When I moved to Louisiana, I was grieving the loss of my mother, and it was a very confusing time for me. An existential crisis was already underway when she was diagnosed a year and a half prior to my move, but now I was truly in the Underworld.
I didn’t understand symbols of the psyche then, so I didn’t know what being in the Underworld meant or that I was actually living there despite walking and talking and living, to an observer’s eye, a ‘normal life’. I can’t logically explain to you what living in two planes of consciousness at the same time is, but I can tell you that’s what was happening for me. The Underworld is a real place, and I became aware I was living there gradually, because I paid attention to my dreams and wrote in my journal, in detail, about what it looks and feels like.
I later discovered Carl Jung and other people who wrote about the psyche and the language of the psyche, and life brought some teachers my way who changed my life forever. Looking back, it feels like I clawed myself out of that Underground vault, but my journals reveal not a clawing back but a bursting through, into an altogether new dimension of experience.
I could write many books about everything that transpired, but it would be boring and unnecessary. Each person has an inner story like that. Jung gave us his in the Red Book, and later tidied it up and put it in context in his Memories Dreams and Reflections. I was so pleasantly shocked to read a truly introverted autobiography, where the events of the psyche were prior to the events of outer life. It made me realise at the time that a rich inner life is nothing to be ashamed of, and that one can be disciplined and consistent with making space for it, instead of repressing it and delegating it to the cabinet of curiosities.
Anyhow, I have been feeling the need to express more of my process because of the things that have been taking place in the world as of late. I must admit that despite the pain and horror of what ‘we’ have been collectively facing over the past few months, I have been feeling relieved, because I am actually witnessing people around me go deeper, engage their inner worlds, ask important questions of themselves, grapple with what’s really real, substantial, nourishing. For so long I felt like a castaway on some lonely island of the psyche, far away from the shores of commerce, business, and life as usual. Now I see a sea of rafts approaching, looking for dry land. And here is me, waving a little white flag. Come on over, we’ll build a fire and tell stories. Let’s DIY our way out of this one. It’s the only way.
One of the biggest lessons I learned through this process (and still learning) is that the world is not made of concrete things at all, but of relationships. Now I know this sounds simple enough as a statement, but rewiring my brain around this deep truth has been very challenging. I also realise it is a truth evident to many indigenous people around the world, who lived and live in a radically different world that we do in the industrialized world.
To be honest, my totally subjective opinion is that humans are born with this understanding, and are later talked out of it. I certainly seemed to intuitively live from this as a child, and as a young adult sought places and situations that would enforce this understanding, despite my scientific and materialistic outlook.
When I moved to Louisiana my materialism was already seriously eroded. I had watched modern science fail the environment (think of machines and technologies of extraction and intensification) and my family in ways that I had not anticipated. Treating cancer is one thing, healing a person is another. Doctors are very skilled and capable technicians and mechanics, but since our bodies are not machines, they are seriously limited in what they see and do. The same goes for all our institutions. I can’t unsee the things I have seen and experienced, and I am most weary of people who place full faith in institutions which operate on paradigms of incomplete understanding, and who regard the world as fundamentally static, inert, and dead.
Anyone with eyes can see that the old ways are breaking down. Things haven’t been working out for a long time, but because most people manage to stay inattentive and distracted (a fair generalization, I think), they don’t notice the decrease in numbers of birds and insects, the decrease in quality of air, water, food and relationships, the decrease in quality of craftsmanship, rhetoric, family structures and free time. They don’t notice the gradual change in weather patterns, migration patterns, and just patterns in general. I don’t like writing about ‘doom and gloom’, but the reality is that the systems which we created have been out of sync with those on which we depend. The threat of natural systems going kablooie is imminent. Any day now, we will discover there is no going back, and it won’t be something we can ‘fix’ with a vaccine either.
You don’t need me to tell you all this. You know we are collectively in the Underworld right now.
