As Iíve written elsewhere, Iíve been both moved and influenced by James Hillmanís The Soulís Code. It intertwines the themes of the diamons that guide our lives in mysterious ways and the call to each of us to find our own authentic character and destiny.
And then I pick up Robert A. Johnsonís autobiography, Balancing Heaven and Earth. Iíve always been impressed with his delightful, brief but profound books. Not just He and She, the books heís best known for, but especially books like Owning Our Own Shadow and Lying with the Heavenly Woman. But this fascinating and captivating personal story dramatically mirrors The Soulís Code. Robertís life turns out to be a perfect life-example of how the daimons work in a personís life.
Robert does a masterful job of weaving together two themes, the "Golden World" and the "slender thread." Itís not the encounters with Carl Jung, Krishnamurti or the other sages, saints and sinners that makes this book come alive, fascinating though these are. Itís Robertís own story of his inner journey and his encounters with the daimons.
When Robert was a lad of 11 he was struck by a car that jumped the curb and pinned his leg against the brick wall of a drugstore. The main artery, severed in the accident, broke open again underneath his cast as he lay in the hospital bed that night. As he waned in his determination not to die, he felt a jolt and found himself in what he later heard Marcia Eliade call the "Golden World," just on the other side of reality. "It was pure light, gold, radiant, luminous, ecstatically happy, perfectly beautiful, purely tranquil, joy beyond bound."
As Robert puts it, "I was so blinded by the golden light of the divine world that I was spoiled for regular life. A curtain separating the two realms was for me forever parted."
Heís been spending the rest of his life searching for this Golden World and finding ever-increasing glimpses of it. First music, and then working with dreams and inquiring into the nature of the unconscious, were his ways of staying in touch with the Golden World.
The way to find the Golden World in this reality, Robert discovered, is to trust in and follow the "slender threads." Iíll let Robertís words explain what these slender threads are.
What are these slender threads? Being in a particular place at just the right time, meeting someone who steers you in an unforeseen direction, the unexpected appearance of work or money or inspiration just when they are most needed. These are the mysterious forces that guide us and shape who we are. They are the patterns that give meaning to our experience.
Whether called fate, destiny, or the hand of God, slender threads are at work bringing coherence and continuity into our lives. Over time they weave a remarkable tapestry.
James Hillman, I am certain, would call them daimons.
I wonít spoil the book for you by giving away examples of how these slender threads worked in synchronicity in Robertís life. I will say, however, that the power of the book isnít in these "coincidences," but in the honestly modest and simple way Robert describes them.
But it is fair to talk about some of the remarkable insights in this book. One is about "religion" and "spirituality." Menís Work and AA 12-Step work both involve a spiritual dimension, but many menís childhood training in religion turned them away from "traditional" religion. Robert offers a way to re-envision the Cross and heresy, in a way that, perhaps, more men can relate to. Envision cross-bar of the Cross as our "doing" dimension. When we focus exclusively on "doing" our lives start to feel empty and meaningless. The vertical on the cross, connecting earth and sky (or, as in the title of the book, balancing Heaven and Earth) can be our "being" dimension. We need the balance of both.
Heresy? In the Christian tradition, Robert points out, all heresy is a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ. Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Anything that departs from that exact balance is heresy. Robert found the power of the word "heresy" in his own life. You donít need to be Christian to spot heresy in your own psyche. "When my life becomes more doing than being I am in heresy. Alternatively, if my life becomes more being than doing, again I am in heresy. Ö Heresy is the dislocation of the center of gravity of the personality."
Robert hastens to add that heís thrown the word "spirituality" out of his vocabulary because it seems to imply abandoning the earthly dimension. "I have little patience with people who say they are on a spiritual path, because almost invariably they are trying to advance the vertical (lofty, unearthly) part of their lives at the expense of the horizontal (earthy, human) dimensions of their being. Ö some ancient wag joked that not only could Saint Teresa chat with God, she also never burned a dinner!"
Collaborator Jerry M. Ruhl, writer, therapist and a director of the C. G. Jung Society of Colorado, was the one who persuaded Robert to tell his story. Iím glad he did. Robertís life, Dr. Ruhl suggested, might be an excellent example of how to find balance and healing in turbulent times. He was right.