What Do Dreams Have to Do with “Real” Life? Part I July 15, 2014
If you’ve never thought of dreams as having any relevance to your waking life, I can assure you, they do. This one which came at a pivotal time in my life convinced me beyond any doubt that some unimaginable, unconscious Mystery which dwelled both within and outside me knew what was going on in my conscious life and had something to tell me about it. I’ll share the dream in this post and comment on it in the next.
Dream #843: Two Snakes in the Tree of Life”.
Someone is telling a story. I watch from afar as the events unfold.
“Once upon a time a little green snake started his life in one side of a tree.” I see the snake. He is long and thin and his underbelly is the color of the inside of an avocado.
“On the other side of the tree lay a huge, old, brown female snake, but the little green snake did not know it. He grew and grew until one day he decided to go on his journey and he entered the hole.” The little green snake slithers into a hole in the tree and disappears. I look to see if his head comes out of the hole on the other side where the big old female snake is, but it does not. Maybe the way inside the hole is long and winding.
“It took him a long time of traveling and he was enjoying his journey, but eventually he came out on the other side.” His head peeks out of the hole. Will he see the big snake? No, he turns right and takes a narrow spiral path that curves around the tree to the left, to where the big snake is waiting.
“The little green snake slid along smack into the mouth of the big snake.” The green snake’s head peeks out of the side of the big snake’s mouth. The big snake munches down on his head twice. Chomp. Chomp. The little green snake’s face shows no fear or distress or pain. Maybe this does not hurt. Maybe he has no idea what is happening to him. I hope so.
Now the narration breaks off. There are other onlookers here. One says, “Oh, well. That’s the end of the little green snake.”
Someone else says, “Well, what if he fights back?” I wonder how he can possibly fight back with no hands or arms or legs. There seems to be no hope.
Someone else says, “Oh, no. He shouldn’t fight back. That would be wrong.”
The narrator says, “Oh, is fighting the wrong answer?”
Suddenly, a rainbow streaks across the sky and lands in a different place, like a lit-up stage in a vast, darkened theatre. It is the little green snake, who has been transformed into a young, handsome cowboy. Triumphantly he saunters across the stage to the bar, slaps down two coins, and says to the bartender, “Set ’em up, Joe.”
He survived! He did not have to die and he turned into a human! This is the best possible ending to the story.
Little Green Snake: An archetype that has many possible meanings. Because the snake constantly sheds its skin, it symbolizes transformation, rebirth, and perpetual renewal. The color green, the color of the annual renewal of nature, reinforces this meaning. The Kundalini serpent of Tibetan yoga, which is said to be coiled at the base of the spinal column, symbolizes the cosmic evolutionary energy that accompanies growing spiritual awareness. In this dream, I believe the little green snake represents my masculine spiritual striving for transformation, personal empowerment, and individuation.
Tree: An archetype of individuation; spiritual development; androgyny.
Brown: The color of the ‘feminine’ earth.
Female Snake: The ancient, earthy, natural feminine; the archetypal Great Goddess or Great Mother, which has the power of life and death; my feminine essence.
Hole: An opening into the unknown, or spiritual world. Since it is a circle, also the Self.
Right: A suggestion that the snake is headed in the ‘right’ direction; the direction of consciousness.
Left: The unconscious.
Onlookers: Other aspects of my personality.
Cowboy: A rugged individualist, a mature individuated animus.
These were my associations to the symbols twenty years ago when I was working on this dream for inclusion in Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork. I no longer see the cowboy as a “mature individuated animus,” but at that time my animus was still in the throes of youthful heroic swagger. I forgive myself (and him) for being so full of ‘ourselves.” My body was no longer young when I had this dream, but my ego was, and inflation always shadows a newly-empowered ego.
I’ll share what I wrote about this dream next time. Meanwhile, I welcome your associations.
Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Psychology and Religion: Natural Enemies or Intimate Partners? January 7, 2014
In my growing up years the relationship between psychology and religion mirrored the cold war between the U.S. and Russia. Other than the fact that each was suspicious of the other, they appeared to have little in common.
But this began to change for me at the age of 17. One morning I was reading the assigned Bible verses at church camp when suddenly the door to a hidden dimension of my being burst open and a flood of feeling and meaning rushed into my awareness. Suddenly I understood words which, until then, were written in a foreign language. And they spoke directly to me!
My heart responded with stunned awe and wonder. God was real. Moreover, God knew me and was using the Bible to communicate with me!
