“Man’s Capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
– Rheinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)
In order to live with one another in any kind of peace requires that each man be willing to give up some portion of his self-interest to the society. Though the soul of man yearns to be free– to be what it is, this yearning is what drives him to create societies that will extricate him from tyranny.
No man can ever hope to be complete and whole without the relationship of all other humans. But it’s that societal relationship that also threatens his autonomy– the very freedom he yearns for. But by his very nature and the nature of all things, both selfish and unselfish impulses struggle with one another for dominance.
What we see in most societies is a back and forth war between self-interest and social interest that often weakens the social agreement and that self-centered justification is then transformed into some collective moral justification that allows him to brutalize his fellow man. With moral justification he can then hide the true character of his collective self.
This back and forth struggle keeps humankind in a constant state of flux careening rapidly between justice and injustice, self-interest and collective interest, and selfishness and selflessness. And here for me is the crux of the problem, societies i.e. nations are basically selfish whereas the individual has within it a kernel of selflessness. It is this selflessness in balance with our selfishness that we each need to nurture. In short, we cannot expect nations to change until we do and we cannot change until we’re ready to give up our need to dominate everything– religiously, geologically, politically, and psychologically.
Right now we the collective people of this Earth in the name of self-righteousness, politically and religiously, are imposing our will above the will of every one else, attempting to change, to bend, reality toward our selfish needs and in the process ignoring what really needs to be changed– our fear-based penchant to dominate in thought and by physicality. When we make our own egos paramount we create the oligarchs, despots, and dictators of this world, we erode our ability to be free, and it is our souls that suffer.
Be the change you seek. Don’t expect it from your religionists or politicians they’ll only change when you do. And don’t use your religion to self-righteously control the hearts of others, use it to find the beauty in your own heart.
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, courage
to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
I’d like to reintroduce my spirit guide again who first showed up a few years ago in a dream. She’s visited in earlier dreams as a female cartoon character and as a she-wolf named Onoma, but I didn’t recognize her for what she was back then.
She? It is said by some depth psychologists that the soul of a woman is masculine and the soul of a man is feminine. Each represent the less dominant aspect of the dreamer, that which they tend to reject into their personal unconscious, but during the night when the persona and the conscious ego-self sleep, the souls come out to play.
I’ve referred to this dream before having labeled it The Blue Fresco*.
This is a variation of that dream:
I’m at a party of old friends, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. As we leave, hugging and saying our goodbyes, I look down the street that is dimly lit with tall street lights casting their yellow glow into the night when a brighter glow takes over the darkness and I see plastered across the sky a bright blue fresco. A tall, thin figure, neither male nor female stands huge in the sky with its hands held invitingly out toward me. On closer inspection a tall, slender women wearing light blue gossamer robes comes down from the sky, landing briefly upon the ground and then leaping back into the night.
My wife runs back toward the house to fetch the grandchildren so as to share with them the sight. I worry that she’ll miss this if gone too long. Three other children run excitedly up the hill to get a better look at this painting upon the sky. I yell at them to turn around, but they don’t respond and keep on running. I turn around and walk alone toward the light. Everywhere is music, in the sky and in my head the music pervades. All fear disappears and I follow the invitation.
Had I lived a few centuries earlier this would have been seen as a powerful spiritual message. For me this is hardly the kind of message I’m used to. Hell, I don’t even believe in this kind of symbolism! Nevertheless, it communicates.
The blue apparition is intuition–the spiritual–with the “angels” representing wisdom and the messengers of the awareness of a wider truth and the receptive, creative aspect of the self. They are heralding the potential for great achievement, the spirit, and the spiritual power within me. The children are the exuberant, growing self, uncontrolled by the external world. The music enhances the numinous, representing the play of forces within, and providing difficult realizations.
I walk on alone–this is how I imagine death, or the end, or transformation of an old way of being. The Christ-like, or holy, figure of the fresco represents the power of the inner influences of the powerful cosmic mystery of life unfolding. The figure is an archetype for the mystery that is my true self (all our true self) and quite likely the connection I have with all others–the roots of my being.
Often religion serves the purpose of gaining some sense of control over the uncontrollable. I’m being invited to release that attempt to control and embrace walking into the unknown alone– to walk this personal road in vulnerability. For me, this dream requires that I give up my knowing and transcend my personal beliefs about what is real and surrender to something bigger than that.
“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”
Some say that a dream figure such as the Blue Fresco is an archetypal figure (a type of symbolic image that shows up across all cultures) of the Great Mother.
The Great Mother figure may visit in many forms, such as the Virgin Mary, a Greek goddess, Sophia, the Earth, or even the dreamer’s mother**. Often these holy people inform and even direct our decisions in life.
