The Dark Night of the Soul revisited (yet again)

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I was listening to NPR recently and heard someone during an interview use a phrase that stopped me in my tracks. It went something like this: “Sometimes people use violence to revitalize their souls.”

“Is that true? I thought. Can violence revitalize the soul? I know that love, art, music and dance can bring the soul to life, but anger and hate? Up to this moment I’ve always imagined hate, anger, and fear as emotions that bury the soul. Though it’s true that they are emotions that energize, I usually think of their energy as negative and that they produce more negative. Then I remembered the phrase, “The dark night of the soul” that refers to a deep sense of meaninglessness, when nothing makes sense and there’s no purpose in life– when all the activity, dreams, and achievements just aren’t important anymore.

I can remember being there after my Dad unexpectedly died and I recall hurting so much that I became numb and wishing I could get some feeling, any feeling, back. I found myself doing risky things to just charge up my life, I became quick to anger and started to entertain dark thoughts, my dreams became full of darkness and nightmares, that I hadn’t had in ages. It was as though the soul were trying to crawl out from under a heavy damp blanket of meaninglessness that had covered my world. But instead it seemed to only bury its self ever deeper.

So, perhaps violence at least is an attempt to bring meaning back although it’s a short-lived and unsatisfying way of doing it.

As people close to me age and die and as the country that seemed so stable and united in purpose appears to be crumbling I’m finding that I’ve fallen into that dark night once again and all the meaning appears to be draining from me and my carefully engineered life seems to wobble once again. It’s as though the darkness is crying out for more light.

But for now I think I’ll treat this as a time of rebooting, so to speak, because as all the made up meaning that I’ve added to my life washes away hopefully it will allow for something different, or something new instead of the compulsive, conditioned meaning I’ve always given things over the years. Perhaps what will show up will be even deeper– and hopefully there will be some aliveness in that. Perhaps the darkness itself speaks to a need for more light and makes room for it where there had been little before.

Do I need to go AWOL in order to find myself?

 

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The Dream:

I’m in a resort with many other people, but as time goes by I note, as do some others, that everything is pretty much the same and all is regimented. We all ride bicycles around and around the grounds, eat together at the same time and in the same place, lounge around the pool in the sun together. There’s not much of any independent action.

One day, when riding around together I divert from the group and take another route, sometime even off the road. Other people, who are working in the field, look up and are startled as I pass by. I spend the rest of the time trying to find different things as well as a way out.

Somehow I do find a way out (but not a physical way out in that I seem to escape without going anywhere and yet I’m not there any more!), but then realize, “Oh my God, I’m AWOL. But how can that be, I’m not in the military?”

Possible Interpretation:

Normally I would treat this as just another “feeling trapped” dream, or a dream that is telling me to be creative toward some solution. But this time I thought that as the dream suggests I might try being creative and avoid the preconditioned interpretation.

Perhaps the boundaries of the resort and its entertainments are representative of my ego-boundaries? Do the routines represent classical conditioning i.e. a conditioned response to the events of my life? Is this kind of stasis a manifestation of ego-bondage? Is what I’m doing in my life that should be pleasant, become just a set of prescribed, or even proscribed, behaviors or pleasure responses? Is the dream an inner command trying to be heard that though I may not see I am probably mired down in yet another ego-identity designed to create yet another boundary between me and others.

Have I allowed myself to remain mired (I like that word!) in preconceived answers e.g. in a preconceived formula to living? I myself have dedicated myself to an idealist schema of self-exploration beyond what I identify as my ego. In this quest I’m looking for what I call the authentic self, which is a little difficult to do in that I don’t yet have a well-defined picture of what the authentic self looks like. My tendency is to want to follow what is comfortable, though it frequently becomes boring in the long run. In another scenario I seek to reject the dictates of outside authority (yes I have issues). Failing that I then try to change how it looks as though that will bring about something new and entertaining again, thus my life becomes one long string of chasing what can’t be caught (or avoiding what I reject and thus is chasing me) and I forget what the authentic self is all about.

When I diverge from the path that I’m on it’s as though I am functioning outside the rules of my life that usually guide me safely through it, but that just traps me in a conditioned life, in concert with everyone else, but not authentically me.

Following the social-ethical rules may be like following the ethical rules such as the Ten Commandments, or Buddha’s eight-fold way, but will these alone enable us to find ourselves? Alas I don’t think so, one needs to go beyond, that is to escape from, the letter of the law toward its spirit. Given that the spirit of who and what we are is right here and right now, we have gone nowhere other than where we are when we have escaped the boundaries of where we find ourselves (read that line again, it makes sense!).

