I spent the first half of my life in a mist, blind to all that is truly sacred. A spiritual seeker from the age of 17, I had plenty of ideas about what was sacred, but they came from other people. Only very rarely did I actually experience the sacred for myself. Then I discovered the symbolic meaning in dreams and myths.
Myths are cultural expressions of humanity’s relationship to the gods. While not necessarily literally true on the outside, myths are always true on the inside because they address the truths of the soul. Dreams are personal myths. Imaginatively exploring the symbols and themes of our dreams to gain insights into our personal issues, then seeing how they are addressed and resolved in cultural myths, can help us grow our spirits and recover our souls.
In A History of God, former nun Karen Armstrong says, “The only way we can conceive of God, who remains imperceptible to the senses and to logical proof, is by means of symbols, which it is the chief function of the imaginative mind to interpret.” And in The Holy Longing, Jungian analyst Connie Zweig writes, “In effect, the life of the imagination is the spiritual life.”
Three months after I began to practice regular dreamwork I was staying at the beach when I had dream #46. I called it “Temple in the Wilderness.”
I walk through woods on a path cut through the earth. I’m seeking a stream I know to be at the bottom end of the path. I find it where it spills into the sea and follow it to a mist-shrouded garden. In it are ruins of a Greek temple; one column remains upright. In awe, I kneel to examine some creamy-white flowers. Near the bottom of the plant is a pyramid-shaped arrangement of four glowing, waxy white horses facing the four directions. Surrounding them are blossoms so beautiful I can hardly take them in. A puppy named Prince playfully grabs my hand, inviting me to follow him. A young woman asks his name and is pleased to hear it. Two other people bring food for the puppy. After seeing a couple walking hand-in-hand through the distant mist I awaken.
This dream fascinated me so I worked through the plot by exploring my associations for the symbols: path, woods, stream, sea, garden, Greek temple, column, mist, kneeling, white flowers, glowing horses, the four directions, the puppy Prince who wants to guide me somewhere, the people who feed him, and the couple walking through the mist. Then I explored cultural and archetypal associations for the symbols I wanted more information about.
The final result was a mythical narrative with an underlying theme of compassion and love. Deeply moved, I felt as if a cold, hard place in my heart was softening, melting down, and warming up.
The body remembers. To honor this feeling so I would never forget it I made a ritual that morning of walking down to the beach with an ice cube in my hand. Kneeling in the sand, I held it in the warm salty water until it melted.
After that I deepened my study of symbolism and myths. Two years later I redesigned my dining room to remind me of the misty temple in the woods, resigned from my job, and began writing a manuscript which became The Bridge to Wholeness. That first book about the inner life opens with an original myth that is a metaphor for my spiritual journey.
As author and spirit warrior William Horden has said, “to those of us attuned to the one psyche, no one can fool us into thinking we are just indulging in our ‘imagination’. We have had a taste of the ever-new bubbling fountain of creation…from that point on, for the intoxicated soul thirsty for more of the gods’ nectar, there is only the creative act…the ‘making’ that reveals the artist within each of us.”
This is holy work. With each creative act we make to honor the truths bubbling up from our source, we re-myth our lives and enter the sacred realm that has always awaited us beyond the mist.
If we could understand the inherent potential available to us we might learn how to systematically tap into it, which would vastly improve every area of our lives, from communication and self-knowledge, to our interaction with our material world.