“That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat . . . ‘Richard Parker, it’s over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life.’”’ – Yann Martel, Life of Piadvertisement - learn more
C. G. Jung recognized that in the moment of their greatest creative expression, the artist is an unconscious vehicle for something beyond themselves. At these times, their pen carries the unspoken voice of the collective whole of their culture. Like a medium or indigenous healer, what comes through them at this time can be a curative–healing comes as we hear the unspoken thing, as the needed but rejected quality in us comes into consciousness. Here the shadow’s waiting gift is born into our hearts.
Psyche’s roots are webs connecting us all. And more than that, the deepest place inside of us touches somewhere beyond time and space. Jung witnessed innumerable examples of our extending around these bounds in his client’s lives and dreams and in his own. He saw how often we do this, often only recognizing it later, sometimes when it’s too late. ‘Déjà vu’–French for ‘seeing again’–references this part of our cultural experience.
Great art is made for and from the collective–the artist is only a vehicle. (Perhaps this explains why so many artists cease producing great work after they become personally identified with their fame–the true source of their art is no longer available to them, once they think it’s them that’s making the art). A non-ego orientation is your best bet here as the artist can never quite be sure of the value of what they have brought forth.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, was published in 1838. In it, the whaling ship Grampus capsizes during a storm. Four crew members, including cabin boy Richard Parker, survive but are left without food and water. They are able to capture a tortoise and eat it, but are soon starving. Parker suggests that they cast lots to see who should be cannibalized. He loses and is immediately stabbed to death and consumed by the others, his hands and feet thrown overboard. Poe later called the book “very silly.”
Forty-seven years later, on May 19, 1884, the Mignonette departed Southampton, England bound for Sydney, Australia. On July 5th, its bulwark was washed away and the crew abandoned ship into a lifeboat. As in Poe’s story, the 17-year-old cabin boy in the boat was named Richard Parker. And, as in his story, they were able to catch a turtle for food on July 9th, but by the 21st they were again starving and discussion of drawing lots for self-sacrifice began. Poor Parker had drank seawater and was drifting into a coma and a few days later was killed and eaten by at least 2 of the others. On July 29th, a sail was sighted and they were rescued by the German ship Montezuma–named after the infamous Atzec cannibal king. The incident is well documented because it became an infamous criminal case.[ii]
There is great cultural opposition inside of ourselves to integrating this synchronicity-filled worldview. We deeply cherish our reductive over-simplifications of the world. It is hard for us to let go of the security blanket of our view of how things are–whether we got that view from somewhere else or really worked on it thoughtfully ourselves.
“I chose the name Pi because it’s an irrational number. Yet scientists use this irrational number to come to a ‘rational’ understanding of the universe. To me, religion is a bit like that, ‘irrational’ yet with it we come together, we come to a sound understanding of the universe.” [iii] – Yann Martel
It is Jung’s deeper view of our reality that best includes all the parts of our experience. In gazing into that view, we see a world with purpose; a reality that conspires for our benefit: a cosmos that winks to us and lets us in on its secrets. If a single synchronicity has ever occurred, then we live in a world that has been built, since the beginning, for the creation of meaning. Extending our whole selves into recognizing that fact is the most radical and revolutionary act we can perform–in doing so we feel ourselves living in a heart-shaped world. Can we take this reality not only into our minds, but also into our hearts? Can we be healed by it?
Is such an understanding the one we most desperately need? Jung felt that it was only through connection to this inner, transpersonal center that true psychological resilience could be found. When we sink down through feeling and touch the timeless in us, an unsinkable connection to reality is made. The Tao Te Ching and I Ching are texts dedicated to the achievement of this state.
Today, possibilities for our participation with the meaningful nature of reality are laid at our doorstep. We can look objectively and know that the psyche extends beyond the physical bounds that materialistic illusions imagine for it. This is offered to us through our experiences of synchronicity, precognitive dreams and art, near death, tantra and plant medicines–all the ways that feel the breath of the timeless on our necks; and through theoretical approaches such as quantum physics and extended mind research. The latter is catalogued extensively in Rupert Sheldrake’s A Sense of Being Stared At (and he writes about the larger issues discussed here in his newest book The Science Delusion – see him discussing both in Joshua Tree in September).
Ours is the time of the objective discovery of the meaning-filled nature of our subjective selves. “May Richard Parker always be at your side.”[iv]― Yann Martel
[ii] While writing this section of the article, the song Dreams by The Guess Who came on, “I was heard to be calling that my ship and all its crew were going down.”
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