Sometimes the Great Mother may come to us to suggest that we cut the dependency between she and us. A man needs to do this in order to become an equal with the feminine power. If he does not do this successfully he may then be into resistance of the feminine and try to dominate it psychologically and in his waking life. Both males and females need to accept the mother as being human in nature. By doing so they then are more able to accept themselves.
When I shared this dream with others one of my colleagues exclaimed that the figure was the Sophia, a Wisdom Goddess figure. From that point on the blue fresco became Sophia. Since then she has visited me in her darker forms and in her animal forms. I’ll share those visits in future posts.
Me, me, me, what I want, what I feel, what I think, how things effect me, my judgments, my expectations, what I see, my point-of-view, my body, my money, my, my, my.
This is all of the ego, that part of us that’s convinced that that’s all that we are, that if there is anything else it’s just fantasy or imagination i.e. not real, or the ghost in the machine.
I usually think that what I am is this person called Bob, with a body that looks a certain way, can do certain things, and has memories and feelings, urges, desires, values, judgments, and rigid points-of-view (one of them being that I have no rigid points-of-view). I wear a mask of the “Good guy” out in public but have an inner voice that reminds me of why that isn’t always true.
Everything that I see or think is tainted with what this “ego-me” believes is true i.e. what “I” think is true. Oh, I know that it’s just a projection of my unexplored and poorly understood psyche and that I have no idea if the world I see is true, in part if at all. But typically I ignore that piece of knowledge because ego-me wants to be right. Actually ego-me “needs” to be right because being right means that it gets to survive just the way it is and as everyone knows deep in their tiny ego-me hearts being wrong is a horrible, bad, unsavory thing to be avoided at all costs– that is if admitting to being wrong doesn’t actually make you right about being wrong, then you’ll admit to be wrong!
It’s true, when we say “I” we are referring to this image of self that we created both inside and out and if any part becomes threatened we will defend its integrity at any cost i.e. by rejecting the offender by banishing it, demeaning it, bedeviling it, ignoring it, or if particularly immature, we’ll even kill it.
But what is this that we are defending, is it real or just something we made up and what do I mean by “we”? When I use the word “we” I’m not necessarily referring to a collective but to what it is inside of us that made this ego up in the first place.
Now this might come as a surprise to most people who believe that there may be more than one “me” inside us, that there is a me that created the ego-me, that there’s a me listening to all the talking and thinking and feeling and believing of the ego-me. I mean, who’s listening to all that continuous chatter going on inside our minds?
Who was it that was there before and just after we were born– before we started adding meaning and memories and feelings and judgments to everything? It’s still there because who else are we talking to inside our head?
Am I suggesting that we are not our ego-selves, that we are something else entirely?
Yes and no. I say this because the ego-self is actually part of the whole called the “self”, there’s also a much, much bigger motivating and animating self that energizes the whole and both are needed to maintain the continuance of our being. Mostly they act somewhat in unison though I admit that the ego-self frequently goes off on ventures that are often self-defeating. But the core-self i.e. for the lack of any other word, the “soul” can often bring it back before too much damage is done.
But existence is a constant dance of polarization that often causes our being to struggle to remain upright and sometimes even causing us to stumble. When in harmony life often looks like two steps forward and one step backward as the dance progresses but when one side of the dance tries to control too much of the flow, then disharmony ensues and the dancers become awkward and stumble. This is what happens in relationships between individuals, between philosophies, religions, and nations. This is what is happening in the world today i.e. the ego-self has (once again) become too dominant and is causing us all to trip.
We are not just our egos (as I’ve defined them), we are much more than that and we need to understand that our small and limited, selves can’t always lead the dance, sometimes we need to listen to our partner and allow them to help us back on course.
And by “partner” I’m not just referring to the “two in one” of our self because the truth is that we are each other’s partner, every one of us, and if we want to keep this dance going, then perhaps we better start treating each other that way.
I woke up not so long ago with this silly little idea running through my brain and thought I’d share it if for no other reason than I’m obsessing and need to get rid of it.
So the thought started out innocently enough, “Why are we here?” But then it got more complicated (of course, because that’s what my brain does, complicate– nothing ever gets to be simple). Perhaps the answer is that it’s an experiment in species survival, or to learn lessons, or how about as entertainment for the Great and Infinite?
If human beings are only an evolutionary experiment designed to test the parameters of species survival, what would be the point? God already created the ant that for tens of millions of years* has survived quite well, thank you, and without the encumbrance of self-awareness (unless of course you believe the Aesop fable of the ant and the grasshopper).
