I am preparing a performance that grows out of Carl Jung’s, The Red Book. The performance begins with the telling of Jung’s story about the giant (demi-god) called, Izdubar, in Mesopotamian mythology. My hope is that the performance will engage the audience in several ways. First, I hope to distinguish our human gifts for exploring the world through both our powers of reason and creative soul. As Jung suggests in his story, we in the west do sometimes depend on our powers of reason as the only gift to understand and engage our world. We need to explore more our creative and intuitive powers that open access to the energy of the unconscious. Jung used the concept called “active imagination” to describe the way we open ourselves to communication with the unconscious. Jung exercises a form of active imagination when giving voice to his unconscious by describing a conversation between himself and his soul. I will share my interpretation of this conversation that occurs early in The Red Book.
A Conversation with My Soul
My Soul: Dear Gramundos, it is time, time to turn inward and consider the questions that have long haunted you.
Gramundos: I don’t understand. Of what do you speak?
My Soul: You know well of what I speak. Since your youth you have struggled with the eternal questions…..questions that have confounded the human race from the beginning of consciousness. WHERE DO I COME FROM? WHY WAS I PUT ON THIS EARTH? AND, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME WHEN I DIE?
Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I feel I must be direct. I am exhausted from the day’s labor. Why will you not allow me to rest, to enjoy my night’s sleep?
My Soul: Beloved Gramundos now is not the time for sleep. Night is the time for the struggle that awaits you.
Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I find there are no answers to these questions. At best, we speculate and tell stories that point to a truth, but there are no answers that satisfy the rational mind.
My Soul: Precisely and to the point, you are one who has some understanding of the non-rational, the symbolic truth, and you can help others to explore the divine and share it.
Gramundos: I can’t see why I should do this: Is it not a fool’s errand to speak of a subject that has no popularity in the world today? You ask me to risk my mental and physical health, not to mention my place in society, to speak about a subject that no one knows they are missing.
My Soul: You know, and you have known from birth that you are called to this task. Your time of worldly success has passed. Your time to explore the unconscious, the life of the soul is present.
Gramundos: Why should I listen to you now, at this late time in my life?
My Soul: Yes, you have ignored my voice for many years, but it is not too late to renew our relationship and move forward with the foreordained task set at your birth. You have arrived at the time in life when all humans are asked to loosen the bonds of reason and engage the soul.
So this imagined conversation between my Soul/Self (Unconscious) and my ego-self leads to a second way I hope to engage my audience through my performance. Times, stages in our lives, ask us to focus on different ways to engage life. As Gramundos’ Soul suggest, he has ignored her voice for many years, but now “your time for worldly success is past” and it time to engage the work of the soul. I would argue that it is in the last third of life that we need to find time to consciously communicate with our Soul.
I will share a bit of my own story of how I began to focus on communicating with my soul in the last third of life. When I was about sixty-four–fifteen years ago–I was confronted by a reality that my storytelling business in schools was diminishing….I was feeling depressed and wondering if I needed to make some changes in my life. One day, my Mother, Ruby (who was living with my wife and I at the time) saw me reading Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR) and she asked a simple question:
“How long does it take to read that book?”
I thought a moment and responded with a smile: “Forty years.”
She laughed and said: “You must be a slow reader.”
It was that prod, innocent on her part, which led me to realize that I had been reading Jung’s MDR over and over for most of my adult life–it had become my Scripture! This realization kindled my desire to better understand this spiritual focus in my life….and, my way to explore and understand is to create a story!
For several years after Ruby’s prodding I followed a transitional path from being Ray Gray, the presenter of storytelling for school children, to Gramundos (name created by one of my storytelling friends) the explorer of the human soul! I stopped promoting my storytelling programs for children in schools and over a period of two-three years the work disappeared. In the place of the children’s storytelling, I started to work on adult stories that I loosely imagined as stories for the last third of life. First, I created two performance from MDR titled, “Imagining the World of Carl Jung” where I performed Jung in the first person–these performances had the widest presentation from England to Canada and several cities in the US. A third performance, “The Red Book Stories” had only a couple of local performances and never found an audience.
