It’s a powerful and complex image and as one of the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water it has had significance in religion, science, and alchemy.
As a dream symbol it can represent ones passion and energy– energy at high speed. It can represent anger, desire, resentment, and destruction that has the potential to radically alter all points-of-view. It is the herald of change or a flame of hope and purification.
When your house is burning within the dream it might suggest that some transformation is taking place within you that will alter the very structure of your inner being. This is the power of fire i.e. to transform reality.
It can be symbolic of the blacksmith’s forge, creating and tempering for endurance and strength.
It is a symbol for cleansing and for the spirit within us. It’s flames can bring with them renewal and inspiration. It is also the light at your center and of your soul and that which transmutes matter into energy.
Like its elemental opposite, water, fire can be a representative of your emotional state and temperament while a wall of fire can be a circumstance or personal behavior that impedes your forward movement or the attainment of your goals.
Astrologically a fire personality can be found within Leo, Aries and Sagittarius all rather intense and fiery i.e. the ‘wild children” of the zodiac. In the Tarot it shows up in the suit of Wands (see right) and symbolizes conversion or passion positive or negative, refining or destroying, new beginnings or opposition, progress or oppression.
In some religions fire can be about regeneration, resurrection, and renewal as with the Phoenix bird that goes up in flames only to be reborn again and again.
At one level this article may look like a political statement, but it is not in that vein that I present it. All social animals e.g. Wolves, Apes, bees, ants, porpoise, human beings, etc. have some kind of cohesive principle, some kind of leadership, or coordinating system. In large social systems anarchy just doesn’t work. Scientists have even found this principle at the molecular level–most of us would not be able to survive for very long if our internal systems didn’t have a coordinating system and/or if the system were to become polarized and its parts weren’t willing to cooperate with each other.
From the very beginning of recorded western thought philosophers like Heraclitus and Hippocrates believed that there was “one common flow, a common breathing. Everything is in sympathy. The whole organism and each one of its parts are working together for the same purpose.” The Roman scholar, Agrippa spoke of an essence beyond the four known in his day as water, earth, air and fire and that it held existence together. He called it the World Soul. A more modern thinker, Carl Jung, called it the Anima Mundi. It was the glue that kept existence together, the balancing effect that kept everything on an even keel and in balance.
In The Archipelago of DreamsRobert discovers that the balance that keeps the world functioning has been dangerously tipped and that he has been conscripted to help in bringing the world back to equilibrium. But his own fears and the fears of others muster powerful physical and psychological forces to prevent him in achieving his mission. These same forces are acting on all of us on a daily basis and at an intensity that endangers the fabric of human life.
I’ve said this before; fear affects decision-making, what I haven’t said is that it kills as well. It not only kills innovation, but the body also. When there is a threat to the body the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA) kicks in and all systems are diverted from growth and development to reaction defense mode–fight or flight. Adrenalin pours into the system and mobilizes the body for action. The immune system is repressed because right now the external world poses a greater threat than the inner and the forebrain, the center for reasoning and logic, is slowed–no time for thinking, gotta act. Vascular flow is limited to the limbs, for running or fighting and conscious volitional action is curtailed, better to let the instincts take over.
Now under normal circumstances this state of affairs only lasts for a few minutes at best, just enough to survive an attack. And thank goodness, because the body begins to deteriorate after awhile when on high alert. The HPA is an excellent system for responding to immediate threat, but it was not designed to be activated continuously. Hyper vigilance eventually dissociates the body from the mind and the community from its leadership.
This kind of hyper-vigilance eventually wreaks havoc on the health of the body. When the immune system is suppressed all kinds of viral and bacterial bad guys can attack and take over–while focusing too much on external safety a fifth column of micro-nasties compromise your health. When the body is reflecting on the external too much it neglects the internal and is thrown precariously off balance.
