Why do I draw a distinction between the unconscious and the conscious self?
The short answer is because it’s a convenient way to talk about them. Actually all is consciousness. The unconscious is just the unaware part of the conscious mind i.e. the conscious is unconscious of the unconscious. Get it?
We perceive a lot of things during the day, but we are not necessarily aware of them. Some of this unconscious material affects the meaning we consciously give to the things that we perceive e.g., for someone who lives in Montana, or in the middle of Europe or in Russia the word “Palm” elicits a different meaning than it might for someone living in Hawaii, the Philippines, or California. This is because the word has been biased through ones experience.
In reality our past perceptions of our experiences and the decisions we’ve made about those experiences bias everything that we see in the present and often into the future. It’s a bias, or a conditioning, that has served humankind well over the millennia where we had to learn a set of responses to a set of experiences in such a way that it made our survival more likely.
But conditioned responses have a down-side because they remove us from the events of the moment. This might be good if we find ourselves in an emergency where we need to act quickly, but in any event where we need to act more thoughtfully it can have disastrous effects. This is especially true if we come to depend on a set of conditioned responses without thinking before reacting.
Old material stored in the unconscious can be stimulated if the conditions are right and then used as a means of responding to new situations. Sometimes this is appropriate, but much of the time it is not especially in the modern world where the response patterns required are significantly different than those needed by the cave man.
Ever notice how some things just seem to happen to you, over and over again i.e., choosing the wrong mate (girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife), or you make the same kind of bad decision over and over again, or negative things just seem to happen to you more frequently than to others? Why are you stuck in a dead-end job, you’re just as smart and talented as the next fellow? It may be because of conditioned and unconscious material buried in the unconscious mind.
This is why some folks go to therapy, or counselors, or special self-development seminars and workshops–to find out what is tripping them up. Others seek answers through meditation or their dreams. Dreams tap into the unconscious on a regular basis and provide a means to make the material conscious again. But the unconscious mind functions differently and not as rationally and more chaotically than the arguably more ordered and linear conscious mind so it takes a bit of work to decipher the meaning of its images.
My wife and I have spent many a happy moment with William Shakespeare at the Ashland Shakespearean Festival in Oregon, something we have been doing for over 35 years now. As always I was drawn into to his wild and fanciful stories and coming back into my own reality only when the actors bid ado and exited the stage. Where I go when they begin, I do not know for it seems as though I’m always there even though the “there” seems to be somewhere else– a secret dream-like place.
I’ve also found that there’s a secret place deep inside each of us that speaks in images, not words, and in sounds that aren’t really heard. It is a knowing unlearned from the pages of a book or the ministrations of a teacher that never gets old for it is always discovered anew. It is a mystery place, an inner school, and library of wisdom.
Some mistakenly imagine it to be a result of past experience interacting with present events, but look closely and you will see that this is not so. For this mysterious part of our self speaks from more than just the debris of our past or the confusing chaos’s of our present or some previously scripted story from some offstage deity. This is the almost soundless voice of our true-self whispering its guidance while we sleep– asleep as we walk through our days, asleep as we lay our heads upon our beds.
We are “Sleepers” you and I and for a brief moment in time we disappear into the mystery story that we call life. We become transfixed with the images conjured through its living text and forget it is but a story.
And oh what a story! We create fantastical tales full of intrigue, emotion, and plot twists with multiple beginnings and ends that we’ve stitched into a Dream Book of ideas that arc towards a promised resolution and an ending that never really materializes. We ache with the main character as they rush headlong into the plot searching for the promised grail– the answers that will bring them to the stories’ monumental and mind-expanding conclusion.
I’ve had a number of people ask what the real purpose of dreams are and one even suggested that they were only artifacts of a brain-clearing process and of no value at all. It was this last reader who comes the closest in naming the dream process though he should lose the “no value” component.
Research has shown that dreaming is the brain’s way of dumping all the stored data of the day, all the tens of thousands of input that we don’t even notice consciously, but that the subconscious picks up on, and then sorts through this material for what’s important for the conscious mind to retain and what’s not. Then it takes the saved material and stores it into the long-term memory files to be accessed when necessary. What’s left just degrades. Pretty simple, huh? So what’s all this ‘meaning’ mumbo jumbo that dream analysts apply to this data processing system?
