Lived by the Powers

Debra’s recent post ‘Our Lady of the Well‘ over at The Ptero Card dove deep into the rabbit hole by asking how can we trust language to communicate especially if we are dealing with matters of the unconscious, as Jung did in documenting his journey into that hidden realm in The Red Book. It is a critical question for her as she tries to navigate through Jung’s book. It is a question that touches me deeply as well as one who participates in creating images, sometimes watching them evolve without knowing where or what they have emerged from or how they are going to end up when they are finished. I have my own interpretation of what these images mean, if anything, but I am always fascinated by how others react to them, positive or negative.

Writing, for me, can be a bit of a challenge as I am such a visually oriented person. I ‘see’ things in a certain light – as a composition when looking through a camera lens or more intuitively when working on other images, wondering what will reveal itself to me as I work through the process of manipulating pixels or paint. But her post caused me to reflect on how communication happens, what alchemical process connects one persons attempt to use words to convey an idea and how does the reader or listener understand or respond to what is being said. Beyond language, what else is happening to evoke this interaction with not just words but other types of expression.

Cory Doctorow quotes from David Byrne’s ‘How Music Works’ explaining how Byrne comes up with the lyrics to some of his music, (Bold emphases mine)

” …I begin by improvising a melody over the music. I do this by singing nonsense syllables, but with weirdly inappropriate passion, given that I’m not saying anything. Once I have a wordless melody and a vocal arrangement my collaborators (if there are any) and I like, I’ll begin to transcribe that gibberish as if it were real words.

I’ll listen carefully to the meaningless vowels and consonants on the recording, and I’ll try to understand what that guy (me), emoting so forcefully by inscrutably, is actually saying. It’s like a forensic exercise. I’ll follow the sound of the nonsense syllables as closely as possible. If a melodic phrase of gibberish ends on a high oohsound, then I’ll transcribe that, and in selecting the actual words, I’ll try to try to choose one that ends in that syllable, or as close to it as I can get. So the transcription process often ends up with a page of real words, still fairly random, that sounds just like the gibberish.

I do that because the difference between an ooh and an aah, and a “b” and a “th” sound is, I assume, integral to the emotion that the story wants to express. I want to stay true to that unconscious, inarticulate intention. Admittedly, that content has no narrative, or might make no literal sense yet, but it’s in there — I can hear it. I can feel it. My job at this stage is to find words that acknowledge and adhere to the sonic and emotional qualities rather than to ignore and possibly destroy them.

Part of what makes words work in a song is how they sound to the ear and feel on the tongue. If they feel right physiologically, if the tongue of the singer and the mirror neurons of the listener resonate with the delicious appropriateness of the words coming out, then that will inevitably trump literal sense, although literal sense doesn’t hurt.”

As Jung recorded his entries into what would be known as The Red Book, he used not only words but created images such as this one

Does this illustrate some deeper archetypical connection with what he was going through (I think yes). His illustrations deepen the effect of the words, making it a richer experience.
What is going on here? What is being communicated to Jung, or through Jung. What energies are flowing in and through any of us when we are having a crisis, or feeling joy, or having any number of things happen to us? Are we the only ones inhabiting that experience? David Abram in an essay discussing Gary Snyder’s ‘Mountains and Rivers without End’, explores the Aboriginal concept of dreamtime. Dreamtime he explains

“is a kind of time out of time, a time hidden beyond, or rather, within the manifest presence of the land. It is that time before the world itself was entirely awake — a time that still exists just below the surface of wakeful awareness — that dawn when the totem ancestors first emerged from their slumber beneath the ground, and began to sing their way across the land. The earth, of course, was still in a maleable, half-awake state. And as the Dreamtime ancestors — Kangaroo Man, or Tortoise Woman, or Honey-Ant Man, or Wallaby Woman — as they first wandered, singing, across the surface of the earth, they were shaping the land as they traveled, forming valleys where they laid down, creating creeks or waterholes wherever they urinated, and forests where they kicked up dust, etc.. So today, when an aboriginal man goes walkabout, travelling along his ancestral dream tracks, he chants the verses originally sung by his dreaming ancestor, singing the land into view as he walks through it. And, in this manner, he renews not only his own life, but the very life of the land itself.”

