I had a visit from the young man yesterday and we sat down at a local coffee shop to catch up and reminisce.
Ordering our coffees we picked them up and sat down in a private corner of the shop. As we pulled up chairs and sat the young man, Adam, began the conversation.
“I remember a spiritual teacher once sharing with me that enlightenment could be found in the yellow pages of the phone book that is, to turn to any page and there it is. I also learned of the technique of problem solving by opening any book to a random page and searching for the answer. In those early days I was always asking some form of the question, “How can I be enlightened?” as though the answer to that question would enable me to live happily ever after like in some magical fantasy story.
“Enlightenment is not an end unto itself, it’s an ongoing process.” The teacher would say and then he might add, “Just when you think you’re enlightened, you’re not.”
“It all seemed so simple, but no matter how many pages in the phone book that I’d turn to or how many pages in my favorite novel, or even in random pages of the Bible I couldn’t find any answers to the questions I posed– it all seemed like one big non sequitur. I could practice all the suggested rituals and study all the world’s philosophies, or focus my complete attention on paradoxical Koans1 that usually only twisted and contorted my mind into knots. But I couldn’t force anything to happen. Annoyingly the teacher would remind me, “It’s not about force, my boy. The power is not in force.”
“I had not yet learned how to intend a jewel or how to recognize one when it presented itself. It was only after a number of years did I learn to trust that an answer could be found in unexpected places if I expected to find it there. I learned to prime the pump by praying on it or in asking the source for guidance regarding it. I learned that the answer would show up in an unexpected way or from an unexpected source if I were to remain patient enough and quiet enough to see it or hear it.“
“I’ve learned that enlightenment can’t be forced, it doesn’t operate on the ego’s time table or its perception and it doesn’t come in a form that the ego imagines it wants or needs for the ego has no idea what it needs and what it wants is irrelevant to the universe.” I added.
“ Yes, learn to expect the unexpected jewels from unexpected places. My teacher used to say” exclaimed Adam.
“I also remember him saying, “It’s like that with making a difference too, and you never know when you’re going to, but with the intention of doing so in everything that you do, unexpected positive things happen. Intend on making a difference and you will even if you’re never aware of it.”
“Are you making a difference?” I asked.
“Oh yes in so many small ways. Ways that may take some time to be noticed if noticed at all.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed that wanting to be noticed for what you do gets in the way of making a difference. Hard lesson that…” I said “learning to let go of what the ego craves.”
Adam nodded wistfully as though the memory of needing acknowledgment was still a struggling desire in his present life.
Finally he asked, “Does it ever end, this desire for recognition?”
“It’s a struggle I admit but it’s amazing what gets done when you don’t care who gets the credit.” I said. “There’s something deep within us that represents true awareness and knows who we are. It’s a divine force that urges us towards creation. It is from that force that each of us was created and it’s through us that we become extensions of it when we learn to release it into our lives.”
Adam nodded and smiled, pushed back his chair and we headed out the door walking arm on shoulder into the morning sun and promising not to let the time between us be so long we headed into our separate Moirai 2.
1Koans such as “the sound of one hand clapping”, or “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it”, or “Resist not evil.”
2 Moirai: Meaning fate, or shared fates, destiny or futures. The Moirai were ancient Greek goddesses of fate.
Dreams of being a child have come into my sleep along with being wrong and making mistakes, feeling shame and powerlessness and falling. When my waking dream becomes too stressful, when I find that I can’t stay in the here and now because I’m caught up in worries about the future, or guilt from the past, I find my dreams full of powerlessness and fear. Hurricanes, storms, titanic waves, and floods wash through my dreams and add even greater stress to a psyche overburdening itself. If the dreams shared with me on-line are any indication, I’d say this might be true for many of you.
Though I did not measure up to my personal expectations, to the image of myself that I thought I should be, I realized something much greater. The Black Dream where I found myself in the waking world had been giving way to something new.
When facing the darkness one can receive images much grander than their limited images of self. For me I saw that I never gave up, though the way looked impossible; that I always strove to become better than either my own judgments, or the judgments of others. Somehow I found the courage to stand up to the feelings of failure and rejection and to face what I judged to be humiliation with my head held high. I allowed myself to feel the fool and to grow from its presence, to go beyond the fears and become bigger than my estimate of myself.
