Helping Others with Their Dreams March 24, 2015
In my experience, every dream contains information about the dreamer’s unconscious self. Which is exactly why it’s so difficult for us to figure out what our own dreams mean! Moreover, no matter what we may think we know about someone else, we have no idea what’s going on in their inner universe, and it’s not only inappropriate, but unhelpful to assume we do.
Yet there are ways we can help. Long-term dreamwork develops understanding of our psychological issues and heals our personal wounds. It also strengthens our intuitions and awareness of archetypal patterns, symbols and themes that hold similar meanings for every psyche. We can share this knowledge, knowing it is backed up by study and personal experience. We can also offer our associations to dream symbols, ask incisive questions, and suggest directions to pursue.
But then we need to leave the rest up to them. It is their job, not ours, to create understanding and meaning for their lives from their own experiences, practices, personal associations, gut feelings, rituals, and creative imagination. Engaging in this process is what Terry Pratchett meant when he wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”
Here’s an example from an acquaintance who has studied Jungian psychology and recorded dreams for years. This dream arrived after several evenings of asking the unconscious for a dream:
“I dreamt last night that I was looking through the windows of someone’s house at snow-capped mountains in the Pacific Northwest. The back of the house was all windows, about 4 or 5 separate windows, and the mountains were a coal gray and silver color. They were truly gorgeous. I saw this scene in a movie over the weekend, and it left an impression since I’ve always wanted to travel to the Pacific Northwest to see the mountains and ocean together.
In the dream, I was talking to whoever owned the house, and he was facing me from his seat at his desk as I looked past him to the mountain. I pointed to the snow-capped tip of the mountain and said, “That’s where I’d like to be, on the top of that mountain away from everyone and everything.”
These are the dreamer’s associations: “I used to always prefer to be by myself, and really thought I’d live alone most of my life. But, I’ve been in a serious relationship now for some years, and I’m starting to crave community–that’s the main reason we are moving. So, in the dream, I was a little surprised at my desire to want to be isolated at the tip of the mountain considering my conscious desire for community.”
Now here’s my response (edited here for clarity and brevity): If this were my dream, I’d see it as a metaphor for my psycho-spiritual aspirations. Jung’s research convinced him that mountains are symbols of the Self, and that wanting to get to the top suggests a desire for spiritual enlightenment and psychological wholeness. Naturally, this requires some solitude for soul-making practices like dreamwork, meditation, artistic expression, ritual, journaling, study, and/or other forms of inner work, but one can do all these things whether one lives alone or has a serious relationship.
The comment, “That’s where I’d like to be…away from everyone and everything,” could be based on my belief that utter solitude is the only way to attain the heights of spiritual union, consciousness and wisdom. Of course, there are people whose genuine calling is to be a monk or hermit. In my youth I toyed with the idea of becoming an anchorite like Mother Julian of Norwich, but I personally would no longer interpret my wish for solitude to mean that I literally want or need to be physically isolated from people all the time.
If I actually do crave more alone time to pursue my inner work, perhaps discussing this with my partner could facilitate that need; I can also look for other ways to carve out time for myself. But if I’m finding comfort and pleasure in my relationship, I personally see no need to sacrifice it or other human contact for the sake of my psycho-spiritual growth.
I would definitely take my craving for community seriously: to me, that sounds like my soul talking. Feminine Soul thrives on relationship, which is a primary way of getting in touch with one’s own femininity, not to mention the best way I know to acquire empathy and compassion. I was probably in my 50’s before I truly began to value my relationships as much as my inner and outer work. This was a major impetus for my continuing growth. I personally believe it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become an authentic Spirit Person without intimate relationships. How else do I discover my shadow or learn compassion?
For me, my yearning see the the mountains (masculine spiritual heights) and ocean (feminine soulful depths) together suggests the hieros gamos, or Sacred Marriage of Alchemy: the union of my masculine Spirit and feminine Soul which are the two halves of the Self. Since enlightenment and self-knowledge go hand-in-hand, the individuation journey is not complete without both.
