Are we only half ourselves?

 

 

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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.

The netherworld

 

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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.

 

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The Alchemy of Dreams: creating the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

th-1.jpegAt 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”).

Separate

Dissolve

   Fermentation

                                    } part of the process of letting go, by

                                      discovering what and then releasing

    Distillation

Recombine

Fix

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.

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Azoth arcana

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

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[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.

 

Do you believe in Magic? Chapter II: Detachment as the gateway to magic

 

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The magus picked up his still smoldering pipe and took a long, leisurely draw, slowly exhaling and engulfing himself.

 

The young man awoke late the next day. Without hesitation he rolled out of bed to his knees, straightened awkwardly and hopped to the bathroom intending to shower then changed his mind given that he was already dressed what with having fallen asleep on the bed from the exhaustion experienced the day before with the old magician. Grabbing a stick of deodorant he quickly rubbed some under his arms, slipped on his shoes, picked up his jacket from the floor where he had tossed it earlier, and bolted out the door barely taking time to lock it behind him and charged down the stairs and into the street.

It was late afternoon and the rows of aging Victorian two and three stories known affectionately as “painted ladies” so named from their elaborately architectural ornamented and multicolored façade had taken on a glow of warmth as though readying themselves for a long nights sleep. Though the sky was still light the large picture frame windows of some houses shown with a warm amber glow that added to the sense of their aliveness.

As the young man skittered up the tree-lined street he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this excited about something, about anything actually. He almost flew over the sidewalk, grabbing a tree with one hand at his destination, and using the momentum of his run to swing him around and into the alcove of the three-story walk-up where his new mentor lived.

“Oh God, what if I’m too early, or too late? He didn’t actually say what time I should show up except that it should be about the same time as yesterday. I don’t want to piss him off before we really get started. Magic, imagine, me, learning to do real magic!” He mused as he slowed his pace while walking the long entrance to the staircase at the other end where he paused to gather his wits. “What was it he said?” “You can’t ‘learn’ magic.” And then pontificated. “Learning is through the thinking mind.” He exclaimed that the process of discovering that I already know the magic is something that he could help me with, though he wasn’t sure about what the old man meant by the ‘already know’ part. “I mean what did he know?” he pondered.

He stopped at the foot of the stairs, unsure as to whether he should go up. After all, he had been so confused the night before. What made him think that this evening would be any different?

Summoning his courage he climbed to the first floor entry and knocked on the wizard’s door. He heard a muffled “Enter” and tried the knob, entering slowly and peering around the door then catching a glimpse of someone sitting in an overstuffed leather chair with pipe smoke curling up and disappearing somewhere into the exposed rafters above.

This time he noticed that the room was warm, musky and smelled of cherries and old books a rather inviting fragrance he thought.

“You’re just in time” said the old man as he pulled the pipe from his mouth and set it smoldering in the bowl next to him.

Without even a “good evening” he motioned the boy to sit on the floor before him and began to talk. “First of all you need to remember that magic is not about things. Things have no magic. To the degree that your consciousness is preoccupied with things– the having and not having of them and your unending compulsive plans around your life, to this degree you will not be able to produce any magic.

I will not teach you magic but I will teach you how to open the door to it. This is not the magic of medicine bags, wands, and charms nor is it the magic of tranquilizers, drugs, rationalism or the power of your will. You can’t even begin to see what it is as long as you’re attached to the world of things. When you realize that you are not one of those things, but the container of all things, then and only then, will you be open to magic. What we will be doing from here on is to disentangle you from all inner and outer attachments of your life.”

“When your identity is able to disentangle with the ego, the center of your consciousness, and open to the space between it and the unconscious mind you will create a new center of being that will then allow you to be magic. Do you understand?”

“I do, sort of, though I’m still confused as to how I get there.” The boy said as he trembled at the thought of what “there” might mean.

“The first thing you’ll have to do is to give up your attachment to all things.” He said dryly.

“What? What do you mean give up my attachment to everything? You mean give up everything I own? Are you kidding?” He noted that this was beginning to sound a lot like all those boring sermons at church when he was a kid.

“I mean, you must give up your attachment to these things, including your ideas about them. You are attached to the outer world and that’s your greatest obstacle to the introspection necessary to discovering your magic. You believe that you need these things in order to survive do you not?”

“Most of them, yes, yes of course!” The boy said emphatically.

“Most of them?” Said the old man as he raised one eyebrow.

“Well food, water, life seem like necessary attachments don’t you think?”

Without answering the old wizard went on.

“You also believe that no rational person would give up everything to go chasing after some fantasy do you not?”

“I do.”

