The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that “the greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents,” by which he meant that where and how our caretakers were stuck in their development, this becomes an internal paradigm for us also to be stuck.
Frequently, we find ourselves dealing with a parent’s unresolved issues. At times we may replicate the patterns of our ancestors or we may rebel and attempt to do the opposite. Interestingly, antagonism to the influences of parents binds just as tightly as compliance. Either way, antecedents confine and limit us. Perhaps this is behind the ancient Biblical admonition that the sins of a man shall be visited “upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
Suppose you are raised in a family with a fiery and brutal father contrasted by an oversensitive mother who repressed all signs of her emotion. A child in such a setting cannot emulate both parents at same time. When annoyed or stressed she will be pulled by opposing reactions until a choice is made and one becomes more predominant in her personality. The other personality trait is suppressed, but it still exists as a potential, where it is added to the inventory of unlived life.
Under stress such a person often flips to the opposite, and the suppressed quality comes out in a clumsy, unadapted way. Inadequate adult modeling narrows our choices, as children naturally emulate what they see. Encountering an early series of consistent experiences can implant a limiting generalization in a child’s mind, and so we split off things that we will eventually need to find in ourselves.
As children it is difficult to evaluate whether the larger world runs in accordance with the scheme drawn from the emotional microcosm of the family. This is inevitable in the first half of life. Yet so long as psyche unconsciously and indiscriminately serves the ambitions and agendas of others, we fall short of achieving our own potential. Eventually we will be called to sort through this inner maze to find the path that is truly ours. This sorting process, to emerge into an enlarged state of adulthood, is the worthy achievement of the second half of life.
Once you see things your parents did or didn’t do, you can’t just erase the memory of it, but you can transform it. You must try to work with and transcend the mess you have inherited. You transform it by making it conscious. Things that cannot be lived out directly, must be lived out symbolically or ceremonially.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that “the greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents,” by which he meant that where and how our caretakers were stuck in their development, this becomes an internal paradigm for us also to be stuck.
(To see techniques for working with your dreams, please scroll down to earlier posts)
Dreams concerning physical mortality often show order and unity, as though the contradictions of life are resolving themselves. For example, here is one from a client of mine, an elderly woman who had been diagnosed with cancer. This dream occurred during a time of crisis, when she realized that despite efforts to battle the cancer it had metastasized and could no longer be contained. She was terrified. Then the following dream came:
"I am walking downhill to a lake. The water in this lake is very clear. I can see all the way to the bottom. The rocks are all the same size, though they are turned in different ways. To the right, a man is swimming in the water, and he seems to want me to join him. Then, to the left, I see a beautiful unicorn. It is up to its knees in the water, and it is gorgeous. The bottom part of the unicorn is dissolving into patterns or waves, while the top is like a beautiful statue. Others are fearful of this animal, but I am not. The most intense feeling is one of clarity, as though I can look right to the bottom in this dream."
This image of the unicorn was miraculous, a gift from the unconscious, but at first the dreamer did not want to accept it. The dream promised that if she would be honest about the impending death, she would see immense beauty in it. The water is so clear she can see right to the bottom of existence – every rock is in place. The unicorn is a mystical animal, a symbol of oneness and unity, sometimes spoken of as a Christ symbol. In this context it seemed to refer to a gathering of the pieces of this woman’s life into a unity. At the time of this dream there was still unlived life in the dreamer, torturing her. The dream seemed to promise that if she would make this conscious, she would possess clarity, completion, and wholeness. This dream attempted to inform her what the death experience could be like; her distress was given a direct answer. The unicorn dream was wonderfully clear. What the dreamer was afraid of was actually the glory of her life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:08 PM
Robert is a classically trained musician. (His clavichord playing can be heard briefly on the Sounds True CD set, The Golden World, which will be available in October). Therefore Robert's tastes tend toward the Baroque and the classical; Jerry is a big fan of jazz, particularly European. We'd like to share some of our favorite music, focusing on eclectic titles you may have missed. By clicking on each item you can learn more about it.
Albert Schweitzer plays Bach, Vol.2: The Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was also a remarkable musician. Vol. 1 has Bach's more well-known works and is equally wonderful. This volume is played on the Silbermann organ at St. Aurelia Church that Robert visited in Strasburg in 1948, a month before he began training at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. He was allowed to play Bach in the church where his hero had made these historic recordings. The story is described in our book Balancing Heaven and Earth. A mystical approach to timeless music.
Enrico Pieranunzi, Marc Johnson and Joey Baron: Fronting the most engaging and lyrical piano trio since Bill Evans, the Italian Pieranunzi utlizes Johnson (who played with Evans) and creates transcendent improvisation, the sound of surprise. In particular seek out Live in Japan, and the earlier CD, Current Conditions.
Shweta Jhaveri. On her newest recording titled Anahita, Jhaveri shows she is steeped in the traditions of the drut khyal style of ornamental singing from India. Her vocals swirl in uncanny glissandos and precision vibrato, yet this is far from a traditional album of ethnic music. Jhaveri has surrounded herself with a quartet of San Francisco's finest world-music eclectics. American violinist Jenny Scheinman shines. Mesmerizing.
Fellini: l'Uomo Dei Sogni. More than a soundtrack album, this is filled with the themes of Nino Rota but the music has been reorchestrated and is performed by the Harmonia Ensemble. From the notes: Fellini was the man of dreams. To him, dreams were not confined to sleeping. Dreaming was something that he did with his eyes wide open...dreams were omens that needed to be interpreted, they were an adventurous ocean in which to sail and not simply an extension of our lives in another dimension. Sip a cappuccino and enjoy.
