A couple of weeks ago I visited with a friend who is ninety-two. In conversation I asked her: What is good about growing old? She did not answer immediately, but I could see she was slowly shaking her head to express the negative. Still, I could see that she was searching for words to express her feelings. Finally, a wry smile lighted her face and she said: I am closer to God!
My friend is seventeen years older than myself. Nevertheless, she continues to live alone in her country home. Her only concession is that she has asked her daughter to call every morning to determine that she is still among the living. When I asked why she refuses to leave her home, she said that it would mean leaving her husband who died fifteen years ago! I admire her sense of spirituality.
As we come to the last third of life, it is hard to imagine how we can be innovative. Perhaps the opportunity comes from knowing that we are close to the end of life and the creative response comes from this simple fact. Certainly at the age of seventy-five I recognize the changes in my body. The driving energy of sexuality no longer dominates my mind, physical body and spirit. My unconscious is released from the drive to engage with the opposite sex, to achieve success in a career and to earn money. I am free to explore worlds that, as a young man, I did not have time or the interest to engage.
I will tell a little story to illustrate my point. Yesterday I was trying to fix my android tablet and this sent me to the closet to find the book of instructions. There, during my search, I came upon an old passport from 1965—the date is set by the address on the document—and I see a picture of myself at twenty-three. Momentarily I felt a disjunct, something disturbing about the picture of that young man. I set the picture aside to show my wife, Nancy, and went on with my practical chore of the moment. At dinner she commented on seeing the picture, but we did not discuss it.
Dreams have always been important for me. I have recorded them in a journal for most of my adult life. Carl Jung has been my teacher through his writings, particularly his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Jung taught me to pay attention to the intuitive side of myself, but I have not always had time to reflect on my own dreams and memories. For many years the immediate drives of daily life held me back. That is not true today.
I will share a dream from last night that relates to the passport picture I found yesterday. In the dream, I am riding a bicycle down the hallway of an elementary school—seems strange but not in a dream. I see a young female teacher standing by her classroom door. I notice that she is short and of stocky build with auburn brown hair. I stop to engage her and help her in some way—cannot remember how—and then I ask if she would like to have a cup of coffee with me. She says she is busy; and besides, she is not good at lasting relationships. I offer to give her my card in case she changes her mind. I take out my wallet, but I am clumsy and everything falls on the floor of the school hallway. I look at the mess on the floor and say to the teacher, “Oh well, just Google Ray Gray and you will get the information.” The dream ends with the sound of children calling out, “Hey, he’s Ray Gray?”
Jung suggests that we are all of the characters in our dreams. The young teacher with her stocky build and auburn hair could reasonably represent me as the young man in the passport. Jung would call her my anima, the creative and intuitive energy in me. In the dream she hesitates to engage with me. I come back with the most ego driven response one can imagine—a Google search for my name!
Jung does not declare the unconscious the arbiter of our life. The conscious ego has a right to contend with the unconscious self to direct our lives. In this dream I am inclined to side with the wisdom of the unconscious self. As I shared in the last entry in this journal—more than a month ago—I am struggling with the “mouse story”. Should I self-publish it as a paperback book with illustrations? Maybe it needs to be an audio book with music and sound effects? Or, maybe, I need to recognize that it’s not worth the effort and move on to the next project. My reflection on this dream is that the unconscious self is reminding me of my tendency to “move on” to the next project when I feel a little pushback. Maybe I do need to stick with this story and create a new form of it!
YOUR YOUNG WILL SEE VISIONS AND YOUR OLD WILL DREAM DREAMS
As my ninety-two year old friend expressed with her body’s language, there is a lot that is bad about growing old. Our minds and bodies do not work as well as they did in our youth. But, there is also much that is good. If we have the energy, we have time to support the busy lives of younger people. We have time to consider, reflect and come to an understanding of the life we have lived. And, as my ninety-two old friend expressed it, we can come closer to God.
My idea of “God” may be different from my old friend. For me, it is the spirit that guides my interpretation of dreams and directs my creative life. It is not directed by a particular religious tradition, though many of the pathways I have discovered were walked by my Christian ancestors. The Holy, the divine, and sacred in life have been revealed through my creative process. I claim no particular gift other than the will to continually engage in the process. And, I also recognize my benefits from engaging the works of other creative artists. I have mentioned the influence of Jung’s autobiography on my life. I will mention a Christian hymn; My shepherd will supply my need (words by Isaac Watts to the tune: Resignation) that touches my soul. And, my appreciation of the sacred and holy has not been limited to human creativity. I remember the experience of paddling a sea kayak in the Aegean Sea and finding a dolphin swimming next to me. I felt the sense of wonder about this other creature that was curious about me as I was curious about it!
None of us knows how long we have to live within these four walls we call our human body. We do know that our physical abilities are diminishing as we move into our seventies—our ability to see visions of how to change the physical world. On the other side of the balance, I will boldly suggest that our spiritual abilities may be still in bud and waiting to come to life. As the Hebrew writer, Joel, suggested long ago, “Your old will dream dreams!”
Can we imagine that our task in the seventies, and even later in life, is to explore what the prophet Joel meant by “dream dreams”? For me, it has something to do with the unconscious self that I hear speaking to me through my dreams. It has something to do with the creative process that has enriched my life through seventy-five years. My task as an old man, my innovation, is to be open to the unconscious and to create out of the experience. Now let me get back to that mouse story and discover how I can recreate it!