But, but… some would say that we increase the likelihood of survival by being a species that can function beyond its instinctual software and no one would argue that the ant is predominantly an instinctual being.
But instinct can actually become a downfall. Take for example the “death spiral”, or “ant circle” phenomenon of an endangered colony of ants where everyone follows the ant in front of them as a means of self-protection but at the possible consequence of just continuing on and on until they all drop dead.
But humans too have instinctual responses that their so-called self-awareness won’t pull them out of, witness also the fear response that the American Republican party taps into to get the masses to vote for people and things that are not in their best interest i.e. walking around with guns on their hips because they’re convinced that this will handle their fear and make them safer. Or how about societies that demean and make all their women second-class out of some fear that to do otherwise will upset the spiritual order of things? In a very real way these are human equivalents to the ant colonies’ death spiral.
Okay, perhaps we’re here to learn lessons?
That would work if the lessons were either for us individually so that we could then take them to the next dimension of existence, or to the next inhabited being, or to use the lessons to increase our chances of survival as a species (see paragraph one). Certainly they’re not for God in that an omniscient being has already learned all the lessons, heck, it created them in the first place including the answer sheet. But an awareness extended beyond the physical being into non-physicality i.e. life beyond death, would fit with the idea of the Great Infinite we imagine God to be so why not expand the lessons infinitely as well? Maybe we can actually take it with us!
Lastly, maybe we’re here as a means for God to see itself, thus we’re imbued with infinite ideas and personalities (something I’ll bet all those ants don’t have). When you’re the only one, that is if you’re everywhere, the only thing in a universe, there’s really nowhere to stand and observe yourself. Seems to me you would need to create something “not you” through which you could look back and say, “Damn I’m good looking!” And you would have to create infinite permutations of the “not you’s” because after all you’re, well, infinite.
I guess we’ll find out when the body dies i.e. we continue to be conscious, though bodiless or we won’t and won’t know that we won’t– pretty much a win-win I think.
My head’s starting to hurt again so I think I’ll stop. But now you’ve got my silly idea running in your head, sorry!
AndI’m transported into a world where everything is possible, where I’m connected to everything and everyone else, where I no longer have to defend myself or my positions, where survival is not my main purpose, where I am just fine the way I am, and where I’m no longer alone and asking this question of why am I here.
Have a great day and peace be with you!
* Some researchers suggest it’s been as much as 110 – 130 million years. That’s about as long as dinosaurs, though the ant lived through what it was that killed all the dinosaurs, so take that you big bullies! Currently they are Earth’s most successful species, though certainly I’ve tried to make it otherwise when they keep crawling into my food pantry.
Tarot cards sometimes show up in dreams. Two such dreams were submitted for interpretation a couple of years ago and though its been sometime since I interpreted them I thought I would share some of the meaning of these cards and a few extra that have shown from time to time over the years.
Part of my interpretive source comes from the book Tarot ReVisioned by Leigh J. McCloskey, Olander Press Ltd., 2003.
Interestingly these cards reflect what G.G. Jung would have called ‘archetypes’ in that their image represents similar meaning across all cultures of the world– some of our dream material seems to be hardwired into our brains and rise from the collective unconscious of the human psyche into our dreams.
For me Tarot is another example of how the human psyche projects itself into the symbolism of our lives. I believe that a gifted reader can tap into the querent, the person for whom the reading is being done, much as a few rare people can psychically ‘read’ another person’s thoughts and emotions during other forms of psychic endeavors. As with a dream interpreter the reader’s visions and suggestions should always be filtered through ones own inner wisdom and sensibility i.e. if it resonates, use it to explore further if not, let it go.
Because the article is longer than usual, I’ll be splitting the represented cards between today and tomorrow. Today I’ll be looking at the Fool, Magus, and Empress while tomorrow I’ll look at the Emperor, Temperance and Death.
Tarot, the Fool: This card when seen in a dream can symbolize the archetype of awakening to self-knowledge. The Fool sometimes suggests that in all things spiritual one must always act as a beginner. It can also suggest that one may be blissfully ignorant of something (either they’re being foolish or fearless with some predicament). For Sufis the Fool is the voice of wisdom and humor and knows that it is madness to seek power and money as ends in themselves. He can also represent choice, that no one is ever really compelled, that there’s always a choice.
Magus (or Magician): This guy is also known as the Magician. The connection between the spirit self, the unconscious psyche and the conscious self sort of a divine intermediary. In the creation story where the “everything” wants a means of knowing itself it needed to create an “other than itself” i.e. the world and us. Thus the Magus becomes the mirror to the spirit’s real self, to our real self.