Maria Pia de Vito is a most versatile singer who explores the many ways the human voice and breath can express feeling. She can sing jazz with the likes of Diana Krall, intimate, yearning blues like Nora Jones, but is best mixing it all together with the ethnic mix from her native Sicily. Her recordings are hard to find in America but definitely worth seeking out. Phoné is an import CD on the Egea label, beautifully recorded with a mix of improvised forms, rhythms and melodies from Italy, Africa and Eastern Europe. The title, related to the English word phonetics, refers to sounds that precede and surpass the limitations of language. In Eucharisto Soi, lyrics are taken from a gospel and concern "the voice of silence," as a means through which the spirit enables us to experience the divine. A Neopolitan folk song, a Macedonian lullabye that morphs into the blues, a madrigal from the 15th century, intricate tabla rhythms: all of these are fused together into a synthesis that is contemporary and timeless (and simultaneously an exploration of time, with time signatures that are exotic and ever-shifting). Surrounded by master musicians, every note seems well placed. She has operatic training, but her voice is always elegant, pure, and often sensual. If you can find it, another CD, Verso, with John Taylor and Ralph Towner, is equally enthralling (note that some of the lyrics are English, others in Italian). AmazonUK carries this one.
The German label ECM is well-known for its pristine chamber jazz. Two recent releases of great beauty and understatement are: Gianluigi Trovesi's Vaghissimo Ritratto and Enrico Rava Quintet's The Words and the Days.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 9:00 AM
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Why Good People Do Bad Things, by James Hollis
Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism, by Toshihiko Izutsu
Letters to A Man in the Fire, by Reynolds Price
A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
A Flower Does Not Talk, by Zenkei Shibayama
A General Theory of Love, by Lewis, Amini and Lannon
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Lilith-The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine, by Siegmund Hurwitz and Gela Jacobson
DVDs that we have found to be remarkable:
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
Girl With a Pearl Earring
You can learn more about each title by clicking on it. Let us know what you think.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 12:51 PM
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Movies have become a powerful myth-making medium for our age. Numerous films depict people struggling with issues that arise in the transition from a prescribed existence to finding a life that is in accord with one’s deepest calling.
A recent film, The Family Man, poignantly examines the path not taken. The main character, Jack Campbell (played by Nicholas Cage), gets a glimpse of what his life might have been had he chosen love ahead of money and material success. On the surface Jack seems happy enough, leading a busy, if unexamined, life.
As the story opens it is Christmas Eve. Jack, as usual, has been working late to close a business deal. He decides to leave his grey Ferrari in the parking garage and walk home in the freshly fallen snow. On the way home, stopping for a quart of eggnog at a city grocery, he is pulled into a frightening confrontation: When the grocer refuses to honor the $230 prize on a suspicious-looking lottery ticket, a stranger pulls out a gun and threatens to kill the store clerk. True to his character, Jack seeks to defuse the volatile situation by offering the stranger $200 for his ticket. “It’s just a business deal. You take the money and I’ll turn the ticket in at another store; you get your money while I make an easy $30; it’s just business,” Jack says.
The stranger accepts the money, and the two walk out together into the night. Jack then attempts to steer the man away from a life of crime, suggesting rehabilitation.
“You’re trying to save me? What about you?” the stranger asks.
“I have everything I need,” Jack smugly tells the man, who we gradually learn is an angelic figure that has come to earth to give Jack a glimpse of what he has missed in life.
Jack is not an Ebenezer Scrooge in need of redemption. He essentially is a good guy whose life is going exceedingly well. But Jack passed up an incredible woman, his college girlfriend Kate, many years earlier, to pursue his career. What if he had chosen a life with Kate instead of stepping on a jet bound for a lucrative new job on another continent?
This is a conundrum faced by many people at midlife: How do we cope with our unlived life?
On Christmas morning Jack awakes, thinking he is still in his own bed, but quickly discovers there is a blonde woman lying next to him; she turns out to be his long lost girlfriend Kate. Through some cosmic quirk Jack has awakened in a suburban New Jersey bedroom with a wife he never married and two kids he never had.
“I’m not a dad, I don’t have a wife!” he insists. Dumbstruck, Jack looks in the driveway for his sports car, thinking he must have been drunk the night before and perhaps met Kate at a party, but soon discovers that he can’t find his way out of this bad dream. Over the course of the film, we see Jack discovering various slender threads that came together as a result of that fateful decision in his youth to leave Kate. In this parallel universe Jack has turned down the job in high finance and instead taken over a retail tire business owned by Kate’s ailing father. In this unlived life he shops at the mall on weekends, eats funnel cakes, and changes smelly diapers on his infant son.
Kate, a wonderful symbol of the inner feminine ideal, or anima, which resides in every man, serves as a guide, showing him his feeling side as well as the beauty and joy of ordinary domestic life.
American Beauty, a quirky, dark, and ironic film opens with the antihero, Lester Burnham, telling us that soon he will die. “In a way, I’m dead already,” Lester laments. “Look at me, jerking off in the shower. This is the highlight of my day. It’s all downhill from here.” American Beauty tells the story of a middle-aged man who is imprisoned in a cell of his own making; throughout the first half of the film, visually he seems to be constantly behind bars - in the shower, in his bed, at his nondescript work cubicle.
Lester’s is a contemporary suburban American tragedy; he is drifting through the prescribed trappings of success, yet at the age of 42 Lester is a man without passion, self-respect or hope. His wife, a driven real estate saleswoman, rules the household. “Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser. And they’re right,” Lester says. “I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is. But I didn’t always feel this sedated.”
Lester, played by Kevin Spacey, gradually awakens from his unconscious stupor after an even more dysfunctional family moves in next door, headed by retired Marine Colonel Frank Fitts. Fitts stamps out any signs of spontaneity in himself and his family through discipline and rageful force. A collector of Nazi memorabilia, he projects his unlived life on the “other” wherever he sees it, ranting about liberals, homosexuals, and “other weaklings.”
This is one response to the dangerous opportunity of midlife – to brutally suppress any possibilities for change and rigidly follow a set of prescribed rules for living. To let in any ambiguity creates intolerable anxiety for him. We see this response today in many varieties of fundamentalism. The tension of oppositions is too much to bear, and so right and wrong must be sharply demarcated; “evil” is projected upon others and vilified. Married to this man, Mrs. Fitts drops into a deep, almost catatonic depression, another known option for dealing with unlived life.
