"World" is a state of mind before it is a place. At any given moment you and I may think of our world as the United States, America, the hemisphere in which we are located, our solar system, or even the cosmos itself. For some of us, our political party, gender, race, religion, fraternity or sorority, region of the country, city, family name, university we attended, workplace, or even athletic team becomes our world. We may identify as a Tiger, Bear, Ram, Eagle, Lion, etc., even adopting the colors, fight songs, and sites where games are played as our world.
We all need a place to belong, something larger than ourselves. We cherish other people who understand us and share our values, familiar places, and experiences that offered meaning for an existence, validation fo our life, assurance that this life is worthwhile, perhaps even that there may be comfort and old friends in an eternal home beyond our earthly existence. This was the theme of many of our world's religions, a promise that seems to diminish the fear of death, but more profoundly to offer hope that our mysterious universe may reveal promise beyond the despair of our present time and place.
So where do we draw the boundary of our "world?" Where does our world begin and end, or perhaps even more accurately, where do our "worlds" begin and end as we live simultaneously in more than one world, more than one state of mind.
For the moment, then, I will define "world" as the state of mind that encompasses my many realities. Such are my memories and anticipations of friends, birthdays, anniversaries, jobs, travels, books, food, animals that both delight and also threaten me, pests that plague me (mosquitos!). Such are the "ups and downs" of my worlds. Some days I exhilarate in the joys of living, but on other days circumstances throw a dim light on my world
In the 1985 move "Cocoon," a friendly group of retirees discovered a mysterious trace of an extraterrestrial place where the inhabitants lived with no worries of aging, sickness, and death. At the conclusion of the movie, they are given the option of boarding a spaceship that will take them there, or the option of remaining in their present home with the human suffering that comes with aging.
Straining our capacity to imagine such a place and opportunity, I am reminded, however, of our ongoing fascination with UFOs or UAPs. At the center of this controversy is the search for hope "beyond the stars" where we may continue our existence but without the despair life on earth brings with its conditions of suffering.
THis is the nature of our life, said Siddartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. Living at the base of the Himalaya mountain range in what we now call Nepal, during the 6-5th centuries, Siddhartha forsook the life of privilege to which he had been born when he despaired over such suffering that privilege could not eliminate, suffering that threatened the meaning of life. He became a wandering ascetic searching for hope for all human beings who faced the despair of childbirth, sickness, old age, decay, and death. Renouncing his princely life, he came to find peace of mind with his realization of the Four Noble Truths.
"Noble" does not refer to the truths themselves but rather to the state of mind of individuals who live by the Noble Truths which are as follows:
Before specifying the steps along the way of the Eightfold Path, it is helpful to place this way of living and realizing hope as a Middle Way. It is called that because the Eightfold Path weaves its way through the challenges of life without falling into the extremes of either asceticism or sensual indulgence. Granted, any one of us at any time may stretch the boundaries of the Eightfold Path. And, as is most likely, the extremes are not always crystal clear. For example, consider our use of time. How much vacation time is enough? Our time for balancing work, play, socializing, loving, caring, and being cared for cannot fit within the same prescription for everyone. The Buddha never specified the balance with which we approach our commitments. But, make no mistake, the Eightfold Path clearly outlines a path of moderation.
Here is the Eightfold Path:
There are other paths that lead to hope. But none of these paths deny the present reality of despair as we face the darkening skies of climate change and political extremism. As Carl Jung reminded us, only when we encounter and endure the threat of our despair, personal and collective, only then is there a genuine promise of hope. Toward that end, we will meet again next time.
How do you and I understand this conflicted time in which we are living? The days stretch on and on, seemingly with no bridge in sight by which we may pass over our days of deep polarization, misinformation, and the failure of our democratic institutions to clarify the issues that polarize us. How are we to restore our conscious mind, personally, socially, and politically?
We, of course, are not the first society to struggle with threats to our personal and collective health, safety, and sanity. Over the course of human existence, consciousness has been achieved even in the darkest days, such as the terrors of World War II that ravaged all nations and witnessed the death of 70-85 million people, including 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust.