The experience of recent events and the consciousness they brought in their wake have helped me to realize some of how big I really am. I may not be what I think I should be, an ego-self desire, but once again I’ve discovered that I’m really so much more.
Until I was willing to truly accept the darkness and honor its value, I couldn’t see the ever so small light flickering in the corner. I’ve been fighting the darkness ever so long, but the truth is that rejecting the darkness also rejects the light. This morning, I saw the barest glow and reached for it and it warmed and filled the space that dispelled the darkness before it. Hanging onto the light often seems harder than living in the darkness. But I think it’s a miracle that the light is there at all.
And that’s the gift of the Black Dream, the Shadow, the darkness; it highlights the flicker of light that is our true self. I can also see that to keep it burning I need to share it and it’s in that vein that I do so now. As I’ve said earlier, love is the cure for our nightmares; it’s the light within our darkness.
I once used the term “the alchemist’s crucible.” I think this term came to me because at the time I had been reading Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and was struck with how often he delved into the alchemical arts as a means of understanding the human psyche.
This got me to thinking about the symbolism inherent in alchemy. On the surface the alchemists seemed to be looking for a means of transmuting base metals into precious metals e.g. lead into gold. I think that they were trying, among other things, to make sense of this world of opposites and dichotomies by to find an underlying unity. Why? Well, part of the human condition seems to be that we are all separate from each other and the environment that we find ourselves in. This experience of separation breeds, as I’ve said before, various levels of fear ranging from discomfort to all-out panic. We want to protect ourselves from what is ‘not us’ whether that be on the personal or communal (meaning the tribe, state, nation) level. This of course is the basis for personal and social conflict. Finding a resolution to the conflict that arises from opposition has been key to the history of alchemy, and politics (which is a kind of alchemy itself).
The goal of trying to make sense of what-is by attempting to resolve the basic conflict caused by separation can be seen in all our mythologies where mankind is always trying to deal with its twin natures of the beast and the spirit e.g. note the invention of the Centaur (man’s torso and head on the body of a horse), or the Minotaur (a bull’s head on a man’s body) and the fact that all hero stories have a thematic conflict to resolve. A great deal of modern psychological therapy is to assist the individual with internal psychic conflicts e.g. the conflict between what you are and what you want to be.
I think that among the fundamental goals of all religions, philosophies, and sciences is to bring to consciousness the mysteries of the universe and to observe its fundamental unity.
I also maintain that this unity, this wholeness, already exists, but is generally beneath our awareness. Because of this the universe looks fragmented and dichotomous. This gives dream-work a whole new purpose in that it can bring ones unconscious psyche to consciousness so that we can experience a greater whole and thus a better understanding of what makes us tick. The more we understand of what it means to be human the better our understanding of where we’re standing. For example, to get to know a tree, one needs to stand under it, to ‘listen’ to it. To know another anything (person, place or thing) one needs to stand under it, to be within its context, or to stand in its shoes, and is thus the root meaning of ‘understanding.’
This reminds me of the teachings of G. Gurdjieff, a early 20th century Russian mystic and spiritual teacher who wrote that humanity lives its life in a “Waking Sleep” and thus only experiences reality subjectively. He suggested that the vast majority of humans live as automatons, but have the power to awaken and become something so much greater.
“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.”
As automatons we become susceptible to the manipulations of others (advertisers, politicians, radio talk show hosts, religious leaders and zealots, and the hysteria of the masses). The one sided development of our humanity that most of us experience is what passes for ‘life’ in the modern world. I believe that we need to develop all aspects of who we are in order to become a fully integrated (actualized) human being that is fully present to an expanded sense of reality instead of the limited reality we currently embrace. In my experience we mostly just argue our limits without trying to see beyond them.
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”
– Richard Bach, Illusions
There again is that concept of ‘limiting’ being a root to perverted reality. For many of us we limit our personal development to one of four areas–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual and for the rare few who might include more than one or even all, they limit the impact through narrow definition.
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
What do I mean by expanded definition? This morning in a group discussion one of our group told the story of a young soldier who stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) while patrolling in Afghanistan. He lost his foot and part of his leg. At first everyone, including the soldier, saw this as only a tragedy, but eventually it brought the family together in ways none of them could have imagined before the event. Everyone connected with the event began to see another more positive outcome, born from the very real tragedy, that would not have happened without it.
