I have just completed a two and a half year project organizing a Gathering for 130 members of my Spiritual Guidance Community. It was a major endeavour located in Assisi Italy and all had gone very well. I felt a sense of great relief and joy yet there was a niggling dissatisfaction that irked me. It concerned an encounter that occurred bright and early the first morning of the event. I had arrived in the restaurant a little fatigued, somewhat jet lagged and in need of my morning cuppa. As I set it down at a table my peace was immediately disturbed by someone advising me that I was needed by the head of our community.
Reluctantly I abandoned my breakfast and sought him out. To my surprise I was immediately bombarded with a series of questions about the venue for that evening’s presentation by him and the presenter. He said the locale was unacceptable due to a lack of light; she wanted a screen or sheet to project the presentation on; I said there was an alternative conference room with projection facilities but I would need to check if it was available.Her response was to assert that the choice of the location should be hers. I could feel the stress growing and a mounting sense of overwhelm. He wanted me to immediately show her the alternative venue and at this point my facade cracked. I put up my hands and said, “No, I have not had breakfast yet. I will fix this later.”
I walked to my tepid tea feeling embarrassed and perturbed. What had happened? This event disturbed me more than I expected. I felt badly about the way I had behaved- somewhat childish and embarrassed. The word “complex” popped into my head, a word eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis uses to describe clusters of energy that reside in our unconscious. They are formed by our history yet can be projected into the present by the current circumstances of our lives.
I shook myself and decided I did not have time right now for this inner exploration; it would have to wait. I had a conference to run and I was the lead-off man at each session. Fate however had other plans. The first session that morning was by a Zen Buddhist. Somewhat to my surprise she introduced a topic that seemed more fitting for a depth psychology seminar.
She named it the Four Tasks:
1) Recognize and acknowledge the areas in your life that cause you discomfort, discontentment, sadness, suffering.
2) Try to look deeply into it and fully and completely understand it. (Let go of the reactions and cravings that arise as a reaction to this.)
3) Experience the relief (when you hold back the reactions and cravings).
4) Now cultivate something that helps you cultivate that state/insight. (take wholesome actions).
I knew immediately that my exploration was about the events of the morning. As I embarked on the process of understanding I began to recognize certain elements and the pattern involved. I have a well developed controlling personality. I own both its gifts and its downsides. It is familiar and over the years I have explored different aspects of how it can unconsciously take over my life. So far I have written eleven blogs on my experiences. This will make number twelve! What was different this time?
I began with the feelings: I felt attacked and cornered, I felt I was losing control. Almost immediately memories from my childhood flooded back – the moment I had been informed at the age of eleven I was being sent to boarding school. It was interesting to note how autonomous the feelings were – a legitimate response from an eleven-year old who knew he was losing control of his life but was now precipitated into my current situation.
I could understand how this autonomous response could arise; I could even sympathies with the eleven-year old at the heart of it yet I couldn’t fully accept my own reaction in the moment. It seemed over the top and unprofessional. The relief offered in task 3 seemed a little way away; I was obviously not yet able to let go of my reactions!
The next few days were full and by the time the event was successfully concluded, the whole episode had slipped into the back of my mind. I enjoyed a few days relaxing and recovering in Assisi and then visiting friends in Switzerland. It was not until I had arrived at my sister’s place in North Devon that the journey continued.
It was precipitated by a dream. I was organizing an event and someone had rearranged lunch. As a result it had arrived early and would be cold before we could eat. I felt anxious, upset and a little irritated. Sitting next to me in the dream was a friend from the community – I will call her Hayley. She took my hand and simply said, “you are so much better than me at this”.
I woke up amazed at how much this dream reminded me of the Gathering in Assisi and also reminded me that I had never completed the four tasks. I wondered about the last scene. The words “you are so much better than me at this” haunted me. I knew that Hayley must be the key to interpretation if I could discern what she represented in my unconscious? (I believe key characters in my dreams generally represent aspects of my personality.
The words that immediately came to me were Jeckyl and Hyde. She is a lovely member of our spiritual community who takes on the role of auctioneer at our Gatherings. Her persona transforms from the calm, ordered, responsible into an extreme extrovert and an outrageously, brilliant comedian. But how could that apply to this dream?
I sat and released desire and attachment and suddenly the answer appeared. She represents the two opposed responses that normally emerge when I am threatened by loss of control – fight and flight. My unconscious had extracted this symbol from the events of recent days to show me that I had not reacted with either of my traditional behaviours.
In fact I had simply set a boundary and said I needed to have breakfast first. I cannot control the autonomous energy that emerges but I can and did respond in a different way. The feelings may have been the response of an eleven year old but the response was that of an adult. I felt a huge sense of relief at the realization that I had broken from my traditional pattern.
Now I could feel relief; it felt as though this was one test I had passed. I felt awe once again at the nature of the universe: the event, the reaction, the response, the synchronicity of being introduced to the Four Tasks, the amazing dream. I reflected that when you pay attention It really is a magical, mysterious, marvellous place.