by James Bonnet
“Then in March of 1989 something rather extraordinary happened and one of these elements tumbled into the center and the rest began to constellate around it. When this transformation was complete, a new model, the Golden Paradigm, had emerged. Previous models, like those of Aristotle and Joseph Campbell, had been created by the observation of the things that all stories had in common. This new model was being created by those things plus their differences. And the new patterns revealed by these differences were not only the key to story but the key to some important secrets about life as well.
Quote from the last paragraph of
Chapter 2 of Stealing Fire From The Gods
The element that tumbled into the center was “change” — the fact that our lives, like everything else in the universe, are in a process of continual evolution and change. Story has an important role to play in helping to guide and regulate that change.
According to story (which is to say, according to the hidden meanings being revealed by these new patterns), we all possess a vast, unrealized potential. There is a path to that potential, and a creative unconscious force that uses great stories (and also dreams) to guide us along that path. In a former time (perhaps as long ago as the cave paintings in Europe) communication between our conscious selves and this creative unconscious force was apparently excellent, we made these special passages easily, and everything was great. Then something happened, the world took a turn for the worse and communication between us and this creative unconscious force was cut off. We lost touch with our selves. We lost touch with the real meaning of story and dreams and we got stuck somewhere far from our full potential. Our lives became much less meaningful and far more difficult.
All of this is revealed in story. And part of what I intend to teach in this book, besides how to become a significant storymaker capable of creating great stories, is how to use this knowledge to mend these broken connections and recover that vast potential.
The Vast Potential
Recounting our evolutionary path, we evolved from reptiles to mammals to primates to early man to homo sapiens, man the wise. According to story, this evolutionary path proceeded in cycles, in a series of advances and declines. At the top of every up cycle there was a psychological surge and a psychological paradise was achieved. This psychological paradise was not a lost civilization like Atlantis, but a brief moment in history when all of the talents and powers that had been so painstakingly evolved up to that point were being fully realized. But also contained in this paradise were the seeds and flaws that would bring about another decline, an alienation from the higher spiritual, mental and emotional dimensions that had been achieved. The old paradise had to be shut down, taken apart and rebuilt in order to advance to a new higher one.
I will describe the mechanisms revealed in story which bring about these declines when we talk about the dynamics of the passage, but I will outline one example here.
Commensurate with having achieved the last major advance was a knowledge of agriculture. The application of this knowledge led to an abundance of food and a sedentary life, which led to overpopulation, which led to a fierce competition for resources, which led to warring states — a downside condition from which we are yet to recover. The pressures of that decline helped transform us from fully awakened and enlightened spiritual beings into egocentric, patriarchal warriors with little need for higher powers. Or so we thought.
Today we find ourselves at the tail-end of the latest downside cycle in an age which the Hindus call Kali Yuga, the age of alienation and discord. This is the society we have to conform to, so this is where we get stuck. What we could gain if we chose to recapture the rest of this evolutionary cycle is the vast potential. It is our unrealized mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual genius, our hidden talents, our higher consciousness, a profound capacity to love, our extraordinary but latent intuitive, creative, and healing powers. Our power to influence the world, transcend duality, experience ultimate truth. In short, our charisma – who we were really meant to be. It is what the Indian merchant would have achieved if he had eaten the second potato. We get little tastes and inklings of it throughout our lives. Little tingling sensations that creep up our spines and tell us there’s something more to life than we’re experiencing. Much more.
The path is the journey of our lives, the cycles of change and growth that are necessary to reach this vast potential. These emotional, psychological, and spiritual passages correspond roughly to our physical growth cycles from birth to death. They last from three to five years and involve us in certain essential activities. As children, there are certain things that have to be experienced, if we are to mature properly. Then, as we get older, we have to be educated, establish our careers, find suitable mates, raise a family, serve our community, serve our country, serve our God, and so on.
If we fail to make these passages successfully, which most of us do, there are serious consequences. We get stuck. We stop growing. We feel lost and unfulfilled. But if we succeed, the rewards are tremendous.
The wisdom necessary to make these passages successfully is buried like a treasure deep in the unconscious. Great stories bring that wisdom to consciousness. The information contained in great stories is all about these passages and how to make them in such a way that you can achieve these higher states of being.
Our Conscious Self
By our conscious self, I mean all of the things we are consciously aware of — our thoughts, our feelings, mental images, etc. The ego is the center of consciousness, and it performs the conscious functions — rational thinking, creative thinking, decision making, and so on. The ego is that which we usually refer to when we say “I”. And it is the conscious part of us that needs to be guided and directed along the path. It is the hero of our personal stories.
