A mosaic of Constantine’s Shield 

At lunch one day I ordered my meal, then started to read from a book that I’d brought with me about a dream that the Emperor Constantine had in the early 4th century just before he went into an important battle. Early in the day he had witnessed in the clouds of the sky the letters X and P, or the Greek letters Chi and Rho that stood for the Christ, or Kristos. That night he dreamed again of the letters and knew that God was with him. So he placed Chi and Rho upon his helmet and ordered his legions to place it on their shields and then he went into battle. He won that battle and many more after that. It was then, so it is said, that he embraced Christianity for all of the empire. Before the dream he was the persecutor of all Christians and after he became their friend and benefactor.

I thought this an interesting story regarding the conversion experience of a Roman Emperor, but was also aware that his conversion was only the beginning of his process toward a greater understanding. As a psychologist I viewed it, if the story were true, as his process of Individuation e.g. his development toward wholeness, nothing more or less than that. The letters in his dream and in his vision were symbolic of a developing awareness perhaps orchestrated by his unconscious mind. Humans are always looking for meaning and because Constantine was looking for a divine sign regarding the impending battle, an ordeal without an assured positive outcome, his unconscious psyche may have served him up one.

I closed the book and finished my meal, paid, said goodbye to my favorite waitress, and walked out into a cloudy day toward the car. Halfway across the parking lot my attention was drawn to a piece of plastic half buried in the dirty silt of a drying puddle. What prompted my next move I do not know but I bent down and picked it up, scraped off the muck, and took a closer look. There on what appeared to be an ordinary plastic cap were emblazoned the letters X and P.

Stunned by the synchronicity I looked about as though to see if something else might happen, or to see if anyone noticed what I was doing for now I was tearing up and felt a little embarrassed by it. Seeing no one around I carefully put the cap into my pocket and climbed into the car.

That night I had a nightmarish dream where I was taken to the top of an impossibly tall building where I was forced to eat a half dead pigeon and a nearly dead rat. I felt helpless and coerced and felt sorry for the animals and not wanting to cause them any pain. What I wanted to do was to just get through the ordeal. I’m also struck by the image of me “eating crow” (even though it’s a pigeon), i.e. to experience humiliation by admitting my wrongness and arrogance about something e.g. that Constantine’s dream was merely a psychological process vs. a divine message?

This dream may have also reflected my recent experience with an activity that I found to be quite difficult, physically and emotionally, and there too I just wanted to get through it. I felt coerced, not by another, but by my own inner drives for recognition and the fatigue and emotional drain were consuming me. The experience that I forced myself to endure was perhaps unhealthy and damaging to the soul. Perhaps I needed to pay greater attention to the needs of the soul and less to the instincts of the animal within. Perhaps I needed to be more compassionate with myself.

There was also the sense that even as I had attained the heights my ego was being brought back down through the act of something very basal.

Compassion and balance seemed to be competing messages in this dream and as I looked closer I wondered if that was not so for Constantine as well. He too was behaving in a manner unhealthy to his soul through the brutal persecution of a people. He too was looking for a sign that would help him through an ordeal, to help him see that there is something bigger than he and his way of viewing the world.

I am of course not sure that the synchronistic event of finding the cap with the very same letters that showed up in a story whose veracity I earlier scoffed at, had anything but coincidental meaning, but it did make me stop and think about what I was doing in my own life. It also pointed to how I had made ego-importance superior to that of my soul. 

Finally, it has made me pause to wonder yet again if the reality that I believe to be true is indeed true. Perhaps I’m not as much in control of what happens around and within me as I would like to believe. If synchronicities are not just meaningless coincidences, then what is it that creates these seemingly connected and yet acausal realities?

I also wonder if these synchronicities are not there to aid us in opening our minds to a broader reality than the one we’re conditioned to or the one our ego creates so as to be the star of the show?

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