Note: This installment includes one footnote.
As I grew older,it became harder to stay connected with my soul because my ego was flying solo. I lost touch with myself in the world of trying to make a living, like a fly caught on the surface tension of a bucket of water or someone trying to dive wearing a life-preserver. Here is how my life looked then: I was functioning on a very low level, just barely showing up, but my inner life was also threadbare because I was bouncing from complex to complex. If I had any breakthroughs or ah-ha moments, they found no support, no sustenance, but might burst into bloom and whither on the vine all in the same day. I was like a garden where the soil was barren. I gave up on my inner desires and dreams, settling for just staying afloat in my life-preserver, being the best father I could be, paying rent, showing up at work as a Special Education aide.
I was living in Williston Vermont (in the mid 90s), with my son in what used to be the milking parlor of a family dairy farm, built off the back of an old farm house. It was supported by a low stone foundation and was tilting so badly that it was like one of those optical illusion rooms designed to confuse perception. If I stood on the low side of the kitchen, and my nine-year-old son stood on the high side, he appeared 5 inches taller. The sink drained directly into the ground. The farmhouse, which looked fine from the outside wasn't much nicer. One time the woman who lived in the house, one wall away, invited me in to see a mushroom that was growing from her kitchen ceiling. It was a big yellow woody-textured beauty. (Far from being upset, she was very fond of it.)
I had brought a series of 16 sidewalk sculptures with me, their fifth move. They were different sizes, some quite large, each carved from chunks of actual sidewalks. Some of them appeared ancient, like pieces stolen from a ruin. Up until then I had managed to keep them together but when we moved from Williston to Wallingford I didn't have enough room in the UHaul to bring them all and left about 5 or 6 in the back of the property on an overgrown embankment to fend for themselves. They are probably still there.
It was while I was living in Williston that I intervened in my own life by deciding to go on a vision quest. That was when my soul re-entered my life and read me the riot act. It was that vision quest that started turning my life around. My soul became another pole in my life, opposite my ego and my energy began to be shaped by that polarity. But it wasn't a competition. I actually think my soul was holding me up, keeping me energized in some kind of life-support arrangement. (Many of us introverts are like off-road cyclists. When we aren't engaged with our souls, we are unicyclists. With the soul we are cycling with two wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and multiple low-ratio gears.)
As the natural father of perma-psycho-spiritual-culture, Jung restored respect to introversion. For the record, I did that for myself before I discovered Jung at Hampshire College in 1973.
I was 19. It was 1969. I was on the Navaho Reservation at Many Farms (with my high school buddy, tutoring Navahos) when I wrote my manifesto, "Man Behind the Waterfall: A Justification for Introversion". It starts with the words: "Nineteen is not such a bad age to decide to breathe my own air." With this manifesto, with that sentence actually, I made my case for withdrawing from mainstream culture, which had utterly failed me. It failed to help me avoid being drafted. It failed to help me grow any wings before tossing me out of the cuckoo's nest of high school. It failed to warn me that the glue that bound me to my close friends in school, would instantly dissolve as we were sacrificially delivered to the maw of our country's murderous ambitions perpetrated by the cowards, opportunists and thieves who were running the country, men far inferior to me and just about everyone I knew. And it failed to warn me that none of my visions would hold up in the world that I was about to enter except the neurotic and paranoid ones! In fact nothing would cohere once I stepped out of a place that had become like a halfway house or prison, in which I had grown out of my childhood clothes but had learned almost nothing that would help me survive in the outside world. It really was like stepping out of a gulag with pocket change and the clothes on my back and a low lottery number.
I have, of course, written about this before, several times over my life, and each time it does me good! In brief, right out of high school, my brother introduced me to two brothers who were lawyers and Quakers, Allan and Eliot, who met with me once, pro bono, and gave me good advice. I remember my brother telling me to take notes! I filled out and filed my application for conscientious objector status, in which I reluctantly conceded that I believed in a "supreme being" who basically (I carefully explained) created life and therefore would not want me to kill. And then I began to figure out how to get myself out of my country without actually leaving it, by seeking asylum on the Navaho Reservation.
