Tag Archives: psychology

“Tales from the Darkside” Issues 2 – 4: Manifestations of the Shadow Self

darkside_02

I decided to wait until all three issues in this mini-series were published so I could read them consecutively, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes I forget some of the details from the earlier installments in a serialized arc.

This story is about the struggle between the conscious mind and the primordial shadow part of the psyche. The main character, Brian Newman, finds himself in a struggle with a manifestation of his shadow self, who he calls the “big winner.” The big winner is the opposite of Newman, who is timid, uncertain, and withdrawn. Big winner is more like the trickster archetype: capricious, boisterous, and prone to the chaotic. As the big winner begins to take control of his reality, Newman agrees to undergo experimental surgery to gain control of this darker self. As you can imagine, things do not end well.

Before the surgery, the doctor explains to Newman that the manifestation of his shadow self is the result of a brain abnormality.

The anomaly in your brain is connected to an overdeveloped amygdala, a more primitive part of your mind. The part of you that can distort reality – this big winner – is undoubtedly very id like. Impulsive. Childish. A sort of negative image of yourself.

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The surgery does not go as planned, and instead of reigning in the shadow self, that darker aspect of reality becomes the prevalent reality. What is so fascinating about this concept is that, truthfully, our reality is based solely on perception that is agreed upon by the majority of people. But this begs the question: what happens when the paradigm of reality shifts? And this is what occurs in issue 4.

Here we encounter two kids who are constantly wired into their devices. They are obsessed with a sort of virtual reality app that allows them to control the “windows” through which they view their world. What they create through the app manifests in reality, and their darkest fantasies are manifest. What is eerily accurate about this portrayal is that virtual reality gaming can actually tap into the primordial center of the brain, the amygdala. Is it possible that virtual reality will one day alter our actual reality? It’s a thought-provoking question.

darkside_04

Because the darkside becomes a part of them. It waits for them when they close their eyes, when they sleep… if they ever sleep again. Just below the surface of what they think is real… the darkside is always waiting.

Anyway, this arc is a great read. The writing and artwork are outstanding, and the concepts are challenging and relevant to our world today. I highly recommend giving this series a read.

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Tales from the Darkside: Issue 01

Darkside_01

On my last trip to Comic Envy, the owner had added a new comic to my folder, thinking it would be something I might find interesting. He obviously knows my taste. This is the first installment of a new series based on the television series of the same name. When I was younger, I watched “Tales from the Darkside” a lot. The program featured short vignettes about supernatural occurrences. I found it to be like a modern Twilight Zone, creepy tales, usually with a twist at the end. Anyway, I was definitely intrigued by the comic.

So this tale is about a lifeguard who falls asleep at work, resulting in the drowning death of a woman. He gets off in court, but is consumed with guilt and remorse. Then something strange begins to happen. He starts having a narcoleptic effect on people. Everyone he encounters falls into a deep sleep, adding to his psychological isolation and torment.

In keeping with the original television series, there is a nice twist at the end. Sorry, I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

I will definitely continue reading this. The next tale will be delivered in two installments. I’m thinking I will wait until I have both issues, then read them consecutively, so you will have to wait a while for the next post on this graphic novel. But remember…

The darkside is always there,
waiting for us to enter—
waiting to enter us.
Until next time,
Try to enjoy the daylight.

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Jungian Symbolism in “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters” by Mike Grell

GreenArrow_LongbowHunters

I picked this graphic novel up at last year’s Asheville Comic Expo and got it signed by writer/artist Mike Grell. I have to say that Mike was not the friendliest of the writers and artists I met that day, but whatever. Maybe he was tired or having a rough day. Anyway, it took me a while, but finally got around to reading it and overall I liked the book. I watched the “Arrow” series on TV but had never read any of the graphic novels. I must admit I was happy with this one and would certainly consider reading more in the future.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, the Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, and he is sort of like a cross between Batman and Robin Hood. I actually like that he does not possess any “superhuman” powers and relies on his physical strength and prowess.

In this novel, he is aged and reflecting back on his life. It is during this time that a mysterious female assassin appears who also uses a bow. This woman is systematically killing members of a crime organization who have a shrouded history.

What I found most interesting about the story is that the mysterious woman, known as Shado, is essentially the Jungian shadow aspect of Oliver’s psyche. She is able to kill without remorse, whereas Oliver struggles with moral issues, not wanting to take a life even though doing so is justified.