It is the couple’s teenage son, Ricky, who provides a catalyst for change. A mysterious, vulnerable youth, he has learned to slip under Col. Fitts’ radar. Surrounded by an adult world of cynical compromise, Ricky sells drugs for income, but his passion is creating home movies. He finds beauty in the most unexpected places, such as a discarded plastic bag pirouetting among leaves in the winter wind. Ricky seems to use his video camera to remember things, but when it zooms in on the most mundane and ordinary of subjects he – and we, the audience – are given the opportunity to look again. The film repeats this theme – look again, past the surface, and you will find the miraculous in the ordinary.
In his quiet, poetic way, Ricky explains: “Yesterday I realized there was this entire life behind things. And this incredibly benevolent force wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid … ever. Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, it feels like my heart is just going to cave in.”
Are you leading the life you were meant to lead? Is it too late to change course? We discuss healthy ways to explore paths not taken in our book Living Your Unlived Life. Think of other movies about unlived life: The Big Chill, About Schmidt, Baby Boom, Groundhog Day, Defending Your Life, Brokeback Mountain, The Accidental Tourist, or the Frank Capra classic It's A Wonderful Life. Also revisit Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, a work with extraordinary relevance today, with our culture of narcissm, bureaucratic doublespeak, "reality" television, and mind-dulling anti-intellectual fundamentalism. Julie Christie plays both the anima-like character who draws Montag into life as well as the Stepford wife who dulls depression with drugs and is hypnotized by the forerunner of big screen television and home theater. "Men and books," Truffaut said, "can be burned, but what cannot be burned are ideas." Which modern myths are you living (and which are living you)?
Posted by ruhljohnson at 2:53 PM
In our book, Balancing Heaven and Earth, we introduced the term slender threads, a concept that many people seem to relate to from their own experiences.
What are these slender threads?
• Being in a particular place at just the right time,
• Meeting someone who steers you in an unforeseen direction,
• The unexpected appearance of work or money or inspiration just when they are most needed.
In the second half of life we begin to learn, if we are paying attention, that the ego is best used as an organ of awareness, not the organ of decision making. Almost everyone in our society tries to use his or her will, that sense of "I," to control life. For example, you may say to yourself, “I am going to Europe. I will buy the air tickets for this date, and I will stay at this hotel when I arrive.” The ego is useful for collecting information about ticket fares and accommodations and things to see and do when you arrive. But the ego does not determine the experience you will have on your trip. People get so preoccupied with trying to control things that are not in the ego’s province that they neglect what is the ego’s business - heightened awareness. The ego should be collecting data and watching. The ego serves as the eyes and ears of God. It gathers the facts, but it does not make the ultimate decisions.
The slender threads that guide our lives come from something beyond the ego. The Self is a modern term utilized by Dr. Jung to describe a center of intelligence that is not limited to the ego but contains all of the faculties - conscious and unconscious - of the human personality. Obviously, this is but a new attempt at describing the old concept of the divine force within us.
How do we know if we are truly following the slender threads? One knows instinctively, there is a sense of peace, balance and fullness, an unhurriedness. Looking for a manual to tell you what to do, whether that manual is the Bible or the latest psychological theory, is not useful. Listening to the will of God as it manifests within your own consciousness, hearing what has been called the still, small voice within - this is the religious life for a contemporary person.
This cannot be reduced to a tidy formula, but one general guideline is to ask yourself what is needed for wholeness in any situation. Instead of asking what is good, or what coincides with your personal interest, ask what is whole making. Sainthood is the result of wholeness, not goodness. What is required for more wholeness will be different for each person, and it changes moment by moment. This requires realigning yourself each day, each hour and each moment. When one can live in this fashion, aligning the ego with the inner Self, it has a profound effect on the quality of our lives. Abiding by the will of God gives life - including its misfortunes - meaning, purpose and dignity. It also removes a great deal of the anxiety of modern life.
I must also caution that following the slender threads does not mean manipulating things so that the ego can get its way. Egocentric spirituality just gets one into more intense suffering. Going after the splendor of heaven as an ego project is very different from having heaven open itself up to you. Many so-called “spiritual” people set about the task of increasing the amount of goodness in their life or the amount of lightness or brightness or happiness. I disagree with that entirely. It is an egocentric journey with no nobility in it. More often than not, seeking more goodness or happiness just leads to their exact opposite. I sometimes think that exhaustion is the best tool for enlightenment, as it gets the ego out of the way. It finally just wears down so that the divine can pour through.
The way to approach this manner of living is to start with extremely small things. If you start thinking about it too much, you will just end up in contradiction. Instead of weighing all the pros and cons and forcing a decision with your ego, just try to keep your ego alert and slap its hand gently when it tries to do too much.
For example: I need to get groceries this afternoon. Should I go to the small market nearest my house or the larger one with a greater selection several miles away? Instead of trying to decide, I will just wait until I know where to go. This is, in some ways, a ridiculous example, but if you practice you will find that there is a difference when the ego says something and when the Self says something; I know from experience that the impetus comes from different places in me. You can almost feel in your body the difference between an ego decision and a Self decision. The ego decision seems to come from your head while the Self decision seems to come from your heart or your stomach (we sometimes call it a “gut feeling”).
How do we know when to exert our will and when to let go and surrender to the will of God? There are times when we need to exert our wills. For most young people, the focus must be on strengthening the ego, passing the necessary exams, graduating from school, staying with the marriage, and so on. The focus must be on learning to direct the will to accomplish the cultural tasks of life.