The Magus is also the balancing point between intellect and inspiration i.e. between the external world an ones inner life. He teaches that true magic isn’t about trying to have power over the world.
In a dream he may suggest that some issue may be trickier than you thought, perhaps you need to look at something from another perspective? His presence in a dream might also mean that you may be trying to fool yourself. If the magician is causing trouble he may represent deception. Are you trying to control something or do you fear someone else’s attempts at control?
Empress: Also known as the Great Mother, the Virgin Mary, Isis, Hecate, Qwan Yin, the Hindu goddess Kamala, and Gnosis. This card can sometimes represent Mother Nature. She can be seen as the sustaining nurturer, symbol of love (e.g. in her Venus form), and mother of ideas. She represents the potential of humankind.
She can be seen as a gateway to the light and the ultimate divine nature of humankind. She is also both wisdom and folly. She can represent the bridge or connection between the ineffable, what cannot be experienced in words, and the manifest, how the divine translates into the everyday. She is essentially the mother of creation.
I have seen a form of her in my dreams where she has appeared as Sophia showing and inviting me to take the path less traveled into a higher understanding, aka awareness, of reality.
In a dream she can represent power and honor and influence both in the positive and the negative. She can represent the influences our own mothers had, and in most cases continue to have, on our life and how we perceive it.
In a male’s dream she may represent a need for independence from ones own mother or a better or different interaction between his masculine and feminine personality selves/traits. Without a separation from his mother image a male might be always looking for her in all his relationships and only be projecting her image onto these relationships and never seeing the real person.
Emperor: The masculine archetype of leadership, assertiveness, and courage. He is the doer of the potential of the Empress. He is the energy behind the creative imagination of the Empress. He reflects power but not force. To confuse the two becomes destructive, not creative. He is the applier of the love represented in the Empress. He directs and applies the energies of the Magus and the Empress, essentially the igniter of their energies into the world. He represents the divine reason to the boundless imagination of the two. Essentially he is the yang to the Empress’ Yin and suggests the need for balance and the proper exercise between the masculine and feminine traits.
In a dream and in his positive aspect he can symbolize the need for action, decisiveness, completion and balance, or the need for harmony. Consider that his negative form would represent the opposites of his positive qualities, force instead of power, imbalance or disharmony and destructiveness. He can represent the negative or positive father, even God or the devil. The Emperor can also be represented by a priest, or ones own father. Sometimes ones father traits or habits can be helpful or debilitative. He often reflects our inner expectations for ourselves for good or bad.
He can represent control by others or self-control. In a female’s dream he can represent her animus her own inner masculine positive or negative and the need for balance and the manifesting of some needed trait e.g. assertiveness or decisiveness.
Temperance or Hermaphrodite: (the marriage of Hermese and Aphrodite) representing the conscious and unconscious, the masculine and feminine attributes, and the blending of opposites – it temporizes the headlong flight of the Fool. This union of opposite attributes can be seen in the Lovers card as well (notice that in this card a Temperance-like angel seems to be in the background). sometimes these images are speaking to the need for some kind of adjustment to a way of thinking. These cards can also speak to a way of bringing harmony to ones contrary thoughts. They can also be seen as a symbol of the need to unite the conscious and spiritual selves. Ultimately a dream with either or both of these images might be about love, giving or getting and what it is to mature and sustain it.
Lastly, I bring up the Death card: In a dream this doesn’t always mean ones own death or the death of someone close but can be symbolic of an ending or the need to end something. It can mean the death of a way of being, an idea, point-of-view or of a relationship of some kind. In a dream it can be about transformation or the need for it. It can symbolize change. Behind death waits something new so it can sometimes represent the generative power behind a new beginning.
Sometimes death in a dream symbolizing the lack of resistance needed to diminish the power that the resistance to evil actually gives to evil. The fear of death is often an impediment to healing and growing. Death’s dark aspect is often used to avoid dealing with scary things and yet there is treasure hidden in the darkness of death’s potential.
Death in a dream can be pointing to ones inner demons and the need to deal with them appropriately, to take personal responsibility for them and accept that they are a part of oneself. Accepting without becoming and acknowledging ones dark side without judgment begins the journey toward real change. Thus death can symbolize the need for or the beginning of real growth. Death in this light is a transpersonal image, a means for transcending the ego-self.
The human mind functions at the level of dichotomies i.e. opposites. For it nothing exists but because of its opposite e.g. good/bad, up/down, left/right male/female. For the most part we revel in our differences and group ourselves according to our differences. We put lip service to accepting diversity but this has parameters e.g. as long as it isn’t too different and as long as we reserve the right to accept on our own terms.
