Posts Tagged gnostic
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act…it is an attitude”
Martin Luther King Jr.
When you begin the path of conscious living, forgiveness is one of the first aspects you have to deal with; forgiveness both for others and for yourself. Conscious living without forgiveness is not possible for it is forgiveness that first brings to us the awareness that there is another way of living life. Forgiveness is what activates within us true compassion.
In the beginning most of us think about forgiveness as something we do for someone else. We think that forgiveness is an altruistic act until we realize that our inability to forgive actually makes us double victims. Forgiveness sets us free on more levels than we initially may realize.
As with any emotional response, we do not realize in the beginning how multi layered our responses actually are. On a most basic level for example when we feel anger, our anger does not just stem from a present cause but is also tied with all our past hurts, right back to our first experience of pain. It has even been shown that already when we are in the womb our emotional life is shaped by what feelings our mother experienced during pregnancy. As much as we are nurtured and influenced by what the mother physically takes in her body at the time of our gestation, just the same, are we nurtured and influenced by what emotions our mother experiences. Within the womb we are developing in an ocean of amoebic fluids consisting not only of certain physical particles, but also the invisible emotional emanations of the mother.
When forgiveness becomes part of your living you begin to realize that tied with what you thought was your personal response to a present situation are also ancestral hurts, fears, and hopes as surely as the genetic ancestry that shaped your present form. We truly begin to realize that actually we can do nothing just for ourselves. Every thought we think and every feeling we feel is deeply intertwined with everything around us, spanning both the past and the future. When we realize the interconnectedness of everything within creation, it becomes impossible to seek our own self-interests separate and apart from the interests of others. However, we cannot merely seek to become selfless because of some religious creed or dogma imposed upon us from the outside. The awareness of our interdependence and interconnection must be realized and recognized within ourselves.
With conscious living forgiveness becomes an essential tool of purification to allow our vision to become clearer. Seeing the world through forgiving eyes gives you a completely different perspective as your vision is no longer filtered through personal hurts. We are liberated from the suffering of negativity when we forgive others, and we become a cause rather than an effect. In this sense forgiveness is simple wisdom well known to the heart.
Yet, from a spiritual perspective, there is an even more subtle mystery behind this. Through our interactions with one another we create energetic links, positive and negative, and even when we are no longer in one another’s lives on a material level, these links remain active and at play on psychic and spiritual levels. Thus when we have interactions with other beings and other souls we form connections with them, whether positive or negative. Either way, just as feelings of attachment or aversion keeps us attached to the karmic matrix just so feelings of attachment or aversion attaches us to a person karmically. It is this inner mystery that is hinted at in the verse. John 20:23
John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
Or in another translation;
“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
The Greek word for “remit” is “aphiemi” and means “to send away.” When you cannot forgive someone you form a karmic link with them and when you forgive them “you send them away.” Thus when you cannot forgive someone you are bound to link up with them until what is between you has been resolved.
Positive connections have a tendency to promote and facilitate enlightenment and liberation; but negative connections tend to hold the soul in bondage to ignorance, and all of the sorrow and suffering that follows – it weighs the soul down, as it were. Essentially, holding on to the trespasses others might inflict upon us, we are bound to incarnate again to play out the karmic connection. Likewise, generating negative connections with others by trespasses against them, and they hold on to them we are also bound to the karmic matrix with them. Thus, for the sake of a true enlightenment and liberation, forgiveness is essential to freedom from the karmic matrix. Forgiveness is one of the primary keys to liberate ourselves from bondage to the Law of Cause and Effect.
Accepting responsibility for our energy and our karma isn’t about blaming ourselves, any more than blaming anyone else, but rather it is our empowerment to learn and grow and change – it is our empowerment as a conscious co-creator and for conscious evolution. Since we are not a fixed or static entity, but rather we are a constantly changing phenomenon, naturally our growth and development in the Spirit is a process, a movement – our tikkune (healing) and our self-realization is an ongoing process, so there are many things we will seem to address again and again. In doing so, however, we do it not only for ourselves alone, but we do it for everyone, all our relations. With conscious evolution we realize that we are taking part in the karma of the world and we labor to uplift it. All of this is not quite so personal as it might first appear; it is a movement, a process that we are involved in.
Taking responsibility for our energy is called “confession and repentance” in Christian mysteries, and when the word is liberated from religious dogmatic doctrines we can see there is deep wisdom in this practice as a practice of purification. On a spiritual level, confession is bringing everything into the light, whether positive or negative, in a complete state of openness and honesty, and accepting full responsibility for our energy, our thoughts, words and deeds; and repentance is letting go of shades and shadows, negativity, and reintegrating ourselves with a truer vision of what we are.
Forgiveness allows us to cultivate the silent witness within and allows us to realize that our hurt feelings are a matter of our view and our thoughts, and the play of attachment and aversion. If want to liberate ourselves from the law of cause an effect then essentially our ideal must be that we might be the same in praise and blame alike. This capacity for the silent witness, is very important because as our souls awakens, and as our consciousness expands, we become more and more sensitive, more and more open, and to have such sensitivity and openness we need non-attachment and non-aversion, otherwise it can be quite painful on a psychic or mental-emotional level as our awareness and sensitivity increases.
Our path must be that of a peaceful warrior who puts an end to the violent inclination within ourselves – the violence must end with oneself, and be perpetuated no further. Forgiveness is what defines the boundaries between unconscious and conscious living. It is forgiveness that allows us to truly live love.
In the Sophian Gnostic tradition the Transference of Consciousness is an essential practice. It is a practice to shift of our center of consciousness from the physical body to a spiritual body, a body of light. Although in our tradition and indeed in the Tibetan traditions it is most often a practice given for conscious dying, it is also a practice for conscious living, representing an esoteric or mystical understanding of resurrection and ascension. To experience a shift of our center of consciousness into a body of light, whether astral, spiritual or supernal light, is to experience a very different view of name and form, and personal history, a very different vision of this body and this life – one that is transcendental. Even a glimpse of this greater reality of our being on an energetic level can be empowering and transforming.
Although this practice may appear to be a very lofty practice, I believe that the essence of this practice is also, and have always been essential in the evolution of consciousness in humanity. If we feel ourselves attached to name, form and history, it is very difficult to change our consciousness because we will feel ourselves trapped in our present form. Although we would like to change our consciousness we would time and again find ourselves up against the wall of what we think our limitations are.
Although we are quite capable of thinking alternatively, we have no way into it, because we have had no experience of it. What we actually learn and see is contained within our social and environmental parameters. What we do is also determined by what we can do and need to do in order to survive, given the environmental, technological and social context. What we do determines a particular sort of relationship with our environment. We participate in our environment, in a particular way, to achieve particular objectives. The outcome is a human being that has a particular way of relating to their environment and pays attention to particular phenomenon in the world depending upon social and physical context.
In our minds the form of something both gives it its power and restricts its power. In our minds, the form of something defines the potency or strength and innate nature of something. “An elephant is big and strong, it therefore does big and strong things.” A way of thinking about this link between form and potency is identity; some people or things do certain things and others different things.
Now, ironically that which I have written in the last two paragraphs is actually exact quotes used by anthropologists to explain primitive modes of thinking. All I changed in the texts was to replace “them” with “we” and took out “so and so postulated”. I did this to show how little we have actually changed in mode of thinking from the so-called primitive way of thinking. The reason for this is exactly the reasons outlined in the above texts.
This sort of thinking, involving the body as our insertion point into life, underlies the
phenomenological studies of Husserl, and later Merleau Ponty, that contributed to contemporary
considerations of embodiment and cognition. In 1967 Horton suggested: ‘In evolving a theoretical scheme, the human mind seems constrained to draw inspiration from analogy between the puzzling observations to be explained and certain already familiar phenomena.” We therefore look towards the familiar to explain the unfamiliar and because we do this we are actually stuck in a loop of consciousness. What really differentiate us from past cultures are our skills, also explained in Anthropological context as; development, in hand with practice and training in a particular environment, generates the skills apparent in different cultures.(Ref)
“Mode of thought is more resilient than mode of production,” according to Philip Duke in “The Foraging Mode of Thought” where he introduced the notions “that certain phenomena have different rhythms of change and that these rhythms have different effects on society and the individuals in it.” In other words although we now live in a society where we are no longer foraging hunter gatherers, we still think in that way. Today our hunting grounds are malls and the world of business.
New thinking have always originated in the visionaries among us. In tribal societies these visionaries were the Shamans and medicine men. In the West the visionaries are philosophers, mystics and artists. What they all have in common is that they are able to transfer their consciousness into a body of consciousness that is beyond the bound body of consciousness of the times in which they lived, which is exactly what the practice of Transference of Consciousness is.
Most Anthropologists agrees with an idea of Lévy-Bruhl that what really distinguished our present day thinking from so-called primitive cultures was, that primitive people lived in a world that had no distinction between the natural and the supernatural. “In this world that ties people into relationships with phenomena, it is possible to exchange abilities or powers.” It is in the sense of taking on an ability that Lévy-Bruhl recognized that Bhororo people of Brazil can actually become parrots. Similarly, Khoesan can become lions and that this was, not a metaphor but a reality in their minds. (This will also be an accurate description of what is achieved in the Transference of Consciousness.)
This concept was called by Lévy-Bruhl, “Participation mystique”, or mystical participation, and refers to the instinctive human tie to symbolic fantasy emanations. This symbolic life precedes or accompanies all mental and intellectual differentiation. (Ref) Jung used the term throughout his writings and the concept is closely tied to that of projection, although the Jungian “projection” is an unconscious projection rather than a conscious projection as is done in transference of consciousness or the techniques used by Shamans to transfer their persona into other planes of being or to access the spirit realm to transfer power. We may well ask why we unconsciously project our feelings; could it not be that we instinctive are already aware of the potential of transference of consciousness?
At the outset, of practicing the transference of consciousness, gathering our consciousness as light within our heart, envisioning the image of a holy and enlightened being in a body of light, and projecting our consciousness as light into that light-presence, and merging ourselves with them, is nothing more than a flight of fantasy – an imaginative exercise. However, over time, with continued practice, it can become more than fantasy. We may actually experience a shift of our center of consciousness into a body of light, whether astral, spiritual or supernal light, and in this experience we will discover a very different view of name and form, and personal history, a very different vision of this body and this life – one that is transcendental. – Tau Malachi
Dying and death are very similar to going to sleep and dreamless sleep – according to the Zohar sleep and dream are 1/60th the power of death, and is the same basic process in consciousness, although the vital connection between the body and soul are not severed in sleep as in death. Therefore, this very same practice of the transference of consciousness can be used as we are going to sleep, as a practice of “dream union,” or an invocation of luminous and lucid dreams.
This in itself reflects what was called “primitive thinking” – “making no distinction between the natural and the supernatural.” Life is a Dream” therefore we can transfer our consciousness into “bodies” that is beyond what we are at present.
The place of this transference of consciousness is at the top of the head, the top of the skull, hence the “Place of the Crossing on Mount Golgotha,” the skull.
This same center is also called the center or star of the Divine I Am, which becomes an interesting contemplation when the nature of this center as a point of transition is known and understood.
Although the practice of the transference of consciousness may seem like a very lofty and advanced practice, and on some level it is, nevertheless it is a practice any of us can take up and benefit from, even if nothing more than used as a visualization of what we can become. It is especially useful during times of crisis where we have to cross boundaries of transitions.
Transference of Consciousness is the way through which we can transcend the event horizon of our current physical limitation, which transcends thinking only from what we know to what we consider beyond the horizon of our imagination. In a sense it is exactly dying consciously in order to live consciously. For in order to move beyond our current limitations in consciousness we need to die to our former way of thinking through the process of resurrection and ascension. In order to make a radical leap in consciousness we need to go beyond the present event horizon of our mode of thinking.
Let me be like grass that had been eaten to the ground, but always grows again.
Let me be like a fountain that had been trodden into mudiness, but always becomes clear again.
Let me be like the morning red that always triumph over the darkness of the night…
Success and excellence are the shinning baubles dangled in front us as the ultimate of life’s experience. Even in most spiritual writing these days most is focused on excellence and success. “Ten steps to Success”, “Ten Steps to Lasting Happiness”, “How to get all you Desire” and so forth. If you look at the amount of literature available on those subjects and how many sales they have generated, then the world should currently be experiencing a boom time and the world should be filled with happy people. Yet, what we see in the world is just the opposite. How many people are experiencing an economic boom and how many people are happy? What is wrong with the picture that we see in relation to the theories? The empirical evidence seems to belie the theory.
The problem with most of these theories is that they depict only a partial truth. They show only a small fragment of the whole picture. Life is change; that which is without change, without growth is dead. To be alive means that we have to experience seasons of growth and seasons where everything seems to stagnate and even retrograde. We are also part of the whole and therefore part of the spirit of the times. No matter who or what we are, we will find ourselves influenced by a greater or lesser degree by the season that humanity find themselves in. No one is exempted from this, unless of course we have completely transcended our corporeal form. Furthermore if we are part of the whole we cannot be truly successful if a part of us is not successful, nor be truly happy if a part of us is not happy.
Contrary to what is often said success and excellence can only be measured in relation to something else. In other words, success is seen as relative to failure and excellence is relative to mediocrity. Even if you do not measure your moments of success or excellence against the excellence or successes of others, it still has to be compared against what you see as success or failure. Thus we are not practicing non-attachment. We will either be striving to achieve relative success or excellence and thus be attached to avoiding failure and be attached to striving for success. If we are attached to something we set ourselves up for disillusionment and no matter how successful we may appear in the eyes of the world, we will still experience failure in our own eyes. Success or excellence can only be experienced in a moment. Yesterday’s success is tomorrow’s failure, and yesterday’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity.
I find it interesting that in tracing back the word failure it seems to root from the latin word “fallere”, which means to deceive. To be deceived is to given cause to believe what is not true and thus involves the belief of a misrepresentation of the truth. This is indeed what we perceive when we think we are a failure or when we belief that we are failing because we can only see the partial truth.
In the current spirit of our times failure and mediocrity is seen as the modern day leprosy. In the Western world we have little or no preparation, or guidance for the process of transformation. We enter our transitions from one phase of life to another with no real preparation. As a result we only learn through the school of hard knocks. Even in this we are told to avoid mistakes and failure at all costs. We are applauded for our successes, and punished for our mistakes.
Nicholas Molina, reflects about the irony of success in his article “The Failure of Success”
… Eighteen years of a lack of failure teaches Harvard students to avoid it at all costs; we become extremely risk-averse. Ironically, classes might teach about the risk-reward relationship, but students who are too afraid to fail can only understand the former part of that relationship after experiencing it … Even those golden children who sail through Harvard as they’ve sailed through high school fail, in a sense. They’ve failed to experience failure, and their education is impoverished as a result. I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, to accept that it’s not possible to achieve everything and that only when we risk failure, are great gains possible … In the end, I realized that the criteria I’d been using to judge my education at Harvard were all off the mark. Even if the lessons that will be most valuable in the next chapter of my life have been those I’ve learned outside the classroom, my time at Harvard has been well spent. My only regret is that I didn’t learn the importance of taking risks earlier. That’s probably the most important lesson of all.
We are not shown that our mistakes and failures can show us new opportunities, new undiscovered potentials, and we hide our failures in the recesses of our past. With the result, young people look at those who have succeeded and see only the success, and do not know what it took to get there. The pain of growth is seen in itself as a failure, a lack of strength, unworthiness. If a dark night comes upon anyone, we feel that either we are punished, or are just a failure, or that life is just cruel and unfair. We have no understanding of the process of growth. We do not know, or we have forgotten, that chaos is the very source of creation.
How we perceive success and failure is a dualistic view. In the holistic view of success itself, the view of failure plays an integral part. In our limited view, we do not see ourselves as part of a unified field and we do not see life as a constant process of creative evolution. Evolution is composed of two movements; progress and regress. Seen over a long period of time it is a wave-like motion which is like an incoming tide, every progress moving further forward and every regress receding less far backward. Actually each regress is making the foundation for the next progress. If we look at the each regression in the process of evolution in this light, we find that each regression is a secret operation of the next progression working itself out. In other words, each regression shows us which aspects within ourselves still need to be worked on. The same applies to success and failure, for it is through our failure that our ultimate success is worked out.
Failure is nothing more than the limit to which we can succeed in a given cycle of progress, and represents regress necessary before the next progress. Likewise, we may say that each success is the manifestation of the work accomplished during previous failures. Tau Malachi
When we therefore look at success and failure from a more panoramic view with a non-dual awareness there is no such a thing as failure, only a process of development through trail and error towards eventual success.
What we are experiencing in the world at present is a period of regress in our creative evolution. We are experiencing a period where we must look at our previous so-called period of success and see what within that period still needs to be worked on, and what within that period no longer serves or next step in our creative evolution.
I had a dream where I was talking to Wise man with a black Cobra on his lap. While we were talking he was stroking the Cobra and the Cobra had its mouth clasped on his hand. My attention was diverted from the conversation to this. He smiled at me and said, “It will not hurt you, when you approach it without fear, its mouth is just affectionately clasped on my hand, do you want to try it?” The Cobra looked so serene and affectionate that I thought it made perfect sense. In trust I held out my hand, but as I felt the hardness of its mouth enclose my hand, I felt fear in a fleeting instant. It coiled back and struck fangs into my outstretched hand. Suddenly I was alone and I looked at my hand, the two fang pricks clearly visible on my finger. It was already red and swelling.
