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At the base of my spine glows an orange orb, free-floating amidst the Harrington rods and titanium cage. My low spine fused, my narrative nerves pinched and running the length of this mortal cord from sacral to skull. In between The Greenman, Jesus, Carl Jung dive in and out of the pool meeting their reflection as they sink, first fingers, then wrists, arms, shoulders into the depth of my soul, my tune fork skeleton. My head swims with a music, resonating downward, and out through my fingers and toes. Nothing but: Strings, particles, waves. My eyes lie fed by my black tuxedoed brain.
“I saw the black serpent, as it wound itself upward around the wood of the cross,” writes Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung in The Red Book. This is the serpent of my way. Time, serpentine, slithers and bends, as it does, and I’m twenty and walking down a street, still drunk, through some falling snow, young children running by, and up through the cracks in the sidewalk, up came the light. I was running away. Toward something troubling my tired muscles. My head filled with empty spaces and bees.
I see it now. More clearly.
Then, I was Icarus. Stretching his wings.
Now it’s all wax, of course. The impression left upon a soul, in outline only of a once-present thing. Fingering, worrying at it. My soul a slab of wax, melted and reformed over the years. Aversion sickened me. Alcohol inoculated me. A double helix twinning and obfuscating the way. “Truly the way leads through the crucified, means through him to whom it was no small thinking to live his own life,” writes Carl Jung in “The Way of the Cross.” And like his imagined encounters and fantastic journeys chronicled in The Red Book, I stumbled forward drunk and drugged thinking myself Christ-like, clinging to everything that obstructed my way, the way to myself.
Only by living life can we free ourselves from it. Tired muscles, and blind.
But now free.
I can’t say anything of this essay came to me on the way here, but only now looking back can I see the route I took and how I got to the end in one charred and tattered piece.
In 1988, I got kicked out of college. I fled west and began working as a newspaper reporter, and began to drink quite heavily. This ink and alcohol trip ensured through other jobs, ruined relationships, broken and burnt bridges, through a mess of years I can’t recall, all the while something slumbered and lumbered inside me, a glowing anger, a growing pain that made me tired and frustrated and confused. Senses working overtime, trying to take it all in. I would get so drunk, I would not remember punching in the number of a stranger and calling them over thirteen times because I had something important to tell them.
That I was Christ.
That I could taste light. I was The Greenman.
I could fly.
I could die, and come again.
Finally, I awoke one morning, on a couch with a bag of dope in my pocket, a half-empty vodka bottle in my grip, and a palm covered in a purulent bubble-semi-circle of flesh in the shape of a stove-top coil.
I went home, to sweep up the sidewalk in front of my house which some idiot had littered with shattered glass. I went into the house, dressed in running clothes, and jogged and then ran miles, and miles before coming to an end, tired and worried about what my life was going to be like if I continued, but something in my head said I was a god and this was a movie, and I was the best actor in the world.
My brother died. My mother died. My father held a key, swallowed it and gloated, dementedly. My spine betrayed me.
My head grew heavy and ungainly. A doctor told me.
Another doctor told me.
I was of two minds Bicameral, but warring.
And it was killing me. Killing me via ideation. Via torture. Via its infighting. It said I could reach and swallow the sun.
It said I should be buried deep in the yawning loam of funneling circles. Now, I see.
Icarus regrets every tired muscle. I wrote in my life-saving journal.
I took the pills. Read Jung. Went to therapy. Wrote my fugitive pages. Fell in love again with my wife.
My life, foolscap committed, and fumblingly found again.
Like most of my generation, Carl Jung came into our awareness via a punk-reggae-rock group from England called The Police. We came to know Jung through his belief and explication of synchronicity, which happened to be The Police’s biggest album, Synchronicity, released in 1983. The album contained songs like “Every Breath You Take” “King of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Fingers.” It was the last studio album of the group, who later broke up for all intents and purposes. In early winter of ’83 I returned from a stay in Australia and later that summer the album became my soundtrack to racing off to the beach or getting ready for my first year of university. The Police did a worldwide tour in support of the album, and I went to see them in my adopted hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
It was in Winnipeg that I attended my first university, The University of Winnipeg – a school whose reputation was purely progressive, often dubbed Pink-O-U, which to this day fills me with pride. It was also sometimes called U of Dub, as in double U…W. I was very young and very lost there. It would take another full memoir to cover the emotional highs and lows of that period, and maybe someday I’ll do that, but this is not that day. For now, I want to talk about Jung and synchronicity.
In my second semester, at the very least because I was no longer living on campus, but in a neighborhood of old and derelict homes and apartment blocks on Furby Street in Winnipeg; a five-minute walk to the university, I went to the university library, searched the card catalogue, found the desired text in the stacks and checked out Carl Jung’s Synchronicity.
