Call and Response—What’s up with The Red Book?

“Soul is made in the veil of the world”—Keats

Last Tuesday evening Andy and I attended a talk between Helen Hunt and James Hillman on The Red Book of Carl Jung at the Hammer Museum.  While the evening abounded in synchronicities too labyrinthine to extrapolate, Andy, who may be less prone to marinate in the verbiage of depth psychology while being arguably all the more “deep” for her willingness to pursue both direct experience of the world and to inhabit her life not only as a keen mind, but as a gardener, parent, film curator, friend and kindred spirit of animals amongst other Anima-like qualities, simply listened, chatted with the dear friend who had invited us, and then went to sleep where she dreamed the following:

Andy is “clearing out the house” of her best friend since kindergarten (a fact mirroring a true recent experience), trying to finish taping up boxes.  Then the “others” come, seemingly lead by a former boss—they are somewhat attractive, sensual group, yet she knew that it was a trap, that they were inauthentic and only pretending to like things she liked to lure her to where they were “upstairs.”  She then escaped through the bathroom window and started to run with two others.  They were either nine or eleven in the group including Andy, running down hill, which was good because it was easier to run, and also to move on “self-constructed vehicles,” which had no gas.  Finally their group made it to an Indian movie studio soundstage where the people were very welcoming and the group knew they were safe.  It was very colorful and fun, and they were dancing but the Indian teachers said that to finally shed the “others,” they had to “cross a border.”  The group then got onto a helicopter and flew to Arizona.

When I first read Hillman, long before I was remotely aware that I would end up as a psychologist, I had no idea on earth what he was saying—only I would go to sleep and have amazing dreams, clueing me that the work was reaching the me behind the me.

I was struck by Andy’s dream and asked her permission to share it in this blog because it struck me as a “big dream”—a pure response from her unconscious to the themes surrounding The Red Book as her spirit heard them, as her being resonated to this time and place.

My hope is that the dream might speak for itself, and reverberate through your psyche, and our collective as well.  Still, we must be true to ourselves, and I have not yet mastered the art of silence.

The house is a sort of Self, the “best friend” is a soul-sister.  Boxes is an attempt to contain the vast psychic contents of the self, and with tape, a child-like adhesive that our younger kids uses the way some people would use a paint and brush, or hammer and nails.  Thus the dream starts by showing the need to clear out the Self of old ideas (very Hillman) and yet we cannot do this alone—it’s too much and that’s part of the message.

The “others” are the parts of ourselves that we do not consciously recognize as self—the inauthentic or mask-wearing chameleon self who in this case seeks to lure Andy “upstairs” to the realm of intellect and thought.  Jung suggests that we must go down into the depths of the psyche, the underworld of murky, imagined and yet real figures to find out what the spirits want, to grapple with soul and bring it back into the world.

Andy escapes through the bathroom window.  The bathroom is where we get rid of what we don’t need from our bodies any longer, but also where we clean ourselves.  If the house is a self, it allows her to exit through its most humble of rooms.  Also, the Beatles’ song “She came in through the bathroom window,” finds its reverse here (The talk was on Tuesday, the song includes:  “Tuesday’s on the phone to me”).

The group running away from the “others” was either nine or eleven.  Either way it is an “odd” number, underscoring the importance of non-conformity while still being a group—belonging and individuality, the divine paradox of the opposites.  Also, 911 evokes a psychic turning-point in American consciousness where the “other” certainly seems to attack us, but might also be some sort of mirror of our own destructive, anti-materialistic, anti-grandiose tower-building selves.  Running “downhill” shows a movement in the opposite direction of the tower, toward the earth, the mother, the feminine—the very principle that is generally missing in a world grown too often vapid and soulless.  “Self-constructed vehicles” that “have no gas” suggests that the ego-artifacts we make have no more life-energy in them.

This forces the arrival at a more collective structure (from friend’s house to movie soundstage) where things really come to life with color and sound.  This shows the soul becoming alive in the world of dance, of the body and not just the mind.  Helen Hunt had spoken about the importance for her, as an actress, of being in her body, getting out of the chair and out of the head and risking being a fool in order to host characters, to transform and do the somewhat magical (soul-containing?) work of truly inspired acting.  Andy finds herself in a group, dancing in a Bollywood situation, filled with joy and self-expression, not of the individual, but of the group.  Here the unconscious takes the setting of Los Angeles and confabulates it with the “other” Hollywood in India.

