The Shadow is the place where everything we have forgotten, denied, rejected or not yet discovered goes to live. The greater the denial of one’s darkness, taboo, or ‘negative emotions’ the more fertile the breeding ground for fear, shame, depression, violence and anxiety.
As the maple leaves begin to fall here on Salt Spring Island, I’ve started lighting fires in the evenings, eating spicy dhals, and reading dreamy books. These days I’m sinking my nerdy teeth into Marie-Louise von Franz’s Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales.
Actually a transcript from her legendary Zurich lectures, von Franz explores in-depth six fairy tales from Denmark, Spain, China, France, Africa, and one Grimm (from Germany).
As Joseph Campbell famously says, “Dreams are the private myth & myths are the public dream.” Indeed Campbell and other mythologists, such as those delightful Jungians, discovered amazing cross-cultural motifs in Fairy Tales. Those patterns, (or what we now call Archetypes), are found repeatedly in stories from around the world, seemingly unconstrained by geography or epoch.
Imagine for a moment that you could strip your ‘local’ story down to its bare essence, to find what you have in common with everyone in the world, and you’ll get archetypes. From the Greek archetupos, meaning “first-moulded,” fairy tales are the blueprints of our innate, universal experiences.
Archetypes get activated in our dreams during meaningful transitions, but having lost the art of symbolic language in our culture, we don’t recognize (or remember) them when they arise. Working with Dreams & Fairy Tales helps us to see when we are undergoing important rites of passage, such as initiation, courtship, marriage, birth and preparation for death.
They bring meaningful dimension to our human lives by showing us the chapters in our mythic journey. We aren’t just leading unnecessary lives, but stepping through the same gates with bravery and despair, awe and triumph as the heroes and heroines we grew up admiring in our storybooks.
As the woman who gives birth in a dream at the same time she launches a creative project into the world, she recognizes how long the labour, how precious the outcome, how fragile yet the offering. She comes into contact with the hugeness of her experience, and knowing how fairy tales work, might then follow their maps with greater confidence into the unknown.
It takes my teacher Martín Prechtel several hours to walk a short distance because every stream and river, rock and valley in the village is sacred and needs to be sung to, fed by our beauty-making. We are too fortunate for our debt to ever be paid, so instead we cultivate indebtedness as a way of life.
You might say that our abandonment of ritual practice is the greatest loss felt by modern society. Under the spell of rationalism, we have forgotten what indigenous people understand to be cardinal: that this world owes its life to the Unseen.
Our disconnection from the Old Ways expresses itself in our culture’s affliction with depression, anxiety, violence and loneliness.What we are experiencing, explains Marion Woodman, is the loss of the symbolic life. We have displaced our natural impulse to worship the sacred onto the material. We accumulate wealth instead of strengthening our values, pursue knowledge instead of wisdom and choose status over village-making.
In tribal society, every inheritance, every yield, every loss and every yearning must be distinguished by an offering made to the Invisible. Vicariously, in this practice of making gifts for the Holy, we are being fed. The meals we eat, the land we steward, the clothing we wear, even the losses we sustain become thick with intention and we wear them like the jewels of human wealth that they are.
In the Dagara village, writes Malidoma Somé, it is considered criminal to go on with ‘business-as-usual’ when someone has died, because without everyone’s grief, the dead person will be trapped between worlds, unable to shed the “ragged clothes we call a body, and walk naked” in the spirit world.
But ritual is also needed by the griever, who might otherwise remain attached to places and people who have passed, draining them of their vitality in present time. Without the ritual support of our community, the entirety of our grief can never be emptied, our losses clinging to us like old skins, creating loops in our dreams, and stuckness in our lives.
This is why we write down the dreams we have been given. Each one is a precious gift from Unwhere, to be acknowledged for its generosity, courted for its wisdom and honoured with action. The reward of our remembering is that we are ourselves remembered. Life becomes evermore meaningful as the conversation between this world and that gets stronger, our days grow potent with night-magic, (what we call synchronicity), and every day jumps alive with the normiracles of living.
“Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” ― Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World.
For as long as I can remember, New Age gurus have been telling us to “stay in the light.” They tell us to meditate, generate and emanate positivity, warning us that we create our own reality and negative thinking begets negative results.
But if you’ve ever found yourself cringing before all that Spiritual Correctness and wondered what was wrong with you, I am here to tell you that you aren’t broken and you don’t need fixing.
As an Ambassadress of the Darkness, it is my duty to sing the praises of wrath, rebellion, grief and destruction. I am here to champion the wild, unapologetic power of nature. I am here to urge us all to drop our composure like sandbags and get stirred up into the real storm of living.
