I am imagining a new performance of Jung stories. Nancy bought for me some time ago, a copy of The Red Book, Liber Novus. It is a big book –approximate twelve by sixteen inches, a folio size manuscript. Because of Jung’s art work in the book, it is the kind of object you enjoy on display in the house. She bought at the same time a book cradle of hardwood with wonderful dragon carvings surrounded by a border of inlaid mother of pearl designs. When I am not working with the book, it rests in the cradle on the broad sill of the living room window.
Presently I have the book in my study to read for the third or fourth time in the past two years. Actually, before getting my own personal copy, I drove fifteen miles to a library to read it for the first time. I did this many times in 2010. This is an important book for me. I am almost ready to say that it is presently more important than my old Jung scripture, Memories, Dreams, Reflections –more about that later.
The Red Book is distinct from MDR in that it was created in the middle years of Jung’s life. MDR was created in the last years of his life, and it looks back at a long and successful life. The Red Book comes from the time of a mid-life crisis when Jung broke from Freud and the experienced his now famous, “confrontation with the unconscious”. Another way of describing the difference between the two books is that MDR is Apollonian in character: it is full of reason and logical thinking, full of the wisdom from long years of fruitful exploration of human consciousness. The Red Book, on the other hand, is more Dionysian in character. It has wildly creative characters and extremely imaginative story lines. Often he illustrates his stories with colorful drawings. Then he adds a third element of analysis to remind us that he is still a scientist and not an artist –Jung rejected the use of the word, “art” to describe any of his work.
So why am I, as an old man, falling in love with the stories of the young Jung: when as a young man, I was dedicated to the old Jung? Can you be more Jungian? Of course, there is one, very good reason, The Red Book was not available to me at the age of twenty-seven when I first read MDR. The Red Book was first published in 2009. I do not have a wise answer for this question, but I will venture several, perhaps foolish, observations. As a young man I needed a chart to help me navigate the journey from divinity student to oral storyteller. MDR introduced to me the idea of the unconscious: how I could find direction by paying attention to dreams and trusting my intuition, in addition to my power to reason. MDR taught me the power of story, particularly as it is shared in a personal myth. I had a purpose to discover and a life to live it ahead of me. MDR taught me that discovering my myth would require making decision contrary to the wisdom of individuals and institutions older and wiser: parents, teachers and the Church.
I could go on with this litany, but I think it is more interesting to consider why as an old man, I chose to tell the stories of the young doctor from Zurich, Switzerland. Why am I now intrigued by the idea of creating a performance of material from The Red Book?
First and most important, I identify with the character Jung describes in his personal myth. I identify with the spiritual journey, the struggle to relate our experience of the numinous with the rational in the lives we are living. The editor of The Red Book, Sonu Shamdasani, shares in his introduction, this soliloquy from Jung’s unpublished Black Book that preceded The Red Book*
(I-Jung) I feel that I must speak to you. Why do you not let me sleep, as I am tired? I feel that the disturbance come from you. What induces you to keep me awake?
(Soul) Now is no time to sleep, but you should be awake and prepare important matters in nocturnal work. The great work begins.
(I)What great work?
(Soul) The work that should now be undertaken. It is a great and difficult work. There is no time for sleep, if you find no time during the day to remain in the work.
(I)But I had no idea that something of this kind was taking place.
(Soul) But you could have told by the fact that I have been disturbing your sleep for a long time. You have been to unconscious for a long time. Now you must go to a higher level of consciousness.
(I) I am ready. What is it? Speak!
(Soul) You should listen: to no longer be a Christian is easy. But what next? For more is yet to come. Everything is waiting for you. And you? You remain silent and have nothing to say. But you should speak. Why have you received the revelation? You should not hide it. You concern yourself with the form? Is the form important, when it is a matter of revelation?
(I) But you are not thinking that I should publish what I have written? That would be a misfortune. And who would understand it?
(Soul) No listen! You should not break up a marriage, namely the marriage with me, no person should supplant me…I want to rule alone.
(I) So you want to rule? From whence do you take the right for such a presumption?
(Soul) This right come to me because I serve you and your calling. I could just as well say, you came first, but above all your calling comes first.
(I)But what is my calling?
(Soul) The new religion and its proclamation.
(I) Oh God, how should I do this?
(Soul) Do not be of such little faith. No one know it as you do. There is no one who could say it as well as you could.
(I) But who knows, if you are not lying?
(Soul) Ask yourself if I am lying. I speak the truth.
As we well know Jung did not start a “new religion”, but as Shamdasani tells us later in the introduction, he did “attempt to develop a psychology of the religion-making process. Rather than proclaiming a new prophetic revelation, his interest lay in the psychology of religious experiences.”
For the past fifty years I have kept a journal. I do not write every day, but I do average five to ten entries a month. It is possible to look back at any time and get an idea of the tenor of my life. I went back and looked at my life at the same age as Jung, when he had a confrontation with his unconscious. I discovered that at that time I was happily involved in the early years of telling stories to school children and raising my own children with my first wife, Charlene. But if I drop back to the age of twenty-seven, I discover in 1969 that I was in the midst of the decision to become, or not, an ordained Presbyterian minister. Here is part of the description of my struggle:
“I live with these papers, they provide me a way to have work, security and respect. I live with these papers, they sit on my desk: fill them out, complete, I am safe in the fold. These papers, information forms for candidates for ordination: fill them out, take the job, pastor the flock and you are saved!
I kneel down night after night: one part of me says, ‘run, tear them to pieces and you are free!’ Another says, ‘no wait, hold off one more night and assurance come to you, you will be able to fold them properly and file them along with all the dead notes from dead courses that have tried to convince you that you are dead!’ “
My point is that our struggles of the soul happen when we face a time of crisis, not necessary a particular time in our life. For Jung, it was related to breaking from Freud and establishing a different perception of the human psyche. In my more pedestrian, though no less authentic, struggle of the soul, it was related to breaking with a vision of my life’s work that fit within the boundaries of my community, and setting out on a journey to become…what? I did not know. It was five years before I started to call myself a storyteller, and many more years before I knew that my struggle in 1969 was worth the pain and suffering. At the age of seventy-one, I can now look back with some perspective. I guess you could call it part of my “individuation process”.
Creating a performance of Jung’s stories from The Red Book will give me an opportunity to reflect further on the struggle of the soul. It will help me to better understand my own relationship with the numinous in my life. But more important it will give me the opportunity to support the idea that we all must struggle with our soul to become who we are meant to be…Thank You, Grandfather Jung!
*Introduction to The Red Book, Pg 211