(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)
An imaginative experience happened inside of me this afternoon while I prepared myself a cheese sandwich for lunch. I wished I’d eaten earlier. It was two o’clock, and I’d spent more minutes than I was willing to count at my desk unable to imagine or think. I was in the kitchen, preparing the sandwich, glancing at the Olympic Mountains in the distance, when the thought came to me: there’s a better way to prepare for the conversation tomorrow that you don’t want to have. Imagine her. Before my thinking could interfere with the creative process, I found myself picturing her in the coffee shop where three of us will meet at noon to talk about a problem we’re trying to solve together. She was sad in my imagination, not angry or frustrated with me. I knew that this image of her, sipping coffee, spoke the truth. She didn’t want to criticize me.
The image seemed to speak emotional truth. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possible that my recurring thoughts warning me of an uncomfortable conversation will be right. Yet the reading I’ve done today suggests I should listen to my imagination.
I have discovered or rediscovered the psychological thinker James Hillman, whose writings remind me that my mind is an imaginative place. Hillman was born in 1926 and died in 2011. In the late 1990s I read The Soul’s Code for a course in the master’s degree in psychology I was completing. For reasons that I don’t wish to try to imagine now, I didn’t remember much of the book after reading it. I remember thinking that I enjoyed it. Two images of me twenty years ago come to mind. In the first, I’m reading Hillman’s book. In the second, I throw it into the water. The second image is full of energy.
A reading journal has finally become a reality in my life. The notes I’ve been taking on Hillman’s writings have helped me return to Carl Jung’s Collected Works, which have been with me on my shelves for more years than I wish to count. I’m sad. Perhaps I’ll imagine my sadness. First I must walk to the kitchen to prepare myself a coffee.
The following nine words might change what happens next in my mind: I don’t know what I want to write about. Then a voice belonging to an image I can’t see yet speaks: Words aren’t enough to bring me back. I imagine this something disappearing behind a door that closes as I realize that I’m having a creative experience.
My inner vision becomes clearer. The image is of a human being, a writer like me, who needs time alone on the other side of the door, in his imagination.
An email appears in my inbox. The phone rings. I’m needed in the world outside of my mind. I glance at the time on my laptop screen. Whatever is happening on the other side of the door, in the world of my imagination, will have to wait.
The nine words repeat themselves. An image of a large room, with a stone floor and stone walls, appears. It’s as if emails, phones, deadlines, jobs, don’t exist. I’m standing barefoot on the cold stone floor. I’m on the other side. I know what I’m writing about: this.
Anxiety everywhere, in my body, in my head, says: not this. That. That pays the bills. This is fantasy. I’m about to respond to the email or phone the person whose call I missed or attempt to do both at the same time, when the inner voice that said words aren’t enough to bring me back speaks anew: the heart is the language of truth. Words become words after the heart speaks them.
The image speaks to me as if it were part of my waking life. I’m trying to translate it into words in my journal. A woman who knows me quite well awaits me in a forest. I’m within a few feet of her when I wake up.
I’m preparing my morning coffee when I see the woman’s face again. A bridge appears, and I imagine it connecting my current state of mind with the world of fantasy, where dreams live.
My coffee cup is empty within ten minutes. I haven’t left the kitchen. I can’t remember the last time I drank my morning coffee without a book in my hands. The caffeine should start waking me up soon. I feel as if I’m in a dark tunnel, and I’m uneasy because I can’t see the end of it.
I’ve returned to my desk. I’m writing more words in my journal. The image of my psychoanalyst in the forest returns. She appears different in the woods than she does in her consulting room, although what she’s wearing I’ve seen many times. She looks as if she belongs there. What are we going to do together in the middle of nowhere?
Why couldn’t the dream have continued? I woke up too soon. These words in my mind are interrupted by another voice, as if someone else were also in my head. “The dream hasn’t ended yet. You two encounter each other in the forest. Let the dream continue. Imagine what might happen next.”
