For the last 30 years, dreamwork has been my primary psychological and spiritual practice. Nothing has brought me as much self-knowledge, self-acceptance, meaning, and all-around life satisfaction as remembering, recording, analyzing, ritualizing, and journaling about my dreams.
My dreams are my personal treasure trove. They have known me better and guided me more surely toward my true gifts than any human seer or counselor could possibly do. They have been wiser than any teacher, more valuable than material possessions, more constant than any friend, more affirming of what’s true and important to me than any compliment, mirrored reflection, or admiring glance I’ve ever received. Had I not discovered this hidden wealth within me, none of the accomplishments I hold most dear—not my loving relationships with my family, my mentoring of my students, my books and other writings, or my spiritual growth—would have been possible.
Knowing of my passion and long experience working with my dreams, two weeks ago, Tzivia Gover, Director of the Institute for Dream Studies founded by Justina Lasley, hosted me as a speaker for an online class with her international group of students. I was asked to talk about my new book, The Soul’s Twins, with its emphasis on the feminine and masculine archetypes and how they can appear in dreams. After my talk we had a lively Q & A session. Tzivia wrote today to tell me that her students were still discussing some of the topics and had a few more questions for me. I’m sharing my answers here for other like-minded souls.
Q: How did you make the transition in your late thirties when you underwent a spiritual dark night and shifted your focus from the outer world of achievement and conformity to the authentic inner life of the psyche? What challenges did you have to overcome? How was this beneficial in the long run?
The transition was long, slow, and difficult. It began with an experience that awakened an instinct that had been relatively unconscious until that time. It centered around a painful conflict between two very real and valid parts of myself. The part that felt new, scary, and bad (my instinct) wanted to act. The part that had always been “good” and proper and careful and conforming—and felt rather proud of herself for being that way (my ego)—most certainly did not want to act! The problem was that both sides were extremely compelling and both choices would have been intolerable.
Until that time, I had believed I was doing everything right. For the first time I was faced with challenges to the persona I had carefully built over the years and could not dismiss them with self-discipline and will power. My religion was no longer a helpful guide. Prayer didn’t take my problem away. My major challenge was to face my spiritual questions and doubts and have it out with my God-image, who was really my church’s God-image, not mine, although I didn’t realize that at the time. These internal dialogues kept me awake for hours many nights.
Another challenge was to carry on normally by day without allowing my suffering to infect my family life and work. A third was to think through all the possible scenarios that could result from either choice without taking any impulsive actions I might later regret. A fourth was to trust a tiny intuition that this was all happening for a reason. A fifth was to tolerate the tension of clarifying my conflict and persevering until the solution arrived. When it did after about six months of this, I chose to go against convention and honor my instinct.
Once I was firm in my intention and made that original choice, the conflict was resolved by outer circumstances beyond my control. Acting on my decision was no longer an option. I felt cheated, betrayed, abandoned, mistreated, abused, and deserted by my God. My grief was intense. I suffered the deepest anguish I’ve ever felt for about two years without allowing my suffering to hurt anyone else. This was my trial by fire, and it lasted nine years.
During that time I began to experiment with trusting my instincts and pressing needs more often. I also became aware of a new God-image of compassion and love that was emerging in me, although I often failed in my intention to put love first in my everyday life. I still do. I faced and endured many agonizing conflicts because I wanted to protect the realities of my inner and outer life at the same time without betraying either one. When I discovered Jungian psychology and my dreams, I finally quit a job I hadn’t liked for years and started my first book about the inner life. That’s when the light started streaming back in.
As for the benefits, I’ve answered that question above. The fact that I’ve discovered my calling and befriended many of my dragons doesn’t mean I no longer have conflicts or flaws. It just means I’m much better at forgiving myself and seeing, facing, and resolving them quickly.
Q: Can you say more about the discoveries you uncovered when exploring the feminine approach to the hero myth?
I learned the hero myth is not about acquiring the outer trappings of success in the eyes of the world. That’s been patriarchy’s interpretation for thousands of years. It’s really a story about your masculine side (usually your conscious ego), cooperating with your feminine side (your soulful, feeling self), so that together these parts of you can find the courage to uncover and befriend the forces of ignorance in your own unconscious.
I learned it’s okay to have a shadow and to experience conflicts with it. Everyone does. And it’s never as bad as you think it is at first.
I learned that just because my religion and family and country have definite ideas about right and wrong doesn’t necessarily mean their views are correct or good for me. I realized that the point of the hero’s journey isn’t to kill my dragons–my shadow, instincts, and true feelings–but to build a relationship with them based on trust and compassion for myself and respect for their differing realities. Because they’re the ones guarding my treasure. And until I get past them by approaching them in peace and friendship—carrying on dialogues with them, and accepting their qualities as mine—I’ll never gain access to it.
Tzivia’s students at the Institute for Dream studies have two more questions about archetypes, but this is already too long so I’ll answer them next time. Dreamers, please know that it’s true that your treasures lie within. You are courageous warriors to seek them, and I salute you. This post and the next are dedicated to you.
Image credits: Dream, artist unknown, Google Images. St. George and the Dragon, Rogier van der Weyden.
Do you ever ask yourself, “Is this all there is?” Have you played by the rules and done your best, yet wonder why you’re not as happy and fulfilled as you expected to be? If so, How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening is a book you’ll want to read. The author, Ira Israel, is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Mindful Relationship Coach.
Israel sees beyond the cultural illusions and covert assumptions that have kept you from discovering your authentic self. For example, Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. And whether or not you realize it, as an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain.
This book will challenge and deconstruct your current worldview and encourage you to own the realities of your life. It will help you see the false self you created as a child to gain the acceptance, approval and love you craved.