As you no-doubt know, Jung believed the goal of psychic development is to establish a conscious relationship with the Self. He spoke of the ego’s need to step aside so the Self can occupy its rightful place at the center the psyche, while creating an Ego-Self axis with which to maintain contact. Regular dreamwork and writing are my primary ways of keeping the lines of communication open between my ego and Self. Yours might be quite different. I hope this helps.
Image Credit: Google Images, Huffington Post
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
The Anima’s Role in a Man’s Spiritual Journey January 6, 2015
Now that the holidays are over, I’d like to return to the topic I started a few weeks ago. I wrote about a man who, in the middle of his life, had a powerful dream in which he briefly identified with being a woman. What could this mean from the perspective of Jungian psychology?
In his work life, this man had become a highly successful and respected authority in his field. He was a responsible, law-abiding citizen and a loving husband, father, and social benefactor. Looking from the outside, one might ask, “What more could he possibly lack or want?” What more but a satisfying and meaningful inner life?
This introspective, scrupulous man is aware of the universe beneath the surface of his life. For him, filling society’s roles, following conventional rules, and acquiring worldly success are not enough. He is realizing his fulfillment lies in coming to terms with his whole self, including his unconscious feminine side. Something deep within him wants more than external observances: it wants internal congruence. It wants more than the appearance of caring and compassion: it wants the deeply felt reality. It wants more than the attainment of social power and authority: it wants a connection with his inner spiritual power and authority.
In his book Jung and the Lost Gospels, Dr. Stephan Hoeller summarizes the psycho-spiritual task of the serious seeker: “In Jung’s psychology, women need to integrate their animus, and men must do the same with their anima; the bringing to consciousness of the contrasexual image of each person permits entry into the kingdom of individuation and consequent wholeness.”
The word anima literally means soul. Jung saw the main qualities of the anima as relatedness and mediation, both between self and other and between ego and unconscious. The foundation for these qualities is love, or Eros, with its attributes of intimacy, harmony, tolerance, empathy, compassion, etc. In Volume 16 of Jung’s Collected Works he summarized the four stages in which a man’s anima develops: from the purely biological in which a woman is equated with the mother and only represents something to be fertilized; to an aesthetic and romantic level in which sex still dominates but woman has acquired some value as an individual; to a stage of religious devotion in which Eros is elevated to spiritual motherhood; and finally to Sophia, Wisdom.
Dreams of women show men at least two things about their unconscious selves: unknown feelings and attitudes toward femininity, and the health and maturity of their anima. In the dreams of a man who fears, distrusts, or disdains women and represses his “feminine” qualities, his anima will show up as an angry shrew, hag, witch, nag, victim, tease, or dangerous siren, and his dream ego will usually respond to her in ways typical for him in waking life.
Conversely, the dreams of a man who is accepting his feminine side — i.e. getting in touch with his feelings, developing respect for women, learning to express tender emotions, becoming comfortable with intimacy, growing more understanding and nurturing in his relationships, etc. — will be visited by increasingly friendly, kind, helpful, loving, trustworthy, and profoundly fascinating women.
Thus is the wicked witch transformed into the beautiful princess who awaits the prince’s kiss. Thus does the feminine Spirit Warrior awaken and bestow her blessings of self-acceptance, true wisdom, and spiritual meaning on a man who is, himself, becoming a Spirit Warrior.
Next time I’ll discuss the role of men in women’s dreams.
Ebook versions of Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are atAmazon, Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
What’s the Point of the Three Kings? December 22, 2014
Those of us raised as Christians know this holiday is about a lot more than rushing about, partying, shopping, eating, decorating, and giving gifts, and many of us enjoy warm memories and nostalgic feelings this time of year. But why does it sometimes feel that our gifts are not enough, both the ones we give and those received? Why do we sometimes feel we’ve missed the point of Christmas? What is the point, and how can we celebrate it?
