Archive for August, 2020


So, Friday evening. The last weekend in August now, and the twinkle lights in the garden are pretty in this creeping dusk. It’s also cool out, and the sky is thick with clouds rising for a good downpour. We are sitting at the table beneath the awning, Lottie and I, with dessert, and I’m feeling like a millionaire opposite her. She’s wearing a silvery, floaty dress for dancing, also a cashmere wrap around her shoulders. I would like to have known her as a younger woman, though from what she tells me that would not have been to know the best of her, tortured as she was, and drunk for most of it.

“Where do you find your life’s meaning nowadays, Lottie?”

The question is out before I can stop it. You know how I hate to spoil these quiet, expressive moments between us. Questions only draw a mask upon our faces, and then we cannot see each other properly.

She shrugs, smiles, gives a little shake of the head. The question is a stupid one, so there is no need for a serious answer. I apologise. Then I take out the device on which I carry the photographs she sent me, flash up the first of them, and I show it to her. She responds with an impish grin. I swipe through them slowly, and she responds to each with an inscrutable flick of the eyebrow.

As far as selfies go, they are each of them tasteful to the level of fine art, and I it strikes me, as I am sitting with her, how long she must have spent setting them up. These are none of them the hasty, ill-considered sexting of youth. They are more,… I don’t know what they are: part tease, part invitation, part question.

Do they mean what they seem to mean? It might seem obvious enough to you, when a woman bares her skin to a man, but then the obvious is never the wisest path with Lottie. And yet I cannot ask the question. It’s too much, too crude a thing, and would likely shatter the delight of all our wordless subtleties. I hope she can read the question in my eyes, or at least assume it. But if she can read it, and understand it, her expression, her answer is studiously withheld.

I will not defuse it for you, Rick. You must risk it.

Of course I must.

The problem facing us all is that our evolutionary purpose was long ago replaced by the acquisition of material goods. These have the disadvantage of only satisfying us for a millisecond. Beyond the next consumer fix, we do not know what we want, but that’s fine, because if we don’t know what we want, there is no danger of our failing to attain it, is there? Thus, we wonder why we lack a sense of existential purpose. Worse, there are those like me who say they seek purpose, though still without knowing what it is we want. We have the worst of both worlds then, and both of them are empty.

The voice in me says: “You have to know what you want before you can go for it, Rick.”

Sure, I thought I knew it well enough. I wanted to save the planet. I wanted to vote the Tories out. But it’s dawning on me these things are beyond my competence, when I cannot even save myself. And worse, I suspect I only attempted it to impress a girl.

Is that it, Rick? Is that all there was to it?

Lottie reads my thoughts and blushes.

We move into the garden room where she lights candles, and then we dance.

Still, the question remains between us. It’s in the tension of my arms, and it’s in my legs, and it’s in the expression with which I launch her into the turns, and against which she reacts with spirit. Tango! The dance of seduction. You have to feel it in your bones, and let it come through. Anything else would be a deceit, and she would know it. I accept it as a part of me, that it must come through. What will test me is her rejection and the degree of my disappointment.

In the story of the dance, the woman resists, until the man proves himself. Her resistance is in the tilt of her chin, the turn of her nose, the slant of her shoulder. By degrees though, her passion, and her trust wins through. Except that’s not the part Lottie plays here. From the beginning, she responds with a look and a feel that says if you want it you can have it, but you must still risk the consequences.

Even though you know not what they are.

As a younger man I would not have hesitated, and nor, I suspect, would she. Older now, we merely pause for coffee, and watch the rain. She looks at me and blows away the hair from her eyes, smiles, enjoying every minute of my lumbering discomfiture. She takes up my device which I left lying there, and she dials up a note-pad app, so she can “talk” to me.