How do we cope with such savage unconsciousness and evil? Asking that question, I went back in time, perhaps as many as 6,000 years ago, and consulted the I Ching which may be the world's oldest book. Drawing upon the ancient wisdom of the Chinese culture, the I Ching presents what we may refer to as the archetypal dynamics of change in individuals and societies. Consulting the I Ching is comparable to sitting before a centuries-old sage who unfurls the experiences of life from the vantage point of a deep wisdom. But instead of spoken words, the I Ching speaks in the recorded wisdom of hexagrams. When I posed the question of consciousness in turbulent times such as ours, the I Ching's response was "Inner Truth!"
What is this "inner truth" that may yield insight as to what makes possible a conscious mind? The I Ching speaks symbolically: "It furthers one to cross the great waters," and the text offers an image of wind as it blows over the water and stirs the surface. Within this natural and mythic imagery comes an impression of the "invisible" making itself manifest, just as the unconscious becomes conscious when the waters of our unconsciousness are stirred by events acting within and/or upon us.
For example, consider a passage of scripture in Luke 6:4 as it is recorded in Codex Bezae, one of the older manuscripts that contains Luke's gospel. In that reading, the story is told of Jesus observing a man working on the Sabbath, which would have been considered a sin. Jesus says to the man, "... if indeed thou knowest what thou dost, blessed art thou, but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law."
In other words, how conscious is the man? Perhaps he was starving. This would reflect the consciousness of Jesus that appears in his statement elsewhere (Matthew 12:68; Mark 2:27-28) that the Sabbath is made for humanity and not humanity for the Sabbath. This principle appears in the writings where the disciples of Jesus are criticized for picking corn on the Sabbath, and Jesus defends them because they were hungry.
Consciousness may prevail when necessity confronts the law. If our child is deathly sick and we break the speed limit rushing to the hospital, we know we are breaking the law, but if we do not, the child may die before we get to the emergency room.
Breaking the law in this case is a clear choice. Why? Because we value the child's life over the law. Yes, we have broken the law, but a higher consciousness impels us to do so. Our conscience has become conscious, and this is what I mean when I refer to "the conscious mind."
The definition of conscience is "an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting a a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior." (New Oxford American Dictionary) And it should be no surprise that conscience and conscious derive from the same Latin roots (con-and scire-) that have to do with "becoming aware." To become conscious, then, is to listen to the inner voice of conscience.
But conscience is not only a private experience. It is also a collective, social, public experience. We affirm our social conscience each time we say our "Pledge of Allegiance." Consider the words of the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Sates of America, and to the
republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with
liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). Changed several times over the decades, the Pledge was amended last in 1954, when the words, "under God" were added—against the objections of Bellamy's daughter.
Obviously, the Pledge is a dynamic evolving document, revised over the course of time, but reflecting the public conscience of our nation, just as it also reflects our consciousness. This is the point of my writing. The conscious mind arises from the very lofty ideals of humanity to pledge "liberty and justice for all," a commitment which, if realized, would bring healing to our conflicted time. However, our conscious mind is shaped also from the more foreboding impulses of our unconscious, forces that make our future uncertain. Will we realize the counsel of the I Ching: "It furthers one to cross the great waters."
When Carl Jung looked ahead to the promise and perils of our civilization in the closing pages of his autobiography, he said this:
Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought
about a demonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators
and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has
been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-
intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But
man's task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents
that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his
unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his
being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more conscious-
ness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to
kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 326)
In my last blog, I presented a dream that concluded with the terrifying experience of a whirlwind that sucked the breath out of the dreamer. Dying, the dreamer thought, "This is God." However, even before this traumatic ending of the dream, there were other daunting images: darkness where there should have been light, light where there should have been darkness, a source of light where there should have been vacant space, and the bizarre performance-like movement of people underneath the light where there should have been no meaning or reason for such a performance. Lastly, there was the vulnerability of the dreamer sitting in a convertible as the whirlwind approached.
Now a word of caution. We must be careful not to dismiss this dreamscape with its unsettling images simply as a meaningless nightmare. Rather, we ask, why this dream at this time? Why these images? Why the trauma? What are we to understand about this supernatural trauma?