The hits on the target are only the outward proof of your mastery… like the symbol of the dragon you bear – a symbol of dishonor. Both are meaningless. You have transcended goals. You are the artless art. You are Shado.

(p. 95)

Toward the end, when Oliver faces Shado, it becomes clear that the two are different aspects of the same self, symbolic mirrors of themselves. It is symbolic of Oliver facing that part of himself that he has sought to repress.

Oliver: Why did you bring me here?

Shado: You have been hunting me. At least this way I don’t have to wonder where you are. We are alike, you and I.

Oliver: No. I’m nothing like you.

Shado: No? You want Magnor for what he did to that woman. I want him for what he did to my honor. How is your vengeance different from mine?

(pp. 130 – 131)

I’d like to close this post by talking a little bit about the artwork. It’s very good. Most writers of graphic novels seem to rely on others to create artwork to accompany the story, but Grell handle both the writing and the artwork with equal skill. I was impressed with both, and the fact that Grell did all this on his own is a testament to his artistic talent and versatility.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!

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Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Beyond the Fences

HellboyBPRD1953_BeyondFence

For me, one of the problems with reading serialized arcs is that I don’t remember the nuances of previous installments. So for this arc, I decided to wait, collect the three issues, and then read them in one sitting. That worked really well for me.

In this tale, Hellboy and two other B.P.R.D. agents go to a small town in California to investigate the disappearance of several children and the mutilation of an adult. The encounter the monster responsible, which is actually a dog that mutated after eating some mysterious material that was the byproduct of a nuclear test. There is also Cold War conspiracy and intrigue woven in to the tale, which works nicely.

What I found most interesting about this series was the use of the fence as a symbol. The fence serves as a metaphor for what divides the two realms of reality, existence, consciousness, and so forth. On one side of the fence is the archetypical 1950’s community, but on the other side, chaos and the psychological uncertainty in the post World War II nuclear age. Also, there is the division between ordinary reality and alternate dimensions. The fence symbolically separates what we perceive in our normal state of consciousness and what lies beyond the veil in the subconscious regions of our psyches, Moving beyond the fence and exploring these areas of the subconscious can be terrifying and dangerous.

The writers and artists who collaborate on this do an amazing job of drawing on occult philosophies, symbolism, and thought. But it’s not just heady mysticism—the story is very good and engaging. It is well-written with excellent dialog, and the artwork is top-notch. I highly recommend reading these three issues if you have time. I suspect you will enjoy them as much as I did.

Cheers, and keep reading cool stuff.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 8

PotLeaf

The following passage from Infinite Jest was very interesting, especially in light of recent states making marijuana legal and the wider push to legalize it throughout the United States.

Everybody who raised their hand to share concurred on the insidious ways marijuana had ravaged their bodies, minds, and spirits; marijuana destroys slowly but thoroughly was the consensus. Ken Erdedy’s joggling foot knocked over his coffee not once but twice as the NAs took turns concurring on the hideous psychic fallout they’d all endured both in active marijuana-dependency and then in marijuana-detox: the social isolation, anxious lassitude, and the hyperself-consciousness that then reinforced the withdrawal and anxiety – the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of affect, and then total emotional catalepsy – the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from the obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch – and then the endless symptomatic gauntlet of Withdrawal from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol: i.e. pot-detox: the loss of appetite, the mania and insomnia, the chronic fatigue and nightmares, the impotence and cessation of menses and lactation, the circadian arrhythmia, the sudden sauna-type sweats and mental confusion and fine-motor tremors, the particularly nasty excess production of saliva – several beginners still holding institutional drool-cups just under their chins – the generalized anxiety and foreboding of dread, and the shame of feeling like neither M.D.s nor the hard-drug NAs themselves showed much empathy or compassion for the ‘addict’ brought down by what was supposed to be nature’s humblest buzz, the benignest Substance around.

(pp. 503 – 504)

I do not want to get into a deep debate about whether marijuana should be legal or not. For me, that is not the issue and not what is important about this passage in the text. For me, what is important is the insidious nature of addiction, and the focus should be on the fact that people can become addicted to anything, provided that thing effectively changes the way one feels and thinks.

Some people fail to recognize the obvious: if you do something on a regular basis and then stop doing whatever it is that you are doing, you will experience a form of withdrawal. If you exercise every day for years and one day stop, it will have a physical and mental effect on you. If you drink soda every day and suddenly stop completely, you will go through withdrawal. If you meditated every day for most of your life and then quit, it would impact you physically, mentally, and spiritually. To think that you can use a drug every day and not suffer withdrawal when you stop is naïve and foolish.