I took it home and read, “Jung first used the term ‘synchronicity’ only in 1930 in his memorial address for Richard Wilhelm, the translator of the I Ching, or Book of Changes,” writes Michael Fordham in the editorial preface to the book. Jung, in a lecture in 1935 in London, said synchronicity is “…a particular principle active in the world so that things happen together somehow and behave as if they were the same yet for us they are not.”
Synchronicity is acausal. It connects only in our minds.
Back in ’84, I believe, I had taken my copy of the monograph, checked out of the University of Winnipeg library, back to my Furby Street apartment and had it only a few days when a letter arrived from the school. A professor needed the book and could I return it as soon as possible. This was before email you understand. So the letter, which I no longer have, was probably sent through the mail system the day or the day after I had checked out the little book.
Because it was merely a day or so in my possession.
The next day, I placed the book in my knapsack and headed off to walk to school. The University of Winnipeg is a small, urban school. At the time of my enrollment, the total student and faculty population hovered around 4,000. I got to the school, walked through the doors, which lead to escalators — which you could see rising one after another for several floors. I took one escalator after another that morning, up to the top floor, and turned left, to walk down a corridor of offices and windows to the library entrance. I turned left once in the library, through some book displays and the like to the checkout counter to return the book. I retrieved the Jung book from my bag, held it out to the clerk, saying something to the effect that I was compelled to return for a professor, when the clerk turned her face slightly to my left, to a woman standing there — long hair, brunette in a dark turtle neck sweater — who happened to be, I was told, the very professor who was seeking the book’s return.
Not only is memory fallible, as we all know now clearly, from the mentally ill it should be considered a mirage.
Column of fire. A divot of sod.
So Jung was being a debunker, of sorts. Fordham writes, that Jung “introduced the idea of synchronicity to strip off all the fantasy, magic, and superstition which surround and are provoked by unpredictable, startling, and impressive events that… appear to be connected. They are simply meaningful coincidences.”
And the Swiss psychoanalyst and thinker particularly chided the notion that such things, saying something happened and it was meaningful in a coincidental way, could not be borne singly. “…where we are dealing with ephemeral events which leave no demonstrable traces behind them except fragmentary memoirs in people’s minds, then a single witness no longer suffices, nor would several witnesses be enough to make a unique event appear absolutely credible.”
Maybe there’s a hedge there on “absolutely.” He even admits the relativity of his absolution. “…the criteria of what is possible in any age is derived from that age’s rationalistic assumptions.”
Still, it appears as if meaning is relative to one’s age or epoch and one’s own mind. Of course. events are connected, but is this connection mostly only of meaning defined subjectively rather than objectively? At bottom, it is not chance, but something else at work here, says Jung.
What is that something else?
Another case of synchronicity from my own life occurred at a small community theater in Texas. I had entered a one-act play into the theater’s festival adjudication, and my play was not chosen — four others were. I was floating around the theater at that time, and I thought, well, I didn’t have a play chosen, what had I done wrong, that kind of thing; what can I learn. So, I thought well, why not hang around some more and find out why the ones that were chosen were considered festival-worthy. I volunteered to help put on the festival and was given the task of assisting with setting up the theater’s production lights. I had never done this kind of thing before and I’m not very mechanically inclined, but I volunteered and agreed to do it. I was more or less the lighting director’s gopher. Long story short, I was there for all the play rehearsals and the short festival run. I helped install the lights and run the “board,” of lights and sound effects, the nights of the run. One play chosen for the festival drove me crazy because the playwright had confused chaos theory for synchronicity. He or she, I can’t remember now, had a character mention a butterfly flapping its wings off the coast of Africa contributing to an eventual hurricane on the other side of the world. Well, that’s not an illustration of synchronicity, it’s a well-known example of chaos theory, the theory advanced by mathematical-meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the 1960s and ‘70s. He found weather patterns inherently chaotic. It’s his famous example everyone uses today – minute air currents generated by the flapping wings of a butterfly could set in motion forces that eventually result in a hurricane. It’s a causal argument.
Synchronicity is acausal as we know.
Try telling that to theater people.
Jung called meaningful coincidences synchronistic, “which is not to be confused with synchronous.”
And one of my lifelong pet-peeves was born.
People get it wrong ALL THE TIME.
Connections in synchronicity are of the imagination.
The greatest display of imaginative connection can be found in the art of memoir.
Not Carl Jung but still, “All human beings, driven as they are at different speeds by the same Furies, are at close range equally extraordinary,” writes Anthony Powell.