The goal that this dream may be alluding to is to soften the hardened boundaries of my ego placement a little in order to get outside this imagined self so as to see yet something new. I wonder how one might actually do this? This might be a good subject for another posting.

There was a Dragon in my dream

 

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As many of you may know I’m particularly drawn to Dragons, dream dragons that is. There’s a whole section on the Dreaming Wizard website on dragons and the significance they’ve played throughout human history. I’ve also written about them before on this blog (see Jan 30, 2018).

Below is a dream shared by one of the Dreaming Wizard website followers that stars two dragons. I thought you might appreciate the dream and the interpretation.

 

The Dream:

Comments: I had a dream (it is usual for me to remember a lot of detail– like I actually lived it). I was a white winged dragon. I was hungry and lost in a swamp. a muddy brown dragon came and hunted a boar, trying to show me how. I got angry and tried to kill him. I didn’t want his help. Then, a boar with red eyes charged me. I used the knowledge the brown dragon had given me and killed the boar. while I was eating the boar the brown dragon came over to praise me for my success, but I still didn’t like him so I swiped my tail at him. he never left me, but did keep his distance. I have had lots of dragon dreams before, but never one with a ‘teacher’ dragon assisting me. I am curious what your thoughts are.”

My interpretation was a little sparse at the time, but after another viewing I’ve added a little detail that might have been useful.

Interpretation:

The dragon in this case may be your angry I’ll-do-it-myself part of your personality. The Brown dragon is also a part of yourself that you correctly assume is trying to open you up to a new way of being, a better way of nourishing (as in eating the boar) yourself. The boar could also represent an aspect of your own animal nature that may threaten you and that you may need to learn to accept aka ‘eat’ in order to balance its energy within you.

Eating is also a metaphor for the uniting of aspects of your self. You may be someone who gets carried away by their passion(s) and may need to exercise more self-control and not always trying to dominate/control others so as to get your own way.

The “boar” image might also be a symbolic pun for acting like a ‘boor’ i.e. behaving in a boorish way.

The image of being hungry suggests that you may be feeling unfulfilled in some part or parts of your life i.e. you may be ‘starving’ for love.

The ‘lost in a swamp’ image can be a reference to your dark side. It could also suggest some insecurity or be a pun for feeling ‘swamped’ i.e. overburdened.

Your response to the other dragon’s help may be symbolic of how you live your life, as a loner or “I can do it myself” type of person. This may make it difficult for others to contribute and/or get close to you.

Dragon-dreams are often encouragements to see things more clearly, in fact the word for dragon in ancient Greek, Drakon, means just that, “to see clearly” or “that which sees.” They can be guardians of your core being and/or messengers for balance and wisdom. Often the Chinese Dragon is portrayed holding out a pearl with one paw suggesting the gift of the pearl of wisdom. The dream above may be doing just that offering an inner wisdom to help the dreamer conquer their inner animal nature.

The Presence of Absence

 

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An example of the use of negative space e.g. the nonexistence of something to create the presence of something.

Not too long ago I ran across a phrase that so accurately represented my experience of the dream world that I had the feeling of having been lost yet finally coming home to myself. This was especially true as it related to all those times when I’ve awakened to find only a whisper, or trace, of having had a dream but otherwise lost in a strange emptiness that try as I would couldn’t be filled.

The phrase is the “presence of absence”.

As soon as I read it images of blank sheets of paper, the negative spaces of an artist’s canvas, and that wisp of a rapidly fading memory of a world lost upon awakening and how each defined and gave form to the reality present and the reality to be. To me the dream and the blank spaces that give presence by their absence are where the ineffable soul meets us in the bounded world of the material and where what can’t be described describes what is, was, and is yet to be.

I am always excited by the blank sheet of paper, or blank document of the word processor for in these is present the beauty of the infinite potential of the soul’s creativity. I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I begin to write– each filled blankness being a journey never taken before.

The artist’s use of what is not there to hint at what is has always fascinated me and helped me to realize that often reality is defined more by the abstract and the potential than the concrete and fixed.

I also feel the experience of something that becomes more present by its absence every time I am stirred by some event or object to recall a close friend or loved one. In some ways they have become closer through their not being than they were when they were here e.g. I am more frequently reminded of them as I travel about in the haunts of our shared past.