I’ve heard plenty of people argue that marijuana is not addictive. I don’t believe it. Almost everything is addictive. I’m sure we all know people who are addicted to watching certain 24-hour news stations.

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Analysis of “The Island of Doctor Moreau” by H. G. Wells

DoctorMoreau

So I confess that this book was not what I expected. I decided to read the book because I thought it would be a cool sci-fi/horror tale for October. What I discovered is an amazing story that explores human consciousness, evolution and animal instincts in humans, social structure, morality and mores, religion, psychology, and the development of mythology. In fact, upon finishing this book, I have come to the conclusion that the name Moreau is symbolic of mores and morality, as we will see later in this post.

Before I begin looking closely at some of the key passages, I figured I’d give a very brief summary of the plot. It is the tale of Edward Prendick, who finds himself on an island where Doctor Moreau is conducting experiments, using surgery and vivisection to speed up the evolutionary process, essentially modifying animals so that they become more human and teaching them how to behave as humans. As you can imagine, this does not end well. But that’s all I’ll say—no spoilers!

The beast-men on the island are trained to repeat the Law, which is a code of ethics and morals bestowed upon them by Moreau. When Prendick encounters the beast-men, one of them who is tasked with repeating the Law points out that the animal instinct is within all, and that it is adherence to the Law that prevents them from slipping back into animalistic behavior.

“For every one the want is bad,” said the grey Sayer of the Law. “What you will want we do not know; we shall know. Some want to follow things that move, to watch and slink and wait and spring; to kill and bite, bite deep and rich, sucking the blood. It is bad. ‘Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to eat flesh or fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’’”

(p. 83)

When Moreau explains his work to Prendick, he asserts that the physical transformation is the easy part; it is the mental transformation that is difficult. The reason being is that the psyche maintains aspects of the primal consciousness, and this part of the psyche always seeks to reestablish dominance.

“… But it is in the subtle grafting and reshaping one must needs to do to the brain that my trouble lies. The intelligence is often oddly low, with unaccountable blank ends, unexpected gaps. And least satisfactory of all is something that I cannot touch, somewhere—I cannot determine where—in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst forth suddenly and inundate the whole being of the creature with anger, hate, or fear. These creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you so soon as you began to observe them; but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It’s afterwards, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares out at me. But I will conquer yet! Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, ‘This time I will burn out all the animal; this time I will make a rational creature of my own!’ After all, what is ten years? Men have been a hundred thousand in the making.” He thought darkly. “But I am drawing near the fastness. This puma of mine—” After a silence, “And they revert. As soon as my hand is taken from them the beast begins to creep back, begins to assert itself again.”

(pp. 107 – 108)

After Moreau is killed, there is a poignant moment of existential crisis for the beast-people as they begin to question what will become of them and whether the laws of morality are still applicable. Prendick responds by saying that Moreau is not really dead, but has ascended to heaven and now watches over them.

I had been standing behind him during this colloquy. I began to see how things lay with them. I suddenly stepped in front of Montgomery and lifted up my voice:—“Children of the Law,” I said, “he is not dead!” M’ling turned his sharp eyes on me. “He has changed his shape; he has changed his body,” I went on. “For a time you will not see him. He is—there,” I pointed upward, “where he can watch you. You cannot see him, but he can see you. Fear the Law!”

(pp. 145 – 146)

Essentially, Wells is asserting that religion is a falsehood, designed to instill fear in people and force them to deny their animal tendencies and embrace a coerced morality. Fear is a powerful motivator, and the fear of some unseen being watching your every move, ready to inflict suffering if you disobey, has effectively guided the behavior of individuals for thousands of years.

When Prendick returns to civilization, he is haunted by the realization that society is fragile, that the fabric is so thin and frayed, it is just a matter of time before we slip back into our animal selves. Our primal nature will inevitably regain control of our psyches. There is a long passage near the end that expresses this and it is so exquisitely written that it is worth including here at the end of the post.