While the New Age movement has awakened many to the power of creative intention, it has simultaneously pathologised the negative emotions, striking them from our social palette of acceptability and is driving us all into repression.
First of all, what if those negative emotions aren’t wrong, but totally right? What if the real problem is the misguided attitude that we need fixing in the first place?
When we try to live up to impossible images of spiritually enlightened, all-knowledgable, selfless superhumans, the dark side of our nature just gains in power. Like shoving a beach ball under water, you may succeed in disavowing your unsavoury bits for a while, but it’s so destabilizing that, when you least expect it, that ball always bursts out from under you.
Negative emotions don’t cease to exist because we’re ignoring them. They just find other ways to express themselves. Sometimes we lash out inappropriately, have confusing crying fits or feel protractedly numb. Most commonly, we slip into depression and, if left to fester, become prone to accidents, physical disease and crisis.
True creative responsibility for one’s life involves more than positive visualisation and action towards our dreams. It also means destroying that which is no longer relevant. Destruction is the counterpoint to Creation and, like the day setting into night, summer falling into winter, life circling towards death, for one thing to be created, another thing must be destroyed.
In the Hindu tradition, the Goddess Kali is worshiped as both the creative and destructive, womb and tomb aspects of the Great Mother. In one of her four hands she holds the head she’s just severed, which fills a goblet with blood. She is often wielding a scythe, surrounded by a snarling fire, adorned with bones, and dancing on a bewildered corpse.
Far from the flaccid suggestion that when something isn’t working we must “let it go,” Kali is the ruthless power behind ‘negative’ emotions which clears the way for new life.
She is the boundaries Anger wants. She is the pounding of Grief’s river, rushing us to new lands. She is the freedom Anxiety shakes for. She is the siren of change that Boredom signals. She is the bliss that Fear promises.
Owning Your Destroy means not only taking a metaphoric machete to the outdated stylings of your stuckness in present time, it also means rewriting your stories of loss. Those things you feel have been taken away too soon, done to you and never been your privilege, are places of untapped power.
As we clear even excellent things from our lives which no longer serve us, we are preparing our possibility space for the unimaginable blessings waiting to be born there.
Just as fire can transform food from its raw form into something digestible, our darknesses are radical transformers. Instead of airbrushing our personalities, they coax us to exaggerate our blemishes, lean into our stagnancy, wounding and limitation.
If we really want to evolve, all we have to do is be exactly where we are. It’s only once you can own your sad, stifled, regretful, pissed off self, that you can blaze up your loving ferocity and have at ‘er.
On the morning Annie went into the hospital, I had a dream that Toronto was drowning. It started with a sadness welling up at my windows. When I got up to look out at the city, cars were bobbing around like plastic toys and whole buildings were being swallowed up by water. In the distance was a tsunami, and it was racing towards me.
Knowing there wasn’t anywhere to run, I became curiously calm. Within seconds the wave smashed through my windows, took me up on its crest, and began rushing me into the unknown.
It was the sound of the phone jangling which woke me up. I stumbled across my shockingly dry room to answer it. Annie Jacobsen; my friend, my mentor, my lighthouse, had been hospitalized in the night. After nine years of wrestling back lymphoma, the cancer had taken hold. A tumour the size of a melon had grown in her belly and she could no longer eat more than ice chips.
“You are an artist,” Annie said every time she saw me. At first I thought she was delusional, how relentlessly she spoke that word about me. A word that was too big for me. A word whose shadow I cowered in. But she said it again and again; on every visit, in every letter, and she managed to find it in every last one of my dreams. She drummed it on my deaf ears until it tunneled through to my heart, which finally broke into a dance of yes.
Annie was fifty-nine when she drank her last afternoon glass of wine. She’d been incoherent with pain for weeks,but joked lucidly that afternoon that with death so close, she could smash her wine glass on the floor if she wanted to. But death is always that close, I discovered, and life is begging to be spilled.
Annie said her cancer grew out of her rage. After 20 years of marriage, raising two luminous children, and a demanding career in social work, her husband left her for another woman. The divorce was the kind of call you hear about in heroic myths, leaving Annie with nothing but her beautiful, breaking open heart.
Under the pain, Annie found a deeper grief for the creative life she’d abandoned. For nine years she was alone. For nine years she had cancer. For nine years she spilled out her enormous gift for writing fiction.
The woman could invent a universe on the rim of a dime. It was not that she made her characters come to life somuch as exposed them in the full swing of living. We, the readers, could see outwards from their eyes, feel outwards from their hearts.
“Time is precious,” Annie warned me, with a laugh like an easy creek. How alluring it is for us women to midwife others’ emotional labours before attending to our own. Like Annie, so many of us invest our emotional wealth into relationships, children and career, leaving nothing for our creative impulses and then wonder why we’re depressed. Like a medicine that becomes a poison, Annie believed the creative life denied was the real cancer.
It hardly matters where I learned it, only that I’d become an expert. Hoarding decades of poetry and music in my closet, taking elaborate diversions from the artist’s path, I jumped at the chance to mediate others’ dreams before following my own. But dreams, if you ignore them, consume you from the inside out.
Annie’s death, like a tidal wave, yanked my anchors from the comfort zone. The very foundation of my beliefs began to quake apart; old things flying out from the center, new things entering there. The city became intolerable to me and, flooding through the portal of my grief, was an urgency to live a truer life.
At first I just took weekend trips into the country. But the more time I spent in wilderness, the less I wanted to return to the city. The dissonance of traffic and fighting was getting louder. All I could hear was the collective moan of survival. I was becoming allergic to the pavement. I was growing appalled by the edges and lines and corners of convenience.
Heedless of how long we’ve neglected it, the soul rushes back in an instant under the stars. One night in the forest, one meal cooked by fire, one naked lake plunging is all takes. How bizarre the city seems then, with its strange values like rhinestones on an imitation-world. How maudlin we then seem, grabbing onto the banks for security, while the sea of plenty flows by.
My nature was growing, poetry started flowing and I just kept going. Armed with a tent and a backpack, I positioned my home differently every night. Down in the soft needles and roots withmy door pointed eastward for the sunrise show, up in a clearing of woodchips to best see the stars through netted skylights, on a grassy bank of wildflowers, I took care not to crush too many violets in my sleep.
Annie’s death was a precipice which fell me deeply in love. Coming into congruence, I felt myself connecting to the whole of everything. I was overcome with knowing that if I was bold with my life, if I risked originality, I would be taken care of.
Two months later, I hitched across the country to the interior of British Columbia. Not knowing where I’d stay or how I’d manage, I followed the simple yearning of my heart to be where the eagles are.
In a week’s time, the crest had rushed me into another dimension. I found myself in an unimaginably beautiful land called the Kootenays, which I instantly knew as home. There I would make art, find love, create community, drink clean water and grow my first garden. There I would make music and praise beauty. There, I would be an artist.
As a child, I stitched together myths of queens and lions to create a heroine who was kind, graceful, fierce and noble. With nothing but my imagination of her, I navigated across the perpetual black towards her. Often she seemed unreal and I turned my back on her a thousand, aching times.
But when I met Annie, the mirage became flesh. I never knew her as anything but brave. In the nine years she did battle with her dragons, she wrote no less than two novels,many exceptional poems, and an exquisite avalanche of short stories. And by doing it, she touched a thousand lives as intimately as my own.
Now that she has returned to the wilderness of spirit and I am left here in the slow rubble of matter, I know Annie’s legacy to me wascourage. With her own life as an example, she called me to become my own lion queen. The single finest gift a person can give, Annie saw the woman I was to become, and held that reflection up for me until I could step into it. In turn, as I learn to stand in my sovereignty, I aspire to grow into a good mirror for my own beloveds
There’s a great scene in Osmosis Jones, a semi-animated flick about the insides of zookeeper Frank Detomello’s (Bill Murray) body, when a serious virus hits “City of Frank.” Instead of going to see a doctor, he pops a flu pill saying, “Sick? I’m not getting sick! I have far too much planned.” Meanwhile, down in the ailing metropolis of Frank, the mayor (without due process) throws the Override Switch.
It’s remarkable how many times in a single day we do the same. If we aren’t ignoring the messages from our bodies, we are behaving oppositely to our feelings, doing what’s expected, staying in the canoe when we’d rather bail, acting kindly when we’re mad as hell, or putting on a happy face to mask the miserable.
Now, at first glance, overriding may not seem problematic.After all, we have to behave in civilized society. We can’t just throw tantrums in the grocery aisles when we feel tired and fed up.But when you consider the cumulative effect of a society of overriders, the results are staggering.
To understand what override looks like at the collective level, consider the sheer volume of people taking antidepressants (prescriptions for SSRIs in Canada increased from 3.2 to 14.5 million between 1981 and 2000), and then wonder why depression is still on the rise.Or ask why such a high number of sexual predators are associated with the religious and moral right. You might even begin to wonder what lives under our tendency to violence in this society.
