Causes for happiness according to Carl Jung

Recently I thought of a chain of events in my life that I first considered unfortunate, though eventually they led to better results than I ever imagined. This got me thinking of “happiness,” and how wrong our ideas about it can be.

A few years ago I saw one of those lists of “10 factors for happiness” that both confirmed popular hunches (good health is factor #1) and contained surprises (children or no children makes no statistical difference in life satisfaction surveys).  Searching Google for “10 factors of happiness” led to 32 million hits.

I didn’t find the one I was after, but many of those I scanned were interesting.  None pretended to guarantee a sense of wellbeing – there are too many intangibles, such as personal outlook.  We’ve probably all known healthy, well to do, miserable people, as well as those who find satisfaction in overcoming adversity.

Public domain

Public domain

I am also attuned to Buddha’s warning, that any sense of wellbeing that depends on outside conditions is subject to change because those conditions are subject to change. I view these lists not as suggestions on where to look for the ultimate good, but as factors that can improve our odds of feeling satisfied much of the time.  The list I found most interesting gave five conditions for happiness according to Carl Jung.

  1. Good physical and mental health.
  2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
  3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
  4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
  5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.

I was especially interested to read “satisfactory work” in item #4, as “settling” for “satisfactory” work (rather than following my bliss) was the life choice I referred to at the start of this post. From what I’ve observed, following bliss is a slow, long term process, filled with trial and error, because most of us don’t know our bliss till we stumble over it in the dark – but that is a topic for another day.

In the Psychology Today article I’m quoting from, Jung observed that “No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.” He also suggested that chasing happiness doesn’t work.  I agree in part. I think happiness is a by product of other actions rather than something we can grasp directly, but I know from personal experience that numerous actions and attitudes can improve or worsen my odds.  For instance, I find it helpful to limit TV news viewing to the PBS Newshour two or three times a week, and sometimes even that is too much. Dwelling on bad news we cannot change doesn’t appear on anyone’s happiness list.

Perhaps the best advice I received on happiness came from a high school English teacher, one the most important mentors I’ve had in this life. His was a one item list: “I think life is satisfying only when we’re committed to something greater than ourselves.” In the decades since then, I’ve found lots of elaborations, but nothing superior to that as a way to orient my inner compass.

What do you think?  What works for you or makes your glass half full and occasionally running over?

Jung’s Tower: simplicity and the inner life

Jung's Tower House, Bollingen, Switzerland, by Andrew Taylor, 2009.  CC BY-SA-2.0

Jung’s Tower House, Bollingen, Switzerland by Andrew Taylor, 2009. CC BY-SA-2.0

Recent news of technological incursions into consciousness itself (virtual reality and altered memories); almost daily revelations about NSA spying; suggestions that social media “isolates people from reality;” it’s enough to make you want to unplug all the gadgets – at least for a while!

Renowned psychologist, Carl Jung (1875-1961) did just that, for months at a time, in a tower-house complex he started building in 1923 and continued to work on for the rest of his life.  He often spent months each year living as simply as possible, without electricity or running water.  It’s easy to think he lived in a simpler time and couldn’t have imagined modern complexity, but consider these words he wrote in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, published in 1961, the year he died:

“We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness.  We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise.  We refuse to recognize that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is canceled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us.
………………………
…new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for.  They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole.  Mostly they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before.”

The tower, phase 1, 1923.  Creative Commons

The tower, phase 1, 1923. Creative Commons

Ten years before starting the tower, Jung had a painful break with Freud that precipitated a period of disorientation and a huge uprush of the kind of unconscious contents he had witnessed in schizophrenic patients.  Feeling that his experience was purposeful, he chose to submit to the unconscious with writing, art, and the effort to understand.  Out of this phase of turmoil and uncertainty, his unique psychological insights were born.  Paper and ink, he said, did not seem “real” enough to represent his discoveries, so in 1922 he purchased land on Lake Zurich for a “representation in stone” of his “innermost thoughts.”