She might indeed be the one, and the thing, I am looking for. She might be the hearth and the home, the bed and the warm breast for a pillow. She might be both the company and the purpose. Yes, I might disappear into her for ever, vanish from the world, here in her walled garden, each of us wrapped safe in the other’s eccentricity and imagination. And the strangest thing? Even if I do nothing, we still have all of this. Why then risk a busted flush on one last greedy turn of the card?

But by now the dance has moved on and Lottie has taken the lead, the truth of her being a more determined will than mine. I read it in the straightness of her back, the faint narrowing of her eyes, and in the poise of her hands as they cradle the coffee-cup. She is the feminine in its most benign, and most powerful guise. All the anger and the thwarted energy of her past life, and which she once upon a time anaesthetised with drink, is now sublimated by her strange alchemy into something ever silent but also magical, and merciful and passionate.

She slides the device across so I can see what she has written there:

“Can you bear to have me in your space, Rick? And not question it?”

“Yes.” But more than that: “It would be the finest thing, Lottie, to know that’s where you wanted to be.”

She lowers her coffee-cup, takes my hand, and reads the truth of me in the tremor of it, winks her reassurances. And that, I suppose is that.

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WordPress persuaded me to sign up to a “Personal” package for a couple of quid a month. They managed it by showing me the kinds of adverts they impose upon my readers. So, yes, I pay to spare you the pile cream, and the athletes’ foot stuff. You’re welcome. But now they’re trying to sell me a domain name because they say that’s the “professional” thing to have. It’s free for the first year of course, but a bit pricey thereafter. And then there’s the “pro package”, which is even more pricey, which enables me to charge money for,… well, something.
Surely they know I know they’re just trying to rinse us creative types, because,… well,… let’s face it, we have no other means of expression, do we? So thanks, WordPress, no thanks. I’m grateful to a degree, but I don’t write for the reasons you’re thinking. I do not aspire to be, or even to appear to be a “pro”.
I wrote a novel in 2019 called “the Inn at the edge of light”. It was my tenth, or eleventh or something. It was an intimate part of my life as I wrote it, a world I carved out of nothing, and to which I returned each night with pleasure and anticipation. The characters taught me things about my self and about the world I didn’t know I knew. I decided, out of bloody mindedness, to charge $0.99 for it on Smashwords, but it sold only four copies. Clearly it was meant to mean more to me than it was ever meant to mean to others.
The novel before that, Saving Grace, I gave away and it’s been downloaded nearly 2500 times. The moral? If you want to make money from your writing, it’s up to you, but don’t be surprised if you never make a bean and you end up looking back with nothing but regret at the wasted years. I don’t. My novels have calmed me, centred me, kept my sails to the wind. It’s something else then, the writing I mean,… whether you pretend to be a pro or not. Indeed, the reason we write at all is a mystery, given the path to A-List celebrity is so littered with apparent failure.
Much of life is chaotic, meaningless and cruel. I state the obvious, of course. Enlightenment accepts the world as such, then moves on. The way I see it, human beings became conscious of themselves for a reason. Ours is the task of balancing the chaos by carving out some sort of order from the melee, also, to the degree it’s possible – as small and fragile as we are – we were meant to find ways of transcending the violent cycle of dog-eat-dog nature. We can do this because above all we are exquisitely imaginative creatures.
In 1925, the psychologist Carl Jung went to Taos in New Mexico. There, the native Indians told him about their religion, and their belief that if they didn’t practice it, the sun would cease to rise. This makes no sense to a modern people dosed on rationalism. We tell ourselves a spiritual ritual can have no bearing on the real world. But I think it can, and it does, if not to the world as it is in itself, then to the way we see and touch, and feel it.
Writing’s like that too. It’s like walking along a beach and coming across bits of ideas washed up among the detritus on the shoreline. Individually they don’t make sense, but something about them attracts us – the shape of them, or the way they catch the light of imagination. We recognize them as pieces of something greater that once belonged together. They were a story, now broken apart by the chaos of the universe as it unfolded, and it’s our job to puzzle out a way of putting it back together, of restoring order and meaning. We don’t do this by thinking how much we can sell that idea for. We do it by joining it all back up and releasing it into the world for its own sake – even if it’s only us and our God who knows about it.
Of course, it’s hard to evade the side of one’s ego, the bit of us that craves reward or recognition, for such is an easy, if shallow, means of validating one’s presence in the world. I must exist, we say, and I must be right in what I think or say, because I’m known among men, and they pay me well. But this leaves little room for error. The literary life, the thinking life is an adventure. And all adventurers have wasted time following the trails that lead nowhere but right back to the beginning, or which have petered out in the waste of decades.
That way you go from hero to zero in a heartbeat. And, as your acolytes abandon you, and the critics sneer at the passing of yet another smart-arse, with it goes your fragile sense of meaning. But for the likes of the unknown scribbler it doesn’t matter if we get it wrong. It doesn’t matter if, now and then, we stick the tail on the donkey’s head. We have no reputation to risk, no grace from which to fall. And therefore, perhaps crucially, we do not fear to fail. Ego knows this, has learned its lesson over long years, and generally leaves me alone.
My stories are a trail of ideas. They have led me to places I could not have conceived of without the vehicle of imagination. Some have led me round in circles. Some have seduced me with their delights, but taught me nothing. Others have opened doors to places I have feared to go. The sun won’t cease to rise if I neglect to worship it in ritual prose. But in my own small way, and like everyone else, I face daily the chaos of the universe, and I pattern it with some semblance of order. We can do this in practical ways, like building a house to keep out the cold and the rain. Or, as writers and thinkers, we do it by beach-combing the shores of imagination and teasing back the threads of chaos into some sort of ordered meaning.
Thus, this little piece of pattern comes to you free of charge, free of adverts, but not I hope entirely free of purpose. Let it therefore raise some sparks in you, and set you off along the shoreline of your own imagination. And let’s see then what the tide brings in.

