Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

My Dreamwork Method: Steps Five and Six January 27, 2015

FullSizeRenderAfter my last post about the six-step method I use to work with dreams, Amy wrote with a question,  “The thing I struggle most with when helping others are steps 5 and 6. I can help people substitute meaning language in place of symbols, but it seems there is a kind of leap for many people when trying to apply this to everyday experience. Many people struggle to recognise the truth even when laid out before them. Do you have any advice here?”

This is something I’ve always struggled with too, so I’d like to illustrate with an example from my own life.

In my early years of dreamwork I had a few dreams about weak, sickly trees. In one, a sapling had been almost totally uprooted by strong winds.  In another, I was checking on a weeping willow I’d planted next to the canal behind our house. The tree was standing in a watery swamp and the leaves were limp and brown. The ground was so muddy that the roots couldn’t take hold and my precious tree was about to topple over.

These dreams were very troubling.  Was I like these trees?  Maybe sick and about to die?  A bit fearful of the answer, I pressed on with my usual dreamwork method. As always, the hardest parts were Steps 5 (creating an emotional bridge between dreams and waking life) and 6 (reflecting and acting on needed changes.)  I just couldn’t understand how any of this applied to my thinking or living. I had no idea what I was “doing wrong,” let alone how to change it.

What did these dreams have to do with my emotions? Did the symbol of the weeping willow mean I was deeply sad? I had endured much sadness during my nine-year-long “dark night” experience, but that was behind me at the time of these dreams and I had no conscious awareness of being sad. I was doing regular dreamwork, writing my first book, and feeling on top of the world.

Another thing; willow branches are known for their flexibility, but what could be wrong with being flexible instead of rigid? So why was Dream Mother giving me these disturbing images?

I assumed the problem must be with the roots:  my connection to the underground.  I must need a sturdier standpoint and firmer grounding in the unconscious. But how did this relate to my waking life? Where/how/with whom did I need a stronger standpoint? What did that even mean?  And how could I acquire a firmer grounding in the unconscious?  What exactly about me needed to change? It was all so puzzling that I eventually gave up trying to understand, although I never forgot these dreams.

At the time, I had undergone so much growth that I thought I was surely becoming a mature oak! But now I smile at my naivety. I was a mere sapling struggling to survive in the early stages of a journey that would last a lifetime.

The tree represents the Self. In alchemy it was the central symbol of the opus, the great work of healing and transforming the psyche:

“…the tree may represent not only a place of awakening to new life, but also of suffering—mythic suspensions of sacrifice, ordeal, suicide, execution and reversal. A treasure guarded by snakes or dragons at the tree’s gnarled roots alluded to the difficulty of achieving the goal, the extraction of the self from the tangle of unconscious factors.” (Taschen, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, p. 130.)

Transforming oneself is no carefree romp in the park. It requires intense, on-going study of an inner development that follows laws the ego can neither fathom nor predict. Twenty-two years later, I can see the part of me that was then, and almost always has been, profoundly sad.  And I see how I’ve acquired a far sturdier standpoint and firmer grounding in the unconscious. But I still struggle making the waking life connection with new dreams….partly because I’m still not always attentive to my feelings, and partly because a great deal of unexplored territory remains in the ocean of my unconscious.

It’s difficult to bring light to our unconscious selves, and our natural fear and inertia make this task intimidating. But it’s the Hero’s Journey and it’s the only thing that will ultimately satisfy a soul hungry for maturity and meaning. So here’s my advice:

Be patient with the questions. You will receive answers when you’re ready for them.  Keep on keeping on with your chosen practice (or perhaps add a new one), gaining tiny insights step by step until they start paying off big. With commitment and perseverance, this will happen…maybe not until after midlife, but I assure you, the wait is worth it!!

Note: Special thanks to Amy Campion for inspiring this post, and to Susan Scott for another delightful synchronicity:  She recommended Taschen’s, The Book of Symbols to me after reading last week’s post, but only today when writing this post did I realize it was the same book my daughter gave me for Christmas!!

Image credit:  Alchemy’s Philosophical Tree;  engraving, ca. 1470 C.E. There’s more to see at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t fit it into the photo I took from Taschen’s, The Book of Symbols. And I like it this way.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork February 26, 2011

When you can’t get a dream out of your mind it’s a sign you need to spend time on it. Let’s assume I apply my usual techniques to my early worrisome tree dreams without gaining much understanding. Then one day at the bookstore I pick up a book on symbols and open it to a random page and there is a dream similar to mine with a psychological interpretation that hits me like a lightning bolt. Aha! I get it! I’m not sick. I’m not going to die! I just need a firmer grounding in the unconscious and what can be more helpful than persevering in dreamwork? I’m stunned and relieved and filled with gratitude. This synchronistic experience feels like a message from the Sacred and I don’t ever want to forget it.