I’m not saying this to depress you, because you don’t need my help for that. My point here is to energize, to light an inner fire. The Underworld taught me to stop worrying and carrying the burden of the world on my shoulders. I stopped projecting onto nature my brokenness and my desire to be a savior. It turns out, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with either of us! What I’m saying is I trust the wisdom of the natural system to take care of itself more than I trust the limited human mind to find a technical ‘solution’ to it. It really is a very simple matter: I am living on borrowed resources, I am living on borrowed time. I have gotten used to a lifestyle which takes far more than it gives back. To live a life in harmony with nature is to drop out of this parasitic society that calls itself civilized, psychically, materially, mentally. It is to stop tuning into the nonsense, fearful, divisive thought patterns it spews and drop out altogether, allowing my mind to calibrate to the soft sounds of wind blowing through a grassy meadow and the whispering of bats’ wings as they leave their roost at dusk. Please stop saying nature needs saving. We are the ones who have turned ourselves into machines. Ours is the task to re-animate ourselves, to fall headlong into the mushiness of the heart and the musky complexity of a world made up of relationships.
I am a hypocrite, because I have not dropped out, but I am tuned in and turned on, and I’ve got my eyes on the exit door. I imagine it not so much as a fleeing from a burning building, but a second line with a brass orchestra of foxes and bears that leads the way into the forest. I’ve got my parasol under my arm and a handkerchief in my hand, and I am entering the dance off-beat and wild-haired to the sounds of an imaginary fiddle, with the steps of a Cypriot ‘sousta’ dance and the shy resolve of my namesake grandmother. I owe it to her apple trees, and the long-gone grape vines she watered with her sweat and tears.
I am hopelessly romantic despite the evidence, because it is my role in this whole frivolous-sublime affair.
Say it with me: “the future will emerge from the necessity and exuberance of every present moment”.
The answers will emerge, will always but only always emerge, no matter how much you or I fret, worry, contort, twist and convulse about it. Life will unfold as it must, always.
But put your heart into it. Find out: what script runs you, what’s going on in your soul?
Can you live with yourself the way you act in the world? Do you feel free as a feather in the wind, or do you feel like you are swimming upstream? Are you aligned with what the soul really really wants? If you are acting in self-interest instead of aligning yourself with what this moment demands of you, your soul might be warning you that you will run into some trouble. If you are projecting your inferiority or superiority onto others, denying them their aliveness then you might be getting the message right about now that this is not working in this system anymore. What’s your kick in the butt? What is life telling you? That’s the wisdom of nature I’m taking about, coming up from the land through your dreams to tell you something needs to change. Write, daydream, meditate, but for god’s sake take a look, and stop telling other people what to think and believing when they tell you what to think.
What relationship means in practical terms is that none of us is an individual in the sense of a solitary block of ice being dragged down a dirty alleyway, but we are part of a complex feedback mechanism called Life. If you want to change the system change the way you act and communicate, change your receptors, align with different parts. Don’t demonize something that you don’t like because you are it; by your mere observation and attention you participate in it, you include and become it. Don’t you see? If you are unhappy with something dream up something else and take the first step. The system will reconfigure itself around you, and if you persist you will find yourself in a different place. My mentors taught me this, and now I pass it on to you. But don’t use it for selfish means, it won’t work; listen to the dreams of the Earth and make them come true. There has never been a better time to realise…you are the system, you are life itself. Radical joy is radical, but if you look you’ll find it’s there only in connection, inspiration, lovemaking and co-creation with the world.
Relationships…the world is dynamic, and one must pick up on the communication cues without taking things for granted anymore. My partner is not some predictable set of variables, memories and beliefs anymore, but I engage with him afresh each moment we encounter each other. He is a mystery to me, waiting to be revealed. And believe it or not, when I release my neuronal hold on him and afford us the benefit of freedom from the past, he manages to surprise me in upwelling configurations of expression. We laugh together, we create. But of course, this happens only if I see myself this way, an utter mystery waiting to unfold. When is the last time you surprised yourself?
Fall in love with Life, listen to the dreams of the Earth and help them come true. Make haste. If you need help or accountability, reach out. And remember we are learning, step by step, the wild dance that will take us back to the forest. One day our grandchildren will be sitting under the canopy feeling at home in the world, in a way we never got to.