In our society fear, or its smaller cousin, anxiety, has at some level become de rigor, the emotion trend du jour and we find ourselves constantly on alert. Since 9/11 we have entered a continuous state of protection and our quality of life has become impaired. A constant background state of fear (exploited politically) keeps the HPA system activated and our lives become more reactionary than thoughtful–you can’t think straight when emotionally involved. After a while the body habituates and it sees fear, or something to fear, everywhere. One of the first things to happen under these conditions is that we lose tolerance for anything that is different, because “different” often translates to something threatening.
Lack of tolerance leads to an impaired ability to cooperate for it might be ‘every man for himself.’ We see this intolerance and lack of cooperation in many social contexts, but most notably within our political systems that really only reflect ourselves. In an environment of fear reactionary opinion trumps reality and the rational takes a back seat to self-protective beliefs–clear thinking becomes a victim and the society begins to dissociate which is a fancy psychologists word for separating from one another–to disunite. Nothing can be more debilitating for a community whether it be a community of biological cells, animals, insects, a business corporation, or people in general.
Continuous fear consumes our energy toward getting our needs met as well. We seem to live in a constant state of being out of control of our destiny and as we throw up more walls and fences to keep out what threatens us we begin to lose independence, autonomy and ultimately our ability to enact free will. On an individual level we become sick and vulnerable to diseases or just a lack of focused attention that can affect us creatively. On a national level we see our ability to innovatively compete globally impaired, and on a global level the reaction to our inability to get our needs met can be seen in the Arab Spring, and the protests in Greece, Russia and the United States. The “Year of the Protest” may very well be a correction toward the extremes perpetrated by those in power. Would that these powers could see that it is in their best interest as well to let this correction take its course. In the short run things may look scary, but healing isn’t always pretty–sometimes you have to scrape the scab to let what is underneath it “breathe.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the last great attack against our country that, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” Truer words have never been spoken, fear can kill us–it can destroy the genius of the country and sicken its society. The very essence of the World Soul is in jeopardy because it has become every man for himself as we belittle the efforts of our leaders and refuse to listen to each other. The scale that keeps the world in equilibrium is way off center. It is imperative that we rediscover our balance–a center of being from which we can manifest our broader, deeper, truer nature!
In the Archipelago of Dreams Robert learns what needs to be healed in order to bring humanity into equilibrium and in the process learns how to heal himself as well.
Shōrin-zu byōbu — left side of a diptych by Hasgawa Tohaku who used negative space to define the image.
Not too long ago I ran across a phrase that so accurately represented my experience of the dream world that I had the feeling of having been lost yet finally coming home to myself. This was especially true as it related to all those times when I’ve awakened to find only a whisper, or trace, of having had a dream but otherwise lost in a strange emptiness that try as I would couldn’t be filled.
The phrase is the “presence of absence”.
As soon as I read it images of blank sheets of paper, the negative spaces of an artist’s canvas, and that wisp of and rapidly fading memory of a world lost upon awakening and how each defined and gave form to the reality present and the reality to be. To me the dream and the blank spaces that give presence by their absence are where the ineffable soul meets us in the bounded world of the material and where what can’t be described describes what is, was, and is yet to be.
I am always excited by the blank sheet of paper, or blank document of the word processor for in these is present the beauty of the infinite potential of the soul’s creativity. I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I begin to write– each filled blankness being a journey never taken before.
The artist’s use of what is not there to hint at what is has always fascinated me and helped me to realize that often reality is defined more by the abstract and the potential than the concrete and fixed.
I also feel the experience of something that becomes more present by its absence every time I am stirred by some event or object to recall a close friend or loved one. In some ways they have become closer through their not being than they were when they were here e.g. I am more frequently reminded of them as I travel about in the haunts of our shared past.
As I looked at the phrase again a memory of a moment in time when I was wandering with friends along a forest trail, my mind becalmed, my body luxuriating in the undefined sounds and smells of the world about me when something quite remarkable occurred. At one moment I was a ‘Being’ walking amongst the other Beings of the forest and in the very next second a new presence consumed me, separation disappeared, everything dissolved, and then folded into one. I was gripped by an ineffable joy that filled me with the never before experience of being the whole of creation. At that moment I knew that somehow I had touched the face of God. No object was he or I for that matter, but its presence became very real in the absence of me.
