What’s a mandala?

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Think you know what a mandala is? Until about ten years ago I thought it was one of those intricate drawings that Buddhist meditators used to focus their mind. Other than that I imagined it to be a ritual tool of the religion i.e. something to do with the spirit.

Did you know that mandalas show up in your dreams as well? I chuckled at this at first for I don’t ever remember seeing a mandala in any of my dreams. But a closer look revealed some interesting results. I had dreams of circles, car and bicycle wheels and a couple of alien UFOs showed up on two separate occasions. Turns out these might have been mandalas.

So I asked myself, and later Googled, what’s a dream mandala all about?

My research took me to a number of different sources some of which I’d had in my library for ages had I bothered to read the books a little more thoroughly, and no I don’t read every book cover to cover, being more likely to scan and skip to what at the time seemed like a more interesting section before getting what I thought I wanted and shelving the book without finishing it.

The truth is that I probably wasn’t ready to hear the information I’d missed until more recently. That happens a lot and that’s why I try to make a habit of returning to a book more than once to see what I’ve learned in the interim that will make the book teach a different lesson. My favorite book to do this exercise with is Richard Bach’s Illusions. It never ceases to amaze me how much more I understand over time. Some people do this with the Bible and books they read as a young adult or child. It’s a good way to track your own growth I think.

But I want to get back to the mandala thing.

In the Book of Dreams that I’ve developed over the years the entry for mandala can be found in the Archetypes section and looks something like the following.

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mandala: Any circle, e.g. a Celtic cross, yantra, a bicycle wheel, rose, and even the shape of your typical UFO represents the wholeness of the personality. Jung believed that they showed up in one’s dreams when you were going through intense personal growth. They can represent the order of ones inner life, the layers of oneself leading to the soul and the center of oneness.

 

 

Usually our minds are in constant chaos in that a maelstrom of issues, fears and passions create a continuous imbalance.

The mandala is like a template, or blueprint, for the mind. It does this by showing us that there is within us a central point to which everything else is related. Both the material within ourselves and the external material interface continuously. The patterns of this interface can help us to understand ourselves and our relationship with the world more clearly.

Interestingly the mandalas across every culture and throughout recorded history have shown a quaternary pattern that literally squares the circle i.e. a pattern that brings order to the architecture of the human psyche that the mandala represents.

The mandala seems to show up across all cultures and displaying such a commonality that it makes it part of the collective unconscious of the human psyche.

Carl Jung saw it as an image representing the self and the wholeness within us. It expresses the fully Individuated person. It is said that the Mandala can be read like a dream so as to get some idea of one’s progress in the march toward wholeness. He also suggested that they show up in our dreams when we are ready to transform some aspect of ourselves and/or go deeper into the unconscious

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“The mandala is the psychological expression of the totality of the self.”                                                                                                                            –Jung

 

 

 

 

 

The Archetypal Dream Visitor

 

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Adoration of the Sheperds by Gerard van Honthorst

 

At this time of year most* Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, the light of the world, the inner counselor.

Children show up a lot in our dreams and most reflect our own ambitions, or feelings of dependence and/or vulnerability.

But some children take on the aura of the Holy Child or the Christ that often symbolizes spiritual truth or transition– self-fulfillment through love. To have a visit from this child may suggest an important transition regarding some aspect of your being or your life.

As the Christ Child he represents a new beginning so in this way almost any child or baby in a dream can represent new beginnings–something new developing, or a fresh start or the need for one.

The child within is often the cosmic mystery that we all are. He is also anything that is having a powerful influence on the dreamer. Including the need for togetherness, forgiveness, peace, generosity and celebration.

When the Christ child shows up as the trickster in a dream he’s there to shake up your understanding of the world– this will no doubt create some havoc– go with it and see where he takes you.

The Christ Child can also represent the Hero archetype. To dream that you or that someone else is a hero might signify your inner strengths and weaknesses. The dream may refer to your abilities, determination and confidence that you have the power to face the secrets of your unconscious mind and confront life’s challenges.

 

Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

“Rejoice and be merry,
set sorrow aside,
Christ Jesus our Savior,
was born at this tide:

In Bethlehem City,
in Jury it was,
For Joseph and Mary
together did pass:

And therefore be merry,
set sorrow aside,
Christ Jesus our Savior,
was born at this Tide.”

–First verse of In Bethlehem City (1661)

 

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*

  • Eastern Orthodox Christians (Russian) celebrate on Jan 7
  • The Coptic Church in Egypt follows the old calendar and celebrates Jesus’ birth on January 6
  • There is no evidence of when he was born but Christians took on the celebration of the sun in winter from earlier so-called Pagan religions.