It was three years into my transition that I decided to expand my exploration by writing about my life. I started to work on a multi-media memoir with audio and video recordings that augment the writing. The memoir was published as a kindle book, “Grandpa Jung’s Lessons, for a slow reader”. Work on the memoir led to the decision to self-publish two of my children’s stories as paperback books with illustrations. These stories had been shared as oral stories in school programs for many years, but now they were important for understanding the path I had chosen in life.
It was just over three years ago, at the beginning of the project to publish one of my children’s books, “Ice Cream Mud”, that my wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer. It was during the year that we worked on the book that she struggled with her illness and finally died just weeks before the book was published. Nancy’s death lead to the last book project I have created since starting to work on stories for the last third of life. This is a remembrance of Nancy Wicklund Gray, “The Music of Life”. It was my way of understanding and dealing with the grief of losing a mate that I deeply loved.
I share these personal experiences to illustrate the third way I hope to engage my audience through telling Jung’s Izdubar myth. I believe that life is a creative process. We either act as the creator or receiver of the benefits from the creative process– the interaction that moves past the rational to understand life and engage the soul through an experience of active imagination. I know that I benefited by creating Nancy’s remembrance. And, in a different way, I benefited from reading Jung’s story because it introduced an idea that invigorated my creative process, my engagement with my soul. Jung introduces in the Izdubar story, the idea of a god my pocket! This idea has suggested to me that much of my adult life; I kept my god in my pocket. Only now, in my late seventies am I now taking that god out of my pocket to explore and understand how I may benefit from my relationship with the Collective Unconscious or God! So if you’re up for it, let me share my version of Jung’s Izdubar story…how in old age I am trying to open a conversation with My Soul.
Izdubar, the Giant
So it was through imagination and the power of story I set out on a journey to the east to discover the birthplace of my Soul…..and my imagination transports me to a place of bare-rock mountains intertwined with narrow, dry valleys…..stifling hot by day and freezing cold by night. Then an experience is given to me: I hear a rumble of thunder; I look up, not a cloud in the sky, only the sun dissolving all moisture in the air.
I am quiet….I listen, look and feel: Then through a pass in the mountains there appears an enormous man. He has two bull horns protruding from his great head. His head is covered with thick, curly, black hair……He has a broad chest shielded by chain mail armor the color of midnight blue….a double-bladed ax in hand.
Then in a moment, with three giant strides, he is standing before me: I freeze in the shadow of this fearsome creature….slowly I look up at his face expecting to see belligerence…. Instead I see a look of expectation.
Hesitantly, cautiously I say: “Most Honored One please spare my life and forgive me for lying like a worn in your path.”
“I do not want your life”, responds the Bull-man, “Where do you come from?”
Raising my head more, I call to him, “Please forgive me Most Honored One, I come from the west.”
“You come from the western lands.” I hear a sound of anticipation in his voice. “Do you know the place where the Sun goes to be renewed after its daily labors?”
“Most Honored One”, I respond, “I fear I am the bearer of unsatisfying truth–what we humans call science–there is no place where the Sun goes to rest each day after its labors. The Sun stands a great distance from you and me. You see, you and I, we live on a planet called Earth. Our Earth spins on its axis as it circles the Sun creating the illusion that the Sun sets in the west each day.”
Now the Bull-man looks puzzled: “You tell me there is no immortal land where the Sun goes each night to be reborn for the coming of the new day?”
“Most Honored One, again forgive me for speaking my human truth.”
The Bull-Man drops his ax to the ground and calls out again: “Damn your truth…you tell me there is no western land where I can go to attain immortality, to be born anew as the Sun is born anew each day!”
I point up to sky and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, can you understand, the Sun is a celestial body out there, far out in unending space.”
Now I see a look of fear on the Bull-man’s face: “Unending you say, I cannot go there if I keep walking to the west?”
I reach out to him in sympathy: “Insofar as part of you is mortal, you cannot reach the Sun.”
Now the Bull-man drops to the ground and says in despair: “I am mortal, I will never be immortal as the Sun. I cannot do battle against endless space. There is nothing left for me to conquer.”