The presence of absence has often been a defining experience for me and has opened doors into all new manner of realities.
Some of my dreams express my own intolerances, points-of-view, and how resistant I can be sometimes to those points-of-view that don’t agree with mine.
First a few definitions might be in order before we dive into the factors that may be energizing the world’s current unrest.
examination of one’s own actions and motives, self-contemplation, self examination, self-questioning, self-reflection, soul searching.
unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own. “a struggle against religious intolerance” Bigotry, narrow-mindedness, prejudice, bias, partiality, inequality, partisan
adherence to the explicit substance of an idea or expression. Adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation: as in biblical or religious literalism.
Intolerance leads to contraction (vs. growth), insularity (vs. openness), imbalance (unbalanced point-of-view, unbalanced behavior, psychological disturbance) and death. Basically, the soul embraces diversity and the ego does not.
Literalism can cause intolerance and intolerance can sustain literalism and that cuts off any further development and over time leads to a diversion from reality. When this diversion becomes too severe it becomes a psychosis, defined loosely as an “abnormal condition of the soul” characterized by a loss of contact with reality and exhibiting thought disorder. Some who show psychotic behavior exhibit an extraordinary belief in something that just isn’t true, that the facts will not support e.g. women are weak, men are strong therefor men must control and protect women for their own good.
What usually keeps a false belief (or bias) in place is that the mind that has it has been conditioned to not explore the truth or inner motivations and causations behind the belief. Literalism, again, trumps inner or outer questioning and the false belief remains entrenched. Anyone who begins to question thus becomes a danger to the prevailing dogma and has to be either brought back into the system or expunged from it. Many extremists and militants can be said to exhibit delusional qualities even though they themselves can’t recognize it.
So who’s reality are we talking about? Is the mystic psychotic? Is the fundamentalist psychotic? Is the zealot psychotic? How delusional does one have to be to qualify and when does the imbalance become a danger to themselves and/or others? Usually one needs to exhibit the symptoms over an extended period of time and to a great degree. When the delusions take on paranoid qualities and the person begins to act on or against them they can be injurious to others as well as themselves.
Some people experience momentary breaks with material reality when going through an epiphany or have been under prolonged stress or deprivation while some show only mild forms of delusion due to environmental and cultural influences. These don’t usually trigger the diagnosis of psychosis.
Some of the symptoms of psychoses, especially that of delusions, seem to reflect in those having a mystical experience. However, these are temporary. There’s a shift in awareness that persists over time but the disconnect from reality that the psychotic experiences is only temporary in the mystic. The mystic learns to work with the reality of the everyday through the shifted point-of-view whereas a person with psychosis becomes broadly, if not permanently if no intervention is available, delusional and unable to reliably work with reality in a balanced way.
Also under the right circumstances the psychosis of a few can generate a contagious reaction amongst the many and is usually reinforced and maintained through external psychological and socio-cultural influences e.g. religious interpretation, regional cultural beliefs.
As I’ve suggested before reality is an expression of our level of consciousness, what we see is a reflection of our inner development or lack thereof i.e. if you only perceive variations of negative, guess where that’s coming from? And until we come to grips with that realization reality will run us ragged with fears and hatreds and resentments and harden our hearts and minds.
Essentially reality will support our level of development e.g. if we are prejudiced, intolerant, fearful and exclusive, the universe, aka reality, will present us with all kinds of experiences along these lines. In other words, if we say “fuck you” to the world the world will return it in kind– put out negative energy and that’s what you’ll get in return– often the energy is not out there it is within yourself. Without self-examination one is doomed to frequent failure (not total failure because even a broken clock is right twice a day).
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates’ statement here might be a little over the top. But he was suggesting that each of us in order to be fully human need to be self-examining otherwise we don’t rise above the level of the animals. I wouldn’t suggest that those who don’t internally question life shouldn’t continue to live or aren’t worth as much as might be implied by such a statement as Socrates’.
