I’ve recently dived into Carl Jung’s “The Red Book,” which I can only describe as a work of madness or brilliance. Or maybe both. Part mythological, part mantic, part dream journal, and part ravings similar to Nietzche’s Zarathustra, “The Red Book” defies easy explanation.
Because of Jung’s writing in particular, “The Red Book,” I’ve been wrestling with my own mythological and internal journey, partly because of Jung’s writings, which allowed me to enter my unconscious in ways I have never fully explored. I’ve experimented with Buddhist Chod practice and Tibetan Buddhist visualization practices and mantras; I recently used magic mushrooms, and I’ve been experimenting with Active Imagination (I give more detailed instructions here on active imagination).
It’s been an interesting experience. It has somehow made me more introverted than ever. I don’t necessarily think that’s a great thing, because I do need people. But this feels like a very internal, exploratory part of my life, and I am just letting it take me where it must. I am now 41 and have a real sense that the first half of my life is over, the part that was active and seeking and always wanting more and more and more. The remnants of that consciousness are still with me. But a shift has started to happen.
This shift has come out in strange ways. Like Jung, I find myself drawing mandalas and Zen Enso circles constantly. Through my use of active imagination, I’ve started to write poetry again. Unlike my previous life as a poet in my 20s, my poetry now feels a bit more inscrutable. It comes images and feelings buried deep within. I’ve done my best to not judge or try and control what comes out of my psyche. Jung believed that what came up in the unconscious was not random, that meaning could be extracted from it, but that analyzing that meaning could be very difficult, as the archetypes and symbols of the collective unconscious are not known to most.
I find that as I dig deeper I am more in touch with what I can only call my soul, the deepest, quiet part of me, the intuitive sense I have about myself and the world. Most of us think of our egos as ourselves. The ego is that part of us that holds “I” together, the conscious self, the part of us where we think and feel. But as someone once told me, our thoughts and feelings are just our thoughts and feelings. We all take them so seriously. How can we not? It is an immediate, visceral experience to have them.
But there is more to us. It is the deep wells of the unconscious which I speak of. Sometimes you can see it in dreams. Sometimes you can have an intuitive sense or voice directing you. I find great wisdom in that voice. I ask much of it too. Sometimes in my deepest meditations, I will ask that inner voice, my soul, “what does thou want from me? What does thou need from me?” I mostly get silence when I ask these questions. That’s ok. It’s a way to prime myself for the coming days to know the signs about what I need for myself next.
So what does my soul need these days? Quiet. Music. The sound of raindrops. Reading. Conversation. A nice run most days. Writing. The smell of burnt almonds. My work. All my clients, who I adore. My wife. My brother. A few friends. Not much else. I have all these things now. I am truly happy and free in many ways I have never been. My life for however long I have left is to write, to create and serve as much as I can, and to notice it all, one moment at a time.