Phase II, 1927.  Creative Commons

Phase II, 1927. Creative Commons

Jung wrote at length of the parallel developments of his inner life and the tower, over more than three decades, saying things like:

“At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life, I am most deeply myself”

“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.”

“I pump the water from the well.  I chop the wood and cook the food.  These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple!”

Jung pumping water at Bollingen ca. 1960.  Library of Congress

Jung pumping water at Bollingen ca. 1960. Library of Congress

While drawing inspiration from Jung, an obvious question becomes, how do I connect with this kind of depth in the midst of my own too-hectic life?  The good news is, we don’t need a tower to live in for months at a time.  The bad news is we need to unplug every day and tune into activities that nourish the soul; this is often hard arrange.  It takes focus, intention, and experimentation to find those things that center us and we are drawn to.  Any number possibilities come to mind:

  • “Spend an hour a day in a quiet room by yourself reading old stories that you find nourishing.”  That’s what Joseph Campbell said when Bill Moyers asked this question during the “Power of Myth” interviews.
  • Meditation, of almost any kind.  This my own core practice.  Zen teacher, Cheri Huber said, “If you start by watching your breath for as little as five minutes a day, it can change your life.”
  • Sports that allow one to get in “the zone,” especially walking, running, or bicycling.
  • Keeping a dream notebook.
  • Writing, though I suspect most bloggers will have the same difficulty I have in putting words at the service of psyche – how do I turn off the writing sophistication I’ve worked so hard to gain?  Can I ever truly use words in a “purposeless” manner, allowing them to go where the wish, without thinking, “Gee, this would make a good blog post?” For any chance of success, I need a definite strategy, like writing fast with a rollerball pen in cheap notebooks.
  • Visual arts or crafts.  Training or skill is not required for this kind of work, and in fact, can get in the way.  Those with artistic training may find it useful to paint or draw with the non-dominant hand.  Jung had no formal art training, but his private journal, The Red Book, only recently published, gives an idea of what may emerge if one is determined to honor the psyche.
Red Book, p. 131.  Courtesy Ox Aham, Creative Commons

Red Book, p. 131. Courtesy Ox Aham, Creative Commons

When I truly examine my own habits, it’s clear that I fritter away enough time with gadgets each day to find the space for this kind of exploration.  It doesn’t need to be with the kinds of activities I outlined above.  I find it’s ok to schedule “time for inner work” the way I schedule time at the gym, but the most powerful new discoveries seem to emerge from those quiet voices at the edge of consciousness, the tiny impulse it is so easy to overlook in our busy lives.

Such an impulse woke me one night at 1:00am one morning.  Instead of going back to sleep, I got up and wrote down a sentence.  That led to a paragraph, and then a page, and then another.  That was the start of the first (and so far only) novel I’ve finished.

Something similar happened to Jung at his tower.  He gave the stonemason at a quarry precise measurements for blocks he needed to build a new wall, but one of the stones arrived in error; it was square, about 20″ on each side.  When Jung saw it, he said, “That is my stone, I must have it!”  Over time, he carved a testament to his life and work on stone which “stands outside the Tower, and is like an explanation of it.  It is a manifestation of the occupant.”

Bollingen stone, main face, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Bollingen stone, main face, CC-BY-SA-3.0

In a seminar in 1939, Jung said:

“We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are “nothing but.”

The Bollingen Tower became a vital way for Jung to live the symbolic life, but he would have been the first to insist that we don’t need to carve stone or build houses to find it for ourselves.  All we need is the hunger.  And the will to begin.

Queen Bothildur: an Icelandic Christmas folktale

I found this story in a beautifully illustrated book of Icelandic folktales for children, Tales of the Elves, that I brought back from that country after a visit in 2012.

