Conflict can be a gift of redemption

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The world of opposites exhibits many ups and downs. There’s feminine and masculine, love and hate, left and right, light and dark, oh yes, and you and me.

The light and dark opposition is interesting in that we often use them as metaphors for our behaviors and emotions.

There’s also the strange world of color. Colored lights are additive in nature in that when we add the three colors of red, blue, and green that you and I can see we get white light whereas if we were to add the same colors in pigment that is subtractive in nature we would get black. Apparently light begets light while pigment absorbs it and gives us blackness. This is not unlike our emotions. Positive lighthearted thinking brings even more light into our experience whereas negative and subtractive thinking brings us heavy darkness.

The world of conflicting opposition can be found in all the world’s religions as well in the form of death and resurrection, punishment and forgiveness, heaven and hell (whether as an earthly experience or one after death), and gods and goddesses. Creation mythology has a something-from-nothing nature and death is just a part of life. In the Christian Bible the old God is in stark contrast to the new God of the New Testament whereas in the Hindu Bagavad -Gita the variety of aspects of the one god often display creation aspects as well as destruction aspects there is also being and non-being, immortality and death. In the Tao there is the yin and yang. This union of opposites seems to play out across the human milieu.

In life, in stories, theater, and in myth there are heroes and adversaries, destruction and redemption, and endings that morph into beginnings. Mirrors whether in our waking lives or dreams often reflect our opposites whether it be the right/left switch of a reflection or the real us that has been hiding behind the mask of who we pretend to be removed in front of the mirror in our dreams.

Some of Jesus’ parables exhibit a perplexing juxtaposition of opposites also for example, as presented in Mathew’s quote from Jesus, “whosoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whosoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This seems to flaunt human common sense.

In our dreams opposites can reign supreme and even images that appear positive may actually be speaking to a lack of said aspect for example, an image of love and caring can suggest a desire for or a loss of love and caring. Death in dreams is often the first step toward life i.e. the end of one way of being opens the door to a new way of being.

Though we may view a conflict with others as a product of opposing ideas or right versus wrong it may reflect the same idea that resides within us that we want to reject or disavow. Sadness in dreams often reflects the opposite i.e. happiness that may actually point to immense suffering. Also in dreams the soul often shows up as the opposite gender of the dreamer e.g. a woman’s soul is masculine while a man’s is feminine. Dreams are continuously presenting images from the unconscious for the conscious to integrate with itself into a whole. To be fully human the opposites of the conscious mind and unconscious mind need to be united.

The Alchemist’s Crucible

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 The Alchemist by– David Teniers the younger (1610-1690)

I once used the term “the alchemist’s crucible.” I think this term came to me because at the time I had been reading Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and was struck with how often he delved into the alchemical arts as a means of understanding the human psyche.

This got me to thinking about the symbolism inherent in alchemy. On the surface the alchemists seemed to be looking for a means of transmuting base metals into precious metals e.g. lead into gold. I think that they were trying, among other things, to make sense of this world of opposites and dichotomies by to find an underlying unity. Why? Well, part of the human condition seems to be that we are all separate from each other and the environment that we find ourselves in. This experience of separation breeds, as I’ve said before, various levels of fear ranging from discomfort to all-out panic. We want to protect ourselves from what is ‘not us’ whether that be on the personal or communal (meaning the tribe, state, nation) level. This of course is the basis for personal and social conflict. Finding a resolution to the conflict that arises from opposition has been key to the history of alchemy, and politics (which is a kind of alchemy itself).

The goal of trying to make sense of what-is by attempting to resolve the basic conflict caused by separation can be seen in all our mythologies where mankind is always trying to deal with its twin natures of the beast and the spirit e.g. note the invention of the Centaur (man’s torso and head on the body of a horse), or the Minotaur (a bull’s head on a man’s body) and the fact that all hero stories have a thematic conflict to resolve. A great deal of modern psychological therapy is to assist the individual with internal psychic conflicts e.g. the conflict between what you are and what you want to be.

I think that among the fundamental goals of all religions, philosophies, and sciences is to bring to consciousness the mysteries of the universe and to observe its fundamental unity.

I also maintain that this unity, this wholeness, already exists, but is generally beneath our awareness. Because of this the universe looks fragmented and dichotomous. This gives dream-work a whole new purpose in that it can bring ones unconscious psyche to consciousness so that we can experience a greater whole and thus a better understanding of what makes us tick. The more we understand of what it means to be human the better our understanding of where we’re standing. For example, to get to know a tree, one needs to stand under it, to ‘listen’ to it. To know another anything (person, place or thing) one needs to stand under it, to be within its context, or to stand in its shoes, and is thus the root meaning of ‘understanding.’

This reminds me of the teachings of G. Gurdjieff, a early 20th century Russian mystic and spiritual teacher who wrote that humanity lives its life in a “Waking Sleep” and thus only experiences reality subjectively. He suggested that the vast majority of humans live as automatons, but have the power to awaken and become something so much greater.

 

“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.”

                                                   – Gurdjieff

 

As automatons we become susceptible to the manipulations of others (advertisers, politicians, radio talk show hosts, religious leaders and zealots, and the hysteria of the masses). The one sided development of our humanity that most of us experience is what passes for ‘life’ in the modern world. I believe that we need to develop all aspects of who we are in order to become a fully integrated (actualized) human being that is fully present to an expanded sense of reality instead of the limited reality we currently embrace. In my experience we mostly just argue our limits without trying to see beyond them.

 

     “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”

                                              – Richard Bach, Illusions

 

There again is that concept of ‘limiting’ being a root to perverted reality. For many of us we limit our personal development to one of four areas–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual and for the rare few who might include more than one or even all, they limit the impact through narrow definition.

 

“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

–Richard Bach

 

What do I mean by expanded definition? This morning in a group discussion one of our group told the story of a young soldier who stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) while patrolling in Afghanistan. He lost his foot and part of his leg. At first everyone, including the soldier, saw this as only a tragedy, but eventually it brought the family together in ways none of them could have imagined before the event. Everyone connected with the event began to see another more positive outcome, born from the very real tragedy, that would not have happened without it.

I think that the meaning of nearly every event in our lives can be used to expand our reality. Set aside your limited thinking and self-limiting thoughts and be open to reality. Learn to see beneath the meaning of your personal or collective definition to see what else may be there.

 

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

–Shakespeare-Hamlet

 

This will not be easy.

 

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In my new book, The Archipelago of Dreams: The Island of the Dream Healer I explore through the genre of a fantasy story what it means to live life in a limited way.