Filmgoers may have laughingly dismissed Godzilla, the Teenage Werewolf, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950’s, but nobody laughs at the real-life monsters we see on television every day in the form of terrorists, genocidal dictators, and political leaders who incite divisiveness and spout nuclear threats. We get it. Dystopia is us. Our problems are caused by humanity’s psychological and spiritual ignorance, and they will not be resolved until enough individuals acquire more mature and humane ways of thinking and behaving. What used to be the role of deities and religious authorities has now become everyone’s job.
Fortunately, there are seers among us to show us the way. They are the courageous and gifted artists who create books and films depicting ordinary people who evolve into heroic individuals. The Star Wars series, Avatar, Arrival, and The Shape of Water are examples. Their mythic themes and archetypal characters limn the shape of our own souls. Everyone enjoys a good story. But do we realize these stories are about us? Do we understand their metaphors and decipher their symbols? Do we apply their lessons to our own lives?
Each of us contains a possible hero like Luke Skywalker, an indomitable Amazon heroine like Princess Leia, a Wise Man like Yoda, a menacing Warrior like Darth Vader. You may relate to Avatar’s Jake Sully, a vulnerable wounded Warrior with the potential to be healed by love, but his counterpart—the dark side’s ruthless, power-hungry Colonel Miles Quaritch—also lives in you. Regardless of your gender you can activate the healing of an Earth Mother like the Na’vi’s Mo’at, a beautiful Beloved like princess Neytiri, or a benevolent Wise Woman like Dr. Grace Augustine. Archetypes are latent patterns of energy in everyone’s soul. They teach and empower us when we listen.
Consider Arrival’s gentle Louse Banks, a linguist who’s tormented by intuitions and visions which fill her with confusion and dread. She’s the image of a person in whom the Mediatrix archetype is activated. When the U.S. Army recruits her to communicate with alien life forms hovering over the earth, she breaks the rules to gain their trust. In a blog post titled “Arrival: How the Feminine Saves the World,” depth psychology expert Carol S. Pearson notes this “reveals how traditional elements of the Lover archetype are morphing to meet new challenges.” The world leaders see the aliens as dangerous threats and are preparing to make war on them. But because Louise is motivated by love, not fear, she sees them as wondrous life forms to communicate with and befriend. This prompts us to ask ourselves: Do I respect people and species different from me? Do I listen to the subtle messages of my body? Do I befriend my thoughts and emotions or try to ignore them?
In The Shape of Water, an even more vulnerable heroine saves the life of an amphibious monster. The year is 1962. Elisa is a mute, mousy janitor on the night shift of a top-secret government research lab desperate to get one-up on the Russians. One night a promising “asset” arrives in a portable tank in the form of a scaly green creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon lookalike from a Brazilian rainforest where he was worshiped as a god. Deeply drawn to this equally voiceless and powerless creature, Elisa initiates a fairy-tale romance with him by playing Benny Goodman on her portable record player, placing hard-boiled eggs on the lip of the tank in which he’s confined, and teaching him sign language when he emerges from the water to eat them.
As it turns out, the real monster in this story is Richard Strickland, a sadistic, square-jawed military officer who tortures the green man, sexually harasses Elisa, and makes racist comments to Zelda, her co-worker. Overhearing the scientists’ plans to kill and dissect her beloved in the name of science, a frantic and determined Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her gay neighbor, Giles, to rescue him. The remainder of the film builds the tension amid a dreamy, watery green ambiance before reconciling it in a surprise ending that leaves us wondering: What just happened? Is he what he seems? Do I have it in me to do what she did? Does love really have a god-like power? How strong is my Lover archetype? Do I truly know how to love?
The characters in these films play out their roles against a backdrop of mythic themes:
the destructiveness of our shadow Warriors
the crises and suffering necessary for the making of a hero/ine
the need to respect, communicate with, and accept help from other people and species
love’s victory over ignorance and hatred
But here’s a not-so subtle difference. It used to be that only men got to be heroes, but we’re seeing more heroines now. Although the first Star Wars film to appear centers primarily on Luke Skywalker, it is his heroic sister, Princess Leia, who turns him into a hero. The same is true of Avatar’s Jake Sully whose heroism is inspired by the equally heroic Princess Neytiri.
