Awake in a Coffee Shop

Multiple images come to mind at once. The elderly woman in front of me in line at the coffee shop can’t be whom I think she is. She turns her head to one side, and the following words seem to take control of my body: It’s Helen! The years count themselves: our six and a half years of Jungian psychotherapy ended seventeen years ago this month, a few days before I moved from Seattle to Madrid. Seven years later I returned to her office twice, the first time to say hello, and the second time I’m unsure why since I was still living in Madrid and not consciously interested in more psychotherapy. These sentences feel as if they might become part of the beginning of a narrative.

The coffee shop where this imaginary encounter occurs is four blocks from where I’m seated, in my office at home. Helen is around the same age as my parents. I forget how I know that. She helped me to begin changing my life in my late twenties and early thirties. Around a year ago I discovered online that she has retired. It is hard for me to picture her outside of her office. To me she was her work. Why am I afraid to finish my own sentence? Her healing work. She helped me start the lifelong process of healing myself.

Things could have ended better between us. When I moved to Madrid with Javier at age 34, I had only recently started listening to my intuition. Dreams suggested that our work had continued for too long.

Present, past, and future feel as if they’re speaking to me at once in these images and memories. I don’t frequent coffee shops anymore. The one where I imagine encountering Helen has always felt welcoming to me. Maybe my imagination has become a more welcoming place for my own inner experiences. Helen also helped me to discover my own imagination. I had never recorded my dreams before. This sort of writing could only have happened in my dreams. Now I can write like this awake.

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In Ancient Athens

The two psychological writers wanted me to dream with them. I reread the three or four sentences of the email several times. They were difficult to understand, as if these two accomplished psychologists and authors wrote the mail both together and separately. In one sentence I read: “Imagine that you are in ancient Athens.” Another was one word shorter: “We’ll dream each other into existence.” It was unclear that there was room for a third dreamer in what seemed to be a dreaming experiment. I reread the email a fifth time and realized that it was an experiment for two. I imagined myself in ancient Athens, standing before the Acropolis. And I pictured the books of these two authors in my hands. The stack kept growing until it reached above my head. The images were so real that I forgot what I was doing: recording last night’s dream in my dream journal.

Miracles in the Mind

An experience is in search of me. Last night I dreamed that I had my car washed. In reality, I don’t own a car. I also dreamed that I sat on the ground in a forest, in a meditative position, watching a tree grow. I felt it growing. I don’t want to drive again, which is strange to see in writing, although I haven’t sat in the driver’s seat since 2002, the year I moved from Seattle to Madrid. I’m afraid to count the years between then and now. The counting happens on its own. A tree grows on its own. I don’t control my mind. I experience it. What might it mean to me to be in the driver’s seat of my own inner experiences?

I imagine the opening sentence in the paragraph above appearing and disappearing in the surface of my mind, as if I were meditating in a forest and observing a tree experience its own natural process of growth. I pause before writing the next sentence. Silence becomes the pause, before noise in my mind returns and the pen moves again. Trees belong in a forest. My imagination has made the impossible possible: I sit on the ground, and the growth of a tree becomes a moment to moment visible experience.

More words that feel strange to see in writing come to me: this experience is experiencing me. I am being experienced by life in the forest. The mind is a miraculous place.

Another Beginning in the Light of Day

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.

Holy Books in the Psychology Section

(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)

There has been room for two psychological thinkers on my reading table during the past few days. I’m imagining one of them, who in reality died seven years ago, sending me an email, asking me to leave my desk on this sunny January afternoon and meet him at the nearby Elliott Bay Book Company in the Mythology section (I admit that I don’t know whether the store has such a section). “I have much to show you,” he writes. I wish I could take a break from work and walk to the bookstore. I’m curious to know where the books on mythology are kept.

Perhaps I will leave home soon and walk in nearby Volunteer Park. I imagine carrying a book with me, one of Carl Jung’s thick volumes, as if it were a dog needing a walk. These sentences feel creative. Jung is the other psychological thinker on my reading table. James Hillman is the first. The thought comes to me: the three of us will take a lot of walks together in my mind.

A decade ago, in November, I was in our flat in Madrid, where we were living, when suddenly I pictured myself writing at the dining room table instead of at my desk. I walked into my writing room, and with my journal and a pen, returned to the dining room. I sat down at the table and waited for an imaginative moment, which came soon enough. As if my journal were speaking to me, I knew that this form of writing, the work I did in my journal, would become my future narrative structure.

A memory in images from 2013 or 2014 comes to me. I think it was springtime. I had started to write and post fictional pieces of between two hundred and five hundred words on an online literary community, and I was frustrated. The piece I’d posted the day before was not being read. I started writing in my journal. The sentences were in charge, not me. I pictured myself standing alongside an indoor basketball court, watching the retired NBA player Chris Mullin shoot baskets. Everyone else had left. He wouldn’t stop practicing. The images seemed to say: Your writing hasn’t given up on you. Keep writing!

I’m attempting to imagine the me who, as a university freshman, dreamed of becoming a minister. Perhaps I didn’t become one because for me holy books are in the psychology section.

As I read Jung’s paper, “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” (in Volume 11 of his Collected Works), I picture myself no longer in psychoanalysis. I’m on my own, so to speak. Is that what I want? No, not yet. I still have much to learn about myself on the couch. 

I am imagining creating an experience, in the second half of my life, that feels meaningful to me. Is keeping my twelve-foot lapstrake rowboat in the water for six months a year creating an experience? For a decade, since students at a wooden boat school built it, I’ve kept the boat out of the water except during the weekends and vacations when I’ve used it. It’s time to make the boat more real to me. In other words, the image of it must be real inside of me.

I’ve returned to my desk after checking to see if we have mail today. I was hoping a book would be waiting for me. I know that the rest of this one is, the one I’m writing, inside of me.

 

Dreaming in the Rain

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.

Future in the Fire

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.