 

 

 

 

 

A spiritual path

 

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I’ve used a number of Christian references in my Blogs over the last four plus years and have been asked if I am a Christian.

I never really understood Christianity until I studied the Tao. That’s a hell of a statement! But the way that Christianity seemed to be preached, taught, and presented was all unintelligible, nonsensical, flawed and depended on a mindless acceptance of someone else’s interpretation. There seemed to be no soul in it, no spirit, just a lot of meaningless words signifying nothing, shame and punishment all punctuated with the phrase, “Thanks be to God”. And most of all, none of it matched my personal experience. So I ignored it for over thirty years. I continued a spiritual search, but without a clue as to what I was searching for. All I had was the irrational inner knowledge that I would know what it was when I saw it.

As I wandered down this meandering path I met many teachers, some religious, some spiritual, some fitting neither category such as my Marine Corps Drill Instructor. Hell, I didn’t even know where the path was sometimes, but I always managed to stumble back on after tramping through the brambles for a while.

Slowly I put together an image of reality, an inner map if you will, that would help me to make decisions when I encountered crossroads, forks, or dead ends. Slowly I began to see through the veil of misunderstanding propagated by most of the religious leaders and followers I’d encountered along the way. Slowly I began to trust my own internal guide, my own intuition, and my own sense of meaning. And though from time to time I continue to wander off the road feeling stupid and emotionally shut down my process of soul-making (now there’s a Jungian concept if ever there was one) goes on.

One night back in the 70’s while trying to decipher a section of Lao Tzu’s the Tao Te Ching and comparing it to H.B. Sharman’s Jesus as Teacher it dawned on me how much traditional Western thinking had screwed up the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words and how certain Christian mystics (read as Augustine) had sent the whole shebang running off in the wrong direction.

After that realization the teachers came rushing into my life, literally stumbling over each other to walk with me e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh, Krishnamurti, Deepak Chopra, Hermann Hesse, The Course in Miracles, Carlos Castaneda, Paolo Coelho, Carl Jung, Thomas Moore, the Gnostic Gospels, Marcus Borg, Thomas Merton, James Hillman, Ram Dass, Joseph Campbell, and Bishop Spong to name a very, very few. As I read and pondered, the words of the New Testament of the Christian bible started to make some sense. Through this growing filter of reality I began to see the path I was on and had an inkling of where it was taking me and the best part was that I now wanted to go. I now had a relationship with the God-of-the-path, walking side-by-side discovering as we went; It in I and I in it.

I attend a church because it’s a place in which to give of myself and it’s a place full of teachers when I’m open to them. It’s a place with a soul and it allows me to walk my path without shame. It’s also a place where I can plumb the depths of my own unconscious and find the gems of my being. For me the light that shines through the Mandala-like stained glass window embedded high in the stone wall above the altar is a metaphor for the light that’s growing in me.

My understanding of the life and meaning of Jesus may be quite different from most due to the influence of the path I’ve been trodding, but these folks seem not to care, content to walk a different path yet still willing to hold my hand as we go. For many, the dogma isn’t the purpose, nor is the history, ritual, or tradition the point. Like me they’re here to discover who they are, why they’re here and what to do about it.

And what about the Tao? The Tao loosely means “The Way,” not a specific way, not as in a rigid exclusivity, but as, in essence, the way of “what is”– the natural order. The Tao Te Ching is translated as “to become one with the Tao.” When I walk with God, I walk in the Tao. It is an experience, not to be found in words, or prescribed belief, or in translation by another other than through your own experience. It cannot be taught, though there are those who can point you into places where you might discover it and using tools that have been found by others to ready yourself for the discovery.

I can hear Jesus talking to me through the words of Lao Tzu. To me they are one in the same and they are leading me home. Thanks be to God.

Do you hear what I hear?

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So what is this inner voice of which I speak? Well, it really isn’t a voice at all–more something experienced, felt if you will. But once “heard” its truth is known. It’s not of you, but it is in you–a part of your inner firmament–the mother to all the arts.

In the Archipelago of Dreams Robert follows a mysterious star that shines where a star shouldn’t be and finds at the end of the story where the star actually lives. In scripture, Mathew says “ye are the lights of the world.” (Mathew 5:14, NIV)

The star seems to live within mankind. It’s what Paracelsus called the “lumen nature” or just astrum–the star within. According to Carl Jung it is this star that drives man toward great wisdom. He goes on to say that we are endowed at birth with this light of nature and it is through our dreams, meditations and prayers that we are able to give it a form.