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Penyghent – Yorkshire Dales

I wasn’t sure what reception I’d get at Horton in Ribblesdale. In the fledgling pandemic days, locals barricaded the car parks to keep visitors away. But things were pretty much back to normal this morning. I wanted to get the winter sleep out of my legs and, it now being August, there was a growing sense of urgency about matters. Walking on the flat is better than nothing, but what a hill walker needs is a hill. And what better hill is there than Penyghent?

Penyghent, isn’t the highest of the Yorkshire peaks but it’s got to be the prettiest. Its ascent from Horton involves a long pull up the Brackenbottom scars, then  a couple of easy scrambles to the top. The downside is it’s a popular route, on the three-peaks circuit, so there’s never a time when you’ll have it to yourself. Today was no exception.

The drive over was busy, the A59 a long snarl of impatient heavies and white vans. I was cut up by a pair of vans at the Tickled Trout doing a hundred miles an hour. Then there were the Hooray Henriettas in their Chelsea-tractors who can’t always be relied upon to signal their intentions when whizzing around roundabouts. And the giant hardcore wagons thundering along the A682 and the A65 seemed even bigger and faster and more thundery than usual. Maybe I’m just too old to be venturing far these days.

As for the hill, it was a slow moving procession. The groups were well spaced out, but several of them were over-large and troublesome on the pass. For a while I trailed an old timer. He stepped aside to let me through, then gave me a shake of the head and told me with a touch of pathos he was not the man he used to be. The guy was well into his eighties, memories of many a mountain trail etched into the lines of his face. We were coming up to the five hundred meter contour by then and a couple of miles out of Horton, so he wasn’t doing too bad. A sit down to admire the view, a swig water, and he’d be fine.

You scramble for a joke at times like that, something to make light. I told him we could all say the same, about not being the man we used to be. I’m not sure where that came from. Sometimes the unconscious speaks its own mind, unbidden.

