Dreams and the Holy Dark


As I look back through my dream journals I discover that 2005 was a particularly difficult year featuring five painful traumas. Nothing out of the ordinary; just things we all eventually experience: serious illness of a loved one, loss, disappointment, death of a beloved animal friend. During the day I tried to stay calm, reasonable and balanced. At night, in a striking visual and emotional language, my dreams dramatized the rest of the story beneath my ordinary awareness: uncomfortable emotions like resentment, guilt and self-pity, ignoble thoughts like judgment and blame, and my old nemesis: soul-killing self-criticism.
Of course, there were times when my perception of the meaning of a dream added briefly to my discomfort;  but, overall, knowing what was going on in my unconscious made me feel markedly better. Seeing a disowned quality in a dream enabled me to choose not to act on it in waking life, and the seeing and choosing were enormously self-validating. As I watched myself behaving with more self-awareness, acceptance, and self-control my heart swelled with pleasure. Unlike addictive substances which dull our pain, self-knowledge does not help us escape the reality of suffering, but simply expands our capacity for fully experiencing our lives so we can feel hope and joy even in the midst of grief. This is the blessing side of the double-edged sword of consciousness:  joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.
The Western world does not recognize the shadow (everything we disown about ourselves) as being a natural part of every individual. Most of us are willing to admit to certain flaws, but for every one we bring to the light there are others of which we have no conscious knowledge. We can easily see our most despised qualities in others, and are usually only too happy to point them out, but rarely can we admit to their presence in ourselves.
This is not just psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Our inability to understand and accept our personal and cultural shadows is the reason for our prejudices, hypocrisy, thoughtless and cruel behavior, broken relationships, crime, genocide, imperialism, war, and wanton pillaging and destruction of our precious Mother Earth. The only lasting contribution I as an individual can make to world health and planetary peace is to know my own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all.
Carl Jung taught that a whole person is one who sees and accepts full responsibility for both the light and the dark within. He said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
And as one of my mentors, Jungian Robert Johnson , has written in his brilliant little book, Owning Your Own Shadow, “To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place — an inner center — not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life.”
To help you understand why this is so, in future posts I will occasionally share insights my dreams have provided about my shadow. I hope my willingness to face and discuss uncomfortable issues about myself will encourage you to be more courageous and compassionate with yourself as you conduct your own self-explorations.
Owning our shadows is a spiritual practice, an initiatory rite that activates compassion, ethical behavior, psychological wholeness and enlightened consciousness.  Our dreams are our guides on this healing, holy Way. It is no accident they occur at night. One cannot move into the light without first passing through darkness.

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0 Responses

  1. divine…..
    Philosophy is predictions in darkness
    about brightness,
    religion is brightness
    within darkness
    to express we write on blackboard
    with white chalk stick…darkness is a
    background for every expressions of life
    like sea where waves time travel…..
    ups and downs are part of time travel and
    dreams are like small boat teach us how to
    cross the time to travel in timelessness and one
    always dreams before or after slumber sleep
    which is timelessness which is taste of god and when
    we live in wake up stage in timelessness or in present
    or with happiness we refer it as enlightenment….
    enlightenment is inbuilt we know it in our
    childhood as we grow we shift from spirit to soul to
    mind to body awareness losing the timelessness of
    happiness to times of joy and sorrow…
    dreams help us travel back from body to mind to
    soul to spirit and each mile stone has its own
    symbols ….solving the dream symbols gives us the
    clues of journey ahead…..from dark night of soul to
    light of enlightenment…..
    you always inspire me to write …so wisdom if there
    belongs to all of us…..
    bless you dear jean raffa……

    1. Dear ram0singhal,
      I continue to be delighted by your creative comments. I salute a fellow seeker and am inspired by your always original takes on my thoughts. Thank you from my heart for reading my blog, and for taking your precious time to honor a fellow traveler with the blessing of your heartfelt truths. Your wisdom, generosity of spirit, and desire to help are an inspiration to me.
      I am so happy to know that I inspire you to write. Please do keep writing. The world needs more of what you have to offer.

  2. Jeanie,
    I am so glad you are focusing on the shadow in our psyche for I continually struggle to catch a glimpse of mine. And once spotting a trace, knowing how to capture and utilize the creative gold that Johnson and Jung say is buried there is a real challenge.
    The other night I dreamed of escaping from a strong masculine figure who wanted to hold me down. I initially thought my spirit was seeking to soar, but in recognizing that the figure from whom I wanted to escape is also a part of me I considered three options– could it be the cultural retraints that hamper creativity, a subliminal need to control all, or perhaps the necessary discipline that I must incorporate to avoid living in the wonderland of what-ifs?

    1. Dear Sally,
      Your words are so affirming and inspiring. The reality of the shadow is incredibly hard for most of us to digest. We are in dire need of personal testimonies such as yours to embolden the timid hearts so many of us inherited from our well-meaning but terrified ancestors.
      I love it that you’re asking questions about your dream before settling on interpretations. Asking is so much more productive than answering. Personally, having dealt with the same issues, I lean toward your first option about how cultural conditioning may have inhibited the honest expression of your soul’s truths. How hard it is to be true to ourselves. Yet, what could be more important in this brief time we have on Earth than to become what we were meant to be?
      Your honesty and courage are thrilling. I am very grateful every time you choose to reveal them.

  3. jeanie, your shadow blog reminds me of the old story about the drunk who is wandering around the lamppost and a friend comes by and asks what he’s doing. “Looking for my keys,” he replies. “Ah,” says the friend, trying to help out, “where’s the last place you saw them?” “Over there,” says the drunk, pointing to a dark alley full of deep shadows. The friend looks bewildered. “So, why are you looking for them over here?” he demands. The drunk stops and points at the streetlamp as if answering a child. “Because the light is better over here,” he explains patiently.
    i am, of course, the drunk. intoxicated by all the diversions to my senses that society can offer. i know i have lost my keys that will unlock the secrets. but i have no faith in my ability to penetrate the deep shadows where i know my keys can be found. so instead, i look over here, in the same field of well-plowed consciousness, furrow after furrow of familiar habit of thought and emotion and memory. sure, i know i won’t find my keys here–but it’s so much easier looking for them here.
    another wonderful post, dear friend!
    looking forward to the next,

  4. Dear William,
    Perfect! Once again you’ve painted the perfect word picture to illustrate one of my posts. If I have a stereophonic voice that sings left-brain, right-brain melodies, you have a third eye that develops binocular photographs into 3-D.
    A drunk is an ideal metaphor for an ego that’s addicted to artifical highs (substitute spirits), stumbles around without a clue how clueless it is (thinks it’s awake when it’s really dreaming) and longs for a paradise it knows it will never find until it sobers up (gets serious about the search).
    Enjoying the cool similes and warm smiles,

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