“Said the nightwind to the little lamb…Do you hear what I hear?…A star, a star, dancing in the night… he will bring us goodness and light” 

                                                                           –Noel Regney, 1962

Though the song seems to refer to an external light, I contend that it is when this inner light, what some call the Christ light, is allowed the freedom to shine forth in the conscious world that it dresses itself in our creative projections. It ‘s when we are able to tap into this firmament that we allow the world-soul, the Anima Mundi that Jung referred to, to speak through us. Without going into too much detail this Anima Mundi may be the “multiple consciousness” that Jung transforms into what he called the “collective conscious” or the Hindu Purusha, or Cosmic Man. It is from this that introspective visions, or intuitions, arise. Together with the archetypal patterns of the unconscious and the conscious, the psyche is expressed and interpreted.

To Jung, the psyche, our inner self, is a conscious and unconscious whole–both personal and non-personal. It is my contention that mankind is ever more cutting himself off from the unconscious aspects by rejecting any access to them. By doing so we leave ourselves vulnerable to the instinctual sphere and without the means of regulating it.

The collectively shared images of the unconscious often act as regulators and the conscious patterns that show up in our conscious creations are mediated, or shaped, in many respects by our unconscious. I have noted that when these shared archetypal images appear through dream or artistic creativity, there is a numinous, or spiritual, some might even say magical quality that shows up as well. These may be the stimulators of creative fantasy and imagination.

It has often fallen to the poet, artist and storyteller to maintain the balance of the psychic wholeness.

Often it is the artist’s vision that captures the light of the collective and then reflects the ongoing instinctual projections of the psyche. A perfect example of this for me was Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica where he was able to capture the horror of the Spanish Civil War and bring it to the consciousness of the rest of the world. Another example is the photo of Trang Bang the naked girl who tore off her burning clothes after the South Vietnamese Air force napalmed a suspected village where Viet Cong were hiding. More than anything this image brought home what was happening within the world’s soul and arguably helped to bring about the end of U.S. involvement.

Images of reality are often amended by the conscious psyche so as to protect the ego-self either as individual or collective. I think that when we strive to only present a singular view that the balance of what is expressed as the whole of the world’s psyche, the Psyche Mundi as it were, tips toward something that is not in humanity’s health and well-being.

But we live in an age where the exterior life has gained greater importance than the inner, where the extrovert commands much greater attention than the introvert–where the quiet cannot be heard over the loud, where extremes are more alluring than the quiet center. In the center we have experience. As we move outward from experience we have metaphor, or a representation of that experience. But in our society we interpret yet again the metaphor until we have a metaphor of a metaphor and the experience is lost.

When we desert the center, all we have are the extremes and the balance of the world’s psyche tips toward chaos.

In this age the most common of beings are those who, as Jung suggested, “live without a shadow” that is that they think of themselves as only being what they care to imagine themselves as being. In this state, mankind cannot take responsibility for much of anything, and thus exercise any free will, because it’s always the anonymous “them” who’s responsible for the way things are. Until our unconscious shadow selves have been recognized and then assimilated they often run our conscious lives. This development process is known as “Individuation.”

A poorly developed consciousness has only its huge unconscious projections to inform itself and is highly vulnerable to concretisms in its politics, religion, and day-to-day living. This being doesn’t, or can’t, look inwardly to discover who’s really responsible.

How to overcome this? Simply by getting in touch with your inner wisdom and sharing it with others. Be the center, be the light that Jesus spoke of on the Sermon on the Mount. The light isn’t someone else’s, it is yours, you are the Astrum, the star. It’s your shining light that needs to happen on a day-to-day basis that will bring about the balance. But alas, although I use the word, “simply” it is not all that simple until of course it is. By that I mean we can struggle mightily to look within to find our real nature, but it’s not in the struggle that the discovery is made, it is in the intention that the struggle represents that cracks open the cosmic egg and allows the psyche to become whole once again. It is only at that moment of transformation that it appears so simple. I wish I knew how to do it easier, but it was not on the easy path that I found it, so I can’t guide you down it.

As Harry said to Robert as they parted company at the end of The Archipelago of Dreams,

“Up to now you have been following a star, where a star shouldn’t be, a star from a world outside yourself, but now you can follow a star, a star that shines from within, where a star should be.”

This speaks to a world-wide awakening where the consciousness of man becomes aligned with nature and aligned with his unconscious i.e. when there is a conscious awareness of the archetypal effects on conscious content. To be successful in this might very well propel the species to the next level of its evolution, or in failing, doom it to its inevitable extinction.