On the personal level, it is significant that Andy programmed the UCLA Film Archive for nearly two decades, and that the Billy Wilder Theater, where the Hunt/Hillman event transpired, was her baby.  The green room where we met Hunt and Hillman after the talk was only there because she had suggested it during the design phase of the Theater.  Thus the “frame” of the evening was inextricably linked with her own career, path and a million interconnected threads.  I mention this because these threads reach out to form a common cloth between all of us—the task at hand is to gently awaken to this unity that does not destroy our individuality.  As a curator (and continuing in her work curating for the Getty) Andy was particularly involved in bringing world cinema to Los Angeles.  Thus each in our own way, we are finding our fuller Selves in our explorations of the world—awakening to the common island of the collective soul were we all meet.

Finally, the foreign (but not “other”) teachers of dance, of being alive in our bodies in the joy of the here and now, instruct that to shed “the other” (to divest of the very idea that anyone else is not truly us—an image evoking the snake, which sheds its skin, or outer self, in order to grow, the snake being a symbol of wisdom and the feminine as opposed to knowledge and the masculine) the group had to “cross a border” and “go to another state.”  This too might mean that in order to arrive at a higher level of consciousness, a different state of mind, one must leave where we have been.  Arizona, the nearest border (in dream, not logic, parlance) also suggests a desert, a place where one makes one’s exodus and is tested—a place where one receives higher consciousness.  To underscore this transition the helicopter seems to have gas, and takes them up in order to help them across the border.  Andy associated the fall of Saigon with the helicopter, which also affirms a failure of some sort of psychological policy of Western rationalism, inspired by the Indian mystical spirit of dance, yoga, spice, color, poverty and transcendence.

In closing, I share this dream of Andy’s because I think we are all dreaming pieces of the same dream, our need to recognize the familiar as other and the foreign as self, the need to be both spirit and matter, to dance, to examine what still has gas/life-spirit and what is dead.  As Hillman noted, Jung says that religion dies when it loses its wildness, thus we must dance and not just talk and write and think.  I also hope to inspire readers to take more stock of dreams, fantasies, imaginings and give them the attention and psychic energy that they deserve, and yearn for—they are harbingers of soul, and we are incomplete without soul, personally and collectively.  Inner and outer work are becoming one and the same and this, I believe, is the spirit of our time.  Individuation is the reconciling of the spirit of the soul with the spirit of the time—this is our big group project, us odd-yet-distinct-yet-belonging humans.

Are you guys having any big dreams lately?  Please do tell—as we’re all in it together, all trying to re-ensoul our world and love all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce & Andy


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4 Responses to “Call and Response—What’s up with The Red Book?”

  1. Amber Says:

    My husband is more of a dreamer than I am. My dreams are mostly fragments of various nightmares–children drowning, house broken into, children kidnapped.

    My sleep dreams may be a nuisance, but my life dreaming is quite liberating.

    I dream of a place in which women and men embrace their differences and encourage their unique characteristics. A place where religions can come together in commonality. I dream of a few other things but I am not prepared to share them.

    Thank you for this post, Bruce, I will be thinking about this all day.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Those nightmare fragments are significant—classic, but suggestive of a tough early time in your past (but I could well be wrong), and of a spirit of renewal roughly trying to connect you to your power (particularly the house broken into). At the same time that we heal our traumas, individual and collective, we also must connect to our power, and that often shows up at first as the “bad guy” in our dreams.

      The fact that your waking life is so good means you’re in synch with the world, and that’s fantastic—and I love your conscious dream of the world we would all be happier to live in.

      As for the “few other things,” if and when the time is right I’ll love to hear about them.

      Pleasant dreams in both worlds…

  2. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I don’t know what impresses me more: Andy’s ability to recall her dream or your ability to interpret it and connect it to the messages of The Red Book. (I have to admit I was hoping for the dream to end with a Bollywood dance number.) 🙂

    I don’t usually remember my dreams and find myself envious of Andy’s powerful recollections. I’ve always heard that getting into the habit of keeping a dream journal helps hone recall skills. I wonder if sharing dreams with one’s partner would serve the same purpose. I can see that as an interesting and entertaining part of our morning routine: me, sitting in a chair nursing the baby while telling Husband about the dream in which the only thing in the pantry was boxed macaroni and cheese. Him, nodding, reflecting, checking last night’s baseball scores on the Internet.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Yes, a dream journal, or a consistent willingness to ask and hear about dreams has a way of cueing the psyche that we are seriously interested in what’s going on there… and the more we honor dreams (telling, working with, drawing, etc.) the more steadily they flow into consciousness.

      Even the joke dream cannot help but hit on the themes that link us all—feelings of deprivation or melancholy (boxed comfort and sustenance) vs. feelings of disconnect or imagined disinterest (yet the baseball scores could be like oracular wisdom about what the collective is doing).

      Waking and dreaming—it’s a living poem. It’s taking an interest in it together that I find compelling—so thanks for sharing and showing up here today.

      Maybe you’ll dream that Mario Batali comes to make Mac & Cheese for your family and then gives you great seasons tickets to your favorite team, and then they win the World Series.

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