In a democracy people are always struggling with tolerance, acceptance, and oppositions and in the thick of the struggle it often looks as though a rigid rule or creative separation might be the easiest way to go.
Unity is one of humankind’s great dilemmas because each of us on a fundamental level thinks of ourselves as separate from everything and everyone else. We just don’t function as though we’re one thing–with many facets, and manifestations, yes, but fundamentally at the level of spirit and soul, one thing that includes all things, ideas, beliefs, and ways of being. For all of us our bodies and minds end at the end of our extremities–at the surface of our skin. And all our institutions reflect this bias (some say it’s a cognitive error) we either create laws, or rules (spoken or unspoken), constitutions, articles of confederation, religious dogmas, or physical manifestations to keep us apart and to protect us from the separated other person.
But we have to do this because we can’t/don’t/won’t trust each other to act as though we are one. We don’t trust each other to hold each other in respect and in love. And nearly everyone has gone into agreement that this is the rational way of being. But is it? As a famous TV Psychologist often says, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” If we look at the amount of guns, bombs, murders, starvation, betrayal, cheating, wars, conflicts, oppressions, locked doors, armies, police, vigilante groups, laws, loneliness, bullying, rape, put-downs, lies, cover-ups, deceits, burglaries, slavery, and rebellion in the world that should help you with an answer.
You’d think if we knew and acted as though we are each other, a single creation from a single creator (regardless of name), that we could at least treat the illusion of the “other” with some respect.
Ah, but that’s the rub! Do we not treat each other with respect because deep down we don’t respect ourselves? In this waking dream where nothing is as it seems, where we stand apart and are only witness to the images that parade before us, we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t believe in the beauty of what we are. We often think of ourselves as a lie because to reveal the real self would cause rejection and then we would really be alone. Better to either be a traditionalist or a rebel than to not exist at all.
But what would happen if you truly loved unconditionally what you are, with all your faults and warts? Would it be a little easier to accept the “other” in the same way?
Whether you’re a terrorist, anarchist, Democratist, isolationist, or religionist you probably want pretty much the same thing–safety and peacefulness, a sense of belonging and of being loved i.e. the right to exist as you believe. But I don’t think any of these needs can come from outside yourself, or in the attempt to manipulate, or dominate others. Peacefulness, belonging, love and the feeling of security have to grow from within before their seeds can ever be effectively sewed in the greater world.
Unexamined events in our childhood lives have left indelible marks on our unconscious landscape. These marks, or shall I say wounds, have effected how we relate to the world and to ourselves throughout our lives.
I always wondered why I related to people the way that I have and in some ways still do. Why do the actions of some people upset me and others don’t? As I’ve grown older I’ve also become interested in what motivated and motivates my actions and have become convinced that much, if not most, of my behaviors were automatic responses to patterns laid down and built into my unconscious mind during those formative years.
Sometimes those patterns, a template for perception, will reactivate during some modern day events. It’s as though the event reaches deep into my unconscious mind and “hooks” a pattern, a feeling, and/or an early similar event and I find myself feeling and acting in a way alien to my current emotional state. In fact, psychologists label these motivating elements “hooks”.
For example, a person might have experienced a mother who was for some reason, (from the perspective of the child the reason is irrelevant) cold and indifferent to them as a child and out of that learned to do whatever was necessary to gain acceptance and acknowledgment, trying also to be loved and cared for. Of course this would never produce the desired result though over time may become the primary motivator, or hook, behind their material success– a material success with little feeling of love or personal attainment i.e. there’s a lot of very successful people out there who don’t think they’ve really “made it” or feel unfulfilled despite their achievements.
When the fear of disapproval, or failure or the potential for shame comes up many people are hooked into certain response patterns such as denial, withdrawal, and/or rage making it difficult for them to respond effectively.
There are also materially successful people who are self-critical and mildly depressed and full of fear. There are many marginally successful and those that might be considered unsuccessful by the current patriarchal society whose early critical upbringing has added a poisonous aspect to their world view e.g. hooks such as insecurities and powerlessness and who have great difficulty overcoming the negative affects of a less than optimal childhood.
Many males experience a stunted masculinity due to their inability to employ their emotional selves, as do females who have opted to put theirs on the back burner while trying to make it in a patriarchal environment.
What may have caused this damage to our individual and societal potential for happiness and fulfillment has been a depreciated feminine aspect of compassion, intuitiveness and self-forgiveness. Our patriarchal drive toward rationality, high productivity and material success has quite literally cut us off from the feminine side of ourselves and that of our society.
Far too many women have subverted their feminine side in order to compete in a patriarchal system and far too many men have rejected their less dominant feminine side to their personalities due to an unconscious fear of a women’s disapproval engendered from the early mothering of their childhood.