Firstly, and I think most importantly, one might ask what is the filter through which the material is screened, what decides what is saved and what is dumped? Certainly it’s not the conscious mind, the part of the mind that most of us are aware of, the part that we identify as being ourselves. Something, then, is making the decision for me and where’s the free will in that?
And if this is the data that I then depend on to help inform my actions, shouldn’t I have some idea of its veracity? If there’s something unconscious that’s determining the material I will use to live my life, I certainly want to know where it comes from and I’d also like to have some say on what gets in there. I mean, I have a choice as to what media I listen to in my waking life e.g. my neighbor, my church, the local paper, the National Enquirer, radio talk show hosts, TV news, or internet media. Why do I abdicate that choice to some unseen force in the unconscious part of the psyche? I want to decide what’s of value to my life.
This process of sifting through our experiences is happening when we are awake as well and informs us with data that is categorized as being similar in nature to whatever it is we are experiencing in the here and now. Which is why we can take an instant dislike to someone, or some place when we haven’t had the time to consciously assess them.
Remembering your dreams and then discerning their meaning, or consciously assessing something, or someone, in real time, brings some of that choice back to you.
Secondly, the unseen force to which I allude to above is often a product of all the scary, messy, distasteful and unwanted aspects of ourselves, or in our experience, that we have actively stuffed away so as to not have to deal with them. Also, hidden in there are the unconscious beliefs that our families placed in us, and those hurts and fears as perceived by the child and the decisions about life that that child made about those experiences. And beneath all that is a collection of human archetypes built into the DNA that have been developed over eons of evolution and designed as part of an instinctual response system to threat, only the threats are much more complex and subtle today than merely running from a saber-toothed tiger.
This is the system that filters your experience and provides the foundation for all your decisions and all of your responses and thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Of course if you were living in caves in the wild you may not need anything more than your built-in instincts to survive, but most of us now live in much more complex environments, but are still dependent on a system developed for living in something simpler and more straight forward e.g. throw a rock, or spear, or run like hell (though some would say that’s a pretty good skill-set for the streets of New York, or Los Angeles). Not that these instinctual responses aren’t still helpful at times, but they aren’t helpful in determining who to vote for, or how to deal with an idiot boss, or how to respond to an angry neighbor, or what kind of car is a responsible purchase environmentally, etc.
We can continue to let sleeping dogs lay and just ignore this arbiter of our lives, or we can take the revolutionary, and perhaps evolutionary, step of taking back full control of our lives. We can only do this when we know what it is that is making the decisions for us and what those decisions are. The access to that information lays in the unconscious mind, what some researchers have suggested makes up to 70% of who we are and the door to that hidden place is through the dream (there are other doors such as meditation, but I don’t want to get into that now).
However, even this 70% figure is challenged by Dr. Wayne Dyer who suggests that the unconscious may very well comprise up to 97% of who we are. That definitely suggests that we are mostly unconscious i.e. asleep. This suggests that the unconscious mind is the director of our lives. How do we get free of that? Perhaps the answer to that lies in our acknowledging things as they really are.
Lastly, all that data that’s being dumped is interesting and may hold many of the answers I’ve been searching for in my life. It is precisely this data that the artist, the poet, the writer, the inventor, the musician, the scientist, and the intuitive CEO tap into as they create. How much has been lost because we have not paid attention? I, for one, intend to pay attention.
As many of you know I have written a great deal on the need for balance within us and within our societies. Many psychologists and philosophers also subscribe to the idea that we are all developing psychosocially toward wholeness i.e. to be a fully individuated human being one needs to deal with their inner and outer opposites by learning to integrate them. For those individuals and those societies who ignore or actively suppress part of themselves an imbalance occurs that affects negatively all relationships and retards the growth process.
There are probably an infinite number of aspects reflected in the human personality but I’m choosing to focus on what I see is probably the most destructive to the concept of wholeness, not only to the individual, but to all societies as well.
Each of us was born with dual gender personality aspects. In each of us is a feminine and masculine set of traits that affect virtually everything we do, think, and feel or at the least how we express our doing-ness, thoughts, and feelings. Simply put, these are the feminine and masculine traits.
For example, a feminine trait might be intuitiveness, compassion, accepting, sharing, surrendering, and patient. The masculine traits might include assertiveness, decisiveness, strength, powerful, forceful, focused, and independent.
