Tuesday, March 29, 2011

High in the Afterglow

I woke up this morning with a dream: I am being transported in a small boat over blue waters whose waves curl up and down as elegantly as in a Japanese woodblock. Light sparkles. I am not in charge of this journey. But everything is so clearly delineated— so intense— I feel high. I realize I’m still in the afterglow of last Friday’s Red Book conversation in which Maxine Hong Kingston, Rhoda Feinberg and I wrestled with Jung’s strange and beautiful book.

The Red Book is the record, in the form of an illuminated manuscript, of Jung’s famous “confrontation with the unconscious.” He writes directly out of his vulnerability, working out his relationship with his soul in the depths of the mythopoetic imagination.

Maxine Hong Kingston lives in a mythopoetic landscape, as do I. Maxine, of course, is the author of "The Woman Warrior," "China Men," "The Fifth Book of Peace" and other literary treasures of our time. Rhoda Feinberg, Maxine’s good friend of many years, is a psychotherapist who traveled from Hawaii to join us for the evening. Her humor, her wisdom, her teaching stories of everyday life were earth to Maxine’s fire and sometimes water, my air and water.

We three had spent months reading the Red Book and getting to know one another. Here we were, unscripted—sitting in the lovely sanctuary of San Francisco’s First Unitarian Church before an audience of over 200 people—not knowing what would happen.

Conversation happened. We spoke of Jung, how he opened himself to the powerful forces of the collective unconscious, suffering the intensity of his visions, engaging in dialogues with his inner figures. This direct experience was the raw material from which he shaped a psychology that includes spirituality, imagery and the creative imagination. We spoke of the healing power of the creativity, of Maxine’s writing workshops with veterans, of the importance of social engagement with the world and its suffering. We “talked–story,” an essential element in Maxine’s writing and in Rhoda and my practices. We spoke of the ancestors, of what they need from us. I quoted Jung’s passage in the Red Book:

The primordial fire that conquers every necessity shall burn again, since the night of the world is wide and cold, and the need is great…
The words uttered at the fire are ambiguous and deep and show life the right way…
Aware of their deep helplessness…they will respect the holy fire again, as well as the shades sitting at the hearth, and the words that encircle the flames. p.280

We imagined we were all sitting around that primordial fire.

Soul was with us. The mythopoetic imagination stirred all three of us, and, as we gathered from the response we got, the audience as well.

I am so grateful to Maxine and Rhoda for their generosity, their big hearts and great spirits. This was the fourth and last of a series of Red Book Dialogues created by Ellen Becker and the Development Committee of the SF Jung Institute. They have created an exciting new format for cultural events. I thank them for all the hard work they did making these events so successful.

I was not in charge of this journey. But that evening sparkles in memory, intense, full of wave and swirl. I feel high in the afterglow.