"Man Behind the Waterfall" was the first time I wrote something with gristle and bone in it, that stood on its own, that could stand up to time. It wasn't dependent on anyone understanding it or grading or admiring what I said. It spoke for who I felt I was rapidly becoming, to be able to go back home, and beyond, as a proud introvert, as an activist, as an anarchist, as my own person. My support group was Thoreau, Goethe, Lao Tzu, Alan Watts and T.S. Eliot, author of The Waste Land.
Right around this time, I stopped writing poetry. At Goddard College (1971) I was offered a scholarship to stay on there and write, but the irony was, I was dried up when I showed up there. The poetry that so impressed my professor was work I had written while I was still in high school. I survived Vietnam but my heart was hardened by my changes.
At Hampshire, two years later, I experienced a breakdown. I think what finally happened was, the vessel of my heart imploded. Everything went dark, literally. When I closed my eyes it was as if my inner eyes were blindfolded. I completely lost my center and my compass. Again, it felt like I was in a halfway house. For the first week I barely left my dorm room. I felt safe enough to relax and drop my guard there. I had worked hard to get there and knew I was in the right place, but I couldn't see any further than my nose; I was nothing but a withdrawn, burned out poet. (I was 22.)
Then it happened that I was talking to a hall-mate in his room. We were just getting to know each other when I remembered a dream I had the night before. In this dream I was 6 or 7, watching my father and my brother planting a tree by the pond when I caught sight of a light bulb on the rock wall at my feet. I stepped on the bulb and there was a burst of light that was so bright it woke me up. As soon as I told him this dream I fell mute. I managed to say I was going back to my room when he said something that changed my life: "You should tell that dream to my brother. He is a Jungian analyst. He just set up his practice in Amherst. You can be his first client." His brother's name was Steve Kaufman. I worked with Steve for the rest of the school year. (He was 28, hair to the middle of his back, living in a 12' X 12' log cabin in the woods, best analyst I ever worked with!) Dreams came fast and furious, filling notebooks. I adapted all my work at Hampshire to Jungian studies, deciding to become an expert in Jung.
Jung taught me that when the lights of the conscious mind go off, the lights of the unconscious mind come on and he explained this in terms of extroverted and introverted equivalencies of energy. The amount of energy it takes to brush my teeth might be equivalent to the energy expended in climbing a mountain in a dream! But the toothbrush is physical and the mountain is psychic. I was fascinated that such a brilliant man took what happened in dreams so seriously. And I was impressed by how much you could accomplish by simply dreaming, which I was already very good at. I felt like I had received a gift of purpose, of time, of self-respect and access, all at once. It felt like being handed an Aladdin's lamp. Almost overnight I respected and liked myself. I valued myself, I valued my time, my education. I quit smoking, slept better, ate better, even my posture improved. (This process was nothing short of modern alchemy and the Self was the gold. How could I trash myself knowing that!) Now I understood that dreams meant something whether you knew what they meant or not, just like a song in Spanish means something whether you speak Spanish or not, but I longed to become fluent in the language of symbolism. And it wasn't all about me. It was about Spain or me and Spain. It was about the psyche, which was ancient, transcultural, personal and transpersonal at once! The concepts that Jung introduced and fleshed out and pieced together into "Jungian Psychology" were larger than life or rather, as I began to grasp the concepts, life became much larger than I thought it was: the collective unconscious, the objective psyche, archetypes, wholeness, mythology, amplification, alchemy, individuation, introversion, extraversion, complexes, energy (libido), the Self, synchronicity. I had to keep expanding my framework until I had no framework but this empirically testable approach to making sense of dreams, and, by extension, life.And the best part was, on some level I already knew what Jung was talking about. He was an empiricist and highly intuitive, and because he trusted his intuitive thinking to guide his analytical thinking, I was, to my surprise, able to follow him, first intuitively and then analytically, from Collected Work to Collected Work. I kept being surprised that he wasn't leaving me in the dust.