Tales of the Elves 400

One Christmas Eve, a richly dressed woman knocked at the door of a farm house in Hrutafjord and asked for shelter. The sheriff lived there and said she could stay.  When people asked her name, she said it was Bothildur, but she would not say anything else about herself.

She stayed home while everyone else went to midnight mass, and when they returned, they had never seen the house so clean and beautifully arranged.  The sheriff invited her to stay on as housekeeper, and she excelled at her work.  The following Christmas Eve, she stayed home again, but this time, when the household returned, they found Bothildur’s eyes red from weeping.

On the third Christmas Eve, Gudmundur, the sheriff’s shepherd boy, vowed to discover her secret.  As everyone walked to church, he feigned illness and turned back.  Gudmundur possessed a magic stone that made him invisible.  Holding it in his hand, he slipped into the farmhouse, where he saw Bothildur dressed in the finest clothing he’d ever seen.  She took a green cloth from a chest and set off into the night, with Gudmundur following closely behind.  They came to a lake where Bothildur spread the cloth on the water and stepped onto it.  The shepherd boy just had time to step onto a corner before the cloth began to sink.

Bothildur

It seemed like they were passing through smoke as they sank deeper, but at last they came to a grassy plain in front of a fair city.  Bothildur entered the city where everyone cheered.  A man who wore a crown embraced her and then everyone entered the church for Christmas mass.  Bothildur’s three children ran around the pews playing with three golden rings, until the youngest dropped his and couldn’t find it because the invisible Gudmundur had slipped it into his pocket.

When the service was over and it was time for Bothildur to leave, everyone was sad.  She walked alone with her husband onto the plain before the city.  Both were in tears and Gudmundur heard them say this was the last time they would ever meet.  They parted with great sorrow as Bothildur stepped onto the green cloth with Gudmundur behind her.

Bothildur returned home and was cleaning when the sheriff and the rest of the household returned.  Gudmundur came home later.  When asked where he had been, he told the entire tale of his trip to the land below the waters.  When Bothildur asked if he had proof, Gudmundur withdrew her son’s golden ring.  At that she was joyous.  She explained that she’d been a queen in Elf Land until a witch cursed her.  She could only return home on Christmas eve, and only a human brave enough to follow her to the world below could break the spell.  “Now you have released me and you shall be richly rewarded,” she said.

After saying goodbye to the household, Bothildur vanished.  That night, Gudmundur dreamed she came to him and gave him coins and jewels which he found beside his pillow when he awoke.  Later, he used that money to buy a farm of his own and get married.  In time, he became known far and wide as the luckiest man alive.

***

In Iceland, winter solstice celebrations were huge events – understandably, for by mid-December, the southern part of the country gets only four hours of light each day, and the northern regions, above the arctic circle, get only three.  Icelanders embraced Christianity in 1000 AD, but to this day, Christmas is a dual holiday, celebrating both the birth of Christ and the return of the sun.

Charming as it is that the doorway to the Other World should open on Christmas Eve, it’s a safe guess that Christmas is peripheral to the tale.  Stories of release from enchantment are found in every culture and predate Christianity.  Sometimes love and compassion break the spell, as in “Beauty and the Beast.”  Sometimes it’s bravery and cleverness, and sometimes even violence – in the first version of “The Frog King” published by the Brothers Grimm, the frog is disenchanted not by a kiss, but when the princess becomes so annoyed with him that she hurls him against a wall.

Aside from its simple charm, what fascinates me about Queen Bothildur’s tale is that Gudmundur, the young disenchanter, brings his own magical implement for the task.  Where do shepherd boys pick up magical stones of invisibility?  Jung believed that stones are frequently symbols of the Self, his term for the fully integrated personality.

Babylonian stone seal, ca 1595-1155 BC.  Creative Commons

Babylonian stone seal, ca 1595-1155 BC. Creative Commons

 Normally, such psycho-spiritual integration is the task of a lifetime, but in stories, legend, and scripture, young heroes as diverse as King David, St. Patrick, and Krishna worked as shepherds or cow herders when they were young.  However simple this folktale may be, it reflects what can be done by a person with a noble cause who is not at war with himself.

