David Blum’s inner journey is expressed in his film Appointment with the Wise Old Dog which was produced in 1998 as he was dying from cancer.
What would motivate a musician, a very private and shy man, to make a film of his spiritual journey during the final phase of metastatic cancer? David felt with all of his being that his inner experience did not belong to him alone. He also believed that everyone has the capacity to access their own inner reality, however irrational it may seem. His story is an invitation to enter into the process of self-discovery, which is of the highest value whatever our outer human condition and circumstances.
The film has traveled throughout the United States by way of an amazing grass-roots movement. Appointment with the Wise Old Dog has been used by clinicians, art therapists, educators, scholars, religious counselors, and a vast array of heroic but unsung care-givers in their treatment of those facing immense physical and spiritual challenges. As his wife, I have received thousands of letters of gratitude in David’s stead. It has been my privilege to share these testimonies to the resilience of the human spirit.
Appointment with the Wise Old Dog traces the arc of a singular inner journey, stretching across a lifetime process of self-exploration and transformation which took form in writings and drawings that grew out of David’s dreams.
Between 1970 and 1975, he was guided by Liliane Frey, a colleague and close friend of C.G. Jung. David’s psychological work with this remarkably wise analyst led to his understanding of the symbolic meaning of the dreams and reinforced David’s intuitive way of engaging with his dream figures through direct dialogue.
David left seventeen volumes of diaries, and six volumes of journals that document and analyze 1,670 dreams. In addition, he left fifty-one drawings which are the basis of a manuscript: Pictures of the Unconscious. Taken as a whole, his diaries, journals, and drawings are the workshop in which David painstakingly confronted and examined his dream figures. Appointment with the Wise Old Dog is the crystallization of his thirty-year inner work.
With death approaching, David wrote the script in ten days. He finished the film with the collaboration of the outstanding videographer, Rustin Thompson, in less than two months. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, David’s friend and one of the subjects in David's book Quintet, introduces Appointment with the Wise Old Dog.
C.G. Jung writes in his essay Spirit and Life, “The psyche consists essentially of images. It is a series of images in the truest sense…a structure that is throughout full of meaning and purpose; mind and body are the expression of a single entity. This living being appears outwardly as the material body, but inwardly as a series of images of the vital activities taking place within it.”
The first of the fifty-one drawings, which David called The Pastoral Symphony, refers back to a 1953 dream, when David was seventeen. This dream, as David wrote in his diary, proved to be foundational and all that followed flowed from that central experience.
The drawings in the film emerged from a psychic stratum Jung termed the "collective unconscious," that universal space where we join together, no longer separated by ego boundaries. Through this unifying principle, the film’s story belongs to all of us.
David’s intention in drawing his dreams was not to create “art,” but to give form to the elusive images which arose from the depths of his psyche. His drawings were done with a child’s spontaneity, naiveté, and faith. Each one took him about five hours, after which he still appeared caught up in the dream. When he showed me a drawing, he would often express surprise to discover that the dream had continued its story, whether, for example, in the appearance of a new character (animal or person) or in the deepening of the landscape, through structure and color. In essence, David had entered into a profound meditative state where the conscious mind no longer inhibits the movement of the unconscious images.
Because music always meant so much to David, a conductor, writer, and listener, it was natural that music entered into his dreams, significantly deepening the imagery. At critical times during David’s terminal illness with cancer, music defined the attitude he needed both for the medical challenges he faced and for his inner journey.
In a BBC article, The Healing Power of Music, relating to his cancer experience David wrote, “It is my hope that the reader will look upon music, as I have experienced it during my illness, as a metaphor for his or her own experience. Each of us has a store of inner gifts. At a time of crisis, any powerful image that arises spontaneously from within oneself – in whatever form – brings with it a creative potential. A friend of mine, a cancer patient, finds precious moments of serenity in conversing with the kindly grandfather she had known only in her childhood. That is her music."
Among the dream figures in the film, there is one who is closest to my heart – I suspect because I see David in him, although this character represents an infinitely greater David as well. From his 1995 diary, David describes something of the meaning carried by Alfonto who originated as a stuffed animal from his childhood:
“This simple frayed and tattered dog, my companion from my sixth year, whom some would think only fit for the dustbin, acts as my guide and protector. He is the non-ego, an uncorrupted essence from within myself. He carries the wisdom of the Old Wise Man in dachshund form.”
Since David could not claim this wisdom as his own, Alfonto speaks with a distinctive voice and “an archaic turn of phrase.” This carrier of eternal wisdom, the dog as ever-faithful messenger between worlds, guided David through the final passage of his life's pilgrimage to a vision of wholeness. It is the Wise Old Dog who encapsulates David’s central vision:
Death as Transition
During the last phase of his life David experienced a powerful coalescence of archetypal material relating to death and re-birth that was an initiation into a timeless religious pilgrimage. David’s lifelong inner work seems to have moved him on a clearly defined pathway towards a spiritual goal.
When Jung was asked at the end of his life as to whether he believed in God, he replied, “I don’t believe, I know. I can’t believe for the sake of believing. But, when I know a thing, then I don’t have to believe.”
For David his life–long engagement with the psyche and its ultimate transformative power, as his pilgrimage unfolded, did not require that he believe. His, too, was an experiential knowing.
In 1996, less than two years before his death, David and I visited the original cave of Lascaux, in France, “the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.” He concludes his ecstatic impressions of the cave drawings, particularly of those wondrous deer fording the river, in the following excerpt from his final diary: