Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Here comes the flood

Don't be afraid to cry at what you see
The actors gone, there's only you and me
And if we break before the dawn, they'll
Use up what we used to be.

(Peter Gabriel, "Here comes the flood")

Whose idea was it to get me stuck for three nights in this nowhere out at the dark end of the Paris suburban train line, while all the other people at this conference are experiencing the warmth of some pleasant Parisian nights, right in the middle of the Quartier Latin? Whose? Well, not mine! Anyway, I've got only 27 more hours to go through, only 27, though it feels like an endless time, "ticking away the moments", each sleepless minute of dark cold night stretching like a blanket to cover agonies of thoughts. Only 27 hours to go. Counting.

When the flood calls
You have no home, you have no walls
In the thunder crash
You're a thousand minds, within a flash

Why am I going through this? One more conference, one more talk to give, one more responsibility. To what? To whom? When am I going to finally hit the bottom and start to climb my way up towards life again? Maybe, possibly, now. 27 hours, I can go through that. And then, will there be a next time? Another lesson to learn all over again? Or does this finally suffice to seal the tombstone over seven years of misplaced illusions?

The jaded underworld was riding high
Waves of steel hurled metal at the sky
And as the nail sunk in the cloud, the rain
Was warm and soaked the crowd.

In the loneliness of these cold winter nights, out in these deserted snows, you cannot even reach for a friendly voice, for some noise of life in the streets, some dim glow of city lights, to guide you through the slow indifferent rolling of the skies. Five hours to dawn, counting, and a meaningless trap that snapped shut around you, bringing you back one more time, one last perhaps, to this same place. Insane, what does that word convey? Only a sound that momentarily breaks the continuum of stillness in the air, and the sweeping force of a rising tide.

Lord, here comes the flood
We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
In any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive.

There are disciplines of the mind that teach us how to face the flooding waters of our deeper self that come rushing up - those waves of steel hurling metal at the sky - without being swept away and drowned by their primitive force. The oriental cultures had Zen and Yoga, the Europeans developed Jungian analysis. When Jung, over the course of many years, patiently compiled the calligraphy of his illuminated manuscript of the "Red Book" or Liber Novus, he was the last of the great alchemists who sat through the centuries in the silence of European winter nights, listening to the roar of voices from within. Did they expect to uncover the secrets of nature, or to contain the tidal forces that break us from within? I can turn the question back at myself, because we haven't really moved that far away from our alchemical ancestors, still playing around with our quest for a philosopher's stone, whatever it is that we like to call it these days, quantum gravity and the like. Still apparently fumbling around to make sense of the natural world, while most of the time trying, in fact, to devise a strategy of containment that keeps us going from one day to the next, without being torn apart by our inner tidal waves.

There is a numinous quality to Jung's drawings of the Liber Novus, a rare sense of peace accompanying the threatening deluge of our desperate demons. Liber Novus is now for the first time in print. Back home, I spent the week prior to this difficult trip, immersed in the warm comfort of a true and genuine love, reading through this very private world of Jung's active imaginations, trying to prepare the mind to withstand the coming lonely nights out here with this dance of ghosts and regrets. The discipline of Liber Novus is that of recognizing images, hidden in the powerful surge of despair that wells up inside our bodies and minds. Those images are ritually attended to, as in the miniatures of Liber Novus, transformed by our active intervention, integrated into our thought processes, which alchemically transform a menace into an inner dialog. The process turns us in this way from passive recipients of nightmares to proactive seafarers of the deep waters of the imagination.

Only four hours to dawn. Counting.