Dani Shapiro
January 28, 2008

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Which is, of course, the title of Carl Jung’s memoir. Though to call it memoir isn’t quite right, because as Jung writes himself, he is not interested in memory per se, but rather in “interior happenings”, or the unconscious. He writes:

“All other memories of travels, people, and my surroundings have paled beside these interior happenings…everything else has lost importance in comparison. Similarly, other people are established inalienably in my memories only if their names were entered in the scrolls of my destiny from the beginning, so that encountering them was at the same time a kind of recollection.”

Reading this, I felt a shock of recognition. That feeling of having known someone before, of an intense familiarity–has happened a few times in my life. It certainly was the case when I met Michael. “There you are,” the words rang through my mind, my heart, my very body when we first shook hands. It was clear, irrefutable. I knew him already. But how? And from where? I don’t know what I think of any of this. Jews don’t believe in past lives–do they? I find myself thinking a lot, these days, about the whole notion of karma. Had Michael and I already been together? Or kept apart? Did we have unfinished business? What does destiny mean? Is it something over which we have no control, or something we create for ourselves as we move through life? Here’s another quote, this one from Rabbi Hillel:

“Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character, for it will become your destiny.”

I find this a more comforting idea, because it makes me feel like I have some say in the matter. When I sit and attempt to meditate, as I have been doing most days, I see that my mind is basically a dumping ground for thousands of random thoughts; if I don’t observe them on a daily basis, I am at the mercy of them. They will lead me around and around like a dog chasing its tail.

Gotta make that hotel reservation.
Did I write that check for the sweater?
Jacob needs new underwear.
Can we afford to pave the driveway this spring?
Michael needs a colonoscopy.
When’s the writers strike gonna end?
I need a haircut.

This is a typical chain of thoughts (no wonder they call it monkey mind!) during meditation, and it goes nowhere. Is this what Jung means by “interior happenings”? I know this much: I know that, for me, writing a book is an act of faith. In fact, for many years it is as close to an understanding of faith as I have been able to get. When I am in front of the page, my thoughts become less chaotic. My mind grows silent. Something emerges.