In general, I think of trauma as the experience of unbearable pain. This "pain" may be acute (experience of a very stressful event), chronic (repetition of experiences of pain), and complex (the ongoing experience of the very stressful source). But in this case I have also used the term "supernatural" to describe the experience of the dreamer who is not likely to label experiences beyond his understanding as "supernatural."
That adjective, "supernatural," is described by the New Oxford American Dictionary as "a manifestation or event attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding of the laws of nature." However, the workings of nature have long led human explanations to seek explanations beyond rational understanding. In fact, one of the synonyms of "whirlwind" is "dust devil." How remarkable can that be? But also how understandable that if in the past a powerful and destructive force of wind destroyed homes, uprooted tress, threw heavy objects through the air as if they were match boxes—then we might say in colloquial language that "the devil did it," with no understanding of what this really means. However, there is in the language a residue of myth, superstition, folk tales, and religion in which nature and supernatural beings become entwined.
For example, in the Old Testament book of Job, Chapters 38-40, the terrifying whirlwind is described as God a "tempest" swoops down upon the home of the eldest son of Job where the other sons and daughters are visiting, and all of them are killed. Later, in this account, the voice of God speaks from "the heart of the tempest" and lectures Job about the Creator's ways of "conducing the business" of creating. Job cannot possibly understand but can acknowledge a force beyond his natural understanding.
Much more can be said about the Old Testament's book of Job, and for those who are interested I recommend Carol A. Newson's masterful commentary with reflections in Volume IV of The New Interpreter's Bible. However, this folk tale or didactic story as it often is described, is not the point of my writing here. I referred to it as one of the countless stories, commentaries, and folk tales that wrestle with the problem of suffering, the nature of justice, the mystery of how our world came into being, and the role of its creator.
In its own limited way, our dream under consideration leads us to look at how the dreamer understands the trauma of a destructive whirlwind bearing down upon him in the darkness of night. What are we to make of the dreamer's words, "This is God"? What kind of "God" is this? Is the dreamer's "God" a natural explanation for understanding the place of traumatic suffering? Or is the dreamer's "God" a supernatural force that acts upon the natural order of things with no discernible reason, sometimes bringing "blessings" and at other times bringing destruction and suffering?
However, the probing of all the images seems thus far to lead us back to where we started. Like the dreamer, we remain in the dark.
But before we turn our backs on this exercise in dream interpretation, there remains one symbol in the dream we have not explored. This is the total darkness in which the dreamer finds himself. The darkness is markedly pronounced. There are no lights in the building, no stars, no moonlight, not even the lights of his car. Except for the mysterious light descending from somewhere up above, silhouetting the movement of unidentifiable characters who appear to be miming a meaningless act, except for this light there is total darkness.
What are we to make of such darkness? As I work with my dreams and those who bring their dreams for understanding, I have found over the decades of dream study that wherever darkness appears in such a pronounced way, there is something unconscious that needs to be brought to light.
A person may "know" much about many things and still not be a conscious person. As the Buddha taught, we may sleepwalk through life in the sense of not being conscious. To those of us who are sleepwalking, the Buddha says, "Wake up"!
In other words, bring to mind your consciousness, meaning-full perception and awareness. Such perception and awareness bring us face to face with our full potential to be ourselves, to do good but also to inflict harm upon ourselves and others. In the absence of such consciousness, we dwell in darkness.
We ask, then, what brings us to consciousness? How do we "wake up" psychologically? Unfortunately, our education today focuses largely on the transmission of information that we remember and regurgitate when called upon. And also there are times when our consciousness is so shielded with superstition, misinformation, convenience, or secondary gains of wealth, fame, power, etc., that we settle into the pseudo-comfort of unconsciousness. However, in our lives there are whirlwinds, accidents, sickness, or dreams that wake us up to the darkness of our unconsciousness and awaken us to the consciousness of meaning by which we are fully alive.
The ancients do not fade easily over the horizon. I refer here to music, art, our inquiries into the intriguing mystery of nature, spell-binding stories that repeat themselves in native dress, the structures our ancestors built, the cities created by past civilizations, the routes we wander... and more.
