Signs and Wonders, for Real
A year ago, I suffered one of the most formative religious experiences of my life. Swimming along the coast of an isolated beach in Thailand, I was attacked by a mammoth jellyfish. As my eyes swelled shut and my body began convulsing with poison, I was hauled by boat from beach to beach and island to island. Safe at the hospital, I was pumped full of morphine, where I stayed, for three days, not sure I'd ever regain the sight of both eyes.
Floating outside of my body, watching my corpse slung in a wheelchair, I had something of a revelation. I'd never done drugs of any form, and the morphine startled me by making visible and palpable experiences of out-of-body travel I had dismissed as so much new-age junk. The journey to Thailand had been spiritual in nature, and I spent most of the three days contemplating a life of disability, contemplating what my eternal soul would do if this body ended up without much to show for itself; asking answers from God, and strangely feeling like all those answers were answered in a form of prayer more like open dialogue.
For the last month I've been traveling on another sort of spirit quest, off in search of my own identity. In bed, reading by lamplight, I put down the tome of Jung I'd been using as some sort of palliative. I had lapsed into a funk that could only be solved by prayer. I went into a deep meditation and out again, asked for a solution to anxiety, forming slowly very slight directions: leadership. Social change. True identity. Externalization of the internal and sacred. So I put in one of those "hey also you know how I'm superstitious and this is all irrational in the first place if you wouldn't mind could you give me a sign?" requests, and dropped it. Sleepily reopened Jung. Reading about fishes. Fishes among the Cathars. The Leviathan. The Satanic fish and the fish of Christ. Yeah ok whatever I get it, I said to myself, paraphrasing my favorite moment in David O. Russell's masterwork of postmodernism defined, I Heart Huckabees: Everything is like everything else and then it's also its own opposite. I rolled my eyes at my beloved Jung. Bored, flipping through the Armenians and Greeks on carbuncles, I flip through the pages until my thumb rests on the page where it feels like it's been creased. I must have left it lying open face down at a random page. I turn to it, and the skin on my neck turns a degree colder.
A certain twenty-year-old patient of Carl Jung had experienced great anxiety about his graduate student career. He did not know what to do with himself. One night he had a vivid dream, one of those "big dreams," in which he was lost in a forest, and came to a pond. In the middle of the pond was a floating, enormous puddle of light: an enormous red jellyfish. He awoke and immediately understood that he would become a scientist.
Jung's gloss: the jellyfish represents the concentrated, individual expression of the great ocean of the collective unconscious, rising up into history to challenge the conscious ego. It represents, simply, the soul.
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