As I looked at the phrase again a memory of a moment in time when I was wandering with friends along a forest trail, my mind becalmed, my body luxuriating in the undefined sounds and smells of the world about me where something quite remarkable occurred. At one moment I was a Being walking amongst the other Beings of the forest and in the very next second a new presence consumed me and separation disappeared, everything dissolved, and folded into one. I was gripped by an ineffable joy that filled me with the never before experience of being the whole of creation where I was both everything and nothing. At that moment I knew that somehow I had touched the face of God. No object was he or I for that matter, but its presence was still very real.

From nothing, something a creation experience of the mystic, the place from whence my dreams are formed and the shape of my soul.

The presence of absence has often been a defining experience for me and has opened doors into all manner of new realities.

 Death in Dreams

 

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 “Without death, life would be meaningless…limitation enables you to fulfill your being.”

–C. Jung

Basically he’s saying that death is a condition for the meaning of life.

Death in Dreams (The symbolic meaning)

 Death often relates to the ending of something. But it can also suggest our relationship, or attitude towards death e.g. how do we feel about it?

As an archetype it can show up as a sunset, crossing a river, twilight, a skeleton, gravestones, a cemetery, blackness, the grim reaper, an old man, or woman, a fallen mirror, a stopped clock, or an empty abyss. Dead animals can also be metaphors for our own demise.

 

“These are the woods you love where the secret name of every death is life again”

    Mary Oliver (Skunk Cabbage)

      

Associated with death is also rebirth and resurrection. Such things as a cave, or an egg, Spring, dawn, the cross, a snake, a seed, a bird taking flight (though if it were to fly off into the sunset it might suggest death), a Phoenix, flame, a pearl, or the womb.

The body itself is in a constant birth, death and renewal cycle in that individual cells need to die in order to be replaced and renewed without constant injury to the body’s cells, fresh cells could not revitalize. This is the idea of creating by destroying. The Hindu god Shiva is the destroyer of the world (actually the ego—the false identification with form, and the letting go of habits and attachments). Brahma then recreates what has been destroyed. In short, all that has a beginning must also have an end. The only thing that dies according to this concept is the illusion of individuality and separateness. In this way Shiva is the great purifier.

 

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Shiva

 

The ancient Greeks believed that a person’s well-being depended on the opposing forces of dissolution and creation. The Caduceus with its entwined snakes and being the symbol of the healer can be symbolically linked with Psyche interacting with matter and transforming both. This idea of the snake representing both death and renewal sheds its old skin to reveal something new and revitalized, thus dying so as to be reborn.

 

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Caduceus

 

Dead people in Dreams:

In most cases this is about the dreamer trying to deal with the passing of someone close. It’s all a process of letting go and of resurrecting the one you interacted with on a physical level into the memory of that same person. For some the deceased becomes eternally living within the memory of those left behind.

To see a dead person in a dream:

This can represent some area in one’s life that has “died” such as a feeling, a relationship, or situation. Sometimes anger repressed in your waking life can kill ones vitality and satisfaction. It can also represent a part of yourself that you would like to leave behind (to see that part, look at what aspect the dead person may represent).

 

To see your own death in a dream:

This can suggest a transformation in the way you have been, in thought, in feeling, or in attitude. It can also suggest the transition of one phase of your life into a new one.

Fundamentally death in dreams is about change, impending, ongoing, future or past.

 

“Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

–Mary Oliver (the Summer Day)

 

_____________________

For more on death and resurrection in dreams go to the Dreaming Wizard website.

http://thedreamingwizard.com/death-and-resurrection-in-dreams_295.html

Don’t cast out the demon: A case for following your dreams

 

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There is an uncontrolled and uncontrollable background world from which we are all born and out of which we motivate our lives. It is only through self-reflection, the art of transcending our conscious selves that we can discover a psychological resilience the likes of which the vast majority of people have never known or even knew was possible.

This is the art of reflecting on our experiences instead of being caught up in them. To do this one needs to gain some distance from them. For example, one can experience being depressed and become so wrapped up in the experience that it’s like being caught in a never-ending maze where you seem to wander aimlessly forever.

But transforming the experience from one of “being” depressed to the depression as being a signal that your approach to life has been outgrown and that a new approach needs to be developed can take you outside the experience and allow for a new perspective and change.

In short, by being your symptoms you can become lost, but by using the symptoms as signals of the psyche’s attempt to heal itself you can transcend, step out of, the maze. As with everything else the symptoms aren’t what’s causing the imbalance e.g. depression, they are only indicators that an imbalance exists. Too often we get caught up in our ego needs and forget that we are actually creatures of a much greater background world.

When we act as though we are our symptoms (fear, anxiety, depression, anger, powerlessness, etc.) we automatically try to avoid or cast out the demon. In other words, we try to reject rather than go into relationship with the symptom.