This is because at the deepest level of our lives, each of us wants the same three things and has never changed: 1) to belong, 2) to have some influence over what we do or say, and 3) to love and be loved — in some fashion. These three things do not magically drop down our chimneys or appear on our doorsteps. Quite the opposite. Most often our yearnings to belong, to influence and be influenced, to love and be loved appear only after some effort, some courage, some trial and error. And once achieved, the cycle must be traced again and again as we spiral through the stages of life — its many stages if we are fortunate enough to avoid the more catastrophic calamities of traumas and accidents, illnesses, and pre-mature death.
How do we bear this? How do we "keep our chins up?" Well, of course, most often there are many joys along the circuitous spiral-way. We delight in our loves, our creations, our discoveries, our accomplishments, our friends, our growing consciousness of life's depth and wondrous meaning.
And if we tune in, really tune in, we become aware of the archetypal powers that convey a sense of wonder, beauty, courage, and purposiveness. Also, if we take time to pay attention, we become aware of "signals" that give us guidance in our needs to belong, to matter, and to love.
What "signals" am I referring to, you may ask, to which I respond — our dreams. Yes, I believe it to be true, having analyzed thousands of dreams in my fifty years of paying close attention to dreams of others, having recalled my personal dreams each night — I tell you with reliable confidence that our dreams come to us each night and offer signals about where we are off course, or conversely, where we are on course.
I have known those signals while observing my personal dreams, and I have witnessed signals in the lives of others who seek to belong, to matter, to love and be loved. In their symbolic language, dreams tell stories of the good and the bad, the pretty and not-so-pretty, the places of safety and the nightmares of deep fear, the obvious and the not-so-obvious.
For example, consider the dream I am about to share with you. Watch closely the "signals," the images. This is the way we become aware of the archetypal powers that come in the service of our physical and mental health. We observe our changing identity as we pass through stages of life in which we lose old friends and hopefully acquire new ones, leave our old homes and find new ones, grow in self understanding including quirks of personality that make our worlds a kaleidoscope of changing patterns.
So these archetypal powers, like instincts of our animal friends, nudge us along the way, out of sight of our waking mind. But in the dramas our dreams present lie the clues to where we belong, how and why we matter, and the wonder of love. What a fascinating part of our life.
It may well be that our parents and teachers did know to teach us this mostly unknown fact that dreams compensate our conscious life, that they endow our existence with the quality of experience which may be described as spiritual or sacred — or, in any case, worth remembering and paying attention to.
So it is with this dream I am about to share with you. The dreamer is in his mid-thirties, at the mid-point of a successful career, contentedly married with a child, but restless with the uncertainty of the world around him in which there is an ongoing threat of upheaval in his rapidly changing society which he expected to have been stabilized with educators, clergy, reputable and responsible politicians, and a government committed to the Jeffersonian ideals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I describe his state of mind as "restless." He would say something is "wrong," but he found it difficult to verbalize what might be wrong, clinging to his expectations of what society would be like in a rational world. He wondered if he might be clinically depressed as he found himself with the feeling that something was wrong. Then he had the following dream.
I am sitting at night in my Volkswagen Beetle convertible. I look out my window
to the left and see a building, a residence or office. But there are no lights on
in the building which I thought was strange at this time of night. Suddenly a light
appears from somewhere above. On the ground is something like a platform
between me and the dark building. Two figures appear on the platform-like structure.
The two people seem to be moving around. Is it a dance, a ritual, a movement
without any suggestion of feeling or meaning? The puzzling movement seems
regressive in some way. I feel contempt for the actors in this soulless drama of
some sort. Then, I hear in the distance the sound of something like a rushing wind.
It is a tornado approaching my car, and I have no time to escape.
The tornado, a powerful whirlwind, hovers over me. I feel it sucking the air out
of my lungs. I know I am going to die, and I know this is God.
What are we to make of this dream, the dreamer and his life situation, but also what it might mean for each of us today? The drama of the dream moves toward a frightening climax in which the dreamer believes he will die. What are we to make of the dark building with no lights, a mysterious light shining "from above," the ritualistic movement of the two figures, the whirlwind the dreamer refers to as a tornado, and the dreamer's conclusion that this is "God?"
