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.
There’s nothing more intimate, fulfilling or magical than ‘touching souls’ with another being. Most people walk around for years without ever receiving a proper ‘Hello.’ What I mean by that, is that most of us have been taught from the earliest age to suppress and discount the tenderest, most creative part of ourselves. And while it is certainly possible to survive in this way, underneath the daily armour is an unabating hunger to be seen.
With few examples in our midst of powerful & skilled dreamers, some people spend a lifetime thinking that they just don’t dream, or that ‘remembering’ is a ability that doesn’t come naturally to them. In my experience, it takes very little to get your dreams flowing again.The starting point must be that your dreams are of value. From there, it is just a few simple steps and, in a week or two of practice, you will have nurtured a lifelong relationship with your vast inner knowing and creativity:
1. Before going to bed, set the intention to remember your dreams. You may want to re-read some of your previous dreams to strengthen the waking/dreaming bridge, or meditate on a question you’d like answered.
2. How you wake up is fundamental. Avoid using an alarm clock. Train your body to wake you up instead – you’ll be amazed by how accurate the body clock can be.
3. Keep your eyes closed and remain in your waking position. The dream can easily be dislodged, (especially by your to-do list), so stay present with the dream, as if carrying a fragile creature across a rickety bridge.
4. If you remember just a fragment, try not to judge or interpret it. Just hold that fragment, (be it a scene, image, character or feeling), and “rehearse” it in your mind several times until it feels solid.
5. Keep a blank journal by your bed and write down everything you remember. Dreams are like lovers; they’ll blossom if you pay attention to them and abscond if you ignore or invalidate them.
6. Be playful & persistent. Find enjoyable ways to explore your dreams in greater depth. Share them with a friend, start a dream group, paint your symbols or Google them on a quiet morning. Stay tuned for further clues in waking life.
Dreaming is Nature growing us, by way of images and story. While we are asleep, complex symbols are narrated together in a sophisticated unfolding of our ‘private myths.’ But every morning, we have to overcome resistance to what reads like ‘nonsense.’
This is because we live in a rationalistic age which has willfully forgotten our mother tongue, the language of symbols. It is a ruthless voice which calls dreams superstition and, like nature itself, Dreamwork is in fast danger of becoming extinct.
Those warriors who penetrate the dismissal to learn reverence for their dreams, who teach dreaming to their children, are rewarded by astonishment and a sense of responsibility.
You dream of an owl and the next morning one swoops by your windshield. You are feeling grateful for a friend’s support when the song, “You’ve got a friend” comes on the radio. You finally quit an unhappy job and are offered a great opportunity the same afternoon.
Not only are spirit and matter connected but they are, as Carl Jung puts it, “two different aspects of one and the same thing.”
All of us have experienced synchronicity, (especially frequent among active dreamers,) and while we may not agree on why these ‘waking dreams’ occur, we unanimously feel our ‘clock and calendar constructs’ collapsing, and are saturated with a sense of meaningfulness.
As many aboriginal cultures view it, time is more circular in pattern, not like the Western linear comprehension of time, (past-present-future), but flexible to the individual at the centre of that`time-circle.’ This is why we can heal our past as if it hasn’t happened yet. It is also why, with enough faith, we can dream things into being.
In a giant leap of faith, my partner and I pulled up our roots in search of a new home. It is our dream to live in a thriving and activated community that is in alignment with our own values. We never expected that our journey would be as long as it has been, filled with phenomenal support and equally phenomenal roadblocks.
After three months of not-knowing and the constant changing of accommodations, we were exhausted. I asked my friend, an Intuitive, for some advice and she laughed and said, “Do not lose the faith. Sometimes we are being tested. Give thanks.”
The next day, packing up our things to move one more time, I found this stone in the bottom of our food basket.
Feeling uprooted and skeptical by the length of our search, I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a synchronicity. Still, I kept the mysterious stone in a prominent place while we made yet another transition.
Two days after arriving at our next location, my partner and I went exploring down a path into a nearby forest. A few minutes later, we came upon a magical gate surrounded by trees. The sign on the gate said “Public Sculpture Garden,” so without hesitation we went in, only to find the very first installation was a giant boulder, suspended invisibly from a tall cedar branch. It was quite a sight, all that weight strangely suspended like that. I crouched down to read the name card…”Faith.”
The next installation, just in case I needed some contrast, was “Lack of Faith.”
With my synchronicity now in triplicate, I became convinced. Though I am still suspended in the land not-knowing, now I draw upon these healing images and remember that I am in a conversation with the Dreamtime. It reminds me in beautiful and unexpected ways to keep the faith, which is to say, remain unswervingly loyal to my intentions.
Like blood to veins, our (waking and sleeping) dreams give our lives the substance they need to feel vital. When synchronicity strikes, our lives seem not random and chaotic, but purposeful. We are given a brief, rapturous glimpse into an awareness that everything is connected and the Source is at the center of each of us waiting to be tapped.
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