Following the will of God isn’t about resignation or sipping a can of beer and watching television. Rather, it is applying the ego to gather as much information as possible, to serve as the eyes and ears of God. But for the major decisions of life, it must learn to listen to the slender threads to hear what is the best choice at any given point in time.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:40 PM
There is an ancient tale known as The Ramayana that we are particularly fond of. This story from India relates one individual’s journey through life and his gradual enlightenment. In a notable episode Rama the king is holding court during the morning hours. In those good old days when the king sat on his throne to hold court, anyone in the kingdom could come and lay out their problems and concerns. Justice was to be had at the hands of one’s king. The monarch heard the most pressing issues of the day and dispensed justice, wearing his mantle as Wise Elder.
Every morning, as Rama sat on his throne and prepared to hear the long list of petitioners and penitents, a monkey bounced in through the window and brought the king a piece of fruit. This happened daily. Rama became accustomed to this process and didn’t pay much attention. He would take the fruit, thank the monkey, toss the fruit behind him, and get on with the business at hand.
Well, a considerable pile of unused and rejected fruit accumulated behind the throne of the wise king. One day they got around to cleaning and discovered a pile of jewels in back of the throne. It seems that every piece of fruit contained a jewel. Hanuman, a manifestation of the divine in the form of a monkey, had been the one who presented a gift to the king each morning, and the royal had simply tossed it aside.
Every day of your life Hanuman, the monkey god – your instinctive voice of creative potential – hands you a piece of fruit with a jewel in it. And your inner king, busy with the responsibilities, conflicts, anxieties, and worries of the day, tosses it aside. In back of each person’s throne there lies an accumulating heap of gems. These are unlived potentials. They all are available to you, right now, if you will open to this archetypal energy.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 8:00 AM
Monday, June 25, 2007
An important element in the crisis of contemporary life is poverty of feeling. We suffer from an inadequate terminology for feeling. When our language developed a word was chosen – feeling – that is derived from a tactile sense, as sensation experience. This is feeling in one sense, to describe that the surface of something feels rough or smooth, hot or cold, and this is feeling in another sense – when something miraculous happens between two people, some exchange takes place. There is no language for the latter.
Thinking certainly cannot comprehend feeling. There is severe enmity between one’s feeling and the very fact of language. Feeling will not consent to be pinned down by the articulation of English words. That’s why it is so hard to look at someone and draw a breath and tell them in our usual vocabulary what that treasure is. Feeling and language are simply at odds with one another. We were so pleased to read Lao Tse, the first philosopher of the Taoist school, and learn: “If it can be said it is not true. If it is true it cannot be said.” Today, we are up to our ears in that reality.
In considering feeling in the West, it would be better to talk about the faculty of value. All value comes from the feeling function. What do you value? Don’t fall into the trap of trying to analyze feeling. That just leads you astray.
To make an attempt at a differentiation of terms: Feeling is the faculty of valuing; emotion is the energy elicited by any inner experience; mood is the experience of being overwhelmed by a complex.
There is a cliché about a patient coming to a first therapeutic appointment, and the therapist asks, “How do you feel?” This is a linguistic trap. The joke is on the therapist, as you cannot really answer this question adequately. You can’t do it. Most people respond by reciting how they think about feelings.
So, how does one talk about feeling. You can’t. But you can be it.
Feeling is the entry point to every system of valuing in the world. I like to put people through a quick test. I ask them to go about their house and tell me what they value the most. They will switch to thinking rather quickly. For example, they might say that print on the wall is very valuable, it is a limited edition signed by the artist. Or they might respond that the delicacy and refinement of the artist really speaks to them. That is a good thinking appraisal of the art, but it doesn’t touch on the value of it.
Here is another self-test: The next time you are feeling down in the dumps notice what you do; most people try to think their way through a mood such as this. Or, if you tell a friend how badly you are feeling most likely he or she will try to point out all the things that are good in your life to cheer you up. This is thinking disguised as feeling.
If you really want to explore the feeling of being down in the dumps one of the first things you are likely to discover is that something inside you has gone dark. Explore that further. There is some personal story that goes with that feeling, such as, “I am lonely as hell,” or, “I am no good,” or, “I have lost the respect of someone important.”
Our feeling function (a primary depository of unlived life in our thinking-dominated culture) so often becomes the repository for the dark in our individual and collective nature precisely because it is such a neglected quality today.
Active imagination is the best tool we have found for coping with feeling. If you turn your prayer into a dialogue (rather than the inferior form of telling God what to do), it can powerfully express feeling. Of course, the arts in all varieties also provide wonderful language for feeling: a dance, a poem, a song, a garden – these all speak the language of feeling.
© 2007 Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph.D.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 10:04 PM
I dreamed that I was nearly asleep in my tiny bedroom , a single room (amazingly small dimensions) in a hotel or apartment house. I became aware of superb music coming from somewhere outside my room. The music was classical, finely crafted, a male voice singing with large orchestra as accompaniment. I was amazed at the beauty of it and wondered where such sublime music could be coming from. Then a door from the next room, which I did not know existed, opened a crack and the music was louder indicating the music was coming from that room, Also a ray of light came into my dark room. The door opened very slowly wider and wider, people began to come into my room and soon were very near me and some sitting on my bed beside me. I was greatly surprised, pleased and very puzzled. More and more people came, more light came into the room, the room very slowly expanded in all dimensions and finally became a great hall as if in a castle or Medieval building. It was lighted with golden light, perhaps from cut glass chandeliers, many candelabra, elaborate furniture, much gold, rich sculptures, tapestries, inlaid marble floor, everything one could imagine to portray a royal place of immense beauty. The music grew in volume and reverberated in the great room. The many people who had accumulated by this time were royally dressed and were dancing with great dignity on the great floor. Somewhere along the way (though I was not aware of it), I had gotten up from my tiny bed and taken my place in the great dance which was going on. A profound happiness filled me and the atmosphere of the dream.
This dream came to me (in this instance,Robert) two years ago, when I was 85. It seemed to usher in a new era in my life.