“Do you label your fantasies as just daydreaming– something to just while away some boring hours but without any real substance?”

“Mostly, yeah!” He said while wondering where the old man was going with this.

“Be careful, here, for it is the essence within your fantasies my dear boy that enables magic. When it comes to magic your rational mind is your biggest obstacle to wielding it. To become it you have to be willing to embrace even death.”

This of course shocked the boy and he became highly alert and suspicious of the old man’s intentions. He quickly looked about him for some avenue of escape should he need it. The room was dark all around them except for where they were sitting. He wasn’t sure where he would go if he had to move quickly. He could feel the fear swell in his chest.

Noticing the boy’s change of affect to one of fear he quickly interjected. “Not the death of your body for goodness sake! I’m talking about detachment from that well regarded ego-self of yours that dominates your every move. The ego doesn’t know magic! It can’t because magic doesn’t come from ones ego. Understand?”

“You seem to think that who I think I am is something different than who I really am. This is me, what you see is what you get, what I really am.” The boy said defensively.

“Really? Are you sure about that? What if I told you that your personality, the thing that you think you are, isn’t who you really are, that it’s all made up?”

“I’d say you were crazy.”

“You said that the last time we met. But can you hold the image of that possibility that you are not what you say you are? Can you just for the next few days sit with the notion that you have no idea who you really are?

You have many things in your life i.e. objects and ideas such as your name, your degree, your size, your beliefs, your likes and dislikes, who your parents are, family traditions, cultural traditions, the foods you like and don’t like, the style of clothes you wear, the music you like, politics, sports teams, the type of girl you’re interested in all of which you’ve attached your identity to. What would you be if they were all gone? What would you be if you were to just be unattached to anything?”

“Well I, I don’t know.” said the boy hesitatingly.

“Go home and detach. Be without for a while and then tell me who you are. But don’t come back until you do– until you’ve let go of every thing.

Bewildered the boy got up and looked sheepishly at the wizard because he was not really sure what he was asking of him, but resolved to at least try and then absently wandered out of the room saying a barely audible “goodbye” as he closed the door behind him, started down the stairs and walked into the night.

Strolling home he looked out across a cityscape that was here and there covered in fog and landed his gaze upon one of his most favorite visions. Peeking through the fog a lighted bridge with reddish spires jutted across the darkened water of the bay’s entrance and seemingly disappeared into the mist before getting to the other side. A wry grin crossed his face when he realized that this was like a metaphor for what he was feeling, incomplete and only partially there.

The magus picked up his still smoldering pipe and took a long, leisurely draw, slowly exhaling and engulfing himself. Feeling a chill he shivered and drew the fire ever closer. In his minds eye the room seemed to flicker and a canopy of stars spread out across what had once been his parlour ceiling. With another puff of his pipe he stretched out, “Now we climb down the rabbit hole once again.”  He whispered as though talking to some unseen entity and leaving only his smile glowing through the smoke.

 

 

Embracing the Shadow

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“Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today,

I wish, I wish he’d go away…”

 

We all have a person who isn’t there. It’s a shadow that follows us everywhere we go even on the darkest night with no moon or streetlights’ glare. It hides behind a mask amongst the deepest caverns of our mind, lurking, stalking and waiting to strike. He or she are all the emotions and distasteful parts of ourselves that we just as soon not see during the daylight but often show up in our dreams at night.

We shun them for they are not who we want to be. We lock them up in our cages so deep hoping that they will never escape. We hide them in the dark, dank and stinking tunnels of our unconscious trying to forget the smell of them and hoping that eventually they’ll die. But they never die for you see they feed on our fear and the energy we use to keep them hidden. Occasionally they’ll escape to the upper realm and play havoc with our relationships, our emotions, our goals and plans. Like little gremlins they toy with us.

“When I came home last night at three,

The man was waiting there for me

But when I looked around the hall,

I couldn’t see him there at all!

Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!

Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…”

 The shadow is a universal archetype whose presence is felt by us all from time to time. We deny its existence but that won’t do any good. Why won’t he go away? Because he can’t, he’s part of us and if you could cut him away we wouldn’t be us any more.

His power and persistence in our lives lies in our resistance to him. When pretending he’s not there he can wheedle his way into everything we do and try to be often with disastrous results.

“Last night I saw upon the stair,

A little man who wasn’t there,

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.”

                        –Antagonish by

                                              William Hughes Mearns

There’s a paradox here in that he won’t go away until you ask him to stay.

Accepting all parts of the self both light and shadow is to honor your wholeness. Treating all aspects of yourself as equal will allow you to use all your energies in a direction of your choosing rather than moving to the hidden ghost’s bidding or wasting your energy trying to keep half of you caged.