A male or society that has denied to any degree the feminine aspect tends to be oppressive, overpowering, aggressive, un-nurturing, loses touch with their emotions, uncompassionate, and concrete in thought. The female or society that ignores its masculine nature tends to compromise their integrity, independence, self-confidence, focus, and freedom.
Of course, all of us with varying degrees share these traits, it’s only when a person or society allows one or the other trait to dominate its cultural, or political, or personal ethic and activity that an imbalance is created and out of that imbalance certain levels of dysfunctionality begin to grow.
Over time many cultural traditions have denied full and equal spiritual and social equality to females. And these oppressions aren’t restricted to females either, because most societies also define what it is to be male and that definition almost always excludes the feminine aspects as the feminine definition usually excludes the male. Most of these differentiations and definitions have not only been codified in religions but in local and national politics and legal systems as well.
Essentially by separating the masculine from the feminine not only have we fragmented and compromised our ability to positively impact our relationships and society, we have also severely limited our ability to live life to its fullest.
By separating themselves from the positive feminine1 males have handicapped themselves emotionally, spiritually, and politically. Females who don’t claim their positive masculine traits contribute to their oppression as well. It is one thing to be accepting, patient, and gentle but it’s quite another to become a doormat and a second-class human being. A man without his feminine becomes spiritually rigid in thought and experience and has great difficulty understanding where and when emotions affect behavior. Probably the most destructive aspect of sexism other than the denial of fully half of what we are and what we’re capable of is the loss for both the male and female of their vast spiritual potential.
We also have an inborn creativity, but our oppressive nature has seriously compromised and debilitated this God given gift. It is this creativity that defines our experience of life. It’s what inspires and motivates us.
Ask yourself why we have done this to ourselves? Is it fear, fear of what, loss, self-control, survivability? Or is it the fear of death, the death of what, a belief, control, self-image, and/or status?
In our dreams the archetypes, inbred images, of our masculine and feminine natures show up as our opposite gender, females for the male and males for the female. Pay attention to them, what they’re doing, saying, or feeling, If you know them or know of them, what about their personality or behavior reflects something desired or rejected in your own life, or way of being?
Dream people often bring symbolic messages to aide the dreamer with personal growth issues as well as solutions to vexing problems and it is the opposite gender people who more often than not have the most important information to give.
In our dreams both waking and sleeping the Phoenix bird is often symbolic of the feminine aspect as the dragon can be a representative of the masculine. Note closely their relationship and what each may be trying to tell you. It is the feminine that is and needs to rise from the ashes created by the fire spitting dragons of the world. It is the dragon who needs to withhold his fire so as to be open to his other aspect.
A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. –Albert Einstein
1 We all have both positive and negative aspects of either gender in us as well e.g. the negative female might be passive but without the masculine assertive trait it might then become passive aggressive, or overly manipulative.
The negative male can show up when the individual or society dismisses the value of the emotional, or compassionate and thus becomes dispassionate and overly aggressive.
The negative gender aspect is always there but only comes forward when denying equal validity and expression for either trait disrupts the gender balance in either the individual or society.
Readers may also be interested in the following link:
Cabinets of Wonder, Cabinets of Curiosity, Wunderkammer, and Chambers of Art were sort of the first museums and often served their owners as a place for retreat and reflection, which is how I use my section of the Den where I do my writing and have my own cabinet.
They’ve been around in one form or the other (as whole rooms, warehouses, or in a piece of furniture) since about the 16th century. Click on this Wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_curiosities ) and you can scroll through a number of different Cabinets and read a little background on the subject.
I also include this link to the Idols of the Cave that as it says in its introduction is, “a site devoted to the experience of Wonder, cultivated according to Renaissance rite and custom.” http://idolsofthecave.com/about-this-site/
Over the years I’ve collected objects that move my imagination in some way and have placed many of them on display that I frequently just gaze at and let whatever thoughts, memories, or feelings surface as a result. They also seem to serve as food for the soul and help me enter into the imaginal realm. To that end I have collected poems and quotes that inspire and transport me into this realm as well.
The cabinet includes such items as Bismuth (the modern Philosophers Stone), Merlinite, Galena, Aragonite, Lapis, Amethyst, Ruby, Hematite, and translucent slices of agate. Fossils of Ammonites, trilobites, and orthoceras share the dishes of a brass apothecary scale with old compasses, sundials, antique pocket watches and a bronze hourglass crowding the corners.