But life becomes so much richer and so much less fearful when one examines life while they’re living it. Being free to question life liberates the soul and keeps people balanced while an unexamined and unquestioned life restricts a person’s soul and creates imbalance. As I said at the beginning of this post, “The soul embraces diversity the ego does not.“ Another way of saying that is what rejects diversity is not of the soul, not of the divine that is boundless, but of the small bound-up “skin encapsulated ego” *.
* A phrase attributed to Alan Watts (theologian and philosopher– 1915 to 1973, though some might say he was an Eastern Mystic in an Englishman’s body). I am suggesting that this socially conditioned “skin encapsulated ego” is the ultimate definition of separateness e.g. what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me’ and is therefor the foundation for all exclusion, prejudice, intolerance, fear and bigotry.
As most of you know I tend to not take sides on issues but recent events I believe require some kind of response.
Only a few months ago certain members of the GOP presidential candidates made some of the most intolerable statements that have made it clear to me how dangerous and unqualified they are to lead a great land of great people.
Bigotry is like a dark cloud cloaking the land and seeping into every crack in our national being. It is the very real manifestation of the damage unchecked fear can cause.
By definition this word breaks as the following:
1.Narrow or weak-mindedness, bias, discrimination.
3.stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
Weak mindedness and narrow thinking suggests an inability to make rational observations and decisions. Lazy minds create ignorance and bigotry as does fear and radicalized belief systems. When Donald Trump says in effect, “shut out all Muslims” he is of course acting like a bigot and a bully but he is also reflecting a very strong undercurrent of bigotry and narrow thinking in certain segments of white America.
When GOP candidate Donald Trump makes his prejudiced remarks about other people, races, women, or religions he’s showing evidence of some very serious Cognitive distortions:
Absolutism: an All or nothing thinking process. Most things in this world are gray.
Overgeneralization and labeling: leaves no room for reality
Mental filtering: Focusing only on one aspect of a multi-aspect reality.
Jumping to conclusions: usually based on no evidence other than feeling or prejudice.
Magnification: Exaggeration and focusing only on worst outcome scenarios.
He is also doing extreme violence to everything America says it stands for. He is making us look like hypocrites and eroding our standing as the world’s most effective and open Democracy. We who disagree with his way of being must be wiling to show the world in the most positive way that he and his kind do not alone represent who we are.
We are heartfelt people who are not gun wielding cowboys who shoot from the hip and shoot off our mouths without thinking and even though we defend his right to shoot his mouth off we are not in support of either his words or his way of thinking. We are more than that. We are bigger than that. We need to stand up to bullies and stand up for those who are being bullied. Enough is enough!
As human beings we are so much more than what this segment of any society represents. But to make this an everyday reality we each need to stand up for this better way of being.
Demographically I am white America and I am of an older generation, I served my country as a Marine in Vietnam and until five years ago was a registered Republican and I won’t tolerate the extremism of a Donald Trump and his supporters. I am more than that.
Fundamentally my country is an inclusive country, my country is a tolerant country, my country is a loving country and I intend to stand up to any of the world’s bullies whether they be home grown or from foreign lands.
I awoke one morning not too long ago to an off screen gunman shooting an automatic weapon causing all the people in the dream to drop to their bloody deaths. What kind of dream is this? I thought and then saw it as an allegory for the troubled world.
One needs only look around to see that the world is becoming more and more polarized and intolerant even when it’s abundantly clear that the intolerance doesn’t provide any greater safety, if anything it creates even less.
I spent the good part of an hour digging up what others had to say about the plague of intolerance and present a few of my favorite ideas here.
For Rumi, the 13th century poet intolerance is the absence of love and one cannot truly experience love unless he gives it to others.
I think that intolerance is also a form of bullying, it’s exclusionary and selects people out to be “less than” for no other reason than they are different or think and believe differently. It may have been part of a survival strategy when we were all running around in animal skins and huddled together in dark caves throwing stones and sharpened sticks at anything that was not of the family, or not of the tribe, but in the modern world where we all literally depend on one another in order to shelter and feed ourselves it’s archaic and self-defeating.