I think that the meaning of nearly every event in our lives can be used to expand our reality. Set aside your limited thinking and self-limiting thoughts and be open to reality. Learn to see beneath the meaning of your personal or collective definition to see what else may be there.
“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Just watched an old episode of Charmed, you know, the late 90’s to early 2000 witches in San Francisco TV drama! The visual effects were really cool even though technology was still in the flip-phone stage.
Afterwards I went outside to finish cleaning up the plant trimming mess my wife had made earlier and left for me straighten up. It was hot and the constant bending down started to take its toll on my back and I found myself wishing for a little magic such as the ability to move all that mess with just a flick of the wrist, “Depulso!”. No such luck!
But as I bent down and grunted a muffled “damn” when I gored my hand with one of the thorns of the palm tree leaf I had a thought, “I do have magic, this body is magic! I have a thought and then direct this amazing tool to stoop down and do its thing! And its all done by thought alone regardless of whether that thought originated from the millions of chemical interactions between millions of neurons or as some have suggested from some kind of mysterious force outside myself that then commands the body-tool to stoop. How magical is that?
And before I knew it something else magical happened, I was done! I’d been dreading the chore, but it was really nothing at all, “no problem” as the younger set so often say. And there it was again, the transformation of an experience through the magic of restructuring my attitude toward it. The job hadn’t changed any but how I held it did. Simple cognitive restructuring of thought distortions. Psychotherapists do it all the time with their clients e.g. help to change the thoughts, change the emotions.
No, we don’t just have emotions, we actually create the context for them and with some practice (a lot of practice actually) we can learn to transform them pretty easily.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique used to treat everything from social anxiety disorders to stress reduction. It’s called Cognitive Behavior therapy and is very effective in transforming negative thought patterns into patterns of thinking that are much more supportive and enlivening i.e. creating a new reality through thought alone– a thought incantation of sorts.
In my personal case in the example above I used a competing thought pattern that then weakened the automatic negative pattern I had been operating out of. Magic, huh? What I wanted when I wished to be magic was that the job to become significantly easier and through a little cognitive manipulation, voila! Easy peezy!
But this takes a lot of practice– not everyone can make a feather float on the first try like Hermione did– LeviosA! Nope, no luck yet!
I had a nightmare the other night, you know one of those where the narrative takes you right up to the most awful part of the horror and then…you wake up. Whew, thank goodness!
Well, not always. Usually I try to get back to sleep so as to resolve the outcome, to finish the story so to speak. In that way I have some control over the outcome, or get more information on the meaning of the dream.
If you were to consider the point where you wake up as the climax of a story then perhaps asking yourself “what happens next?” Or “How might the story end?” might be a good technique for exploring the nightmare further.
Now I don’t mean for someone who is dreaming a reenactment of a literal horror that has happened in their waking life (such as for those who are suffering from PTSD), stay away from those nightmares, they may need more professional guidance*. I’m talking about those that are symbolic of something going on inside you, or that you are reacting to in your daily life, something psychically broader. You might ask yourself, “Does this dream remind me of something in my waking life?”
Nightmares can be a normal dream occurrence after a trauma, but most of the time they present material that you’ve kept hidden (e.g. threats to your self-esteem, loss of something, or someone important, or trouble coping with certain stresses, unconscious memories stimulated by some recent event, or scary emotions that you have avoided) and the unconscious mind, in the service of your health and well-being, is trying to bring them to consciousness so that you can deal with them appropriately. They literally demand attention.
I think that many of us with the standard unfinished nightmare event want to be able to master them, it’s probably why we like such authors as Stephen King, remember Carrie? Finishing the nightmare in a psychically satisfying manner is much better than ignoring it, because if you do …it’ll be baaack!
I’m also not talking “night terrors” here, in those there’s no plot just a lot of scary chaos**. On the other hand, nightmares have a plot, and often a fairly complicated one. You go from balance, or equilibrium, to extreme out of balance then wake up. When you awaken, the climax then dominates the story and this can truncate the meaning and leave you stuck. If you were to treat the nightmare as a narrative, you would then want the story to return to equilibrium i.e. resolution. I’m talking about the process of transformation, the psychic alchemical process of turning something base into something of value.
The kind of intervention to which I’m referring has the advantage of giving you some feedback i.e. if the nightmare has recurred and then after intervention disappears you’ve been successful, if not, try something else.