There’s a Theodolite surveyors instrument, an 1890s microscope, an armillary and orrerary (planetary models), a brass scale and assorted dragons including a bat skeleton that I’ve relabeled as “Draco Infantia (Latin for ‘baby dragon’). North American butterflies, dragonflies. Bats, a flying Dragon Lizard, and shells from the deepest regions of the ocean adorn the walls while some vintage laboratory glassware sits on a bookcase full of old books and artifacts that have caught my imagination over the years. A taxidermist’s black crow stands watch over a sculpture of old magnifying glasses that serves to remind me that it is the realm of the hardly noticed that can open a whole new world if one were to look more closely at life.
I believe that anything that opens a link between our soul and us is worth exploring and experimenting with and our own expression of that can be immensely fulfilling.
Books that I’ve collected include the research of alchemists, psychotherapists, shaman, mystics, artists, poets, mythologists, physicists, theologians, fantasists, and holy books, collected dreams, and journals also share the crowded space along the wall and stacked upon the floor all representing a lifetime of interests.
Houses in dreams are metaphors for the “us” that lives within our bodies– our inner self. It is our spiritual dwelling where the soul rests and looks out upon the world. The doors to its rooms reflect aspects of ourselves open and closed such as our sexual self, our feeling self, spiritual self, our intellectual self and how we cope with the world self. Furniture in our dream house reflects the habits, beliefs, attitudes and values with which we furnish the mind.
Whether we find our dream self in a flooding basement or locked in an attic the symbols tell us something about ourselves and how we are dealing with the world we live in.
It is in our dreams that we most often brush up against the soul and get a peek at the divine. In our meditations, daydreams and musings the divine can also intrude.
But where is this divine being really, in the sky, in the ocean, in a rock, in a church/tabernacle/temple/mosque/synagogue? Some say it is everywhere and some say it is within the heart of humankind alone.
In the Hindu religion the coconut is cracked open and offered in a ritual signifying that the hard exterior of the ego needs to be cracked open in order to get at the sweetness of the divine within. The sweet innards are also a symbol of transformation because the palm tree sucks up salty water and transforms it into the sweet water of the nut.
The Kingdom of god is within (amongst or in your midst) from luke 17:21 and in the King James version (i.e. it’s a spiritual kingdom) of the bible is also a version of the Spirit within you concept.
A poetic look at the path to God-realization is also found in the lines of the 13th century Persian poet Mahmud Shabistari:
“Go sweep out the chamber of your heart, make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved, when you depart, He will enter, in you, void of yourself, will He display His beauties.”
–Mystic Rose Garden, Mahmud Shabistari, as translated by E.H. Whinfield
The Sufi musician and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan says that in The Inner Life, a person needs to be whole to take the journey. His point is that one needs to get their basic self in tune with their higher self.
The basic truth is that before any spiritual light from our inner selves can come into consciousness various distortions of thinking need to be dealt with. This often takes a lot of personal work and that is why there isn’t much of it going on with the “immediate gratification” mentality and rigidly shallow awareness that exists in most places across the world.
In our spiritual lives these days we spend far too much time battling with others about who has the best truth or which holy book uses the best words to describe what can’t be described with words. I suspect that all of this is a distraction and barrier to true spirituality.
Basically the differences in religions and the differences found within each e.g. protestant/catholic, orthodox or reform, Shia or Sunni, Mahayana or Theravada, Shaivism or Shaktism are only of the human ego and not of God.
The Spirit of life cannot be found in any place or any time but can be glimpsed within the heart of humankind but only if he or she has swept that heart clean of the nonessential ego rubbish thrown there.
We need to start cleaning out our house or be forever swamped by the garbage of the fearful ego. We need to clean out the rooms of our spiritual house so that we can welcome the Spirit in.
Simply put, God is not a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jain, a Hindu or a Christian– He is ONE and ALL.
I’ve been having dreams of people and things where there are parts or aspects missing and dreams of my childhood and childhood home where I see things and people I haven’t seen in years. There’s a common meaning between these kinds of dreams, that of something lost, something that used to be there but is no longer.
There’s an ‘energy’ in each of the images of a dream, an energy associated with each of the aspects of ourselves. Sometimes when something is lost or missing or that was associated with some part of our childhood but no longer present our deeper self longs for the missing part. What’s lost could be an admired aspect such as hope, or a dream of the future, or a feeling of excitement, or love, or of peace, acceptance, potential, possibilities, esteem, or meaning.