I saw him on the summit later, making steady progress. He might not have been as fast as he was – which I suppose is what he meant – but he lacked none of the grit. That’s the important thing for a man. Once we lose our grit, we’re done because life will always find a way of testing it, no matter how old we get.

The summit was a busy spot for lunch, crowds and bits of ancient banana skin scattered everywhere. The overlarge groups were annoying. One of them comprised corporate types with iPhones poised, responding to business emails at the tops of their voices. So, it was a quick bite and off. Sadly, the three peaks route was always a magnet for pricks.

If you want lonely on Penyghent, you head north from the summit to Plover Hill. Then it’s back down the knee-breaking length of the Foxup Road. But not today. Today, I was just grateful to be out on the hill, grateful for the aliveness of it, and the scent of the wild.

Penyghent left me with aching hips, but the rest of me was fine. If I have any doubts about myself it’s a waning confidence on the roads. They seem crazy-busy now, or maybe I’m slowing down. Am I the man I used to be? Well no, of course not. But then like I said to the old-timer, none of us are. We can only hope the bits of youth we’ve lost to the inevitable leakage of time are replaced with something else. Call it an eye for the sublime, and a more mindfully placed step. I don’t know.

There was a coffee shop in Horton doing takeaways. Face mask and hand gel, granted access. All is change. We just have to roll with it, and be accepting.

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I still pay for a television licence, but I can’t remember when I last watched a scheduled broadcast. I used to listen to the BBC on my morning commute, but not for years now. As for commercial radio you know how that goes? You eventually find a tune you like, but before you settle into it, it cuts to an advert followed by a load of verbal drivel from the DJ. So, if I want music I bypass the radio, plug in the Android and listen to MP3. If I want debate or current affairs, I go online, listen to a podcast on a topic that interests me. It cuts out the adverts and the false adversarial baying, and it restores a contemplative calm to the day.

I still have a TV, left over from the noughties, but I only ever cast media to it from other online sources. Broadcast media is expensive to produce and, in a bean-counter culture, the key performance indicators are listener numbers. How do you grow and hold an audience? You present a diet of inflammatory material with the intent to create outrage.

We see this in the mainstream TV and print media, where intelligent and genuine debate is obsolete. But its most prevalent on Social Media, where outrage is manufactured and monetised to a fine science. This was brought home to me when searching online for material on the history of philosophy. That search took me to Bryan Magee and a series of broadcasts he did in the nineteen eighties. What struck me was that such material would never find air-time now. If you want it, you have to go online, but to a layer of the web beneath the bubble-gum of social media.

Yes, the Internet is a repository for all that is the worst in human thinking, but also the very best. It now hosts some of the finest contemporary thought, and acts as curator of our past, preserving valuable material that would otherwise never see the light of day.

Culturally, we have reached a point of transition. We’re living in the so-called post-modern era, but post-modernism has stalled. It has lost itself in a tangle of ideologically defined oppressor/oppressed relationships and has birthed a bewildering spawn of identity politics and endless cultural wars that defy common sense. This basically means any one of us can identify as being the member of an oppressed group. It also means each of us can be accused of oppressing someone else, even if we’ve never met them. Heavens, I sound like a Tory!

The cultural periods of human history mark the stages of our evolution as a species. When evolution stalls, it back-tracks to the last known good position and tries another way. The chaos we see now is the vacuum left by evolution on its hasty retreat from leading edge post-modernism, away from the venal tribalism it has led us into.

Many thinkers have sensed this. Some are pessimistic and predict our demise in the flames of anarchy and planetary heat-death. Others see a glimmer of hope in various online voices. But that debate is complex and subtle and must avoid the outrage between artificially inflated tribal camps. It’s therefore not a debate you’ll ever find in the mainstream news broadcasts, or the magazines now.

