To Enter Through the Image
The dawning awareness of this more Ancient Philosophy also caused me to re-think my way through the imagery in my dream of Christ Alchemist. Up to this point, the darkness in my life had taught me to see the child as glowing with light - "the light of the world." Due to my painful experiences vis à vis M. in Malta, I had spontaneously regressed backward to that child, in the hope of regaining its 'infant joy'. Lines from Blake's poem, Infant Joy, reverberated through me with untold power when I read them:
"I have no name:
I am but two days old."
What shall I call thee?
"I happy am,
Joy is my name."
Sweet joy befall thee...
How utterly moving, to name the two days old child with the simple words, 'I happy am'. A variety of other images took on unexpected power for me. I remembered Tarkovsky's autobiographical film Mirror, which I had seen one night at the Revue cinema in Toronto. In the film, a child awakens from sleep to behold its mother entering the room - and smiles with absolute joy. The image of the Christ-child in Da Vinci's and Van der Weyden's paintings also took on a frightening, enigmatic signifigance for me. All of these images evoked childhood memories long since lost in the depths of the unconscious. But, such discarded images still possessed unimaginable power. For that child remained within, perfect, miraculous, even sacred - untouched by all the evil and suffering to be encountered later in life.
But the question remained, how do we even begin to recollect memories of that long-forgotten child? Had he not died long ago, with the crossing of each life-threshold? What, if anything, remained of his long-forgotten outlook onto the world? Having painfully regressed, in Malta, to my own childhood memories, I realized that his world was an endless alteration of trauma and joy - crying for hours on end in abandonment; then smiling for a few instants with infinite happiness. In my earlier dreams, triggered by broken relationships, this child had appeared to me as just so abandoned. And later, in my dream of Christ Alchemist, he acquired a mysterious, numinous quality. He became the Christ-child.
One night in Munich, as I was staring for an extended moment at Christ Alchemist, I realized how the image of the child could indeed be 'entered through'. What was required of me, first of all, was to accept the painterly image of the Christ-child as a personal memory-image - as an image of myself as a child. This was not too difficult, as I had drawn the infant Christ with my own childhood features. Then, I had to acknowledge that this image of myself as a child was also a collective memory-image - an image of the Christ-child and, as such, a symbol of the Sacred. When understood in this way, the image could become a series of doorways leading to the ancient Sacramentum. Thus, through prolonged meditation, I could slowly enter through this image to its more sacred unfolding.
I began an intense meditation on the image of the Divine Child in Christ Alchemist. Gazing at it with unwavering concentration, I soon discovered that 'entering through' this personal memory-image would be no easy task. For, I had to recollect and re-experience, not only the joy, but also all the trauma of my earliest childhood. This began 'on the periphery', as it were, with more recent experiences. At first, I recalled the moments in later life when I experienced extreme joy. Typically, this was when I lay in a woman's embrace, but also during solitary moments of creative play. Contrarily, more recent moments of trauma were connected to my separation from women, or else, my failure to accomplish a work of art. The memory-images of all these experiences had constellated around feelings of either trauma or joy.
Hence, by following one of these feelings backward through my memory, I could recollect all the personal memory-images constellated around it. Each memory-image was attached to this feeling, and the whole arrangement linked, as one memory evoked another more ancient, thus taking me further along the feeling's winding course. Still deep in meditation, I regressed in my memory through a horde of past events, most of them traumatic, but some also pleasant. The trauma of my separation from M., from A., from my family and friends, even from my stuffed-toy companion as a child - all were painfully relived. But, as I approached my earliest childhood, the infantile memories were accompanied by inexplicable feelings of joy. Forgotten moments of happiness - simple, insignificant, playful - uprose spontaneously. Against my own will, I began to smile with a simple, childlike joy.
But, this regression through the spiralling depths of my own memory eventually came to a rather frustrating end. I found that I had no clear memory-image of myself as a new-born child. That image had been lost in my memory permanently. It was then, and only then, that I realized the profound importance of those images which Da Vinci or Van der Weyden had rendered into art. Their images of the Christ-child offered us the key that we lacked - the lost image of ourselves as a new-born child. By recognizing this collective memory-image as the long-forgotten image of ourselves, the memory regression could continue.
And so, progressing further through the spiralling clouds of my memory, I accepted that the dream-image of the child in Christ Alchemist was given to me so that, by entering through it, I could relate myself to the cultural image of the Christ-child. Hence, gazing at the Christ-child as if it were a mirror-image of myself as a new-born child, I began to slowly enter through its image. I remembered the words, "I am the light of the world... He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The light surrounding the Christ-child acquired a radiance long-unseen. Momentarily, I felt a return to 'the source' - to an epiphanous experience of the ancient Sacramentum at the root of this image.