The list can be endless for when young, everything is possible and then life happens and the possibilities get whittled away and we learn to let go of more and more of our dreams. All these energies of the self that have been filed away or shoved down into the unconscious want to be recognized, reenergized if you will, and brought back into the self that is you.
For me it is enchantment, awe, and significance that has been carved away from my core, the suppressed expressions of my soul. My dreams serve as healers to the wounds suffered by my soul self and reminders of who I am. A dream of my eleven year old self has an energy that I gave up over time and sometimes this aspect will return in the form of my childhood bedroom or a beloved, but now gone, family member or pet and serve as a guide to regaining the lost energy.
The process is often called “soul recovery”. We may have lost some part of ourselves due to some pain or abuse, some trauma or heartbreak but for whatever the reason we cannot feel complete until we have learned to bring home the missing aspects. They’re still there, these missing parts of ourselves, they’re still part of us.
The eleven year old is still in there with the same dream for his or her life and the essence of the dream can still be expressed only now we have tools and opportunities gained through age and hard fought for wisdom that can help us to harness our missing energies and express the basic core of the dream. But first we have to recall the messages of our inner self through the medium of our sleeping dreams for it is in these dreams that the soul is trying desperately to communicate with us what we are really here for.
Don’t give up on your soul dreams. Listen to that small quiet voice from within that wants you to know who and what you really are.
As I finished writing I pushed away from my desk and took a break, pulled on a jacket and stepped outside into a brightly crisp morning and bid the just rising sun a good day. As per my morning ritual I closed my eyes and welcomed my part of the earth into its new course– standing before each of the cardinal directions and whispering a heart-filled gratefulness. With each breath in and out I chanted the morning’s mantra, “Earth am I, air am I, fire and water and spirit am I. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us”
I opened my eyes once again to the east and the sky was ablaze with gold, the distant trees dark silhouettes against its slowly strengthening glow. Turning to the North again and preparing to turn through the compass once more I was stopped in my tracks, for this morning the Earth had given me a new gift. Rising before me stood a brightly colored and full-arced rainbow with one foot planted near a Sycamore at the end of the street and the other stretching off to the south as though challenging me to follow.
The crows were flying out of the northwest on their morning pilgrimage and flew through the multicolored arc, winged black caricatures of the magical arts transformed into soaring messengers of joy. This is going to be a soul dream of a day.
On occasion I’ve mentioned REM sleep. Some people have asked, “What is REM sleep?”
It stands for Rapid Eye Movement sleep and is the last stage of sleep where the EEG wave pattern is similar to the waking brain with some of the characteristics of both the alpha and beta states that are earlier states of sleeping. As a point of interest, the alpha state is also that same state that one finds themselves in when meditating, or when in “the zone,” or when daydreaming. Is this the state that a meditating Buddhist enters the mandala during a Tantric meditation (see below)?
REM is that time during sleep when we dream and when our eyes move rapidly under their lids as though tracking what they see, though that part of the theory has not been shown to be true. However, having said that there are those theories that continue to suggest an eye-brain correlation during REM sleep in that because of the discontinuous nature of most dreams, the brain is “looking” around the dream-scene trying to make sense of these discontinuities. We have these same discontinuities when awake, only the brain smoothes them all out and projects what looks like a linear presentation.
It has also been theorized that this jumping around of the mind’s eye during REM sleep may actually cause the sense of discontinuity and that the dream images actually come at us in an entirety which the mind then has to linearize (sort out) to make sense of it all. We may be doing this in the waking world as well which is why the concept of time (a construct of the mind that does not actually exist in the physical world) was created as a means of sorting it all out. It’s interesting how Tibetan Thangka paintings show the entire life of an individual in a circle surrounding the Buddha suggesting that the person’s life is all happening at once.
“Time is nature’s way to keep everything from happening at once.”
But let me get back to REM. During REM a normal person’s musculoskeletal system (which is your body movement system) is suppressed or shut down. Why? Well we don’t have solid answers for this, but we do have research that points to reasons for this. Some evidence suggests that one of the reasons for dreaming includes both memory consolidation and memory erasure. In the erasure mode, any memory that is not reinforced becomes weakened. Memories with physical reactions are strengthened through repeated physicality, thus those memories brought up during sleep would be less likely to be retained if there were no physical reinforcement. This ‘feedback loop’ is shut down during REM.