So what do I do?  I like to create original rituals for special dreams. I might buy a little bonsai tree and make a private ceremony of putting it on my desk and vowing to feed and water and prune it properly. I could prepare and bless a plot of ground in my yard and plant a new tree there, or replant a sickly one to this new location. I could buy a painting or sculpture of a healthy tree or create one myself. I could take a walk in the woods or park, noting how different trees make me feel and photographing those that touch me in some way. I could wear tree earrings or a tree pin; meditate before my private altar on which I’ve arranged a picture of a tree, a bowl of water, a bowl of earth, sandalwood incense and a lit candle; act out my dream and the emotions it brings up; write a tree poem; sing a tree song; do a tree dance…

You get the idea. Dreams that move you in some vital way are important milestones in your soul’s journey. Involving your whole self in rituals that bring them into the outer world helps you integrate your new insights. Religions use sacraments for the same reason: because the body retains images, smells, sounds, tastes and tactile experiences long after the ego forgets. You could have left your religion 40 years ago and forgotten all about its power to move your spirit and then one day you step into a church and are hit with a wave of smells and music and imagery and all the old emotions and spiritual awareness come flooding right back.

Medieval philosophers (and many moderns) believed the body is the visible manifestation of the soul. If so, this means your body has as much to do with your psycho-spiritual growth as your mind. In her groundbreaking book, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, Ph.D. offers convincing evidence that the body functions as an important part of the mind. Your body is likewise an important aspect of spirit, for as the medieval mystic Mother Julian of Norwich taught, God indwells our souls. If your body is a manifestation of your soul and your soul contains God, then how could your body not be spiritual?

Using body work to honor important dreams partners your ego with your soul in sacred work. Why do I call this work sacred? Consider these words from Thomas Moore: “Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself [sic] to take on human flesh….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth.”

May your dreams lead you toward this sacred marriage.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Dreams of Trees February 22, 2011

Dreams are essentially about the soul’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. Issues related to this process include leaving our dependence on the mother’s world; strengthening our ego; developing our individuality in the father’s world; facing our fear of the unconscious; descent into the soul’s dark night; accepting our shadow; honoring the instinctual life in our bodies; trusting and becoming grounded in the unconscious; acquiring self-knowledge and meaning; following our passion; experiencing regeneration and revitalization; uniting our inner opposites; and growing more centered and psychologically androgynous. All these themes are about establishing our ego’s connection with the Self, our central core, God-image and Beloved.

This journey is fundamental to the soul’s growth and dreams serve this growth, often with the imagery of trees. But it’s easy to misinterpret the meaning of this symbol. For example, in an early dream I passed by a tree so loosely rooted that the trunk shifted when I touched it and I was afraid it would fall over. Another dream around the same time featured a flimsy willow tree whose roots were so soggy from the nearby swamp that it, too, was in danger of falling and dying. Unaware of the psycho-spiritual meaning, I feared I was mentally unbalanced or going to die. But these dreams simply said my conscious ego (trunk) had weak connections (roots) to my unconscious (ground); and the water-swamped roots suggested nothing worse than the powerful unconscious emotions which occasionally overwhelmed me.

Years later I had an extraordinary dream in which the tree meant something very different. I offer a summary of it to you in partial explanation of who I am and what this blog is about. For the full text, consult my book Dream Theatres of the Soul.

Dream #843: “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” Someone narrates a story as I watch it unfold. A little green snake begins his life on one side of a tree, unaware of a huge old brown female snake higher up on the other side. After a long journey through the dark tree he pops out directly into the mouth of the big snake who munches down on his head. Another onlooker thinks this is the end of the little green snake, but a giant rainbow streaks across the sky from right to left and beneath it, on a stage in a vast cosmic theater, the little green snake reappears as a virile young cowboy who slaps two coins onto a saloon bar and says, “Set ‘em up, Joe.” He did not die but was transformed into a human. I think this is the best possible ending to the story.

I believe this story represented the spiritual initiation of my masculine ego and its reunion with the archetypal Great Mother. The part of the dream in which she bit down on the head of the male was especially perplexing until I read Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker writes that stories from ancient religions often featured a male snake deity who was the consort of the Great Goddess: “[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion…that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him.”

This strange drama in the Tree of Life was an archetypal symbol of transformation and renewal whose message filled me with joy.  My spiritual practice of dreamwork was paying off and my soul was being regrounded in the Mother as a stronger, more conscious individual.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
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