My trouble took the strangest form. I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert,—to show first this bestial mark and then that. But I have confided my case to a strangely able man,—a man who had known Moreau, and seemed half to credit my story; a mental specialist,—and he has helped me mightily, though I do not expect that the terror of that island will ever altogether leave me. At most times it lies far in the back of my mind, a mere distant cloud, a memory, and a faint distrust; but there are times when the little cloud spreads until it obscures the whole sky. Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. I know this is an illusion; that these seeming men and women about me are indeed men and women,—men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct and the slaves of no fantastic Law,—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk. Yet I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone. For that reason I live near the broad free downland, and can escape thither when this shadow is over my soul; and very sweet is the empty downland then, under the wind-swept sky.

When I lived in London the horror was well-nigh insupportable. I could not get away from men: their voices came through windows; locked doors were flimsy safeguards. I would go out into the streets to fight with my delusion, and prowling women would mew after me; furtive, craving men glance jealously at me; weary, pale workers go coughing by me with tired eyes and eager paces, like wounded deer dripping blood; old people, bent and dull, pass murmuring to themselves; and, all unheeding, a ragged tail of gibing children. Then I would turn aside into some chapel,—and even there, such was my disturbance, it seemed that the preacher gibbered “Big Thinks,” even as the Ape-man had done; or into some library, and there the intent faces over the books seemed but patient creatures waiting for prey. Particularly nauseous were the blank, expressionless faces of people in trains and omnibuses; they seemed no more my fellow-creatures than dead bodies would be, so that I did not dare to travel unless I was assured of being alone. And even it seemed that I too was not a reasonable creature, but only an animal tormented with some strange disorder in its brain which sent it to wander alone, like a sheep stricken with gid.

(pp. 183 – 184)

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Symbolism in “The Lurking Fear” by H. P. Lovecraft

LurkingFear

This is a tale that is terrifying and disturbing on various levels. It has insanity, cannibalism, inbreeding, and psychological terror, all cast against a dire setting that includes a decrepit mansion in the Catskill Mountains. There is also some dark symbolism woven into the story that adds another level to the horror evoked by this piece. Rather than summarizing the story, though, I am just going to point out some of the symbolism.

Shadows appear frequently throughout this tale, and my interpretation is Jungian, that the shadows which the protagonist sees are the dark, shadow aspect of his own psyche.

As I shivered and brooded on the casting of that brain-blasting shadow, I knew that I had at last pried out one of earth’s supreme horrors—one of those nameless blights of outer voids whose faint daemon scratching we sometimes hear on the farthest rim of space, yet from which our own finite vision has given us merciful immunity. The shadow I had seen, I hardly dared to analyse or identify.

As I mentioned, inbreeding is a theme in this story. The inbreeding is symbolized by tree roots, particularly in the graveyard, where the roots connect the present to the dead ancestors.

The scene of my excavations would alone have been enough to unnerve any ordinary man. Baleful primal trees of unholy size, age, and grotesqueness leered above me like the pillars of some hellish Druidic temple; muffling the thunder, hushing the clawing wind, and admitting but little rain. Beyond the scarred trunks in the background, illumined by faint flashes of filtered lightning, rose the damp ivied stones of the deserted mansion, while somewhat nearer was the abandoned Dutch garden whose walks and beds were polluted by a white, fungous, foetid, over-nourished vegetation that never saw full daylight. And nearest of all was the graveyard, where deformed trees tossed insane branches as their roots displaced unhallowed slabs and sucked venom from what lay below. Now and then, beneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in the antediluvian forest darkness, I could trace the sinister outlines of some of those low mounds which characterized the lightning-pierced region.

The mansion also figures prominently in this story and is the scene of much of what occurs. The house represents psychological decay, where reason gives way to insanity, the result of inbreeding among the previous inhabitants of the house.

Meanwhile there grew up about the mansion and the mountain a body of diabolic legendry. The place was avoided with doubled assiduousness, and invested with every whispered myth tradition could supply. It remained unvisited till 1816, when the continued absence of lights was noticed by the squatters. At that time a party made investigations, finding the house deserted and partly in ruins.

There were no skeletons about, so that departure rather than death was inferred. The clan seemed to have left several years before, and improvised penthouses showed how numerous it had grown prior to its migration. Its cultural level had fallen very low, as proved by decaying furniture and scattered silverware which must have been long abandoned when its owners left. But though the dreaded Martenses were gone, the fear of the haunted house continued; and grew very acute when new and strange stories arose among the mountain decadents. There it stood; deserted, feared, and linked with the vengeful ghost of Jan Martense. There it still stood on the night I dug in Jan Martense’s grave.

Finally, there is a great scene where the protagonist discovers tunnels beneath a grave, into which he enters and crawls, in search of the daemon. This is symbolic of the protagonist entering into the subconscious mind, burrowing deep into his primordial psyche to the place of his most base animal instincts.