Its nexus is an informal group of thinkers and facilitators, the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. Some of its voices, like Ken Wilbur and Jordan Peterson have been around for a long time. They come from a wide range of disciplines, from philosophy and psychology from spirituality and tech. The result is a penetrating analysis of our present ills and a potential way forward. But it involves breaking the post-modern grip. This is already happening anyway. We see it in the reaction of politics. Culturally, the leading edge has adopted neo-Marxist ideals, and the mirror-image of that is political authoritarianism, and proto-fascism. It’s a bewildering paradox to bear witness to.

One of the most influential voices against post-modernism in recent years has been Jordan Peterson’s. What’s striking about Peterson is the degree to which the mainstream pundits, both left and right, misrepresent him. Claimed by the right for his critique of the left, Peterson is a-political but possibly slightly left-liberal. To know him though you have to engage with his material, read his books, sit through his online-lectures. This also takes you to the heart of the intellectual dark web. If you’re looking for sound-bites to define this movement, you’re not of the movement, more the subject of it.

I’m very much of the left when it comes to my own politics, but the left has taken particularly ill to Peterson and that puzzles me because I find him tremendously enlightening, and I can only conclude it’s a tribal reaction to someone telling you something you don’t want to hear. Indeed, his critique of the radical neo-Marxist left, is sobering. As a moderate leftist who has never read Marx, I am mindful of its post-revolutionary slide into the Gulag. The radical Marxists who run our university Humanities departments, seem to have forgotten it. Instead, they have created for us a thousand identity barriers for us to trip over, while leaving out the fact we are, above all human.

As we become more polarized, culturally and politically, the moderates of both camps, left and right, find themselves without a home, find themselves de-platformed from the mainstream for wanting to discuss what, in post-modern terms, are now taboo subjects. So they’ve begun to coalesce around this intellectual dark web. Here the moderate leftists and conservative thinkers engage in meaningful conversation. Online, they are unhindered by sound-bite culture, and don’t need to curtail their presentations to suit a snappy TV editorial format. Peterson’s lectures can last for hours, yet he attracts millions of viewers, so there is a hunger for this material, a hunger for a way out of the bind we find ourselves in.

We are all a mixture of good ideas and bad, we all hold a piece of the truth. Therefore, the way ahead can only be the vector sum of all the truths, as articulate, thinking individuals open themselves up in non-adversarial discussion. But to get to that point requires a degree of sincere debate that is no longer possible via the usual mainstream channels. If you vote conservative I call you a right wing nut job, and you call me a lib-tard commie bastard, both of us intent on nothing more than saving face. That’s a zero sum game, and we should all know the extremes at both ends lead to murder and to lost generations.

With the rise of social media and surveillance capitalism, the Internet looked set to ruin us, and it still might. I don’t know to what extent the Intellectual Dark Web can influence the debate back to common sense, lurking as it does beneath a surface scum of click-baity dross. It seems an unlikely place for the intellect to regroup and to pivot post-modernism away from the disaster it seems to be openly courting. But for now I am lending it my optimism.

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mazzy at rivington

I broke cover from Covid and drove thirty miles to Glasson. It’s the furthest I’ve been all year. I was there for nine, and the car park was empty, but by mid-afternoon it was full. I did a walk through the meadows to Cockerham, then back along the Lancashire coastal way. It was hot and humid. The Cockerham leg was quiet, but on the meadow by the abbey, I hit the crowds coming the other way.

By now I imagined there’d be a vehicle parked within a wafer of mine, and a big ding in my door because that’s what I assume most people are like – gormless, and void of social awareness. My car is eighteen years old now but still looks good. I’m trying to keep her that way against the press of time and entropy, and the carelessness of others. Naturally, as with anything manifest, it’s a losing battle, but we do what we can.

I know, I know,… I have a problem with people. It’s been worse in these Covid-haunted times which makes avoiding them all the more urgent. I’m not sorry to admit it. Indeed I’m less sorry as I get older and begin to understand myself.