These are archetypal images. They have teaching relevance, and they offer glimpses into our pursuit of the universal needs to belong, to matter, and to love and be loved. In what way do the dream's drama and striking images throw light on our three universal needs?
I will return to this question in my next blog.
The goal of human existence is transformation, and symbols guide the transformation. Consider the symbols as maps that guide our traveling through strange places we never have been before. Consider also the "names" we choose for our sports teams, represented by symbols that influence our character formation, our loyalties, our "fight" songs, and the massive reverence these images generate through the marketing world. It is the symbol that generates the energy that drives the markets, providing identity, income, and meaning spread around the world of our planet earth.
And nothing portrays our symbolic life more dramatically, more interestingly, or even more mysteriously than the stories our dreams narrate. What a treasure these stories our dreams tell, the characters—some familiar, others never encountered before—the scary ones, the comical ones, the brief ones, the "never-ending" ones, the references to our religious and political life, the re-appearance of loved ones long since departed, and the suggestion of a future never anticipated.
But, of course, like everything else you and I encounter in our multi-layered world, dreams mean different things to different people. This is as it should be. And that is why I have tried to be honest about my background and education, my experience as teacher, military officer in the US Army Field Artillery, my travels in the US, the Far East, and Europe, and my present work as a Pastoral Counselor and Jungian Analyst.
So it is true that my life and experiences have served as a matrix from which my dreams arise. But it is also true that my life has arisen from my dream world, as I suggested in my last writing when I shared the evocative dream of an eagle that flew into my life with its puzzling message: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright," and then turning to fly back over the horizon from whence it had come.
If it appears that the dream of the eagle and the message itself has an apocalyptic ring, I would agree. Apocalypticism arose in the Hellinistic period. One example is the book of Daniel in which symbolic visions portray the rising and ending of political worlds, imagery that appears later in the Christian book of Revelation that often is used today to project the sobering imagery of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with an anticipation of the end of history.
Such is the stuff of dreams and visions in which the world is thought to be governed by transcendent powers with whom humanity contends in the transformation of our personal, social, political, and religious destinies. Within the panorama of life and death, dreams flow through our minds each night. In doing so, they offer not a prophetic portrayal of what is to be, but rather the possible meaning of our individual and social life at a given time. These "meanings" are not realized until we ponder the images, the stories, the characters, and the environments described in the dreams.
In just this way, I dreamed of a magnificent eagle that comes "from the other side," commands my attention, delivers a message, and then returns to the "other side." But, you may think, this makes no sense; the dream surely must have arisen from some incident in my life—something I ate, some event in my life, some scene I witnessed on TV or a movie, or something I read in a book.
But that was not the case. In my effort to locate the imagery of the dream in my waking life, I came away empty-handed. Only when I turned to consider seriously the imagery of the dream and its apocalyptic message did I uncover a meaning for myself.
The apocalyptic idea of the transcendent powers that govern our world made sense to me only from the perspective of Jungian depth psychology. And here, I discovered, was the key to understand not only my dream imagery but the unknown and unseen influences that have given shape to the stages of my life. This is important to note. Dreams come to us each night generally in the service of compensating our waking life by bringing us back to a "true north" location of our deep center. At no time is this as important and as difficult to understand as those times when a new direction is called for either because we have gotten off our path or because we have depleted the task of our present stage of life, and the time has come to move on. Our old "worlds" collapse or lose relevance; something new is called for—something we may not even understand, perhaps a path or situation or challenge we fear. After all, when you think about it, this most often is always the case. We do not know what we do not know, or as Carl Jung would put it, "the problem with the unconscious is it is unconscious."
Precisely. So how do we know when the time has come to say good-by to the old and take on the challenge of the unknown? In the old myth of the Knights of the Round Table, when they came to the challenge of a new task, the imagery was that of entering the "dark wood" with all its uncertainty. And each knight entered this dark wood at a different point. What guidance, then, you may ask can we look for?