What language can describe the spectacle of a man lost in infinitely abysmal earth; pawing, twisting, wheezing; scrambling madly through sunken -convolutions of immemorial blackness without an idea of time, safety, direction, or definite object? There is something hideous in it, but that is what I did. I did it for so long that life faded to a far memory, and I became one with the moles and grubs of nighted depths. Indeed, it was only by accident that after interminable writhings I jarred my forgotten electric lamp alight, so that it shone eerily along the burrow of caked loam that stretched and curved ahead.

Lovecraft’s genius is that he was able to craft truly scary stories and weave in complex psychological symbolism. This is a great example of his literary prowess and definitely worthy of reading on a dark, October night.

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Why It’s Important to Read “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

GoSetWatchman

Before I started reading this book, I had heard the harsh criticism directed toward it. I decided not to let it stop me from reading the book and inquired of my Facebook friends if anyone had a copy I could borrow. My friend Amy came forth and said she had one which she had preordered and was still in the box. She said based upon what she heard, she could not bring herself to even open it. I told her I would let her know my thoughts and whether she should read it or not. After finishing, I say yes, read it. Here’s why.

First off, everyone needs to understand that this is not To Kill a Mockingbird, nor is it as good. Let’s be realistic—it would be quite a feat for any author to write two books of that caliber. But there is still an important message here that I feel is relevant to our current society.

OK, yes, Atticus Finch expresses racist ideas in this book. Now ask yourself: Why does that make you so angry and uncomfortable? While racism is repugnant and offensive, Atticus is a fictional character. So this visceral reaction that people have is something more than just a reaction to racism, and this gets to the heart of why reading this book is important. The negative response to this book, in my opinion, is because a person that we have come to idolize, albeit a fictional person, has failed to live up to our idealized expectations. This need that our culture has to expect our heroes and idols to be perfect is a real problem in our society. We place political leaders, sports stars, writers, artists, and so forth, all on pedestals and we want them to be perfect. One flaw, one aspect about them that does not agree with our image of how they should be, and we attack them viciously. It is a serious problem. With the election coming up, I hear people saying “I cannot support ________ because of his/her stance on _________.” It’s not a question of how good the candidate is, or whether that person would be the better leader; it is a question of whether that person meets ALL our expectations. If not, then they are not worthy in our eyes. Now it seems we have projected our expectations of perfection onto fictional characters as well. For me, there is something really wrong with this picture.

The irony here is that having our idols fall from grace is actually what this book is about. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) sees her father fall from the proverbial pedestal. For many of us, our parents are our first idols, those we look up to for guidance and wisdom. It is often devastating when we are forced to confront the fact that our parents, like all our idols, have their flaws.

It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge. “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

(p. 113)

Dealing with the disillusion that accompanies the realization that your idols (particularly parental ones) are not what you envision can have profound consequences, as evidenced by the plethora of patients seeking counseling for family issues. This is why it’s important to read this book, and face the fact that no one that we idolize can possibly meet our expectations. The expectations we set for other people by nature are not attainable.

I will close with another quote from this book which I thought was great.

Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

(pp. 270 – 271)

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“Into My Own” by Robert Frost

BanyanTree

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

I read this sonnet three times this morning, and each time I read it I liked it more. This poem works for me on so many levels, and the fact that it was the first poem in Frost’s first book (A Boy’s Will) makes it all the more impressive.

On the surface, we have a young man who longs to set out on his own and travel his own path in the world. The trees symbolize his present life, rooted as it were in the place where he lives. But he longs to venture into the woods, to get lost in the world beyond his present life. I could not help thinking about Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. This is the archetypal American feeling of freedom to lose oneself in the wilderness, to seek one’s true self in nature. It’s why we relate to Huckleberry Finn.

But I see another level of symbolism in this poem, something deeper, more spiritual and psychological. This poem serves as a metaphor for the inner search for one’s true spiritual self. On this level, the trees become symbols for our established beliefs, rooted deep in our consciousness, obscuring the deeper forests of the subconscious mind that lay beyond the threshold of the woods. The speaker now wants to delve deep into his soul and search for his essence. He knows innately that this inner self is his true nature, and that discovering that part of himself will not change him into something different, but will only unveil who he really is.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

The more I read Robert Frost, the more I appreciate his genius. This poem is a great example of how great a poet he was.

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