Understand myself? Let me see:

I find others draining on account of a strongly introverted nature. That’s just what we introverts are like, and we need make no apologies for it. I’m also often taken advantage of on account of my agreeableness, and in turn I take that bad on account of my neuroticism. Then I don’t say anything in my defence on account of my aversion to confrontation. Instead, I withdraw my support, or more likely these days withhold it in the first place, before some others start feeding off me.

It’s worse at times of imbalance, when I’m shadow boxing. Then I behave in a passive-aggressive way, which is stupid and self-defeating. What I need to do is stand up and be more assertive. But that’s easier said than done. Understanding one’s self is only the first part of the problem, you see? The second part is deciding if it’s a problem or not. These are shadow issues, and you can’t beat them. The best you can do over time is accept them as part of yourself, make peace and move on.

As I walked, horse-flies had found the undersides of my fingers. I’ve never known them do that before. By the time I noticed, my fingers were already swelling from the bites. Nature’s all well and good until you’re bitten by horse-flies, and then you’d rather do without it. We aim for better than nature, at least in the raw, and mostly we manage it, I think, but at times we get above ourselves, and nature sinks its teeth.

Coming back to Glasson harbour, there was by now a carnival atmosphere, crowds milling about, and a couple of yachts coming through the lock to meet the tide. The cafés and ice-cream-vans were doing a roaring trade, kids and dogs running amok. I pulled my bandanna up like a bank-robber and bought a brew from the chuck-wagon. Then I sat with it, well away from the crowds. Few were wearing any sort of face covering. In shops, it’s compulsory, at other times optional. But the “optional” will likely get you stared at, face coverings being a new front in the culture wars.

While I ruminated, a group numbering twenty or so came steaming down the car park on bikes, raising dust and hollers. They crowded me like wasps, while complaining among themselves how busy it was. They couldn’t see they were their own crowd, crushing my two meters of safe space down to a dodgy less than one. I took my brew to the car.

She was unmarked, and my neighbours had allowed a good deal of space between us, redeeming humanity for me somewhat – sure weren’t we all out here just enjoying the summer as best we could? I sanitized my hands with anti-bac gel, which also took some of the sting out of the bites. Then I dropped the top. Driving used to be a bore, but since teaming up with this little car, I’ve rediscovered its pleasures. Plus, we’d had the best of the day and – okay – the crowds were pecking my head. It was time to be off.

I drove home through Cockerham, kept her in fourth, kept the revs up, so she met the bends and the undulations with a bit of zest. It’s still such a lovely car to drive, well-balanced, not powerful – about a hundred and twenty-five horses – light as a feather, and a bottomless well of torque. But, as much as I treasure her, she’s worth about the same these days as some of the bicycles I overtook – pelotons of men in Lycra, spitting. It’s not a good look, guys, the spitting I mean, especially now amid a pandemic spread by body fluids.

I picked up the M6 at Broughton. Traffic eastbound from the M55 was fast and stupid. You have to change lanes early here, so you’re right for the southbound M6. Miss it and you’ll be scooting back north to Lancaster. Even though I was indicating my intentions, an SUV zoomed up and sat on my shoulder, pinning me northbound, so I stamped on the gas, and the car responded like a rocket. The SUV shrank in the rear-view, and I picked up my lane just in time. The way ahead was clear, so I kept on with the power, and we ate the road, fled the crowds and the heat, and all those damned horse-flies.

None of this sounds like me. It’s more like something unravelling, or working its way through the psyche. I’ve been thinking about the novel, Winter on the Hill, and something Annie said to me. Annie’s imaginary of course, which makes her both real and not real at the same time, at least in the phenomenological sense:

You’re a warrior, Rick, but you’re tired, and right now you’re up to your knees in mud, and your sword’s blunt from swinging it at shadows all day long, and the snow’s lying thick on the ground, and you’re cold because it’s winter on the hill. What can you do about that? Well, you get back on your feet, find somewhere warm for a while, and sharpen your sword. Because remember, a warrior can’t live without a fight. Anything else is just death. So you sharpen that damned sword and get back out there,…

For the introvert, it’s easier to take the way of the Lover, especially after a few knock-backs. We just cosy up with a good book, unplug the ‘phone and close the door. We sheathe our sword, withdraw support. Sometimes then, the warrior has to fight first the lover in himself. Then, like Annie says, get back out there and do the best we can, even if all that amounts to is standing our two meters, and telling others to back off.