Later that same evening, I found that the adult figure of Christ could also be entered through. Indeed, this was much easier. By gazing into my painting, as if, into a mirror, I could enter through Christ's enigmatic image. Since I had painted Christ with my features, his image offered a perfect reflection of 'the Christ within me'. But I had to penetrate beyond the surface resemblance, to something far more deeper. Gazing fixidly, my stare as unbroken as his, I was able to enter through this image, to behold"...not I, but the Christ that liveth in me."
To commemorate these experiences, I painted the textual fragment at the bottom of Christ Alchemist. Its words, taken from a Gnostic gospel, had played themselves over in my mind for quite a number of years. I had first come across the fragment in Toronto, where they had whispered to me, almost inaudibly, their long-forgotten wisdom. And so, I wrote them above my drawing board in my studio in High Park. But their message remained unheeeded for the longest time. It was only in Munich that I finally 'heard' those words, understanding and experiencing their long-lost meaning. Thus, to remind myself of it continuously, I painted them on the fragment at the bottom of Christ Alchemist. They described perfectly the sensation I had just experienced: to "enter through the image." Eventually, this became the title of my book as well.
As a result of these experiences, I had come to understand how each of my paintings, given to me in a dream, offered me a doorway to something ancient and unseen. All sacred statues and paintings, I realized, had become for their makers a doorway unto the Sacred. Each time an ancient shaman or archaic artist had dreamt and then rendered into art an image such as this, he had slowly opened for himself a 'doorway to the Divine'. And the remains of those awakenings reposed still in their fragmented works - awaiting anyone who, equipped with this more ancient knowledge, could again enter through its ever-silent form.
Each of my paintings had appeared to me suddenly in the depths of a dream, from the furthest reaches of my mind's spiralling interior. Inspired thus, by a dream, each image betrayed, through its very arrangement, the traces of dreaming's long-forgotten logic. But, more than that, each image portrayed a series of established religious symbols in meaningful relation to each other. As such, beyond the threshold of each dream-arrangement lay the ancient Sacramentum - which only an oneiric arrangement of images could reveal, aided by the life-experiences they had evoked thereby. By following the wandering life-course which my dream-images had inspired, I had come thus to a more ancient understanding of life.
Through my Mystic Diptych, I had learned that life's once-only unfolding involved an ever-recurring death and rebirth. Life consisted of a series of deaths and rebirths, each transpiring at a life-threshold crossing. Each time we came up against a life-threshold, we had to die to ourselves, so as to come to birth from within.
Then, through Christ Alchemist, I had learned, indeed, how to 'come to birth from within'. I had successfully wended my way backward through a succession of memory-images, to finally enter through the nadir-image of the new-born child. By wending our way ever deeper, from personal to collective memory-images, we could eventually enter through the image of the child to behold the Sacred underlying life - the ancient Sacramentum that lay at its source.
I realized that, while this could be accomplished through prolonged meditation, it could also occur spontaneously during moments of great trauma in life - especially when we found ourselves up against a life-threshold. For, each time we failed to cross a certain threshold, we found ourselves suddenly condemned to a dangerous journey through the underworld of our own memory. The most obvious example of this was my experience vis à vis M. I had proposed to her, but we had failed to cross together over the awaited threshold of marriage. And, as a result of that failure, I had been condemned to a slow journey hellward. The painful separation from her evoked memories of separation and abandonment going all the way back to my earliest childhood. This spontaneous memory regression was the result of overwhelming feelings of pain, working their way backward through the memory-images constellated round them. It was only during my meditation on Christ Alchemist that I was able to see how all these memory-images were clustered around that feeling of severence and its profound pain.
Hence, the crossing of each life-threshold involves a certain danger. For, each time we fail to cross that threshold, the resulting trauma throws us back upon ourselves, into a dangerous descent through the spiralling inferno of our own painful memories. And, at the nadir of that dangerous nekyia lies an image of unexpected power, if only we can find it. What I had sought, during my more psychotic moments in Malta, was that image which would finally have released the overflow of my feelings. But, at that time, I failed to find my way through the maze of imagery. Indeed, in a moment of defeat, I destroyed the very image I required. Only in Munich was I able to recognize that Christ Alchemist, and particularly the Christ-child, offered me the image I lacked - the lost memory-image of myself as a new-born child. This became the key that, with its gentle turning, could release my flow of feeling along more ancient pathways, leading me, ultimately, to the Sacred.