Dreamwork has been my most rewarding and consistent spiritual practice for 25 years. You might not think of dreams as having anything to do with spirituality but they absolutely do. Carl Jung demonstrated this with exquisite beauty in his recently published The Red Book in which he recorded some of his most meaningful waking and sleeping dreams. Everything he did for the rest of his brilliant and productive life was based on the findings he recorded in that book, which represents three years of committed inner work. Ultimately, his conclusion about the value of this work was that to become who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.
Jung is not the first person to understand this, although he was one of the first Western medical professionals to study it for himself and write about it in a way that could be comprehended and accepted by the Western scientific mind. Indeed, many Asian traditions have taught this concept for thousands of years. Consider this quote by the Hindu professor Ravi Ravindra:
“The struggle to know who I am, in truth and in spirit, is the spiritual quest. The movement in myself from the mask to the face, from the personality to the person, from the performing actor to the ruler of the inner chamber, is the spiritual journey. To live, work, and suffer on this shore in faithfulness to the whispers from the other shore is spiritual life. To keep the flame of spiritual yearning alive is to be radically open to the present and to refuse to settle for comforting religious dogma, philosophic certainties, and social sanctions.”
Contrary to popular belief, authentic spirituality is not just a function of how many souls we save or how well we know scriptures or how hard we pray or how many rules we keep or what we believe or how often we attend our place of worship or how much money we donate to the poor. Likewise, spiritual maturity is not limited to a particular religion or set of beliefs. Rather, it is a function of our ego’s willingness to further the unfolding of our capacity for full living, endless loving, and authentic being.
We’re supposed to discover our true selves and connect with the sacred Mystery within. We’re supposed to learn how to accept and love ourselves because that’s how we learn to accept and love others. Every religion has spawned mature spirit persons whose mystical experiences and intuitions taught them that God indwells the soul. This means that our spiritual growth is not just a function of searching for God outside ourselves but also of honoring the “kingdom” within. (I could just as well have said “queendom” but it wouldn’t resonate as deeply as this more familiar term for sovereignty. I wish there were a gender-neutral word for the inner chamber that is not one-sidedly masculine, but ruled by both the King and Queen archetypes. Any ideas?)
Here’s what St. Teresa of Avila had to say about this realm:
“There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.
This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway…
No one else controls access to this perfect place. Give yourself your own unconditional permission to go there. … Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation. Waste no time. Enter the centre of your soul.”
– Saint Teresa of Avila, “The Interior Castle”, translated by Mirabai Starr
The search for self-knowledge is a path to spiritual maturity and dreams are invaluable tools on that path because they show us unsuspected aspects of our unconscious selves. With every insight we gain, the closer we move to connecting with our sacred core, finding personal meaning, and fulfilling the purpose of our unique life.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.