The most recent of these—Arrival, The Shape of Water, and The Last Jedi—convey a theme new to our time which resonates with many souls today: the feminine as savior. Louise, Elisa, and Rey are not fantasy superheroines like Wonder Woman and Aquagirl. And they’re not sidekicks who help the main character accomplish his goals. They are ordinary women who initiate change and accomplish it with the respect and cooperation of healthy, caring men. Louise’s heroism is aided by Ian, a scientist. Giles helps Elisa save the green man. And in the newest Star Wars episode, Rey becomes the last Jedi with the help of Luke Skywalker. The main protagonists are females.
This shift in the spirit of our times is reflected in recent statistics. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that of the top 100 films in 2014, only 12% featured female protagonists. But then something happened. In 2015 the figure was 22% and in 2016 it jumped to 29%.
Although the data are not in for 2017, we appear to be seeing the beginning of a trend. Water, like earth, has always been considered a feminine element, and in dreams, water and earth symbolize the unconscious self. Societies have unconscious selves too. Like the ocean, our collective unconscious contains monsters, but it also holds overlooked hidden treasures. Is the feminine as savior of the world the shape of change? Are you and I the shape of change?
Note: For more posts like this, please check out the blog of noted author Carol S. Pearson, where this post first appeared.
Holiday Greetings to all. It’s a week before Christmas, so there’s still time to order books for the readers on your list. In case you’re looking for ideas, here are some of my recent favorites. They’re all wonderful. Enjoy.
Regina Aguilar, Alchemy of the Heart: The Sacred Marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. Chiron Publications. November 7, 2017.
Manipulated by mythologies which legitimate the authority of those who use them for economic and political advantage, we are increasingly estranged from our Source, our environment, one another and ourselves. We need stories that describe the soul’s healing, bring reverence for life, and connect us to an inner authority based on experiential knowing. Alchemy of the Heart—an in-depth Jungian analysis of the myth of Dionysos and Ariadne—is such a story. Dionysos exemplifies the destruction and restoration of wild, virile, passionate masculinity in deep rapport with the earth and femininity. Ariadne symbolizes innocent, trusting, devoted, but deeply wounded femininity in patriarchy. When a woman’s romantic illusions are shattered by masculine betrayal, the experience of feeling her supportive inner masculine brings renewed vitality and a mystical sense of oneness with life. The story and eventual union between the masculine Lover and feminine Beloved in the alchemical sacred marriage described in this myth is a metaphor for the inner path of integration and individuation available to you.
HeatherAsh Amara, The Warrior Goddess Way: Claiming the Woman You Are Destined to Be, Hierophant Publishing, October 24, 2016.
Written for women, The Warrior Goddess Way is filled with wise principles and insights from which anyone seeking greater power, passion, and freedom can benefit. Amara describes a pathway of presence, baby steps, and practice—a road to reclaim all of you, including your darkest fears and most precious gifts. It asks you to recognize how you have been trained to think and behave, to witness your mind instead of believing everything it tells you, and to embrace yourself in your entirety. Most of all it asks you to stop resisting things beyond your control and learn to love it all. To say Yes! to every situation in your life and ultimately, Yes! to death. Befriending death frees you to be more fully engaged with life. Examples and activities demonstrate the value of such qualities as presence, forgiveness, apology, authenticity, respect, listening, stillness, and awareness.
Lewis Howes, The Mask of Masculinity, Rodale, October 31, 2017.
“Regardless of gender, the key to success in life is creating meaningful relationships.” With this line, the reader is ushered into a bold new territory where successful men care more about connecting and being real than wearing macho masks. In today’s world, authenticity and other qualities this two-sport All-American athlete now associates with greatness—like empathy, insight, honesty, vulnerability, compassion, acting for the good of others, and the ability to heal from one’s own wounds—are traditionally associated with femininity. Howes hopes to change this one-sided and outdated stereotype by describing nine toxic masks men wear which, when discarded, enable them to accept their vulnerability and evolve into a modern-day masculine archetype of benevolent and compassionate power, courage, inner peace and happiness.
Ira Israel, How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, New World Library, November 7, 2017.