Belief in the Huldufólk, or Hidden People, the Elves, is common to this day in Iceland; in a 2007 survey, 57% of the population said they “do not disbelieve” in Elves.  In 2004, Alcoa had to pay a government expert to survey their proposed site for an aluminum smelter to make sure it was Huldufólk free.  Last year, we travelled a highway that had been diverted around an Elven dwelling.  We saw many small houses built on remote hillsides as homes for the Hidden People, and some Icelanders build them churches, in hopes they will convert to Christianity.

That may be an iffy proposition.  “The Icelandic word for Christmas, Jól, contains no reference to Christ or to the church. It is a Norse word that also existed in Old English as Yule.” (1)

Even so, as we read and tell their stories, I suspect the Elves are wishing us a Gleðileg jól go farsælt komandi ár – a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

.

Dreaming with animals

Bobcat, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary - M.Mussell

Bobcat, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary – M. Mussell

“What is the single greatest predictor of a hero’s success in folktales around the world?”

A professor who had studied the subject at length once posed that question in a psychology class. The answer, he said, was finding an animal helper. More than any other human or supernatural guide, an animal ally can lead the hero or heroine through trials and dangers to the end of their quest.

The professor was a friend and colleague of James Hillman (1926-2011) who loved animals and began collecting animal dreams in 1956.  Toward the end of his life, Hillman helped compile and update five decades of essays and lecture transcripts for a ten volume collection of his work.  Five volumes have been published to date, including Animal Presences, 2012, which I am currently reading.

Vixen the fox, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary - M. Mussell

Vixen the fox, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary – M. Mussell

After serving in the US Navy, Hillman studied at the Sorbonne, at Trinity College, Dublin, and in Zurich, where he received a PhD from the University of Zurich and an analyst’s diploma from the C.G. Jung Institute where he served as Director of Studies until 1969.  Versed in Jungian psychology, he charted his own path which he named “Archetypal Psychology.”  His first major work, Revisioning Psychology, 1975, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

With 18 volumes in Jung’s Collected Works, and 10 in Hillman’s, it is clearly beyond the scope of a blog post to compare and contrast these two complex approaches to the depth psychology.  That said, several broad generalizations are possible:

Jung’s psychology can be characterized as “monotheistic,” aiming at a realization of the “Self,” as the supreme archetypal principle.  Jung understood the Self as “the God image within.”  Hillman, by contrast, called the psyche “polytheistic,” and considered the Self as simply one of many psychic centers within us.  Our nature, as we experience it moment by moment, is more like a pantheon of many gods than the kingdom of single inner supreme being.

As a corollary to these differing models of the psyche, development for Jung was often imagined as an ascent, a kind of upward climb toward spiritual clarity.  For Hillman, growth was often a descent, leading to contact with the “Soul,” which for him was more like the “soul” of a blues musician or an artist than the “immortal soul” of organized religion.

Hillman was also concerned with anima mundi, the soul of the world.  How can people be healthy when the world is ailing?  Hillman had little patience with ego psychologies that pretend human health is possible when our cities are blighted and we work in sterile, windowless offices bathed in florescent light?  As a result, his method of approaching dream and fantasy was unique.  He shunned methodologies that seek to aggrandize ego by asking what the figures of dream mean.  He insisted we treat the beings who visit us nightly with the same courtesy we would show to a guest in the waking world.

“the animals are right here. You have to be careful you don’t say something stupid because the animals are listening. You can’t interpret them; you can’t symbolize them; you can’t do something that is only human about them.”

Sage the wolf, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary - M. Mussell

Sage the wolf, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary – M. Mussell

“the image is the teacher. We have to endure a laboriously slow method of dreamwork…A dream brings with it a terrible urge for understanding. We want dreams decoded for their meanings. But the dream, like the animal in it, is a living phenomenon. It goes on displaying itself, pointing beyond itself to ever further interiority if we can hold back the hermeneutical desire so that the image can elaborate itself.”