Joseph Campbell called an experience like this “… a profoundly felt, inward knowledge of the transpersonal imperatives and quality of life…” The impact was so powerful, in fact, that I couldn’t get enough of the New Testament and read it again and again over the next several years.
“‘Archetype’ is Jung’s word for the psychological image of a god, and when an archetype is activated, we speak of its impact as numinous. In other words, numinosity is the charge of energy in whatever we experience as divine or demonic. If you want to know what is numinous to you, consider what you find fascinating, compelling, thrilling, mysterious, horrifying, gripping, tremendous, terrifying, dreadful, or awesome. Think about the things with which you are preoccupied in spite of yourself.” -Jungian analyst Janet O. Dallett
My experience was numinous. I can use religious language and call it a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Psychologically I can interpret it as the activation of the Self archetype. Or I can see it as both. Having no psychological understanding at the age of 17, I chose the former. But it doesn’t really matter how I saw it. Either way, it happened. And it got my attention in a big way.
“The religious part of the psyche is at work whenever you pay attention to something that is numinous to you, whether or not other people feel it is important.” -Janet O. Dallett
I kept paying attention and had more numinous experiences. Each one awakened awarenesses about the spiritual dimensions of life and created lasting changes in me. I knew I was part of a vast Mystery and I was compelled to trust the stream of life-giving feeling and knowing that was my umbilical cord to the Sacred.
For a long time I dared not speak about this. Who was I to think God indwelled me, when one of the most respected religious authorities in my church openly disparaged “humanism” and “psychology” because they were the despised “wisdom of man” as opposed to “the wisdom of God?” What was important to him was belief in the word of God as revealed to spirit persons two thousand years ago and recorded in Holy Scriptures. What was revealed to today’s spirit persons was heretical.
But the Bible, Torah, and Koran are not God. They are symbols that point to the Mystery some of us call God, Yahweh, or Allah. As such, they can trigger life-changing numinous experiences, but only if they activate our archetypal roots—the religious part of the psyche—in ways that get our attention. Whatever God is, it cannot change us or the world without our growing awareness!
Psychology and religion are not natural enemies, but intimate partners in the sacred dance of life. We are not only imprinted with the Sacred, we are sacred, just as all life is sacred.
Photo credit: dreamstime
Sorting out Psyche, Self, and Soul September 2, 2013
As many of you know, I’ve been taking a sabbatical from regular blog writing after over three years of composing twice-weekly posts. But I’ve been staying in touch on Twitter and Facebook through reposts of some of my favorites from the past. As I write this it’s Labor Day and we’ve just returned to Florida from our summer home in the North Carolina mountains.
Just before I left I received this comment after one of my reposts. Busy with packing, traveling and reuniting with our family, I’ve been unable to respond until now, but I’ve been thinking about it all weekend. Having just written my response, it occurred to me that our conversation would be great material for a new blog post.
Here it is:
Hi Jeanie, In doing an online search for the meaning of psyche in relation to soul and Self, I googled your blog and saw that you posted recently…nice to have you back! If you have a moment, can you clarify for me or refer me to a specific post? As well, I’ve come across two books I really like: “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr and “The Light Inside the Dark” by John Tarrant…have you read them?
This is a tough one that has stumped the brightest minds throughout the ages. I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you what I think I think at this moment!
Self: For me, Self is the central archetype of the human “mind” (another difficult term to describe). It encompasses everything about my personhood and distills it into my core desire to evolve, to transcend my human limitations and connect with the Grand Mystery. Jung called this compelling and wonder-filling form of energy our God-image. IT’s what tells us there is something “more” beyond what our puny egos can possibly know, and IT causes us to want to unite with IT.
Soul: Right now I see Soul as my unique essence, one small, but valuable and ongoing part of the Grand Mystery. My body is a physical manifestation of this very real, but invisible entity we call the soul. My soul has a unique contribution to make to physical life, and it will continue to exist, as does every form of energy, after it leaves my physical body.
Psyche: Psyche has long been considered another name for Soul. In Greek myth, the soul’s journey through life was personified in the human woman Psyche who, through her love for the God Eros (Love), was transformed into a Goddess. If I had to make a distinction between Psyche and Soul, it would be that Psyche is the aspects of the Soul that are accessible to humans through our study of psychology and the human personality.