Keep well, keep calm and keep going.

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inner work

Robert A Johnson (1921-2018] was a pioneering Jungian Analyst and a respected figure in the international psychoanalytical community. A student of Jiddu Krishnamurti and the Sri Aurobindo school in Pondicherry, he was also an author of many insightful works on human nature and self development.

In “Inner Work” he deals with dreams and active imagination as ways of communicating with the unconscious mind. The unconscious, while largely unknown, holds great influence over us. If we can meet it half way, it can be a powerful ally. It will fill our lives with enthusiasm, colour and meaning. But if we ignore it, our world becomes grey and meaningless. Worse, the unconscious will come back at us as depression and neuroses. On the world’s stage, those neuroses manifest as chaos, authoritarianism, and war.

To pre-modern cultures, unhindered by materialist prejudice, dream-work comes naturally. We all dream, but moderns tend to explain them away as an artefact of neural processing – in other words, garbage. But we have only to spend a little time with our dreams to see this is not so. Dreams provide us with an abstract picture of the flow of our inner psychical energies. They also provide a channel for making those energies conscious, and they challenge us to accept them as part of our waking lives. We feel better, more relaxed and motivated, and the world becomes once more a magical place of infinite possibility.

Serious dream work is not about looking up the images in a dream dictionary. Dreams are personal, the images in the dream being for us alone, and that’s how they must be interpreted. But dream-work isn’t easy. Its imagery is at times beyond bizarre. It can be by turns seductive and horrifying, and all too often incomprehensible.

A more direct way of engaging the unconscious is through active imagination. Here we seek dialogue with the personifications of whatever imaginary energies we can summon. We close our eyes, relax, a figure appears in our mind’s eye, and we talk to it.

Active imagination is risky because it can get out of control. Most authors advise against it unless you’re under the supervision of an analyst. That’s fine, but reading this book, I realize I’ve been doing it all my life. Also, writing fiction, we talk with the archetypal energies who take shape as characters in our stories. If you’re a writer you know what I mean, and this is probably safe territory for you. If you’re not, then best leave it alone.

Both techniques, as described here, come straight out of the Jungian tradition. In dream analysis, we write the dream down, then work through each dream-image. We list all the associations we can think of, returning each time to the image. Then we ask what dynamic, what mood, what emotion it might represent. Having done the groundwork then, the actual interpretation of the dream – the message – drops out more easily and the energies are released as a powerful “aha!”. Johnson then advises us to honour the dream by acting out an appropriate real-world ritual.

Dreams sometimes recur, but for most of us they last just the one night. In that single set piece they present us with an allegory of our inner psychical disposition. Active imagination is different and can go on for days, weeks, years. This is a difficult thing to describe, because it’s easy to say we’re just making stuff up, and it might indeed start out that way as we set the opening scene with our characters. But then we must prepare for the dialogue to go off script very quickly as the unconscious becomes an equal partner in the conversation. It can tell you things you did not know you knew. But it can also dominate the conversation and is therefore dangerous.

Dealing with archetypal energies, Johnson advises us to be mindful of the moral sense that comes with human consciousness. The archetypes are instinctive drives. They are often insightful and numinous, but they are also amoral and ill equipped for life in the conscious realm. A vulnerable individual might all too easily subordinate themselves to an archetype and become possessed by it. Then they act out its amoral tendencies in real life. It’s crucial therefore the ego uses its discernment, and brings to bear its moral sensibilities.