I awoke with a gasp of breath, checking my fingers and I instantly remembered the ancient initiations where the initiate is given poison to drink, or indeed the lethal bite of a snake, to transmute or die. Illumination or death.
The apparent failure of our tests, our flaws, our weaknesses, is like the symbolic bite of the poisonous snake.
“The symbol (the serpent) serves to indicate the subtle nature of that illusory lower self which first ensnares the ego, but which ultimately proves the means of enlightening the evolving soul.”
Each stage of our growth contains the seeds of its own betrayal. Each one of us are born with a lethal wound, one that will either bring us illumination or will kill us. It is the way the Divine Trickster trick us into finding our own individual strengths, our unique voice in the Universe. Our wounds reveals themselves to us through our childhood environment, those limitations, those apparent shortcomings that we have to transmute, whether they be mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The form of our wounds is unique to each individual. We can ignore our talents and positive abilities but not our wounds, for if we do it will surely kill us.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be”
We cannot operate in this world if do not have an identity – a beingness. From our beingness all our actions flow. Whether what we think we are is true or false we cannot function in this world without an identity. What we think our function is in this world, naturally also flows out of what we think we are. However, from time to time, through our living and experience, we discover that what we thought we were is not what we are. Even when we have Gnosis of what we are at a particular moment in time, the very Gnosis will result in changing what we discovered that we are at that particular moment in time. Discovering who we are is an ever evolving process.
When you understand all things
can you step back from your own understanding? Lao Tzu
Our falling apart is an imaginal process, like the collapse of
cities and the fall of heroes in mythical tales – like the dismemberment
of Dionysian loosening which releases from overtight
constraint, like the dissolution and decay of alchemy…
Afflictions point to Gods, Gods reach us through afflictions.” – James Hillman
(It is the process of our falling apart that I described in my series of the Dark Nights of the Soul)
It is human nature to reside in complacency unless something forces a change in us. In our urgency to find an antidote, a cure for our affliction, we are led deeper than we would have been if we just passed the test. Our very flaws can if we acknowledge it, be the cause of our evolvement. We are at a point of our evolution where we can become conscious creators and stop the mindless destruction we are currently engaged in, and live in synergy with our fellow men and all life forms on this planet.
The role of Sophia in creation according to Gnostic scriptures is very curious. In the Pistis Sophia, Sophia is deceived by the demiurge and archons who make a false light shine below, and when she descends to embrace the false light they bind her and steal her Light-power. In other Gnostic scriptures she conceives the demiurge without the consent of the Most High or apart from union with her Divine Consort, thus giving birth to the monstrous form of Yaldabaot – the lion-headed serpent. In any case, in one way or another Sophia brings about a shattering of the unity and harmony of the Divine Realm, the Pleroma of Light, and in so doing becomes the cause of the imperfect creation, the Great Matrix or Entirety.
This is called a creation in “deficiency,” “error,” “folly,” or “ignorance” of which Sophia “repents,” setting the Divine Plan for rectification or salvation in motion. Of course, this invokes a question: If the Most High or Barbelo is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, and if Sophia exists among the Great Divinities in Sacred Unity, how could she act against the Divine Will of the Most High? In other words, is this “error” an act of Divine Folly ordained by the Most High from the very beginning? Does Sophia play the role of the Fool and Trickster as part of the Divine Plan? After all, apart from her “error” creation would not come into being and sentient beings would not emerge to develop and evolve towards enlightenment – Union with the Divine. The Divine Potential would remain just that – unmanifest potential, with no vehicle of actualization and realization.
The very name Sophia implies knowledge, understanding and wisdom, thus when Gnostic scripture proposes that she acts in ignorance one cannot help but hear this idea as spoken “tongue-in-cheek,” as the saying goes, for the Sophia of the True God is anything but ignorant – rather she plays the enigmatic role of the Divine Fool or Trickster in feminine form. In many Gnostic scriptures this is made perfectly clear, because as the story of creation unfolds she repeatedly tricks the demiurge and archons into drawing more and more of the Divine Light and Divine Spirit into their creation, or she herself, as the Divine Trickster, brings forth the Divine Light and Spirit to their creation. Indeed, from her original “error” something of the Divine is cast into creation – into the Realm of Becoming. As the Fool or Trickster she essentially causes the demiurge and archons to initiate their own demise, playing upon their own imperfection from the very outset.
It is often assumed that all Gnostics in classical Gnosticism held a radical dualistic view, yet given the enigmatic role of Sophia, and her active role as Wisdom Goddess and Savioress along side Christ, this assumption may be in error. In fact, through Sophia, while speaking of the seeming dualism inherent in our experience, Gnostic scriptures often point to an underlying Sacred Unity, or to the non-dual nature of the Pleroma and Entirety. In effect, the appearance of dualism is illusory or is a state of ignorance, which the Gnostic Revealer comes to dispel, being brought forth into the realms, worlds and universes of the Entirety through the agency of Sophia. When understood, it is all a Divine Drama, a Divine Play – the appearance of separation facilitating the joy of conscious unification.
Of course, Sophia is a complex figure, having many different faces, but in terms of Pistis Sophia and Sophia Zoe the archetype of the Divine Feminine as Trickster-Prankster-Fool can lead to deep insights – the mysterious and enigmatic figure that is integral to the Divine Plan and Divine Revelation, who can appear bright or dark, or shine in a rainbow spectrum as the Shape-shifter, but without whom the Divine Drama could not unfold.
Though many speak of Mary Magdalene in very sentimental terms, the reality of Sophia as the Trickster-Prankster-Fool is present in our experience of the Seven Faces of the Holy Bride, especially the Maiden or Light and Mistress of the Night. Invoking her we encounter a playful maiden, omnipresent – she loves us, she hates us; she draws us close, then she cast us away. Indeed, she constantly plays tricks upon us, awakening us and bringing us into the fullness of life, teaching us through direct experience in body, speech and mind – the wisdom of life (Sophia Zoe). It is as though she gambles with our very life, yet all in the most intimate love-play seeking our enlightenment and liberation. Such is the nature of the Shekinah of Messiah, our beloved Sophia.
Greek philosophers may have made Sophia into an intellectual abstraction, but in Gnostic scriptures we encounter the divine fullness of Sophia, with all of her many faces and forms – invoking her we shift from the intellectual approach to the experiential approach, and we discover that spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom does not come through words and books, but through symbols and actions: direct experience. Through words and books we may acquire a necessary context into which we may place our Gnostic experience, but it is direct spiritual and mystical experience through which Divine Gnosis is made manifest.
Are we willing to be tricked into our enlightenment; willing to let go to divine passion and let it carry us where it will? Then let us invoke the Holy Bride, Sophia!
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Albert Einstein
Dreams have always played an important role in my life. The mystery of them fascinated me; yet, I could sense from an early age that they held a much deeper secret than I could possibly comprehend at that age. My first inkling of dream potential came when at the age of twelve I found Joan Grant’s “Winged Pharaoh.” I was so inspired that I set about to record my dreams – which I have done ever since – as well as exploring, telepathic dreaming, dream travel, shared dreaming, dream incubation, and lucid dreaming. Even so, it was only much later that I began to master dream interpretation, and many more before dreams started to teach me about reality.
Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. – Carl Jung
The masters of all wisdom traditions will tell you that life is like a dream, and although we may give the concept intellectual credence, very few have experiential realization of this truth. What is more, there are layers of realization, or “gnosis” of this truth. Just as enlightenment is not just a once off realization, or what some will call a one-stage evolution, but is rather a journey that begins on the surface and then proceeds deeper and deeper into the multi-layered, many splendid thing we call reality. The thousand petaled lotus rising from the dark muddy depths into the light, unfolding to reveal its golden core. To experience this, dreaming offers not only a mirror of our process, but also an evolutionary tool for expanding our consciousness. Dreams are a direct reflection of our levels of consciousness, our fears and desires. Even if we can’t remember our dreams, it still tells us something.
We all have about three or four dreams a night, yet how many do we remember? How many dreams are we conscious of? By training ourselves to remember dreams, we are training ourselves to expand our conscious awareness, for by remembering our dreams we become conscious of what is unconscious.
“What do we long for? We long for self-transcendence. ..We all need self-transcendence and, at the same time, we fervently long for it.” Sri Chinmoy
Although we fear change, we also yearn for it, for we are all seeking ways to transcend our physical, mental and psychological limitations. It is the driving force behind evolution; it is what encourages people to train and improve their physical capacities. This inner aspiration for self transcendence is an important feature of human nature. However, before we can change anything, we have to become aware of it, as such awareness is the key to all self-transcendence. In Wisdom traditions expanding our consciousness, is called cultivating a presence of awareness.
What is consciousness? Consciousness is awareness. Awareness is like the beam of a flashlight; it is a flow of illuminating light towards an object. What we perceive as reality, or what we are conscious of, is only a small fraction of what reality is. This not only relates to the reality of the Cosmos both scientific and metaphysically, but also to the reality of who we think we are. What we think we are is only a small fraction of who we are. Jung described it as a small, bright spot on a large sphere. Our normal conscious awareness represents the small bright spot, whereas what we are unaware of, our unconsciousness is the vast unexplored sphere of the universe, of the whole. We are aware of about 10 – 15 percent of our mind’s thoughts, experiences, feelings, memories and beliefs.
We can relate this to the story of the Elephant and the Five Blind men. We are like the five blind men, each thinking that we know what an elephant is, from what we are experiencing consciously. However, we are way off the mark in describing how the part we are experiencing, relates to the whole, because we have no idea what the whole looks like from our limited conscious perspective. For us then to expand our consciousness, we must become aware of what we are at present unconscious of.
In most of the ancient traditions, dreams were considered important, and were used as guides for future actions. According to the Talmud, “A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” Since the Nineteenth Century, the Western World rejected these “letters” as non-sense because we have forgotten how to read them. At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Freud once again brought the importance of dreams to light; however, he still had the Elephant by its proverbial balls.
There is a fine line between dreams and reality; it’s up to you to draw it. – B. Quilliam
If life is like a dream, then what is a dream? Perhaps one of the most basic ways to define dreams comes from the American Heritage Dictionary, 1978, “… a series of images, ideas, etc., occurring in certain stages of sleep.”
Being asleep is exactly what the masters explain as our ordinary state of consciousness, thus our unawakened state. While you are in a dream it feels real, it is only when you wake up, that you realize it was a dream.
In explaining how we view reality, my Tzaddik, Tau Malachi, often recounts the story of a Professor explaining the distinction between neurosis and psychosis as, “Neurosis is when you build a castle in the sky, and psychosis is when you go and live there.” Using this analogy, if our experience of reality is a radiant display of our own consciousness, we have indeed, “built a castle” and gone to live in it, and we are completely unconscious that we have built it. Likewise, in the midst of this life we project all manner of unreal concepts and ideals on ourselves and the world, so that we do not know what is real in us and cannot look and see Reality as It Is.
There is an objective reality out there, but we view it through the spectacles of our beliefs, attitudes, and values. – David G. Myers, Social Psychology
It is also called karmic vision, the vision of ignorance – perception of ourselves and the reality of our experience that is entirely subjective. Our view of reality is like when we go to sleep and embark upon an apparent journey through all manner of dreams, bright, dark and in between. In reality, we have not moved, we have gone nowhere; yet in our experience the dreams become the reality of our experience. From one dream to another, through the long night, we may have been saint or sinner, and we may do many things, apparently good and evil, but when we awake, they were only dreams and we did none of these things – we remember who we really are, and we return to the awareness of the real.
Ironically, the only way we can tell the difference between a dream and waking reality, is by comparing the memories to what we know through our physical senses, and seeing some of the things we experienced in the dream are not possible in the realm we call reality. Yet, memories themselves are an imaginary process, subjective and based on our selective perception. Each time we re-member something, we literally re-imagine it. The intangible becomes tangible again. The mind makes no distinction between memories regardless of the source; whether imagined or real. For the mind, the ones that are most real are the ones with the greatest sensory impact. You can test this for yourself by observing your body’s reactions to real remembered stressful situations, and those that you saw in a movie, or dreamed of.
So how do we know what we think is reality, is reality? This is exactly question the masters want us to arrive at.
“It is only by questioning what people take for granted, what people hold to be true, that we can break through the hypnosis of social conditioning.” – Deepak Chopra
We all dream, the fetus starts to dream within the womb from about 23 weeks. Even animals dream. Why do we dream at all? From within the scientific arena there has been much speculation in this regard. It has recently been discovered that even the platypus displays rapid-eye-movement, or REM, sleep. (REM sleep in human beings is associated with vivid dreaming, and its observable symptoms.) With this information, the question also arises of whether or not dinosaurs had dreams, and whether indeed reptiles also dream.
Recent studies and theories into the purpose of dreams, has brought to light what is called the dream expectation theory. Says, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell in their book “Dream Reality – How dreaming keeps us sane, or can drive us mad,” The prime function of dreams is to metaphorically act out undischarged emotional arousals (expectations) that were not acted out during the previous day. By dreaming we complete the arousal / dearousal circuit so as to wake up with an unstressed autonomic nervous system and our instincts intact. (An emotion is another word for an expectation.) Stress, for example, is caused by an accumulation of arousal patterns in the autonomic nervous system that are not being dearoused by taking the necessary actions that would do so.
Thus according to the dream expectation theory, if we have happy positive expectations we have happy dreams, but, when this system is overstretched and the dreaming process cannot cope with the amount of negative expectations (as when people continually worry), sleep balance is disturbed, dreams are miserable, even nightmarish, and depression can set in. An extreme stress overload can interfere with the process to such an extent that psychotic symptoms arise (schizophrenia is waking reality perceived through the dreaming brain).
This directly reflects what wisdom traditions have been saying down the ages, that in order to achieve “the dreamless – dream state”, one has to overcome attachments and aversions. Whatever we have an attachment to or an aversion for, will cause emotional expectations, and as such create dreams from the emotional arousal. If we then relate this to the reality of our waking life, we can clearly see the cause and effect of our emotional expectations shaping our reality. Our unfulfilled emotional arousals will create situations in which the arousals can be fulfilled, whether good or bad, positive or negative. If not, we will find “recurring dreams” or life situations occurring until such arousals are either fulfilled, or resolved. It has been been found that even if during the day we experience a high level of emotional arousal, but we resolve that arousal in the course of the day, we will not find it occurring in a dream. Now if we relate this, to what is said happens after life and future incarnations, we can begin to see the heaven and hell scenarios, and the concept of karma playing itself out.
Attachment or aversions relate to our desire energy. Fear and desire for something are two sides of the same coin. We not only become what we love, but also what we fear. The sexual drive, which stems from an emotional arousal, reflects not only pure sexual energy but also creative energy and kundalini energy. Just as the creative impulse can be used to create uplifting and spiritual works, so can it be used for dark and degrading works. Likewise, the desire energy, can be used purely for self satisfaction, or elevated to lofty spiritual heights; for spiritual transformation, or metatonia, as is found in Tantra Yoga, especially in the Vajrayana wisdom tradition, and the Arayot, the mysteries of sexual mysticism in the Kabbalah, which is the upliftment of the “fire serpent”, or desire energy.
If we take it back to each of our individual conceptions, we can then see that our very conception, our very coming into being, stems from the emotional arousal of our parents, and as such we are a concrete dream born out of our parent’s emotional arousal. However, just as our dream metaphors take on a life of their own, with multiple metaphorical meaning, so do we, as offspring of our parents emotional expectations.
To take this further, our emotions, feelings, and desires are the energy; our thoughts, words, and deeds are the forms that the energy assumes. Emotion-feeling-desire and thoughts shape one another and produces images in the imagination. Now according to the Kabbalah, these images becomes vehicles in the astral planes for spiritual forces corresponding to the nature of the desires and thoughts forming them, and through our words and deeds, we become vehicles of those spiritual forces in the material plane. All dreams have a connection with the astral, whether, lower, middle or upper astral. The astral itself represents Yesod in the Kabbalah, and as such is the gateway for all spiritual forces into the earthly realm. Thus just like our emotions, feelings and desires creates our thoughts, which in turn is what we base our actions on, so we can see the reflection in our dream life. Our dreams reveal clearly the forms of our emotions, feeling and desire.
“To understand your dreams is to understand that every part of a dream is in reality a part of you.” – Joshua David Stone.
If every part of a dream is part of you, what light does this throw on reality? Just as we do not see ourselves as who we really are, just so do we not see others as they really are. We project our fears and desires onto other people. Again it is one thing to understand this intellectually but quite another to have actual realization, or gnosis of this. In this regard, understanding your dreams can bring you realization of how we view not only others in our awake lives, but also the rest of creation.
When you make a deliberate effort to listen to your own internal conversations, you begin to notice something astonishing. You may think of yourself as Peter or Mary, thus one identity interfacing with the world, but as you begin to observe, you see that actually you have several sub-personalities. If you are not aware of this, they rule your life. The real you, becomes like a weak leader, swaying between the strongest voices of opposition with no direction. These sub personalities are psychological satellites.