For a lengthy period 2010-2011, I was unemployed — and quite ill. A visiting professorship at a local private, Catholic, university in the city, had lapsed, to put it mildly. I was rather untethered. I’d only recently been diagnosed as an adult with bipolar 2 disorder (recent in terms of mental illness is an interesting concept given how any illness of this kind can lie dormant for years, as mine did, and even when diagnosed, and told what is wrong with you, it takes you a while to accept the news, so while I was diagnosed in 2009, to say 2011 was recent wouldn’t be too far off the mark; I was by turns in denial and shock over not only the diagnosis but also my mother’s passing. Additionally, I felt altogether adjacent from my life at that time because frankly, I’d come to realize I could not trust myself.) So: I was rather untethered, yes. My diagnosis had a kind of retroactive component to it, given the disorder probably planted itself and festered beginning in my twenties, suggest my psychiatrist, Dr. S. Kulkarni, a rotund Indian gentleman with a penchant for attributing sexual symptoms of his patients and also for brandishing his Montblancs. When he diagnosed me, about ten minutes into our initial meeting, he told me I’d probably been ill for two decades — I was in my mid-to-late forties when I finally sought treatment for my blue-black bruised mind periods. And I’d undoubtedly — as most cases would show — been self-medicating the symptoms away or managing the disorder under an order of drugs, alcohol and risky behavior. True enough, in 1996, I’d given up alcohol altogether because it was from binge to binge ruining my marriage, and my life.
In 2010-2011, I found myself with this once-hidden disorder. out of work, and slightly out of my mind. As I said, my mother had passed away a few years earlier and my father was drifting into senility. In this period of my life, I once again turned to Carl Jung, which given my track record wasn’t as inexplicable as I might have thought it was; I’d been a Jungian, nominally for years, and I had sought comfort with Jung previously; this is all true, but also because a major new publication of his work had coincided with my doctorate convocation and my wife, Dyan, purchased the new Jung for me as a gift. Dyan had purchased The Red Book — at great expense — as a present when I graduated with my doctorate in December 2009. I had skimmed it then and shelved it immediately amongst my other Business Relationships. And largely forgot about it.
My Catholic guilt would get to me from time to time as I sat watching TV and could see the spine of The Red Book mocking me. My own spine tingled. But I couldn’t just pick it up, not that kind of book.
So it sat.
And so did I.
The Red Book sat until I could muster the strength, or desperation, to open it and read it for real. My skull sizzled — sparks, particles, waves, and then would go utterly Lethe-dark.
It wasn’t until I was untethered and afraid of floating away and into oblivion that I reached out for the massive tome as if it were an anchor.
Truly, I had to do something. I started two blogs: one on art in St. Louis, and another on Jung’s behemoth.
The Red Book is a chronicle of Jung’s self-examination, 1912-1913. The world was facing catastrophe; war. Jung himself felt he was losing his soul.
To compose the work, Jung provoked “waking fantasies” and would enter these fantasies and hold dialogue with the figures that emerged. This was his nightly routine, writing down what came to him. This engagement was something he encouraged his patients to do — engage imagination, active imagination. After writing this way for some time, he took thirty to thirty-five of these fantasies or visions, engagements/dialogues, what have you, and re-transcribed them and embellished them with lyrical elaborations, commentary, and extract from them a psychological function for use in a symbolic way. (Much what I’m doing here). This forms the bulk of the first book — “Liber Primus.”
I went through the first book with a fine-toothed comb, and added some commentary.
Did it tether me in some way?
I’m not sure.
But it got me through that bleak time. If nothing else it kept me from killing myself.
For Jung, the book, including the second book, would take sixteen years. He didn’t publish it in his lifetime. But it serves as the launching pad, the key if you will, to his theories — an understanding of myth, ritual of other cultures, and out of this understanding for a general psychological theory.
Icarus regrets every tired muscle.
This is my way of saying it.
We choose from our storehouse skull what shimmers and glows, and find this type, one we think is ours and ours alone, is shared in a way with others. And in our interactions with others, these types dance and cajole, they avert and they gaze, they sometimes get drunk and fall down; they fall, into the drink, but also in love.
Is constancy consistence?
Jung has been a part of my mental health since my undergraduate days. And look where it’s gotten me! Facetious, folks. Yes, indeed. Years: a masked mental illness did its bidding, and my own. How’s that for assistance, Carl? My interloper could have been in on the ruse, true; heck, was the ruse. A riddle, yes.
A riddle emphasizes that sometimes a hidden connection is stronger than an apparent one, so said Heraclitus or thereabouts. A connection is made meaningful, not in a causal way, but in coming to understand over time that maybe the answer was right in front of you — but your eyes lied.
Much like what Meno said: We cannot seek knowledge by asking questions unless we know what we are looking for. But if we know it, there is no need to look for it. I wrote this in my journal and found it quite by accident, while not looking for it, just the other day.