*Those suffering from PTSD might use these nightmares as part of a treatment intervention. These nightmares may also be the mind’s way of treating the psychic injury, however, one can get stuck in a constantly recurring nightmare that reintroduces the horror of the event over and over again. This kind of nightmare needs treatment with a professional trained to work with them.
** As an adult and if you get a lot of these night terrors where you are thrashing about in bed you may want to share this with your physician.
This was a quote from the 1999 movie, The Sixth Sense. In it a little boy confesses to his therapist that he sees and interacts with dead people. The journey that he and the therapist go on becomes a frightening and transformational trip through the spirit world that parallels the world of the living.
An interesting fantasy, but other than those who have claimed to see ghosts, or in stories or movies, or over-dramatized TV ghost hunter shows when, if ever, has this been a reality?
There is an archetypal specter that shadows us throughout our lives and that most of us try to ignore, but one that informs the way we live, behave, and move within our personal universes–DEATH.
Dead people in our dreams have visited many of us e.g. dead relatives and loved ones, dead celebrities, or even ourselves. Ghosts, spirits, and specters fly in and out of our dream spaces, threatening, or offering cryptic advice. Some of us have teetered on the brink of death while others have fallen in. We’ve been shot, stabbed, clubbed, eaten, and died by accident, or disease, or the bite of a snake sometimes over and over again across many nights. We have witnessed mass killings on a field of battle, or in our own homes. What is all this mayhem about?
In part it’s as simple as working through the concept of death itself–an attempt to develop a working relationship with it. These dreams help us to work through our deepest fears for ourselves and for the loss of others.
Sometimes dreaming of those who have died, or fears for our own death can be messages that we have become stuck in our grief, or our fears. At a conscious level we often convince ourselves that we have handled death, or we actively suppress our fears so as to function more efficiently. However, denial, or suppression only works, if it does at all, on a superficial and temporary basis. Healing has not happened because the wound remains hidden and not exposed to the air and a weeping scab is formed under which the wound festers. Learning to face these wounds and fears can be part of a healing process that allows us to move on in our lives.
Dead people in dreams, especially those we know, can be an attempt of the mind to deal with sad feelings, memories, guilt, loss, frustrated love, or anger connected with the person who has died, or to just complete our relationship with them from when they were living.
“To die, to sleep no more; and by a sleep, to say we end the heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks that flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream; Ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.”–Shakespeare, Hamlet after the ghost of his father has come to him to tell the circumstances of his death.
When these dreams are faced and accepted (vs. denied, or rejected) this eventually allows the dreamer to resolve the loss and move on. There are also people whose images visit us when we are in times of stress and are looking for guidance or consolation. My Dad often shows up when an old feeling, or special memory associated with him is longed for, especially one that can lead to my own health and well being. Some people have shared with me that when facing an intractable problem and wishing the wisdom of a deceased parent were available, that that parent in their dreams will often visit them.
If you as the dreamer were to kill someone in the dream, it’s most often a symbol for the desire to “kill off” what they represent, e.g. a feeling, a relationship, their effect upon you or others, or even a circumstance or situation which their character may represent.
The death of feelings (such as when there is a loss of love for something or someone), or motivation, or the end of a plan, relationship, a belief, a chapter of ones life, or a transition about to happen e.g. mothers sometime see the death of a boy child in their dreams as the son transitions in waking life from one state of being to another– into preschool, or kindergarten, his first overnight, high school graduation, and off to college. In fact, whenever one is in transition from one state of being, or one event to another, dead people and death can show up in a dream. And when it does, ask yourself, “what is dying in my life–what is coming to an end, or what has the potential for ending soon?” This will give you clues as to the meaning of the dream.
It is said that from blackness comes the light. As Massimilla Harris, a Jungian therapist reminds us, “keep in mind that birth comes out of darkness.” Many of us have some kind of hurt, some part of us that has sustained psychological, emotional, and spiritual injury that we have relegated to the darkness of our subconscious mind.
We all need healing to one degree or another and it is the guidance of the essentially positive Great Mother, the innate and archetypal feminine, who comes to us in our dreams and our darkest hours who can lead us into the light and healing. It is in our nature to seek change and if we let her, Psyche will show us the way.
