by Grimm called The Frog King.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who was adored by everyone.  One day when she was playing with her golden ball, the ball fell into an old well.  As she was crying, a frog appeared and said he would recover her ball if she promised that she would share everything with him from then on.  The princess secretly thought it was out of question, but she promised that she would.  The frog gave her back the ball, but she ran away to the castle, leaving him behind.  Next day when she was having a meal, the frog came and said she should keep her words.  The king, her father, agreed with the frog and told her to share her meal with the frog.  The princess reluctantly obeyed him.  Furthermore the frog wanted her to let him share her room and her bed, and she could not stand it anymore.  She cried, "That is the bed for you!" and threw the frog to the wall.  At the moment the frog transformed into a handsome prince.  He told her that an evil witch turned him to a frog.  He asked her to marry him and they were happy.

What do you think of the story?  Some people might think, "What a spoilt child the princess is!  She should keep her promise if she made it whatever the reason," or wonder, "Why could she be happily married to the prince?  Does she deserve it?"  In fact they are what I first thought when I read the story.

Nevertheless, now I think we can get a very important message from the story if we understand it from a different angle.

Let us look at the story again.  An adored princess meets a frog.  She does not like the creature.  Her hatred and anger for the frog increase as she and the frog develop their relationship.  She loses herself in a rage and refuses the frog in a violent manner.  It results in the frog’s transforming into a handsome prince.

It sounds unreasonable and ugly that the princess becomes violent because she does not like the outcome of her own behaviour.  However, if her irrational anger did not grow so much, the frog would not have turned to a prince, and the story would not have ended in a happy way.
Consequently the important point of this story is that the frog prince is set free from the curse when the princess's selfish anger is at its height.

The story begins with the description of how beautiful the princess is and how carefully she is brought up.  She is well protected in a castle and praised for her beauty all the time.  However, she is probably just like a beautiful adorable doll, playing with her ball.  No matter how beautiful she might be, there is nothing like herself as an individual person.

The frog must be the very first strange and uncomfortable thing she encounters in her life.  Meeting with the frog, she begins to feel unreasonable hatred for him.  She runs away from him, making a promise she has no intention to keep.  Her act is childish and insincere, but probably this is the first time for her to place her own feeling ahead of other things, such as others' concerns and social rules.

The king, her father, says that promises should be kept.  His proposition is orderly and clear, showing an important principle for society.  While his justice might be well established, however, it does not have a space for a personal feeling of the princess.

If she had no feeling just like a doll, she would have followed the king with no resistance and accepted any requests of the frog.  In such a case, while the frog might have been treated well on the superficial level, there would have been no emotional exchange between the princess and the frog whatever they do together.  Thus the transformation of the frog would have never happened in the end.

If the princess was emotionally more mature, she would have expressed her negative feeling to the frog in words.  She could have told him that she could not keep her words, made an apology, and had a discussion with him to seek other ways to solve the problem.

However, the princess must have had no experience of reflecting herself or facing conflicts with others or dealing with her own negative feelings.  Moreover, her feeling to the frog does not fit with the king's principle as well as a general image of a “beautiful princess” as she must be expected to embody.  In consequence, it is no wonder that she could but explode in such an abrupt way in order to express herself.

It is impulsive, immature and ungraceful that she throws the frog to the wall in her rage, but the first attempt of expressing oneself tends to be awkward and to look "out of character."  And yet, the explosion of her feeling is the turning point of the story; the frog prince is set free from the curse.  When understanding this fairytale as a story of the princess's psychological development, her outburst must be the important first step for her to live her own life like herself.

In other words, she is transformed to a unique individual from a beautiful doll, through her outrage caused by her relationship with the frog.  She marries to the frog prince at the end, and it probably suggests that she is now ready to esatablish an equal and conscious relationship with someone different from herself.  Thus it can be said that this ending of the story illustrates her growth as a person, for if she had remained to be a doll, she would not have been able to develop a relationship with the frog.

When trying to live our own life like ourselves, we cannot help facing conflicts and our own negative feelings towards something/someone, and the feelings might feel unreasonable and ugly.  Nevertheless if we recognise those feelings as our own and keep working to find a way to express them, the process itself reflects our unique being and reveals the inner beauty as a person.  I think the story of The Frog King gives us an image of the first step when a person starts this process.

(* This article is published in Personal-Development.Com Newsletter issued on 29 October 2013.  Thank you!)

Monday, 19 August 2013

a creative life

When hearing the term, a “creative life,” what sort of life comes to your mind?  A life full of artistic activities?  A life with innovative ideas?  A life with new and exciting events?
Perhaps all those lives can be creative, and some people are very talented in those things.  However, is a creative life impossible for those who are not very talented in these specific areas?

There is a Japanese movie, Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005), directed by Satoshi Miki.  It is a story about an ordinary housewife, called Suzume.  Her name means a sparrow in Japanese, i.e. one of the most common wild birds.  Her life is a typical ordinary featureless life with everything “so-so” – that means things are OK but there is nothing particularly interesting or very special.  She looks common, and does everything just on the average level.  She is bored and feels that she is invisible in the world.

One day she happens to find a tiny advertisement on a railing of steep steps in the neighbourhood, saying, “A Spy Wanted.”  She takes the chance and goes to an interview.  The advertisers like her because she is so ordinary.  They tell her that she has to look and behave as ordinarily as a person can possibly do in order to be a spy, because a spy should look most common, so that most featureless, to stay invisible to others’ eyes.  It makes her start thinking how to be “ordinary” in an active and conscious way.  She tries to buy “ordinary” groceries and to drive a car as an “ordinary” driver.  Eventually she finds it skillful and full of adventure to be “ordinary.”  This change of her attitude makes her ordinary life extraordinary, and consequently she finds her being purposeful and independent.