And, of course, there are traditions. There are paths our family members have taken before us, there are educational and training programs that prepare us. But none of these offer specific directions as we approach the "dark wood" of a new world. After all, there never has been another "you," and like the knights of old, each of us has to enter at the point to which we have been guided or stumbled upon.
So say our dreams, in symbolic fashion. The anticipation of our transformation is encoded within the archetypal imagery of our basic humanity within which lies the age-old courage to undertake the mission of becoming who we truly are.
Maybe then, I thought, maybe the message of the eagle makes sense. Maybe this is the central mission of our human existence and transformation, to become conscious. Hear the message again: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright."
The goal of human existence is transformation The transformation occurs in all spheres of our life and may be sudden, or very gradual, seen or not seen, expected as with the stages of our life or surprising as with the breakthrough of a discovery. The transformation may follow the contours of rational thought or the dramatic stories of dreams.
For example, consider this dream and the experience of the dreamer:
I am sitting in a circle of 10-12 people, holding some papers in my lap,
perhaps leading a discussion. We are in a contemporary cabin in the
mountains, and the fall day is sunny and beautiful with a hint of change
in the foliage. Slowly I become aware of a sound in the distance—some-
thing approaching! It sounds like the whirling blades of a helicopter—no,
more like the loud flapping of wings! This seems impossible: the bird
would have to be a very large one. Suddenly, a very large eagle appears
outside our closed sliding glass door. The drapes are open, and we can
clearly see the eagle whose wing tips tap on the glass as if it wants to
get inside. Startled, we jump up from our seats and stare at the eagle,
afraid to move any closer. The eagle slowly backs away from the door
and retreats about 100 feet from the cabin where it hovers 20 ft. or so
above the ground. We slowly open the door, move outside and stand
with our backs to the cabin. The eagle's head changes to that of a human.
I hear a voice speak: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell
you it's alright. There is more." Then the head changes back to an eagle's
head as it turns and flies away over the horizon to my left.
Where and when does this dream occur? Who is the dreamer? What is the pressing question on the dreamer's mind? What is the setting of the dream?
To begin, the season of the year must be fall as there is awareness of a change in the foliage of the mountains. Awareness of the world outside the cottage suggests it is daytime. A group of people has gathered for some unknown purpose, a study group, a business meeting, or an educational seminar. We know the state of the world generally: The Vietnam war is winding down, the Watergate crisis in government is being resolved with several high-level officials receiving jail sentences, and the social/political uneasiness in the country tilts toward peace.
Here, at this time of what seems like a transition, the dreamer bolts upright in bed, startled awake by the dream, feeling as if somehow he has been visited by a strange, mysterious guest he had not invited nor anticipated.
In the dark of the night, he sits upright in bed, waking his wife, and tells her he just had the strangest dream. "A nightmare?," she asks. "No, not a nightmare," he says. "Then what," she wants to know, still in a groggy state. "I don't know," he slowly gets the words out of his mouth and continues, "but my life will never be the same."
And it was not. Why? The disturbing dream could not be associated with the external events of the dreamer's world. Nor could he locate the dream in his personal life as a minister in a progressive Protestant church that had provided him a meaningful and fulfilling life in the pastoral duties of caring for people throughout the life and death events that make up the duties of all care-givers whose occupation is cura animarum, the ancient Church's care of souls.
Against the backdrop of the dreamer's personal life and pastoral responsibilities, the dreamer searched for some clue to understand the eagle's appearance and its mysterious message, "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you it's alright." The dreamer could think of no helpful clue. Except for one.
There, in the middle of the night, his heart still racing and his mind scrambling through the events of his life, he remembered a group he attended a few times. The group focused on the psychology of Carl Jung and recommended a resource for the study of symbols. The dreamer passed the night finally falling back to sleep but not before writing the dream with as much detail as he could remember and then searching through his journal for the name of the book on symbols. A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot, published by the Philosophical Library of New York.