Roberto Assagioli who was the founder of the psychological movement known as Psychosynthesis wrote; “We are not unified; we often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs. And because one hand doesn’t usually hit the other. But metaphorically, that is exactly what happens within us. Several sub personalities are continually scuffling: impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle”.
This is exactly what is metaphorically acted out in our dreams. The people you encounter in your dreams are not themselves, but rather they represent beliefs you hold, just as sub personalities represent beliefs you hold.
Those evil or alien beings you encounter in your dreams are but reflections of parts of you that you have disowned.
This is also reflected in the sleeping disorder that occurs during the Hypnogogic state (transition between awake and sleep, the state of drowsiness we experience as we begin falling asleep) when some people experience what is called sleep paralysis, or a feeling of a heavy weight pressing down on the chest, often associated with “Hag Dreams” and incubus, or an evil presence. Al Cheyne, the head of the department of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, explains that during the hypnogogic phase, the muscular reflexes associated with the limbs disappear, and the sleeper is in fact, paralysed. If the unconscious realization of this penetrates through the conscious level, as during a light sleep, it is then incorporated into the dream, and one could feel paralysed. One person who suffers from sleep paralyses several times a year describes that the terror that many experience during sleep paralysis comes from losing control. “It comes from being in a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you don’t know if your breathing is going to stop or whether something otherworldly is there. In a way you’re battling against yourself and you don’t have the power to control your body.”
Al Cheyne presents an even more illuminating insight. “The emotion of fear accompanies threats and dangers. When you activate fear you activate a whole set of strategies to deal with danger. If you consider the fact that the part of your brain responsible for fear (the limbic system) is active at the same time that you’re awake and paralysed and helpless, this would tend to aggravate the condition. Essentially your brain strains to find clues to understand what it perceives as a threat. The sound of the fan becomes a whispering voice, a creak becomes a demon climbing on the bed, and when the brain doesn’t have a stimulus, it makes one up”.
In this we see a direct reflection of how humanity reacts when encountering the unknown. It has often been said that humanity fears the unknown. However, if you do not know something, then you are also not afraid of it. There might very well be a threat to your life around the corner, but if you are unaware o this, you are not going to be afraid of it, conversely, you might very well think there is a threat around every corner and live in fear. As soon as we encounter the emptiness of the unknown we project our fears onto it, just like the coat in a dark room becomes a monster, until you turn the light on. This is also reflected in the teachings of the Christian Kaballah in regard to Da’at. Da’at means ‘knowledge,” yet many will call Da’at the abyss; this is because Da’at just like the unknown, has a mirror-like nature – the nature of the mind – and assumes an appearance relative to the one who approaches it. Thus akin to a mirror in which one sees oneself. Depending on your state of consciousness you will see something divine or something dark and demonic, thus facing the Jungian “shadow.”
According to the teaching of all wisdom traditions, we are in reality all one; all separation is “a radiant display”, and all that you experience is a reflection of inner realities. We see the same principal reflected in the Tibetan Chöd practices.
“What common folk think of as a demon is something very, very big, and coloured deep black. Who ever sees one of these is truly terrified and trembles from head to foot”, said Machig Labdrön. Nevertheless, no such demons really exist apart from the mind! The truth of the matter is this: Anything whatsoever that obstructs or limits the attainment of Liberation is a demon. Even our loving and affectionate relatives can become “demons” for us, if they are obstructing our spiritual evolution. Thus the greatest of all “demons” is actually the Demon of Ego, which is your own sense of a permanent, independent self, separate from all others. If you do not slay this clinging to a self, then good and bad spirits (lha-dre) will keep lifting you up and letting you down.”
In the famous story of Milarepa, when on returning to his cave, he found the demoness of the rock had entered his cave and had assumed five utterly terrifying emanations. Milarepa was so amazed to see these demons in his cave that he couldn’t even step into the doorway. He was filled with terror and began reciting the mantra of his meditational deity as fast as he could, and this made it worse. The demons got bigger and greater and then he began meditating upon self nature as the deity and it got even worse. Then he started wrathful mantras and this also didn’t work. Finally, in desperation, he remembered the instructions given by his lama – that all phenomena arise from the mind and that all appearances are just one’s own projection. Then he entered into the awareness of the nature of emptiness, the nature of mind, and immediately they were gone – vanished – no more. Until we realize that phenomena are the projections of our mind, then we can expect that wherever we go, there will always be demons, spirits and problems.
Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power, which if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare. – H.F. Hedge
Just realizing this can have a profound effect on one’s life. When you start to realize that every character from your dreams is a part of you, whether owned or disowned to the degree that it becomes a demon, it becomes incredibly empowering. You no longer react to every situation as a victim of fate but start to look at every situation in your life, as to what it reveals about the patterns at play in your life. If each demon you encounter in your dream reflects an aspect of yourself disowned, then the opposite applies as well. Those godlike qualities you find in a character in your dream, displays aspects of yourself that you have disowned, waiting for you to own as your own. It is called the bright shadow.
As a Sophian Gnostic, one of the primary objectives is to become fully lucid in all states and levels of consciousness. To become aware that you are dreaming while in a dream is called Lucid dreaming. However, before you can lucid dream, you must be able to remember your dreams, or to become conscious of what you are unconscious of. One of the most common practices to induce lucid dreaming is to ask yourself every time you do a simple task, say for example, boil a kettle, “Am I dreaming.” While you are doing this you will realize just how often you forget to do it, thus that you are unconsciously swept away in the events of life. When we are living an unconscious life, we identify with momentary sensations, emotions and feelings. I am this, I am that. We are swept along from one emotion to another. You can only become lucid in a dream by practicing being lucid in your daily life.
Dream work requires patience and discipline, before it starts to bear fruit. It is interesting that research has shown that most people, who experience unintentional lucidness in a dream, will do so during a nightmarish dream. In our awake lives, it is often only a crisis that can induce us to wake up from our dreams, and force us to re-look at how we view reality.
The reason I have found that so few people do any dream work, or even attempt to do lucid dreaming, is because they become discouraged, when they do not have immediate results.
“Dreams are a reservoir of knowledge and experience, yet they are often overlooked as a vehicle for exploring reality. When you realize that everything is like a dream, you attain pure awareness. And the way to attain this awareness is to realize that all experience is like a dream.”- Tarthang Tulku
We live in a world of instant gratification. There are many these days who offer instant enlightenment. Chungya Rinpoche, founder of Naropa University, writes in his book Dharma Art, about spiritual materialism as a danger for the seeker of higher consciousness. The collecting of sublime or ‘spiritual’ insights can be a trap similar to having must have designer brands, the best car, or coolest electronic device. Thus you can say we might go looking for Spiritual Experiences like we go power shopping at the mall. This is not at all something most want to hear about, yet it is the truth. The process of enlightenment, or pure awareness, is not an instant affair, and there are many layers of enlightenment, just as there are levels of lucidness in dreams. Yes, you can instantly be more enlightened than you were yesterday, but it is just a beginning. We have to prepare and cultivate the soils of our inner being for the ability to perceive the multiple layers of reality, just as it requires patience and discipline in dream work.
When we first have a spiritual experience, it is like a blind person who can suddenly see, just as when you have been in the dark for a long time and then go out into the light. You are blinded by the light and cannot see any distinctions of what you have seen. It takes time to adjust your eyes. In the Sophian Gnostic Tradition, it is called the perfection of non-dual realization, the “highest rung,” or Pure Radiant Awareness, Supernal Da’at (direct knowing). To have sudden pure awareness, to see reality as it is, would be like looking straight into sun after being in the darkness. I am reminded of St. Paul’s conversion – Saul on the road to Damascus – “And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink”. St. Paul had a radical experience of enlightenment, which is rare indeed, yet even after this, he spoke of himself as the least of the disciples. He wrote later in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” This gives us a clear indication that to see reality as it is, or ourselves as we really are, will take preparation.
“How long must we sit, limited in our own selves?” – Idra Rabba
This is also corroborated by what is now seen as the function of REM sleep. Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell found that, the REM state is the mechanism that connects us with reality – a reality generator; it is constantly running in the background, searching out at lightning speed the codes needed to match metaphorically to whatever is meaningful in the environment, and thus creating our perception of reality. In the dream state, when REM is at its most obviously active, sensory information from the outside world is ‘shut off’, the templates searching for their completion scan the brain and make metaphorical images from whatever they call up from memory. (This is also seen when people access memories that evoke strong emotions: rapid eye movements occur even when their eyes are open.) It is active when we dream but also when we daydream. It is seen when people go into focused states of attention (trance) and when strong instincts are aroused. It is associated with hallucinations and hearing voices. The dream contains these metaphorical images and, while we are in it, becomes the reality we are conscious of, or the paradigm of our reality.
A paradigm is basically perceptual concepts through which we perceive the world and as such form the boundaries of our imagination. It can also be called a conceptual matrix through which we experience the world. It is this conceptual matrix that shapes the form of our ego. The word ego means “I”. The ego is simply the carrier of what we think we are, and it is through what we think we are, that we relate to the world around us. The ego basically carries our identity, or what we imagine we are. This is clearly reflected in our dreams.
In our dreams each particular metaphorical image contains multiple levels of meaning, because the job of the dream is to deactivate emotional arousals and it can do that with several streams of arousal through the same image at the same time. This also why our waking reality is quite different – it is dramatically toned down. It has to be because, if we always saw multiple levels of meaning in everything, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of, or operate within, our environment. We would end up totally confused in a psychotic state. To deal with this problem, the neocortex of the brain, the rational part of our awake mind, inhibits multi-meaning.
Because we are unable to experience and understand all of reality at once, we must take ‘bites’ of reality the size we can ‘chew’. We then form an image based on this as to the nature of the whole ‘elephant’. The image formed is much like a map of poorly charted territory. We use this map to navigate the events and situations encountered in the world, just as an explorer uses a map to find their way through a jungle they have never previously encountered.
All the impressions, images, thoughts, events and situations the individual has experienced come together in that person’s mind. There they interact with each other to create an internally consistent, dynamic image of the world that provides the individual the means to cope with the environment. Even though the map will be generally internally consistent, it may or may not be consistent with the external world it is attempting to navigate. Sometimes the map will be accurate and reliable, while at other times, the map will not provide the necessary accuracy. The underlying fears and distress that had been allayed will re-emerge.
You can say that in order to map “reality as it is”, we he have to develop the internal software first before we can see “face to face”. According to theories we actually dream to forget, to integrate what we have experienced during the day, giving our systems a chance to upload new programs, and make space for new learning. Although we wish to suddenly be a fully realized and enlightened person, we would go mad without the preparation to see reality as it is. It takes time and integration, to upload new programs, in order to incorporate our wider sense of awareness, or indeed multiple levels of consciousness.
As we have seen the same applies in meditation. Meditation calms the surface consciousness – those parts of the mind that deal with the actual and material world in our ordinary consciousness. Thus, our imagination, our reverie, stops and all idle chatter of the ordinary mind is brought into silence, cessation – a state of mental and vital repose comes into being, and in that repose our consciousness opens to higher and more refined levels of mental consciousness – higher aspects of the mind that are intuitive and sensitive to things of the upper or spiritual worlds, and through which we can contact spiritual forces and experience parapsychological phenomenon. This is why through regular meditation individuals often experience heightened parapsychological phenomenon of various kinds; through meditation individuals may gain sight into the future or sight into things far removed from them, and they may become conscious of contacts with spiritual beings-forces that typically remain unconscious in most ordinary individuals – they experience an opening of consciousness to metaphysical dimensions and spiritual worlds.
Essentially, the imaginative faculty translates the spiritual and supernal experiences of the soul into recognizable imagery, giving form to that which is abstract and formless, as though clothing it in garments – and this is the experience, the dream, or vision in dream, which the incarnate soul may know and understand, and speak about. However, in truth, it is only an interpretation of spiritual and supernal experience, and the interpretation may be more or less pure or impure, more or less clear or distorted.
This, of course, is very deceptive – whether in sleep and dream, or in meditation, because when a person’s mind is not completely clear, perfectly pure, the spiritual or mystical experience is going to be translated into whatever inane thoughts or strange desires are in the mind – this is why in authentic spiritual traditions, training requires such extreme self-purification of the mind, heart and life, and indeed the consciousness of the spiritual aspirant.
Those aspiring to see reality as it is, must learn how to discern between every possible nuance and gradation of spiritual and mystical experience – and they must have a very thorough spiritual education, providing their imaginative faculty with a very large and consistent symbolic vocabulary through which various gradations of experience may be discerned and through which a truer translation of spiritual and supernal experiences may occur. Basically, the images of a luminous dream or vision are created totally by one’s own mind, and therefore what appears is completely dependent upon one’s state of consciousness and knowledge at the time of the experience, and whether that mirror is hazy or clear, impure or pure. One can say, unless the proper vehicle is formed in consciousness, (the proper software is developed), and the consciousness itself is purified and refined, the higher grades of enlightenment, or awareness, are impossible to attain, a fit and pure vessel must be fashioned to receive it.
Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions. – Edgar Cayce
When you dream you have your five senses available to you. You may well ask how this can be when you are sleeping. When you are dreaming you are utilizing your five inner senses of the subconscious mind. Our inner senses are subtle counterparts of your five external senses; inner sight (clairvoyance), inner hearing (clairaudience), inner smell, inner taste, and inner touch. As many of us have experienced, our subconscious mind can also reach out and connect with minds of others, resulting in telepathic dreams; and it can reach into the past and into the future, unearthing information we did not think we knew, sometimes leading to precognitive dreams.
Here we must ask what is precognition, what exactly is prophesy? It will also be interesting to note that in the ancient past, almost all prophesy occurred through dreams. To be able to experience a prophetic state while awake, would be similar to being lucid while in a dream. The boundaries between dreams and reality become thin. Some of course would call it being psychotic, but the difference is whether it is achieved through conscious discipline, or unconscious internal conflict. Thus the aspect I mentioned earlier preparing in a disciplined way to see multiple layers of meaning in waking reality. So how can we define prophesy?
Prophecy is insight into the play of spiritual forces within and behind what transpires, and insight into things that will transpire on account of that play of spiritual forces; likewise, it is insight into souls, the spiritual forces moving with them, and their tikkune -healing. – Tau Malachi
Say we have a dream and what we saw in the dream comes true. What is it actually saying? If we look at the dream expectation theory, it will look like this; we have been observing certain patterns at play in life, and subconsciously or unconsciously we have come to a conclusion that certain events will transpire as result of the interaction of those patterns at play. If we do nothing to change those patterns the event will occur and the dream will be considered as precognitive. You can look at certain patterns at play in your life and make predictions as to where it will lead. However, most of us are not aware of all the patterns playing out in our lives, so the clearer your conscious understanding of what patterns and forces shape your life and those elements around you, the greater your ability to predict future events. As most of us are only conscious of about 10 – 15 percent of all that shapes our lives, it is no small wonder that life seems so utterly chaotic and unpredictable, with us at the mercy of fate. This in itself should be an urgent incentive for us to take note of our dreams as in reality each dream we have is precognitive if we observe closely what it says of the patterns at play in our lives of which we are unaware.
This reflects the very nature of the spiritual life – consciously responding to whatever transpires in a positive, creative and uplifting way. In all things this is the choice we have and the choices we make will determine our experience and the outcome of things.
To take this further, just as I must be careful in how I re-tell my dreams, I must be careful how I view my memories of my life experiences, and past-life memories. Just as I could look at my nightmare dreams from a positive learning angle, so I can view my nightmarish experiences in life. The past is often called “dream-like” and looking into the nature of memories we find this to be true – yesterday’s experience is like last night’s dream, both now existing as memories. Whether dreams or experiences of the past, there is “prophetic” power in how we speak of them, whether for good or for ill – instead of living in reaction we want to live in conscious response, exercising our co-creative capacity to draw out the sparks of blessings from all our experiences, even from those that may seem “inauspicious” or “dark and hostile.” While we may not be able to avoid certain circumstances, situations or events, and may not be able to go back and change the past, nevertheless we can choose how we relate, think and speak of them and choose our reactions.
Dreams are one-sixtieth the power of death, and are a direct reflection of the nature of the afterlife experience. – Kabbalah
“Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. “We have heard this expression often, as well as “Live today as if it were your last.” Yet, how do we apply this in practice, since most of us get carried away by the sensations of the day, and the worries, and troubles it brings. How often do we not fall into a fitful sleep, carrying all our worries, troubles, and often anger into our sleep? Then to wake up in the morning, carrying all these worries, troubles and feelings like a hangover from the previous day into the new day? Each night when we go to sleep is like dying – we die to one reality, and enter another reality, and awake each morning to a new life. This can indeed, be related to what happens when we live an unconscious, unaware life.
We begin each lifetime, carrying the hangover of the previous life into our new life.
As a child when I read “Winged Pharaoh,” one passage made a strong impression on me.
“I had a little cylinder of stone with which I smoothed the wax before I slept, preparing it for the morning, just as I must smooth all thoughts of Earth from my mind, so that it would be free to record those things I did and saw away from it.”