Within us are a number of wounded negative complexes that serve as obstacles to our ultimate happiness. Our dreams offer us access to these wounds so that they can be treated. Love is at the core of our very nature but most of us I fear don’t really know what love really is. The on again/off again love from our childhoods has left many unsure, insecure untrusting, in scarcity, and anxious regarding the true nature of this love.
This leads many to cripple or ignore the inner feminine aspects of self-compassion and self-nurturance and make it difficult to forgive or even love ourselves let alone to forgive and truly love others.
Our environment doesn’t really support the value of the feminine either in that at least as far as the male gender is concerned compassion, nurturance, and intuition are signs of weakness. Women are demeaned when they show these attributes in the work place and further demeaned if they show masculine traits such assertiveness or decisiveness.
In my way of thinking this denial of the feminine aspect of the human psyche has caused a cultural neurosis– a feeling of incompleteness and unfulfillment by many. This may or may not be an obstacle to personal achievement but even amongst those who have achieved much there is quite often a hole in their lives that goes deeply and negatively affects their sense of happiness and well being.
Whether our culture is ruled by the matriarchal or the patriarchal i.e. whether we are relational or success and identity oriented to do so without compassion, and nurturance can cause all sorts of psychic damage to individuals and societies e.g. the guilt and/or shame of not living up to expectations of self or others that can result in the dubious safety of conformity which stifles creativity and joy or the loss of what our relationship values really are.
We are as a society out of touch with the feminine aspect, the other half of us that brings balance to our being.
Next time the feminine shows up in your dream pay attention to her and the message she brings, she may be your ticket toward greater love and happiness.
Down in the cave of the human mind where reality stops being reality lays the world of the dream. It is here that the mind’s inner eye perceives a fantasy much richer in form and function than the theater of the waking world.
In order to enter this world one needs to suffer a kind of death, for here is a place where the body cannot go.
Unless you live in total darkness there’s always a shadow, a hidden reflection of yourself–it is by definition that place where light cannot reach because of some obstruction. And that obstruction is often your ego-self.
The ego is that part of us that forms the conscious world identity that we hide behind and the inner image of ourselves that we are both proud of and afraid of simultaneously.
It is the guardian at the gate of our consciousness. It is the judge and jury for what gets sent to the shadow lands of our unconscious mind. And like our waking world prisons our shadow lands are overcrowded with what we reject and fear to face.
This is the netherworld of the shaman, medium, and mystic. But is also the hidden world of you and I. Whether mystic or common man we are called by our dreams to explore an underworld that rules the world above. Given that most of our mind is hidden from consciousness we often act, feel, and behave out of some mysterious force. When compounded by all the individuals of a society that force can become overwhelming for good or bad and lead us to our destiny or destruction.
When we don’t acknowledge the real forces behind our actions or our pathology we often make up things to explain these behaviors. For example, we will point at our parents, our upbringing, our genetics and our experiences with each other as cause for our beliefs, ideas and behaviors. But more often than not it is our un-dealt with shadow that is the true source of much of what we do, or don’t do, and it’s often the motivating force behind our actions.
Some say that to live more authentically, to be truly free, and to be more alive, one needs to deal with their hidden aspects, their shadow nature.
Magic, what’s magic save perhaps something that we don’t yet understand i.e. comprehend?
It can be something distant that we cannot see or measure somehow affecting something that we cannot touch that moves the oceans, throws galaxy-sized objects into holes we cannot see and keeps each of us rooted to the land when we should actually be hurled into space because of the Earth’s one thousand mile per hour spin, this is magic. It’s also called gravity. But gravity didn’t exist in the minds of humans as a fact until Sir Isaac Newton lifted the veil between fact and magic and showed us.
But what did he show us? He showed an effect and named it but couldn’t show the thing itself.
And speaking of things what is this “thing” we call space? It’s a nothing until filled with a something but is always more empty than not. It becomes bent by something unseen that cannot be measured except by its effect. Often we attempt to measure it by taking the distance between the objects floating in it but sometimes the distance doesn’t seem to exist at all such as when two particles become entangled and do a synchronized dance with each other though they be billions of miles distant. Simultaneously they respond as though there were no distance, no space, no time. Magic?
How about an object that morphs from one thing to another merely at the choice of the person who decides how they are to be observed? This is the stuff of dreams or is it magic?