At the time of the dream, there was no internet service, nor did the library possess the book. Several days went by before Cirlot's book finally arrived, a relatively brief time that felt like an age for the dreamer who could not turn loose the eagle and its message. Then finally came the book and its reference to the symbolism of the eagle with these words: "A symbol of height, of the spirit as the sun, and of the spiritual principle in general. ... Similarly, in Christianity, the eagle plays the role of a messenger from heaven."
There it was! In the dreamer's mind and throughout ecclesiastical history the eagle has appeared as a messenger. How could it be that a dream image, the eagle, appeared as it had appeared in the ancient history of the Church as well as in other legends, myths, and religions? He had never encountered an eagle in his waking life and knew of the eagle's symbolism only in a limited way, most generally as a symbol of freedom, strength, and courage, and most importantly as the national bird of the United States, spreading its wings on the Great Seal of our country since 1782, against the protest of Benjamin Franklin who lobbied for a turkey!
As for the eagle's symbolism in Christianity to which Cirlot refers, the dreamer knew of the eagle lecturn in churches on which the Bible rests, symbolizing the Word of God to be carried to the far reaches of the world. Also, the dreamer recalled occasional references in scripture to the eagle, such as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11. In addition, the Gospel of John has historically been associated with the Eagle because its language connotes spiritual heights rather than biographical or historical details.
However, in the dream, the eagle and its message do not conform to any specific religious or nationalistic imagery. Rather, the eagle alerts an indistinguishable group from an indefinite point over the horizon with a most specific message that is not located in scripture, history, mythology, legend, or the humanities. In the dream, the eagle's head changes to that of an unrecognized human, speaks plainly and simply, and returns over the horizon from which it came.
What did this dreaming experience come to mean to the dreamer? How did it transform his life? What might this dream and other such dreams mean to us today? What role do they play in human consciousness and transformation? This will be the topic of my next writing. There is also another fundamental question: Is the dreamer sharing the truth of this dreaming experience? Can we trust him? To which I can only say, I do. I am the dreamer.
Robots do not feel anxiety; humans do.
Robots do not dream; humans do.
Robots do not meditate; humans do.
Consider these statements, beginning with our anxiety. Think about what has happened to us just within the past decade. We suffered a political upheaval that threatened the existence of our democracy itself; we fear for the safety and well-being of our citizens as violence has come increasingly to be accepted as a model for settling differences; we now know our planet heads toward a climatic catastrophe; racial tensions bubble ongoingly in personal life and within the institutions of our society; we have been brought to our knees by a minute virus that seems not to have finished with us yet, while other pathogens loom just over the horizon; war rages in Ukraine and threatens world peace.
I could go on, but you know this litany very well yourself. No wonder then that our anxiety escalates while we wait for the next blow to fall, or for a forthcoming rescue at the hands of our scientific promises in medicine and technology, of which AI, or artificial intelligence, commands more than its share of attention, with the breakthrough of Chatbot that writes articles, comprises poems, mimics Shakespeare, etc., etc., while other robots paint would-be masterpieces. (And, no, my writing stumbles along without the advice of our robotic friends, who probably are shaking their heads at my musings.)
Speaking of which, however, here is another anxiety not included in the list above — the drama anticipated decades ago in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," when "Hal," the heuristically programmed algorithmic computer, assumes not only control of the spaceship's systems but command over the human astronauts.
Of course, as one of my friends suggested, many of our so-called humans have long operated with either no intelligence or "artificial intelligence," meaning the quirky personality trait of fake or phony role playing that belies any quality of authenticity.
Here we come upon the theme that evokes our interest in what is truly "human," that which signals the way of human existence and the way of robotic transience. Human existence is endowed with Meaning; robotic transience is directed toward function. Human existence moves toward erotic union; robotic transience operates toward singular purpose. Human existence dwells within the countless centuries of an unfathomable creation; robotic transience will always be traced back to the human engineering of mechanics and the homo sapien as technocrat.
Importantly, human beings dream; robots do not. Human beings meditate; robots do not. And here are the quintessential qualities not only of human existence, but of human authenticity. The closer we move toward robotic transience, the greater is our loss of authenticity.
What makes us most profoundly human are the awakening of consciousness, our moral sense, the moral instinct, and the desire to love and to be loved. Within this consciousness comes the realization of human freedom, not to operate with a calculated program, but to have a capacity to choose between alternative courses of action while considering the consequences of each.