Our Unconscious Self
The unconscious self is the creative unconscious force that would guide us, if we weren’t cut off. It goes by a lot of different names. Carl Jung called it the self or the collective unconscious. Freud called it the super ego, the libido and the id. Erich Neumann called it the creative unconscious. Buddhists call it Buddha Consciousness. Religions call it the God within, the Holy Spirit, the Devil or the soul. George Lucas called the negative aspect the Dark Side and the positive aspect the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in Star Wars, an agent of the Force, is without a doubt a metaphor for this guiding self.
I usually call it the creative unconscious. The unconscious has a positive and a negative side, but when they are both working together to build consciousness, the negative unconscious becomes a reluctant ally and the creative unconscious is formed. I like that concept, so I like that term. I call the content of the creative unconscious the hidden truth or the self.
According to Carl Jung, the hidden truth is the ancient wisdom that has been accumulating in our psyches since the beginning of evolution. And that is basically what I mean when I talk about our evolutionary path and unrealized potential — that a record of this evolutionary path has been kept and stored deep in the unconscious like a treasure. It is probably stored somewhere in the DNA. It may be a manifestation of the DNA itself.
Whatever it is, or whatever you call it, doesn’t matter. It is the creative unconscious source of all of the higher, universal intelligence, wisdom and truth we possess. And one of its main functions is to guide us along the path that will transform this vast unconscious potential energy into a useful conscious energy – in short, to a full realization of our selves. This process expands, strengthens and elevates consciousness. It is what so called “higher” consciousness and enlightenment is about, and when creative people say they have tapped into the source, this is what they mean. This is the source.
Great stories and dreams, as I said, are two important ways the creative unconscious self communicates its hidden knowledge to consciousness.
But why great stories and dreams?
Great stories and dreams are visual metaphors. They are symbolic languages. And the creative unconscious self uses these visual metaphors to express its hidden wisdom to consciousness.
The creative unconscious and its hidden treasure exist in the brain as energy. To be experienced consciously, this raw energy has to be translated into a form the conscious mind can assimilate and understand. The forms of choice which the creative unconscious uses are feelings (which we’ll talk about when we talk about the creative process) and the visual languages of fantasy, story and dream.
There’s nothing mysterious about this process. The brain is doing this all the time. It’s a basic brain function. It’s the way we see, for instance. When we look at an object like a person or a tree, photoelectric energy is reflected off that object, enters the eye, travels along the optic nerve, and is translated back into a visual image in the visual cortex of the brain. The creative unconscious simply utilizes this image making mechanism to express itself to consciousness.
“Myths and dreams,” according to Joseph Campbell, “are manifestations in image form (metaphors) of all of the energies of the body, moved by the organs, in conflict with each other.”
In the movie Star Man, forgotten by most, but worth viewing for just one reason, you can see an excellent metaphor for this process. At the beginning of the film a bright ball of alien energy reaches the Earth from outer space, enters a house and, using a photograph from a family album, transforms itself into the dead husband of the lonely widow who lives in the house. This is a perfect metaphor for what I’m describing. The widow, like our conscious selves, could not relate to the alien in its energy form. So the alien, like the unconscious energy, translates itself into a form the widow can relate to and deal with – i.e. an image of her dead husband. The creative unconscious does exactly this when it translates its energy into a fictional visual form made up of everyday things we can consciously relate to and interpret.
I’ll give you two simple examples. The first is a dream.
A year or two after Diane and I settled in Los Angeles, we were living in a small house in Studio City. I haunted the used book stores in the neighborhood and one day discovered a series of monographs by Jay Hambridge called Dynamic Symmetry. The premise of these monographs was that the extraordinary beauty achieved by the early Greeks in their art and architecture was due to a golden proportion which was based on a natural progression of numbers. The natural progression of numbers was found in nature and governed the distribution of leaves, the seeds of a sunflower, and the proportions of the human body. Called the Fibonacci series after the man who first described it, it begins with the number 1 and the next number in the series is formed by the addition of the two previous numbers — i.e., 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89, and so on. I could find these special number ratios in the distribution of leaves and in the sunflower (34 counterclockwise spirals overlaid by 55 clockwise spirals overlaid by 89 counterclockwise spirals) but for the life of me I couldn’t fathom where they were in the human body. It obsessed me like a riddle I couldn’t solve. I fell asleep one night pondering this puzzle and had this dream. A muscular Insert illustration SF1 right arm reached into the darkness of the dreamscape and, slowly bending at each joint, formed this pattern and revealed that it was the bone lengths of the arm, hand, and finger digits that contained this golden proportion. Needless to say I was astounded that the unconscious mind had this ability to give me such a direct answer.
The second example is a story which I’ve known about since my mother began telling it to me when I was four or five years old. But I was well into my forties before I realized the hidden truth being communicated by this remarkable tale had to do with how these lost or unrealized potentials can be recovered.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack lives with his mother in a remote valley and they are very poor. So poor, in fact, they have to sell the very thing they’re living off – the family cow. And Jack’s mother entrusts her son with that very important task.
