Today I finished with “The Red Book” by Carl Jung. It is impossible to explain fully its impact on me. Very few books I’ve read have entered into the dark crevices of the soul, the places I– and maybe all of us– are terrified to enter. In the darkness are our demons. We think our demons are outside of us. We see our demons in other people in all the ways we dislike and judge. But the demons of course are just us, the parts of ourselves we want to reject. We can all be so petty and small and weak and ugly. In the dark reaches of my psyche, I am all those things. My shadow is just as dark as yours.
I am not what you would call a “good person” whatever that means. My shadow emerges all the time. My attachments are often broken, anxious and avoidant. My parents did the best they could, and I am the result of that, mostly secure in myself. But the damage is still there. Perhaps the damage is unavoidable. To be alive means to suffer. And I suffer daily. I can be vain and petty. I can be narcissistic and angry. I can be envious of what I don’t have. I can want more and more material goods. But somehow this is ok. I am both my darkness and my light all at once. It could be no other way.
I read this morning, “Idealism is an act of violence.” My idealism about myself has definitely been violent throughout my life. For so long, I called myself a “romantic.” In many ways I still am. I have strived for such a higher sense of beauty and love and hope and all those good, big feelings. But I can’t help but feel that those are a young man’s feelings. My idealism has to die to move forward. This means my old self has to die to reemerge as something new. This includes not just everyday life, but things like politics. Marx informed my beliefs for so long. But all beliefs are lacking in some way. All beliefs are built on some form of idealism. Marxism is in some ways the most idealistic of visions, and it is also why it is flawed in human form.
So in my life, I am learning to let go of my idealism and just be. That is more difficult than it seems. The ego is a strong thing. Its voice is much louder than most of us realize. It is constantly chattering. It constantly wants more. It is rarely satisfied, a hungry ghost who wants to consume constantly. The world around us makes little room for voices other than our egos. We are drowned out by the flood of always more. More productive, more everything. Very few people say less. I am trying to say less.
I realize this post is a bit discursive. “The Red Book” has brought it out of me. Very few works of art make room for a religion based on one’s personal, felt experience of the divine. So much of modern religion is about laws and precepts. “The Red Book” is not that. It is a deeply personal work, one that wrestles with the questions of life in poetic, mythical language. It’s hard to rank, but it feels like one of the 4 or 5 most important books I’ve ever read. It is something that has changed me irrevocably