To understand what’s missing we need to discover the true meaning of Christmas for ourselves, and to do that we need to look at the Christ story and our own lives through the symbolic language of mythos. This is not the left-brained language of fact and logic, but the language of myth and symbol, the language of the Soul.
The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, common associations for the symbol of darkness include the unconsciousness of our instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, death, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.
The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth into greater maturity and wisdom.
And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From our soul’s perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Middle-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for an inner birth of a deeply personal, intimate experience of Spirit. This experience is characterized not just by believing in the ideal of love or having a strong desire to love others, but by actually feeling and living with love.
At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes the conflicts of duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East with rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the wisdom and individuated, religious outlook of a mature and unified consciousness that is born through self-reflection and self-acceptance. Having endured the hard work of this inner journey and assumed our own sovereignty, we are finally able to see the sacredness in everything and revere every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important. Knowing the preciousness of this gift of new life, we want to give it to others.
And finally, the kings are guided by a star. Stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven. They represent spiritual inspiration, the highest attainment, and the presence of divinity, hope and light in our lives. A star is also a symbol of creative imagination, our uniquely human capacity for combining outer facts with the soul’s meaningful inner truths and expressing them with life-changing symbols and images.
Like the myths of every religion, this story combines historical events with psychological truths. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in ego consciousness from a primitive, ignorant, and self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of bringing wisdom, love, and authentic being and living.
The point of Christmas is that you and I can take this leap into Christ-awareness and experience for ourselves the life-enhancing, soul-satisfying love, hope and wonder that come with it. Giving material gifts is certainly one way to show and share our love during the holiday season, but giving the gift of our growing psychological and spiritual maturity to our loved ones is far more rewarding and lasting.
May a more mature psychological consciousness and spiritual enlightenment be quickened worldwide during this holiday season, and may the love in our hearts be abundant and overflowing. Thank you for stopping by in this most blessed season.
P.S. I hope you won’t mind a little shameless self-promotional hint: If you or someone you love is on the inner journey, one of my books might be a good holiday gift. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Art Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Three Kings Altarpiece (open)
1507 Linden panel, 121 x 70 cm (central), 121 x 28 cm (each wing) Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Do We Need Schools for Forty-Year-Olds? November 10, 2014
Some years ago I was working on a precursor to my latest book, a manuscript about creating partnership between our psychological opposites. Throughout history cultures have found the categories of “masculinity” and “femininity” useful for designating differences between pairs of opposites in many areas of life, including languages, electronics, social roles, leadership styles and so on. Curious about the different ways men and women develop psychologically over a lifetime, I used the same categories in an assessment tool I created. The Partnership Profile estimates the relative weight an individual gives to the masculine and feminine qualities of his or her psyche. I wanted to use it to help people understand that everyone contains both kinds of qualities, and both are equally necessary to a successful adaptation to life.
As Jung wrote in 1930 when gender and sexual stereotypes were more widely accepted and adhered to than now:
“We might compare masculinity and femininity and their psychic components to a definite store of substances of which, in the first half of life, unequal use is made. A man consumes his large supply of masculine substance and has left over only the smaller amount of feminine substance, which must now be put to use. Conversely, the woman allows her hitherto unused supply of masculinity to become active.” Jung, CW, Vol. 8, para. 782
Over the next few years I administered The Partnership Profile to over 700 people in various stages of life, from college students to old age, and used the results to refine my instrument and draw some preliminary conclusions about the natural changes that occur in the psyche over a lifetime. I’m not sure I agree with Jung’s observation that men have a larger supply of masculine qualities and women of feminine, but my results did bear out his findings that everyone has both, and that our use of them changes over time. He wrote,
“How often it happens that a man of forty-five or fifty winds up his business, and the wife then dons the trousers and opens a little shop where he perhaps performs the duties of a handyman. There are many women who only awaken to social responsibility and to social consciousness after their fortieth year. In modern business life, especially in America, nervous breakdowns in the forties are a very common occurrence….Very often these changes are accompanied by all sorts of catastrophes in marriage, for it is not hard to imagine what will happen when the husband discovers his tender feelings and the wife her sharpness of mind.” Vol. 8, para 783
For a while I conducted partnership workshops at the Disney Institute. At one session an elderly man stood up and proudly shared his score which was heavily weighted on the feminine side of the continuum. Then he said something like this: “I was a marine for over thirty years, and I’m proud of it. But I’m here to tell you that the score I got today is right on. It sure wouldn’t have been when I was a young man, but I’ve changed. My wife and I live next door to a little old lady whose health is bad and I go over there every day to help out. I cook, clean, buy groceries, run errands, do odd jobs. My wife won’t go with me. She says she’s had enough of that and would rather read.” At this point his wife nodded vigorously in agreement. He continued, “But I can’t get enough. I love helping her! That’s a whole new part of me I never knew I had when I was a marine.”
