Unwanted Dreams and the Freedom of the Soul

In a recent dream, I was in the act of taking black and white snapshots of my father (long deceased) who was behind bars. He looked forlorn there, standing in a tiny jail cell where apparently he had been sentenced for an unknown crime.

I don’t like these kind of dreams. They’re disturbing and depressing. Though my father and I were never close, I still would never want him to be jailed. But I also know that in my dream my father’s image is actually a stand-in for a part of me. So what’s up with that? What part of me is feeling sentenced?

I have a new appreciation of late for people who suffer with chronic pain. When my orthopedist, who has already replaced my right hip with an artificial joint, looked with me at an X-ray of my arthritic left hip, it made perfect sense why I had been having lots of pain and lots of difficulty walking. Bone on bone! A cortisone shot would help to tide me over for a few months, but a second hip operation is definitely in my future.

Pain does things to the mind. It makes me feel old at 65. Even though I work out, try to eat right, stay active, work five days a week, and basically have a very positive outlook on life, I have been feeling much more “mortal” recently. I’m quite unhappy about what I refer to as “design flaws” in the human anatomy — those much too human vulnerabilities that seem to rear their heads more and more among almost every friend I know.

When friends and colleagues are stricken by illness, I automatically assume that I am immune from such things because I take such good care of myself. Wrong though this thinking is, I hold onto it like a cherished possession, creating a neat image of immortality and invulnerability….And, apparently, setting myself up for this other dream-image of being sentenced behind bars.

But as I worked with this dream and after sharing it with my therapist, I realized that actually I am not sentenced. I have choices: a great surgeon whom I trust, a wonderful job that I find fulfilling and doesn’t require a lot of physical strength, and retirement savings that I can use to get me through a time of rehabilitation after surgery. I am blessed with caring friends, a loving and supportive relationship, and a wonderful family. So with a new hip, if all goes as well as the first hip replacement, I should be pain free again. But obviously, I am entering a phase in my life when I will need to alter my delusional expectations of invincibility as I make some adjustments to my level of activity.

Growing old gracefully is not necessarily for the weak of heart. But it seems now to be a better challenge than kicking and screaming against reality. I won’t, obviously, live forever; but neither am I sentenced to the jail of my own making.

Spirituality of the Shadow

Shadow    I had no idea when I was a child that the monster or boogey-man chasing me in my dreams was really just me. I had not come across the ideas of Carl Jung on “the shadow” at that point in my life. So it would never have occurred to me that the scary person I was running from was myself.

I can’t clearly remember the dreams now – I’m 65 years old for Pete’s sake. But, based on what I do remember, at that time in my life, I can make a few guesses as to what was going on. There was a part of me that was, frankly, full of rage — raw, barely contained, unadulterated rage.

Every family has certain rules of behavior. Sometimes, they are clearly spelled out, but often family rules are unspoken. Just based on my perception of things as a child, the rules about rage in my family were these: Dad and my older brother could express rage, but no one else was allowed. Dad’s rage was like a volcanic eruption — never physically violent, but very loud and the cause for me running and hiding for cover. My older brother’s rage was expressed whenever he was on the losing end of a neighborhood football or baseball game. He would stomp, yell and then pout and walk off the field in a huff.

But me — not so much. Oh, I would cry sometimes when I was angry, or I would withdraw, or on the other side of my rage, I would make nice as I tried to get on the good side of whoever had offended me. But never, never, never was I to raise my voice. On one occasion, when I fairly calmly told my mother I was angry with her, she went screaming down the hall, stating that I was driving her crazy!

So, I learned my lessons well. Don’t be angry, or if you are, keep it to yourself.

The Shadow feeds on such stuff, growing larger and larger each time we stuff into some invisible place within us the things we either can’t or won’t acknowledge. Like most things that are left in the basement of the psyche, such stuff tends to mold and fester, eventually taking on a life of its own. Anger repressed usually turns into depression or acting out — and I’ve had my share of both, thank you.

Becoming healthy and whole is certainly a lifelong challenge, and when we do our shadow-work, we move the ball of our spiritual growth a little further down the field, so to speak. When the Apostle Paul said for us to “Be angry, but do not sin,” I think what he was getting at is the idea of bringing up from the basement part of our soul the stuff that needs the healing light of day. What we can’t see or feel or touch usually controls us. What we can acknowledge and express in a conscious, caring way becomes a resource for our health and growth.