What one does in the evening before going to sleep is a large influence on one’s dreams. Therefore, if one seeks vision in dream or more luminous dreams directing one’s mind to spiritual and luminous things is a good practice. Although we may have been carried away during the day, it is essential that before we go to sleep, we release the energy of the day and let go of the world as you prepare to go into the dream-time. Thus we clear the mind and bring resolution to the issues of one’s day – clearing oneself of all links formed (especially those that are negative). Reading spiritually uplifting scriptures and especially meditation before sleep is a very good practice to establish yourself in.
In tandem with this, when you awake the next day, whether your dreams were dark or luminous, you have the opportunity, to interpret your dreams as guides to establish what your focus should be. But what is more, just as you would decide what garments to wear for the day, you can decide how you want to clothe that which you call “I”. Will you “dress” yourself as a victim of fate, or as the co-creator you were born to be?
The idea that dreams are “less real” than waking consciousness is a serious misconception according to the Kabbalah. In truth, this world is akin to a collective dream, versus our apparently individual dreams, and both are equally “real” in their own dimension and context. According to the Zohar, consciously working with our dreams we can bring about positive and powerful changes in our lives in the waking consciousness and be better prepared for a conscious transition through the experience we call “death.”
Your body has arisen from living cells that are as old as life on this planet. Your body, mind, emotions and imagination are the screen upon which ancient life can project its wisdom and experience. What arises from the ocean of mind within you depends on who you are, what you are, what you need (not necessarily what you want) and what you seek. Although, the possibility to see reality as it is may seem too lofty an aspiration to entertain, only for the advanced masters, unless we open our minds and hearts to the greater possibilities of being human, we cannot become conscious of them and realize them. In a manner of speaking, we create the neuro-nets in our brains and the channel-ways in our soul or consciousness by talking about such mysteries that might allow us to enter into this mystical experience. It’s a matter of skillful means opening the way.
You already have all the tools at your disposal, all you need to do is become aware of them, and learn how to use them. You can use language just to swear and curse, or just to express your basic desires, or you can use it to bring love, wisdom, and beauty into the world. You have the tools for transcendence at your disposal; it is your choice to take the next step in awareness.
16th-century woodcut by the Bettmann Archive “Man Looking into Outer Space
Don’t you know,” asked the Sage, “that important secrets must be hidden under an apparently trivial aspect?” Her-Bak
Nothing is as it seems. The more you learn about why we really make decisions, the more you realize what a complex web we are. There are so many aspects that influences our being in the world, how we live our lives. Yet so little do we know until we decide to live an authentic life.
To live an authentic life is much easier said than done. Layer by layer you have to uncover your true self. Uncover the webs of deception, of illusions that we have created to live in this world, and most of all to find the little Faustian pacts we have made with ourselves in order to avoid facing our fears. One of our most fundamental fears is that of change, because it represents the dark unknown. In reality we would rather live in pain and suffering than change. We fear change, but even more we fear the period of chaos that always precedes change. Yet to achieve self-actualization, our highest potential, to find the Holy Grail, we have to change. It is part of our growth process, part of our uncovering. We have to enter the dark unknown of ourselves to truly live.
I have not made any entries for a long time. I find myself in a time of transition When you find yourself in such a state of transition, you have to allow yourself to experience the chaos of transition before you can turn your energy towards the next stage of your life.
For me such times feels as if I have to let go go of all my present expectations. Throw it all into the blackhole of the future possibilities, and wait upon that which abides to settle around the attractor (the intent) of the next phase. That which remains is that which I still have attachment to, and is the basis of my next phase of growth and learning. We see some of this process in our dreaming. That which are most central to our lives at that point, carries through from our “awakened” state into our other reality. This is also what is said happens in the transition from life through death.
“When the end of a Period arrives, one must know how to abandon that which sets its characteristic boundaries, so as to give free access to the Light of the new Period; one must know and hand over to destruction that which is corrupt, so that only what is indestructible should subsist.” Her-Bak
I know I am not alone, in this experience of transition. I look up from my inner contemplations and every where I look I see the chaos of transition. Every part of our lives are in a state of transition, all that we took for granted has been shown not to be what we thought it is. Even our Mother environment, nature have changed from an image of abundance, purity, and a sacred manifestation of the Divine laws, to an image of scarcity, pollution and degraded into a commercial venture. That which once seemed inexhaustible suddenly is at the brink of extinction. An image that comes to my mind is the scene of Jeshua in the temple chasing out the money lenders. This has happened in every sphere of our lives. Nothing is sacred anymore, everything has become something with a money value attached to it. We have forgotten the sacred meaning of why we value things. Perhaps we have reached this state to remember what we really value.
From a spiritual perspective nothing that is, is a without reason. When we speak of transcending or transmuting something, it means that we see the sacredness in something. The way of transformation is seeing the dual aspects of any energy, even though it at first appears as negative. The Way of Truth is realizing the spark of Light in everything.
It is much like the re-telling of dreams. Think about the relationship between dreams and physical life experiences, and how awareness in one affects the other. Night mares strikes us with such intensity that we have to take notice, we can interpret it as a dooms prediction, wallow in the horror of it, or we can see the opportunity to see the real issue, a guiding light for the future instead of a black pall on our future.
We as human beings are driven in this world by 3 basic aspects, whether we know it or not. These aspects are; desire, reason and Thymos. Thymos basically is that something that is in every human that desires acceptance, or recognition from others from which stems our self-esteem, or self-worth. Francis Fukuyama in his book ”The End of History and the Last Man”, goes into the desire for recognition in depth and how it operates almost in an invisible way throughout our history, in economic, political and personal spheres.
“It all refers to man’s need to place value on things – himself in the first instance, but on other people, actions, or things around him as well. It is the part of the personality which is the fundamental source of the emotions of pride, anger, and shame, and is not reducible to desire, on one hand, or reason on the other. The desire for recognition is the most specifically political part of the human personality because it is what drives men to want to assert themselves over other men, and thereby into Kant’s condition of “asocial sociability”… Thymos is something like an innate human sense of justice; people believe that they have a certain worth, and when other people act as though they are worth less – when they do not recognize their worth at its correct value – then they become angry. The intimate relationship between self-evaluation and anger can be seen in the English word synonymous with anger, “ indignation.” “Dignity” refers to a person’s sense of self-worth; “in-dignation” arises when something happens to offend that sense of worth. Conversely, when other people see that we are not living up to our own sense of self-esteem, we feel shame; and when we are evaluated justly (i.e., in proportion to our true worth), we feel pride…
That the feeling of dignity or self-worth that is at the root of of thymos is related to man’s view that he is in some way a moral agent capable of real choice , … this self-perception is innate to or a characteristic of all human beings, whether they are great and proud conquerors or humble… Thymos provides an all-powerful emotional support to the process of valuing and evaluating, and allows human beings to overcome their most powerful natural instincts for the sake of what they believe is right or just. People evaluate and assign worth to themselves in the first instance, and feel indignation on their own behalf. But they are also capable of assigning worth to other people, and feeling anger on behalf of others … The desire for recognition arising out of Thymos is a deeply paradoxical phenomena because the later is the psychological seat of justice and selflessness while at the same time being closely related to selfishness… “
The subtle workings of Thymos is best understood looking at the classic example of the story of the greengrocer written by Vaclav Havel in his essay “The Power of the Powerless.”
The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the World, Unite!” Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? …
Obviously, the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in this window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon an am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?
Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of his power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.
From Havel’s depiction one can clearly see the Faustian pacts we make with ourselves subliminally to keep in tact our sense of self-worth. Francis Fukuyama comments further;
… in communist Czechoslovakia everyone understood that one was forced to do things one didn’t want to do out of fear. Fear itself, the instinct for self-preservation, is a natural instinct universally shared by all men: Why, then not admit that one is a human being and therefore afraid? The reason, ultimately, has to do with the fact that the greengrocer believes he has a certain worth. That worth is related to his belief that he is something more than a fearful and needy animal who can be manipulated by his fears and needs. He believes, even if he cannot articulate this belief, that he is a moral agent who is capable of choice, who can resist his natural needs for the sake of principle.
Interestingly in the Esoteric teachings of ancient Egypt the word principle refers to the Divine energies, or what is exoterically known as gods. Plato calls Thymos – spiritedness. So although within Thymos originates our material system of placing a value on everything, and has led to our degrading of everything sacred, within it, is also paradoxically contained the germ of our spiritual impulse. Let me lead you further down the path of my thought.
Fukuyama further elucidates …” There is a thymotic aspect to many other activities that are normally seen as instances of natural desire. For example, sexual conquest is usually not just a matter of physical gratification – one does not always need a partner for that – but reflects in addition the need to have one’s desirability “recognized” by the other… the deepest forms of erotic love involve a longing for the lover’s recognition of something more than one’s physical characteristics, a longing for what amounts to a recognition of one’s worth.”
It is clear how integral the understanding of Thymos is in our living an authentic life. It is also clear how easy it is for us to delude ourselves as to what our true intentions are, if we are not honest to ourselves about our fears.
” … for if I am afraid of not being liked or being rejected, or I fear persecution, can I be myself and speak truth to stand in my power – can I stand as a righteous warrior? It seems that I will only find myself sorely compromised when such fear is present, and likely bound to deception.” Tau Malachi
Fukuyame also concludes however, ‘ The decline of community life suggests that in the future, we risk becoming secure and self-absorbed last men, devoid of thymotic striving for higher goals in our pursuit of private comforts. But the opposite danger exist as well, namely, that we will return to being first men engaged in bloody and pointless prestige battles, only this time with modern weapons … How long megalothymia will be satisfied with metaphorical wars and symbolic victories (in the business world) is an open question. One suspects that some people will not be satisfied until they prove themselves by that very act that constituted their humanness at the beginning of history: they will want to risk their lives in a violent battle, and thereby prove beyond any shadow of a doubt to themselves and to their fellows that they are free. They will deliberately seek discomfort and sacrifice, because the pain will be the only way they have of proving definitely that they can think well of themselves, and remain human beings.”
These possible outcomes seems to me however, the result of a striving that is devoid of any spiritual content. We recognize deep inside ourselves that we will only feel our worth when we face our fears, yet on the other hand we strive to avoid our fear. When I look at this paradox, what comes to my mind is that paradox only exist in the reasoning mind, in the natural state, it just is. So here lies for me the root of illusion. We strive for recognition from “the other” in our belief of our separateness, yet we know spiritually that we are one. We also exchange energies and talents with one another based on the worth we place on those energies and talents. This too comes from the belief that we are separate and different from each other. I can exchange with you my energy in order for both of us to gain something we think we do not have.
The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel comes to mind.
“The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose. And it came to pass when they migrated from the east they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another. ‘Come let us make bricks and burn them in fire.’ And the brick served them as stone and the lime served them as mortar. And they said. ‘Come let us build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”Genesis 11:1-9
As one, with common purpose there is nothing that we can imagine that we cannot do. What prevents us from achieving our higher potential is firstly a belief that we are separate, that we are divided and not of common purpose. We have forgotten that all the people is one, and of one speech, that is common purpose, just because we cannot understand the “others”. Just as the outer world reflects the conflicts resulting from not being able to understand the other, just so the same applies to our inner struggle, and the struggle between masculine and feminine. What according to the story of Babel brought about this state of affairs, if you look deeper? They were already one, so why fear becoming scattered? Was this just an excuse for the real reason – to make a name for themselves? To find their self-worth, the rising of the desire for recognition – Thymos?
It seems to me that Thymos is both the seat for developing our individual conscious awareness and that of forgetting our true purpose, and our oneness. How is it possible for us to resolve this paradox so that we do not destroy ourselves in the process and become “last men” ?
I will give a very simple example of how I resolved it in my practical living. Whenever I pick a flower, a herb, a fruit from a tree, or even pull a weed from the earth, I give my thanks and blessings and something in exchange for the gift. In the beginning I used to give a gift of shards of gemstones. This brought me awareness and gratefulness for all of life. As time went on, I started to make another kind of exchange; my energy. I normally inhale the scent of the plant and that evokes in me the feeling of the spirit of the plant that puts me in intimate communion with the plant’s spirit. Only when I feel I made the connection do I ask for pickings and give my gratitude and blessings, at the same time I let my own energy blend with the plant’s energy. What this practice has done for me is brought an awareness of the plant life around me. I cannot see the plant as a lower life form than mine for I have been in intimate communion. Yes the plant’s energy is different to mine, and I have more free will but I do not see myself as superior. In fact through my knowing the plant intimately, I can see that in many ways I am inferior. At the same time I realize, know the oneness of all, and I see no need to prove myself worthy.
What is it that enables me to enter into intimate communion with something different to me, the other? Love of course. In the beginning I struggled to make the connection because I used my will and reasoning mind to try and connect, but unless you feel the connection, you have not. In my mingling I gained more than I set out to gain, e.g a flower, or a fruit. I felt the oneness of all, and realized that in reality I am never alone. All that separates me from the others, is my lack of awareness, withholding my life/love in the confines of my body. In reaching out to the other with your love, boundaries disappear. Who is the other from which I seek recognition, I seek to value, but myself.
I searched for my enemy
and found myself
I searched for myself
and found the Beloved.
In the Ancient Egyptian system there were 3 ways of higher living, or ascended living. Love, knowledge, and action.
Love means the expansion of one self from a limited selfish self to universal self that give without any expectations of taking back or having.
Knowledge means to unite oneself with the object, concept or idea one requires to understand. Knowledge means unity. You have to live day or night with an object, concept or idea to understand it, get closer to it, and get in tune. Within it is contained the concept of being.
Action is the execution of will. The will itself is a movement towards a specific goal.
These three ways of living are all intertwined together. Love works hand in hand with action and knowledge. The three are inseparable. If you love something you want to get closer to get more knowledge of it, which is an action.
Could we not say then that at the basis of our desire for recognition is a hidden source, that of love, within which is reflected the Oroboros? We seek for our worth through another but through our intimate communion with another, through the agent of love, we find our true worth. In fact we find that we never had to prove our worth at all. You can see the desire for wanting something as the other, a yearning for the Beloved. By getting, or rather by uniting with the other, you will receive that which you do not have. This is at present the basis of all of our exchanges in life. However, this is where the Divine Trickster comes in, because in gaining that which you desire, you might still find yourself lacking, and if you blame it on the lack of the other, you will miss the opportunity in seeing the real truth.
Do we love our whole self, in all of its contradictions, blindspots and filters of conditioning? It is by knowing our true worth, that we discover that self-love opens and empowers our capacity to honestly love others, and it is also through love that we discover our true worth and thus self-love. Love is also esoterically, the desire-energy – the Serpent power. To liberate the desire-energy from the dualism of subject/object relationship, thus seeing through the illusion of separateness, is to learn that love is fulfilling in itself, with or without any external expression.
“Your soul becomes what you most love.”
The Universe is Change; every Change is the
Effect of an Act of Love; All Acts of Love
contain Pure Joy. Die daily.
Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life:
Behold all opposites as necessary compliments,
– Aleister Crowley
(3) The Sidpa Bardo (or Srid-pa’i Bar-do) or Inter-mediate period of rebirth. During this bardo the consciousness descends and chooses a new body to be born into. (Buddhists do not accept the existence of a single continuing entity which “reincarnates”, and refer instead to the “rebirth” of the consciousness-stream in a new body).
We arrive at this part of the Dark Night either unconsciously or consciously. The third stage of the transformative process calls us to regenerate and renew. To the extend that we do not understand the necessity of imagining and preparing for something new during the third stage, our experience will be one of heaven or hell; rage or self-destruction. In the Western world we have little or no preparation, or guidance for for the process of transformation. We enter our transitions in from one phase in life, with no real preparation. From childhood to teenager, from teenager to adult only being prepared to fit into society and working life. We are told the rules of our culture, and that we have to find a way to make money, but little else really, unless we were very fortunate to have had elders, or a teacher to prepare us. We are told reach for our dreams but we are given no understanding our guidance to truly understand where our dreams rise from. As a result we only learn through the school of hard knocks. Even in this we are told to avoid mistakes and failure at all costs. We are applauded for our successes, and punished for our mistakes.
Nicholas Molina, reflects about the irony of success in his article “The Failure of Success”
… Eighteen years of a lack of failure teaches Harvard students to avoid it at all costs; we become extremely risk-averse. Ironically, classes might teach about the risk-reward relationship, but students who are too afraid to fail can only understand the former part of that relationship after experiencing it … Even those golden children who sail through Harvard as they’ve sailed through high school fail, in a sense. They’ve failed to experience failure, and their education is impoverished as a result. I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, to accept that it’s not possible to achieve everything and that only when we risk failure, are great gains possible … In the end, I realized that the criteria I’d been using to judge my education at Harvard were all off the mark. Even if the lessons that will be most valuable in the next chapter of my life have been those I’ve learned outside the classroom, my time at Harvard has been well spent. My only regret is that I didn’t learn the importance of taking risks earlier. That’s probably the most important lesson of all.