“To make war is an inability with grief,” says poet and shaman Martín Prechtel, “Shame and depression are an inability with grief. Grief is the source of art. The only source of art. Violence is an inability with grief.”
You can feel how infinitely more relaxing this story is from the one we’re normally taught.As I overheard a mother instructing her distraught toddler in Override 101 the other day, “Superman doesn’t cry!” The creative individual, Prechtel teaches, reaches into his grief and discomforts for poetry. Now while you may not consider yourself an artist, what is life but a sculpture of one’s choices?
Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, talks about override in slightly different terms. He says that most of our difficulties come from resisting the present moment. Resistances are normal, but instead of affirming whatever is coming up, we resist our resistance, placing another “no” on top of the first “no,” telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, we don’t want that pain, we should be more evolved, less emotional, stronger, etc.
The first step to dropping resistance is listening to it.Until we can do that, it will keep coming up and we’ll find ourselves on the Override Loop, “Argh.I hate this situation!But I should be more patient.Argh.I hate this situation!”
Yessing the dilemma does not mean staying in it.But you can only take action to rectify your predicament once you’ve admitted you’re in one.From there, you can begin to drop that which is draining or embittering you and redirect your energy towards that which you love.
“You love what you love more than you love your hate,” Prechtel teaches. “If what you love is the divine, story, culture, children, then instead of blowing a whistle, you’ll strive to keep the seeds alive.”
There is an old parable that says if you meet Buddha on the road, kill him. However cryptic, the teaching warns that if you think you’ve made contact with your ultimate guru, you have great work ahead of you to integrate their qualities into yourself. You must ‘kill’ off your admiration for the teacher outside of yourself by learning to become your own expert.
Dreams, by their very nature, teach us to do this with ever increasing attention. Once we learn a few simple tools for decoding our symbolic language, we gain access to an inexhaustible wealth of inner wisdom. We begin to discover that both teacher and student live simultaneously on our insides, and seeking becomes an enterprise of interiority.
As this consciousness grows, your overall propensity for “othering” diminishes. The more Gestalt work you do, walking in the shoes of your dream characters, the greater your awareness grows for how much of reality is filtered through your projections. As usual, this awareness carries over to waking life. Where once you might have given up your yum to the impressive people around you, now you begin to see those same people as reflections of yourself. As my good friend likes to say, “I’m surrounded by experts…I guess that makes me an expert!”
Carl Jung never wanted there to be a ‘Jung Foundation’ to rehash his prodigious work. If anything, he might have agreed to a research facility which furthered his discoveries. He was himself a pioneer of the underworld who entered there at his private risk and faced numerous harrowing descents from which he almost didn’t return. Eventually, he had to make a painful break from his mentor, Sigmund Freud, when his discoveries became too daring and divergent.
At this current time in history, many people are experiencing what Jung did, which is a disillusionment regarding the merit of spiritual intermediaries. The hierarchical (or “vertical”) model, as exemplified by religious/spiritual institutions, has shown itself time and again to be less than honorable, eroding the trust of follower-minds everywhere. As a result, a growing emphasis is being placed on “self-help.”
Astrologers have predicted this shift as being the effect of our entering the Age of Aquarius. The preceding Piscean period coincided with the rise of Christianity and was a time very much characterized by the vertical model. Aquarius, the water-bearer, constellated a new psychic dominant (or archetype) that put the urnership back into the hands of the individual. We are making a transit from fish-Christ to water-bearer, from saviour to save-your-self
However clumsy at first, (see: Law of Attracting a Wackload of Cash), a more direct relationship to Spirit is being forged, and the implications of this occurring on a global scale are terrific. If we individually turn our admiration inwards, to our dreams and intuitions for guidance, then we will see a collective dismantling of the top-heavy pyramids that function to disempower the people they claim to represent.
It isn’t that the role of teacher has been outphased, but rather that we are all teachers, and there is no end to the learning either. The horizontal model is more like a prayer circle, endless and ever-deepening. Everyone is at eye-level and we each get a turn with the talking stick. Because each of us possesses a golden piece of the great dream, everyone must come alive with sharing. If anyone is left out, we all feel the sadness of that missing.
A society of people who trust their own authority while remaining humble with wonder can bring an otherwise unimaginable dreamality into existence. What is the piece you bring?
“Dear Toko-pa: I dream a beautiful, white horse is stuck in a cleft in a rock face. I and other people around me are sorry for the horse but apparently are doing nothing about it. A youngish man who looks very poor and unkempt, like a street person, rescues the horse by leading it out of its predicament, and everyone is gratified. Of the people standing there it is one of society’s so-called “rejects” that steps forward to save the animal. The stupid horse could have got himself out of trouble if it had simply ducked its head under the overhanging rock and walked forward! I am currently struggling with lack of money, an upcoming change in my job and a potential move, in addition to recent sad deaths and the resulting fallout among family members. Thanks for any insight you can offer – Patty.”
