The Soul’s Journey – The Strange Dance Between Empathy and Inauthenticity.

March 26, 2019

I did not particularly enjoy waking to a dream that included Donald Trump. Who really wants to explore their “Inner Donald”? However I suspected there would be intrinsic meaning from this image.

I am at the tail of a plane. The captain announces there has been a fire on the wing but the suppression system has put it out. I glance over to see flames flowing over the edge of the wing. I cry out that it is still alight. Then the gentleman sitting next to me who is wearing a uniform and I assume is an off duty member of the flight crew shouts, ” no it’s ok it’s out.”

I am confused. I can clearly see more and more flames expanding and growing across the wing yet the expert claims there is not a problem. I keep my mouth shut and get ready to die. I am convinced the plane will explode before we land. I am at the opposite end of the plane from the exits so would have no chance if even if we landed then caught fire.

I leaned over and gave a kiss to my fellow passenger who had contradicted me and braced myself for the end.

I notice we are descending lower and lower on our flight path. Suddenly the ground is flashing by, we come to a stop and there are fireman attending to the fire. An exit open immediately beside me and I step out. I am safe. Some of the president’s security detail are with me, they are talking about how huge the president has become. “He even takes up two seats” said one. 

I feel both bemused and relieved to wake. At first I want to dismiss the dream as stupid and irrelevant. This is my ego’s normal response to anything that may threaten its authority. Then after my morning meditation I am just finishing my journal practice when I realize I have not written it down – a sure sign of resistance. So I capture the essence then move on to my weekly call from a close friend.

She shares an amazing dream from the previous night that she did not particularly enjoy. “Much better than dreaming about Donald Trump.” I quip then share my dream with her. She can’t help wondering if it is about a brunch I have planned later that morning where I may encounter a test of my “Pledge to Listen”.

As I walk to my appointment I begin to ask myself “what is my inner Trump and why would it be getting bigger?” The word “inauthentic” pops into my head and the pieces of the puzzle slip seamlessly into place.

Normally when I work with a dream I begin with the feelings that flow through the dream; in this case they were particularly intense – confusion, fear, feeling shut down by an authority figure, resignation, surrender, relief and more confusion. Solving the dream is a bit like cooking a dish- mix all these feelings with the symbol of growing inauthenticity, simmer for a while  and check what comes?

Dreams frequently relate to the current environment of life. Last year a friend of mine began a campaign to get people to sign “a pledge to listen”. I know I disappointed him when I refused the offer telling him that I was just not willing to give time to hear misogynist, racist, conservative, and bigoted views. Life was too short. Frankly I am poor at paying attention to any views that don’t correspond with mine.

Then two things impacted me. First due to an amazing dream I realized the importance of expanding what I call feminine values into my life – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, empathy, equanimity to name a few. Second, at times I fell so short of trying to achieve this goal it is humiliating. For example I am out with a group of male friends for a beer and discussion evolves around a new tax on rich people’s homes. I am sympathetic because I believe that we need programs to help redistribute wealth. One of my friends explodes and violently argues against my perspective. I decide to shut him down, “why can’t you accept I am a communist”? It works.

It’s not true or even close to being true but it seemed like the response that could shut him up. Empathetic? Compassionate? Loving? Certainly not and it felt like a failure. I would have liked to blame it on the beer but in reality I had nursed a pint to help avoid such reactive outbursts. (I learned a while ago that too much alcohol reduces the chance of staying centred and empathetic.)

I could unravel the psychology behind it. It was a repeat of the confrontations that has haunted me since childhood facing a father with strong evangelical views. However despite understanding it, I could not dismiss it.

I went off on a long “escape winter” trip and faced no similar challenges however I knew they would be awaiting my return. The gift of solo travel is that it offers much time for reflection and self-examination. I realized that listening from the heart is one of the feminine values to which I am committed and decided to reconsider the “pledge to listen”. I was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, it was time to embark on an alternative strategy.

My first test would come at a dinner party scheduled five days after I returned. Still feeling somewhat in a state of adjustment due to a fifteen-hour time time change and going from tropical temperatures to freezing, I stepped boldly into the unknown.

My intuition even warned me how the test would come. He will ask you what you think of your friend Trudeau now. Our prime minister has been involved in a challenging political drama that is dividing the country and causing many people to reassess him as a leader.

However the evening progressed with no fireworks, no political discussion, just a lovely reunion of seven old friends.

I pushed my chair back thinking I had perhaps dodged a bullet and then it came. “Before you leave, what do you think of your friend Trudeau now?” I sat back down, hesitated then responded, “I would be interested to hear what you think”.

To my surprise this led to a well informed, thoughtful and entirely reasonable perspective, most of which I agreed with. There was no need for our normal combative engagement. It seemed this “Pledge to Listen” could really help.

However as I drove home I knew this was a small step. It is so much easier when there is no real fuel to the fire and we were not in violent disagreement but at least it was a start. Our next engagement was quite different. We were back at our friendly local and he engaged on his favourite hate – our current provincial government and a speculation tax on empty houses. I followed my pledge and listened, occasionally acknowledging his frustration and feelings. I didn’t agree but had no desire for confrontation. It seemed easier to listen and be empathetic. Once again Pledging to Listen had saved me from conflict.

Back to the dream and its relevance to this situation. In the latter context I could see that my pledge to listen risked the danger of losing my voice and becoming inauthentic by not expressing an opinion. If I simply succumb to an authority figure and became empathetic then I risk ignoring the flames of legitimate expression. Notice how in the dream I leaned over and kissed the authority figure beside me. A wonderful symbol of empathy! As the Grand Maester of dream work, eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis says, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

I can see my commitment to listen will be an ongoing journey. The dream tells me the next step in this journey ext – how to listen and respond authentically without being enticed into combat. I must remember the words of St Francis, “Let us be wise that we do not wed another’s madness, making them in debt to us for the deep raging gash their helpless raging lance may cause.”