Every time we are forced, as children, to jump through hoops in order to get love or positive feedback, this foments resentment. And even if there was no physical trauma during our childhoods, all of the resentments can add up to what is often called “a core wound.” As adults, we have remnants of wounded children in us.
Israel says that without our conscious awareness, these remnants influence the way we think and behave as we live our everyday lives. Here is the clearest description I’ve ever read of what this looks like:
In short, we emulate the characteristics of the caregivers we had when we were young in an attempt to retroactively subconsciously gain their approval and love; and we also subconsciously incarnate the opposite characteristics of the caregivers we had when we were young as a way of individuating from them.
You might be surprised to know that, “Becoming something in order to gain approval is inauthentic: being reactive and rebelling against something is also inauthentic.” In fact, living through your false self is the reason for your resentment, stress, anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. The antidote is to be congruent, to allow your outsides to match your insides. To do this you need to be present to yourself: your honest feelings, your true intentions, and the way you are thinking and acting in this very moment.
As a being who yearns for connection, you will welcome the author’s instructions about how to express yourself compassionately and as authentically as possible. He says,
If it is time to improve our conversational skills and create a more loving and positive reality, then let’s become conscious of the words and actions we choose in order to express who we are, who we want to be, and what type of lives we want to lead.
To this end, he recommends two transformational tools to improve your relationships: reflective listening and “nonviolent communication.” These are described in the final chapter. As Israel says, there is no plan B.
The only possible panacea is authenticity, which is difficult but must be attempted and practiced on a daily basis. It is up to us to break the chains of unskilful solutions that were handed down to us, to consciously decide who we want to be, what type of relationships will nourish us, and what kind of world we care to live in.
Throughout this delightfully humorous and seriously wise book, Israel guides you through healthy and dysfunctional ways of thinking and suggests practices that combine valuable wisdom from philosophy, spirituality, and psychology. If you make it your job to become a mature, authentic adult, you can transform your life into the fulfilling journey you looked forward to as a child by committing yourself to these practices. They will alleviate your suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
How to Survive Your Childhood Now that You’re an Adult is not just a great read. It’s a must-read for anyone who seeks truth, growth, and happiness. I highly recommend it.
Have you ever had a dream in which a color stood out so strongly that it somehow felt important? Robert J. Hoss, author and host of a great newly designed website called DreamScience, says that’s because it is. A former scientist and applied researcher, Bob retired early to devote his science and management skills to dream studies. His Transformative Dreamwork protocol is based on a unique blending of research and psychology: Gestalt work, Jungian theory and practice, the neurobiology of dreaming, plus his research into the significance of color in dreams.
During the last few months I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions as I’ve tackled the myriad final details required by my publisher. And I don’t use the word “tackled” carelessly. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’m tackling this book. Other times it feels like the book has tackled me. And once in a while I feel like I might just win the game. I’ve had some interesting dreams related to all these emotions featuring vivid colors so I visited Bob’s site to see what new information I could find.
To illustrate, here’s a summary of Dream #5014:
I‘m in a big house filled with messes. I don’t think it’s my house, and they’re not my messes, yet I’m responsible for them. A mother marmalade cat is licking the carpet where two kittens have urinated on it. I hope it doesn’t smell. Whose kittens are these and why are they in the house? Who are all these people milling around looking for places to sit down and eat? And why is it my job to clean off tables and find chairs and china and silverware? It’s very frustrating and burdensome.
The scene shifts. I’m leading people on a tour down a stairway into a vast hall. The walls are painted a mixture of whitish rose smeared over a deep red. All the decorative touches, lamps, and sconces are gold. It’s beautiful and I feel very much at home in it, but I’m afraid the others will think it’s tacky and overdone.
Then I’m walking into a basement with a yellow/orange kitten lying on the floor. A determined-looking young man drives a green tractor straight through the room, hits the kitten, and blood spills out everywhere. The orange mother cat runs to it and licks it. One leg is bloody and swollen, but everything else is fine. The mother turns away and rushes toward a big open tote bag lying on the floor. With a fierce, angry look she attacks the bag and jumps inside it. I smile to myself thinking about how cats love to play in bags and boxes. It seems fitting somehow that in the midst of all this horror and mess, the cat is both attacking and playing with the bag at the same time.
Bob’s site is full of useful information, videos, online courses, and radio shows. It’s very easy to negotiate, so I went to the information tab and clicked on “Working with Color in Dreams.” There I found a wonderful color questionnaire from his book, Dream Language, which you can download from his site for free. It includes tables with associations to colors that you can use to see what statements and themes trigger your own personal associations to the symbols and events of the dream.
I had been puzzled by the huge red walled hall, but now I get it. Here are the themes for red that resonated strongly with me. Thrown out and attracted to the outer world. Activity.Disruption. Yes. My life has been totally disrupted by this book that has consumed my thoughts day and night. There are always messes to clean up. Emotionally determined action. For sure. And courage. It takes guts to put myself out in the world with this book. And I am, indeed, worried about how others will react to it.
What about the green tractor? Two themes for green feel especially relevant to this dream. First, hard work and drive will gain me recognition and self-esteem. Drive? Why didn’t I think of that? Way down in the basement of my unconscious my writer animus is hell-bent on driving that tractor through the room and he’s determined to succeed. And second, detail and logic are important here. Anyone who’s ever had to locate sources, get permissions for images, compile bibliographical information, fill out a marketing spreadsheet, and write citations according to the Chicago Manual of Style knows exactly what I’m talking about.
And the orange cat? Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, and represents enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination, and stimulation. Yes, I’ve been feeling that too. That part of this process has been wonderful. It’s very comforting that the dream ends like this.
I hope you’ll check out Bob Hoss’s site. If you’re interested in dreams, you’ll love it.
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.