I had a dream not too long ago where I seemed to be everywhere at once. The dream was very disconcerting and somewhat dark in nature, I’d no sooner noticed where I was than I’d be somewhere else, then nowhere and yet everywhere. This went on and on until suddenly I awoke and was a bit disoriented. It took some moments to remember and recognize where I was. It was as though the dream had carried into the waking world and I needed to pin the wakefulness down to find where I was.
This dream and its residual into the wakened state reminded me of the quantum physics concept of “nonlocality”. In the dream it was only when I noticed myself as being somewhere that the location would change. In the theory of nonlocality everything is potential and it’s only when we make an observation that the field of everywhere and everywhen collapses into a single place. It’s as though reality is what we make of it. It’s only when our ego-selves intervene that everything solidifies into a something.
Some self-awareness gurus like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and James Redfield suggest that at a fundamental level reality is a non defined soup or eternal soul that exists at the level of potential and only taking form through the personal soul, the soul of all our experiences. As Chopra once said “the soul is the observer in the midst of the observation.” Essentially there is an object that is observed, then there’s the process of observing that happens in the brain, and lastly there’s an observer. The brain is interpreting what is seen based on prior information, observations, relationships, and biases. This is all happening while the “observer” is observing.
In dreams this nonlocal essence is often imaged as an ocean or great sea while the waves represent the local or personal point-of-view. Carl Jung, the early to mid-century Swiss Psychiatrist thought of this vast sea as the unconscious mind where the universal archetypes of the psyche reside– that there is a shared information that crosses all cultures and across all time. Everyone and everything is part of a nonlocal ocean of intelligence i.e. an unbounded potential from which we can draw if we learn how. Dreams are but the waves of this vast ocean and present us with information that the conscious mind normally has no access to. They are an access-point or doorway into the universal soul.
My dream might have been trying to help me to keep the doorway and my options open as well as my points-of-view flexible and fluid. In short, to be more willing to let go and let reality evolve. All too often it seems that I cut short the process by settling on one point-of-view to the exclusion to all others.
Not too long ago I read an article in the New York Times. It was a story about the museums of death found in many places around the world. I was surprised by the title for I thought all museums were about death aka Natural History museums with all its carefully displayed dead animals, Art museums where most of the painters have been dead for such a long time, The National Funeral museum in Houston, Tex., antique auctions museums where you can find really old furniture from the houses of dead people, well you get the idea.
And what’s the fascination with cemeteries and skulls and horror stories?
I think that we dwell in awe and fear at the world’s greatest mystery, death. It’s that part of life that terrifies most of us because it portends something we can know nothing about, non-life, specifically our own. What is non-life? We know it’s the opposite of what we have now, but what is the opposite of life really? And why do we even ask the question? Fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of what is dark to us? Our unconscious mind is dark to us but as long as we are alive we have potential access even though we’d rather not, but death? Now there’s a darkness and unknown we can’t even begin to fathom. It’s a bottomless abyss that goes on forever.
For some it’s not death that is feared but the process of getting there because it can be so frighteningly painful and mostly uncomfortable or so it looks. We humans will enter into almost anything if we truly believe there’s a pot of gold at the end of it– something better than what we have though we’re never satisfied with what we have. But not to know? Too scary.
The promise of no pain and eternal peacefulness seems a pretty good draw for letting go of life so as to enter some kind of heaven, but the “Great Decider” determines whether we wind up there or in the burning cauldron’s of hell, or so we’ve been told, though I’m pretty sure those stories come from the same type of folk that wrote the stories for the Brothers Grimm and for the same reason, to keep the children in line, whether they be little children or adult children. This reflects the belief that left to their own devices people won’t do the right thing. That is of course a pretty cynical view of humanity usually portrayed by the “fearful ones” who don’t know who they really are and by extension who we are. In the United States we call them Republicans or the Alt-right.
Some folks have solace in the belief that they, body and all, pass into another realm. But the ego part of us is of the flesh, that 3lb squishy thing inside our head that some of us occasionally think with and that decays and shrivels and turns to dust– we like with everything else in life can’t take it with us. So what is it that goes on to wherever we imagine consciousness continues on to?
“The soul! The soul goes on” cry still others. But what is that? Have you ever seen it? How often have you been aware of it? Do you actually identify with it? How many of us truly know of that invisible, ephemeral ghost in the machine that we imagine to be us, after all aren’t we the thinking, feeling, frightened, pain wracked, opinionated, memory-filled, squealing thing with a name and social security number?
So what is the soul? Is it a living thing? Well if it is living within the body wouldn’t it be subject to the same decaying effects after death? Ahh, so it’s not alive, it’s, what, a spirit? What’s that? And why does it need us as a host to visit the world? And if it loses its host where is it, what does it experience then? Is it conscious? Was it our consciousness all along only we became duped by the not so long lasting ego that convinced us that we were actually the ego?
Recent research has shown that even after a person has been pronounced brain dead, usually a no-turning-back step beyond clinical death when the heart stops, that “consciousness” may in some cases continue beyond the functioning body1. This is known as an OBE or Out of Body Experience. What that consciousness is however, that appears to be separate from the brain has scientists stumped.