When we reject our feelings, our thoughts, or our unwanted memories we send the pains they cause into the dark cellars of our unconscious mind where they can fester and source all kinds of mischief. The art of reflection is the first step into dealing with our imbalances directly and one of the best ways of reflecting on our inner self is through the analysis of dreams. It is through our dreams that we can connect with that background world from which we all come.

In the dream it is the soul that reflects on itself while the ego sleeps rather than the daytime reflections of the ego upon itself that rarely produce any useful insight. Learning to see reality through your dreams can be a transforming experience.

And the world seems right

 

 

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Arthur Rackham ~ The Fairies of the Serpentine ~ 1906

 

 

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

–William Butler Yeats

 

On my meditation walks I am often moved by the life going on about me– boys and girls with hockey sticks and skates battling street pucks at dusk, flocks of screeching Crows nesting in trees, the smile of the crescent moon with the wink of Venus below her, on a warm night crickets and barking dogs, on a cold and crisp one nothing but silence and the sound of my own footsteps. Sometimes a breeze whips through the branches and rustles the leaves and I hear the raucous laughter of a party just seen through the picture window of the house across the street.

And the world seems right.

But on other nights my mind is disturbed with its thoughts and whirls like a demented vortex and I hear nothing but my own voice. It’s a boring voice droning on and on about inane this’s and that’s and burying the peace of the night in rubble.

And nothing in the world seems right.

I long for the magic I’ve so often felt on so many earlier sojourns through the dark, but tonight it’s not to be. This is when I cry out to the dark denizens of the netherworld, “Come oh magic creatures of the imaginal and entertain me. Bring to me your mystery, your awe, your wonder, and your hidden treasure– make it better than it is.”

That night’s dreams brought me headstones and skulls, darkness and gray empty fields– a reflection of the mood carried back from the earlier journey. And then I ran across the poem by Yeats and I thought, ‘It’s not the fairies of the land he is calling to, but those of the inner soul who are entreated to crawl out from the rubbish and dance with me once more’.

And the world seems right again.

The Darkling Wood

 

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Into the wood where the Darkling play

Follow the path, I’ll show you the way.

Look carefully now for all crawly and slither

They’ll make you all creepy, scaredy and shiver.

The night falls here with a cackle and thump

A crack of a twig, a murmur, and bump.

For it’s these dark woods where the nightmares play

The nightwoods where darkmares have say.

Beware, beware the darkling soul

He cannot be bested by fairy nor troll.

For he rules the forests of your mind

Your lighter and darker forever entwined.

Look close dear one for there is a charm

That can tame before there’s too much harm.

Face the demon to make you wise

Embrace his fire and don’t despise.

Give only what he is due 

Accepting that he is part of you.

He will bow his head and give you true

For his master is really you.

So harness him up and together take flight

Across the deep lake and into the night.

–R.J. Cole

Imbalance, dissociation, polarization, discontinuity and fear: What I learned in the archipelago of my dreams.

 

At one level this article may look like a political statement, but it is not in that vein that I present it. All social animals e.g. Wolves, Apes, bees, ants, porpoise, human beings, etc. have some kind of cohesive principle, some kind of leadership, or coordinating system. In large social systems anarchy just doesn’t work. Scientists have even found this principle at the molecular level–most of us would not be able to survive for very long if our internal systems didn’t have a coordinating system and/or if the system were to become polarized and its parts weren’t willing to cooperate with each other.

From the very beginning of recorded western thought philosophers like Heraclitus and Hippocrates believed that there was “one common flow, a common breathing. Everything is in sympathy. The whole organism and each one of its parts are working together for the same purpose.” The Roman scholar, Agrippa spoke of an essence beyond the four known in his day as water, earth, air and fire and that it held existence together. He called it the World Soul. A more modern thinker, Carl Jung, called it the Anima Mundi. It was the glue that kept existence together, the balancing effect that kept everything on an even keel and in balance.

In The Archipelago of Dreams Robert discovers that the balance that keeps the world functioning has been dangerously tipped and that he has been conscripted to help in bringing the world back to equilibrium. But his own fears and the fears of others muster powerful physical and psychological forces to prevent him in achieving his mission. These same forces are acting on all of us on a daily basis both in our waking lives and sleeping lives because fear images also show up in our dreams especially when we are suppressing or ignoring these fears and they show up at an intensity that endangers the fabric of all human life.

