The “Red Book”. A feverishly-written, obtuse and deeply personal set of journal entries documenting one man’s descent into the bowels of his subconscious. For nearly a century, this remarkable story has remained a closely-guarded secret, despite it having given birth to one of the most significant psychotherapy methods in history.
That man, in case you were wondering, was Carl Gustav Jung; the Red Book is a documentation of the psychiatrist’s “creative madness” in 1913– during which he experienced vivid hallucinations and underwent a radical transformation as he grappled with his own inner world, emerging finally with the seeds of radical new theories of mythology, collective consciousness, dream interpretation and the imagination.
This text– along with Jung’s bizarrely vivid and intricate drawings– will be made available to the public this October, in what is sure to be a strange and unusual journey for readers.
“The text is dense, often poetic, always strange,” writes a wonderful New York Times article on the story. But there is no doubt– “Once it’s published, there will be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ of Jungian scholarship.”
Once again I am impressed by the courage this must have taken to complete– much less publish nearly 100 years later. Can’t wait!
Much has been made of our universe’s seeming repetition of form, of nature’s unerring patterns splayed out in galaxies and electron orbits; wherever we look, we find clues written in the same language. Infinite and infintesimal seem not such polar opposites when one encounters the glow of nebulae within a cell, the roots of trees echoed in your iris. What does it mean, that these designs scale so endlessly?
On a warm summer night in upstate New York, the crackling lights of fireflies floated like lanterns in the darkness; I remember being astonished by the amount of activity they generated, the constancy of their flashing, their sheer ludicrous numbers. Several were flickering overhead, but as they began to flash and group in more geometric patterns I realized that they weren’t fireflies at all– they were a plane.
Without a sense of scale, fireflies and airplanes become the same symbol, the same candles in an unending night: are we really so different from them? Are our lights, or theirs, anything more than signals thrown against the unknowable?
Violins are spiraling darkly from a corner of the room. It is late July and the smell of summertime is so thick in our senses that the cold seems a forgotten relative, or maybe the “sponsored child” in some third-world country; one whose face you’ve seen and whose letters you’ve received but whose life recedes to the edge of your awareness until it’s time to send a new check. Months go by, more checks are sent, and the winter crawls past on shaggy bear-limbs until we decide we can’t keep ignoring it.
Here, though, heat settles like a sponge on my neck: I am in a sidewalk cafe in the East Village or maybe Prague, reminded of place by scent of cedar coffee, the sharp bite of orange peels. A notebook is suddenly no home for this feeling boiling inside of me, this unending need to bring some creation, some newness, to the world. All of us are living the embodiment of our thoughts, piled up like a dusty catalogue of desires and hope; even as you read this, we are going through the motions of an existence, sometimes oblivious to the reality we’re creating.
Today, notice what goes unnoticed.
Notice the reflections in your spoon. Notice the exact sound your feet make on your bedroom floor. Try to hear every nuance of a dripping faucet. Find a color that exactly represents the word “movement”. Unfocus your eyes and feel just how much air there is between you and the objects around you; all moving, pulsating, yet totally invisible to our eyes.
Or think of larger ideas, even if the answers are impossible. How many children are speaking their first word right now? How many paintings were created today? Why are we speaking English? How many electromagnetic signals are crisscrossing your body right now?
Our world has been accelerated to such an incomprehensible blur that these gestures may seem meaningless or even boring. But I’m convinced that attention is everything. By really paying attention to those aspects of your daily life that were once ignored, you’re training your brain to create finer distinctions, sharpening your senses and invigorating what is otherwise a monotonous series of events (otherwise, you would have remembered them vividly… right?).
This is the first in a series of thoughts on education reform and the future of learning. Consider this an “overview” post.
Part One: Education Is Fatal
I have long felt that one’s childhood and their education play off of each other--they are never felt or experienced in equal amounts. Our notions of what constitutes “childhood” vary tremendously due to this exact problem. Some might say that childhood constitues being “seen and not heard”, absorbing lessons, biding time until one has developed fully; others insist that childhood is the most free we’ll ever be and our one moment of true innocence. Still others argue that children are merely young adults, capable of almost all (or at least most) of the same thought processes, rationalizations, and ideas.
We can’t settle this by trying to find the “most correct” perspective. Nor can we limit our options and say that it simply doesn’t matter. Not to be dramatic, but understanding how we develop is critical to changing our world. We have managed to create truly staggering societies based on our systems of education, but in a great many ways we have completely missed the point. And these omissions are coming back to haunt us.
I have fallen in love, once again, with the open road.
Humanity and nature entwine so deeply in the making of a road: each side, initially struck by the shock of Change, gradually comes to understand and preserve their new boundaries, learning to live together, becoming conscious and not merely outraged at Other. The road becomes, like the trees or the mountains around it, another mark of time, another indicator of an era, another geologic record to be someday excavated by an unknowable future. It becomes the Zen mind, seeking nothing, attached to nothing, yet profoundly aware of each moment brought before it. Cars of a hundred styles and colors flash across its surface; seasons advance, conquer, retreat along its twists and turns. And yet it remains utterly present, indifferent but not uncaring to the world that rises and falls around it.
So, too, do the massive trees I find dancing lazily in the heat. All of them have stood rooted to a single piece of earth for longer than I have lived; most have witnessed more, perhaps, than this road, stretching like hanging hands across a world that has no doubt completely transformed before them…
It is striking for me to imagine that one of these trees is likely my age exactly: that for twenty years, as I have seen and talked and written and walked, this tree (wherever it may be) has remained perfectly in place, its entire journey upwards, its life utterly devoted to a single, unreachable sliver of the sky. The same sun has shone on each of us for those same twenty years; the same energy ultimately pulsates within us. I find myself wondering if perhaps I could have become a tree instead, had I merely learned to drink sunlight; had I merely stayed still long enough. In that kind of life there would be no time, no place, for judgment or reflection--in that life one is a witness, ascending towards the infinite, an inch at a time.
One of the ideas I find truly fascinating is the sheer range of experience we each represent; the lives we have led and the wonders--some colossal, some microscopic--that we have seen. Just one person’s life story--replete with the spark of every synapse, the nuance of color, the texture of sound--is so vast, forming such a complete and compelling universe, that it is literally beyond our grasp. We can pass these details on only in tiny fragments, unable to express their interconnectedness or the whole from which they came.
One of the most common barriers to really “waking up” seems to be the propensity to avoid, isolate, and hold back when confronted with things that upset us. We seem pretty capable of holding onto cherished memories, but when it comes to something really ugly, we can’t run away fast enough. Why is that?
As I write this, I am (quite surprisingly) upset. I am stressed and confused in a way I don’t often feel anymore, having spent a lot of time learning ways of transmuting and altering emotional charges. As a result, I’m known for my emotional “even keel” and readiness to accept most anything that happens. But the fact remains: right now, I am upset. And it isn’t going away as easily as it should. This makes it a perfect time to taste my own medicine and try and impart some knowledge to others who might be reading this while angry, despairing, depressed or just plain scared.
The most satiating advice I can offer you, in this moment, and the advice I’m taking right now as well, is best expressed in two words.
I’m going to reveal something that might radically change your life.
It may be simple, but it’s absurdly significant. Once I discovered it, I was forced -- literally forced! -- to re-examine everything I did. More to the point, it’s what distinguishes those who do from those who wish. It’s a momentum-booster and boredom cure all in one. And it’ll take less than ten minutes. You can use it a thousand times a day, if you like-- the more you do, the more effective it (and you) will become.