We are not shown that our mistakes and failures can show us new opportunities, new undiscovered potentials, and we hide our failures in the recesses of our past. With the result, young people look at those who have succeeded and see only the success, and do not know what it took to get there. The pain of growth is seen in itself as a failure, a lack of strength, an unworthiness. If a dark night comes upon anyone, we feel that either we are punished, are just a failure, or that life is just cruel and unfair. We have no understanding of the process of growth. We do not know, we have forgotten, that chaos is the very source of creation.
So we enter one transition to another, one rebirth to another with more and more accumulated shadow material, and begin to live more and more on the surface, for to go any deeper would mean to access and face the monster of the deep. We can of course just continue living like this, and numb the aching pain of surface living, of never truly accessing our depths and real potential, through the many tools available today, but sooner or later we will have to face our shadow. If we ignore the gently nudges, one day the rhino will come and give you the big knock. However , as we say here in Africa; If you think of a Rhino, you must also think of a tree. Thus if you think of a big problem you must also think about a solution. This essentially why I am writing this series on the dark night.
During this stage of the transformation process, we encounter power in its awesome properties, which we can use both to destroy and create. The mythological god associated with this stage is Pluto, husband to Persephone, who rules the underworld. This god penetrates to our core in order to reveal our deepest root issues; he destroys in order to renew, and he holds the power to transform and effect change. During this stage we make the descent into our unconscious, into our shadow.
One of my most favourite descriptions of how the shadow develops is by Bill Plotkin;The American poet Robert Bly says our first twenty years are spent stuffing 90 percent of ourselves into “the long black bag we drag behind us” and the rest of our life attempting to retrieve those items … Our Loyal Soldier, of course, is the subpersonality who shoveled all those aspects of self into the long bag in the first place. Think of the Loyal Soldier as a sort of psychic bouncer who throws out any part of self not deemed respectable by the management. The boss, in this case, is the child’s immediate family and cultural setting. When the boss spots an undesirable the Loyal Soldier starts shoveling.
Thus the shadow designates aspects of ourselves that we cannot accept; these aspects do not agree with our ego ideal, and are often in disagreement with the values established by society. We therefore repress them and prefer to see them projected onto other people, where we can fight them.
Projection is defined as “the situation in which one unconsciously invests another person (or object) with notions or characteristics of one’s own: e.g. a man, fascinated by a woman because she corresponds to his anima, falls in love with her. Feelings, images, and thoughts can be projected onto others. One also projects negative feelings: e.g. a woman has a grudge against a friend, so she imagines that her friend is angry with her.”
If an individual shows no inclination to recognise his projections, then the projection-making factor has a free hand and can realise its object, or bring about a situation characteristic of its power. Again is should be noted that it is not the conscious mind, but the unconscious which does the projecting. The projections are not made, they are encountered. The effect of a projection is to isolate a person from their environment as instead of a real relation to it there is only an illusory one. Projections change the world into a replica of one’s own unknown face – the Shadow – and lead to an auto-erotic or autistic condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. The resulting feeling of sterility are in turn explain by projection as the malevolence of the environment, and by means of this viscous circle the isolation is intensified.
Our shadow has a reservoir of tightly coiled, focused, and concentrated energy at its disposal, which can either be used to harm others, and ourselves, or transform ourselves. It is said that should the shadow develop more energy than the ego, it will erupt in us as an overpowering rage or depression; “the shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house.” During this phase of the dark night this is typically what happens and it is normally this condition that forces people to seek help. To become conscious of the Shadow takes considerable moral effort, recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. Jung contended that this act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge. In the ogham the ivy represents the spiral of the self, the search for the self, to see through the eyes of the soul. The maze or labyrinth is also linked to the ivy, it too symbolizes the wandering of the soul, circling inward and outward. The spirit turns inward, like Theseus following his thread into the labyrinth. The exploration for the secret center of his own being, which may appear monstrous, lying hidden most of the time.
“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves” – Jung
As Jung describes the Projection of the Shadow, it refers to as the principle that “[changes] the world into a replica of one’s own unknown face”. We most often become aware of our shadow through our dreams. During this phase of the dark night it is exactly this unknown face of ourselves that we need to uncover in order to reap the most benefit of the process of transformation.
“The Kingdom is like a man who had a treasure hidden in his field without knowing it. When he died, he left it to his son. The son did not know about the treasure. He inherited the field and sold it. And the one who bought it went plowing and found the treasure…” Gospel of Thomas
” … look in the deepest of your wounds, for there lies the gold of your being.” Emerald Tablet
Another way of perceiving the dark shadow is seeing it as poison.
In terms of the transmutation of poison, first one must recognize the poison – is it envy or jealousy, or is it fear or anger, or is it pride or arrogance, or is it greed or lust, or is it insecurity or doubt? It is like a person bitten by a venomous snake. When they go to the doctor seeking the antidote, the first question the doctor will ask is, “What kind of snake bit you?” The anti-venom is made from the venom; the antidote is made from the poison itself. In order to transmute the poison I must look and see exactly what kind of poison it is, for that will determine the proper response.
Whatever the poison is, the antidote is in it. Whatever form of negativity arises, it contains the holy spark of the positive in it. For example, consider jealousy. If I am jealous of someone, then it means that I see that person’s talents and virtues, and the good that is in them. Instead of remaining in jealousy, I can celebrate their talents and virtues, and honor the good that is in them – I can give praise and thanks to God, and uplift this person to God, and glorify God. Of course, when I do this, I will be drawing upon the good that is in me, and I will also serve to uplift myself as I uplift another. We receive exactly what we give!
Now we can say the same of any form of negativity we might name, even the darkest and most evil thought – all contain the holy spark of what is positive and good, and we need only look and see the good in it to draw it out. In this way we transmute the poison into an elixir of life – it is a spiritual alchemy, all in the mind.
You will note, in this we are not struggling against anything, but rather we are moving with what is happening and we are using exactly what arises to cleave to the Anointed and Mother Spirit. In this process of we must be playful and creative. Obviously, depending on the poison, there are many ways to go about transmuting it. With jealousy as our example we have given only one way – but there are many others ways and we ourselves must find exactly how it works for us in real life situations. In other words, it is an ongoing practice of the spiritual life.
In this light we may view the negativity that arises as an opportunity to refine and develop our soul, just as the challenges we face in life are opportunities for the development and evolution of our soul – all of life is filled with opportunities and possibilities, and it is we who choose the direction we will go … lust and greed, fear and hatred – wonderful, no problem! If self-grasping, attachment and aversion cease, what are these? They are pure energy, pure radiance, no longer bound up in the forms labeled “lust” or “murder.” The key becomes recognizing vital and mental energy is just that – *energy*, and therefore may be transformed from one form to another based upon this awareness. There are many ways to embrace and transform any negative thought or emotion that may arise, but all are based up this recognition. Thus, through practices like the silent witness and primordial meditation, we must seek to establish ourselves in this recognition.
As negativity arises, rather than avoiding it or pushing it away, calmly abide and look into it, examine it, and seek to find the holy spark that is in it, the light-power in it; just as with jealousy, all have something good in them, something luminous in them. Consider greed, in greed there is the knowledge of what is good to give, for knowing what you desire to keep for yourself, you know what is truly good to give; in the midst of lust, you recognize the beauty and desirability of another, and there is much energy suddenly at your disposal – noticing beauty can invoke awe and wonder of the source that gives rise to such glory, and the energy aroused can be directed into any activity, or it may be directed inward and upward, Godward, remembering our true Beloved: Divine or Enlightened Being. Fear has wakefulness in it, and anger is innate concentration – after all, when we are afraid we don’t exactly fall asleep very easily, and when we are angry we are very concentrated and capable of the most detailed visualization; if we direct wakefulness or concentration differently, there is no more fear, or no more anger! How wonderful! No problem!
Of course, we could point out many other qualities to these same forms of negativity – it is all about becoming intimately acquainted with the negativity arising in one’s own experience and seeking to embrace it, relate with it, and work with it creatively. If there is a specific situation, with a specific individual, a tzaddik may well be able to suggest a specific method, akin to a prescription for medicine by a doctor that may serve as a remedy for an ailment; but speak in general terms, if we are willing to embrace the negativity that arises in our experience and seek to relate with it in a different way, becoming playful and creative with it, we will find a way to transform most of the negativity that arises – we just need to remember that whatever arises is empty by nature, having no substantial or independent self-existence.
What we are talking about, of course, requires a different view and attitude regarding negativity – instead of meeting it with judgment, we need to meet it with awareness and with curiosity, and see it as an opportunity for creative practice, an opportunity to play with the energy arising and see what can be done with it that is positive and productive, actually beneficial to ourselves and others.
Essentially, we are talking about embracing and integrating the Shadow Self; unfortunately, just religious views in many forms of spirituality suggest that enjoyment is “wrong” or “sinful,” they also propose that there is something inherently “wrong” or “evil” with the Shadow Self. Yet, integrating it, we find that it is a source of immeasurable power for a greater good, a source of energy that may support the Great Work. It is all a question of creative and skillful means – using whatever arises in a way that is beneficial and helpful, rather than counterproductive to our well-being and welfare, or to the well-being and welfare of others.
Some individuals may suggest that this is “dangerous,” but look into religions in which the Shadow Self is rejected and oppressed, and notice the violent eruptions of the Shadow Self that are prevalent with those practicing such a view; then look into forms of spirituality that embrace and integrate the Shadow Self, and you will find that they are not as prone to externalize the violent inclination in such wild and unconscious outbursts. Essentially, like or not, the Shadow Self is present, and negativity will arise – the question is how to relate with it, from a Sophian perspective, rather than attempting to cut it off…
You darkness from which I come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence out the world
for the fire makes a circle
so that no one sees you anymore
But darkness holds it all;
the shape and the flame,
the animal and myself,
how it holds them,
all powers, all sight –and it is possible; its great strength
is breaking into my body.
I have faith in the night. – Rainer Maria Rilke
To have faith in the night is to have night vision. The wanderer bravely enters the darkness to discover what is there and what has drawn you.
I proceeded down the hill and came to an old hotel. As I walked inside I remembered that I have been there in my youth. I looked inside the rooms and was surprised to find heaps and heaps of empty white shells on top of the chest of drawers even inside the cupboards. I noticed old clothes of mine in one room; clothes that I thought lost. It was as if I left it yesterday. I picked up the clothes and folded it intending to take it with me. I wondered when I left it and why it seemed as if I left in a hurry. Why could I not remember? The shells puzzled me.
I heard my name called again and I looked to see who was calling me. A beautiful black girl made a graceful leap from the balcony above me to right next to me. She said:” I remember you …” I could not remember but thought that I could question her on why I had to leave so unexpectedly. Maybe she will know what the hidden secret was.
We went back inside the hotel to her room. She was recalling what fun we had. I observed that her room was not full of shells like mine. I was still straining to remember what she was recalling, when suddenly in the ceiling I saw a small vortex appear. Swirling like a universe. Out of this appeared what looked like an orange sea anemone. Intense fear arose in me as I suddenly remembered why I left in such a hurry. I tried to warn her but the thing sucked her up. I remembered that it only took live things and I held out some red and white flowers that was in the room to give me enough time to escape through the door. I now knew why there were so many empty shells.
Little Swan flew through the Dream time. Looking for the future. She rested for a moment in the coolness of the pond, looking for a way to find the entry point to the future. This was a moment of confusion for Swan, as she knew that she had happened into the Dream time by accident. As Swan looked high above Sacred Mountain, she saw the biggest swirling black hole she had ever see. Dragonfly came flying by, and Swan stopped to ask about the black hole. Dragonfly said, “Swan that is the doorway to the other planes of imagination. I have been guardian of illusion for many, many moons. If you want to enter there, you would have to ask permission and earn the right.”
Swan was not so sure that she wanted to enter the black hole. She asked Dragonfly what was necessary for her to earn entry. Dragonfly replied, “ You must be willing to accept whatever the future holds as it is presented, without trying to change Great Spirit plan.” Swan looked at her ugly little duckling body and then answered, “I will be happy to abide by Great Spirit’s plan. I won’t fight the currents of the black hole. I will surrender to the flow of the spiral and trust what I am shown.”
Dragonfly was very happy with Swan’s answer and began to spin the magic to break the pond’s illusion. Suddenly, Swan was engulfed by a whirlpool in the centre of the pond.
Swan reappeared many days later, but now she was graceful and white and long-necked. Dragonfly was stunned! “ Swan what happened to you!” he exclaimed. Swan smiled and said, “Dragonfly, I learned to surrender my body to the power of the Great Spirit and was taken to where the future lives. I saw many wonders high on Sacred Mountain and because of my faith and acceptance I have been changed. I learned to accept the state of grace.”- Sun Bear – The Animal Medicine Cards
“If you want to know who you were in your past life, look to your present circumstances. If you want to know who you will be in your future life, look to your present actions.” – Buddhist
The Maori pattern of the koru depicts the relationship of the past and the future. One spiral comes up from the past, coiling in to a central point, which is the present moment, before changing direction and spiralling up into the future. The magic point, the only point where change can occur is the centre point, the point where the certainty of the past touches the uncertainty of the future.
When talking about the koru, I described time as a vortex. We see time as moving from the past to the present and to the future. The past and the future swirl around continuously changing, creating a present moment that is always different. Even though the present moment is always changing, it also remains the same just as the whirlpool is always changing, but retains a stable shape. We live in an ever changing present moment.
When we see time in this way, we realise that we do not move through time from yesterday to today to tomorrow, but rather we stand in the present moment while time moves through us.
Everything from our past has happened is certain and cannot be changed. If we place our identity in the past, we live for what was, for our past achievements, for people and events which have gone, for things that are fixed and cannot be changed, then the present can have no meaning or power.
Similalrly, if we place our identity in the future, we live for what will be, for our future achievements, for what people around us will be, then again, the present has no meaning or power.
In addition to that, the future is full of uncertainty, so, it is always possible, in fact, likely, that those thing in the future in which we invest our identity in will not come to pass and therefore we again place our identity in something that has no reality…
The present moment is balanced on the edge between the certain past and the uncertain future. Sitting right in the edge of certainty and uncertainty is the present moment; not restricted by the past and free to create the future. If we place our consciousness in the past or the future, we place it in the turbulent swirling winds of the vortex, where we are buffeted about and have little control over our lives. If, instead, we place ourselves at the still centre of the present moment, there is a calmness we find within ourselves. It doesn’t mean we avoid the difficulties of the world. It doesn’t mean we ignore the past or future, but we see them from the still point and remain calm. We are actually at the only place where true change can be made, certain enough to allow stability, uncertain enough to allow growth.
The vortex is something we see in nature appearing out of nowhere and mysteriously disappearing again. They exist as obvious forms as a tornado or whirlpool, but also in more subtle forms such as human beings and human identity. By learning to ride the edge of the interactions at the still point, we open ourselves to the full richness of what it is to be a person and a full child of the universe.
EDGE OF CHAOS
The Edge of Chaos is a key concept in chaos and complexity. If a system is too unstable it lacks the ability to work as a coherent whole and lapses into deep chaos. If a system is too stable, it becomes rigid and unable to adapt to a changing environment. There is a critical balance point called the Edge of Chaos, just before the point of lapsing into deep chaos, where the system is not only stable enough to maintain coherence, but can self organise such that new levels of organisation and stability can emerge. The Edge of Chaos is not a static equilibrium, but rather a dynamic balance, like the balance of a tightrope walker, who is constantly using feedback loops of balance to stay on the rope.
– Victor McGill
The sign of the end of the putrefaction step is the peacock’s tail (the coat of many colors) symbolizing unlimited potential.
This where the dark night of the soul has been drawing us towards, drawing us into being fully present stripped bare of the past perceptions and future ones not yet formed. Into the bosom of dark Nox and Erebus, entwined rising out of chaos, on the edge of utter chaos. Nox the unconscious form of nature and Erebus, the latent divine potency. From their first cosmic and elemental embrace, Eros was born from a silver egg. He who is the driving force behind the entire theogonia, the unfoldment of thought, the liberating agent who releases and activates the creative process of the mind. He who awakens the ego to its true nature.
The current English word “soul” may have originated from the Old English sawol, documented in 970 AD. “Sawol” has possible etymological links with a Germanic root from which we also get the word “sea”. The old German word is called ‘se(u)la’, which means: belonging to the sea (ancient Germanic conceptions involved the souls of the unborn and of the dead “living” being part of a medium, similar to water), or perhaps, “living water” – Wikkipedia
“The cosmic ocean pervades space and time. It is the basis of all things; the energies of the visible world originate from the primordial energy that is inherent in its creative potentials.” Gopi Krishna
In your dark night you may have a sensation you would call ‘oceanic’ – being in the sea, at sea, or immersed in the waters of the womb. The sea is the vast potential of life, but it it is also your dark night, which may force you to surrender some knowledge you have achieved. It helps to regularly undo the hard-won ego development over the years, to unravel the self of culture you have woven over the years. The night sea journey takes you back to your primordial self, not the heroic self that burns out and falls to judgement, but to your original self, yourself as a sea of possibility, your greater and deeper being … You return to the womb of imagination so that your pregnancy can recycle. You are always being born, always dying to the day to find the restorative waters of the night. – Thomas Moore
We are drawn down and under, as surely as the moon draws the waters of the ocean, by an irresistible ancient longing. Here in the deep depths of our soul lies the undifferentiated waters of the vast cosmic ocean of unity. In this space between worlds and time, between incarnations, bardo, the dark night provides an opening into the underworld of our unconscious, where we can access the entire universe of past, present and future flowing into our psyche. In this intermediate state of now, the present eternal moment, in this dark night, we are linked to the past and the future through the present. We have access to hidden memories of both past failures and successes, here our angels and demons are intertwined, here we meet both our angels (our highest potentials) and our demons (our fears); the guardians of the thresholds.
