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.
Photos: Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger is one of my favorite books by a Jungian analyst. It’s a must for the library of any serious seeker. To learn more about Jungian psychology from a layperson’s point of view check out any of my books. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Religion From the Head: A Good Christian December 7, 2012
I was born into a family of “good Christians.” My mother’s great-grandparents were Calvinists from the Netherlands who immigrated to Holland, Michigan in 1848. Within a few years they moved to Vriesland, Michigan where they lived in a tent while building themselves a log house and clearing 40 acres of land. My great-great grandfather was an elder in their new church. My grandmother wrote about her forebears, “On Sunday they regularly attended the meeting, at first in Kuslander’s house, but later built a log church, sometimes being discouraged and down-hearted during the week, but on Sun. the pastor encouraged them, and on Mon. with renewed strength, they would go to work again. They had to walk over 2 miles to church through the woods by way of a blazed trail.”
In my youth, many of my family’s elders still held strict religious views which forbade work, movies, dancing, or playing cards on Sundays, and they disapproved of people who did these things. Sundays were for church, home, family, praying, Bible study and resting. Although my parents loosened up a bit in their religious views, they, too, were good, responsible, well-meaning, church-going people. Right beliefs, good deeds, and behavior beyond reproach were what counted. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was a mental ideal and a moral duty, and most of us used our intelligence, self-discipline and will-power to act kind and loving.
Influenced by their examples, I believed I was a deeply spiritual person because I was fascinated by the idea of God, loved studying the Bible, prayed and attended church regularly, agreed with the preacher, volunteered for different ministries, and was nice to people. Over the years, this belief was reinforced by some powerful religious awakenings. But gradually it dawned on me that in the depth of my heart I was not experiencing marked improvement in compassion for myself and others. To the contrary, it seemed like the older I got, the sadder, more secretly cynical, disillusioned, self-critical, anxious, and angry I became. This paradoxical relationship between my idealistic thoughts and true feelings mystified me. What was I doing wrong? I could not see that my tribe emphasized religion from the head while unwittingly de-valuing the role of the heart.
Then at 37, archetypal forces over which my ego had no control showed me that for every bit of “good” in me, there is an opposite potential for “bad.” Totally unprepared for this psycho-spiritual crisis, and utterly alone except for the old God-image with whom I wrestled daily, I descended into a Dark Night abyss where a fierce struggle between inner opposites went on for many years. When I emerged from my baptism by fire with new eyes and a cracked-open heart, my old spiritual resources were dead to me. Only a few Jungians I met understood what Jungian analyst Monika Wikman meant when she wrote: “A central means of traveling toward the religious function is the ability to hold the opposites, both-and instead of either-or.” My psyche had formed a new center and I had found a new tribe.
Recently I met more members of my tribe at a Jungian Journey Conference in Laurel Hill, NC. What refreshed me beyond measure was not the heady theories that Jungians can get into just like other spiritual seekers. It was the palpable presence of love and acceptance radiating from the open eyes and understanding hearts of fellow travelers who are attending to the paradoxical truths of their very flawed, very human souls. For them as for me, religion is not just about the head. It’s primarily about the heart.
Note: While writing the above paragraph I gave in to an urge to check my Facebook page where this synchronistic video was waiting for me. Enjoy!
What I Expected: What I Got September 25, 2012
Now that my new book is formally launched, I’m starting to promote it. I’ve just returned home after being away for four days during which I had three book-signings. I had two others the week before. These were amazing learning experiences. Here are some early examples.
What I expected: That after a few days my dominant introverted side would rebel against a tight schedule involving much extraverted speaking and intense interaction with people, combined with very little solitary down time.
What I got: A big surprise! I was energized by the speaking and loved talking with everyone! People were really nice and it was lots of fun. In fact, I got a sort of high from it, and I was extremely grateful to have friends with me three out of those five times with whom to talk about it afterwards! It’s true that initially after a couple of hours of this I got a headache, but I quickly figured out the antidote: take an extra-strength Excedrin an hour ahead of time! I think the headaches were more about eye-strain (from wearing my contacts for longer periods than usual) than mental strain. In fact, the only thing that tired me out was the stress of traveling! In the two legs of flight between the Leon, Mexico airport, the Dallas airport, and Orlando we had three gate changes, one time change, and a two-hour delay. All this with no dinner until 10 p.m. That was a real Bear!