It is said by some psychologists, most notably Carl Jung, that within each of us an archetype, a human race image, of the ideal mother, The Great Mother. Unconsciously everything in our waking world is compared to this image buried within our subconscious. Clearly this affects what we perceive regarding our conscious world mothers both positively and negatively.
Now I’m not mother-bashing here, most mothers do a herculean job of raising their children, but they are human and do make mistakes and on occasion do things that are more in their best interest than the child’s, but what the child does with those instances of not being the best mother are what leads to the negative affects I’ve detailed above. In a society where the father is supportive of the feminine these minor effects would be mitigated but many of these fathers have had their own inner feminine stunted and demeaned if not outright buried. In a society that pays no premium toward looking at its emotional self the feminine aspect cannot bring balance to an overly masculinized environment.
The consequences of restricting the feminine aspect in all of us has profound and long lasting effects on each of us to achieve our potential and ultimately to live in an environment of fulfilled happiness. Sure, we are the most militarily, economically, and productively powerful nation on Earth, but at what cost? We certainly aren’t the happiest, contented, the best cared for, or loved and loving people on Earth and the fear of possible failure haunts nearly every activity. Both males and females in this society seem to feel inadequate and diminished or are running from the possibility of these feelings.
We need to bring greater parity to the sexes not only in the economic realm but in the psychological and emotional realms as well.
If you have the answer, then don’t bother to read on, because it’s not about finding an answer. It’s about the paradox and about unsticking the mind by grasping the unknowing, because it is only in the unknowing that something new can enter. This is a type of Zen Koan and is designed to put the mind into a double-bind and thus paralyze the ego-self, that which thinks it needs all the answers.
There’s another Zen story about the professor who comes to a Zen master for the purpose of learning something about Zen. The master offers him a cup and asks if he would like some tea. “Yes, of course!” Replied the professor and the master began to pour and pour until the cup ran over and filled the saucer then ran across the table. “But the cup is full!” Cried the professor. “And so are your ideas about Zen!” Suggested the master. Again, it is with your mind full, when you think you already know something, that there is no room for anything new.
Here’s a third story where Chuang Tzu, a Taoist teacher, told of a time when a man traveling in a boat sees another boat heading right toward him. In reaction he yells in anger and shakes his fist at the other boat to come about and change course, but nothing happens and they close the gap getting closer and closer. But now he notes that there’s no one in the other boat and his anger subsides and he himself steers clear. His preconceived notion nearly got him killed.
These stories lead to three more lessons in wielding magic, 1) Embrace the double-bind–the paradoxes of life, but embrace them as mysteries; 2) Give up what you know–actually, give up what you think you know. Until you do, you cannot learn anything; and 3) Learn to respond, not react–don’t operate out of your preconceptions, or your expectations e.g. be appropriate to the moment and action will flow easily.
Actually all three require letting go of the ego-self, the “I” and this leads me to a fourth lesson.
The “I” divides us from the magic that is all around us. It separates us from one another and makes us less than whole. In a men’s group this morning we got to talking about how so often we humans get caught up in dichotomies separating left thinkers from right, conservative from liberal, etc. We talk about diversity being a good thing but rankle when it bumps up against us. Every time a group doesn’t think or act the way we think they should we take our game somewhere else, church denominations split, political parties cut each other off, friends and lovers walk out on each other–separation, separation, separation.
However, I think that the very divisions can point to the whole and we can become more aware of what the whole looks like through the diversity. Each point of view is valid none are superior, or inferior, to the other except through the lens of our egos. And I contend that it’s only when we embrace our opposites that we can feed our souls.
Speaking of opposites, there’s an old Chinese fable that tells the story of the difference between heaven and hell. In both places there is a large banquet table. Each of the people sitting around the table is given 5-foot long chopsticks to eat with. In hell the people try in vain to feed themselves with their 5-foot long chopsticks while in heaven each person just feeds the person across from them. In heaven they surrender their individuality and rid themselves of their self-imposed division.
In church on Sunday we passed the peace of Christ amongst us when I came upon two folks who were deaf. In their signing the peace of Christ I noted that the sign for peace was the clasping of the left and right hands back and forth–how appropriate, peace comes from the inclusion and union of opposites.
Stepping out on the porch and into the night I saw silhouetted at the edge of the lawn an animal all in black, its back arched high, tail erect, and ears plastered along its head. A low guttural howl rumbled from deep inside it and grew louder with each passing moment.