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. As an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain. In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, psychotherapist Ira Israel deconstructs common dysfunctional mindsets and encourages you to accept and own the reality of your life. Suggestions to raise and reorient your consciousness include seeking a new definition of authenticity—encompassing the psychological principles of attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence—and practicing Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels. Your practices will alleviate suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
Winifred M. Reilly, It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too, Touchstone, April 4, 2017.
Written by marriage and family therapist Winifred M. Reilly, this wise and practical book addresses unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional interactions which damage love relationships. With examples from clients and her own marriage, Reilly takes the reader through five developmental stages of partnerships. She concludes the key for positive change is for one partner to name the basic issues that create conflicts, accept personal responsibility for their role in them, learn how to manage their anxiety, and take risks to respond in new ways. This weakens habitual patterns and transforms the relationship into a more forgiving and loving partnership.
Tosha Silver, Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead, Atria (Reprint Edition), July 12, 2016.
Doctrinaire religions can leave you spiritually alienated because they focus on external observances instead of internal realities. Tosha Silver suggests you align with the Divine by asking for what it wishes for you instead of insisting on your ego’s preferred outcomes. When you offer your problems to the Divine and invite it to take the lead, then symbols and synchronicities tell you when to act. Your openness and trust in a divine order of love and abundance frees you from worry and allows the perfect solution to any problem to arrive at the right time. Silver shares a fascinating and entertaining collection of brief stories which illustrate these principles at work in her life and the lives of others.
Sara Avant Stover, The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, New World Library, October 13, 2015.
Building on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1973) and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey (1990), yoga and meditation instructor Sara Avant Stover’s The Book of She describes how women can reclaim their feminine power. Combining personal stories, examples from wisdom traditions, and advice from noted psychological and spiritual teachers, Stover highlights 13 stages of the feminine journey. These are organized into five parts: Preparing for the Journey, The Descent, The Initiation, The Ascent, and The Homecoming. Readers are encouraged to explore and heal their inner and outer lives with numerous activities, rituals and guided meditations within a framework of guiding principles—cultivating an ongoing practice, welcoming silence and prayer, clarifying your priorities, taking responsibility for your life, exploring dualities, and facing your shadow.
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Whitaker House, October 4, 2016.
“Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.” This sums up the theme of The Divine Dance—a repudiation of Empire and a celebration of Relationship. Central to this celebration is your willingness to actively change what you let into your heart and consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved. Trinity is a foundational principle of perennial philosophy—the core beliefs common to every religion. Some call it the Third Force. It is also a living reality—a circular flow of love in you and the universe that mirrors the orderly spinning dance of subatomic particles which birth and sustain life. The 67 essays in this book depict God as absolute relatedness. They affirm that your participation in the dance can transform your illusion of separation into a spiritual experience of radical relatedness with yourself, your life, and the Divine.
I think of you often as I work on my next book and will stay in touch in the New Year. I wish you the happiest of holidays. As the nights grow longer and darker, may your inner light grow stronger and brighter.
A hunger to understand the forces that aided my psycho-spiritual growth has dogged me since I first wrote about the inner life 27 years ago. Intuitively, I structured my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth, around stories of painful early experiences that had influenced my life. That’s when I realized it wasn’t my intellect or will power or idealism or good intentions or good behavior or following the rules or listening to sermons or heeding other peoples’ advice that instigated my growth. It was my painful experiences.
These were experiences I couldn’t forget because they made a powerful impression on me, created difficult questions, internal conflict, fear, self-doubt and suffering. Like, why did Daddy divorce Mama and then die? Was it because he was bad and God punished him? Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me in my dream at the age of 10? Why was Ken mean to me in high school? Why did I get so angry at my fiancé for fearing for my safety and wanting to protect me? Was I selfish? Insensitive? Cruel?
We all experience things like this. It’s just the way the world is, the way the human psyche is structured.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 249.
Painful experiences create painful emotions. Painful emotions create conflicts. Pain and conflict are notices that something isn’t working, and opportunities to try something different. Even though everything we’ve ever learned has convinced us that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Even though we know we are perfectly justified in being the way we are. Even though it’s so wrong and unfair we just want to forget it. Pain and conflict make us realize we can keep making the same old choices or make a new choice. It’s our choice.