One of the most frequent dream motifs in the second half of life involves dying. Often this seems to indicate that some energy system or old pattern in you is expiring; you must not conclude that your physical death is immanent. You may be at the end of a certain era in your life and some aspect of you needs to die and transform. This is necessary to clear the way for further development.
When I resided in India, dead bodies could be seen daily on the street or near the ghats of the Ganges and there was much less mystery about our inevitable dissolution of form. In modern life in the West we tend to hide death as though it is something that should not be.
Dreams concerning physical mortality often show order and unity, as though the contradictions of life are resolving themselves.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 5:40 PM
Here are a few quotes from C.G. Jung concerning dreams:
"The dream is a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious." (Collected Works, Vol 8, par 505)
"A dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public and the critic ... all the figures in the dream can be conceived as personified features of the dreamer's own personality." (CW, Vol. 8)
"Dreams that form logically, orally, or aesthetically satisfying wholes are exceptional. Usually a dream is a strange and disconcerting product, distinguished by qualities such as lack of logic, questionable morality, uncouth form and apparent absurdity or nonsense. People are therefore only too glad to dismiss it as stupid, meaningless and worthless." (CW, Vol. 8)
"The words composing a dream narrative have not just one, but many meanings."
"I have no theory about dreams...I share all your prejudices against dream interpretation as the quintessence of uncertainty and arbitrariness. On the other hand, I know that if we meditate on a dream sufficiently long and thoroughly, if we carry it around with us and turn it over and over, something almost always comes of it … I must content myself wholly with the fact that the result means something to the patient and sets his life in motion again…for very often the standstill and disorientation arise when life has become one sided." (The Aims of Psychotherapy, CW Vol. 16, para 86)
"What the dream, which is not manufactured by us, says is just so." (Letters, 1960 to Sir Herbert Read)
"The clinical practice of psychotherapy is a mere makeshift that does its utmost to prevent numinous experience." Editor’s Note: In other words, trust your dreams even more than your therapist. (Letters: To James Kirsch, Nov. 1953)
Posted by ruhljohnson at 5:27 PM
I was with my oldest sister and someone else but I can't come up with who, a guy, maybe my husband, maybe my dad... I was visiting, helping them tend a store, groceries I think, but meager offerings, no customers... the store was in a completely enclosed large brick room, no windows, not dark but secluded, like a warehouse... I went out to move my car but didn't have the keys in my pocket… I started back in but then saw that they were lying inside of the car but the car was unlocked... I walked out into the open where the sun was shining and there were lots of people walking and dining at sidewalk tables... there were three or four of these really colorful birds flying in front of me as I walked, sort of like budgies only prettier... they flew to a woman with huge white feathers in her hair and landed on her head... she looked at me and smiled and walked into the street where there was a big parade going on... everything in the parade was white, the cars the floats the flowers the decorations the costumes the hats the animals... all white and brilliant... shining and sparkling... white... I ran back into the store, they were sleeping on the floor on mats against the wall... I was trying to tell them they were missing the parade that they needed to get up and come see the parade it was passing by and they were missing it... I couldn't wake them up and left the store to go outside and see the parade....
What a wonderful dream. I like to begin by expressing appreciation to my inner dreamer, and stating aloud that I have no idea what the dream means. Usually our ego has an agenda (including the dream ego, the narrator in the dream) and will try to “use” the dream to reinforce some conscious position or dismiss it as sheer nonsense. Our goal is to develop relatedness with the dream images and work with them to open up our perspectives beyond the usual patterns of cognition, so we want to consider many possible levels of meaning. Each dream is multi-faceted and, like a gem, will reflect different qualities as we turn it in the light.
In dream work seminars, I am often asked: Is the dream commenting on one’s inner life or on the external situation. For example, if I dream of going to a grocery store with my sister is it talking about my literal sister, or is the dream about the sister inside of me? So often people get confused over this issue, because the unconscious has the habit of borrowing images from outer life and using those images to symbolize dynamics that are going on inside the dreamer.
In truth, a dream is multidimensional and makes no distinction between “inner” and “outer.” The imagery in a dream can and should be applied to both domains of your life.
However, from a practical standpoint in working with dreams I always look first for the inner connection. Since our culture trains us to value the outer world, people generally jump to the conclusion that dreams are commenting directly about something on the outside. If you consider a dream as rerunning events from the day, then it usually will seem superficial and not worth troubling over. Then you are missing some of the most important aspects of the dream.
Start by assuming that the dream is about dynamics within you, not someone else. What are your associations to your oldest sister? Is she religious, angry, gentle …? This is a part of you; she is a symbol of some energy in you. The two of you are visiting a grocery store, but the offerings are meager – and no wonder - it is locked away and secluded. So how is this sister energy (perhaps an aspect of the feminine that is lived-out in your oldest sister but relatively unlived in you); how is it locked away, without an outlook (window) or view on reality? Something is trying to move in your psyche and your life and you misplace the key. It is right there on the car seat.
When this quality or energy or potential bit of consciousness that has been secluded begins to wake up, it notices all kinds of miraculous things: colorful birds, a big parade of life going by. Did you know that the color white is archetypal? A white elephant is a sacred one, but so expensive to keep nourished that one can feel stuck with it. It is a costly burden (as well as wonderful) to get a view of the sacred and keep it going in regular life. So this is a wonderful parade, and you want to tell the rest of the energies in your psyche to wake up – they are missing the miraculous, divine nature of life that is going by everyday. (You also want to wake up that masculine figure that appears briefly at the start but then disappears).
So, to honor this dream you need to do something more than think about it. You need to dream it on and bring it into your daily life in some small way. At a certain level of consciousness there is great color and also something sacred and eternal, shining, sparkling and brilliant … you only need to wake up to it. What in you falls asleep? How do you ” brick off” some essential and nourishing part of you? Have a little conversation with these energies and see what they have to say to you. What in you speaks for keeping things in the “warehouse,” and what in you wants to see the parade? Let me know what you find.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 12:18 PM
Friday, June 1, 2007
In the book, Inner Work, Robert developed a useful four-step approach to begin working with your dreams. (You can purchase that introduction to dreamwork by going to our website, JerryRuhlRobertJohnson.com and clicking on the books link). Here is an introduction.