Conclusions: I’m not as much of an introvert as I thought. In fact, my dear cousin Hugh who attended my two Atlanta signings told me he sees me as very much of an extravert! But I think this only applies when I’m in the company of generous-spirited people who like me and are truly interested in what I have to say!
What I expected: That someone might challenge my unorthodox views, especially about religion, and that my conflict-anxiety would kick in to the point that I’d lose my confidence and come off as a babbling idiot.
What I got: No one exhibited any resistance to anything I said. To the contrary, a bunch of people came up afterwards and told me how grateful they were! One woman thanked me with tears in her eyes for what I said about dysfunctional God-images. A physics professor told me she resonated powerfully with everything I said. Her very words: “You have your finger exactly on the pulse of our times!” This time I was the one in tears. Two middle-aged men thanked me for sharing my Kundalini experience. A middle-aged woman said my reference to my nine-year “Dark Night” had emboldened her to be more open about sharing her similar experience with people who might be relieved to know they’re not alone and that Dark Nights are survivable! And a friend told me that a mutual friend leaned over and whispered, “She has real courage!”
Astonished Conclusions: I’m helping, even if only a tiny bit! And I have courage!!! And all this time I’ve been afraid I was a yellow-bellied coward. When did courage sneak in and stand alongside my copious fears and self-doubt? I don’t know. I never saw it coming.
The past two weeks reinforced something I’ve known in my gut for quite a while but rarely heard about from others: no matter how damaged the soul, the rewards of committed inner work are powerful, permanent, and a blessing to all. A sincere thank-you to the kind souls who are reminding me that my struggles have not been in vain. So now I”m wondering: what benefits have your inner work brought?
Gated Religions October 12, 2010
For many years, literal belief in the doctrines of my religion (Christianity) was enough to satisfy my spiritual hunger. But the strain of containing my beliefs in a tightly enclosed, left-brained compartment labeled “Religion” while repeatedly coming up against a Mystery that encompasses the entire universe eventually wore me down. At the age of 37 my ego waved a white flag and surrendered its need to feel safe and in control. In leaving the gated community of my religion, I entered a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nine years.
I returned from the desert with a new way of seeing and living. My mind had been redirected from needing correct belief to seeking truth; from preparing for an afterlife to living now; from pretending and pleasing to being authentic; from defending a God-image of judgment, exclusivity and stasis to embracing a God-image of inclusiveness, openness and change. When I could no longer go to church without getting a stomach ache, I stopped attending. I was by no means rejecting the Mystery, but only a local and, to my way of thinking, painfully confining way of connecting with it with which I no longer felt at home.
Sometimes I’ve been angry at organized religion but I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself; partly because I didn’t want to offend or mislead anyone who finds hope and healing in their faith, and partly because I’m simply more comfortable with affirming than critiquing. But there’s also a deeper reason: I’ve been afraid of the backlash. Ultra conservative elements of all three patriarchal religions have a long history of persecuting “heretics,” and frankly, the rabid religious intimidate me with their polarizing prejudices; their obsessive self-righteous anger; their intolerance and lack of compassion; their willingness to turn on those who question their fear-based practices and beliefs; their ability to fire up masses of devoted followers who support them blindly; their indifference to the pain and injustice their inner Nazis inflict.
Peace-loving Muslims are getting a lot of flak these days for not speaking out against violent Islamic groups but are they any different from me? It would be easy to point fingers at them, but wouldn’t a more effective use of my energy be to address the destructive forces in my own religious community? How can I self-righteously blame members of a religion I know nothing about for failing to speak out against their fanatics when I’ve been afraid to speak out against mine? Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he criticized hypocrites for pointing out the motes in others’ eyes while ignoring the beams in their own? As my five-year-old granddaughter would say in mock exasperation, “Peepuhl! What are we thinking?”
When it comes to religion, many of us are not thinking, at least not with both sides of our brains. We’re reacting instinctively and emotionally. We want the approval of our tribes. We want to stay safe. And so we shut down the inner other who yearns for a freer, more authentic, inclusive and compassionate way to celebrate the sacred miracle of life, and we shut out others who are different. But we should be just as afraid of ourselves and our exclusive communities as of outsiders. The real enemy lives within our gates and the true work begins at home, in the place we know best and where we have the most influence.
The world is in trouble. If there was ever a time to think psychologically and live spiritually, it’s now. If there was ever a place to start, it’s with ourselves.