I was watching the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway last night. In the second hour of the program, the narrator was describing the difficulties Hemingway had beginning his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. He had already published a critically acclaimed book of short stories, where each sentence was a work of art. Suddenly, he needed to shift to the length and breadth of detail a novel required. Hemingway told himself, write one true sentence. Then another and another. Which is what he did.
Hemingway was both a great artist surrounded by friends and family, as well as a solitary narcissist. There is both a loneliness and a luminosity to words. They can be used to mask as well as unmask, to torture or heal. We have to be totally alone in ourselves to write. Yet, words can fill us with a sense of connection and ecstasy. We might try to hold them to us as if they could warm our bodies with their heat. But when we do so, the words dissolve into air. It’s not the words themselves that warm us but the breath we give them as we speak and listen, and the paths to others they might reveal.
Two days ago, in the woods near the top of our hill, maybe 25 feet from a road, my wife and I came upon two circles in the earth. We had never seen these before. The bigger one was about 12 feet across, with a moss and stone foundation and one young oak tree growing inside it. Maybe it was once a silo. And the smaller circle, now a depression in the earth lined with rotted leaves and stones, was maybe once a well.
The more we looked, the more we found. There were stacks of old boards, maybe an old wall or roof. Further in the trees was a wood railing on an old porch attached to nothing and leading nowhere. It was like someone had built an entrance without knowing where it led. Even in a forest that we think we knew well, we were surprised. There were histories hidden here we had no knowledge of. What we didn’t know was way more prolific than what we did.
The night before we discovered the ruins, I had a dream. It started out understandably enough. I was outdoors at a party, a celebration, but no one was wearing a mask, not even me. I felt naked and more and more afraid. Everyone was acting as if there had never been or wasn’t now a pandemic raging in the land, or maybe they had somehow forgotten. Occasionally someone, usually a former student from when I taught secondary school, called out to me, inviting me to sit with them and talk. I waved and walked on, intent on getting out of there as quickly as I could. But I couldn’t. There were people everywhere.
Then everything changed. I was in a new dream, or the old one had transformed itself. I was watching a play, also outdoors. A young, attractive, strong-looking woman came on stage. She looked Tibetan. The crowd heard her words, maybe the dream me also heard her. But me, the dreamer, did not. I heard no words, just saw her lips move.
Then she left the stage, to return wearing a huge mask. Others joined her, 5 or 6, men mostly, I think. They were all larger-than-life figures wearing larger-than-life masks who didn’t walk but danced, as if enacting a ceremony. Then they stopped and gracefully lay down, in conference with each other even though they were no longer looking at each other.
In the dream, I, the dreamer entered the situation and began to speak, giving a commentary as it was occurring. The speaker was telling whoever it was that was consciously listening that this was an archetypal dream with at least 2 layers to it. There was the archetypal human level and there were the gods, or beings no longer tied to ego concerns, who were unselfish and cared about the well-being of all of us. They were the universe itself speaking.
My identities, my conscious and my dream self were getting all mixed up here. What were they trying to tell me? Was the commentator the deeper source of the narrator who appears in waking life?
Was the young woman what psychologist Carl Jung would call an anima or soul-figure, a muse tying me to my inner world and revealing my deepest desire? Being Tibetan, was she representing a refugee who wanted to save her country from an oppressor who had invaded and was destroying it? Or was she the personification of an ancient culture I admired, or a wisdom I had been searching for? What was I trying to save or what was the wisdom I desired?
She was both not me, different, and yet the heart of who I was.
Maybe the dream was revealing ancient teachings from many sources for me to hopefully live in my daily life and not just in my dreams and writing⎼
That just as the dream images were the content of the dreaming, it is our individuality and our differences that can incite us to look more closely at what stands before us or where our paths are taking us. But it’s what we share that enables us to actually see.
That we are both alone and in communion, lonely and luminous, distinct, like individual words, yet tied together in whole sentences that give us meaning. When we go most deeply into ourselves, we find others. The more we feel the universe around us as we speak, the more intimately we act as ourselves.
And when we feel these insights, it feeds our creativity, our relationships, and our sense of well-being.
This post is republished on Medium.
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