Red Book Diaries

Although I choose to discuss The Red Book by Jung, I want to start by saying that although I’m more than interested to examine my own personal unconscious, I’m wishing in this blog to be of service to the group, to the collective both unconscious and increasingly conscious—and hope to frame my efforts to commune with our ineffable group (fellow bloggers, the world at large) regarding The Red Book at least inspired by this intention.

First, the background in very brief terms (for more on the publication of The Red Book see Sara Corbett’s NY Times article, although Sonu Shamdasani, editor and translator of The Red Book, said in a talk at the Hammer Museum, that he thought Jung would be “apoplectic over it.”  While I would not speak for old C.G., the collective zeitgeist is what it is, and so that article is part of the picture):

Carl Jung was a successful psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who, in 1913 had a series of haunting and horrible visions, which he later realized were premonitions of World War I.  Daring to take the contents of his unconscious seriously, he entered into a long experiment of “active imagination,” in which he dialogued with whatever figures arose out of the depths of his unconscious process—taking notes on what everybody said, and later drawing and painting the figures.

He started out writing in black notebooks, but he later made it into more of a personal ritual by having a large blank book crafted in Zurich, bound in red leather, into which he later inscribed his epiphanies via calligraphy and art.  He worked and reworked this material over decades until quitting mid-effort, partly in response to reading a translation of a Taoist text and realizing all he hoped to say had been said, and so he turned to building a house out of stones on a lakeside a never-ending task in which he worked symbols of the psyche into a round tower and other shamanic bits of likely magic.

While The Red Book is certainly a deeply personal scrapbook of one human being’s creative struggle for soul, Jung was not only exploring his own psyche in a quest for needed redemption in the wilds of the Self and not in the dead channels of spent religions (although he did do this), he was also seeking information and wisdom on how his own experiences might relate to the universal themes of individuation—and even more importantly to the collective unconscious.

Jung is very clear that no one should “follow” him.  Despite the fact that The Red Book sits at present in a case in a Los Angeles art museum, it would be a mistake to project too much of one’s own soul into it.  As a symbol, perhaps it is a key that opens something, but I see it more like a bloody whale washed up on the shores of the collective, out of the depths but unwieldy to deconstruct and make sense of—it may still glow with the spirit in which it was made, but it is no more alive than are the white gloves of the guards at the museum, and it is no less alive.  Alive is you the living reader of these words—just how alive is the challenge of our time.

In plain(er) speak, Jung was concerned with the “realness” of the seemingly irrational world of the depths, willing to question whether we humans make up myths and gods and symbols and spirits… or whether it is those forces that actually make us up—which animate our human existence.

Thus, ultimately the task of individuation is to reconcile the spirit of the depths with the spirit of the time—to go deep within our own Selves, to wrestle with our own monsters, to find our own guides and to meet our own soul-Selves… and to, hopefully, make it back alive and harmonize all that with what we might still conventionally call “the real world.”  To live in a soulful way and still deal well with the real world (often soulless, but not always) is, perhaps, the great challenge of an individual life.  To see that we are in a group process and help the group reconcile its soul with the spirit of its time… now were really talking.

But what can I say about all that?  Probably more than I can say about the “real world” which I can comment on all I want, but which is generally a pool in which I can barely dare to swim, dog-paddling in terror in the cacophonous, husky, brawling “deep end” of banks, corporations and movie studios.  In the world of soul, however, I’m a jellyfish in the “deep end,” comfortable in the irrational world where insects commune with me and chairs are clearly alive in their own ways—in the pragmatic spirit of the time, however, at least so far, not so much.

And this is precisely what excites me about blogging.  Here I communicate from my end of things, and seek to bridge more widely with those who navigate the “real” world far better than I, but for whom the murky meanings of dreams, the demons that scream down our arms and race through our veins even though we try to shush them with meds and money, digging madly for treasure to keep the endorphins pumping as a hedge against annihilation, for those learning to surf the luminous dream that we all co-dream, some with eyes open—I am seeking to give comfort, solace and company as we make our way to the soul-gathering middle.

My hope is that you might trust that I’m sincerely trying to get past myself and get to YOU, to US with these message in a bottle words.  But what can I say, really?  Stuck but wanting to contribute, I headed off to yoga with this as my sincere question.

