When I was fifty years old, my son Adan was born. Also at that time, the producer of my film Tusk declared bankruptcy and did not pay me what he owed me. I had been in India during Valérie’s pregnancy, filming in miserable conditions with mediocre technicians—for economic reasons, according to the production company. I suspect that much of the money intended to create good quality images went into the pockets of this greedy organizer.
Be that as it may, back in Paris I found that I had a tired wife, a newborn, three other sons, and a zero balance in my bank account. What little Valérie had saved in a Mexican candy box was enough to feed us for ten days, no more. I called a millionaire friend of mine in the United States and asked him to lend me ten thousand dollars. He sent five thousand.
We left our spacious apartment in a good neighborhood, and under miraculous circumstances found a small house in Joinville le Pont on the outskirts of the city, where I was forced to make a living giving Tarot readings. All this, looking back on it now, was not a misfortune but a blessing.
Poverty Opened the Door to a New Reality
Jean Claude, always concerned with finding the origins of diseases—since like the shamans he considered illnesses to be the physical symptoms of psychological wounds caused by painful family relationships or social relationships—had sent me to do Tarot readings for his patients on Saturdays and Sundays for two years. I always did it for free, and often with good results. Now that I was living in poverty, with pressing family responsibilities, I was forced to charge for my readings.
The first time I held out my hand to receive money for a consultation I thought I would die of shame. That night, while my wife and sons slept, sitting on my heels as Ejo Takata had taught me to do, I knelt and meditated in the solitude of the little room that I had transformed into a temple of the Tarot by means of a rectangular violet rug. The monk had said, “If you want to add more water to a glass that is already full, it must be emptied first. Thus, a mind full of opinions and speculations cannot learn. We must empty it in order to create a condition of openness.”
Once I calmed down and saw the shame as a passing cloud, realizing that it was pride in disguise, I recognized that I was not a public charity and that the act of reading the Tarot had a noble therapeutic value. But doubts assailed me. Was what I read in the cards useful for the client? Did I have the right to do this professionally?
I thought again of Ejo Takata. When the monk lived in Japan, every year he paid a visit to a small island where there was a hospital for people with leprosy—which in those days was incurable—in order to perform a social service. There, he learned a lesson that changed his life. While walking together along a cliff side, the visitors walked in front and the lepers behind so that spouses, parents, relatives, and friends would not have to see the mutilated bodies of their loved ones.
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At a certain point, Ejo stumbled and was on the point of falling off the cliff. At that moment a sick man hurried to save him but, looking at his own fingerless hand, did not want to touch Ejo for fear of infecting him. Desperate, he began to sob.
The monk regained his balance and went to the sick man, thanking him with great emotion for his love. This man, so much in need of compassion and help, had been able to forget his ego, acting not for his own benefit but with the intention of helping someone else. Takata wrote this poem:
He who has only hands
Helps with his hands
And he who has only feet
Helps with his feet
In this great spiritual work.
I also remembered a Chinese story:
A tall mountain cast a shadow, preventing a village at its feet from receiving sunlight. The children grew up stunted. One morning, the villagers saw the oldest man walking down the street with a porcelain spoon in his hands.
“Where are you going?” they asked.
“I am going to the mountain,” he replied.
“To move it away from there.”
“With this spoon.” The villagers laughed.
“You’ll never be able to!”
The old man answered, “I know I never will. But someone has to start.”
I told myself, “If I want to be useful, I must do so in an honest way, using my true capabilities. I will not in any way act like a clairvoyant. First of all, I cannot read the future, and second, I think it’s useless to know it when we don’t know who we are here and now. I’ll content myself with the present and focus the reading on self-knowledge, based on the principle that we do not have a destiny predetermined by any gods.
"The path is being created as we walk along it, and every step offers a thousand possibilities. We are constantly choosing. But who is it that makes this choice? It depends on the personality with which we have been shaped in childhood. And so, what we call the future is a repetition of the past.”