“I am suggesting that the dream animal can be amplified as much by a visit to the zoo as by a symbol dictionary.”

Something within us mourns the animals missing from our lives.  We wear their pictures on t-shirts and sometimes collect little animal figurines.  We cherish domestic pets in ways that might seem bizarre to earlier generations who weren’t as estranged from the natural world.  We thrill at the sight of Coyote or Deer moving through twilight woods at the edge of the housing tract, and we mourn them dead on the road as we drive to work.

Sly the Fox, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary - M. Mussell

Sly the Fox, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary – M. Mussell

We are energized when animals visit our dreams – sometimes.  We’d rather they weren’t fierce, threatening, or slimy.  We prefer majestic and noble: an eagle, a dolphin, or wolf will do nicely. We’re not so fond of ants or mice, pigs or slugs, skunks or rats.

With the natural world in tatters, however, anima mundi is not dreaming of Disney creatures and love and light.  That’s all right.  Black Elk said the Lakota people knew every being has it’s place in the medicine wheel.  And if we don’t know what’s broken in ourselves and in the world, said Hillman, we don’t have the slightest idea of who and what and where we are.

Aiko the bobcat, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary - M. Mussell

Aiko the bobcat, Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary – M. Mussell

What animals have recently come to your dreams?  What did they seem to want? Don’t remember any animal dreams? Just ask. If you mean it, if you are truly interested and repeat the suggestion until it brings results; if you prime the pump by leaving a notebook and pen you your bed stand, the creatures will visit.

They want to be heard and are looking for those who will listen.

Who would you choose to write your biography?

Although I enjoy reading and mulling over the WordPress Daily Writing Prompts, I’ve never used one as a subject before.  That changed on March 11 with a post called Ghostwriter by blogger Michelle W. who asked, “If you could have any author – living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?”  The answer for me is Carl Jung, and it has been fruitful to remember why.

When I was in high school, a teacher who was a mentor to me said, “You should really study psychology.  Not all that behaviorist crap, but Jung.”  As a college freshman, I remembered his words when I spotted a copy of Man and His Symbols, an introduction to Jung’s ideas that he began and his close colleagues finished after his death in 1961.  After that, I read his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  These are excellent books to get the gist of his thought.

Dr. Carl Jung, 1875-1961

In our fast-food world, where medication and brief therapy are the norms, Jungian analysis survives at the margins.  Two key exceptions, where Jung’s ideas entered the mainstream, come to mind.  The Meyer-Briggs Personality Profile is structured on his theory of psychological types; even the words, introversion and extroversion were his.  And through one of his patient’s contact with Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Jung’s insistence on the psyche’s spiritual orientation found its way to the core of 12 step programs.

More more widely known are Jung’s contributions to the study of literature and folklore.  The theory of archetypes, which found expression in areas like Joseph Campbell’s work on the hero myth, were first stated for our times by Jung.

All these credentials, however impressive, are not the reason I’d choose him as a biographer.  Here’s something he said in a lecture in London in 1939:

“We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are ‘nothing but.’ . . . These things go pretty deep, and no wonder people get neurotic. Life is too rational; there is no symbolic existence in which I am something else, in which I am fulfilling my role, my role as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.”

When I first read these words, at about the age of 20, I recognized a kindred spirit, one who could articulate things I only felt and struggled with.  I read the words now and still feel the sense of kinship.

There’s not that much in my outer life to write about.  Any biographer I’d hire would have to be the kind of person who looks beneath the surface and understands that it’s really about the effort to find one’s role “as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.”

If you could have anyone do it, who would you pick to write your biography?