What about something that exists everywhere and everywhen simultaneously until someone chooses to look at it? And what is this force that the moon exerts upon our oceans, something that is powerful enough to move trillions and trillions of tons of water but whose influence can be overcome by a mere dollar-store magnet (try it, hold a magnet over a steel paper clip. Which wins out the magnet or gravity)?
And what is it that permeates a room full of people who have a singular collective intention that then “magically” manifests into reality without any of them lifting even the smallest finger? Also how is it you can sense something happening before it happens?
We can point to things and say that they exist, we can show their effect and even name them but do we really understand them any better? For example, why does anything exist and why does it exist in the manner in which it does?
Even after we’ve explained and tested our explanation it’s still a mystery the only difference being after the testing we can call the magical thing a “fact”. It’s still magical but now it’s accepted e.g. it was once thought that the moon moving the oceans was an occult mystery, now it’s an accepted fact but the actual mechanism with all its formulas and terminology is still a mystery– it still seems magical.
When I see a hugely heavy metal object speed down a runway and leap into the air as though it weighed nothing at all it can be explained in terms of physics i.e. with airspeed, lift, and force equations but it still feels like magic.
When I see a baby born there’s a being who came together from two microscopic single-celled objects that then morphed into millions of differentiated cells that work together to form legs, hands, heart, eyes, ears, toes, fingers, skin, brain, and hair ad infinitum and all directed by a spiraling helix of some infinitesimal matter that seems to come from nowhere– a code more complex than all the digital code that has ever been written by all the worlds programmers and hackers and all of this to create a means for the soul to express itself physically into the realm of things.
I see this and I understand some of the process, I’ve even learned to identify the processes and name some of the parts but I still don’t know how it does it or why it does it the way it does or why it does it at all. It still feels like magic.
It, or rather reality, really is all magic isn’t it? It’s either magic of the unknown or factual magic, dissected, labeled, and proved to exist, but magic none the less.
Don’t let your experience of magic be hostage to the assumptions and prejudices of others.
At a Dream Conference attended in Berkeley the presenter was detailing the Alchemical method of transmutation. What, pray tell, was I doing learning about this ancient and largely discredited precursor to chemistry and what did it have to do with dreams?
The presenter spoke of the seven (combined within four primary) processes the alchemist had to perform in the most exacting of ways in order to produce the transforming element, the Philosopher’s Stone, that which would transmute lead into gold (not depicted is the seventh process and is the choosing of the unredeemed matter to be transformed–in this case, “us”).
} part of the process of letting go, by
discovering what and then releasing
And she likened it to the recovery of the soul. Carl Jung thought of it as representing the Individuation process, where human beings wrestled with and integrated their varied and opposing aspects so to develop into a fully actuated being, in short, the process for aligning ones outer nature with their inner nature–the quest for wholeness. To him it was the promise of our ‘becoming’. He thought that the images of the alchemical process mirrored a person’s inner psychic state of being and thus gave guidance to what was needed to achieve this inner/outer balance. Thus the emblematic alchemical arcana (see example on left) represented a roadmap to healing.
Firstly one needs to free the soul from the body and become familiar with their unconscious identity as separated from their conscious, ego-bound identity. Dissolving, or causing one to let go, or surrendering, ones positionality is the next step. This is a form of ego-death where the ego is no longer the prime mover. In the third step one recombines the soul and consciousness to form a new and singular mind. The last step fixes ones mastery over the self after having integrated the disparate parts of the overall psyche.
So what am I talking about when I use the term “disparate parts of the self?” I’m talking about the various aspects of our selves that are usually in inner conflict with our self such as our feminine and masculine aspects. Most people operate as though they are one or the other based upon their anatomical differences and different ways of thinking and viewing the world. There’s also our wisdom selves, or radiant self, and our shadow selves e.g. for simplicity’s sake our positive and negative aspects–that which we readily embrace and that which we categorically reject.
But it is the ego-self that makes the decisions of what to reject or embrace and bases these choices on the basic need of the ego to stay in control. This is not a very good system for triage because of the limited vision of the ego-self. Thus the need to let go the predominance of this part of the ego, that can be likened to a huge mountain obscuring the landscape beyond, in order to see over the top of it. The ego-self doesn’t know everything of what it needs or doesn’t need in order to fully function. There is much in the unconscious that has been thrown away by the ego-self that can be immensely helpful if it were to be reintegrated into the overall psyche.