There’s also the added advantage that when we were all huddled together against the cold in our dark and lonely caves, the dreaming of the day’s physicality would not be reenacted to the annoyance of your neighbor you’d be punching and strangling thinking that you were being attacked by some Saber-tooth tiger. Of course this theory only holds up for ‘unwanted’ memories with some other activity being responsible for the retention of those memories needed for survival. But don’t dismiss the erasure concept too quickly because if our brains could not erase the unwanted (which is enormous when compared to the wanted) we would need bigger brains to hold it all. This is in fact what we see in animals who have huge brain mass compared to their body mass and who have no REM. As a matter of fact studies have shown that when someone is deprived of REM sleep for too long, the brain goes almost instantly into REM and resists any further attempt to prevent it. So REM seems to be an adaptation for those creatures with higher order neural network systems such as ours.
It also gives us many hours of entertainment projecting meaning onto the sleep visions that may or may not have any inherent meaning. But isn’t this pretty much like the rest of our lives where we are continuously projecting meaning onto every object, person or event? Seems to me that dream interpretation of meaning projection is a pretty non-confrontational way of looking at what’s going on inside of you and around you. And who knows, higher-level self-awareness may just be the next neural adaptation the evolving human is developing.
My wife and I were talking about an old television commercial about how a new margarine tasted so much like butter and the main character dressed as Mother Nature herself exclaimed, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”. This got me to thinking about our troubled relationship with nature and that seems to have led me to a dream later that night.
It was a dream full of ruins, tidal waves, death and destruction, oceans turning into deserts, fires raging across the globe– an apocalypse, perhaps, but one of our own making, not God’s.
The planet does not need us in order to survive. We need it, so why are we killing it? Are we that arrogant that we think we can do whatever we want with it and that that won’t negatively affect the ability of the planet to sustain us?
The planet is like a spaceship hurtling through space. Though it isn’t the primary purpose of the ship, it gives us a means to feed and water ourselves, keep us protected from the freezing temperatures of space and provides us with oxygen to breathe. That’s all well and good and it’s all incidental to the journey that spaceship Earth is on i.e. we can use it as long as we behave ourselves, but this ship is self-regulating and when something threatens it will fix the problem so as to continue the journey. And the “fix” could be accomplished by getting rid of the part that is causing the trouble and replace it with something more reliable.
I think we better stop being the problem that needs to be fixed perhaps we too need to be more self-regulating in a more harmonious way with this planetary ship we’re all traveling on?
Certain self-serving elements have turned the plea for a sustainable economy into a political tool. This only distracts those easily distracted in order that they may be manipulated to support an unsustainable agenda, the unfettered domination of the few over the many. They’ve also developed a profound ignorance of what it takes to sustain a livable eco-culture and it is this ignorance that allows them to ignore the evidence that they are gravely affecting the ability of the ecosystem to sustain us, all of us. Their greed and obsession with the need to control is choking the planet. But the planet will retaliate and either reduce or exterminate the threat– the bigger the threat, the bigger the reduction.
Perhaps it’s time the easily distracted woke up from their stupor, their self-created delusions, and say “enough is enough”. The planet doesn’t care about our greed, our politics, our ignorance, our beliefs, our religions, what we want or don’t want, or our self-serving ignorance. If we become too much a problem for it we will go the way of other species who couldn’t adapt to it’s primary goal, sustainability i.e. perpetuation of itself with or without us.
Bottom line, the planet doesn’t need us to survive, but we might be providing it reason to get rid of us in order for it to survive.
So what to do…well, might you want to hold the big picture in mind while you act on local needs and initiatives, as local as what goes into your dinner and into your garbage? Think about it with only minor discomforts, you can actually save the world!
I’ve been talking in class about the rational, concrete and patriarchal world we live in i.e. the cultural-emotional “box” we live in– the myth that informs and directs how we live our lives and react to our environment.
The question that came up for me when I first realized that the box even existed was, “Okay, how do I get outside it?” which is a typical male response to any problem. I’ve been working on that for over 35 years now. At first all my efforts were for naught because I didn’t really understand the parameters of the box (didn’t know where the walls began and ended) so everything I did was within the context of the box i.e. more box stuff. When I realized that it was I who was creating the box, albeit in partnership with the society I was living in, I began the task of tracking down what I was doing and why, in other words, “what purpose did my behaviors have for the life I was living?”