I scanned the yard for the object of the black beast’s ferocity and there, cowering against a low lying bush, a white cat critter lay hunkered low to the ground with its hair raised high along its spine. Both animals stalked and circled each other and issued a racket loud enough to raise the dead.
The air was heavy, and thick with fear. I was about to witness a mindless clash of titans.
“Oh for goodness sakes you two, knock it off!” I exclaimed while stepping rapidly forward. “Shoo, shoo!” said I while dismissing the combatants with a wave of my hands. They then scattered to opposite ends of their territory and slinked off into the night, living yet for another day.
I can remember as a school principal saying the same thing, minus the “shoo-shoo”, to a couple of boys squaring off on a high school campus. Cats, lizards and teenage boys sometimes have a lot in common, especially when they set whatever higher thinking skills they have to the side and begin to function from their reptilian brains. It’s the same brain that convinced me when I was thirteen to put on some old roller skates and hitch a rope tied around my waist to the back of an ice truck just before the driver headed out onto the main blvd. What was I thinking? And that’s the point, I wasn’t, nor were the two cats or the two teenage combatants. We were functioning exclusively in our reactive instinctual mode (self-preservation isn’t high on a teenage boys list, after all they’re immortal).
We seem to observe this mode more and more often these days, in our politics (a lot of lizard-brain posturing there), in our neighborhoods, and in the work place. Fear is the primary stimulus for reactive positioning and it is fear that is being exploited in governance, politicking (“he’s destroying our country!”), on the radio & T.V. (facts, who needs facts?), and commercial advertising (e.g. “kills 99.9% of all disease causing bacteria”). And when we get entangled in our fears we go out and buy guns, and begin to make any number of bone-headed decisions that ultimately make us even more fearful.
Overall, our animal natures are just barely subdued and held in check and when bombarded with messages of fear the veneer of self-control begins to wear dangerously thin. And when finally pushed into a defense mode we shut down the also thin thinking layer of our brains and begin to operate from the vast repository of the unconscious and the animal within arches its back and growls a warning.
These warnings show up in our waking lives all the time with low volume growls of “Bitch, bastard, A_ _hole!” and any number of even more vile expletives meant to demean another being as a means of defending ones own. They also show up in our dreams as dogs that bite, snakes that hiss, spiders threatening to ensnare us, and large animals that chase us down and attack.
Once caught up in the unconscious animalistic and irrational fight, or flight mode, it’s hard to get back to the rational thinking mode. However, no matter how threatening, these animals also have immense capacity for good. When observed prowling in our hearts or in our dreams we can use them as a signal to take note of what is happening around and within us. If we can stop in mid expletive and observe what’s happening we have a much better chance of functioning out of conscious rational choice rather than be reactively controlled by our unconscious animal. When we can be more conscious of our socio-political environment and our reactions to it through the monitoring of our dreams we can also be more at choice in our responses.
I think we need to be able to “shoo” away our inner and outer animal and stand between our warring aspects in order to scatter them and give space for more measured and thoughtful responses. God gave us a part of the brain not given to the lizard and the cat to aid us in this endeavor and I think we better start using it a little more often if we want to survive our darker natures.
Animals frequently show up in dreams and I’ve written about a number of them but I thought that I would look at these images from another perspective i.e. how they represent the interplay between psychic opposites.
For example, in both my dreams and waking life I seem to have a positive affinity to Dragons, Phoenix, Eagles, Wolves and the occasional Raven or Crow while on the other hand I have negative reactions to snakes, spiders and sharks. On the surface this sounds reasonable at least from the perspective of the negative animal images. However, when I look more closely I notice that dragon/eagle/wolf represent, among other things, freedom (freedom of expression and being), whereas snake/spider/shark represent quite the opposite i.e. these images restrain and take me over leaving me no room to express.
But there is also a unification of both the negative and positive aspects in that the
Phoenix or Eagle on the one hand and the snake on the other are both symbols of rebirth and transformation. There is a healing of the soul in the reconciliation of its opposites. The image of an Eagle or Phoenix grasping a snake or fighting a dragon is the symbol of confronting our shadow selves, our inner devil, in order to set free our soul.
Even the Dragon is both the positive of the East and the negative of the West and the snake can be both a sign of God’s power, as with the staff of Moses thrown down before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-10) and of the Devil as well (Rev. 12:9).
Ravens are often seen as tricksters, magicians, shaman, guides to and messengers from our deeper selves, as well as cultural heroes.
Ravens and crows can also be seen as psychopomps– guides to the underworld after death or as guides to the inner and unconscious self.
Within the Wolf there also lies attributes in opposition because he or she is both shadow and bright beauty, socially confident and a loner, self-confident and obsessed both in-control and out of control. The shark can be both self-empowering and an emotional threat while the spider can both threaten your well-being and yet symbolically protect you from self-destruction.