The internal alchemist can guide each of us to delve into the psyche where we have the power to change the essence of our stories.
I remember that during the height of the Polio epidemic in high school I painted a large billboard announcing the coming of a Polio clinic where people could get not only their children inoculated, but themselves as well. On it I depicted a large writhing dragon being slain by an equally large hypodermic needle. Little did I know that this symbol of slaying-the-dragon was to be the mythos for much of my life.
At one time I could have posed as the poster boy for “Robert The Blah”, but time and again I found myself in situations where I had to dig deep inside to find the power to draw my inner sword in order to confront whatever metaphorical fire-breathing dragon stood before me. Over time the mythos evolved into what might be called “Robert The Dragon Fighter” [i], but I continued to operate in the old myth. To fully manifest and use the power of what I had become I had to be willing to change my personal mythology.
In order to change our lives for what we imagine to be better, we more often than not need to change our personal mythology–to rewrite the story of ourselves and what we say we are. The ego-self resists this because to the ego-self it looks like death and it is death in a way because to rewrite ones life mythology they must kill-off, or dissolve, the old to make way for a birth, if you will, of something new. This re-envisionment can only happen after we have dissolved the current vision to make way for the new.
The dream world is our access to the imaginal, the vision of what is and what can be, it is a portal of discovery that can lead to an awakening in our so-called waking lives. It can reveal not only the archetypal conflicts of the human soul, but our own inner conflicts as well. It is quite literally our alchemical and psychosocial laboratory for evolutionary change, expansion of consciousness (i.e. what it means to be really conscious), and for the freeing of the soul. In fact, dreams always come to us in the service of our health and well-being and to aide us in our alchemical quest.
Jung suggested that at a deeper level the ancient alchemists were searching for more than just transmuting metals, but were meddling in something much bigger. For hidden in the common base metal of the human psyche was a wealth of grand value if only they could discover the path to its achievement. Many of our myths have hinted at this e.g. Jason and the Golden Fleece, Sir Percival and the Grail, Hercules and the hand of Persephone, and the innumerable stories where heroes try to reunite what has been separated into a more harmonious whole.
Even the dreams of those such as the Old Testament Jacob who wrestled with his God and learned to let go or dissolve his own ego position so as to evolve into someone more fully capable of dealing harmoniously in his world was an example of the kind of alchemy that is going on all around and within us. In Hebrew ‘Jacob’ is translated as, “Over reacher, or he who supplants” –an aspect of the separated ego-self–but is then given the name of Israel, “one who wrestles with God” an aspect I believe of the psyche trying to integrate itself.
Also such notable scientists as Sir Isaac Newton were also drawn to the alchemical sciences in an attempt to balance and ultimately unify the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.
Jean Houston, philosopher and author, has said that each of us “are valuable characters in the drama of the world soul, pushing the boundaries of their own local story and gaining the courage to be and do so much more.”
Many scholars in human development are convinced that our personal mythology informs the way in which we live our lives, that we make our decisions for better or worse as a consequence of our mythology. Much of therapy and dream work is about bringing ones mythos to consciousness, confronting it, and gaining some mastery over it–it is the alchemical process at work.
Much of dream work and personal therapy involves distilling the dross of the soul in order to work with the purified essence of the self. It is as Jung said that dreams are
The process, then, is the transformation of the unredeemed self into the ultimate expression of our being. In this way we can be the Philosopher’s Stone, or the fully Individuated, or fully Actualized human.
The Alchemists may actually have been projecting the inner processes of the psyche onto the objective world–pretty much as we all do when trying to make meaning of the world we live in. They may have inadvertently been the first of the Depth Psychologists and self-development gurus, or at least revealed the processes needed for the development of the self. It seems that metaphor may also run deep within the waking mind as well as in the dream.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. She who looks outside, dreams: she who looks inside, awakes.”- Carl Jung
[i] Note that I don’t use the term “Dragon Slayer” here because I don’t always slay the dragon i.e. get the better of him. Often my internal dragons, aka “self-criticisms” get the better of me. There are also times when slaying or fighting with a metaphorical dragon isn’t what’s called for. Sometimes the dragon shows up when I’ve been inflating my personal image i.e. acting arrogant and the dragon appears to cut me down to size. In this case even friends have played the role of the dragon and though they spit what seems like fire, they are only doing it because they care–this I want to nurture, not slay.