Can this be my mind right now? Seconds stop. Time travels. I’m frustrated with person X, and with Y and Z. I’m uncertain whether or not I want to attend an upcoming lecture on myth sponsored by the local Jung society. Everything feels uncertain. The experience might be calmer if I were meditating. My decades of life on this planet feel as if time has decided that they’re unnecessary for future thought. I feel paralyzed, as if bodily and mental movements were no longer possible. I’m stuck in a dark tunnel. What if I never experience another beginning in the light of day?
The anxiety I feel in my body tells me that all of these mind movements are real. My imagination is real. I imagine myself as a fisherman of mysteries deep inside of me, most of which will probably never see the light of consciousness. I fish in my imagination because my pen keeps moving across the page, because of the images, feelings, and thoughts that never stop reminding me that I’m alive.
Fishing for the unknown within me becomes a moral activity. I feel as if I’m searching for the unborn inside of myself (or maybe it’s searching for me), whose birth must happen in consciousness.
The dark tunnel is behind me. There will always be anxiety in my future. Yet I’m experiencing another beginning, in the light of day.
(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.
I must arrive at the bookstore before it closes. It feels like a matter of life and death. I don’t realize it’s raining until I’m on the sidewalk. There’s no time to take the elevator or run up four flights of stairs to grab an umbrella.
Somehow I know that the book I’m running to NonStop Books to buy has yet to be finished. I’m writing it. I imagine the bookseller with whom I spoke on the phone before I walked out the door without an umbrella. She said she was in a hurry, that she had much to read and write before I arrived in the rain. After speaking with me, she sits down and starts reading a book open on the table before her. She falls asleep. Somehow, I know that she does her most creative work while she’s asleep.
I run in the rain. I dream in it. The question of what I’m seeking seems lost in the rush. Then I realize I’m still, except in my dream.
I woke up this morning feeling closer to death than I did last night.
Out of all the sentences I have ever written, the one above seems the most alive.
A glance at my bookshelves confirms that this room hasn’t changed since I went to bed last night. All of the books, softcovers and hardcovers, will be here after my final breath.
“How many more years will we have together?” I ask the books aloud.
An inner voice responds: “I’m right here in front of you! Focus on me!” My eyes return to the desk, to my dream journal. I don’t have to open it to know that last night’s dream has been recorded inside.
When did I write it down? None of the dream’s images come to mind. Moments later, with a new sentence, they do.
A plant is on fire in front of me. Maybe it’s a single leaf. Fear makes my own motion an image for another dream. Motionless, I marvel at the growing flames.
There’s no caffeine in my system yet, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive. The following sentence comes to me as if it were a figure emerging from the darkness: My future is in the fire.
Two out-of-print books from 1972 have found their way into my hands today. One was in my mailbox, which I couldn’t remember ordering. The other seemed to be waiting for me in the psychology section of a bookstore that recently I dreamed had closed. I surprised myself by entering the store this afternoon. My watch told me I didn’t have time to stand before the shelves while a book might decide to speak to me. These sentences have also surprised me. My imagination hasn’t presented me with two different out-of-print books. They are two copies of the same book. “What do you want with me?” I imagine asking the two copies of this softcover, first published forty-six years ago, one wrapped in paper in my mailbox, the other on a shelf before me, neither of which appears to have been read. In my imagination I can see through paper, at the book which I somehow know was signed by the author. All that’s missing is the title. And the author’s name. I hadn’t realized until the previous sentence that I didn’t know who wrote the book. Two mysteries in one book, of which my imagination has given me two copies. Mysteries surround me: 1972, out-of-print books that look as if they’ve never been read, a book I can’t remember ordering appearing in my mailbox, books speaking to me from shelves. I remind myself that all of this has happened in my imagination. In reality, today has just begun. This paragraph has been written while I’ve enjoyed my morning mug of coffee.
I am in three or four places at once in my imagination. A Jungian pastor (pastor comes to mind seconds before psychotherapist) speaks about synchronicity to passengers at Sea-Tac Airport waiting to board a plane. I’m one of the passengers. I’m also a few miles from the heart of downtown Seattle at my favorite imaginary bookstore, NonStop Books, drawing squares, circles, and rectangles on a notepad as I count the minutes until the speaker should begin a talk on his encounter with a famous psychologist in an airport bar. As he remembers their conversation, they spoke about discovering images of God in the unconscious. A few blocks from this imaginary bookstore, a psychotherapist prepares to leave her fourth floor office and start a much needed vacation. She’s in a hurry. Her flight is scheduled to depart in three hours. Maybe vacation isn’t the right word to describe the experience of participating in a spiritual writing workshop. I am her final client of the day, and I pause before closing her office door behind me. Words don’t seem enough to express what has been happening in my imagination while I’ve been writing this paragraph. Perhaps I must spend more time with my feet on the ground before flying away.
Seven minutes remain before the images disappear forever. I glance at my watch and start writing. Don’t listen to yourself. My left hand, with which I’m holding the pen, slows its movement across the page. I picture the word no, which becomes on, and the thought comes to me: I would prefer to be on rather than off. I write faster. How long will it take me to translate all seven images into words? I hadn’t realized before writing the previous sentence that there were seven images. I must move them from my mind onto the page. No, I write. The images will appear on the page on their own. My job is to write words that come to me. But the words don’t seem to be waiting for me. They’re waiting for the images.
As I enter an elevator, a stack of books appear in my hands, which are both familiar and unfamiliar to me. “ What are all of these books doing in my hands?” I ask the empty space around me. From inside of myself I hear: “They are part of your reading future.” The elevator starts moving upwards. For a moment my attention returns to everyday thoughts. The stack of books in my hands weighs more than I wish to admit to myself. “Hurry up!” I say aloud, as if the elevator were a person and could hear my words. The elevator stops moving. The door opens. I feel as if I have arrived at my home for the first time. The following words appear in my mind as I step out of the elevator: “Welcome to the Home of Images.”