The Past Mirrored in the Reality of the Present
A literary critic around fifty years old, married to a philosophy professor her same age but who was a perennial adolescent, called me from Barcelona because she had discovered that her husband had a twenty-three-year-old lover. “We are intellectual, serious, mature people who shun emotional scandals. But I have fallen into a huge depression from holding back my anger. And he doesn’t want to give up either her or me. What should I do?”
“I am going to ask you to analyze your life as if it were a dream. Why did you dream that your fifty-year-old husband had a twenty-three-year-old lover?”
“Oh, I remember when I was exactly twenty-three. I had an affair with a fifty-year-old man! It lasted three years. Then I left him for a younger man.”
“See? You are experiencing something that is like a recurring dream. In a certain way, you dream yourself into the place of the deceived wife and you realize how, when you were young, you made your lover’s wife suffer. If your affair didn’t last, it is very possible that your philosopher’s adventure will also only last another year, since you’ve found out that it’s already been going on for two years. Then he will come back and cry in your arms.”
Psychomagic is fundamentally based on the fact that the subconscious accepts the symbol and the metaphor, giving them the same importance as real things, which was also known to the magicians and shamans of ancient cultures. Once the subconscious decides that something should happen, it is impossible for the individual to inhibit or completely sublimate the impulse. Once the arrow is launched, one cannot make it return to the bow. The only way to free oneself from the impulse is to fulfill it . . . but this can be done metaphorically.
Life Is But A Dream...
If reality is like a dream, we must act in it without suffering from it, as we do in lucid dreams, knowing that the world is what we think it is. Our thoughts attract their equivalents. The truth is what is useful, not only for us but also for others. All the systems that are necessary in a given moment will later become arbitrary. We have the freedom to change systems. Society is the result of what it believes itself to be and what we believe it is. We can begin to change the world by changing our thoughts.
The skin is not our barrier: there are no limits. The only definite limits are those that we need, momentarily, in order to individualize ourselves while at the same time knowing that everything is connected. Miraculous healing is possible, but depends on the patient’s faith. The psychoshaman must subtly guide the patient to believe in what he or she believes in. If the therapist does not believe, no healing is possible.
Concentrating Our Attention & Our Imagination
Life is a source of health, but this energy comes forth only where we concentrate our attention. This attention must be not only mental but also emotional, sexual, and corporeal. The power does not lie in the past or in the future, which are the seats of illness. Health is found here and now. Toxic habits can be abandoned instantaneously if we cease to identify ourselves with the past.
Everything is alive, awake, and responding. Everything gains power if the patient bestows it . . . A mother using a phytotherapeutic treatment to heal her baby, in which she had to give him water to drink with forty drops of a mixture of essential oils added, found that the disease continued. I told her, “What is happening is that you do not believe in this medicine. Since your religion is Catholicism, say the Lord’s Prayer every time you give him the drops to drink.” She did this, and the boy was quickly cured. If we do not give spiritual power to medicine, it does not act.
Here, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of imagination. Along with intellectual imagination are emotional imagination, sexual imagination, physical imagination, sensory imagination, and economic, mystical, scientific, and poetic imaginations. It acts in all areas of our lives, even those considered “rational.” It is for this reason that one cannot tackle reality without developing the imagination from multiple angles. Normally, we visualize everything according to the narrow limits of our conditioned beliefs. We perceive nothing more of the mysterious reality, so vast and unpredictable, than what is filtered through our limited point of view.
Active imagination is the key to a broad vision: it permits us to focus on life from angles that are not our own, imagining other levels of consciousness that are higher than ours. If I were a mountain, or the planet, or the universe, what would I say? What would a great teacher say? And what if God spoke through my mouth, what would the message be?
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Park Street Press,
an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc. www.innertraditions.com
©2001 by Alejandro Jodorowsky. English translation ©2014.
The Dance of Reality: A Psychomagical Autobiography
by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
About the Author
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a playwright, filmmaker, composer, mime, psychotherapist, and author of many books on spirituality and tarot, and over thirty comic books and graphic novels. He has directed several films, including The Rainbow Thief and the cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/alejandrojodorowsky
Watch a video (in French with English subtitles): Awakening our Consciousness, by Alejandro Jodorowsky