The dark dimension, which lies hidden beneath the surface of our conscious awareness, holds the storehouse of forgotten memories from the past, and the potentialities of future possibilities. It contains both our personal storehouse, and deeper into the transpersonal stratum of the collective unconscious. Our dark shadow has an equal counterpart: the bright or golden shadow which contains our highest potentials and abilities, the inner aspect of ourselves which is our best and brightest aspect, our finest potential. In the Kabbalah this is reflected in Da’at, which appear according to the state of mind of one who approaches it. Thus it can appear as a great angel or a great demon. A demon carries one further away from enlightenment, and an angel is something that brings us closer to the divine. Da’at is also called The Abyss,or the Bridal Chamber.
This exactly what this stage of the dark night represents, if you cling to past fears, judgments an outworn concepts you will face the angel of wrath, if you courageously face what you have been trying to avoid all these years, you face the angel of your divine potential, hidden in the depths of your soul.
Now you find yourself having to face your shadow; both the bright and dark aspects of it. This is the stage in bardo, between lives that is also called The Judgment. At this point one can enter either heaven or hell. From here the future will germinate from a seed capsule which we create during this stage. Into this seed capsule are placed three things;
- The distillation of our wisdom essence from the past cycle
- Our unfinished karma and unconscious habits
- Our commitments for the future cycle
If you had no limitations and possibilities were wide open; imagine there were no obstacles whatsoever – money, education, training, degree, age, sex, race, health – What would you put into that seed pod? If you could do anything you want, what would it be? It may not be possible for us to actualize our ideal images, perhaps not yet, but it is important to have a glimmer into the farthest outreaches of our potentialities .… an awakening to a greater reality.
In East the term bodhissattva describes the being who has achieved enlightenment through having fulfilled and completed his or her karma. However rather than remaining in the clear light, this person chooses to continue incarnating in this dualistic dimension for the purpose of benefiting others. The bodhisattva’s life is motivated by the desire to relieve suffering and guide others towards healing and liberation. Our dark phase energies can point to our communities to emulate the bodhisattva ideal. On the level where the Law of Grace, or oneness is operative, the burdens of pain and suffering are not karmic retribution but rather additional responsibility we have voluntarily taken on in order to help others. – Demetra George
Always we have a choice. Shall we let our aversions, our demons shape our future, or shall we let our possibilities, our angels shape our future?
I see the moon reflecting on the mirror surface of the pool. A ribbon of cloth floats towards me. What bigger piece is it from? I feel its texture with my fingertips, run it across my face to feel what it stirs in my soul. Who was the weaver of the cloth? Who spun the thread, where did the raw material feel the first ray of light, to bear forth that, which in the hands of the master spinner and weaver becomes the myth of its origin? Where from this ribbon of cloth? I hold it too my face and fill my breath with its essence. I dive into the dark depths of the pool, as if I am diving into the radiating source of light. In this source of light I feel myself purified the deeper I swim. I swim until I feel there is no more need, for I will never reach the end, I allow myself just to drift, wrapped in bliss. Slowly I float back to the surface. I open my eyes; the warm breeze cooling the water drops on my skin.
“To reach and grasp, and to suffer the release of the grasp, and then to reach some more, past the known frontiers of body, mind, heart and soul”.
Drifting in the Dark Sea
Formless potency of the Primordial Night
Chaos envelops me
and I surrender
In this night
a dream arose
Images rising from
the dark depths
of my soul
and stirs fathomless
What image will you choose
to represent those desires stirring
in the womb of the night
What will be the colours
of your wings?
What do your voice cry out for
in the night?
so that together we may
weave a bright new dream
Let us play for a while longer
in the starry night skies
of our imagination
before we give birth to a new dawn.
Imagine you awoke one day to find yourself in a strange land. You remember who you were and what you have done, where you used to live, even your dreams and longings, but now it seems so far away. So out of reach it all seems in this strange land. Here it is as if nothing that once was familiar matters any longer, all that matters is that you find yourself where you are right now. You cannot return to what once was, neither do you know where to go from here. Now there are no distractions. You have to look closely at what has been revealed.
Before I continue I want to plant a seed of imagination, which is for me central in navigating a Dark Night of the Soul. In the second stage of the dark night, you find yourself isolated within a Hermetic Vessel of transformation. Whatever situation has caused the onset of the dark night, you find yourself in a paradoxical situation – you are no longer what you were, neither are you what you are becoming – held between the two poles of masculine and feminine. Yet the vessel itself that holds the paradox is feminine – the womb and the tomb. The feminine can hold paradox, but the masculine needs to discriminate, between black and white. Thus during this stage, you have to surrender your desire to decide. When we find ourselves in a situation where we feel torn between two desires, you can either use the masculine energy; the sword of discrimination, and decide to go for one or the other, or use the feminine energy to contain paradox. This is what a dark night of the soul is; to abide within the paradox until the false – thus that which is not true to your soul’s individual nature gets stripped from the tree, by autumn’s winds of change, and it is ready to bring forth new leaves. The very situation that causes your conflict becomes the container for your transformation.
The following quote by James Hillman illustrates the psychological approach with which one has to face this part of the Dark Night;
That word “entertain” means to hold in between. What you do with an idea is hold it between–between your two hands. On the other hand, acting or applying it in the world and on the other hand, forgetting it, judging it, ignoring it, etc. So when these crazy things come in on you unannounced the best you can do for them is think them, holding them, turning them over, wondering awhile. Not rushing into practice. Not rushing into associations. This reminds of that: this is just like that. Off we go, away from the strange ideas to things we already know. Not judging. Rather than judging them as good and bad, true or false, we might first spend a little time with them.
We tend to want to engineer a solution for every problem, not willing to let the situation unfold organically. Within that container of paradox, your soul’s desires will rise to the surface, so that you can know what you authentically desire. There are however many layers of that desire and by just letting them surface, feeling them, experiencing them in depth, you will eventually get to the basis of those desires, and then even beyond them – to the mother core. By surrender in this situation, I mean to allow yourself to feel what you feel, let the full fantasy unfold, without judging it, as good or bad, or acting on the impulses. While one is in the storm, it is not a good time to make any choices, for really it is only when you have gone right through the emotion to its core that a real imaginative solution can present itself. The tension of the paradox one has to live in can feel unbearable at times, but it is often more of the resistance to the surrender that is unbearable.
In the vessel you entertain the many possibilities of being. It is a realm of pure possibility where novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise. It is the realm of the creative womb, as well as the tomb of staid ideas and concepts. One of the most basic characteristics of creativity is be able to hold conflicting ideas until a a creative solution presents itself. Any creative person can describe what is like to be possessed by their daemon. Where it is as if for a while as if the outside world cease to exist until you finally give birth to whatever creation, You may even forget to eat or sleep so driven you feel within that container, that womb of creation. You may not necessarily feel depressed in a dark night, but during this stage you do find yourself within the vessel of transformation, the womb and the tomb.
It is in this stage that we encounter most resistance. It is ironic that most hover on the outside, or beginning of this phase and do not realize that by trying to avoid the pain, they will remain in an empty, defensive, and fallow period, because they think that going deeper will be even more painful. By not fully understanding the process, most continue to hold on, and in so doing, retain the old, no longer appropriate, emotional patterns, thus also continue to hold on to the pain that these patterns have created. The overriding experience becomes one of anguish and delusion, set in the denial of what is. Basically it is the ego trying to hold onto an identity that no longer is appropriate for your renewal. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
Essentially, passage beyond the dark nights comes through a complete acceptance and surrender to the dark nights – a complete surrender to the Divine Mother, to Reality as It Is, to God.
We do not come to such surrender without the full realization of the necessity for surrender, and the only way we come to this realization is through the experiential level – through actual experience; the experience of the dark nights leads to this, and they are an integral part of an organic and holistic process, the depths into which we seem to fall being integral to the heights into which we seem to ascend.
Consider the story of Christ after the crucifixion, according to the tradition, first he descends into Hades and hell realms, and then he is raised up from the dead and ascends to the heavens; there is the suffering of death and the suffering of hell, and then the joy of the resurrection and ascension. Now we may speak of the love and mercy of Christ in his descent, seeking to extend the Divine Light into all realms, descending into the depths for the salvation of souls; yet we may also speak of a simple truth in the self-realization process: You will ascend into the heights only to the extend that you are willing to descend into the depths; to ascend, first we must descend, and our ascent in consciousness will be equal to our descent – they are integral to one another. There is no way around this, now way of avoiding this – it is the nature of Reality as It Is.
When we hear provisional teachings on the enlightenment and liberation of the soul it can only sound to us as though it is some fixed or static state, as though at some point we “arrive” and that’s it, it is all well and wonderful, no more sorrow, no more suffering – that’s what the egoistic self wants to hear. We want the rewards of heaven, not the suffering of hell; but this is the cause of our bondage to the heavens and hells of the demiurge, this play of attachment and aversion – until it is brought into cessation the soul remains in its bondage. – Tau Malachi
The Dark Night is basically a process of dying for the ego. The ego reflecting what we think we are, thus the fear and aversion felt by most for the dark night reflects our fear of death, since we attach a lot of value and identity with name and form, and with the material world and possessions. If we think that death is the end of all that we identify with, we will attach a lot of fear to it. Just like dreams reflect our lives, so death reflects our lives, in that it will assume an appearance relative to the observer, or the one experiencing it, relative to our state of consciousness. According to some esoteric traditions the process of death begins the moment the cause of death is contacted. So one may well say that our process of death, the death of what we think we are, begins the moment we are born. So where does life begin and where does it end; are life and death really separate? If we think that life only has meaning when we attain our successes, or are in our youthful peak, or in our joyful moments, dark nights will be very hard, as we cannot see that we are always in transition from one state of consciousness to another. Nothing is static or fixed in creation. So in truth we are always in a bardo state.
The Bardo Thodel, or “Book of the Intermediate State” (popularly but known in the West as “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”) Thodol means “liberation through understanding,” or “Great Liberation Through Hearing”
“ Bardo means a “between state,” an interval or transition between two mental states, whether experienced in life or after death. Hence the work’s Tibetan title (which might be translated more literally as Liberation through Understanding the Between) alludes to bardo states that may be experienced at any point over the cycle of life, death and rebirth, yet the work itself overtly discusses only the bardo states experienced during death, offering explicit instruction on how to navigate them. In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva.
A single life span is itself a bardo state, a transitional zone in a larger cycle of rebirths. Dreams are bardo states that occur within the daily round, in the interval between falling asleep and waking; feelings of uncertainty, paranoia, and delusion are sometimes grouped with dreams on a looser interpretation of this second bardo state. A meditative trance is a third type of bardo state, an intermediate zone between ordinary consciousness and enlightened awareness. These are the main bardo states of life.
Although the Bardo Thodol is a guide to the bardo states experienced after death, it can only be read by the living. It may be read in preparation for one’s own death, or at the deathbed of another. Because the weaknesses attributed to the dead are all experienced by the living as well, a person learning to traverse the bardo states of death will learn to navigate better the bardo experiences of life as well. In this sense the book is a guide to liberation across the entire cycle of human existence as conceived in Tibetan Buddhism.
Could it be said any clearer, what possibilities the Dark Night of the Soul contain? That which we try and avoid with all our strength contains our very Liberation, our deepest desire. So many see the Dark Night of the Soul as a curse, something to be feared, just as much as we fear death, yet it is indeed a great blessing when we find ourselves in a Dark Night of the Soul, or indeed experiencing the trials of life. If we can in the midst of our trials, see beyond our attachments and aversion, we can indeed be liberated from our suffering.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:12).
I find the three states of Bardo as described in Bardo Thodol in itself illuminating as relating to the process of the stages of transformation of the Dark Night.
- The Chikai Bardo (or hChi-kha Bar-do ) or Intermediate period of the moment of death. This includes the process of dying; and the dissolution of the elements; earth – form, water – feeling, fire – perception, and air – intellect, that make up the physical body. According to the Gnostic tradition earth dissolves into water, water into fire, fire into air, and air dissolves into spirit space. Then spirit-space dissolves into itself, into its inmost nature. During this period one experiences the “Clear Light”, one’s own innate Buddha-nature. This is therefore a very favourable moment for the attainment of Enlightenment and liberation from the wheel of rebirth.
The experience of the death point, the moment at which the soul loses consciousness of objects and becomes aware only of itself. The experience is described as a vivid formless light emanating from all sides. At this moment, enlightenment lies close at hand, although one’s capacity to attain it depends on the extent to which one has achieved lucidity and detachment in one’s previous existence. For most individuals the vision of light can only be sustained for a brief interval, after which the soul, caught in desire and delusion, regresses toward lower levels of existence
The Tibetan account of the Chikai Bardo shows striking parallels with the so-called “Near Death Experience” of people who have died, experienced themselves floating out of their bodies, and so on, and then been revived.
The process of dying, breaking down into the elements, relates to the alchemical process of purification. During this stage you are within the vessel of transformation, in alchemy it is called the process of nigredo or the ‘darkening.’ The Dark Night is itself is a vessel of transformation that allows our putrefaction, the breaking apart of a life that once made sense but needed reviving.
As operations allied to death, dissolution and putrefaction produce images of weakness and sickness for the sake of psychic movement and soul-making. Such images were of major concern to the alchemist who believed that the Gods force themselves symptomatically into awareness, and that pathologizing was a divine process working in the human soul. Therefore, by reverting the pathology to the God, they recognised the divinity of pathology. Furthermore, pathologizing is a way of seeing, of gaining ‘psychological insight,’ which may explain why alchemists, like many great artists and writers, often suffered for their art
The initial nigredo or ‘blackening’ stage of alchemy tells us that it starts with a ‘mess’, the prima materia being the symptom that may drive one to seek therapeutic help. It is the crisis, issue, wound and failure that forces one to begin to question one’s nature, examine life, and explore deeper meanings. ‘Washing out’ the immersed ‘shadow’ matter can therefore be read as a metaphor for breaking down old habits, attitudes and beliefs that obscure psychic insight, and have lost psychic significance. Withdrawal of psychologically naive projections and the loosening of resistances is also the decay (putrefaction) of idealisations that have moulded our reality. By dissolving rigid ego boundaries, we can begin to challenge the ideas we carry about ourselves and the world, questioning the ‘truths’ we unequivocally take to be reality.
The alchemical vessel was seen as both womb and tomb, a place for birth and a place for decay, but also a place for containment. In us the retort is the vessel of memory and imagination, holding events and fantasies where they can be subjected to the heat of passion and feeling or to the simmering of thought and reflection. In this retort, events of life decay, losing their literal form; but they also ferment, acquiring taste, bite, and body – a good cook of the psyche knowing the best combinations of temperature and time, when to let things simmer and when to bring them to the boil.
The experience of the “Clear Light” also relates for me to the peak experiences of live – the so-called Summer periods, which precedes the onset of a Dark Night; such as the bliss of early youth, completion of studies, the successful career, the first stage of being in love, and in the spiritual life, the attainments.
This finding, or course, could lead to a self-intoxication, a self-deception as it were; many radical spiritual and mystical experiences might unfold, and even psychic and magic-powers, and these may be mistaken for the fruition of realization. Following a long dark night of seeking, finding can be extremely blissful; however, if we are open and honest with ourselves, when the initial bliss fades, regardless of how lofty the peaks to which we have arisen, we will notice how far away from actual enlightenment we are, or how far removed from the Divine we are, and we will look and see that, in truth, not all that much has actually changed …
– Tau Malachi
A friend of mine, who are finding herself in a Dark Night of the Soul described to me what she felt the onset of her Dark Night was; “ I was standing in the passage of my home, and suddenly I realized the vastness of all, and in that moment, I felt I knew nothing. After more than 20 years of a being a practicing healer, I felt I knew nothing. In that moment I surrendered and it felt as if suddenly dark walls fell down around me. Since then I felt as if I lost all my powers and I can no longer be a healer.”
Whatever the attainments, they will have to be sacrificed if we are to enter into full enlightenment or full union with God; we will have to let go of it all to bring our self-realization to fruition – the intensity of the pain and grief of this apparent “distance” and the release of the apparent “attainments” cannot be described, but perhaps the image of the Christ-bearer on the cross might reflect something of it, understanding the spiritual and mental-emotional anguish as far more sever than that of the physical; hence the words of the Lord on the cross, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” – Tau Malachi
Harley Lever – Haunted Moon
One of the major symptoms that is described in this part of the dark night is that of feeling very alone. Contained within this vessel you are alone.
You begin to enter the dark night in earnest when you feel completely stranded. In the fullness of the dark night you don’t know where you are spiritually. You’re separate from God and man. You do not know where to turn. Your friends love you and wish you well but your condition does not improve.