Remedy tired muscles. Including the brain and its Rube Goldberg.
“As a general rule it can be said that the need for a hero symbols arises when the ego needs strengthening,” Joseph L. Henderson writes in “The Eternal Symbols,” chapters of Man and His Symbols, a book of essays on Jungian concepts, edited by the man himself (this book an undergraduate staple and was my probably my first introduction in the academy to Jung’s work). So we cast about. In my youth: Terry Fox, Ken Dryden. Hunter S. Thompson. Holden Caulfield. J.D. Salinger. Bono known then as Bono Vox.
And Carl Jung.
But who knows what they want when they’re young — very few. Even Jung was a scatterbrain: “’The boy is interested in everything imaginable, but he does not know what he wants,’” Jung writes of his father’s impression of him in
“Student Years” a chapter of Memoirs, Dreams, Reflections.
Jung had dreams then. He saw things. Jung took blind alleys. Images are not forgotten.
They are not remembered. They are stored.
Beyond immediate grasp. Things hide.
Yesterday, coincidentally, I smoked a robusto (row-boostoh) called Archetype from the Ventura Cigar Company — a series of cigars, Churchills and Robustoes, with names like “Dream State,” “Initiation,” “Advice,” “Strange Passage,” and “Axis Mundi,” – this last one being the one I smoked. The portfolio of cigars is inspired by the work of psychologist Dr. Carl Jung, and mythographer Joseph Campbell (also a doctor I might add).
Is this another case of synchronicity?
A meaningful, but acausal, coincidence? I mean what are the chances? I’ve been reflecting upon Jung’s influence on me. His insights have helped over the years with my mental fitness. I go out yesterday in search of a specific cigar — which I do not locate — and instead of a specific cigar, I bring home a fistful of cigars including the Axis Mundi — and smoke it on the back deck of my home listening to jazz.
Light is composed of particles and waves, we’re told and both can be observed, but not at the same time. Perhaps mental phenomena works in much the same way. We are given to see and understand, but not at the same time. We perceive. Understand later. And perhaps only understand later the dreams, the reflections, the blind alleys.
We keep the dream images.
Worry not what it says. I write in my journal. I’m of two minds.
Reflect on the image’s reason for being. What the chosen unconscious image says about our pathology.
…Images are not forgotten.
…Blind alleys and sparks of light.
…Particles and waves.
…Not remembered, or maybe they are, but not wholly.
…Stored in our unconscious minds.
…In some deep place underground, a ground of its own.
…Out of immediate grasp.
My pages are furrowed.
A glowing orb at the base of my spine. The orange chakra ablaze. A masked man skulking in my skull. My bipolar 2 disorder. Zippo. Wet blanket. Gasoline can, extinguisher. Apparent connection.
We have all been nighttime travelers.
Sojourn the URLs of our unconscious. Surf. Seek. Find.
My dream images, when not half-directed by me, are often of house and landscapes. I’m traversing or managing the levels, a bid to negotiate disorder and a private/public life; perhaps. So often the actor, or if not prearranged, an actor discovered at work afterwards. My eyes often see, but my brain tells them what to say. Shovel up shattered glass.
And so, the real self often eludes me. From the past, and on certain days of either high or low, my clarity wanes and waves, and perhaps that is symptomatic of my negotiations with myself, and with the world of expectations. My fantastic encounters are with my own self, damaged, and unreliable.
Years, I spent masked by alcohol and minor drug use obliterated what might have been an illness trying to get my attention. A disorder seeking some order. The houses were tilted then, like the sets on the campy Batman television series of the late 60s, early 70s. Tilted always one way or another. I would dance, stumble, fall. Before the drink tilted: away; and after, tilted toward, as if the axis of the world was complying with my wet wishes.
Still my nighttime travels often include structures and my attempt to scale and master. Icarus regrets, well, he does, but he was hardly himself.
It could not be coincidence that my body as a temple learned a valuable lesson during this time — one I’m still grappling with, still grasping from deep within myself.
You cannot swallow the sun. Even the one at the base of your spine. The unmasked have nowhere to hide. Now, I see.
Onto the “Liber Secundus,” Carl; onto “Scrutinies,” Dr. Jung.
About Wm. Anthony Connolly
Wm. Anthony Connolly is the author of three novels The Jenny Muck, Get Back, and The Obituaries, which was a Canadian bestseller in 2005. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, Intellectual Refuge, and Elephant Journal to name a few. He is on the faculty of the MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. He is a contributing editor with Talking Writing. He earned a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Missouri and also holds an MFA in Writing from Goddard College.
He lives in the Midwest with his wife Dyan and their two dogs, Hemingway Short Story and Professor Leo Tolstoy. Find him at anthonyconnolly.net.