Adult suffering is caused by many things: physical pain, financial deprivation, illness, accidents, fear, self-hatred, regret; bad memories, bad parenting, bad habits, bad luck, bad experiences, bad mistakes; conflicting thoughts, painful emotions, a mind too rigid and closed, a mind too open and easily influenced; loyalty to old belief systems combined with fear of questioning them and risking something new; losses, betrayals, temptations; and any manner of other things. But whatever the cause of suffering and whatever else it may be, suffering is also a wake-up call from our unconscious asking us to pay attention, know that we have choices, and take action.
When we’ve had enough of suffering and summoned the courage to do something good for ourselves instead of waiting for something or someone to remove our suffering for us, we see an array of choices. We can change our partners, doctors, teachers, churches, addictions, bodies, lifestyle, home, job. Unfortunately, if our choices originate in fear of criticism or abandonment, anger, blame, self-hatred, self-pity, stubborn self-righteousness, or a refusal to take responsibility for our lives, they will take us from bad to worse. Fortunately, we can also choose to stop ignoring and despising our suffering and do something constructive to address it. Something like conducting our own research, reading a book, taking a class, committing to a practice, writing…anything we’re drawn to that brings insights about who we really are and why.
If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 132-133.
But without the right motivation, choice and action are still not enough. Our action has to come from an honest recognition that we can’t do it alone any more. We need help. And it has to come from a humble attitude that sincerely wants and asks for help. Furthermore, our asking has to come from an attitude of surrender for the sake of love. Finally, we have to stay open and mindful enough to notice help when it arrives. It can come from anywhere: an experience that brings us to our knees. A dream that frightens and fascinates us. A new teacher or opportunity. A mind-blowing synchronicity between inner and outer events. A chance comment from a family member or friend. And when help comes and we know in our gut that it is beneficial and true, we have to trust our instincts, jump on board, seize it with all our being, and hang on for dear life.
This is a process with which I’m intimately familiar. Although the insights I’ve gained from studying and using Carl Jung’s practices have changed my life, I’m not just parroting his theories. What I know to be true for me is based on personal experience. Somehow in the middle of my life I started taking my life seriously. Somehow I sensed that my suffering and self-absorption, painful and humiliating as they were, had a healing purpose. Somehow I tolerated the tension of staying with it. Somehow I know others can too.
Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space. Fr. Richard Rohr. From his online meditation, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2016.
Image credits: Growth: Wikimedia Commons. Jung Quote: Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine.
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, Christ: A Symbol of the Self, Pages 70-71, Para 126.
“There’ll just be four of us for Thanksgiving dinner this year. We’re a politically divided family.”~Overheard at Whole Foods Market the week before Thanksgiving.
They’re Rioting in Africa
They’re rioting in Africa
They’re starving in Spain
There’s hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The french hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don’t like anybody very much!!
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away!!
They’re rioting in Africa
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.
“They [the Kingston Trio] sang this in 1959 and the song still applies today.” ~Comment from a viewer of this video.
At 14 I was fascinated by the profundity of this song. When has the world ever been at peace? Certainly not since Jesus preached a gospel of peace. And obviously not before that either, or else he wouldn’t have needed to preach it.
Why don’t we learn from our mistakes? Because for most of us, history is a powerless abstract concept that has nothing to do with us. But there is something with the power to change us: a painful experience of our personalshadow: our ego’s inner opposite.
The Shadow is our unconscious side, the part of us we don’t know about and don’t want to know about. It’s far more fun to blame others than face our shadows. So we unconsciously project our shadow qualities onto people who remind us of them, and we derive great pleasure from excluding, vilifying, and blaming them.
Naturally, they resent this, so in retaliation they project their shadows onto us. And there you have it. Our outer world mimics the inner conflicts between our “good guy” egos and “bad guy” shadows while we sit back enjoying our outrage and tut-tutting with pious self-righteousness. In my opinion, nobody describes this phenomenon better than my favorite minstrel bard, Kris Kristofferson.
Jesus Was a Capricorn
Jesus was a Capricorn
He ate organic food
He believed in love and peace
And never wore no shoes
Long hair, beard and sandals
And a funky bunch of friends
Reckon we’d just nail him up
If he came down again
‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at any time they please
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me
Eggheads cussing rednecks cussing
Hippies for their hair
Others laugh at straights who laugh at
Freaks who laugh at squares
Some folks hate the Whites
Who hate the Blacks who hate the Klan
Most of us hate anything that
We don’t understand
‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at any time they please
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. ~Carl Jung, CW 13: Alchemical Studies, par 335.