And near the end of class, someone happened by the door outside and loudly asked of someone else in the hallway, “Is this a house or an office?”  While it is a mixed use space, housing yoga, pilates, Chinese medicine and also carries its own particular spirit, the answer to that question is probably Mu; I said, without thinking, to the woman next to me, “It’s a temple,” by which I meant that it’s a place where one hopes to invite the sacred and connect with it.

As I thought on how this stranger’s question beyond the door, “house or office?” related to my question about The Red Book I intuited that we can equally ask, and answer, similarly (Mu, it’s all a temple) about Life, Consciousness, Existence, Parenting, Love—our pulsing World as it is, seen and unseen, obvious and mysterious, joyful and heart-breaking, bone-breaking, life-ending and life giving.

Driving home I noticed a very pregnant woman standing just behind a low fence—on her way in?  On her way out?  Crossing a boundary and a living symbol of our ultimate capacity for symbol-making.  Our children are symbols that grow up to make symbols.  Whether we are animated by God, Nature, Chaos, Tao, Consciousness, none-of-the-above, all-of-the-above, or that’s-for-Truth-to-know-and-us-to-find-out (or not), I posit that some eternal, soulful and magical something is going on right now (which doesn’t mean that this is anything new, that it isn’t always going on, having always gone on) and that I am compelled by forces that are my real, wider, Self to use these symbol words to reach out and assert that the world of the depths can be equally found and animated in the spirit of our time—BUT ONLY IF WE KNOW THAT WE ARE ONE.

It’s not that we must do anything different.  I’ll write my writings, you’ll write yours, or cook or run a business; we’ll try to parent our world—but maybe not try to “fix” it so much as align with it, inner and outer, so that we might more fully and consciously come to life—to please and appease the spirits that dwell amongst us anyway whether we see them or not, and to get beyond manic-mergers and heartless-abandonment in favor of a subtle shift in consciousness that cracks the egg of how things have seemed to have been.

Even though this is esoteric, I am choosing to trust that the spirit in which, and from which, I write and love, is recognized by your soul-Self, just as I recognize your soul-Self at levels below my limited human consciousness.

This is why, I suppose, I keep saying that we do what we do in the service of all our collective children:  they are perhaps the penultimate symbol of all our collective soul because we love them so much, love them more than we love our slivery selves—living symbol of the soul we must birth back into the world and, at the same time, the soul that births, animates, teaches and loves our own very Selves (individual and collective), perhaps more than our conscious beings can ever know.  Even if we cannot understand the great and terrible mystery that is this lucid dream, we can love it and its dreamer, that soul of the world—for it is in loving, above all else, that we find our courage, our transcendence and our collective unity without sacrificing our unique individuality.

Namaste, Bruce


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2 Responses to “Red Book Diaries”

  1. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    “[W]e’ll try to parent our world—but maybe not try to ‘fix’ it so much as align with it, inner and outer, so that we might more fully and consciously come to life.”

    This idea reminded me strikingly of a talk I once heard about the concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”). The rabbi who was speaking argued that the only way we might repair the world is to treat it as if it were a living extension of our own spirit. Do nothing to the world and its inhabitants that you would not do to your own body or own spirit. All fine and well, I suppose, but the idea made me stop to think about the ways I disrespect my own “temple.” And so, perhaps counter-intuitively, thinking about fixing the world by fixing myself made me want to fix myself more than fix the world. But maybe, if we are all Atman and Brahman at once, respecting our own temple is simply respecting the greater temple.

    And now I fear I’ve made a mishmosh of your thoughtful essay with my mixed religious metaphors. But please know that your thoughts resonate with me (and make me want to find my dog-eared college copy of Jung…).

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      No mishmosh, perfect in fact. One of my favorite myths is a Jewish creation myth in which God must absent itself from some part of the uncreated universe in order to create the manifest world. God creates a vessel into which to pour the universe, but it cannot hold it all and shatters. The world we live in is thus the shattered and torn universe. Tikkun Olam’s world repair thus means each soul gathering the divine sparks of the shattered Humpty Dumpty of a universe in the collective effort of cosmic repair.

      Every religion, every thought, every extension of our COLLECTIVE spirit may be a task perfectly constructed to draw us all together toward our true, both uniquely voiced and lived, but also shared and co-recognized SELF.

      Shalom, Namaste, Ubuntu

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