The dark night is a very private matter. The person in the dark night is generally able to function quite well despite inner suffering. Often your acquaintances never suspect that you are going through the dark night — they probably do not even know what it is. Only people close to you — especially friends along the path — can recognize your pain.
You feel like a hollow person doing the activities of life with no motivation except expediency. Your eyes seem deeper in your head. You are profoundly aware of the suffering of humanity and the cruelty of one person to another. You feel that cruelty and negativity far outweigh love and constructive action.
Alone, and not wishing to be, unable even to express yourself to others, you enter midnight and the greatest intensity of the dark night. Here you have finally come to the time of sovereign solitude. In this precious time, which has no apparent prospects of love or happiness, you clearly perceive that nothing in the outer world has proven adequate to heal your condition.
Nobody, not even your dearest friends and loved ones, can make you whole. Even if they have tried, and love you enough to try loving you forever, they can’t give you peace. In your loneliness, you next — in a seemingly random process — notice that none of your thoughts have proven adequate to your suffering. Not one — even repeated fifty thousand times — breaks the inner storm and lets in light. God and higher consciousness seem so far away that perhaps they are unreal. Neither one has, despite your protracted exposure of yourself, done anything to ease or remove your agony. Nothing appears efficacious. Nothing works. – Anonymous
As for the help that we might receive or offer – we can speak of the divine assistance we receive, and we can speak of the encouragement and support we may receive, but nevertheless, on a certain level we experience and pass through the dark nights alone, and it is this recognition of the truth of our aloneness that is part and parcel of these dark nights. It is just as with the time of death – even in a room full of loving people offering us their encouragement and support, and even with the presence of holy and shinning ones offering their assistance in our crossing; still, no one else is dying, and no one can die for us or remove from us the pain and grief innate in the process of dying and death. In a room full of people we will die alone – in a world full of people we will pass through the cycles of mystical death alone; this aloneness is a simple truth of our experience, whether we like it or not. – Tau Malachi
(2) The Chonyid Bardo (or Chos-nidd Bar-do) or Intermediate period of visions of deities. This refers to the state where one experiences visions of deities, Heaven and Hell, Judgment, and so on. Modern writers have been struck by the parallels with the psychedelic and psychotic states, and experiences of “astral travelling” and the “astral plane” The soul has visions involving a succession of deities: a series of beatific Buddhas in the first seven days, a series of terrifying deities in the next seven. The text describes these visions as projections of the mind’s own consciousness, often involving a tension within the mind itself. For example, the dazzling visions of the beatific deities are accompanied by duller visions of other beings that distract from the splendor of the former. To be thus distracted is to give in to anger, terror, pride, egotism, jealousy, and other weaknesses. In contrast, to ignore the minor visions and to embrace the more awe-inspiring deities is to attain spiritual salvation through the very act.
A mind that fails to overcome these weaknesses encounters the darker, more horrific deities of the latter seven days. Many of these visions are merely aspects of the Buddhas encountered in the first seven days, now made terrifying by the mind’s own weakness. Liberation is still possible here simply by recognizing these beings for who they are. Yet the act is also more difficult now because terror forces the mind to flee rather than to examine its experiences.
In the alchemical process this is reflected in the poisonous gasses that rises during the stage of nigredo.
Alchemy’s operations were principally designed to liberate the soul from material entrapment. As Heraclitus of Ephesos (535-475 BCE) long ago observed, “it is death to become earth,” where literal fixations in earthbound problems stop the soul’s movement. What kills the flow and buries the soul needs dissolving in order to loosen and allow to rise into awareness our congealed fantasies, images and feelings. Alchemy’s dissolution, like a baptism, involved a purification, a washing away of debris, allowing a clearer perception of essentials. This is similar to cathartic release of emotions, where tears give way to fresh insights
The boy during his initiation is told that neither his mother nor father are his real parents, and he can do nothing but accept the situation as is. He has to let go of all that was and await rebirth. In the process he also learns what his strengths and weaknesses are.
As above so below. Even in the most basic level of experience of a dark night the same process is reflected.
The second stage of the transformative process calls us to surrender, heal, and transcend the boundaries of finite form in order to merge with a larger whole. The onset of this stage may be marked by panic settling into a stage of despair and feelings of helplessness. We have a sense that our identity and security from the past are gone and there nothing to replace them. There is nothing stable, certain, or dependable that we can count upon for assurance. The purpose of this second stage is to dissolve and wash away the remains of our past. To the extend that we are able to surrender to and accept what is, our experience can be one of transcendence and merging. In the first stage we are challenged to let go of our concepts; in this second stage our challenge is to purify our emotions and to release our pain…
We feel unconnected to others and increasingly lonely in our isolation. We may feel as if our neediness is greater than ever and that we are not receiving the love and support from others whom we feel should be there for us. In our victimization we take on the role of the sacrificial goat or the martyr. We may loose the companionship or try the patience of friends, who become tired of hearing us complain about our misery, especially if we ignore or reject their advice; we may feel as if they are spurning us.
As we become lost in the darkness and confusion of non-knowing, we may feel melancholy, morbid and pessimistic. There seems to be no hope, no vision, nothing that feels good. Mentally we are foggy, nothing is clear. Sometimes frightening, distorted shape-shifting images take over our mind by day, and similarly bizarre images may invade our dreams at night. We may become paranoid and develop a variety of phobias, feelings as if others are out to deceive or take advantage of us. We evade those who try to pin us down or get final decisions. – Demetra George
Then they started to throw houses and buildings around like it was mere toys but with absolutely disastrous consequences to the Earth’s population. I then found myself with many refugees of all population groups men, women and children. Every now and then we had to run for cover as houses came flying through the air. It was like finding myself in an exodus all trying to make their way to new beginnings. Among these people were also shape-shifters who appear like an animal and turn into humans. There were a horse-, dog-, eagle- and lion shape shifters. I specifically remember an old woman who were a crow-shape shifter pushing a load of belonging on a cart, others came to help her, while all just moved to what appeared an unknown destination, through the decimation of an Armageddon.
Armageddon itself in popular culture reflects our perception of death, and transformation. The Apocalypse actually means “revelation.”
Apocalypse is an apt term for dying and death, as the process of dying and death is a progressive revelation of our inmost being when the gross and subtle levels of consciousness dissolve, which are akin to veils that conceal our true nature. – Tau Malachi
This is also reflected in what Bill Plotkin calls ‘soul initiation’;
Soul initiation transforms our lives by the power of the truth at the center of our soul image. Embracing that truth results in a radical simplification of our lives. Activities and relationships not supportive of our soul purpose begin to fall away. Our former agendas are discarded, half-completed projects abandoned. Many old problems are not solved but outgrown. Old ways of presenting and defending ourselves become less appealing, and less necessary. … our lives are changed forever, irreversibly.
The anthropologist Victor Turner gave a special importance to the middle phase of liminality. He said, “It is like death; like being in the womb; like invisibility, darkness, bisexuality, the wilderness, and an eclipse of the sun or moon.” Any of these qualities may make your dark night seem unusual, even uncanny. Your external life may not have changed, but suddenly you find yourself in a twilight zone. Turner describes how, in traditional societies, where rites of passage are carried out in graphic form, the initiate may be naked or dressed in simple, skimpy clothes … These ancient rituals have echoes in common experiences of passage today. People in transition often disregard their appearance. They may let their hair go and not wash or shower … A dark night may take you away from the cultivation and persona you have developed in your education and from family learning. You may slip back into a degree of wildness that allows you to start over, perhaps at a new level. Teenagers sometimes make a lifestyle out of personal disregard. They are going through one of the most prolonged and serious rites of passage they may ever experience. It may not feel like a dark night of the soul to them, but their families see it for what it is. – Thomas Moore
During this stage just like in dying, or the caterpillar entering the cocoon, the outside world shrinks in importance compared to intensity of the inward dissolving. If we look at the mental, physical, and psychological conditions experienced typically during this phase, as described by Demetra George, we can also clearly see the reflection of what is said occurs during the process of dying.
Physically we feel tired, weak, devoid of energy, and don’t feel like moving or doing anything. We may feel zombie-like, sleepwalking through a dreamlike phantasmal existence. We may sleep a lot; there does not seem to be any good reason for getting up. The emptiness of the outer life mirrors the confusion of our inner mind. In order to avoid the reality of our increasingly meaningless or painful existence, many of us are tempted to find solace in the numbing qualities of addictive substances – alcohol, drugs, sex, food, television. Self-defeated, we spiral into self-destructive activities.
The reason we experience the isolation, exhaustion, pain, and delusion during the second stage of the transformative process is that the guidance of this stage is to heal our emotions through retreat, rest, purification, and opening our hearts to others. In the lunation cycle, when the waning crescent dissolves into blackness, the movement of the lunar energy is withdrawal from the outer world of manifest activities. In the same way, we can voluntarily welcome this opportunity for retreat and rest as the work of healing optimally occurs in the darkness in the same way our bodies regenerate each night while we sleep. We must acknowledge our need for sleep and rest and not allow our own or other’s expectations to pressure us to decide, act, perform, achieve, and accomplish.
Ideally this is a time to allow the waters of dissolution to cleanse and wash away the past, both physically and emotionally. We can purify our bodies with cleansing diets and fast, drinking large amounts of water, taking saunas and mineral baths. We can cleanse our living environments by giving things away, especially those items that stimulate our memories and attachments that we are trying to release. On a mental level, we need to give up our hope that we can go back to what was and to give up our despair about the future.
And emotionally we need to understand how it is that our feelings of anger, hatred, pride, excessive desire, greed, jealousy, and envy continue to perpetuate our pain. When we are taken over by these negative emotional states, biochemical toxins are created in our bodies that contribute to our confused and deluded states of mind. … We can surrender to the reality of what is, accept the inevitability of our loss, and possibly even the idea that this may have been a necessary and ultimately beneficial loss. … However, if our fears and delusions have prevented us from integrating this process, and we are not able to let go of our old negative emotional patterns, another set of difficulties will arise in the third phase that force us, to confront our resistance.
Just as the masters says of the after-life expierence – bardo, this cycle of the death process can last for years until the soul lets go of the past life and is ready to move on. If we accept our loss, we are now able to enter into an even deeper state, in mythical terms what is described as the underworld. It must be remembered, however, as the masters points out, that at any point of the dying process, one can transform the dying process into a vehicle of self-realization. Most of us though are not sufficiently prepared, and must continue with the process.
James Berry says that when we arrive in the dark realm of the underworld, “One is, so to speak, deeper than one’s emotion. One is beneath the depression, the black mood, by having gone down through it to the point where it no longer is.” You discover that there is a place deeper than depression. (It can be helpful to distinguish between the feeling of depression and the sense of existential emptying.) You arrive at the point where your sadness or sense of loss no longer dominate. They don’t have the reality they used to have. You have finally fallen lower. You are now beneath all the emotion that has disturbed you for so long. Things are not better, but you are in a different state. – Thomas Moore
You are now truly in the bosom of the Dark Goddess. Beyond emotions and what appears to be reality; the invisible, unchanging core. It is Her purpose to keep the way to your depth clear of debris and to inspire you to renew yourself eternally in the emptiness of your being. You are now where the dark night has been trying to take you. Now you are almost ready for new life, and that is the purpose of Bardo both in life and death. You are ready to receive a vision of your deeper self, just as the caterpillar has died and chrysalis in its cocoon awaits the vision of the butterfly, thus to awaken to a greater reality.
…By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water
Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.
in this place
no one can hear you
and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,
that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not …
– David Whyte
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought;
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth
– T.S. Eliot
Although we speak of the Dark Night of the Soul, it would be a misunderstanding of the experience to say that it is the soul that is undergoing a dark night; it is actually the ego that experience the dark night. The term ego has become the scapegoat for most of humanities evils, demonized in fact. The ego in my understanding is simply what we think we are. The word ego simply means “I” in Latin. I mean the conscious self while in its normal, everyday state of consciousness. The ego is only one aspect of a larger self. One’s ego is born from the matrix of culture-language-family.
Human identity is relational. Unless we can compare ourselves to what is around us, we cannot understand why we are special and individual. We are therefore formed and sculpted by all those external influences much as a sculptor turns a block of clay, wood or stone into the desired image. We are moulded by events and our identity takes the shape we are given.
At the same time, however, we have an ability to evaluate our experiences, reject external events, and form our own views. We are all at once the sculptor and the sculpted, the creator and the created.
Our identity is not based on who we are, but on who we perceive ourselves to be. If a very physically beautiful person perceives themselves to be ugly, their identity will be formed around their perception of their ugliness.
– Victor McGill
The reason there are so many negative connotations attached to the ego is because most egos have not matured. The ego at its inception – around the age of four – is naturally narcissistic.
“ A mature ego understands the occasional necessity of surrendering to – or being defeated by – a force greater than itself, sometimes during the death-rebirth of soul encounter (when the ego surrenders to soul) and other times during ego transcendence (when ego surrenders to spirit). Ego obstructs personal development when it gets stuck, lost, or entrenched at any life stage – when it resists change, loss, grief, or radical transformation at the hands of the gods and goddesses.” – Bill Plotkin
So it can be seen that the narcissistic qualities so often attached to the ego is really a reflection of an immature ego, stuck in an early life phase. A person who is for example always acting defensively is identifying with a narrow perspective of an early phase. The inner child has become enmeshed in the mature environment and feels insecure. Even in the highest stages of human development, an enlightened person chooses and act from ego – from an everyday conscious self – but has an expanded ego, so expanded that it is quite different from what most of us experience as ego. It is thus the ego that needs to undergo a death during the rites of passage in order to change its perception of itself, and so to embrace a wider perspective of reality, a new paradigm of understanding. The old ego requires you go through the dark night in order to be transformed.
“One cannot become a butterfly by remaining a caterpillar.”
I can think of no better metaphor for humanity than that of the butterfly. Just like the butterfly humanity is a being in transition. It is therefore no co-incidence that the ancient Greek word for soul – Psyche also means ‘butterfly’ or ‘moth’. The soul it is said, contains the destiny of the ego. The Ancient Greeks also used the same word for ‘alive’ as for ‘ensouled’. Aristotle defined the soul as the core essence of a being, but did however argued against its having a separate existence. For instance, if a knife had a soul, the act of cutting would be that soul, because ‘cutting’ is the essence of what it is to be a knife. The soul indeed contains the core essence of a being, or what some call our unique ecological role. To be alive is to be ensouled and have a unique ecological role. If we look at the caterpillar, and say that its everyday consciousness is aware of its soul’s purpose; That is to eat, to devour virtually non-stop what it knows its source of nourishment is, until it reaches full maturity of that stage, then we could say that the caterpillar’s soul purpose is to eat. If it did have an ego, its ego would think it is a caterpillar. Now comes its rite of passage, its dark night of the soul and its ego must surrender to a greater force, the caterpillar must in fact prepare to die to what it thought it was, and what it thought its purpose was . The caterpillar does not resist even though it could have no idea of what it will become. Does the caterpillar’s soul die too since the soul contains its ecological role?
If we did not know that a caterpillar will be transformed into a butterfly, our perception of what its core essence is would indeed be limited. Just like with the caterpillar our soul will only reveal to our egos what our purpose is in a very stage specific way. Its soul knows what its ultimate transformation will be, and knows too the timing of the unfoldment. Because the caterpillar does not have a reasoning ego, it surrenders without a fight, or resistance to its soul’s prompting.
“The caterpillar is to the the butterfly as an uninitiated ego is to an initiated one. “
What distinguish our souls from our fellow entities that constitutes the natural world, is that our souls have a capacity to reflect on itself. Unlike most inhabitants of the natural world we are not innately conscious of our purpose, which is the double edge sword of being conscious. The ability to reflect is a creative ability engaged by the ego through the imagination. So it comes as no surprise to me that the final stage of the caterpillar’s transformation is called Imago – to image. Psychologists use the word imago to mean an idealized image of a loved one, including the self, which relates directly to the story of Eros and Psyche. Psyche had to undergo a Dark Night of the Soul before she was finally united with her beloved and so finally had a true image of her soul.
“ … be it an idea, or be it life in becoming?”
The thirteenth century,Persian mystic Aziz Nasafi wrote that the spiritual world, standing like a light behind the bodily world, shines as through a window through every creature that comes into being. According to the type and size of the window, more or less light enters the world. Each one of us is a window on the Universe, the whole of understanding. Physicist Raynor Johnson even suggest that while in ordinary states of awareness we view the world through five slits in the tower, our ordinary senses, there are states of consciousness in which we open the roof to the sky. It is in these moments of consciousness that a new paradigm is born. Suddenly a light is lit in the darkness of our understanding.
And here we can see why the same paradigm, such as the Aristotelian or Newtonian, is perceived as a liberation at one time and then a constriction, a prison, at another. For the birth of every new paradigm is also the conception in a new conceptual matrix, which begins the process of gestation, growth, crisis, and revolution all over again. Each paradigm is a stage in an unfolding evolutionary sequence, and when that paradigm has fulfilled its purpose, when it has been developed and exploited to its fullest extent, then it loses its numinosity, it ceases to be libidinanlly charged, it becomes felt as oppressive, limiting, opaque, something to be overcome – while the new paradigm that is emerging is felt as a liberating birth into a new, luminously intelligible universe.