Opposites. A basic theorem of Jungian psychology is that for everything we know about ourselves—beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions—there is a corresponding unconscious opposite. This is because we see everything in terms of either-or, good-bad, and automatically disown and repress the less desirable option.
For example, your family stressed the importance of love and kindness. Growing up you emulated these values and were affirmed for it. You think of yourself as a kind and loving person. Yet, there have been times when you were filled with anger and hate and your good intentions flew out the window. Nevertheless, because being anything less than “good” according to your family’s standards doesn’t fit your image of yourself, you’ve justified your “lapses.” After all, you know how hard you try, how well-meaning you are, so it had to have been the other person’s fault. You were right/good, so they were wrong/bad. Right?
But, guess what. Your “negative” emotions and thoughts don’t go away just because you deny or ignore them. They merely sink beneath your conscious awareness to a place where your ego can’t see them. We call this dark realm the unconscious. As your ego is the center of your conscious self, your shadow is the center of your unconscious self. Since you’re a reasonable person, your ego is probably willing to admit to a few shadow qualities here and there. But for every “flaw” you acknowledge, there are many others of which you have no conscious knowledge.
Projection. This leads to a second basic theorem of Jungian psychology: Whatever we disown in ourselves we project onto others. Those onto whom we project our shadow have a “flaw” similar to one of our own. Jungians say they have a “hook” onto which we can hang a disowned quality of our shadow. The hook can be a minor personality trait that can be easily overlooked or a major one that consistently causes problems for them and others. Either way, we are easily offended by people who remind us of our shadow. This gives us a simple way to see our shadows if we’re willing to look, and provides us with a handy scapegoat if we’re not.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 247.
Entropy. A third psychological reality Jung stressed is that when opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorder lurking within them remains constant or increases. Thus, the longer we ignore our shadow, the more apt it is to cause trouble. Refusing to acknowledge it when it shows up is therefore not only psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Unfortunately, the Western world does not recognize the shadow, either in individuals or in collective consciousness, and our ignorance perpetuates our prejudices, hypocrisy, broken relationships, self-righteousness, crime, war, and destruction of our planet.
“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that it is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, ¶ 255.
This election season has pitted two candidates who couldn’t be more different against one another. Never, in the history of our country, has the divide between two potential presidents been wider. Never have so many citizens of the United States or the world been so shaken by this ugly polarization. Never has the collective shadow of America been so obvious to all.
Beneath all our conscious beliefs and rationalizations we are being influenced by our shadows. The less self-aware among us are defending the candidate who most represents their ego’s self-image and who promises to serve their self-interest; and they are projecting evil onto the “other” candidate and anyone else who carries hooks for their repressed shadows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 236-237.
The only lasting contribution any of us can make to world health and planetary peace is to know our own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all. One pair of opposites has the power to determine our fate. Love is the most powerful healing and unifying force in life. Hate is the most divisive and destructive.
Hating our shadow and seeing it in others instead of ourselves will set us on a path of conflict and destruction. Owning our shadow will activate compassion, ethical behavior, wholeness and enlightened consciousness.Will we choose to see and befriend our shadow and the people who carry it, thereby serving love? Or will we choose to ignore our inner darkness and hate the people who remind us of it?
Which way will your vote go?
Image Credits: The Good and Evil Angels, Blake, Wikimedia Commons. Sending Out the Scapegoat, Wikimedia Commons. Witch Hunt, Wikimedia Commons. The Red Button, Wikimedia Commons.
When you are in the darkness you take the next thing, and that is a dream. And you can be sure that the dream is your nearest friend; the dream is the friend of those who are not guided any more by the traditional truth and in consequence are isolated. ~Carl Jung, the Symbolic Life, CW 18, Para 674
And if you lose yourself in the crowd, in the whole of humanity, you also never arrive at yourself; just as you can get lost in your isolation, you can also get lost in utter abandonment to the crowd. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 1020
For 27 years, my spiritual practice has been dreamwork. Dreams aren’t commonly thought of as spiritual aids but they absolutely are. Carl Jung demonstrated this in The Red Book in which he recorded what he learned about himself from visions and dreams over a three year period. This formed the material and inspiration for his groundbreaking insights into the true nature of the psyche, and for his belief that acquiring self-knowledge and becoming who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.
