Dealing with the Dark Night of the Soul

I did not grow up in the Christian church or any church for that
matter. The first time I ever heard of the Psalms was while attending
a field service in Vietnam for a friend who had died two days earlier.
He was a friend who had taken my place on the night crew, for I was going out on a mission the following day. If he hadn’t, things might
have been different in both our lives. I was feeling very
disconnected, confused, and holding a little guilt.

The Psalm read that day during the service was called the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down
in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He
restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy
staff they comfort me.”



As I listened to the words, I found myself crying and Marines NEVER
cry. Suddenly I found myself lifted and all my fear, anger, and
sadness, the turbulent waters of my mind and heart “stilled.” For a
moment, I knew that as I walked through this “valley” with death all
around me, I was not alone. This gave me the strength to carry on.
 
It wasn’t until years later that I realized the grace given to me on
that day, even though I was experiencing the dark night of the soul
(aka depression) and felt I wasn’t worthy of anything good. That day
was the beginning of my journey toward spiritual maturity, and that
day was the day I awakened to something that I later called soul.
Spiritual awakenings can happen at any moment in life. They can be
spontaneous, triggered by major life changes, illnesses, tragedies,
and traumas such as life-threatening illnesses, accidents, divorces,
midlife crises, war, and so much more. They can happen during
meditation or while taking a walk around the neighborhood.

There are also those times when all seems hopeless and emotionally
overwhelming, what some call The Dark Night of the Soul. If you’re highly sensitive to the suffering of others and are a deep thinker by
nature, it is possible that you have gone through, or are currently
going through, this dark night.
 
The Dark Night of the Soul is a period in life when you feel
completely cut off from the Divine. The more _aware_ you become of
your disconnection from the Divine, the more chances you have of
experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul.
 
In my experience, going through this encounter with the dark night is
profoundly entwined with the process of spiritual awakening, i.e.,
before spiritually awakening, we often “walk through the valley of the
shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4); that prepares our minds and hearts for
it.

From the perspective of an Alchemist and Jungian analyst the Dark Night could represent the nigredo which means ‘blackness’ or putrefaction or decomposition. Many alchemists believed the nigredo was a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone or wholeness.

Insight from a disturbing dream

A scene from the movie, Matrix, we are all a digitally coded reality.

The night before’s dream centered around a vision of a “heart,” more an experience than a physical image. It is a life-altering experience that appears to have a physical form but is not material in essence. The heart experience seems real, but it is not; it appears present, but it is not. I can get it for someone but can’t guarantee that it will work for them. There’s a sense that it brings profound connection and dispels the feeling of separation. I reach into the ether to pull one into existence.

My interpretation of this dream appears to be as cryptic as the dream but reflects something I’ve been psycho-emotionally wrestling with for quite some time. As time has moved on, I’ve developed more and more clarity regarding the thoughts and feelings that have plagued me.

Are we but avatars of One being? Not actual, not separate, with the experience of separateness being illusory born of a system designed to create the illusion built over time.

I wonder if stories of Jesus being sent to earth so that God can experience the human condition are but a human projection or metaphor that reveals a much deeper reality of life?

The creation stories of many cultures also seem to suggest that the “we” we see ourselves as is, but an illusion created by the One.

The reality of death may be part of that illusion because if we are only avatars or expressions, then we were never really born. We are not separate because we were never apart. We are only the illusion of individual beings. As avatars, we may be “experiencers,” aka the “heart of God” or the One. We are both black and white, illumined and dark, gold and lead, wise and foolish, believers or non-believers, loving and hateful, holograms of the One’s expression into the world.

With this view that everything, including what we call “we,” are but God expressions, I seem to have moved from a monotheistic view of God to a pantheistic one. In this view, God, whatever it is, acts as a prism diffracting itself into a myriad of colors (The “we” I’m referring to) but, in essence, is only the One all-encompassing color. The “heart” of my dream is the One we call God.

Shades of the movie Matrix!

Once seen, it changes my relationship with everything I’ve been calling and believing to be “other.”

The strange thing for me is that if this were a true reflection of reality, what would I do with it? In other words, so what? I don’t have an answer for that, yet I somehow feel more at ease with these thoughts than with the belief in separateness. Separateness brings with it fear, helplessness, and vulnerability.

