“Some live like LazarusIn a tomb of lifeAnd come forth curious late to twilight hospitalsAnd mortuary rooms.Better cold skies seen bitter to the NorthThan stillborn stay, all blind and gone to the ghost.If Rio is lost, well, love the Arctic Coast!O ancient LazarusCome ye forth.”– Ray Bradbury, from Some Live Like Lazarus, 1960
This, the 131st handmade illustration in Carl Jung’s Red Book, is part of a remarkable manuscript that blends mythology, psychology and literature in ways I can’t pretend to understand; but the way the fingers of this tree enclose the pale light, the way sky and darkness merge here, leaves me startled with a sense of recognition.
Living in these mountains for so long, it is easy to see trees as intermediaries between ground and sky. They crease and sometimes unfold celestial objects so far away even their original light began its journey before my parents were born. They decorate and sometimes even tickle the manifold shapes of timeless moisture, floating with a grace even feathers can only imitate in shadow. But if there be any further folding, any intermediary still between the gnarled tendrils which seem the very nerves, maybe even neurons, that allow ground to feel sky, it must be the feathered shapes that so often now blanket my daylight experiences.
That first day they followed me as I ascended tree-lined stairs, I was so distracted by their proximity I did not hear the phone ring at first- naturally, because it was the phone that never rung. Conspicuous shadows of wing, loud cawing, watchful perches, were all around. And since then I’ve wondered often if they were warnings, intermediaries of fate; or if I merely had eyes to truly see them, the way I look up just in time to see a meteor’s descent, or a deer’s darting through dark woods to safety. I tend to side with the latter sentiment- and walk on feeling that they no more have a stake in my individual fate than Venus herself, her symbol as bright and far-reaching as it is.
This one scattered band of crows have shown me that each dawn now is not merely a gate into daylight. Somehow its wings expand and enfold a land that only lasts a second or two- a land where moon, stars, waking birds and the sun all are filtered through the tree canopy; inhabitants of different realms nodding to one another in passing. Under the blueblack clouds I think to myself, if there are other places that coexist with the place of now that I know and am immersed in; if these places somehow take part in a sensuality beyond my own senses, a spectrum beyond my own perception of shade and color- if these other places say hello, ever, in passing- it is in that fragile dawn chorus invisible to most, in which everything seems to happen at once.
The same darkness that rich topsoil has, moist and springy under leaf litter, had engulfed the sky for a while as trees watched from branch tips the same family of shadow that their roots are nourished in. And now that darkness goes back to the ground, to rest in cool, empty nooks and crannies, and waits. But it doesn’t stop there.
In my own mind, there is a ground- and just like the old monk said, you have to use the ground you fell down on to get back up again. This ground holds a darkness of memories whose constellations often resurface in dreams, whose unreachable patterns remain unaffected by time. It’s a darkness whose existence persists in realms past acknowledgment, past need for permission from the soil to thrive. The bad dreams, exhaustingly, were a daily occurrence for at least two seasons in my life. They will never totally go away. The amygdala has been etched upon by this ageless darkness with grooves and fissures that can’t be sanded down or recarved. But that isn’t where the story ends.
It is the shadow, locked away deep in my mindground, which keeps the roots of the mighty oak fed and moist and glowingly fertile. It’s the shadow of the roots themselves that allow the upper branches to bathe in nourishing light. And in my internal dawns, when the shadows cross over my field of vision, on their way to my marrow to manifest in dreams or flashbacks that I can’t predict or stop or control, the light nods gratefully to these shadows for paving the way for its arrival. The healing thanks the illness, as stars, moon, sun, cloud and bird all shuffle past one another, exchanging greetings as only a mountain dawn can.
Turning trauma from enemy to intermediary loosens its grip on the very dreams it inspires. Instead of swallowing the dark soil I can’t seem to move from, preternaturally buried within it, I finally walk on the ground again, upheld by the dark memories themselves; headed to a meadow I share with another dreamer, another survivor, not because we have nowhere else to turn but because we have nowhere else we’d rather be. It’s this meadow, our meadow, which is the new intermediary, between the shadows of the mind and the light that dances through foliage. The shadows themselves are resurrected, not to swallow or bury, which was their previous activity, but to uphold and clarify. Refracted in every fold and fissure of my identity, they are the illustrated walls of the cavern through which all lanterns must burn to know whether they work or not. In knowing intimately the presence of these darting lights and vast catacombs, the dawn can be re-approached with a new and lasting respect for its power. As for the illustrations on the walls, which sometimes still seem to spring to life under the dances of the shadow and the imported light, they are only signposts for what has already been passed through, and for what has long ended. No worlds cross or intermingle, translate or intermediate, until the ground of the meadow is reached. It is then that the turnstiles of multiple worlds clank and turn and are crossed, and for that fleeting instant, all light is recognized by all shadow. The crows awaken and bear witness to my new use of the ground and its labyrinthine recesses. Plenty of room for a meadow above to spread and to grow. My role in this is simply to have gotten out of the way, so that Lazarus, the sunlight recognizing itself, can come and whisper to me about where he’s been.