“The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated people live their lives without even knowing the possibility of such transformations. Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of our life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Vol. 8, para. 784
Have you experienced this reality? What do you think? Should someone start a school for forty-year-olds?
Note: For those interested in reading more, I highly recommend The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien, and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by Jungian analyst James Hollis.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Elephant in the Cave August 12, 2014
Inner work is any practice that helps make the unconscious conscious; for example, dreamwork, art, journaling, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, yoga, body work, active imagination, ritual, and so on. But the ego’s fear of seeing beneath the surface makes most of us naturally resistant to this kind of work. The ninth dream I ever recorded addressed this issue:
It is night and very dark. I try to lock an elephant in a cave, but when I push on the door to close it, it breaks. I run for help because I am afraid the elephant will get out and do some damage.
This dream is short, sweet, and very much to the point. What could be more frightening to a tiny ego than a massive elephant on a rampage? Who wouldn’t try to lock it in or run away?
In religious practices and literature, the elephant often symbolizes power, wisdom, and happiness. As a mount for Asian royalty, it represents sovereignty. And as an instinctual creature with advanced sensitivity, it symbolizes inner knowing and intuition. Since animals in dreams usually represent our instincts, (Jung said we have five: activity, nourishment, reflection, sex, and creativity), to me the elephant suggested my instinct for reflection because reflecting on our inner lives can activate these positive qualities.
What about the other two symbols in this dream? A cave is associated with birth (the Eastern church depicts Christ’s birth in a cave), the maternal womb, and sacred initiation rites. Like the unconscious, caves are dark places containing hidden potential and spiritual treasures.
A door represents a psychic force which, when closed, keeps us from knowing what lies behind it. But when it is broken or open, we can travel between the outer, conscious world of logic, reason, and objective fact, and the mysterious inner world of the unconscious.
While this dream helped me recognize my resistance to reflecting (elephant) on my personal unconscious (cave) because my ego was afraid of opening (door) to the unknown, it held much more meaning for me than I was capable of understanding then. At the time I thought the unknowns I feared were changing in ways that might be problematic for my family and discovering some hidden unworthy qualities, but after twenty-five years of inner work, I have rooted out a deeper, archetypal source of my fear.
All three symbols in this dream are related to spirituality. Western and Middle Eastern religions traditionally associate spirit with the distant masculine Sky God with whom they connect via mental abstractions: correct words, clear ideas, strong beliefs, and noble ideals. This approach has long devalued the spiritual significance of the soul which is associated with femininity: physical matter, the body, emotion, instinct, feeling, inner knowing, intuition and the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life.
Of what was I so afraid? To what has my religion had such stern resistance for the last 5,000 years? Simply this: The feminine aspect of the Mystery we call God. The Mystery incarnate in matter. The sovereignty, spiritual authority, power and wisdom of our own infinitely beautiful and loveable bodies and souls. The energies of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: the sacred spark that indwells us and all creation. Poor little ego. So terrified of life!