The mission of your dream is to get your horse unstuck and move forward. While the horse itself is intriguing with its storybook beauty, and his rescuer is unexpected, I am most curious about the overhanging rock which is keeping you stuck in the first place.
It is a strange habit of humans to invent stories, but they seem to be how we integrate the events of our lives. By stitching together our experiences into meaningful sequences, we define ourselves and our mythic trajectory in the world. But as we grow and change, so too must our stories evolve. Though the rock has formed from years of compression and accumulation, it is anything but fixed. It is constantly, subtly eroding and taking new forms.
Are you wearing your story, or is it wearing you? Do you often describe things as hard? Use words like Never and Always? Do you expect the worst, even when things are going well? Our tragedy stories tell of the adversity we’ve endured and likely evolved as a way of honouring our hardship, but they also tie us to our victimization.
Even if the old story cramps you and you have to make yourself smaller to accommodate it, it is where you are at, and therefore know it as home. When you demolish that comfort zone, you don’t instantly fit into your larger accommodations. You must grow into them. And the meanwhile is a kind of free-fall.
Our ex-spaces, ex-jobs, ex-lovers and ex-attitudes become like old skins. No wonder we mourn them and, sometimes perversely, keep wearing them. They are like grooves in vinyl which we have spun and spun and which signify milestones on our journeys.
The needle of our consciousness wants to slip into those grooves, (otherwise known as ruts), but the far more difficult task is digging new grooves. But once we do, we can never go back. It is like visiting a childhood place and finding it shrunk. Really, it is us who have grown.
Your horse’s unattainable beauty may be its liability. If it wants to run free, it will have to step out of perfectionism and get a bit dirty. As your catalyst, the homeless man is the embodiment of groundlessness; the part of you that is afraid to lose everything but is no longer content to remain safe either. He is without the anchor of position, unencumbered by responsibility and possesses nothing but the secret of how to lead you out of your stuckness.
More than six thousand years ago on the matriarchal island of Malta, a subterranean temple called The Hypogeum was built to house individual dreamers on vision quests. The Tibetan Buddhists call it Dream Yoga and practice it in preparation for dying consciously. They say that if you get really good at it, you can opt out of the cycle of samsara (karmic rebirth) at the time of your death. It is the ability to become awake within a dream, and know that you are dreaming.
Though lucid dreaming has been practiced for thousands of years, science maintained it wasn’t possible until the 1980s, when psychophysiologist, Dr. Stephen LaBerge, proved to the scientific community that one could be awake and dreaming simultaneously.
When you fall asleep, the brain generates inhibitors that render you physically paralyzed so you won’t ‘act out’ your dreams while sleeping. With the exception of some twitching in the fingers, the eyes are the only body part that still moves while you’re in REM sleep. Knowing this, LaBerge devised a simple but groundbreaking experiment. Wired with electrodes in a sleep lab, the dreamer could perform a set of prearranged eye movements to signal back to the lab technician at the onset of lucidity.
From there, they’ve been able to learn a great number of things. Time, for instance, was measured as elapsing at the same rate while dreaming as waking. Many dreamers have also reported a drop in their frequency of nightmares using creative dream control.
Since dreaming is not constrained by physical limitations or social taboo, anything becomes possible in the lucid state. It can be used for skills rehearsal, creative incubation, spiritual learning and the overcoming of obstacles. Though is also great for lucid sex and acrobatics, if treated too much like a video game, it can become similarly addictive and antisocial. Instead of coming back empty-handed, the creative dreamer learns to bring something of value back to his or her society.
In the shamanic tradition, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit. If someone is physically ill, it is because there is a conflict in their spiritual life. For medicine people, dreaming is not limited to sleeping hours, and can be accessed through the use of sacred plants, drumming and meditation. They enter the dream state consciously in order to retrieve lost or stolen pieces of the ill person’s soul.
Any kind of meditation or yoga practice that heightens your overall awareness will increase to your ability to get lucid. As you begin to wear away at the idea that dreaming is less ‘real’ than waking, your reverence for the practice will deepen. Not only might you get lucid, you may begin to astral travel, receive precognition, have out of body experiences, be taught, initiated, and possibly even given healing solutions for others. The next time something unusual happens, ask yourself, “Am I awake or dreaming?” You might be surprised to find the answer is both.