The Artist’s Journey, #19
Last week I introduced Tim Grahl, the founder of booklaunch.com, who reached out to Shawn (whom he had never met) and asked for Shawn’s help as an editor, to mentor Tim in writing his first novel. If we look at this moment through the prism of the past eighteen weeks’ posts, we would say that Tim had reached the end of his Hero’s Journey. The act of reaching out to Shawn was the start of his Artist’s Journey. Tim was declaring, whether he thought of it in these terms or not, “I am a writer. I don’t care if I’ve never written a novel or a screenplay or published anything at all. I am launching myself now, officially, on this new journey. I will seek and find my voice, my subject, my medium of expression. I have wasted enough time in my life. I am ready to be the artist I was born to be.”
I take my hat off to Tim, and to every man and woman who makes this commitment. I’ll tell you more about Tim’s journey in the next couple of weeks, but now … we’re closing in on the climax of The Artist’s Journey. Let’s keep going. To access any missed chapters, click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16.Part 17. Part 18.
B O O K S E V E N
T H E D I V I N E G R O U N D
91. THE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE DIVINE GROUND
In The War of Art, I related a story about a seminar I attended once, taught by Tom Laughlin (“Billy Jack”), who in his non-cinematic life was a well-known, and quite controversial, Jungian teacher and counselor. Tom Laughlin drew a schematic of the human psyche. It was a circle shaped a little like an egg. The full interior of the circle he labeled
In one corner of this circle he tucked a tiny black dot, called
Outside the circle, with three arrows pointing in and penetrating the interior, he wrote
I had no idea what Tom meant by “the Divine Ground” but the phrase struck me like a two-by-four to the forehead, particularly the notion that our own limited minds lay psychologically adjacent to it and in fact touching it.
I believed it at once.
Mystics of all cultures have subscribed to this notion. They’ve in fact based their whole lives and philosophies upon it. To them, consciousness is not only not limited to the individual’s physical body, it’s not limited to the individual’s lifetime.
Hey, I’m with them!
I can’t prove it (who can?) but I swear there’s a part of our psyche that butts up against Something that’s infinitely greater, wiser, and more powerful, and that that Something is conscious, universal, intelligent, active, collective, possibly infinite.
I’ll go further. I believe that that Something transcends time and space. It knows past and future, up and down, in and out, backhand and forehand.
92. THE CONSCIOUS MIND AND THE DIVINE GROUND
Two more ideas that can’t be proven:
- This greater mind can be accessed by our lesser minds.
(Of course this is true; artists do it every day. So do you and I in our dreams.)
The artist’s stock-in-trade, as we said, is the ability to shuttle back and forth between the conscious mind and the Divine Ground.
- This greater mind wants to be accessed. It is actively reaching out to us, seeking our attention and participation.
… the mystics, the gnostics, adherents of the grail and alchemists [writes John P. Dourley in “Jung and his Mystics”] All these traditions share the sense that mind is natively imbued with the latent awareness of its universal connectedness. The development of this awareness intensifies the sense of the divine. This reconnection of the mind with its divine ground happens pre-eminently through the work of the dream and its symbols, expressing the energy of the divine.
All art arises from this divine ground, whether the artist is aware of it or not (or even actively denies it).
But why, you ask.
Even if there is such a thing as the Divine Ground, why would it care about the fate or affairs of humankind? Are we suggesting that it actively participates in human affairs?
Toward what end?
93. THE ARTIST’S VOCATION
All art—dance, drama, architecture, literature, music, etc.—is about the recognition of beauty and the articulation of empathy and compassion for the Other.
The artist is a force for unity. Her role is to bring together, upon the common ground of the imagination, the disparate (and often warring) factions of the human psyche and the human race.
The artist does this not in mass but one-on-one, individual by individual. She performs this alchemy within the human heart, which she enters by the medium of the imagination.
A documentary about sable hunters in Siberia or a film about a family in Tehran dealing with Alzheimer’s transports the foreign viewer, like you and me, into a universe whose existence we had never known and makes that world and those who inhabit it immediate and vivid and human. No longer can we say or think, “These people are not like me.”
We see that they are.
The gulf of separation has been bridged, at least for the moment, by one tiny increment. What has replaced it is the power of empathy, of compassion, of identification with another.
The artist does that.
A work of art is a unifying force. Great art transcends divisions of culture, race, nationality, history. It vanquishes time itself. The cave paintings at Lascaux are as powerful today as they were seventeen thousand years ago, just as the grace and symmetry of the Golden Gate Bridge could be appreciated by the most “primitive” hunter-gatherer.
94. THE HERO’S JOURNEY OF THE HUMAN RACE
If the individual has a hero’s journey, does the race collectively possess one as well?
If it does, what is our “call?”
What “threshold” do we seek to cross?
What “home” will we return to?
What “gift” shall we bring?
Here’s what I think:
I think the race’s journey began in the Garden of Eden (which is of course a myth, but a myth common in one form or another to all humanity.)
Our inciting incident was a crime, the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Act One ended with the Almighty casting us out of the garden.
We entered the Inverted World then, humankind’s collective Act Two, and we’ve been there ever since, suffering trials, undergoing initiations, encountering creatures of wonder, while our hearts, as Homer wrote of Odysseus
through all the seafaring, ached with an agony to redeem [ourselves] and bring [our] company safe home.
Safe home to the Garden, that’s the return we seek. That alone will complete the circle and make mankind whole.
The artist is the herald and the medium of this passage.