This soul thing probably has no fear of death because death isn’t part of its life but the ego is a jealous thing and envies and fears the soul because of its non-death. It dreams of being like its opposite and creates a myth of everlasting life. There is everlasting life, but probably not like the life we currently experience, but the ego doesn’t want to hear that, so let’s just keep that between us.
Still others see the soul as a transmitter of the spirit into the receiver of the brain that then allows it to be manifest in the world making us sort of like a TV with arms and legs.
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
The Psalm of Life
by– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I go into greater depth with the exploration of death in the Chapter from the “Dragon’s Treasure”titled Death, Yours, Mine, Ours (pg. 168).
1 Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real, independent.co.uk/news/science/life, 7 Oct. 2014.
A reader recently commented on a posting from The Dark Knight of the Soul Blog. He noted that the reduction prayer I had used at the end of the post looked very much like a 13th century magical incantation from the Liber Medicinalis (Book of Medicine).
Accident? Coincidence? Not really, both the incantation and the reduction prayer act pretty much like mandalas in that they focus the mind inward towards its center. It is in this center that the wisdom of our soul lays. It is from this place that magic can happen.
These incantations, prayers and meditative practices tend to focus on the centers of our being while removing the outward directed conscious mind that is restricted in its perception of reality and opens a door to a whole new way of being and perceiving.
So what have we discovered so far about magic that might allow us to practice being in it and thus allow for a different creation within our lives?
1) Magic is all around us; we are already in it.
2) Magic cannot be controlled; in fact, we must release control in order to wield it. Magic is about “being” not “doing”. Magic cannot be understood, or controlled, because the process itself is a “doing”. Magic arises on its own and not through your manipulation.
3)Magic is a way of living and not separate from everyday experience.
4)The consciousness can open to Magic when the soul is allowed to express freely.
5) We have access to magic when we don’t place limits upon our expression.
6) To know magic, watch children at play.
7) Maintain authority over your expectations/standards by remaining at choice with your behaviors and self-expression. Be what you are, not what someone else wants you to be.
8) Magic becomes available when one dissolves the separation between ones opposite aspects and recombines them into a more functional whole e.g. dissolve the internal gender differences. Aspects of the assertive, decisive, thoughtful, creative, compassionate, emotional and intuitive can exist side by side within all of us.
9) Call out your shadows and your demons, do not suppress them. Note: you are not your negative aspects; you have negative aspects, but are not them.
10) Quiet the mind. Stop thinking things to death. Magic cannot come from the “thinking” mind. Live at least some of your life in the incomprehensible.
11) Magic does not come from the rational.
12) Magic grows from the secret orderliness of chaos. Allow yourself to be confused. Thinking that you know something about what is real can be very limiting to living what is real.
“It [magic] opens spaces that have no doors and leads
In response to a prayer not too long ago regarding an entreaty to help with turning around the negativity in the world especially as it relates to the current dark aspects of the American political climate I had a dream.
In the dream I was trying to change the attitude of a dark man who was being very skeptical. I was trying to get him to turn away from his criminality. Later I was told to clean up old washing machines lying helter-skelter in some field.
Basically the dream was presenting me with my own dark side, or shadow, and suggesting that I needed to deal with it as well, that the problem lay also with me and not just the outside world. What I needed to do was to clean up old and no longer useful machinery i.e. ways of being and thinking.
There were other parts of the dream where I was looking for ways to not take the blame for things, in other words ducking responsibility. This made me look to where I was not willing to be responsible for my less desirable and unhelpful traits.
Though I was praying for an answer to my feelings of helplessness, the dream turned that around by empowering me to deal with my own negative contributions to what was being manifest in the greater world.
This dream is an example of the mirror aspect of dreams in that a dream is like standing before a mirror and seeing yourself more directly and clearly. So too the world about us is a mirror to ourselves both in what we admire and what we reject, in what makes us proud and in what we fear.
Often the outside world reflects our own growth or need for growth. We tend to ignore our own flaws by projecting them onto others. By being outwardly critical we may also be passive aggressively self-critical.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
I believe that Jung’s statement is especially true in our dreams. Essentially I believe that we are not what happens to us but what we have chosen to become and that to some degree the outside world reflects that. To varying degrees the world we see and react to reflects some part of ourselves admired or rejected. In short, we can do little to change the outside if we aren’t willing or ready to change the inside.
As I wrote this and shared it with a friend they pointed out to me that this may also be the message from Mathew 7: 3-5:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Always good advice I thought but though they sound similar, the difference in the motivation behind each may give some insight into their usefulness in that the biblical entreaty uses a key word i.e. “hypocrite” that suggests a liar and deceiver, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings implying a wrong doing that needs to be corrected in order to meet a religious expectation or to change the behavior of someone outside oneself. This is not the motivation behind Jung’s quote where he believes that we can use our prejudices and judgments of others to better understand ourselves and not as a means of changing something outside ourselves that you can’t do anyway.
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.
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.
At 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”).
} part of the process of letting go, by
discovering what and then releasing
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.
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
[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.