This point of view also seems to answer in part my age-old question of what is my purpose? My purpose in this scenario is just to be, do what I do, experience what I experience, strive for what I strive, feel what I feel, change when I think I need to, and think what I think whenever I think it. That may seem too easy to some, but for me, it’s always been a struggle and probably, to some extent, will remain the same. So, to my list, I’ll add “struggle” with what I struggle with.

It’s the season of change, endings, and the harvesting of what you’ve sowed. 

During this time of year our dreams can be the portal to other realms of knowledge and awareness. Wakeup!

These images from our deeper psyches are often found in the the mythologies of many cultures and represent pretty much what they do to all societies. After all, where do our myths come from if not from the dark caves of our hidden selves?

Dreams of…

Jack-o-lanterns: childhood dreams and memories. A reminder of a changing of something or the end of something.

Witches: The negative feminine or one’s fear of being manipulated (bewitched). Old feelings associated with one’s mother. If a witch of the west she could symbolize endings and dark events or feelings. They can represent unlikeable parts of ourselves or others. Has someone cast a ‘spell’ on you? She may also symbolize something magic in your life, something positive and yet unexplainable. Note that witches in a dream can be either nurturing or overpowering or both if reflecting a conflicted state or relationship.

Magic: Don’t believe everything that you see or hear. Are you trying to solve a problem through wishes and hopes i.e., through magical thinking? Are you being influenced or perhaps controlled by something that you can’t see? If a magician (or wizard) shows up, he or she may represent your inner wisdom or your desire to control and dominate. They can also represent illusion. Are you or is someone trying to fool someone or yourself? Are you hoping to change something or looking for transformation? Do you need to transcend something in your life? 

Ghosts: Is something from your past haunting you? Is your subconscious trying to make you aware of something? Do you have guilty feelings about someone or some event? Perhaps you are feeling insubstantial, like you don’t belong. Have you “ghosted” someone i.e., where you have cut off communication with someone without explanation or are being ignored? A violent ghost (or poltergeist) could reflect an inner conflict or some violent part of your own nature.

Is someone or you being too transparent or not transparent enough? Is there some unfinished business from the past?

Phantoms: These can represent fears and/or repressed memories e.g., things that go bump in the night. Do you need to face your fears? They can also represent illusions, delusions, and self-deception. Are you misapprehending something or someone? Are you or is someone misrepresenting something?

Graveyards: This is a place of endings, a place where memories or fears are buried and hopefully put to rest. Traditionally this is a place where the dead and the living come together especially during Samhain (Halloween) when the division between the dead and living thins and becomes more porous. Ancient Celtics and modern pagans celebrate this time of year with feasts and bonfires. The souls of dead relatives are thought to revisit and seek hospitality. They could be appeased by special food and drink, but watch out if ignored (Trick or treat).

Zombies: Where the dead rise from their graves. Where memories refuse to stay buried or refuse to die. They can also represent aspects of the self that refuse to go away. A zombie can represent yourself when you feel controlled by some basal emotion such as fear, envy, haste, or greed or jealousy. Has something died in you e.g., an emotion, ambition, hope, dream, or idea?

Death: This can symbolize and end to something or a killing off some part of you or the death of a relationship.

Werewolves (or any dark creature): This could represent repressed instincts or your animal nature rising and overwhelming you. It could be your ‘shadow self’ a part of you that you’ve tried to reject but that still influences your feelings, thoughts, or actions from time to time.

The Angel of Death or Grim Reaper: This can be a messenger from your unconscious mind where all your dreams come from. The image can symbolize an end to something (see also death above). Something or someone may be attacking you or may represent impending change. They can symbolize criticism, but the reaper may also represent self-criticism i.e., self-attack.

Skeleton or skulls: Something dead to you or skeletons in your closet where memories of events are hidden. They can also represent aspects of yourself that you are trying to kill off or thought you killed off but still haunt you. Note what your dream skeleton is doing and what you are feeling when observing or interacting with them. Skeletons can represent and end to something e.g., some idea, or relationship, hope, ability, behavior, or memory. If just a skull it can symbolize your state of mental health. They can also represent something that is not fully developed or in the beginning stages. If the skeleton represents you, are you just a a skeleton of your old self?

