Ira and Julia- aka: The Levins

Having packed up our gear, filled our gas tank, paid our tolls, driven to live shows, played, mingled, reloaded our gear, eaten at afterhours restaurants, and taken our gear inside again; my wife, Julia, and I are aware that society is back in business. After a year of reaching the world virtually, from our home studio, we are acutely aware of this shift. There is true joy in being able to hug friends and family again, getting to play in front of a live audience, and even going to see Summer of Soul in the movie theater, albeit in the back row at an off-time. This has outweighed our reticence to jump back into the rapids of the hustle we were used to before quarantine. We’ve done our best to make a conscious transition rather than pretending that nothing unusual happened.

I was recently turned onto Carl Jung’s Red Book. In it, Jung brings up a fascinating dynamic within each of us as we face change. He calls this dichotomy the “spirit of the times,” and the “spirit of the deep.”

The spirit of the times is what is happening now in our culture and within our personal ambition and concerns. The spirit of the deep is the part of us that is connected to everything. It is the wisdom that flows beyond time and space and offers us an expanded view of our reality.

To compliment the concept of the spirit of the times and the deep, Jung also points to another paradox. “The highest truth is one and the same with the absurd.”

I love this! I have innately known that sense and nonsense go hand-in-hand. My battle cry used to be, “Normalcy is a fallacy.” Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Without a vulnerable and healthy sense of humor, we can loose our flexibility and become ridged and self-righteous. Our efforts to make the world a better place can easily be corrupted without our even being aware.

In order to take away something vital from the tragedy of this past year, we must make a conscious choice. Our lives are complex, and the river of demands on our attention can easily flood the banks of what we thought were our boundaries. Personally, I find that, once again, I have to surf the paradox of reengaging with the world and cultivating a shelter of calm that allows me to balance my ambition with appreciation of all the richness this moment holds. If I pretend that there has been no change, I sense a disturbance that affects me in various ways. That causes me to become anxious, cling to what I know, and even become closed off to newness. 

There is a beauty in getting to work with a strong, creative partner. While I have the desire to push and get things done, Julia reminds me to make sure that tasks are done well. We are recording an album and I tend to mark our progress by what songs are “finished.” Julia gets me to see that playing and massaging the songs repeatedly ensures that they breathe into their potential, before we record them. That raises the music up to where it can be, regardless of the timetable I have created in my mind. 

When facing change, I realize how fortunate I am to have influences around me that remind me I am larger than the image fear projects onto the screen of my life.

To commit to being a light, we must make peace with our darkness. I have a high standard that I aim for while simultaneously being challenged by things like: exhaustion, occasionally questioning my self-worth, faltering organizational skills, and reactionary behavior. The real service we provide for one another is rooted in the work we do on ourselves. The fire that burns in my heart to uphold a light-hearted space, inclusive of all humans, needs a haven to dwell in so that I can hear the spirit of the deep. Also, I try not to over-identify with the role I am playing, the story in which I am engaged, or the labels I lean into.

This dwelling can be as literal as a meditation space, or it can be figurative. An example can be found in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The character Tom Bombadil in that trilogy, offers us a refuge from the drama in which we may be currently embroiled. He represents a blueprint model for accessing our “spirit of the deep.” He is not directly moving the plot of The Lord of the Rings forward. In fact, Peter Jackson left Tom Bombadil out of his films LOTR films. But, in a wonderful essay about Tom, Sophie Strand noted that he, “shows that there is always another mythology, older, slower, behind the fast-tempo stories of men.” More than just a fantasy, Tom is a reminder that our reality is always larger than our fear. His home in the woods is not a stone citadel of isolation, but as the philosopher Bachelard called it, a “primal hut of intimacy.” 

“When we confront agony and harm, we survive by keeping the coals burning in the hearth of this primordial shelter: a promise that there is a safe haven that is immune to time.

It is a home outside of the story, that provides safety from the story. It is a song that embraces all the other songs… that golden hearth inside ourselves that is not tied to progress and is not tied to one human lifetime. It is the part of us that remembers the first acorn and the first raindrop. That settles low, into the roots, when strong winds blow.”

-Sophie Strand

Perhaps, by discovering our own version of this “primal hut of intimacy,” or the “spirit of the deep,” we can become fortified enough to brave the hurdles of this moment in time to be truly present for one another, and also ourselves. We may even find ourselves becoming more flexible within the awkwardness and discomfort of leaning into change and be able to offer refreshments, both literally and figuratively, to those we are fortunate enough to be with now that the world is opening up again.

Photo by Andres Iga courtesy of Unsplash