I wish I had understood this during the middle of my life. Throughout the 1980’s I functioned well in the outer world, juggling a home and family with college teaching. But inside I was struggling through a “dark night of the soul” crisis in which I was increasingly dissatisfied with my religion, my work, my relationships and myself.
Near the end of that decade I joined a Jungian study group. When I learned that dreams show us unknown aspects of ourselves in a visual, metaphorical, symbolic language, I began to record and work with mine. By the time I had this Big dream, I knew that taking my nocturnal dramas seriously was vital to my wellbeing.
Dream #155: “Going Against the Current.”
I’m walking downstream in a rushing river beside a rocky bank. People are shooting by on rafts and I wonder how they keep from bashing themselves against the rocks. I turn around and laboriously make my way back upstream in water up to my chin. The bottom is rough and rocky. I reach up and hold onto some thin, flimsy branches sticking out over the water. This helps, but soon there are no more and I have to go on unaided.
At the last turn I come up against thousands of people heading downstream. Friendly people press in on every side as I struggle against the current toward the place I’m supposed to be—my base camp. Sometimes I touch a head or shoulder to propel myself forward. When I reach the mouth of the river I put my palms together and gently part the people; this reminds them of Moses parting the Red Sea and they smile indulgently.
Then I’m far out in the ocean in deep water, tired and afraid. Will I make it? A younger, blond-haired woman appears, only her head showing above the water. “That was smart of you,” she says. I know she’s strong and rested and will support me if I need to float for a while. Together we head slowly to my base far away on the left shore, a place I’ve never been but know to be my destination.
In exquisitely beautiful imagery, this dream told the story of my psycho-spiritual development. It said that when I began my journey (walking) through the unconscious (water) I was still aligned with the collective (going with the flow downstream). But I had become aware of the passing of time (river) and the danger of continuing to rush mindlessly along on the path of least resistance (downstream) while ignoring my undeveloped self and unfulfilled yearnings.
Redirecting my focus to my inner world was making my journey more difficult (going upstream). The form of spiritual support (branches) I had always clung to—the heavenly spirituality of the Sky God that requires conformity to dogma—was of no further help to me (the branches disappear) and I had to continue alone.
Like the children of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea, I was leaving my slavish allegiance to the collective (crowd of people) behind, and entering the unknown: my frightening and dangerous (deep water) unconscious self (the sea). There I caught a glimpse of my anima or soul (the blond woman), the feminine half of the Self which, in Jungian language, is partner to the masculine animus or spirit. Together they form our central archetype, our God-image, symbol-maker, and connection to the Sacred. The message of this dream was that assuming my own authority and trusting myself would bring me to my true self (base camp).
Until I discovered dreamwork, no books or scriptures, no religious beliefs or sacrifices or regular church attendance, none of my ego’s hard work or good behavior, no well-intentioned thoughts or knowledge or cleverness, no psychological expert or religious authority—nothing in my life had any lasting transforming or healing power for me. But this dream from the Self did. The Self knew me. It spoke to me in the symbols of this dream which it fashioned solely for me when it knew I was ready to listen.
My Beloved knew where I’d been, what I sought, where I was going. It knew I was turning my life around beforeI did. It reassured me that replacing my old life of passionless conformity with the great adventure of exploring my unconscious self was the right choice for me. Above all, it convinced me I could trust it to tell me the truth and guide me in the direction of my heart’s desire. Eventually this knowing emboldened me to leave work for which I was ill-suited to follow my passions for writing and self-knowledge. That choice has made all the difference between a false life of meaninglessness, dissatisfaction and confusion, and the real life of increasing clarity, trust, meaning and peace I’m living now.
Contrary to popular belief, discovering and being true to who you are beneath the mask you wear, and doing it for the sake of love, is the authentic spiritual journey. What did you dream last night? What did you learn about yourself?
Photo Credit: “Going Against the Current,”Luo Quingzhen, Google Images. Salmon going upstream: unknown, Wikimedia Commons. “Danube Salmon Swimming Against the Current,” unknown, Wikimedia Commons.