“The Passion Of The Western Mind – Richard Tarnas
Within each of us, we progress from paradigm to paradigm in our personal self-evolution. Each stage of this evolution is brought about by a personal crisis, a turning point, a dark night of the soul, a soul encounter. Our personal evolutionary shifts reflects the evolutionary shifts of the greater whole. Within each stage is contained a germ of “betrayal” that will be the wound that causes the Dark Night of transition for our next level of understanding. Our ego must undergo a death to what it thought it was to find the new image of itself; it must enter into the chaos of the dark night.
In 1977, Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel prize in theoretical chemistry for his discovery of dissipative structures. Prigogine described how every natural system grows in a nonlinear way: the organizing structure of a system is at some point no longer useful and has to disintegrate before the new structure can emerge. A prime example of this principle is the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. A caterpillar does not really become a butterfly in the cocoon. Rather, it turns into into a chaotic molecular mesh. Out of this chaos, the structure of the butterfly spontaneously emerges.
Another finding of chaos theory is bifurcation theory. A bifurcation is a place or point of branching or forking into qualitatively new types of behavior. It is usually a sudden change, rather than a slow and gradual evolution. Furthermore, it is a transition of a non-linear system into a realm where new laws dictate what will occur to the system (Barrow, 1988).
Dixon (1993) calls bifurcations, sensitive decision points, or SDP’s. He points out that, far away from an SDP, a system can be well behaved, but as an SDP is approached, the system’s trajectory becomes random and unpredictable.
Complex systems (dynamic systems with numerous interrelated parts) tend to encounter bifurcations, which when amplified, can lead either to order or to chaos (Briggs & Peat, 1989). As a complex system functions, over time, tiny changes or perturbations (such as a single photon of energy, or a slight fluctuation in temperature) can be iterated (repeated) to a size that will result in a bifurcation and the system will then take a new direction.
Bifurcations can be considered as critical points (SDPs) in the life of a complex system. They points can either cascade toward chaos, through a process called period doubling, or stabilize the system in a new behavior through a series of feedback loops (such as autocatalysis, cross catalysis, and autoinhibition) so that the system once again is in harmony with its environment. http://www.schuelers.com/ChaosPsyche/part_1_7.htm
If we consider the ego as a complex system, then when a person reaches a critical decision point in their life where they must decide which of two possible choices to make, either consciously or unconsciously, they will have encountered a bifurcation point. The number of the primary bifurcations of the psyche, caused by the archetypes as attractors, are limited in number for each of us. Just as everything has a soul, so one can say that even a particular paradigm has a soul and an ego. Just reflect on how this relates to the state of our outer world.
Our identity shows self similarity. All aspects of our identity must be interactive and congruent. Even flaws in our character are reflected fractally through all aspects of our being. If we have a violent identity, it will be expressed through all the aspects of our being. The violence acts as an attractor for violent images, attitudes, and values and draws them in to become integrated implicitly throughout the entire personality.
It is not only individuals who form identities. While the physical boundary of an individual is generally obvious, the boundaries of a group are more difficult to define.
As we humans evolved, we often found existing social structures to be unable to meet our needs. Small family groups gradually grew in size until the group cohesion was threatened. A more complex tribal structure was needed to restore stability. Again, when too many tribal groups exist in close proximity, the level of conflict rises. Historically, one of the tribes has tended to conquer the others and the tribal leader has become instituted as a King or Queen of the empire. As education levels and individuals’ expectations increased, democratic forms of government formed nations as the most effective social structure. Each level has its own, appropriate corresponding identity. We each have an individual identity, a family identity, a community/tribal identity a national identity, and a planetary identity.
Identity form as nested levels, including the previous level as we progress to a new level (Wilber, 1996). The levels have a fractal relationship. Identity is formed in the same nested way as our brain. Our basic survival functions are controlled in the hindbrain (also called reptilian brain) at the centre of the brain. The paleomammalian midbrain wrapped around it controlling our emotions and the neomammalian neo-cortex is wrapped around all those formations controlling higher brain functions. (Eysenck, 1970: 84). Evolution does not do away with existing structures, but instead forms new structures to modify earlier ones. We do not do away with the need of a family level when we move to a tribal identity and so on. All the levels are interactive. Any level not fully functioning affects the whole organism.
– By Victor McGill
“The caterpillar is a voracious consumer that devotes its life to gorging itself on nature’s bounty. When it has had its fill, it fastens itself to a convenient twig and encloses itself in a chrysalis. Once snug inside, it undergoes a crisis as the structures of its cellular tissue begin to dissolve in an organic soup.The Great Turning – David Korten
Yet guided by some deep inner wisdom, a number of organizer cells begin to rush around gathering other cells to form imaginal buds, multi-cellular structures that give form to the organs of a new creature. Correctly perceiving a threat to the old order, but misdiagnosing the source, the caterpillar’s immune system attributes the threat to the imaginal buds and attacks them as alien intruders.
The imaginal buds prevail by linking up with one another in a cooperative effort that brings forth a new being of great beauty, wondrous possibilities, and little identifiable resemblance to its progenitor. In its rebirth, the monarch butterfly lives lightly on the earth, serves as a pollinator, and migrates thousands of miles to experience life’s possibilities in ways that the earthbound caterpillar could not imagine.”
In my dream, I found myself in a strange land, so strange that I cannot describe it, neither did I know how I got to be there. Yet, I knew I did not belong there, and the customs were strange to me. I saw a lot of delusional entrapment in the way of life, and wanted to speak out to say there is another way, you do not have to live like that, but the authorities tried to silence me, and I escaped. I then found myself in an ancient tomb where there were a lot of decaying bodies, and I saw four green and white butterflies emerge from a body. I knew that when the transition of death was complete four of these butterflies, which was host specific, thus human hosts, would emerge. I walked outside and saw swarms of these butterflies. Someone said to me, if you see so many there will be a lot of deaths.
In the dark night, the lifelong ego sense dies: impotent. Having fulfilled its part, now weak and incompetent, it is dissolved — transmuted. From a higher sense now awakening within you, you slough off your false sense of self. You now know yourself to be a different person than you thought you were. Your ego was merely experiencing some of the attributes, some of the qualities, of your true nature, while at the same time obstructing others.
Inside the cocoon, you will come to understand what the butterfly knows; in answering the call, you prepare to die in order for something new to be born – and to take flight, when the Other reaches for you, but first you must face the storm.
You are not surprised at the force of the storm –
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know;
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.
The weeks stood still in summer.
The tree’s blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.
Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
To be continued; Part 4
A Dark Night of the soul is always a rite of passage. In ancient times, and cultures rites of passage were honoured with ritual. Not all made it through the various rites, but I would say, looking around me in the world that today even less makes it through a rite of passage. Although it may not result in actual physical death, many lose their will to live, and are living a life of the living dead. Some just decline deeper and deeper into depression, just waiting for death, or engage in mindless activities, or uses some form of chemical substance just to numb the nagging pain, while others are walking time-bombs. How many do I wonder, are stillborn in their rites of passage? With all the knowledge that there is today about our minds, our brains, the millions of books on psychology, the Self Help books, still the rite of passage , a Dark Night of the Soul, is viewed by most as an anomaly, not a seen as a natural part of growth, yet, all of us will experience it during the course of our lives to some degree, and through many seemingly unrelated external events.
Although we strive for happiness and success, our mistakes and failures, and our sorrows, forms the shadows; the creative darkness out which our strivings rises.
“Here lies another paradoxical secret of the soul: That which seems to have twisted your life or personality for the worst is the very thing that will heal you and give you meaning … Heraclitus said, ‘ Your daimon is your fate. ‘ I might interpret this to mean that when you feel possessed and out of control, you may do things for better or worse, that define you, that give you the basic structures of your life. Because they are largely unconscious and unwilled, they may come to you as a dark night of the soul. Still they are precious to you and offer you material for reflection and serious conversation fot the rest of your life.” – Thomas Moore
We may think that we can separate our emotions into the desired ones and the undesired ones, the light and the dark ones, but really they are inseparable, without the one the other would not exist. If you have always been been brave and courageous, you will one day find yourself in a position where you will be forced to experience the opposite. To live only one side of an emotion is to remain incomplete. I knew a doctor who was a wonderful strong man, who spent all his life helping others, then he got cancer. It was not the pain and suffering that was hardest for him, but it was to for the first time in his life be totally helpless and reliant on others. Before his death, he confessed as much and said he was filled with gratitude and compassion. I have often seen men who were strong all their lives, die very soon after they realize that they will have to live dependent on others caused by an illness. It struck me as if, they would rather die than live helpless. I saw that with my father too.
Chiaroscuro (Italian. Light-dark) As generally used, chiaroscuro (or the French clair-obscur) means the balance of light and shadow in a picture, and the skill shown by the painter in the management of shadows. One can also say that we are each a painting expressing a view of the world through the complex combinations of light and dark, we are indeed uniquely what we are through the skillful use of shadows in our lives.
In musical terms, the minor key, is a refreshing alternative to the brighter major key. “When people approve only of major tonalities they become simplistic, not only in their thinking, but in their very being. Today many of the conflicts that threaten the peace, both at home, and around the world, stem from raw, naïve, and unintelligent prejudices and reactions. Passions routinely break out in violence. It takes a complex view of yourself and your fellow human being to hold back on hatreds and fears. A mature person is complicated and has complex ideas and values. The minor tonality of a dark night adds a significant and valuable complexity to your personality and way of life.” – Thomas Moore
In that way a Dark Night is predictable in hindsight; the pendulum will swing. Many goal setting courses and systems have at their basis the circle of balance; where you examine the areas in your life, or the roles you play, and see which one has been neglected. In those areas you can predict a breakdown will happen sooner or later, and some work must be put into it. If we don’t a Dark Night will force us. However, I have yet to meet a person who actually is completely balanced in all areas of their lives, in all of their emotional experiences. Even Saints and Enlightened men and women, have had to go through some kind of rite of passage into what appeared darkness.
Most African Shamans that I know, came to their calling through some kind of illness, or what appeared a madness. They are then put through a series of initiations until they are a fully fledged shaman, and thus are reintegrated into their society as valuable contributing members. In today’s world, the western culture, most of those people would have been locked up, put on medication, rejected as unstable members, the inner voices stilled as soon as possible, so that they could fit into the formulated model of what is considered normal. Where then today are our structures to guide us through our rites of passage, in whatever form they come, for come they will, as without what appears to be chaotic crisis, there will be no growth. In ancient cultures and myth, the Dark Nights are represented by the underworld journey. The descent into the underworld always begins with a death, either the physical death of the body, or the psychological death of an aspect of ourselves.
According to James Hillman, “ The underworld has gone into the unconscious; even become the unconscious. Depth psychology is where today we find the initiatory mysteries, the long journey of psychic learning, ancestor worship, the encounter with demons and shadows, and the sufferings of Hell.”
“Because we no longer understand the role of death in cyclical process, and instead have come to believe that it represents a state of absolute finality, we fear our modern initiations of psychological transformation. We resist any kind of change that brings the loss of what we know as security, and we shirk from recalling any event that holds traumatic memories that crystallize us into negative, self-defeating patterns of behavior. And in our resistance to change, which is the very source of renewal, we stagnate and truly die.” – Demetra George
“Here is another interesting dynamic that you may find in all kinds of dark nights. You have to distinguish resistance against the dark night from the dark night itself. People trying to avoid the pain, remain in an empty, defensive, and fallow period precisely because they won’t let the dark night happen. The real dark night is not as bad as the resistance to it; a dark night has more life in it and less ego.” – Thomas Moore
The Vision Quest is a very well known initiatory rite for those experiencing a dark night of the soul, and within it lies another clue of what a dark night hold for us. Often being stuck means that you have reached the limits of your imagination, and that is exactly what a dark night does; It throws out of our usual patterns and forces us to re-imagine our lives. With this in mind lets look at the stages of the dark night, the stages of transformation.
Although dark nights may appear chaotic, it is not as chaotic as it appears. Ancient rites of passage gives us very example of the structure of a dark night. In looking at rites of passage you will find three stages;
- Disintegration/ Separation/ Departure
- Purification/ Liminality/ Initiation
- Regeneration/ Re-incorporation/ Return
This will be clearly seen in the following rite of passage of a boy into manhood, described by Don and Jeanne Elium.
Disintegration/ Separation/ Departure
A boy is born, and the tribe rejoices. The infant spends his first months wrapped snugly on his mother’s body. He has no sense of where he ends and she begins. Mother is his universe. He rides on her back as she works; he sleeps with her; he learns to mimic her daily household tasks; he plays at her feet. He will remain unnamed until the tribe understands his nature, but his mother calls him Solee.
As Solee grows, he explores the boundaries between himself and his mother, and his world expands to perhaps twenty feet from her. He develops relationships with others of the tribe, especially the one called “Father.” Father has been nearby since his son’s birth and takes an active interest in his development. Although he is involved in tribal business and is often gone on the hunt, he spends as much time as he can with his small son. Under the eyes of his parents Solee grows strong, plays with his friends, and turns mischievous. Soon he grows taller than his mother, and his tricks on friends and adults are more risky and dangerous. He is becoming a problem.
Then one day, there is a different air of activity among the women of the tribe. All day they labor to make new shelters. They work long and hard, uninterrupted because the men are away on a hunt. The children are shooed from underfoot, and the older boys are put to work. That night all go to bed early, exhausted. In the middle of the night, strange shouts and frenzied chants awaken the sleepers. They can see torches lighting the sky, winding their way down the mountain toward the village, borne by wild-looking men. The women and children defend themselves with rocks and spears, but it is useless. The crazy men in masks drpping blood into each home and take all of the boys who are nine to twelve years old. “Don’t take my baby the mothers scream, to no avail. The boys, Solee among them, are gone.
Purification/ Liminality/ Initiation
They are taken into the hills to a cave where a fierce fire burns. The sounds of drums fill the night and shake the ground. The boys are placed in a circle around the fire. The wild men in the crazy masks dance to the drums. All at once, some mysterious force quiets the drums, each dancer takes his place in front of one of the boys. Solee is terrified. Knives are pulled. Solee screams with the other boys in panic. Suddenly the masks are removed and the boys scream again, this time in astonishment – ‘Father’ – as each sees his father’s face emerge from behind the monstrous mask.
“Father, why did you do this? Mother’s really upset back there. She could have killed you!” The father responds, “Son, I had to steal you away. She is not your real mother.” “What do you mean, not my real mother? Are you drunk or something? Enough of this. Let’s go home, “ says the incredulous Solee. The father replies, “Don’t get me wrong. She is a very good woman, but I will introduce you to your true mother in one year.”
The boy, who really has no choice in the matter, resigns himself to living for a year with his father and elders of the tribe, to be counseled about life and what it means to be a man. His strengths and weaknesses are determined, and he receives a new name that reflects his calling in life, Selu, The Wild Runner. He crafts a shield that symbolizes his unique skills and contributions to his tribe. His skin is scored and permanently dyed to indicate that he has become a man. He is carefully taught how to hunt, to fish, to fight, and to love. He learns to seek guidance from the stories of his ancestors and to honor the life-affirming forces that protect him and his tribe.
One day about halfway along, Selu and his father are making arrowheads, and his father says, “Oh, son. There is one more thing I forgot to tell you. I am not your true father.” “What? You are not my father? Who are you?” The father replies, “Don’t worry. I am a good man, and in few months, I will introduce you to your true father and your true mother.” Again, the boy has no choice but to continue. By now his body has filled out; his muscles are shaped; his skills are more refined. He has passed many of the tests required to be a man in the world of his tribe.
Regeneration/ Re-incorporation/ Return
One night the boys are told that the next day they will meet their true mother and true father. They go to sleep anxious and excited. Before the sun rises, the eldest male of of the tribe is assisted by other men to the mountain top. The boys are roused and told to follow. In this ancient culture the young were protected because they were the hope for the future, and the old were honored because the held the life wisdom from the past. And so it is an elder who says to the boys with the rising sun: “It is time to meet your true mother and father. Feel the earth beneath you. See the sky and sun above you. These are your true parents. Love them and learn their ways, and they will always support you and guide you. Now go to the village and take your places as warriors and hunters. And from this day, depend only upon your true parents.
A cheer rises as camp is broken, and the boys-made-men go down the mountain to their village. Selu sees his mother by the river. His first thought is, Oh no. She’s gonna be mad! She hated me to get dirty, and now look at my skin. He gazes at the permanent stripe of color that marks him a man. When Selu’s mother sees her son, she moans hysterically, “My son is dead. My son is dead!” Now the boy thinks, Even my mother doesn’t know me. I am no longer her son. I am a man. He takes his place in the tribe and continues to learn while he hunts for, protects, and gives life to his community. Eventually he takes a wife and has children of his own. When his son reaches that difficult age, Selu the father pulls out the mask and heads for the hills in preparation for the making of a man.
Within this composite story of a native male initiation is clearly contained all the elements required for navigating a dark night of the soul. Next I will expand on the elements contained within each phase.