Mad Scientist: Don you feel like you are going crazy or somebody is acting crazy or irrationally? Are you or is someone having trouble controlling behavior? Is something or someone threatening you? Are you feeling a loss of control?

All the above dream images can come under the rubric of phantasmagoria and may reflect your unconscious biases. Are you having illusions of reality that may be affecting your ability to see what is real and right in front of you? All these images can have nightmarish qualities and be a wake up call from your unconscious trying to prod you into awareness.

*These possible image interpretations come from Morpheus Speaks: The Encyclopedia of Dream Interpreting.

Awakening from a dream we all share

A young man begins to awaken from a dream and finds himself at the door of a strangers house. He knocks and is confronted with the strangest dream of all and up until then what had been an ordinary life became very unordinary indeed.

Originally titled The Twelve Laws of Magic follows an unwitting student through his alchemical transformation into a world most people have never thought existed. It changes him but how and how it will change the reader is for you to find out.

For more on this story check out the following link: www.psychesdream.com

Or if really anxious to get started, go to Amazon and begin one of the most magical journeys you’ve ever been on.

Your death in dreams: Premonition?

In our darkest dreams we encounter tunnels to transformation, fall down holes into an inner world of the unconscious mind, step into a bright light, walk through open doors, observe a sunset, or a skeleton, or a gravestone, or cemetery and all are pathways to the hidden self. Most of these inner adventures when brought into the light can lead to changes in the way one perceives and lives their life. But deep down in the darkened cellars and caves of our soulful existence there are buried daemons of the rejected upper world–dragons, monsters, devils, and the Grim Reaper itself. 

They who venture into this world must be ready, not to do battle, for these creatures cannot be slain or conquered, but to learn their ways so as to harness their power.

For change to happen in one’s life they need to let go of that which needs change; one cannot hold onto the past while reaching for their future.

This is when death shows up in your dreams for it is the harbinger of change, that which heralds the end to one way of being to make room for something new.  And sometimes death in a dream is an invitation to go deeper into ones self to find the energy and power to go after a waking world dream, goal, or achievement. Sometimes, in order to engage life one must let go of it.

One can resist the need for change, but be warned that if you do, the images of death can become increasingly fearsome. Death makes itself known when there is an urgent psychological matter or problem that needs to be attended to.

In nearly every philosophy, or religion, some sort of resurrection follows death. Life, whether animal or plant appears to be in continuous birth, death, and renewal. All cultures have various rituals to acknowledge and celebrate the connection between life and death and all self-development programs require the letting go of one way of being in order to manifest another.

The dead in dreams not only refer to something having died in us, in our lives, or represent the need to let go of something, but also help us through times of transition. Sometimes something in our life is threatening our emotional survival and dreams of our death will come to shock us into awareness.

Aspects of the dead reflect aspects of ourselves that we need to pay some attention to or to let go of. Our own deaths in a dream can speak to transitional phases of our lives such as from adolescence to adulthood, singleness to marriage, or parenthood, or youth to old age. Worries about impending transitions such as from being in school to graduating, or moving from job to job can often conjure images of death, or threats to ones life.

In short, though it may seem contrary, death in dreams may actually be about healing; embracing the death can lead to this healing.

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”

–Isaac Asimov (S.F. writer)

Psyche’s Nightmares

I’ve had dreams where creatures have suddenly appeared and threatened. They would come from some hidden place, a place where all nightmare creatures hide until when we least suspect it, they jump out and scare us awake. The human psyche can be an excellent reservoir for hidden demons just waiting for us to let our guard down. The following excerpt is from Psyche’s Dream: A Dragon’s Tale, due out in late 2021 or early 2022.

“There are many hidden artifacts and meanings within the fabric of older houses such as this. They are often ritually concealed by long-dead owners to protect or pay homage to the spirit of the house. Sometimes without warning, they can reveal themselves to us. They can come through its walls, cellars, attics, and fireplaces. This house is notorious for doing that.” There was an ominous tone in the old man’s words.