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”~Joseph Campbell
Photo Credit: Gregory Colbert
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
What Do Dreams Have To Do With “Real” Life? Part II July 22, 2014
Last time I shared a dream from over 20 years ago titled “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” So what did that dream have to do with “real” life? Actually, dreams ARE real life. They happen to everyone, even some animals. They are facts. We do not make them up. They come from a place beyond Ego’s control: the unconscious. Our unawareness of the unconscious does not negate its reality; each dream proves its existence. When we trust it and explore its nightly dramas, ordinary life is transformed into the greatest adventure of all: living our own myth.
This is my all-time favorite dream and I’m still processing its message. It arrived shortly after I finished my first book about the inner life, The Bridge to Wholeness. I had quit college teaching to follow my passion for writing, birthed my precious child, nurtured it through months of revisions, and was looking for a publisher. At a time when I was particularly vulnerable, this dream affirmed my choices and bolstered my courage to continue on my new path.
It is a mythic allegory about the psycho-spiritual initiation of my immature Ego (the little green snake) which had unconsciously identified with my culture’s masculine/Animus values. It said that my destiny was to take the individuation (tree) journey through a dark and unknown way to integrate my Soul (brown female snake) into consciousness.
The first stage of initiation was a slow awakening to Spirit through a lengthy immersion in the spiritual realm (hole). This corresponded with the first half of my life when I escaped internal conflicts by immersing myself in church, the Bible, and masculine-oriented religious teachings.
The second stage began when the little green snake left the safe womb of conformity and ventured out on its own. This was the right choice (right) for me, even though it opened me to the dangerous influence of the unconscious (left). The outer world equivalent to this plot development is that at age 37 I finally acknowledged my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, overcame my inertia, and returned to college for my doctorate.
Act III featured an encounter with my earthy feminine Anima/Soul (brown female snake) who lived in the opposite, unconscious side of my psyche. Suddenly, her differing needs demanded equal time with Spirit.
In waking life I had come face to face with a moral dilemma, both sides of which were equally compelling, yet intolerable. Fearful of making a terrible mistake that could have disastrous consequences, I tolerated the tension of their slow simmering in a Dark Night of the Soul for nine long years. Listening to the dialogues between Reason and Emotion, Conscious and Unconscious, Animus and Anima, Spirit and Soul, Ego and Self without giving in to my Ego’s desperate wish to escape was my salvation, for in the process, the alchemical vessel of my psyche was strengthened and empowered.
Fascinated by the strange image of the female snake biting down on the head of the little green snake, I looked for associations in Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker says that the serpent was originally identified with the Great Goddess and many ancient religions told stories about a male snake deity who was the Goddess’s consort. Walker writes:
[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male snake deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion about the sex life of snakes, reported by Pliny and solemnly believed in Europe even up to the 20th century: that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him [italics mine] p. 904.
Bingo! This mythic image which I had never encountered before is an archetypal symbol of fertility, transformation and renewal! It appeared in my dream as a natural consequence of years of inner work and mirrored a life-changing transformation in my personality. This is why the last scene of the dream pointed not to death, but to new life. An apparent catastrophe was transformed into something sacred (rainbow) by the snakes’ bizarre embrace. The result was a more maturely individuated Ego and Animus (cowboy) and a deeply meaningful spirituality.
So my answer to,”What do dreams have to do with ‘real’ life?” is, “Everything that truly matters and is deeply real.” They show us who we are: our greatest fears and deepest desires, our wounds and wishes, weaknesses and strengths.They tell us where we are and how to get where we want to go. They help us forgive our flaws and learn compassion for ourselves and others. They encourage our individuality and reward our healthy choices. They satisfy our soul’s yearning to be known and loved.
I still struggle daily to understand and accept myself, but thanks to my dreams and the writing through which I pour out my vital essence, I’m still evolving. And beneath my ubiquitous self-doubt rests a solid foundation—laid by 25 years of recording and working on #4,552 dreams to date—of peaceful knowing. My dreams tell me: You are making a contribution only you can make. This is enough for me.
Your destiny is the result of the collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious. Carl Jung, Letters Volume I, p. 283.