Dreams speak in metaphor or symbolic language. A dream has great intelligence in presenting images (picture language). A night dream borrows imagery from the day world. You need to work with the images poetically, not literally.
The unconscious manifests through symbols. Inner work is, in large part, learning the symbol language of your unconscious. One goal is to live in partnership with these energies so that your life can be more meaningful and vital. Dreams are an endless source of creativity, nourishment, and resilience in dealing with life's challenges.
Step 1: Make associations: The basic technique is to write down each of the key images in the dream, draw a circle around each key image and then record your associations to each image. Ask yourself: What feeling do I have about this image? What words or ideas come to mind when I look at it? Your association is an word, idea, mental picture, feeling, or memory that pops into your mind. Usually every image will inspire several associations. Only after you have written down all the associations should you move on to the next image and begin the same process. Don't censor. An association that feels silly, off-the-wall, irrational, may turn out to be the one that makes the most sense afer you work awhile. The correct method of doing this can be pictured like spokes coming out of a wheel. Circle the image and draw lines coming out from it to connect your associations. All association proceed from the original image. You return to the center of the wheel before going on to the next image. Let yourself be curious. Why this particular detail at this time? For example, why does this kind of table appear in my dream? Associate to: images, events, moods, characters, places.
Jung wrote: "The manifest dream picture is the dream itself and contains the whole meaning of the dream."
Stick to the dream images Don't chain associate away from the image. i.e, "I am in a blue room." Blue reminds me of my favorite music. I like the sound of the blues. Another example of chain association (which you don't want to do) is I dream of the color blue. Blue = Sad = hospital= Aunt Jennie = apple pie = warm kitchen.
Instead, make direct associations such as:
blue: sad or depressed, I got the blues
color of clarity, detached, cool
my blue sweater, i always wear blue
my grandmothers living room
true blue-honest and faithful
Suppose I had no idea what the image is (I'm a man from Mars), describe it to me and give substitute associations, tell its history again. Different people will have different associations.
Which association is right? Utilize the "it clicks” method described in Inner Work. Follow the energy. One of them will seem appropriate after you finish Step 2. You may feel a spot in you where you are wounded or disturbed. You may find that one association ties with the others to create a meaningful pattern, or makes you aware of something in yourself that you had not considered before. In that moment, you will get a rush of conviction from somewhere deep inside: It fits. It clicks.
Step 2. Dynamics. In the second step you are to connect each dream image (or the pattern of images) to a specific dynamic in your life. Go back to the images and consider what inner part of you has been expressing itself in your life. Connect each image to a dynamic taking place in your life during the week preceding the dream. Internal or external situation? Consider both. With regard to the external, what happened that day? What issues were you wrestling with?
Assume that the dream generally shows your backside, something you don’t already know. If the message seems too obvious, it’s probably wrong. Dreams often speak in extremes. They seem to try to compensate for our lack of awareness of a quality by picturing it in extreme, dramatic imagery. If there is a thief in your dream, it may be using this image to wake you up to somehing dishonest inside you. But the image of the thief may mean that you have repressed some fine quality in yourself, that you have locked it away and you must steal it back. Dreams are enigmatic.
Locate the dream. Where is it taking place? Just as in real estate, take note of location, location, location -- this helps to determine value. Dreams talk about our values: our feelings about what is good, desirable, true, honorable, and moral. Our values express what is most important to us.
Outer images often convey inner realities. When dream of Mr. X, it often is not about Mr. X, but that part of you that is Mr. X like.
Example: Your remember the dream had the color blue, and when you do some association it clicked with depressed. That seems too obvious. Ask yourself: Where and how am I depressed? At work? With my family? What is the dynamic that relates to this blue image?
Example: Your dream has a child: Ask: How am I childlike? Where do I perhaps need more childlike playfulness in my life?
Be open to considering qualities that are embarrassing, negative, or even immoral. A dream may speak in dramatic imagery just to get your attention. It does not mean this is a wish fulfillment.
A dream will often show you your shadow, i.e, you dream of a knife in the hand of a hoodlum, Ask yourself: How am I cutting? What repressed aspect is trying to cut through? Perhaps there is an unconscious juvenile delinquent whose energy could be put to good use in your life if applied at the proper level. Shadow images always are filled with potential energy.
Recurring motifs in dreams include: falling, flying, houses, sex. Sexual dreams often refer to interconnectedness, our coming together in some way, or our creativity. As humans, we are often cut off from our physical realm, and such dreams may appear to take us back into our bodies or connection with animal sensibility. Another frequent motif has to do with toilets. If you dream of a toilet, ask yourself: What needs recycling? What about waste, privacy, sanctuary, creativity? Plumbing may refer to your circulatory system. Perhaps you had a shitty experience. Such dream may also call for letting go, as well as shame/pride.
Soul images vary from culture to culture by may include circles, unity, mandalas, squares, diamonds. They all are attempts to unify the psyche during difficult times. A client once dreamed of baseball diamonds, his psyche’s shorthand for the higher Self, not a suggestion that he should go out to the ballpark (though that too could be good for the soul).
Most common dreams of children are of falling or of monsters. When your child wants to tell you a dream only listen with fascination and appreciation - don't interpret.
Step 3. Interpretations. A tentative interpretation of your dream is the end result of the work you have already done with the images. It ties together the various pieces into a whole. What is the central, most important message the dream is trying to communicate? In this step you will take your associations and the dynamics that are going on in your life, and you will look for patterns. Dreams often complement the conscious situation and add more information.
What is the general feeling tone in your dream? Take note of emotional and bodily responses when you re-read the dream aloud.Choose the interpretation that tells you something you didn't already know. What conscious attitude might it compensate?
