What threatens our well-being

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Jogging along a mountain path a panic stricken young man passes me in the opposite direction with a pack of howling dogs hot on his heels. As he careens around the corner a few of the dogs break off from the pursuit and begin to surround me. As I stand there petrified one creeps up behind me and menacingly begins to nip at the back of my neck. I want to run but can’t move. The others start to move in on me and panicked I will myself awake.

Yep it was a good old-fashioned nightmare. These typically come to us when we are not paying attention to something urgent or something threatening in our environment so after writing it down I went looking for what was happening in the waking world that would manifest in my dreams as these attacking dogs.

The night before I watched part of the Impeachment proceedings against the American President. The process has been very upsetting including the President’s behavior up to and including his inappropriate actions that drew the condemnation and investigation that has lead to his being held accountable. His verbal attacks and those of his political party have seemed so vile, vicious, polarizing, and demoralizing that I’ve found it too distressing to watch all that is going on so in order to stay centered in that quieter place within myself I’ve been trying to change the negative narrative in my head. Of course this never works because as with anything we try to suppress or any negative narrative we try to write over it remains waiting for a chance to make itself known like the palimpsests of ancient manuscripts where hidden writings beneath later writing can reveal new and often deeper material.

Many psychologists believe that much of the distasteful material we suppress so that we don’t have to deal with it only festers beneath the surface informing our feelings, beliefs and actions usually in a negative way. In short, this material doesn’t disappear but works its power beneath the surface until we bring it to the light and deal openly with it.

Over time I’ve learned that my dreams have access to this material and will occasionally and in the service of my health and well-being come forth in a nightmare to give me opportunity to deal with it.

Biting dogs can be about disloyalty, aggression (felt or toward another), and/or betrayal. “Biting can also represent ‘biting’ remarks your own or coming from others both of which I find I am doing and feeling. It’s hard to not take the President’s nastiness personally even though he’s not talking about me but he does represent an attack on values, things I hold dear, such as being open and working with others, being civil, empowering and not demeaning others, caring for someone other than myself, honesty, integrity and willingness to work for the greater good. These are things that I think both sides of the current civil unrest could agree upon though the finer definition of each might be negotiable.

The current unrest has been useful I think in that it clearly and keenly highlights what we really value and what can destroy or diminish the expression of that value. It also highlights the negative effects of unchecked, unmanaged, and paralyzing fear, at least in myself. My own undealt with fear has sometimes made me into a biting dog so that it is also I who visits my dreams as a pack of dogs threatening my own well being.

 

Blessed are the Peacemakers: Be the change you want.

 

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From Deviantart.com

I had a very restless night recently. There was lots of conflict and judgment, demeaning putdowns and threats that had me waking up every couple of hours. Definitely my soul was not at peace this night and it continued into my next meeting of the morning.

“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” What is Peace? Is it something without conflict? Is it something outside ourselves that can be attained if certain actions are taken? Can you be an effective Peacemaker if you yourself are not at peace? Can there be any peace within you if you are without forgiveness? If you are conflicted with parts of yourself warring with each other, can you be at peace? Do you need to be at peace with all parts of yourself in order to be a Peace Maker?

These are pretty heady questions and came up during a recent men’s group discussing the Beatitudes of the Christian New Testament. I think that the consensus was that the degree to which one could be at peace with their own shadows, their own demons and struggles–the degree to which one has been able to reconcile with ones inner conflicts–is the degree to which one can be an effective Peace-maker.

To protest with a placard, stump for money and believe in the goal of Peace-making does not alone a Peace Maker make. One needs to work on their own shadow nature, their own inner animal.This is not to say that one cannot be a Peace Maker until they’ve handled all their issues, we wouldn’t have anybody working toward peace if that were true. It is just so much easier when we don’t have ourselves as an obstacle to peace i.e., when we are able to identify in ourselves that which keeps conflict stuck in the world.

One of the advantages of the dreamtime is that it will present our hidden shadows without protection, just the raw demon in all its scales and warts. Once one has committed to dealing honestly with these parts of themselves in a compassionate way it is surprising how their negative energy that worked against them can be integrated toward a greater personality less run by fear and more through true free-will.

My wife and I have worked with elementary school children in conflict resolution i.e., how to deal with bullies on the playgrounds of life but we don’t work with the children on how to deal with their inner bully. Failure, off-handed parental negatives, and mean comments on the playground all take their toll and help to create an inner bully that can wreak havoc on a child’s self-image.

We try to build up a child’s self-image but all children notice when one child is favored over another or that some children appear to be gifted with one talent or another. We want to reward the child who does well but doesn’t this also reinforce comparison i.e. “look at what you are not” or “You could be like Johnny or Sarah if you just worked hard enough”. But the child knows that’s not always true and another chink is gouged out of their esteem.