We cannot hide in the relative safety of the clan anymore in that it’s no longer a viable survival strategy. We truly need each other now and to ban something or someone merely because they’re different or have different ideas or beliefs is stone-age thinking.
One cannot hide from what is scary either by ignoring it or by trying to kill it. Ultimately we have to learn to live with our fears. We can’t kill everything that isn’t us– eventually we will turn the gun on ourselves. It’s a very simple rule that to live by the gun is to die by the gun and that violence only begets more violence. Look for yourself, is that not so?
All of it is of the ego and as such does not know love– it knows hate and fear, self-interest, and exclusion but shakes at the thought of love and inclusion for to love is to be vulnerable, something that ego fears a lot. The secret to cleansing the world of intolerance is to listen to each other, to be open to each other and to not shun and bully because of differences. We need to pay greater attention to potential ‘blendings’ instead of ‘scatterings’ in order to hear each other.
When we don’t listen it shuns the other’s point-of-view and frightens the mind into some kind of defensive posture and when consumed by fear human beings will do great horrors to each other, horrors that only drives the mind to even greater fears.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
We live our lives as separate and divided and through fear of the “other” we have dimmed the light of our true being and forced ourselves to only see the differences in us instead of our common core. If we could only learn to work as hard on dealing with our own shadows as much as we try to rid the world of the shadows of others, perhaps then we could see this core more brightly.
“There is a path from me to you that I am constantly looking for, so I try to keep clear and still as water does with the moon.
This moment this love comes to rest in me, many beings in one being.
In one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks. Inside the needles eye, a turning night of stars.”
For those of you who crave returning to the past i.e. the way it was, get over it!
I’ll tell you a secret: It never was the way it was!
Life, time moves in one direction only and while living it only exists in the present. The past only exists in memory and that has been polluted with all your projections, feelings, judgments, biases, wishes, desires, beliefs, personality traits and socio-cultural constraints. The future hasn’t happened yet and is colored by the same attributes that color the past. What you’re left with is the here and now.
Life flows. Life keeps coming at us with all its chaotic variety. Get out of the way and flow with it, act not as a barrier by “damning” the flow i.e. to judge it an improper flow. Help it to flow. Life requires evolution, we are either evolving or we are dead, devolution or standing still are often just other words for death.
Take from the past what works, but only if it continues to work. To dam up the process with what no longer works only because you liked it better when it did causes turbulence until the waters break free and cascade jubilantly, chaotically once again down stream. Be nostalgic, the soul loves the good in what was, also learn from it so as to better the present, but in the end … let it go!
Be like Thoreau and walk into the forest every day as though you’ve never been there before and let life pour into you newly. Live in the world but don’t forget your companion. Let the emptiness in your heart stir in you an old friend who was with you before you came, is with you now, and will go with you when you leave. Awaken to who you really are, not who you’re afraid you are, or wish you were but who you really are. Let go of all those branches and debris that collects along the shores of the river’s flow and venture out into the unknown. There’s where true freedom lies.
In one of my videos* I used a mirror as a prop and symbol for the unconscious mind.
In myth Narcissus loved his reflection so much that he lost his will to live and admired himself to death. In our dreams mirrors can represent vanity, self-consciousness, a reflection of our self-image, an entry into the soul, or the need to reflect on our lives.
Whether in our waking world or in our dreams mirrors have always been seen as mystical, magical, metaphors for what lies within us.
For thousands of years mirrors and reflective surfaces have been used for divination and magic. They have been used for Scrying, developing clairvoyance, to repel evil, and in fact, mirrors have an ancient tradition of being associated with superstition, fear and evil.
1) Prior to the thirteenth century and as far back as the 3rd century BCE, mirrors were predominantly polished pieces of metal e.g. gold, silver and brass. These pretty much disappeared when the Christian church banned them during the middle ages because it was thought that the devil was watching from the other side of the mirror. This idea was probably reinforced because witches were said to use them for all kinds of dark spell casting. Glass mirrors showed up again in Venice in the 1200s.