Avoid interpretations that shift responsibility away from you.
Step 4. Ritual. So you have done your best to understand the dream with your mind. Now it is time to do something physical: This is the most difficult step for many people. What are you going to do about your dream? To truly honor your dream requires a physical act. How can you manifest something from the dream in your life? How can you incarnate this message from beyond conscious awareness? Do something different in the world that will affirm the message of the dream. It could be practical, for example, you need to start paying your bills on time, or straighten out a relationship.
A ritual could be defined as symbolic behavior consciously performed. The wisdom of such acts can be seen in the restitution that is encouraged in 12-step programs. Acts of kindness or affection are good rituals. You could clarify a misunderstanding. Send someone a card or note of appreciation. Maybe the dream suggests that you need for time for more relaxation - schedule a trip to the mountains, beach, or park. Keep your rituals small and subtle, positive, and affirmative. When you can't think of anything: Light a candle, or walk in park and pick up a piece of paper or an empty can or bottle.
One of meanings of word ceremony in its original Latin form was awe. Behavior related to reverence and awe, sense of connecting to powers greater than us – this is a ritual. Ritual, in its true form, is one of the most meaningful channels for our awe and sense of worship.
This simple four-step method will get you started on working with your dreams. For an advanced course in dreamtending, you will have to read our new book, Living Your Unlived Life.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 11:18 AM
A woman in her late thirties, June, came to see me because she claimed that she could not feel anything. "Other people talk about feelings, but I have always been empty," she confessed. All of her experience was processed as thoughts in her head. She grew up in an Appalachian family in which her mother worried constantly and was frightened of the dangers outside their small and circumscribed existence. Mom warned her children that if they left home they would most certainly fall ill and maybe even die, as the world is a threatening place. My client’s father was given to rages, by which he would terrify the children. June was the only one in the family who did leave home--she broke out, went to college and became a pharmacist in a neighboring state, yet life felt flat to her. This is one of her dreams:
I am inside my house. Looking through a window, I see bluebirds outside. I am very excited and tell everyone in the house. I tell them not to walk near the window or they might frighten the birds. My youngest sister doesn’t hear me and walks by, and I am fearful she will ruin the situation, but then my husband and I are flying with the birds. It is as if we are floating with an entire flock of bluebirds. I wonder if we will fall out of the air or keep flying.
June’s feelings, like the bluebirds, were just outside the window and inviting her - spirits in flight. In response to this dream, June decided to draw the bluebirds, make up stories about them, and then talk to them. She worked hard and made slow but steady progress processing the unlived life of her family. It took considerable effort to become free of her mother’s fears and let her feelings become airborne. There followed a series of dreams with threatening men. In the dreams she ran away or tried to make herself small when such figures appeared. A turning point came when, in active imagination, she was able to confront one of these dark and cruel men. Her body shook with the energy that was released when she reclaimed her power.
Understanding or "interpreting" a dream often is not the most important thing. That is the desire of the ego. The dream allows other aspects of the psyche to have a chance to speak. Energies from the under world attempt to address us many times each day, but generally we are too busy with our conscious agendas to hear them, so they must break through at night.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 11:13 AM
Suppose the author of your dreams wanted to talk about old age. He would not go and write "old age" on the blackboard. He would create a setting, such as a rocking chair on the stage. This is the playwright’s way of talking about old age. That is how a dream symbol arrives--in picture language.
Living with the images of the dream brings consciousness in contact with the irrational customs and desires of the under world. The art of letting things happen is the key that opens the door to this realm. The hardest part for most modern people is to let go the grip of consciousness so the images are allowed to speak. We must give time and patience to the dream images, jumping to no conclusions.
I once had a client, Eve, who was a divorced mother of two children. Her live-in boyfriend was a financial drain and would not commit to marriage or much of anything else. He was something of a sponge, made little effort to relate to the kids, and was not one to talk about his feelings. She could see no future with this man but was worried about her finances without him, even though he contributed little to the monthly budget. Then she had a dream:
I am on a horse named Coke; he was my father’s favorite horse. We are going down a hill, and he wants to lock his legs and slide down the hill. Something is wrong with the horse. I get off. He rolls three or four feet to the bottom of the hill and then dies with his eyes open.
Eve was completely baffled by this dream. At first we tried to interpret it. She was not fond of horses. "They are too unpredictable, not to be trusted," she informed me. Rather than speculating that a horse means this or that, I asked her to recall the image of that horse and to notice what if felt like as she watched it die. As the images came back to her they seemed to fill the room. She observed that the horse’s coat was tattered and worn. That he smelled bad, like something a bit rotten. Then, she noticed that the horse died voluntarily, just rolling himself up on the ground. "What wants to die?" I asked.
"I don’t know," she insisted, but the images were now active in her imagination.
The following week Eve returned and announced that she had decided to kick her scofflaw boyfriend out of the house. She had a follow-up dream:
I am at a wilderness ranch. I am playing near a pool when a dolphin swims up to play with me. I reach out to touch him. Then, there are dolphins all around me. They want to play with my legs. At first, their rough skin feels a bit odd, but I get used to it. Then I look out and see that there is a female dolphin that is ready to give birth. The male dolphins are there to protect her.
The first thing that jumped out in this dream was the flow of energy, as Eve imagined putting her feet in the cold water of the pool. Then something miraculous happened--dolphins appeared. "They are very protective. They want to help me," she said with new confidence.
After working with this dream in active imagination, it became clear to Eve that all she had to do was take a small risk (put her toe in the water) and tremendous growth would occur. The dream generated optimism and courage in her, as she felt that something new was being born. Indeed, a new attitude toward the masculine was being formed, as Eve considered how she had been relying upon men for qualities that were ripe to be claimed from her unlived life, qualities such as financial independence and practical capabilities such as overseeing car and home repairs. She no longer needed to ride on the back of needy dependence on the masculine, an attitude and orientation to life that began with the experience of her father. His horse, Coke (No, there was no drug use in the family), turned out to be a potent symbol of the father complex. The limitations of an old attitude needed to die. The archetypal father image serves as a prototype for our capacity to feel our own worth, self-confidence, and the capacity to carry out necessary life tasks. When one consciously or unconsciously feels inadequate to this task, this is called a negative father complex. Assumptions may originate with the biological father, but these are subsequently reinforced by other relational and cultural experiences.