There’s no coincidence in the images one chooses to express the interplay of opposites in that the psyche is continuously working on resolving this inner conflict of personalities. This shows up in the World Psyche as well when it is noted how oppositional nations, and cultures are in their interactions with each other.
These animals represent different aspects of our nature, that part of us that is instinctual (animal-like) or conditioned (by parental and cultural values). If left to only our instinctual or conditioned selves we would be hell bent on our own destruction. But human beings also have a mediator, the ego-self, this part of the psyche that I’ve been talking about over the last week. This part of our psychological construct is far from perfect and is easily influenced, but it is there to act as a rational intermediary between the opposites of the desirous-self and the moralized-self. In short, it helps to keep the balance between the two extremes and could do a reasonable job if not coopted by either of the other two constructs.
Normally a healthy ego-self can withstand the onslaught but once in a while it is overcome by fear, that turns to anger and that makes it near impossible to hear the voice of the rational. Eventually the ego-self is so overwhelmed that it figuratively becomes fear, no longer just having it, but being it.
As everyone knows fear is extremely painful and the human body is designed to do whatever is necessary to reduce or eradicate pain. One of the most important ways of doing that is to find the source of the pain and get rid of it, that is to figuratively or physically kill it. The animal self comes to the foreground and shouts down the voices of morality and mediation or colludes with the morality-self so as to justify its actions and chaos erupts.
Now this process works pretty well for the other animals in the universe, but humankind has something that the other animals don’t have, the ability to kill huge numbers of others in a relatively short period of time. We also are much more interconnected with each other than the rest of the animal kingdom is. This connectedness is both our strength, because we can work together toward universal solutions, and weakness in that it can spiral out of hand quite quickly leaving our survival in disarray.
Having your fear without becoming your fear:
When we allow our animal nature and instinctual fear responses take us over the end product is never in anyone’s best interest. It may provide an immediate solution but over the long haul is no solution at all e.g. do we feel any safer because we have so many guns in our homes? Do we feel any safer with huge stockpiles of munitions and weapons of mass destruction? Do we feel any safer having built high walls and fences around ourselves? Do we feel safer because we’ve locked up so many of those people whom we fear?
We’ve rejected the vaccination of our children out of fear and our children are dying. Some parts of the world have rejected sexual contraceptives because they fear others are trying to kill them off and hundreds and thousands are dying. Some have started wars designed to kill off entire cultures because they fear they are destroying their way of life and millions have died. All because of irrational and unmitigated fear.
If our frequent and usual response to our fears is to pull the proverbial “trigger”, how long can we last? And do we really want to live like that, huddled in the dark corners of our mind or the bombed out buildings of our cities?
Perhaps we need to open up to another response strategy and to recondition our animal response to threat and develop some other tools for safety. Some are trying to do that, but they are too small a group to overcome the darkness alone. This will take all of us to make the shift from the exclusive-instinctive-individual-self to the self-aware-consciousness of the inclusive-global-self required of modern man. We need to get out of our social-emotional caves and deal with our problems as mature human beings, not reactive animals. What we need is to embrace a new evolutionary way of being distinct from that of our ancient cave dwelling selves. And we can’t wait for “them” to do it because “they” will never do it, they’re too afraid to come out of the cave.
Some have asked me, ”but how, how do we do it?” and I answer, “There are hundreds of wizards out there that have found ways of making the evolutionary shift in ourselves. I’ve also written over 500 articles, thousands of pages and referenced hundreds of links all dealing at some level of what kind of change we need to make in our individual and collective selves to make this shift in consciousness and action. Somewhere in there, there have to be some kernels of answers.
I’ll give a little hint, however, something that I learned in the Marine Corps, of all places. It is this, we all initially react with fear when we perceive or are confronted with real threats. No one is immune to this, we may ignore the fear, deny it or gloss over it, but we will have it, it’s the way we’re wired. And there are only two fundamental responses to fear once it’s triggered– we either gird for battle or run like hell. There are lots of nuance to these two responses but fundamentally we are restricted to these two basics. Often the first reaction is to look for a way out, but all too often that’s not available to us. That’s when you “have” the fear and advance anyway.
It’s scary in todays world to confront injustice and intolerance because the purveyors of it can get quite aggressive in their defense of it and they will stop at little to have you become so fearful that you’ll run away and hide, physically or psychologically. That’s when you have to stand-up and face the fear, have it, yes, but not become it, not be overwhelmed by it. It’s when you need to step outside of your animal-self and manifest your reasoned self, your loving self.