And what about the lie that all of us can be anything we want to be? What happens when we discover that we aren’t good enough or don’t have the requisite talents to be what we want to be and what about those who don’t live in the right neighborhood?

It’s inevitable that life will chip away at our esteem and help create an inner image of self that is less than our ideal or doesn’t stand up to the promise that society presents us. These failure images eventually take on a darkness that is hard to shine a light on so most of us won’t bother and relegate these shadows to the hidden reaches of our minds. But although hidden that doesn’t mean that they don’t continue to affect our lives.

Now I’m not suggesting that we open these cans of worms with young children but teaching them how to handle their own fears and anger and inner right and wrong conflicts, and personal failures and negatives might help them to be more at peace with themselves and perhaps be more peaceful adults. To have peace in the world requires that we work on ourselves that is, to work on where peace really resides.

A true Peace Maker I believe needs to work on being peaceful within themselves as well as doing what they can outside themselves to create a more peaceful world. This adds more meaning to the phrase, “Be the change you want”.

The soul’s dark night dream

 

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After several weeks of inanities spewing from the mouths of the Lords of Political and Economic Darkness, inflated egotistical bombasts of the small minded ultra right, several killings by people who should never have had access to guns, rabid “Orc soldiers of ISIS” killing, pillaging, and destroying all in their path in the name of a twisted understanding of their religion or maybe it was just the greed of wanting everything to be the way they think it should be, I had a nightmare that woke me panting and literally sweating in the darkness.

The story went like this:

The winged dark dragons were on the move swooping down on the villages of the world and laying waste to all hope and beauty. Their fiery breath spread fear even amongst the brave who stood their ground and paid with their lives. The land turned black with the dragon’s putrid breath of intolerance and hatred, even heroes cowered at the fierceness of their incessant destruction.

Soon the people in their helplessness turned on one another and the Dragon Lords laughed in delight for now their plan of death and destruction had turned inward causing the people to destroy themselves from within.

Fear ruled the heart of humankind and its unrelenting intensity withered and sapped the vitality of what was God’s experiment on Earth. This light of God began to flicker and sputter as the winds of many little wars, political onslaughts, false accusations, and intolerances caused a guttering of the candles of peace and threatened to blow their light out.

Who will lead the fractured peoples of the world into a new light? This time it cannot be just one man or woman, this time the collective wisdom of the many must be drawn upon. But how to martial them, how to wake the sleeping warriors of the True Peace?

No religion could save us for they all had been corrupted by the dragons of intolerance and no longer represented the love of God and humankind falling as they had into bastions of hatred, fear, intolerance, or massive indifference preferring to exclude what wasn’t them or making safe and minor moves toward some vague concept of peace but rarely putting their lives on the line in the name of love.

I woke up wondering what do we actually mean when we say we want peace? What does that look like? Is it the absence of conflict or a collaboration with it? Is it the rejection of that which seems un peaceful, but un peaceful by whose standard, whose definition?

This time the dragons of old cannot be slayed by just the swing of the sword. These dragons cannot be subdued at all for these dragons thrive on the cutting edge of the blade and the blood it spills upon the land. I believe that we need to learn a new way to be with this dragon that has always lived among us or we shall perish.

The dragons employ many a toady to spread their destruction. These parasites are trained to infect every ones heart with fear, hatred and misinformation e.g. that “guns are good, science is bad, my religion is good– theirs is bad, I’m right– they’re wrong, compromise is bad, it’s my way or the highway, and building walls against what we fear will protect us are just a few of the erroneous beliefs that the fifth columnists have snuck into the collective psyche through various political Trojan Horses and the people have welcomed the horse into the city.

We now have more than fear itself to fear for we have raised our ignorance to a whole new level by wrapping ourselves within its mind-numbing cocoon. The dragons rejoice in this because they know that when we embrace our ignorance with pride as we are beginning to do, we are near the end that they seek.

But my soul’s dark night provided another image, an image of hope amongst the despair for it also suggested that there will be a small number of brave souls who will seek, find and apply the answers needed to tame the dragons and that we will learn to live with them and use their immense energy toward the service of us all. Will you join this band of brothers and sisters and learn to wield what it will really take to subdue the human beast? It’s a quest fraught with danger and we might not make it home for quite some time, but if not us, who?

Shadow Work on an old problem: A Jekyll and Hyde story

 

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I’ve been doing some Shadow Work this week based on a dream I had earlier. At first the dream seemed rather innocuous e.g. people from the past, a woman psychologist looking for my reports from yesteryear that I can’t find then tagging along as I try to find a parking space so that we can get a cup of coffee at a roadside café but take too long and by the time we get there its closing up. I plead for two cups but the man behind the counter will only give me an old coffee can filled with coffee that the psych and I are to share out on the curb. I drink from the can and it is bitter to the taste. I feel embarrassed and a screw-up. The man behind the counter grins sardonically and moves on with his clean up. I feel defeated once again.