The King and the Corpse by Heinrich Zimmer: A Book Review – Part One

Heinrich Zimmer (1890 – 1943) was a Sanskrit scholar, an Asian art historian, and an expert in Indian philosophy and spirituality.  After the Nazis dismissed him from Heidelberg University in 1938, he made his way to the US where he taught at Columbia as a visiting professor.  The young Joseph Campbell attended some of his lectures and became a close friend.  Zimmer died of pneumonia in 1943, and Campbell spent the next 12 years editing and publishing some of his papers.  Campbell finished Zimmer’s book on folklore, The King and the Corpse, in 1948.

I discovered Zimmer’s writing as a freshman in college at the same time as I discovered Jung.  The two men, in fact, were long time friends, but their writings on myth and folklore were different.  Jung and his circle largely used story to expand and validate their theories, while Zimmer, and Campbell after him, sought to find the living essence of ancient tales that will speak to us now if we learn to listen.

In his introduction to The King and the Corpse, Zimmer called himself a “dilettante,” from the Italian verb, dilettare, “to take delight in.”   The essays in the book he said, “are for those who take delight in symbols, in conversing with them, and enjoy living with them continually in the mind.”   When I read Heinrich Zimmer, I discovered I was that sort of person.

Heinrich Zimmer, 1933

The King and the Corpse is collection of tales from around the world presented, along with Zimmer’s personal meditations, in a style of exposition later popularized by Campbell.  There’s a story from the Arabian Nights, four stories from the Arthurian cycle, and the rest come from India. The one that has always stayed with me is the title story, “The King and the Corpse.”

For ten years, every day, as a king sat in his audience chamber, an ascetic beggar appeared and wordlessly gave  him a piece of fruit.  Thinking little of it, the king gave the gift to his treasurer who tossed it over the wall into the treasure house.  One day a monkey got loose and hopped onto the king’s lap.  Playfully, the monarch gave him the fruit.  The monkey bit into it and a jewel fell out and rolled across the floor.  The king and treasurer hurried to look in the treasure house, where they found glittering jewels in the pile of rotten fruit.

It had been years since I read this tale, but I’ve seen this motif in other stories, and this time, its power jumped out at me.  The king’s attitude toward the fruit mirrors my own attitude toward health and youth in younger days, when these gifts arrived every day, with little effort on my part, almost as if life owed them to me, and there was no end in sight.  In his essay, Zimmer takes a larger perspective, suggesting each day we are given is like a piece of fruit hiding a jewel that we might discover if we only stopped to look.

The next day, when the ascetic arrived, the king demanded an interview before he would accept the gift.  The beggar said he needed a brave man, a hero, to help in a work of magic.  He asked the king to meet him at midnight on the night of the next full moon, in the funeral ground, where the dead were cremated and criminals hanged.  On the appointed night, the king strapped on his sword and strode through the smoke and flames of the funeral pyres, ignoring the clamor of ghosts and ghouls.  He found the ascetic, in sorcerer’s robes, drawing a magic circle on the ground.  “What can I do for you?” the king asked.  The magician told him to cross to a certain tree, cut down the body of a hanged man, and bring it to him.

This too, according to Zimmer, is a sign of the king’s youth and naiveté.  The realm depended on him, but without a thought, he agreed to meet a magician that he didn’t know, by himself, at the dark of the moon, at the witching hour on dangerous ground.  Yet the king was nothing if not brave.  He cut down the hanged man and hoisted the body onto his shoulder, but as he did, the corpse began to laugh.  “What is it?” the king asked.  The corpse said the way was long and offered to shorten the king’s journey by telling a story.  When the king did not reply, the corpse began.  He told the king a complex tale, filled with moral ambiguity, and then asked which character in the tale had been right.  “And by the way,” the corpse added, “If you know the answer but do not tell me, your skull will explode.”

To Be Continued.

Robinson Jeffers: An American Stonecutter

My previous post, on the restoration of a medieval Chapter House, reminded me of two renowned people who worked in other fields but turned to stonework for renewal.  One was the great Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who viewed stone as a symbol of the True Self, and carved stone as a means of self-discovery.

