Sometimes it seems to me that either life is what we make of it or we are what life makes of us; that is the deal, roughed out. Or maybe it goes back and forth. Sometimes things, people, situations, fate seem to cooperate; other times we get caught up in a movement that sweeps us along and whatever we are trying to do is secondary to the impersonal movement and what we are trying to do in our own little niche is of very little consequence to what is actually playing out.
I had a dream once that taught me this at a period in my life when I was torn between staying home in a place I had outgrown (but was still calling to my heart) or jumping into the river of humanity, which would carry me away from that place of my upbringing where I was still connected to the land. (As with a farmer, the dirt I loved was still under my fingernails where it would remain for years to come!)
This is a dream I have never tried to write about but my memory of it is as vivid as the day it woke me up. I must have been around 18, getting ready to leave my hometown, a rural university town. I was seeing the whole campus from above, as a Roman or Greek city with stark white marble temple-like galleries and pillared halls. The weather was ominous with mountainous thunderheads sputtering and flashing on the horizon. The air, vibrant, staticy, with that burned electrical smell as if a single spark would cause the whole place to ignite, not with a bomb’s random destruction but with a half-imagined incineration that takes everything away except for the bones of reality and brings it all back as if nothing had happened. First the clouds would be in the East, threatening, and then they would be moving away in the West. Something like that was on the verge of happening. And the university had dropped its façade of brick and glass and concrete to reveal its cloistered classical under-soul. And the main road spanning the north side of the campus was choked with people trying to leave the area. They were all moving en masse in one direction and they were all dressed the way people would have dressed 3,000 years ago in homemade clothes of wool and hides and natural fibers. Most of them were carrying or dragging or pulling their belongings on carts and wagons; the older people were riding, looking down. And this whole exodus was raising a fine dust that hung over the throng in the ominous stillness before the storm.
And then I saw that one man had turned around and was trying to make headway against this human river and the plunging efforts of his desperately confused pony were checked, as by a flood, and he was slowly turned around and carried forward against his will. I identified with this man and the dream was showing me how futile it was to resist the collective movement. The direction in which he was finally forced to move was opposite the way home. This dream would have been less powerful if it had been me driving the pony backwards. When a dream is archetypal, it is showing the dreamer what is unfolding within what Jung called the collective consciousness of one’s tribe or people. The university was the university, the storm was the storm, and the evacuation was a mass exodus. It was recasting my struggle as an epic struggle within the context of a very tumultuous time. At the end of the 1960s the American psyche was in turmoil, the zeitgeist was restless and on the move. Many of the boys or boy-men being sent to Vietnam would never see their homes or loved ones again.
I think we are living in a similar time today to the extent that we are being pushed by a collective movement to continue in a certain direction, but the forces that are pushing us en masse are impossible to pin down or name. If we could personalize them we could reason with them, but all of my friends agree that we are not in control of what is playing out in the world. We are not in any position to analyze our situation with all that is happening. No one is (!), and least of all the “experts”. But we all tend to agree that what is happening is not just happening here or somewhere else. There is here and here is there. It is a global crisis that is also local, with universal implications for the future of the planet. Just fifteen-twenty years ago, very few people thought like this; we trusted the automatic pilot and continued to place our faith in the experts. But now, one by one, we are waking up to the reality of our situation. It is a real crisis that generates real shockwaves that reverberate through our lives. The movement, the irrepressible feeling of being forced to move in one direction, counterintuitively, is impersonal. What I refer as the storm has the potential to be more personal because it offers each one of us the opportunity to question where we are in this huge drama of enormous consequence. And making the storm personal is a way of challenging the inevitability of our predicament.