230: Unconscious Caves (Joseph Campbell)

                “The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind—whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives.”
                -Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

                I’ve loved Campbell’s image for a long time: the little, neat house of what I call my consciousness, where I putter around and work and wash the dishes, and (I imagine) the stairs that lead to a raw stone tunnel that opens to caverns and fissures and mists and dancing lights. Until more recently, I’d forgotten the next line, where Campbell says that the spirits there are those we have not integrated into our lives. So what if we did some integrating?
                When I was younger I loved swimming in the ocean, but it also scared me, sometimes. I’d seen some of those old, hokey, plastic-figure-comes-out-of-the-ocean horror movies, and sometimes when I swam I imagined tentacles unfolding toward me from the depths I couldn’t see. And I loved swimming. At midnight on New Years’ Eve, my family would sometimes go jump into the cold Northern California waves. I loved it. I came out smiling, laughing, heart racing—and it wasn’t despite what I felt of the unknown of the ocean. It was, in part, in line with it. I’d just gone down a little into the caverns. Cold water often helped me do that, when I was young: when, at 12, maybe, my family walked through several feet of snow to jump into Lake Tahoe, we weren’t jumping into it because it was comfortable. We were jumping into it for the shock and surprise, for the close touch of winter; for the mirror world, just on the other side of the dark surface, that broke apart to meet us.
                I think crying helps me do the same thing. It helps me integrate the ‘psychological power’ of a great hurt or confusion that otherwise I can’t get close to. I know howling into the night sky does, too. I should howl more. I usually think of my mind as a loose, unruly group of different speakers: this one’s hollering, “Stay in bed!” and that one would rather “Drop everything and move to somewhere else!” and of course there’s the one who’s saying, “Move,” and will say it louder—”Move, move for the sake of it, run!”—the longer I ignore him. Maybe psychological beasties who come fighting up into my meeting hall are the mes (the Grendels) who weren’t already allowed in. Maybe, if they’re brought in as members and not as invaders, they’ll eat some lentils and sit by the fire and shout their shouts, and join in all our wonderings and compromises.
                Either way, I think there’s something fun in spelunking through the caves. When I was a kid I went down into the earth with my best friend and his parents. Three quarters of the way through our forty minute tussle underground, I was belly button deep in mud (mostly, I think, because I’d gone someplace the guide told us not to; my friend and I had also swum across the underground lake, instead of waiting for the guide to show us where her company had stashed boats). I went in to feel the mud, pulling at me, and it pulled off my shoe. I lost something, of course, and after hunting around for a while, walked out with one bare foot. But the mud that pulled off my shoe was part of the ground I stood on, too.

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