“The time is ripe for the unconscious and conscious dominants to meet each other. The death of the old dominant is indicated by the fact that the king is about to die. This corresponds to the fact that the God-image, the collective dominant of the Western psyche, is moribund. In preparation for its death, it opens up an ancient tomb; in other words it opens up the unconscious. This activates the feminine principle, which had been dead and buried in the very same tomb, in the unconscious. As the tomb is opened, the unconscious is penetrated by consciousness . . . and a revitalization occurs.” ~ Edward Edinger
With this opening quote a beautiful new book, The Unseen Partner: Love & Longing in the Unconscious, prepares the reader for a unique experience of a universal story: the hero’s journey to individuation. Unique, because this personal account shared in a mythical, poetic voice is utterly original and will impact each reader differently. Universal, because beneath the art, poetry, and expertly-crafted prose is the mythic story of Everyman. Two decades in the making and released this Labor Day weekend, Diane Croft’s The Unseen Partner is a most refreshing and artful contribution to the literature on Jungian psychology. I absolutely loved it!
By midlife, Croft had taken a predictable path to a comfortable life and successful career. Educated at Wittenberg and Harvard Universities, she became a publisher at National Braille Press. And then an unknown force invaded her conscious psyche and set her on a new path. As her press release notes, this force pulled her “into an energy field—the sacred temple at the center of the psyche—” (called the “Self” by Jung), where she captured the poetic voice she heard by means of automatic writing.
“In the summer of 1996, I fell into an experience of automatic writing. I was seated at my computer getting ready to compose a budget narrative. Instead I wrote a few lines of verse that appeared without thinking or intention. ‘Born in a cataclysm of cosmic violence/the lunar birth of daughter moon.’ And then a second poetry fragment appeared . . . and so it continued for three years, at roughly the same time each morning, until there were more than seven hundred odd verses. People ask me if I heard voices. No, I say, I just took dictation. The fingers moved and the words were typed.”
The Unseen Partner is based on 55 of these verses. Each is accompanied by an artful image that symbolizes an aspect of the individuation process. Croft’s commentary on the meaning she gleaned from the poetry and imagery is the third factor that weaves everything together into a remarkable book which is itself a creative work of art.
Here’s an example. This poem titled “Holy Ghost” features the symbolism of “the third.” The accompanying image and commentary illustrate how these three factors work together.
Who is this three of thee and me
a holy ghost in daylight calling
stirring in my bed this night
cauldron for my troubled soul,
reminding me again and again
of the living power it holds
over my dominion.
“Since I was baptized Lutheran, the image of the Holy Ghost was not foreign to me, though I understood nothing of its meaning. Since I now believe this collection is about the relationship between my conscious ego and the larger archetypal Self, then I can only say that that relationship involves a third. Who is this three of thee and me? In Mythology of the Soul, Baynes writes, ‘The number three is specifically associated with the creative process. . . . Every function of energy in nature has, indeed, the form of a pair of opposites, united by a third factor, their product.’ Jung identified “the third” as one of the stages of individuation: ‘The advance to the third stage means something like the recognition of the unconscious, if not actual subordination to it. . . .’ So, as I understand it, stage one equals the original state of wholeness (the pre-conscious totality), stage two represents separation and the emergence of opposites (ego consciousness), and stage three would be the union of the opposites through the agency of the Holy Ghost, now contained within the human vessel.”
This was particularly resonant to me. I don’t remember ever reading this quote by Jung before, but in Healing the Sacred Divide (2012), I used the symbolism of “the third” to illustrate the three epochs of the development of consciousness. Each of my epochs corresponds with Croft’s description of the stages of individuation. This synchronicity comes as no real surprise, for “the third,” like all the symbols treated in this marvelous book, represents an archetypal pattern residing in every psyche. Nonetheless, I had so many delicious “Aha” moments in reading it that the overall experience took on the flavor of meditating on, and with, a sacred unseen partner.
As Rumi warned, (and as Croft writes in the last line of her epilogue), “‘Don’t go back to sleep.’ Wake up and dip your cup into the living waters.” I could not recommend The Unseen Partner more highly, and I’ll be returning to it again and again, for in it I recognize a reliable companion and guide to the living waters within me.
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.