Such things don’t happen in reality as I experience it in my daily life in the presence of others. No one knows we are coming. Maybe a person isn’t what I‘m imagining. We are ninety miles from the city. The only noise I hear is the river in the distance. If I start running now, I’ll see it within a couple of minutes. The image of my body in motion returns me to reality, to the painfulness and sadness of the present. I am imagining standing before the entrance gate to an acre or so of property that felt as if it would always be mine when I was a child. That was decades ago. Today my mother has Parkinson’s Disease and will never move on her feet again without the help of a walker. My father would not know where we were if the three of us were suddenly to find ourselves standing before the gate leading to memories that I realize now, as I near the end of this sentence, I’m fortunate enough to still have. I’m here at my desk, writing in my journal, and I ask the invisible presences that inhabit what I call reality: what is the meaning of all of this?
My own book is in my hands. I feel it. It exists. Then I let go of it. It falls to the ground. There’s broken glass on the sidewalk. What’s worse is that I don’t remember the contents between the covers. It’s as if I wrote a book while I was asleep. I picture myself screaming in a forest. I’m so certain that I’m alone that it doesn’t occur to me that someone might hear me. The hardcover remains on the dirty sidewalk. Dirty doesn’t seem to belong in the previous sentence. Would I feel comfortable on a city sidewalk that was spotless? I’m afraid of what’s inside of me. I know that my head and my heart aren’t spotless. My own book is a journal in which I write about both my inner and outer lives. I lean down to pick up the journal. I prefer hardcover journals. The journal doesn’t have to return to my hands. Maybe it’s time to start writing in another. Perhaps I’m afraid to finish filling this one with what might be fictional journal entries. Am I allowing my own creative work to fall to the ground? The reality that I’m writing with both my heart and my head might be overwhelming me. I’m screaming in a forest. My readers can hear me. My unfinished book of journal writing is back in my hands. That’s the last time it will fall to the ground. I feel anxiety in the last sentence. My sentences are alive, which my imagination tells me is a good thing. Hopefully, I am also alive while I write what I realize is the final sentence.
Last night I thought I heard the speaker say: everything originates in the mind. A moment ago, I was about to say exists instead of originates, and then I changed my mind. She gave a talk on knowledge and the unconscious. I wasn’t going to go. I changed my mind at the last minute. I’ve said “changed my mind” twice in the last few sentences, haven’t I? Listening to myself as I speak here on the couch still feels new to me, although I’ve been attempting to say whatever comes to mind three times a week for two years. Perhaps I chose originates instead of exists because I’m searching for truth in my mind. I’m frustrated with myself and maybe also with you. I’m trying too hard to think. Something doesn’t feel right inside, as if I don’t trust what I’m about to say. I’m afraid of how you might react, although I know you’re not listening to me in a judgmental way. Speaking like this makes me anxious. I’m not in control. The words are. My mind is where everything originates and exists. This is hard work.
“Can I trust you?” It was as if this person from my past was asking me this question in the present. I wasn’t thinking. I was remembering a moment from over twenty years ago, wasn’t I? I knew the moment had happened in reality. Or did I? I didn’t know what time it was. It didn’t matter how many times I glanced at the clock on the windowsill just beyond the couch. Ten or twenty seconds later I would forget when the session had started and when it would end. Disorientation became my state of mind during some sessions. The memory image of this former friend asking me whether or not he could trust me felt so real and immediate that for a moment I forgot what year it was. Then I remembered that he wasn’t the only one smoking in the image. We were at work. It was sometime between 1995 and 1998. Did that matter? I stopped smoking in 1996. So he asked me this question in 1995. Silence was the only voice I could hear in the room. Should I glance at the clock again? He wanted me to do something for him. I probably didn’t understand his question. I imagined now that he had wanted to know what I would be willing to do to help him when he needed it. These sentences remained in my head. I imagined sitting up on the couch and turning around to see if my psychoanalyst appeared impatient with me. I glanced at the clock again. A few minutes remained. Our friendship ended several years later. Neither of us trusted the other. I was speaking now. I wondered aloud whether or not I was asking myself if I could trust my psychoanalyst. She waited in silence for me to say more.