Jung’s Bollingen Stone

The other was the renowned poet, Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962), who studied geology in college, and worked in stone all his life.  In 1914, Jeffers and his new wife, Uma, moved from Los Angeles to Carmel, CA.  To build a home, Jeffers first hired a local builder and then worked alongside the man, learning the art of stonemasonry.  By 1919, Jeffers was hauling  boulders up from the beach, shaping them, and using them to add rooms to the home, which he named Tor House.  Later, he built the four story, Hawk Tower, as a gift for his wife, who loved Irish literature and stone towers.

Tor House and Hawk Tower, built by Robinson Jeffers in Carmel

The tower was named for a hawk that appeared while Jeffers worked on the structure, and disappeared the day it was finished.  After his death, Jeffers’ oldest son finished the construction then deeded the buildings to the Tor House Foundation, which was formed by Ansel Adams for their preservation.  The Foundation maintains the grounds and offers excellent guided tours.  You can even climb by a secret stairway to the very top of the tower.  There’s a wealth of information on Jeffers and Tor House at the Foundation website, where you can also schedule tours in advance:  http://www.torhouse.org/.

Jeffers work with stone is central to his austere poetic vision of a human spirit that longs to fly like a hawk and find something that lasts, but must finally acknowledge that in this life, it can do neither.

***

To the Stonecutters
by Robinson Jeffers.

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you fore-defeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly:
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth dies, the brave sun
Die blind, his heart blackening:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
The honey peace in old poems.

***

Robinson Jeffers

***

Rock and Hawk
by Robinson Jeffers

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the sea-wind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

***

Hawk Tower

Thank You

I usually think of summer as the laid back season, but not this year.  The last few weeks have been a blur of major construction projects around the home, remedial training for our two rescue dogs, and unwanted interuptions such as the seeming immanent failure of Mary’s hard drive.  There hasn’t been a lot of time for quiet reflection, so I was all the more surprised and grateful when the good people at WordPress chose a recent post of mine to be Freshly Pressed:  https://thefirstgates.com/2011/06/27/a-year-of-blogging/.  I appreciate everyone who stopped by to look and those who left a comment.  I spent some wonderful hours reading and responding to comments and looking at blogs I had never seen before.

The comments that moved me most came from other bloggers, some just starting out, who said they found encouragement in what I had written.  No feedback I have ever gotten for writing means more to me than that.  A few said they were dipping their toes in the water, afraid their writing wasn’t good enough.  I think every writer feels like that on occasion.  Here is what T.S. Eliot, my favorite 20th century poet, had to say on the matter:

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty-years –
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of
l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

But Eliot doesn’t stop there, and neither should we.  He goes on to say,  For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.  Elsewhere he said, Take no thought for the harvest, but only for the proper sowing. 

 At 18, in my first semester of college, I saw a phrase that has never left me:  the invocation at the start of Homer’s OdysseySing in me muse, and through me tell the story…  I remember and sometimes use that phrase because it reminds me that the ego, the small self of “me” and “mine” that worries about results is not the self that can bring them about.

Does anyone else find there is something impersonal about creativity?  It feels very much as if a muse or spirit of inspiration is there to take over the keyboard, if I can just get “me” out of the chair.  Carl Jung said it another way:  “I realized my thoughts were not really my own, but were more like animals I encountered on a walk through the forest.”

One summer when I did some freewriting every day I made a startling discovery – if I allow myself to be lousy, I seldom am.  This doesn’t mean there won’t be editing afterward if I find that one of my seed ideas is worth expanding.  It just means that while I am writing, everything goes better if I’m not looking over my own shoulder.

Several people who commented here said the same thing – their blogging took off when they realized they didn’t need to be perfect.  Thanks again to everyone who stopped by to encourage my imperfect progress!