So time passes and the sun slowly disappears over the western mountains. Then the Bull-man raises his eyes and looks to the heavens, “Go damned father of the gods, wrap yourself in immortality. Your faithful son is left without hope for eternity.”
The chill of the coming night finally stirs me from the side of my fallen hero god. I gather wood and light a fire. Slowly the heat begins to warm the two of us, most unlikely companions.
Then, for the first time, the Bull-man looks directly into my eyes and says: “This truth, this science, you speak of, is it a god to replace my Father, the immortal Sun?”
“Oh no”, I say with a little sarcastic laugh, “It is no more than words, just an idea about the truth.”
The Bull-man looks trouble, “Then you have nothing to believe in?”
“You speak the truth”, I say with a nod of recognition, “Science has taken from me the capacity for belief and it is because of this that I have come to the east to the land of the rising sun to seek a new way to understand my world.”
The Bull-man says nothing in return; so we both rest before the coming of a new day and hopefully a new beginning.
When first morning light shines, I rise up and kindle the fire again. The Bull-man does not rise up to sit by the fire. The experience of the past day has left him in a weakened state and he cannot lift his heavy body from the ground.
Recognizing this new reality, I feel the Bull-man’s loss: “Most Honored One”, I call across the fire, “I know that I am greatly responsible for your loss of power.”
“This poison you call science has cut me down”, says the Bull-man, “let me be, death must come to us all if your science speaks the truth.”
“But I cannot just leave you to die”, I say. “I feel a great sense of responsibility for your plight my friend….and added to that I will share that I have never felt as alive as I did when first we met. I did not want to harm you by sharing my truth. I said what I was taught in school, not what I know from living. We are both wanderers on this Earth……. We both seek the truth that will fulfill the lives that we have been given to live.”
“I do not blame you”, says the Bull-man.
Now I start to think about our predicament–the Bull-man is too big for me to move him–I stand up from the fire and walk a short distance, stop and call back to him: “I have an idea!”
The Bull-man looks incredulous: “Why should I find hope in your human idea: Was it not your idea of science that condemned me in the first place!”
I come back to the Bull-man and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, but we in the west believe that ideas can both help and harm us. We have to be rational in our thinking process, but also open to the energy of the heart. I believe this idea will help us.”
“Then speak your idea”, says the Bull-man.
“Thank you”, I say, “In the west we have what are called myths. A myth tells a story that is true in the inner world of the imagination…it speaks to our heart and soul. Please understand me Most Honored One, I do not wish to offend you, but you are not real in the western, scientific sense of reality. You are the imaginative creation of an ancient storyteller. If I remember Mesopotamian mythology correctly, you are Izdubar a demigod or superhuman in these ancient stories. If you can accept this new reality, I may be able to carry you back to the west where you can find your immortality through the telling of your story!
The Bull-man, demi-god, Izdubar, sighs, “Damn your science, your new reality, your story……but I have no other choice. Life changes and new realities appear whether we choose them or not. I accept the truth of your reality.”
Then, in a magical moment, for both me and the Bull-man, we are metamorphosed into the reality of an ancient story! We find ourselves standing before a great tree with roots that reach into the earth and branches that disappear into the heavens. I understand that this tree is the Tree of Life and it provides an avenue for journeying from the world of humans and our powers of reason, to the world of the gods–the powers of the heart and soul. I understand that the branches closer to the earth provide support for those humans most bound to human reason. As you climb higher into the Tree of Life, the powers of reason and science are of less use as you create stories of the relationship between the human and the divine.
The understanding of this reality is as a clear light for me. I look to my god-man, Izdubar and see that he has become lite as air. So I reached out and take hold of him. Now Izdubar’s body is soft and pliable: I begin to work his shape, squeezing and folding, I work this godly reality into a size that I can manage in the world of human reason….a god that I can carry in my pocket!
The idea of a “god in my pocket” is a new for me. I will allow it to ripen and mature a bit on Tree of Life before I try to create a story, my form of creative engagement with My Soul!