These are fine distinctions that are by no means utterly clear. At least not to me. There are times when I use all three terms interchangeably, depending on the particular manifestation I’m talking about: archetypal reality (Self), physical/spiritual essence (Soul), or personality (Psyche). Three in one. Hmmmm….. Sounds familiar.
Thank you for this wonderful question. I hope I’ve answered it adequately for you. Thanks also for the book recommendations. I haven’t read either one, but will check them out.
To Be or Not to Be a Zombie: Part II February 1, 2013
Dream #4401: The Founder Wants My Help
I’m with a blonde-haired woman at a conference about wounded masculinity. It’s disorganized and unfocused. As I prepare to leave, a tall, attractive man in a gray suit invites me to meet the founder of this organization. I follow him to an oval woven basket on the ground. In it lies a man. He has a head, a withered trunk, a tiny right arm and no other limbs. His face, voice and personality are normal and vitally alive. He smiles warmly and says he’s been watching me. The tall man concurs, “He has a list of everything you did yesterday.” I think I’m being recruited to join this organization. I don’t want to because it would take time away from writing.
Associations: This aspect of my animus has a lively mind, acute powers of observation, and a pleasant personality. But he’s physically challenged and needs me. This dream and the one I discussed in my last post came on the same night. As such, they probably address the same issue. In the previous dream I met a part of my animus that speaks about consciousness. In this one I met the “founder.” Does this reference the masculine half of the foundation of my psyche, the Self? He seems to want my involvement in healing the wounded masculine. But why? How?
Healing the Sacred Divide, is about integrating the wounded feminine and masculine into consciousness with a strong emphasis on the feminine. These dreams suggest that the Self wants me to bring the wounded masculine into consciousness and that this will require more organization, focus and “legwork.” Will I cling to my ego’s current standpoint, or will I trust the Self and leap into the unknown? My dream ego is reluctant to leap and I know why: inertia, my sensitive nature, and uncertainty.
(1)Inertia: I’ve spent years studying the wounded feminine and it’s easy and fun to stay home and write about it. Studying wounded masculinity and making more presentations would require expending more energy in new directions. (2) Sensitivity: Traveling and speaking are stressful and expose me to potentially uncomfortable situations and people, some of whom might argue with me! I hate conflict! (3) Uncertainty: Exactly what “leap” am I being asked to make? To make more speeches about wounded masculinity, or to “speak” more about it in my writing?
I’ve actively pursued self-knowledge and consciousness for 24 years. Before every leap there was always a period of confusion and questioning, and I’ve learned that tolerating the tension of this “wait time” is essential. Our choices are rarely as polarized as they seem at first glance and it takes time to find the middle ground. Guidance from the depths does require choice, but choice requires discernment!
I’m not sure I want to move in new directions but I don’t want to be a rigid, unconscious zombie either. I’m getting a strong message that my scholar/speaker animus is withering and becoming a “basket case” and I can’t ignore that. He wants to do things and I am his vehicle. Is there a way to help him without betraying my needs for alone time, self-knowledge and writing?
I don’t know the answers right now, but I’m pretty sure I need a better understanding of my wounded animus so I’ll focus on that while I await answers. Meanwhile, I won’t be turning down any invitations to make presentations. And if you want to weigh in on my dilemma, I welcome your associations with these dreams.
A Dream With Meaningful Symbols April 13, 2012
Has it ever happened to you that an ordinary symbol or image from everyday life suddenly feels significant? Perhaps it happens after a synchronicity like falling in love with a painting then finding the same image on the cover of a fascinating new book. Or maybe you have no idea why an image moves you deeply.
Either way, your heightened awareness of a symbol tells you you’ve connected with an unknown aspect of your unconscious self that is bringing more meaning to your life. You can ignore this, which is what most of us do, and life will go on as usual. But if you want to understand yourself better and feel more spiritually connected, you can take these inner awakenings seriously and look into the meaning of the symbols that elicit them. In doing so, you create a new story for yourself: you remyth your life.
Once I got serious about self-knowledge and began to pay attention to my dreams, things like this happened quite often. At first I hid my growing fascination with certain symbols for fear people would think I was weird and make fun of me. But after a few years a special dream gave me more confidence to be myself.
Dream #860: Acquiring the Courage to Be Real. I’m walking through an underground corridor lined with narrow but beautiful rooms decorated with elegant antiques. It is the mansion of an older, reclusive, hardworking woman. I live here too. The doorbell rings, telling me my friend has arrived. The older woman asks me to buy her some lemonade while I’m out. To be polite, she asks if my friend wants to come in. When I say no she is relieved.