This brings me back to Jung’s circumstance. What was it in his unconscious that was speaking to him. What was it that drove him to courageously dive into the darkness and then out again in his experience that would become The Red Book? Is there some deep mystery like an underground river that Jung tapped into? David Abram again,

“it is not humans alone who dream, and not just the other animals and the plants, but rather the land itself dreams, continually. The Dreamtime is not something that happened once and for all in the distant past; rather the Dreaming lies in the same relation to the open presence of the land around us as our own dream life lies in relation to our conscious or waking experience. It is a kind of depth, ambiguous and metamorphic. Indeed, it is a sense of both the past and the future not as dimensions that reside somewhere else, but as realms that are hidden, secretly, within the depths of the present moment. A sense of time as depth. Deep Time.”

All of this makes me wonder, in our communication with each other and within the whole sphere of life, is it just us in our limited capacity of thought and language that is speaking? Or is it something greater than ourselves? Are we tapped into an unknown or unseen reality and is it in fact possible to know and experience that something that is just as real as what our waking senses can communicate to us? What is happening to us when we ‘hear’ words in our head as we are writing them or ‘see’ images in our mind as we are creating them? Are we in some dream state while awake or is something dreaming us as we move through our experience? And if each of us is being dreamed, ‘lived by the powers’ as James Hillman says in another of Debra’s posts, then how does that connect each of us – to ourselves, to each other, and to the whole possible sense of reality that confronts us. And what responsibility do we have in this regard?

…In the comfort of the world
In the arms of my big nurse
From the science of the heart
To each animal and plant…

7 responses

  1. Thanks so much for furthering the conversation here. I really agree with Byrne, that the sound and feel of the words can be as important as what they convey, or that what they convey also comes through how they sound and feel. Especially in music, which tends to come to us emotionally through the melody and texture of the sound.
    You raise some good questions about essence of archetypes. I think Jung and Hillman were both struck by their autonomy, which is hard for us to grasp. We are more comfortable with thinking that things, images, feelings are inside us. But, I like the thought that we are touching something that is universal in nature and also that other things; animals, trees, and invisible presences like the dead, have their own presence, their own souls, even if we can’t locate that in time and place, their influence has an objective reality, something all of us can be aware of.


    September 29, 2013 at 1:20 am

    • Thanks Debra. Your post elicited such a strong reaction and I didn’t want to try to put these thoughts into a short response. So I thought I would continue the investigation here. Plus it is a way for me to honor you. Most of us go through life without fame or without a large circle surrounding us. Yet we may never know how something we say or do can affect others.
      You along with a few others here in WP land, are definitely in my radar as someone whose ideas, thoughts, and questions resonate with my own. So it is with deep gratitude that I say thank you. I look forward to reading more from your blog as time goes on.


      September 29, 2013 at 1:50 am

      • Oh, thanks so much for your kind words. Ditto for me. My WP friends and the sharing of ideas moves me and inspires me throughout my day-to-day.
        I like to think, as so many others before us have done, we are making a tapestry together to pass on.
        Your words resonate with me, and yes, we don’t always know how and when, what we say and do influences others. It’s makes me realize how true it is to trust in ourselves in how we show up. It is the presentation alone in what we each say and do that brings beauty to the world.
        I’d love to reblog your post, but only with your blessing!


        September 29, 2013 at 2:00 am

      • I am honored and grateful that you would consider doing so. Thank you 🙂


        September 29, 2013 at 2:04 am

  2. Reblogged this on The Ptero Card and commented:
    From AN ELEGANT MYSTERY, a furthering of the conversation on being Lived by the Powers and the discussion of the source and essence of images, ideas and an interesting thought about music and lyrical sounds.


    September 29, 2013 at 2:09 am

  3. Dear Friend,
    I just have a moment to respond before heading out.
    I dont know if there is some sort of connection that needs to be made rather than a realization that we are. I think the biggest problem I have is that I try to make an emotional/spiritual connection into an intellectual experience. Joseph Campbell says ““God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.”
    If it is truly beyond my ability to understand Ggod intellectually, then I am just entertaining myself by trying to do so.
    I am more convinced every day that the healing that needs to take place does not have words or any concepts that we can understand with the mind.
    Campbell also said, ““Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” That is how I try to leave it. Keep it out of the realm of the mind, which is filter skewed by history.
    Thanks for the thoughtful piece.


    September 29, 2013 at 3:35 am

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for your comment and thanks for the Joseph Campbell reminder. I love both of those quotes! I remember he liked to quote Durkheim as well about being transparent to the transcendent. I think that is a noble goal albeit a challenging one. That is an aspect that I admire in David Abram and in his being an animist – seeing the sacred in everything!


      September 29, 2013 at 11:29 am

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