I’ve said this before; fear affects decision-making, what I haven’t said is that it kills as well. It not only kills innovation, but the body also. When there is a threat to the body the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA) kicks in and all systems are diverted from growth and development to reaction defense mode–fight or flight. Adrenalin pours into the system and mobilizes the body for action. The immune system is repressed because right now the external world poses a greater threat than the inner and the forebrain, the center for reasoning and logic, is slowed–no time for thinking, gotta act. Vascular flow is limited to the limbs, for running or fighting and conscious volitional action is curtailed, better to let the instincts take over.

Now under normal circumstances this state of affairs only lasts for a few minutes at best, just enough to survive an attack. And thank goodness, because the body begins to deteriorate after awhile when on high alert. The HPA is an excellent system for responding to immediate threat, but it was not designed to be activated continuously. Hyper vigilance eventually dissociates the body from the mind and the community from its leadership.

This kind of hyper-vigilance eventually wreaks havoc on the health of the body. When the immune system is suppressed all kinds of viral and bacterial bad guys can attack and take over–while focusing too much on external safety a fifth column of micro-nasties compromise your health. When the body is reflecting on the external too much it neglects the internal and is thrown precariously off-balance.

In our society fear, or its smaller cousin, anxiety, has at some level become de rigor, the emotion trend du jour and we find ourselves constantly on alert. Since 9/11 we have entered a continuous state of protection and our quality of life has become impaired. A constant background state of fear (exploited politically) keeps the HPA system activated and our lives become more reactionary than thoughtful–you can’t think straight when emotionally involved. After a while the body habituates and it sees fear, or something to fear, everywhere. One of the first things to happen under these conditions is that we lose tolerance for anything that is different, because “different” often translates to something threatening.

Lack of tolerance leads to an impaired ability to cooperate for it might be ‘every man for himself.’ We see this intolerance and lack of cooperation in many social contexts, but most notably within our political systems that really only reflect ourselves. In an environment of fear reactionary opinion trumps reality and the rational takes a back seat to self-protective beliefs­­–clear thinking becomes a victim and the society begins to dissociate which is a fancy psychologists word for separating from one another–to disunite. Nothing can be more debilitating for a community whether it be a community of biological cells, animals, insects, a business corporation, or people in general.
Continuous fear consumes our energy toward getting our needs met as well. We seem to live in a constant state of being out of control of our destiny and as we throw up more walls and fences to keep out what threatens us we begin to lose independence, autonomy and ultimately our ability to enact free will. On an individual level we become sick and vulnerable to diseases or just a lack of focused attention that can affect us creatively. On a national level we see our ability to innovatively compete globally impaired as well as our ability to cooperate with each other, and on a global level the reaction to our inability to get our needs met can be seen in the Arab Spring, and the protests in Greece, Russia and the United States. The “Decade of the Protest” may very well be a correction toward the extremes perpetrated by those in power. Would that these powers could see that it is in their best interest as well to let this correction take its course. In the short run things may look scary, but healing isn’t always pretty–sometimes you have to scrape the scab to let what is underneath it “breathe.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the last great attack against our country that, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” Truer words have never been spoken, fear can kill us–it can destroy the genius of the country and sicken its society. The very essence of the World Soul is in jeopardy because it has become every man for himself as we belittle the efforts of our leaders and refuse to listen to each other. The scale that keeps the world in equilibrium is way off center. It is imperative that we rediscover our balance–a center of being from which we can manifest our broader, deeper, truer nature!

In the Archipelago of Dreams Robert learns what needs to be healed in order to bring humanity into equilibrium and in the process learns how to heal himself as well.

Mystery: Being in the I-know-not-where

 

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Forever striving to know everything

Forever frustrated and afraid.

Ah, to embrace ignorance if only

As an entry to the holy.

I love it when I admit that

I don’t know what I’m doing.

For me the holy mystery seems to reside

in those spaces between knowing and not knowing.

Always trying to know leaves me empty

No matter how much I think I know.

Mystery on the other hand seems to fill

Every nook and cranny of my soul.

My desperate need for knowing leaves me angry,

Frustrated, anxious, defensive, and frightened.

Not knowing seems to cool the mind like

A splash of cold water on a sweaty summers day.

This effort to know everything sometimes heats up the mind and soul

And agitates the very essence of my being.

I’m left exhausted depressed and lost and I ache for the release

Of the mysterious, its softness, awe, and wonder.

It’s there somewhere behind and beneath that pile of knowing

And I think it’s time to invite it out to play.

The constant striving and worrying about knowing what,

where, and why is so tiring, so meaningless.

Being in the I-know-not-where can be so peaceful,

so joyful.