I climb the stairs and open the door into a big, dark, dusty warehouse. I follow a narrow path through broken pieces of junk to a door which opens onto the street. It’s opened by my beautiful, young, black-haired friend who wears a white trench coat and is bathed in brilliant white light. We walk through a rundown, weedy front yard onto a busy street. The passersby do not suspect there is an elegant, but somewhat narrow mansion below the ground behind this junky facade. The older woman is afraid of people knowing she is there or how she lives.
This dream told me I had a fearful shadow (older woman) who was hiding the best parts of herself—my richer, fuller spiritual nature (mansion)—deep inside (underground) behind a neglected persona (warehouse, weeds, front yard). That she wanted some lemon “aid” (in Judaism the lemon symbolizes the human heart), said that she lacked the compassion to give more of herself and the courage to be real.
It was very heartening to know that my ego had grown enough spiritually (walking up stairs) to step through my barrier of fear (doorway) and enter life in the outer world more fully. And to know that the feminine aspect of the Self (friend, the opposites of black and white, white light) wanted to help me obtain what I needed (lemonade) felt absolutely wonderful. This was when I finally understood that the sacred feminine is real, that she lives in me, and that she’s a helpful friend!
Understanding the symbols of this breakthrough dream emboldened me to reveal more of my true self to family, friends, and in my writing in a way that nothing else had the power to do. And yes, I am now aware of levels of spiritual meaning in many things I never thought twice about before, including narrow mansions, lemons, doors, stairs, warehouses, white light, and even junky yards!
The Hero, the Shadow, the Anima, and Love February 24, 2012
The anima and animus are equally important to females and males. Most of us have issues with certain qualities associated with our gender as well as its opposite. Jung called the unconscious same-gender qualities our shadow, and the opposite gender qualities either our anima (for men) or animus (for women). Of course we know now that not everyone identifies with his/her physical gender and that many of our ideas about gender are culturally imposed, so Jung’s definition of shadow is not always helpful.
In working with my dreams I’ve solved this problem by simply seeing all the female characters, liked or disliked, as unconscious aspects of my feminine side (feeling and relationship), and male characters as my masculine side (thinking and logic). Together, they symbolize aspects of my shadow I associate with gender. Some of these belong to my individual personality, and some belong to the archetypal feminine and masculine, the anima and animus.
To proceed on our journey we must first integrate our personal shadow, the important disowned elements of our individual personalities including qualities we associate with either gender. Until we can acknowledge our shadow we cannot hope to come to terms with the archetypal anima and animus, and until we integrate them, we cannot hope to become whole.
Here’s the crucial point I want to make: We meet our anima and animus as they are reflected in other people (both in waking life and dreams) who are so fascinating to us that we are filled with wonder and awe. This “spiritual” falling-in-love feeling of having been touched by the Mystery is the tip-off that we’ve met an image of our anima or animus, for they are the feminine and masculine sides of the Self, our God-image.
This is a life-changing experience and our response to it can determine the outcome of our journey. A whole individual accepts the imperfections of our heroes, authorities and loved ones without expecting them to be our spiritual intermediaries and saviors. We have to establish our own connection to Spirit without requiring others to provide it for us. This is extraordinarily difficult at best, and nigh impossible if we have not integrated our shadow.
In Adventure in Archetype, Mark Greene uses Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, “The Birth-Mark” (1843), to illustrate this problem. Aylmer is a scientist with intellectual powers “akin to the alchemists of old” who longs for spirituality and finds it in his union with the beautiful, docile, subservient Georgiana, a woman who has no ambition other than to make her husband happy. In other words, he projects his “Goddess” anima onto a human woman, she projects her “God” animus onto him, and each expects the other to provide blissful feeling and spiritual meaning for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, “in compensation for all the ‘light’ he brings to his empirically-informed world of science” Aylmer attempts to “subdue and tame her ‘imperfection’” by insisting on removing a birth mark from her face. Since he has not confronted his dark, perfectionist shadow, he cannot “integrate the feminine without falling into [a] heroic fantasy of saving women.” Ironically, it is this “would-be” hero’s subjugation of the feminine “so clearly manifest as physical oppression of women throughout history” that causes Georgiana’s death.
Could it be that simple? Could we put an end to humanity’s destructiveness and learn to love just by accepting our feminine sides and freeing women to be sovereign over their own lives? It seems a small price to pay for peace.