In my case it was about maintaining and protecting the persona (my presentation to myself and to the world of who I was or at least wanted to think I was) and not dealing with the hurts in my life– most of them gained during the experience of being parented either by my mother and father or the other authority figures in my life, that was pretty much all adults, though there were certain children I gave that power to as well e.g. some bullies, girls I was in love with and who demeaned it, boys I looked up to who ignored me or taunted me with their arrogance.
These hurts are real, though the patriarchal society might say, “Snap out of it you wuss* and get on with it!” To the degree that I didn’t honor the reality of the feelings, of the emotions, is the degree to which they went underground into the subconscious and then grew until they began to effect not only how I viewed myself, but my world perspective and how I reacted to my experiences, in other words, how the material I shoved into the subconscious took over the running of my life.
So how do we begin stepping outside the box we’ve built for ourselves?
Here are a few suggestions that have helped me along the way:
Do something you thought that you couldn’t do– perhaps even something you were afraid to do.
Read poetry, fantasy, fairytales, ancient mythology**. Step outside the rational, concrete and patriarchal world and into the symbolic and mythic.
Become more conscious of your own myth, the story of your own life.
Become more receptive to your own inner environment.
When you see someone and you’re finding yourself judging them don’t make that judgment real, just notice that you’re judging. Chances are the judgment has nothing to do with them and far more to do with you.
Have your feelings, don’t let them have you i.e. don’t become them. Notice them without doing anything with them, don’t resist them***, just experience them without judging them.
Notice what the circumstances are associated with your feelings. For example, what’s happening when they show up? Remember to just notice.
When you reflect upon an early emotional injury (usually recalled when a similar circumstance shows up in your current life) what do you do with the hurt e.g. do you automatically let the ‘perpetrator’ off the hook by taking some or all of the blame? Try letting the emotional experience play out without doing anything with it, don’t even analyze it, just have it. Don’t make it any more solid than it is by either agreeing with it or resisting it.
When having a feeling or emotion notice what’s happening in your body. Do you feel tightness anywhere? Has anything happened to your breathing? Are your hands clenched? How do your arms feel? Check your neck, back, chest and face, anything happening there?
Keeping our emotional injuries bottled up regardless of their level of trauma i.e. their degree of severity, allows them to fester and grow. Frequently they will find a form of outward expression through the body i.e. through over or under weight, migraine headaches, debilitating pains, nightmares, or stomach ailments– to which the patriarchal medical response is to prescribe a pill, or to tell you it’s “all in your head” and not real.
When I was working full time as an administrator the level of stress that had to be dealt with and endured on a regular basis made life very difficult over time. Eventually I developed pain in my right shoulder that became so painful that it could not be endured and totally incapacitated my use of that arm and severely affected my ability to do my job.
Medically I was sent to physical therapists, chiropractors and eventually was given cortisone shots to reduce the pain and inflammation. The shots worked for a while but eventually the pain returned and sometimes moved to another part of my body such as the neck or lower back. Basically I was ignoring the messages of my body and soldiering on like the Great Patriarch said I must.
For the last two years before I permanently retired I was in and out of the hospital and doctor’s office. Within a month after I retired and I was able to reflect upon all the emotional material that I couldn’t see my way through while in the trenches, the pains disappeared, never to return.
As with all myths there are ‘turning points’, those shifts in personal awareness and perspectives of the hero (in this case, you). Those who take the mythic journey within themselves will also experience these shifts and over time become less dominated by their subconscious and more able to live a life of true conscious ‘free-will’.
It is a fact of life that when all seems the most hopeless and becomes like wandering a wasteland that the stage is set for transformation. Up until then the ego, the center of who we think we are, sustains the lie that all is well and that material success and rational living are the only goals in life.
So what to do?
Women in this society need to acknowledge their inner strength through the development of their animus (inner masculine) so as to forge their own voice and identity. Men on the other hand need to nurture their anima, or inner feminine, so as to polish the sharp edges of their voice and to ensure that it is their voice and not that of another who is speaking for them.
*a very patriarchal colloquialism implying that anyone who looks too closely at their emotions and inner self is being too girly, i.e. not rational and manly.
**a symbolic, non rational, non concrete activity
resisting is the best way to keep something stuck and growing into something bigger.