Suzume keeps living her ordinary life after being a spy, but the meaning of her ordinariness is different from what it was at the beginning of the story.  Being ordinary becomes something special and unique when she finds a meaning in it.

I think this story is very suggestive when thinking about a creative life.  Creativity is a gift everyone has which makes it possible to find potentials and meanings in anything we encounter and experience.  A creative life does not necessarily mean anything interesting or spectacular to others, but living one’s life actively and consciously in a way one finds it meaningful to oneself.

(* This article is published in Personal-Development.Com Newsletter issued on 18 September 2013.  Thank you!)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

the black rabbit

We all have some part of ourselves that we don't like.  Or sometimes we are shocked to find that we have something unpleasant and dark within ourselves.  When it happens we usually want to get rid of that part as quickly as possible, without anyone noticing that we had it.  But is it all we can do with the negative part of ourselves?

Having that question in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on a picture book by Philippa Leathers, The Black Rabbit, which I came across the other day. 

A rabbit wakes up in a beautiful morning and suddenly finds out that he is not alone; a huge black rabbit is standing behind him.
While the rabbit tells the black rabbit to go away, the black rabbit keeps staying behind him.  The rabbit asks the black rabbit why he is following him, but the black rabbit makes no answer.
The rabbit runs, hides and swims to get away from the black rabbit but in vain.  The black rabbit follows him everywhere.

Although the black rabbit is drawn as a physical shadow of the rabbit, it can also be taken as his psychological shadow, i.e. the unknown or disgusted side of his personality.

The beginning of the story well illustrates our shock and fear when we encounter our shadow, the dark unknown side of ourselves: all of a sudden we find something huge behind us, silent and overwhelming.  We have no idea how to communicate with it and yet it follows us anywhere we go.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot get rid of it.

Finally the rabbit runs into the deep dark wood.  Then he cannot see the black rabbit anymore.  He feels relieved.  However, no sooner he is relaxed than he is startled again by someone.  The black rabbit?  No, it is a wolf!  The rabbit runs for his life out of the wood with all his might.  But alas!  The rabbit trips.  All is over!
Strangely enough, when the rabbit gives up, the wolf is gone.  Then the rabbit finds that the black rabbit stands proudly behind him in the sunlight, and the rabbit knows that the black rabbit saved his life, scaring the wolf away.  They smile to each other and become friends.

At the fatal moment the rabbit is at his wits' end and he can do nothing more.  And yet it is also the moment when the black rabbit comes back on the scene and defeats the wolf in such a way the rabbit must have never thought possible.  The black rabbit appears as a friend at the crisis and the relationship between the rabbit and the black rabbit changes dramatically.

When seeing the black rabbit as the neglected shadow side of the rabbit, the last episode clearly shows that the dark side actually contains some not-yet recognised potential of the rabbit.  Even though the rabbit will never win against the wolf in a physical fight, he can still play a trick on the wolf to get rid of him.  Moreover it seems that the crisis was almost necessary for the rabbit to get an access to this unknown creative part of himself.

Since our shadowy side looks strange and threatening, it is natural that our first reaction is a strong rejection.  We might try to ignore it or hide from it or run away from it until the flight is no longer possible.  Consequently it might take a long time for us to really face our dark side.
However, when that part of us is recognised and accepted in relation to ourselves, it will open us up to the possibilities which we never imagined existed in ourselves.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

wishes of roots

As the first entry to this new blog, I would like to tell a little about Jungian approach in psychotherapy and why I named my blog “towards wholeness.”

In order to illustrate it I would like to introduce a short poem called "Wishes."  It is a poem by a Japanese poet, Shinmin Sakamura.  When I translate it in plain English, it runs like this:

         Wishes of invisible roots make such a beautiful flower.

This poem seems to describe the very simple but important truth in life.
We are easily aware of the beautiful flower, but we hardly care about the roots underground.  When we happen to see the roots of the flower, we tend to ignore them or cover them up with soil, often thinking they are not pretty enough to look at.

However, without those roots, the plant cannot live.  The roots ground the plant firmly on the earth, take nourishment and water from the soil, and support the whole being of the plant.

Nevertheless even when we want to know what the roots of a plant look like under the ground, we cannot see them so easily.  If we try to dig them up carelessly, we will damage them and might even kill the plant itself.  There might be no direct way to learn about them.

The poem suggests wishes of the roots make the beautiful flower.  Their invisible wishes are revealed to the world above through the flower, the visible part of the plant.
It means that we have to use our imagination, creativity and empathy to try to understand and appreciate the roots, the invisible part, and consequently, the plant as a whole, including both the visible and invisible parts.

Each flower has its own beauty, no matter how similar they might look.
When viewing this plant in the poem as an image of an individual person, it suggests beauty of the unique being, supported by his/her own roots.
When every part of the individual is recognised and appreciated in harmony, s/he can live his/her whole being.

This idea of appreciating the whole being of a unique individual is the basic attitude of Jungian approach.

I named my blog “towards wholeness” because it is the concept which includes the philosophy of Jungian psychology and the direction I myself hope to go.  Various aspects of an individual are taken with respect and appreciated as a whole.  I believe that one’s life is grounded and full when one has such a harmonious world within and without.

(* This article is published in Personal-Development.Com Newsletter issued on 16 October 2013.  Thank you!)


Welcome to Mée’s blog, "towards wholeness."

In this blog I would like to explore and reflect on what I encounter or experience in life from a Jungian perspective, hoping to introduce Jungian psychology in a casual way.

I would be very happy if visitors of this blog find it interesting in relation to what they feel in their lives.