2) Those ancient black Scrying (from descry–to see or perceive) mirrors used for divination by witches and sorcerers were once made black by using asphaltum painted on the glass three times. These were used for foretelling the future, or being able to “see” what is happening from distances, but is this real?
I imagine the staring at crystal balls, or Scrying mirrors to be similar to a focused meditation. Try closing your eyes in a meditation and focus on an individual, place, or event and “see” what you get.
Some studies have suggested the possibility that at least some individuals can see from distances beyond the physical abilities of the natural eye. Though these studies are not conclusive, they do provide tantalizing evidence for the technique of “remote viewing.”
Dreams too are like projections onto a darkened mirror some of which defy an explanation of anything other than what might be called precognition, or a shared viewing with someone else.
In short, meditation can often quiet the chattering mind just enough for us to see what the unconscious has picked up, but the conscious was too busy to notice. Thus too the Scrying mirror may act as a focusing instrument to still the mind and lay open the secrets of the inner psyche.
3) Today some tribal societies believe that to expose your self to a mirror is to render the soul vulnerable to misfortune, or even death. There used to be a widespread custom, and in some areas there still is, to remove all the mirrors from the house when a person is sick so as to prevent the mirror from stealing their soul.
When someone has died there was a tradition of turning the mirrors to face the wall because to see your reflection in a mirror after someone’s death will cause that person’s death as well. There was also a legend in the southern United States that suggested that an uncovered mirror in the house of a person who had just died would capture the soul of that person.
4) In the case of necromancy (communication with the deceased), the mirror represents absorption of the soul and then reflection, or its return, Could this reflect the concept of death and resurrection?
5) There is a myth concerning years of ill fortune surrounding the breaking of a mirror, but did you know that there is also a superstition that says if a mirror falls on its own accord and breaks, it is also a death omen? On the other hand a girl who sees the reflection of the moon in a mirror will learn the date of her wedding (given that women generally determine the day and then tell the man when it’s to be, this is no surprise).
6) There is also an old superstition that if you were to stare into the reflection of yourself at night, one would see the devil. Though I don’t believe this, I also have an aversion to staring at my reflection in a darkened room for too long–something creepy always seems to hover close by.
7) However, I have heard it said and have tried this myself, that if you are feeling blue, or anxious with no one around to talk to, try staring into your eyes reflected in a mirror. After awhile the negative mood will disappear.
8) Some Buddhists believe that if you hang a mirror on the wall directly facing the front door, evil spirits will be reflected out of the house.
9) In Tarot reading the Mirror Spread is used to work with existing relationships, e.g. the cards are placed with the 1st, or querent card, placed at the top and then 3 cards in descending order to the left of it and 3 cards in descending order to the right and the result card placed at the bottom between these two rows. In this way the reader and querent can see the relationships in opposition i.e. The way you see the other person in the relationship; The way they see themselves; What the person represents to you; What you represent to them; Obstacles within the relationship; Strengths within the relationship.
I spell all this out because I think this isn’t a bad way of looking at relationship symbols in a dream, or in a person’s waking life as well.
10) In Corinthians 13:12 is the line, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Which some have taken to mean that to see something reflected in a mirror is less of the reality of that thing than to gaze upon it directly. This can happen when one looks back upon their childhood, or try to see what the child saw of the world, or to assign meaning to past events, or to look at God’s works through ones biases. To look through a window, or gaze at a mirror that has been darkened by your judgments and self-criticisms makes it difficult to see your true nature or what lies beyond your projected biases. This also reminds me of the saying involving “rose colored glasses.” To look through either does not give a true picture of the world.
As Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet was purported to have said,
“Maybe you should glimpse your most beautiful face…Maybe you are the bearer of hidden treasure. Maybe you always have been.”
*See facebook.com/darcharithinn and click on the Video section then click on the 4th video on the top row. This is “Beginning Shadow Work #6”.