Over the weeks following her dream of the dolphins, Eve changed the locks on her doors so the former boyfriend could no longer drop in unannounced. Her small business continued to grow and her financial worries quieted as she realized that she could take care of herself.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 11:10 AM
If you need to get into the habit of remembering your dreams, try the following dream incubation. Eat lightly on the evening that you plan to host an informing dream. About ninety minutes before going to bed, begin preparing yourself. Bathe in a leisurely way, holding the thought that you are cleansing body, mind and heart. Put on clean attire in which you feel relaxed. Meditate or collect your thoughts for a period of time. Reach out imaginatively to another presence that will help you in your efforts. This could be identified as your soul, a higher power, your creative spirit, a muse, the unconscious, the higher Self, your patron saint or guardian angel--whatever is real and vivid for you. Ask this presence whether it would be willing to assist you in your dream tending.
Now write down a number of questions or topics that come into awareness. Choose one, or let one choose you. The topic should carry energy and have promise. Rewrite the question or issue into one clear, short sentence or phrase. Whisper it or say it aloud. Then write down the answers to the following questions: How is this issue significant for me now? What is my deepest desire concerning this issue? What are my fears concerning this issue? What is the covert payoff for keeping this issue unresolved? What would I be willing to give up or sacrifice to have this issue resolved?
As you begin to feel drowsy, repeat your issue or question. Go to sleep with the expectation of getting new perspectives during the night. When you awake, write down everything you remember right away before it disappears like the night stars.
A dream is more cinematic that literary, with quick cuts, flashbacks, simultaneity of action. When we write the images down into linear, grammatical sentences we lose much of the actual lived experience of the dream. To regain the sense of a flowing, dynamic process, after you have recorded a dream to aid your memory, try eliminating punctuation in the narrative, such as commas, periods, and capital letters. This way when you read the dream back it will have more flow and will better invoke a living process.
I sometimes like to think of dream images like an animal (such as a cat). They are independent creatures that do not particularly care to be analyzed, interpreted, or made to walk in straight lines. They do, however, appreciate relatedness. Perhaps it wants its ear scratched, to be fed, to be let out to play, or sometimes just to be admired. The same is true for your dreams. Talk to your most vibrant inner figures, and see what happens.
You might also play with the dream images by changing the nouns in your dream record to verbs, action words that are "in process." For example, if I dream of an apple, I might consider: What is 'appeling" about (i.e., what would it be like to be an apple?) Is something in me ripe? Sour? Keeping the doctor away?
In working with a dream in this process-oriented manner you will find that the meaning becomes less important when you allow yourself to get into a living relationship with the images and what is happening in the scene. Befriend the images in your dreams. Try meeting your dreams, not with analysis, but with curiosity, affection, and wonder.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 11:08 AM
Welcome to the blog of Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph.D.
What is inner work?
• A journey toward greater authenticity and wholeness.
• Learning powerful ways for approaching the world of the unconscious.
• Listening to your dreams and imagination.
• Sharing stories and discovering mythic patterns that feel connected to your own life and that deepen self-understanding.
Inner work helps us to comprehend how moments in life, apparently accidental, fragmentary or tragic, belong to the greater whole. The goal of this blog is to help readers become more attuned to the movements and powers of the invisible world, a world that becomes manifest in our daily lives. Humans require some relation towards the uncharted and mysterious aspects of life that surround us on every side, some orientation not just of the conscious intellect but the whole being. The uniquely human role in the divine drama is to consider and engage these invisible energies, to make them conscious, and to incorporate them into our conduct.
We want to begin our blog with a story. C.G. Jung, a great re-discoverer of the power of dreams and myth, was fond of this story:
Once upon a time there was a drought in a village in China. They sent for a rainmaker who was known to live in the farthest corner of the country, far away. Of course that would be so, because we never trust a prophet who lives in our region; he has to come from far away. So he arrived, and he found the village in a miserable state. The cattle were dying, the vegetation was dying, the people were affected. The people crowded around him and were very curious what he would do. He said, "Well, just give me a little hut and leave me alone for a few days." So he went into this little hut and people were wondering and wondering, the first day, the second day. On the third day it started pouring rain and he came out. They asked him, "What did you do?" Oh, he said that is very simple. I didn’t do anything. But look, they said: Now it rains. What happened?
And he explained, "I come from an area that is in Tao, in balance. We have rain, and we have sunshine. Nothing is out of order. I come into your area and find that it is chaotic. The rhythm of life is disturbed, so when I come into it I, too, am disturbed. The whole thing affects me and I am immediately out of order. So what can I do? I want a little hut to be by myself, to meditate, to set myself straight. And then, when I am able to get myself in order, everything around is set right. We are now in Tao, and since the rain was missing, now it rains."
The greatest use of dreams and imaginal work is to put us, like the rainmaker, into harmony with the Tao (West has no word, translated as the Way, or as meaning), so that the right things may happen around us instead of the wrong. Speaking of the Chinese Tao lends an exotic flavor to the story, but this is a simple matter of everyday experience; we find the same intent in the expression, "He must have got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning." This describes a psychological condition in which we did not arise in harmony with the unconscious. We become disagreeable.
The art of letting things happen is the key that opens the door. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, interpreting, negating.
Whether the state of one man can actually influence the weather is not the point. This is a symbol of what proceeds from a harmonious versus a disordered relation of man to the unconscious. This is what dreams can help us to achieve.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive…That’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.”
Posted by ruhljohnson at 11:04 AM