Is this then as some people may suppose yet another packaged program of morality as proposed by religious organizations of different stripes? And, yes, while that no doubt is at work within our paths of becoming human, the so-called religious programming is not the root of human consciousness. That root within all human beings is the capacity to dream and to meditate.
Why is the dream important? Carl Jung expresses it this way in his Collected Works Vol. 16, para. 304:
The dream comes in as the expression of an involuntary unconscious
psychic process beyond our control of the conscious mind. It shows
the inner truth and reality ... as it really is; not as I conjectore it to
be, and not as [we] would like it to be, but as it is.
In other words, I cannot hide me from myself. I cannot conjure up a way of acting or speaking contrary to the truth without my psyche observing this deceit and the resulting compromise of my authentic self. In this way our dreams serve a most important function, that is the compensation of my conscious life. There is no hiding place.
Of course, I can ignore, suppress, or repress, conveniently "forget" my dreams. But they will continue to come. Dreams are relentless in the service of compensating my words, deeds, false impressions of myself, but also my deepest fears and anxieties.
In addition, when I sit quietly in meditation, images arise, memories flood my mind, paths taken and not taken, wounds I inflicted upon others, wounds suffered myself, lies and misrepresentations of myself and the truth—all of these appear again and again in my dreams and meditations. But also may appear portals I might pass through, possibilities I have never considered, potential to be explored, fearful actions to be taken awaiting my courage.
This is not to say that I can remedy the floating anxieties of the world beyond my reach. Nor can I solve all the inner stressors that flood my mind with anxiety. But I must do what I can, and I may find guidance to resolve my greatest concerns.
And with that attitude comes an unexpected peace of mind. Even on the way to their death, criminals and/or terminal patients refer to the resolution of their fear, making amends where that is possible, seeking appropriate closure that presents itself, taking actions that may be taken—much of which appears in our dreams and meditation.
There is much to be anxious about at this present moment. And there indeed are many things to be feared, but fear itself need not be one of them. How to stand in this chaotic moment we may not know, but our dreams do. And robots do not dream or meditate, but humans do.
Historically and traditionally, this time of the year, midwinter, has brought festivities for people around the world. We kiss under the mistletoe, exchange presents, light bon-fires, string lights around our abodes, burn candles, travel to sacred places, return "home" to visit families and friends, tell stories, consider themes of death and life, celebrate new beginnings and eat more than we need.
This year the winter solstice came on December 21st. Already we had trimmed our Christmas tree, hung the garlands and stockings, wrapped presents, mailed cards, and felt the warm glow of receiving letters, cards, texts, and calls from old friends and family members. We valued the meaning of Kwanzaa for our African-American friends as they plan to exchange gifts and join in the revelry of deep friendships and the heroic heritage of long-passed family members.
My heritage being that of Christmas celebrations, I return again and again to the meaningful rituals of listening to Montavani's great Christmas music while we trim our tree, pour the eggnog, and exchange ideas of what we might do this Christmas. Will we attend the annual performance of Handel's Messiah, participate in the neighborhood lighting of its Christmas tree, remember to go outside and watch our neighbors valiantly gather together with their riding lawn mowers for another neighborhood Christmas parade, and puzzle together around the question of what we might give our daughter and granddaughter who will be heading off to college this next September.
So, if you have read this far, you may feel saturated with my personal "spirit of Christmas." I understand if this is so. The many years that have passed since my childhood have brought no less joy in the Christmas, Yuletide, midwinter season. I love all of it even as I recognize that many do not, and also that others celebrate this season within their own traditions or not at all. Even so, we may still celebrate our common life, we may grieve over the too pervasive suffering while we try to do all we can to bring support and healing, and we may pause in this too-hectic rush of our distracted lives to give thanks for those who have cared for us and made possible the meanings we have shared and our experience of a unity of spirit that heals. In that spirit, we work and pray for a new year that may arise from this deep, dark winter with hope, peace, joy, and love for all people.
And, as we would say in our family,
HAPPY NEW YEAR!