On the way to town, he meets a man who offers to trade the cow for some magic beans. Jack is excited by the prospect of owning magic beans, so the deal is made, and he rushes home to tell his mother.
“Ma, Ma, look what I got for the cow.” And he holds out his hand to show her the magic beans.
Not surprisingly, the poor woman is very upset. Any fool can see they’re just ordinary beans. She grabs the beans, throws them out the window, sends the boy to bed without any dinner, and has a good cry.
In the morning when Jack wakes up, he discovers a remarkable thing. Outside the window, where his mother threw the beans, an enormous beanstalk has appeared during the night and grown all the way up to the sky. Jack climbs to the top of the beanstalk and discovers a gigantic house sitting on top of the clouds. He knocks on the door and it is opened by the giant’s wife. He relates what happened and asks for something to eat. The giant’s wife is sympathetic and offers to feed him, but on the way to the kitchen she warns him to be careful because her husband, the giant, likes to eat little boys like him for breakfast. And sure enough, while he’s sitting at the kitchen table eating some porridge, he hears the giant approaching and exclaim: “Fie Fie Fo Fum — I smell the blood of an Englishman.”
Jack panics and hides in the cupboard, just narrowly escaping detection and certain death.
The giant enters the kitchen. He looks around, sees nothing suspicious and relaxes. Then he takes several large sacks of gold from his hiding place of treasures, sits at the kitchen table to count his gold and eventually falls asleep. Jack sees his chance, sneaks out of the cupboard, grabs the sacks of gold and makes his escape down the beanstalk.
Jack and his mother share the gold with the other poor people in the valley, and for awhile everything is all right, but eventually the money runs out. So Jack makes a couple of more trips up the beanstalk. He gets the goose that lays the golden eggs and the magic harp. The last time the giant wakes up and almost catches him. There’s a desperate chase, but Jack gets to the bottom of the beanstalk first. He chops it down and the giant falls to his death.
And so ends Jack and the Beanstalk, the encoded message from the creative unconscious self.
The treasures — the bags of gold, the goose that lays the golden eggs, the magic harp — are the “manifestations in image form,” representing some of the lost potential I’ve been talking about, and the story is a simple blueprint showing us how this lost potential (these lost inner psychic treasures) can be recovered by the skillful use of the creative imagination. It begins with a creative inspiration, that’s what the magic beans represent. Jack is inspired by the idea of possessing magic. This creative inspiration leads to a nonconformist, impractical act – he sells the practical cow. The impractical act leads to consequences, the heat he gets from his mother. These consequences lead to isolation, he is sent to his room without any dinner. The isolation and hunger lead to the awakening of the creative imagination, the beanstalk. The creative imagination, which can bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious worlds, puts him in touch with his creative unconscious self and the chance to recover some of that lost, unrealized potential, but it involves taking certain risks, and he has to confront, outwit and destroy a big ugly giant to do it. The big ugly giant represents the negative energies which keep the potential treasures captive and prevent their easy recovery.
If you are an artist and you follow a real creative inspiration to its fulfillment, you will discover this trail. The creative inspiration will stimulate your imagination and make you aware of other worlds hidden in your soul. You will realize, if you are to be truly happy, there are other important things that have to be accomplished in life besides just making money. This will lead you to impractical acts. You will want to quit law school and go to Paris to study art, New York to study music, or Hollywood to break into film. These impractical acts will lead to consequences, the disapproval you are going to get from your parents, your spouse, or other well-meaning, interested parties. Whenever you try to step away from the mainstream, there will be conflict and resistance. These consequences can lead to alienation and isolation and you may find yourself alone in a garret in Greenwich Village or San Francisco with nothing to eat. Alone and hungry, your creative imagination will bridge the gap between the conscious and creative unconscious worlds (isolation, meditation, and fasting are well known avenues to the creative unconscious). Then if you have the courage to pursue these creative adventures, despite the difficulties, you can confront your ogres (negative energies) and one by one recover all of these lost treasures, until finally in the end all of these negative energies have been transformed and you have filled up the lost and missing parts of your self.
All of this is revealed in that simple story. It’s a realistic look at what you will constantly face, if you choose a life of art, the good news and the bad. And if you reread the story with that in mind, you will realize it was always there waiting for you to discover its secret meanings. It is a special mirror that lets you look into your own soul. A story that can do that has real power and can live forever.
Great stories, then, are like collective dreams. They originate in the creative unconscious and have the same relation to society as a whole that the dream has to the individual. They both utilize the same archetypal symbols, but the meanings hidden in great stories are universal, whereas the meanings hidden in dreams are usually personal.