This touches on Jungian metaphysics which describes the universe as an idealist realm of pure mentation. The archetypal energies pour forth as collective or personal myths. The purpose of the human being then, is to use the gift of consciousness to shepherd these raw drives as best it can into something more compassionate and moral. Without that intervention, nature remains red in tooth and claw, and our evolution towards something higher is stalled.

Inner work can sound self-indulgent and new-agey. But unless enough of us attempt to awaken to these powerful energies, and deal with them positively, they will possess us in negative ways, possess the world too and run amok. They’ve done it before – just pick your century. The difference between past generations and ours though is we have the power to destroy ourselves several times over. Meanwhile, the doomsday clock approaches midnight, and right now it’s touch-and-go if we’re going to make it.

The book is very approachable, and clarifies for me some of Jung’s more difficult concepts. It features several fascinating dreams and examples of active imagination from Johnson’s work as an analyst. It’s a valuable guide for anyone undertaking serious inner work, but it will also appeal to anyone simply interested in dreams, the imagination, and the fascinating conundrum that is human nature.

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grasmerePicture postcard Grasmere. Just a thirty minute drive, yet a world away from the Lake District I know, from the sublime beauty of the Wordsworths and Coleridge, and Southey. No, not in Grasmere, Lewis. The poets would not recognize themselves there any more.

In truth, I dislike the place immensely, dislike the moneyed incomers, the second homers, and the beleaguered locals equally, having found the latter in the past to be universally unfriendly, and paradoxically at war with us, the day-tourists who provide their living. Never been to Grasmere, Lewis? Take my advice and beware, the carparks have installed credit-card readers now, because no one carries that much coinage any more! Your secret camera reads our number as we drive on, and sends the fine directly to our address if we drive off again without paying.

So, it’s true, Lewis. You really do know where we live?

However, by way of protection, I possess something you do not: – a little local knowledge. There’s a long lay-by out on the main road, up to King Dunmail’s rise. I’m early enough to squeeze the Volvo in there for free. What was it Rebecca said? Nowadays all we have to go on are our wits? And small victories, in the face of overwhelming odds, mean a lot.

It’s begun to rain. Golfing-brolly aloft, I walk the mile back into the village. Woodsmoke forms a cap upon the vale, the leaden clouds a higher cap, cutting off the fells at a few hundred feet. The air is cool, a Lakeland summer maturing. I buy gingerbread, then repair to the churchyard to pay my respects. This is the tourist thing, you understand.

Now, just a moment, let me see:

Wordsworth, William; 1770-1850. Mary (wife), and Dorothy (sister), muses in their different ways. And Sara, third muse, Mary’s sister – beloved of STC. His children are here too, also Hartley, son of Coleridge. Old stories, Lewis, his best work done in his twenties, an age I can barely remember now, then a long life of contemplation, and one tragedy after another.

Is that where I am now? Surely, I am worth one last flourish!

American tourists are photographing shyly, as if they fear it might be a sin, or there’s a charge, because for everything else in our Buiscuit-tin-Lake-Wonderland, save the air we breathe, there is either a charge for it, or a notice to forbid it. I intuit they’ve already been told off for pointing their cameras in the hallowed halls of the Wordswortharium. They see me looking, so I smile to separate myself from the shadow of sour-faced officialdom.

The wide old gentleman, and his blonded dame sidle over, ask if I will photograph them together, St Oswald’s church in the background, then ask the way to Rydal Mount. I’m glad to oblige. I never fail to be charmed by the graciousness of Americans when abroad, and wonder how they can be so genteel, yet carry guns at home in case of argument. Forgive me, I’m generalizing, I know. I offer them a nibble of my gingerbread, and they accept.

It seems at least I have a face that people trust.

Story of my life, Lewis. Myths, remember? Half truths. Imaginings.

[Lifted entirely out of context from my novel “By fall of night “]

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