It was then that Adam noticed a sparkle that seemed to rise from below as though from a dark, hidden well beneath the floorboards. He couldn’t tell whether it climbed through the floor, from the abyss, or from the primeval chaos within him. He had seen this once before when it seemed to herald an impending change in awareness. The spark settled above the hearth, where the dragon carving suddenly became animated and uncoiled itself. 

As it grew rapidly in size, it reared its scaly and heavily muscled body and rose high into the rafters, snorting a stream of fire. Bending its terrifying head downward, it opened its fearsome jaws, and with teeth-gnashing and nostrils flaring, it let out the most frightening, bloodcurdling scream as it dived downward toward the cowering boy.

Its head was covered in small hissing and writhing snakelets like a medusa’s crown, and Adam could feel the beast’s hot, wet breath searing the back of his neck and soaking his clothes. Its long-outstretched tongue, which preceded its downward thrust, lashed across his face, leaving a nasty welt. Though crouching and barely able to keep his feet, he mustered enough resolve to turn and face his tormentor and confront it openly. It was as though the waking world universe was forcing him to own up to and face his demons and turn them into daemons.”

The transformation from an obstructive demon to a constructive daemon is always preceded by the protagonist facing their inner dragons and bringing them into a relationship. This action strips the demon of its power, the power of the dark that is destroyed when confronted by the light. That which we suppress and hide from grows within us and gains power over us. As with Adam in the story, our fearful nightmares come to us in the interest of our health and well-being. They present us with a chance to face what we fear or what disgusts us about ourselves and to confront it head-on.

A Chi Rho Synchronicity

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?

The alchemy of the soul: Who we really are.

The alchemy of the soul: Who we really are

Within each of us resides a dichotomy that of the masculine and that of the feminine. Fundamentally at our essence we are androgenous. It is our gender and response to culture that tends to pull the persona towards being of one way or the other.

The psychiatrist Carl Jung suggested that in the dreams of a woman the image of a man represented her animus, her masculine aspect while in a man’s dream the image of a female is his anima or feminine aspect.

Basically these aspects are there to bring balance to the imbalance that culture and the persona have created. It is presumed that when out of balance humans are much less of what they could be if they were to embrace both aspects of themselves.

This idea is nothing new for one doesn’t have to look too far to see that the deities Shiva and Shakti within the Hindu religion one of the world’s oldest represented the masculine and feminine aspects that when joined brought wholeness and oneness. In Ancient Greek and Roman philosophies both goddess and god needed to work in harmony or it meant trouble for humans.

Actually there are many stories where the feminine and masculine come together to create wholeness. Most fairy tales and fantasy stories include the coming together of males and females to bring about success in some endeavor. It’s the extraordinary power of relatedness and the bringing together of our personal and collective unconsciousness’s that often drive our actions e.g., the hard working narrow focus of the seven dwarves having their lives expanded by the compassionate beauty of Snow White or the wisdom shared by Dorothy of OZ with her three male companions which leads them to embracing their true selves. There’s also the necessary male and female joining in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series that made it possible to overcome the evil of Voldemort and save the magical world from his terror, that was to bring balance to their world.

On a more current level and what could be called the waking dream one might say that a new leadership of male and female relationship in the United States will bring back balance and harmony in the way the U.S. does its business. The former leadership was so psychically skewed that it created a destructive imbalance that drastically weakened the power of the whole.

The masculine and feminine non gender influenced aspects of our archetypal selves transcend our individual psyches and if we are open to them can provide us with a way of becoming whole and complete and much more effective in our lives. 

These aspects are reflections of our soul and it has been said by many that the soul of a man is feminine while the soul of a woman is masculine. So when they show up in your dreams, that road to the soul, pay close attention to what they are saying or doing for they may be there to show you the way to who you really are.

Dreams and hypnosis

Not too long ago someone asked about the relationship between dreams and hypnosis.

Did you know that dreaming and hypnosis have a lot in common? Both tap into what the subconscious is observing and has stored. Both place the conscious mind in a state that allows for access to the unconscious. Neurologically these frequency wave states are called alpha and theta (8-13 Hz and 4-7 Hz respectively. A Hz being a “Hertz,” which is the name for a cycle per second).

