When my emotional climate gets too hot for comfort or the gap between my inner and outer lives grows too wide, everything in me demands congruence. At times like this I consult my dreams like other people consult therapists. Is digging in my inner darkness hard work? Is it scary? Painful? Difficult to learn? It used to be but not any more. Now it’s fun; the self-validation and self-affirmation accompanying each insight are just so rewarding.
Last time I said my dreams from the year 2005 brought some of my shadow issues to center stage. Three were particularly troublesome. To get a better handle on them I gave them names: Orphan, Spiritual Bully, and Heroine (with an “e”) Addict.
As a child I tried not to mind my father’s long absences or bother my hardworking, emotionally exhausted mother. When I was 11 my father died. For years my dreams were dotted with needy little orphan girls whom my dream ego tried to ignore. Then in 2005 I saw how certain emotions I didn’t like — particularly loneliness, self-pity and sadness — signaled my Orphan’s presence in my waking life. As I got better at admitting to these feelings their influence waned and Orphan stopped bugging my dream ego. Since then, most of the little girls in my dreams have had mothers. Two weeks after my mother died, a forlorn teen-aged girl showed up. When my dream ego embraced her, she left, comforted. I guess Orphan is growing up. Is Cinderella becoming a Queen?
Recognizing Spiritual Bully with his excessive perfectionism was an especially significant breakthrough. For a long time I admired this grand inquisitor’s high-minded scrupulousness. Now I see it as a sad supplication for mercy from a judgmental deity whose retribution he fears. How can I allay the dread that drives this pitiful puppet? What new, healing job would bring more warmth to such a callous fellow who believes it’s in my best interest to keep criticizing me and making me feel guilty? These questions shape my struggles to accept him as part of myself.
I was both thrilled and appalled at the discovery of my Heroine Addict. I now realize she is a product of personal trauma (the early death of my father) and cultural conditioning (hero myths and stories of saints). How could I have overlooked the unauthentic martyrdom of this Joan of Arc wannabe after so many years of dreamwork? What will bring surcease to her compulsive need to save the day with noble self-sacrifice in every situation? Each step I take toward replacing her anxiety-ridden, self-important goodness with relaxed authenticity excites me.
Integrating these shadow figures has been huge for me. Self-knowledge is balancing the extremes of my inner world, reducing my anxiety, and bringing the sense of moving a bit closer to the centered, non-reactive state of receptivity, spontaneity, and peace to which I aspire.
Carl Jung said, “. . . today most people cannot see the beam in their own eye but are all too well aware of the mote in their brother’s. Political propaganda exploits this primitivity and conquers the naive with their own defect. The only defence (sic) against this overwhelming danger is recognition of the shadow.”
Politicians take note: Killing dragons in the outer world will never free us from psychological, political, or global tyranny. The lasting solution is to make peace with our inner dragons.
The end-goal of every psyche is to become more conscious and self-aware. You were made to want oneness, a doable antidote to the divisiveness that plagues today’s world. Self-awareness — by which I mean the acceptance of the opposites within ourselves — when combined with a sincere desire to bridge the divides between them, is the bridge to consciousness. And consciousness is the bridge to psychological and spiritual oneness. Your purpose in life is to do whatever you can to build these bridges. You’ll never be happy if you don’t at least try.