Notes from the Red Book ~ part two

Notes from the Red Book ~ part two ( for part one, see here: https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/notes-from-jungs-the-red-book-part-one/

A few mornings ago I woke from a vivid dream that felt significant and puzzling because it was about someone who died a full five years before I was even born: Carl Gustav Jung. In the dream I was asked to do daily visits to the man himself, to give him reflexology (I used to work as a reflexologist) during what was to be his last illness. The place where he was living was a big, old school that was no longer in use as a school for children and the sign at the entrance to the drive had been obscured by the growth of climbers so I didn’t see the name of the place. The sign was a heavy duty block of ornately carved stone but the plants had scrambled all over it, obscuring the lettering. I went into the study where he was sitting waiting for me and I wanted to refresh my memory of what I’d discovered on my first visit (I think this was my second visit) I’d been making lots of notes but when I looked at them, they were all written in the old high German script that was almost dying out when I was a teenager visiting Germany (the old folks still used it but otherwise it was gone from normal life) and the notebook also had some wonderful visionary paintings in it, all done in miniature. I realised I had written and drawn it all but could not make out much of my notes. I have some German but am far from fluent and reading it even in normal modern script is something I struggle with. The odd word popped out because it was in English, like *meridian*. I sat down and I could hear Jung speaking to me, but though it was in English, I didn’t seem to be able to understand, but even so, I gathered that day he didn’t want me to work on his feet but just to sit there and listen. He had such a kind, gentle but passionate voice that I became very still as I tried to understand what was being told to me. He was dressed in the kind of tweed suit that I’d more associate with Tolkien, but it had an unEnglish quality to it that is hard to explain.
I shared the gist of the dream on Facebook and I had some exceptionally perceptive feedback from wise friends, and I did some thinking. Last year I was given my copy of the readers’ edition of the Red Book and after reading a certain way into the text, I stopped. This was around the time when my concentration was becoming compromised and my memory and cognition had become very fuzzy.
So, given that the text and the pictures in the dream clearly were reminders of The Red Book (and also of my own little Grail diary that I have been writing and painting in) I decided to start reading again. My copy bristles with stick in post it notes, and I made notes as I went along. In the Liber Secundus (Second Book) I came across Jung’s conversation with a figure he calls The Red One (who may or may not be the devil) and was struck by Jung’s comment at the end of this passage:

“This I learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.”

I read on through the passage entitled The Castle in the Forest, where a strange storybook encounter takes place and where Jung debates the nature of fairy-tales and the relationship between outer adventures and inner adventures.
I’d like to transcribe some of the final section after the adventure of the castle has been recounted, because it resonated with me:

“If you remain within arbitrarily and artificially created boundaries, you will walk as between two high walls: you do not see the immensity of the world. But if you break down the walls that confine your view, and if the immensity and its endless uncertainty inspire you with fear, then the ancient sleeper awakens in you, whose messenger is the white bird (the soul). Then you need the message of the old tamer of chaos. There in the whirl of chaos dwells eternal wonder. Your world begins to become wonderful. Man belongs not to an ordered world, he also belongs in the wonder world of his soul. Consequently you must make your ordered world horrible, so that you are put off by being too much outside yourself.
Your soul is in great need, because drought weights in its world. If you look outside yourselves, you see the far-off forests and mountains, and above them your vision climbs to the realms of the stars. And if you look into yourselves, you will see on the other hand the nearby as far-off and infinite, since the world of the inner is as infinite as the world of the outer. Just as you become a part of the manifold essence of the inner world through your soul. The inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds. A fool lives here or there, but never here and there.”

In the last few months, I have seen a restoration of my inner world that had felt stripped bare and left flat and empty of all life. Dreams have begun to flow, hesitantly at times but Jung’s words remind me that figures who appear to me in dreams and in waking dreams of imagination are real and that they do not appear by simple chance. The continued and unsolved issues of health that have left me still in significant pain and weakness have curtailed my exploration of the exterior world; trips I had hoped to make have again been put on hold until the source of the weakness and pain has been located. Yet to be reminded that if my body becomes frail, I can still access the infinite and very real worlds of the inner, of what Jung calls the Mysterium, is a huge boost. I spent years exploring ways of accessing this realm for myself and the demands of the outer life meant that I used those methods less and less. But that knowledge and experience remain, a little dusty maybe, but still valid and still vital.
I’ll end with some more words that have popped off the page for me. My feeling of stagnation, of no progress have irked me and caused me much pain and frustration so reading these words may help you as they are helping me:

To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth. In the depths, being is not an unconditional persistence but an endlessly slow growth. You think you are standing still like swamp water, but slowly you flow into the sea that covers the earth’s greatest deeps, and is so vast that firm land seems only an island imbedded (sic) in the womb of an immeasurable sea.
As a drop in the ocean you take part in the current, ebb and flow. You swell slowly on the land and slowly sink back again in interminably slow breaths. You wander vast distances in blurred currents and wash up on strange shores, not knowing how you got there. You mount the billows of huge storms and are swept back into the depths. And you do not know how this happens to you. You had thought that your movement came from you and that it needed your decisions and efforts, so that you could get going and make progress. But with every conceivable effort you would never have achieved that movement and reached those areas to which the sea and the great wind of the world brought you.”

Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

As a birthday gift this year my husband gave me a copy of Jung’s The Red Book, a reader’s edition as the facsimile is very large and very expensive. I’m not especially visually orientated so the absence of pictures isn’t something that bothers me. (I do intend to get a copy of the complete book one day when I can justify to myself spending £150 on one book). I’ve long wanted to read this rather mysterious book, which was only made public in 2009, long after the death of Carl Gustav Jung in 1961. It’s hard to say what lured me most, the mystery or the possible clues to an inward journey. I’ve long held Jung to be something of a personal hero, for his work in realms few have dared to explore, and there is something that draws me to such work myself. Of course, his descent into the world of archetypes was backed by decades of study and thought, and mine is quite different. I’m no hero either. But I do believe that there is something that I must seek within my own unconscious, that it holds the key to my soul.

Anyway, I began reading and have decided to share some of it as I read. Things that resonate with me and things that have leapt off the page as being worth considering more closely. This first essay is prompted by a passage in the introduction:

In 1922, Jung wrote a paper on, “The relation of analytical psychology to poetic art works.” He differentiated two types of work: the first, which sprang entirely from the author’s intention and the second, which seized the author. Examples of such symbolic works were the second part of Goethe’s Faustus and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. He held that these works stemmed from the collective unconscious. In such instances, the creative process consisted in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image. The archetypes released in us a voice that was stronger than our own:

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthrals and overpowers…he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces than ever and anon have enabled humankind to find a refuse from every peril and to outlive the longest night.

The artist who produced such works educated the spirit of the age and compensated for the one-sidedness of the present.” ~ The Red Book, C.G.Jung (introduction by Sonu Shamdasani)

Among writers one of the most entertaining of the memes that appear is the apparent irreconcilable differences between the Plotter and the Pantser. A Plotter will have worked out the entire plot, have folders of character background information, of research, often even chapter plans before ever starting to write the story. A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go, and are often as surprised as the reader where a story ends up. I’ve seen a number of massive arguments going on in social media between proponents of both strategies, and have been baffled by them. There seems to be a sense of moral outrage that someone else uses a radically different strategy to produce a story.

Plotters claim that Pantsers are somehow lazy and disorganised, and are at the mercy of their own imaginations. Pantsers claim that Plotters take the joy out of storytelling, by being so meticulous and having so little spontaneity. It’s a conflict that’s unlikely to ever end.

I’m not going to come out entirely as either. I do write without much conscious planning, I admit this but I have begun to recognise that any book I have written was already mostly formed before I ever began to write it. A few have emerged fully formed, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and making me write at breakneck speed. The Bet is one such. But every work is in there somewhere, fermenting, roiling and boiling away in a process of alchemy that I cannot control but can only be scribe to. I know there are writers who get very annoyed about other writers who feel as if they are more like archaeologists uncovering a pre-existing text, translating it perhaps or merely cleaning off the dust of millennia. I have seen arguments presented that this attitude denigrates the hard work and effort involved in inventing and crafting a story from scratch. I have no answer to that. I am one who is seized by the work, and I cannot either change or deny that. I have no control over what emerges from the unconscious, either mine or a collective one. I’d like to believe that I write in a voice that is stronger than my own personal one, that I channel something larger and more mysterious than stories. But nor do I deny that those who meticulously plan their work may also be subject to such a seizing either. Just as each of us reacts differently to life because of our own unique psychological make up, so too do we react differently to the promptings of the unconscious.

In essence I consider myself open to being seized, to become an oracle for something that needs to speak through me. It’s not a comfortable place to be. The process of being seized is akin to ecstasy, of loss of self and of being subsumed by something greater than the simple self. When it is done, there is a sense of being a shell, or being abandoned. There is a need to be willing to go where it takes you, of letting go of the reins. I have studied literature, I have read widely and I know ingredients make for a good story, yet none of this is ever deployed consciously when the voice of the unconscious seizes control. There is also the forlorn feeling when it is over that one may never again experience such a thing or produce such a work alone.

There is also trepidation because while it can seize, there can be prolonged hiatuses where it withdraws seemingly in the very middle of dictating a story (so to speak) leaving you high and dry. I can only speculate about why this happens. There are forces at work that are beyond my own reckoning. One can get a way through a work and then have it falter, the words drying to a dribble, then to nothing. I’m still unsure what to do when this happens, whether to keep on by dint of determination and invention or whether to retreat, withdraw and allow the flow to resume when the time is right. If my ponderings are correct, then for me it is time to take stock, go into the cave and become still, become ready and wait for the seizing to return.