Sometimes hypnosis can help you to recall a forgotten dream, or it can be used to go back into a favorite dream so that you can finish it up (don’t you hate it when you’re in a great dream and you wake up in the middle of it?).

Hypnosis can also be used to generate dreams (dream incubation) or be used in the technique called “Active Imagining” when you take a dream theme and imagine it evolving beyond the reality of the actual dream. For example, one can take an image or a person from the dream and imagine it into the room during a meditation and then interact with it by asking questions of it to get greater insight as to its meaning. This is sort of like Gestalt therapy when the client imagines a theme or an outcome or places themselves in another’s shoes by acting it out.

There are several states of consciousness with the mind crossing in an out of all three–Beta, Alpha, Theta and even a fourth, Delta, though this last one would be very momentary for this is the state of deep sleep. Each state has its own breadth and depth of consciousness and unconsciousness. Thoughts (what we laughingly call consciousness) is quite broad, but has very little depth, whereas the dream state isn’t very broad in that it is more focused but is very deep and then there’s hypnosis which has a lot of focused consciousness and a much larger depth of unconsciousness.

To incubate a dream, or to set the stage for what is known as a “Lucid Dream” (one where you are aware that you are dreaming when in the dream, which allows you to orchestrate it), suggestions are placed during a hypnosis session. These sessions can use cultural ideas, values, or behavior patterns (called memes) in the form of suggestions that are “planted” into the unconscious and which can be brought to consciousness by attaching a cue to them in the form of a word, phrase, sound, or visual stimulus that when expressed will activate the meme. For example, “When you see your hand in the dream you will become lucid.” These are good for the short term, so are effective in dream incubation and recall. 

The mind is a fascinating and often mysterious thing!

My shadow

In good times and bad you are always there. You’re not a fair-weather friend like Mr. Good Guy Feeling Good About Himself because when I start to feel like I’m him you’re always there to remind me of why I shouldn’t but when the going gets rough Mr. Good Guy will often throw me under the bus and run and hide.

When I start to think that I may actually have a talent you’re always there to tell me that I don’t really at least not any more than most others.

I used to think that you were not very helpful that I’d just as soon you were gone, dead, and buried but you never take a hint because you’re always in the shadows and waiting to pounce.

I’ve read once that you are a part of me and that I cannot ever get rid of you or even train you to behave yourself and that in order to lessen your power over me I need to bring you out into the light because as everyone knows shadows can’t exist in the light. But you and I know that’s not true because just as light needs the darkness the darkness needs the light. To have one is to have both.

So, because you’re always going to be there, how do I accept you in all your warty glory?

How if I cannot get rid of you do I learn to hold you as a friend because I’d much rather have an agreeable relationship than one that is not.

I suppose that if it were not for you I would not know where it is that I would need to grow to be a better person, like where I need to be less arrogant, more accepting of differing points of view, less reactionary to fear and hurt, more giving, more understanding, more open, more loving, and less judgmental.

I also need you to point out that I am no different to those people I hate and judge to be less than and that my attitude about THEM also contributes to what is not working in the world.

You can also help me get my needs met by pointing out what they are through their absence like belonging, being accepted as I am, being useful to others, and being acknowledged. It’s as though I’m always trying to BE that is, to exist and to have me be acknowledged for that. Somehow acknowledgement makes me feel real and you in all your incessant critique makes me at least feel real. You are always there to tell me that I leave a lot to be desired but that I am at least here making that negative difference. 

I really do need you because you seem to care that I am here and care what it is that I do and don’t do while I am here. How can you not love something that cares that much about you and something that is constantly kicking you in the pants to be better and more than you are being?

Okay, I guess you can stay because I think that after all this time I don’t really know what I would do without you because you really are an important part of me, the part of me that makes me strive to learn, to accept, to act outside of my safety zone, to challenge my inherent laziness, to identify and strengthen my weaknesses and to care for others. You do all that by never letting me rest on my laurels or by never really letting me have any to rest on. So, the Good Me reluctantly accepts your friendship but don’t get all mushy about it.

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*For more on the shadow self type in the word shadow in the search box near the bottom of this page.