As I get into the interpretation I note my “screw-ups” references and yet she stays with me. At first glance I wondered if this vignette represented my wife and I but as I looked closer and realized that references to the past might be symbolic of one of my shadow aspects i.e. frequently worrying about rejection and being hypersensitive to potential rejection I began to see a deeper meaning to this dream. It’s as though I spend a lot of time secretly trying to be rejected and when it doesn’t happen I take it as a sign of acceptance. There’s also this idea that the shadow aspects of myself are a reflection of my real self and not just an aspect of the total. It’s as though I’ve mistaken my Shadow-self for my real self and thus deserve rejection. I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do with your unwanted and negative aspects i.e. reject them, right? If the shadow self, the screw up, is who I really I am then it deserves rejection.

I am haunted by these continuous thoughts that I’m a screw-up and that they try to convince me that I am my shadow and have led me to believe this is true (though I lamely deny the fact). It’s like what happens in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after the good Doctor has taken the potion to make him Hyde so often that he becomes the evil Mr. Hyde. My constant “drinking” of the negative thoughts have led me to think that they are true and I become the Hyde part of myself. But a deeper part of me accessed through the dream suggests that I not believe everything that I think.

The dream seems to be telling me about a lifelong inner dialog that needs changing i.e. sometimes I screw up but am not a screw up. I also need to look closer at this narrative that pulls rejection into my life. Perhaps its time for a different narrative and time to ‘clean up’ (as the man in the café is doing) the story I’ve been telling myself. I need to acknowledge the shadow’s presence (that can be a bitter realization as with the coffee in the can) when it shows up but don’t take it on as though it were true or all that I am.

For those of you who might like to do some Shadow Work yourself these links may be of some help:

https://www.alwayswellwithin.com/blog/2014/07/06/embrace-your-shadow-side

http://suzanneheyn.com/shadow-work-embracing-the-dark-side/

 

Dealing with the emotional and psychological after-effects of violence

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On occasion I receive dreams from those who have had family members or boyfriends/girlfriends that have been murdered. Many share seeing them again in their dreams. In some cases the departed will morph into something else. In one case the visiting dead turned into a snake that when in an attempt to catch it the snake slithered away into a hole. In this case it may have been a metaphor for those who had perpetrated the murder having not been caught and the dreamer trying to deal with the betrayal of both the “perp” and the authorities.

Some dreamers experience great helplessness (feeling tied up or trapped) or overwhelm (tsunami waves and/or flooding) as part of the dream. Some escape the symbolic trauma by climbing stairs or mountains toward a higher perspective while others fly free across a meadow or run away from threatening people or monsters.

Others have wondered if the extreme grief they’ve suffered has in someway damaged the soul.

Mostly the dream material of such traumas is about the mind trying to make sense of the loss and to then deal with it i.e. to make peace with it.

I believe that our souls accept trauma long before our conscious minds are able to wrap themselves around it, though the pain can be experienced as being so deep and profound that it feels as though your very essence, your being, the soul of yourself has been irreparably damaged.

Though the mind is valiantly trying to grasp and deal with the trauma experienced by the violent death of a loved one it can rarely do this alone. What often happens is the mind enters a never-ending spiral with no escape or resolution. Some dreamers experience this never-ending spiral as a vortex in a storm-tossed sea with them or the ship they’re on being pulled down into the darkness below. Some see themselves at the edge of a bottomless abyss.

Such dreams may reflect the dreamer’s difficulty in trying to resolve a great inner conflict generated by loss. This can take the form of anxieties of losing themselves or in facing the hard emotional reality of their own death. These dreams are part of the healing process but sometimes one can get stuck in the process without moving to the next level of dealing with the grief.

The experience of losing someone through a violent death can be similar to the experience of someone with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) with the reliving of the event in dreams or flashbacks, repetitive nightmares, and anxiety symptoms. This can also happen with those who have been physically attacked, witnessed great violence, and/or have been raped. All of these experiences destroy the sense of safety and personal integrity of ones life. They are a violation of the soul.

If these dreams persist over time it might be useful to the dreamer to seek a helper, a guide in the healing process, someone trained in helping others deal with grief.

Organizations such as Goodtherapy.com * can sometimes be useful.

Learning to deal with ones grief in a productive way can be helpful as well and to that end this link to ActiveBeat * as well as the following article in Psychology Today: Grief-isnt-something-get-over* might also be useful.

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* I am not an advocate of these sites and only offer them as examples of resources without endorsing them. You will have to determine whether or not they are useful to you.