The Soul’s Journey- The Search for Meaning

June 12, 2019

As we progress on the spiritual journey we will inevitably begin to seek for opportunities to create a meaningful life. This is laudable yet comes inherent with its own pitfalls or handcuffs. Recently during a group I facilitated this became all to clear.

You Don’t have To Feel Guilty About Feeling Good

Recently at my small Spiritual Guidance group one member checked in with the deep concern and frustration she was feeling about the course of her life and the sense that she had not found her purpose or meaning. She has just accomplished a major transition completing a two-year program called The Art of Spiritual Guidance that had both absorbed and directed her life for almost two years. She felt anxiety that she was not able to move ahead in a direction that she found purposeful and soulful. When I checked in with the state of her current life she responded that it was wonderful; she was loving a summer of great weather, meeting friends and family, playing golf, and making brief trips in the glorious scenery of the British Columbia in late spring. However she was feeling guilty and concerned that after all her inner journeying and seriousness she was becoming a dilettante.

Summer is for Recreation

It was the perfect start to the evening because the theme I had chosen was recreation. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary I had found this exquisite definition that seemed so appropriate. Recreation is the “refreshment of strength and spirits after work”. Summer is a restorative season where we enjoy the fruits of labour and refresh ourselves for future endeavours.

Trust Your Life

I am a firm believer that we must “trust our lives”. As eminent author and Jungian analyst suggests in his book Living An Examined Life “when the path we are on is right for our Souls the energy is there…. the feeling function supports us.” So if things are going well and you feel in balance and flow then let go of the angst and enjoy it to the fullest.

The Soul will let you know when it is time to shift orientation. When the direction of our life becomes disconnected with our Soul’s desire then there is likely to be a series of indicators – ennui, frustration, loss of energy, obstacles and obstructions for example.

It is normal for the early symptoms to be minor and easy to miss but then there can be an escalation if we do not pay attention until we are confronted by the full on cosmic 2 x 4 to get our attention.

Have an Intention and Pay Attention

I recommend a daily reflection on purpose. I affirm “to serve when called” and to pay attention to the signs and synchronicities that may indicate something is trying to engage with me. I have learned that the cosmos will bring me what is mine; I need to wait on the will of heaven and practice equanimity and pay attention to what comes. I also check in each day to see if I am living a balanced life. To me this means activity for the body, the mind, the emotions, the Soul and Spirit and I always ask, “Have I played today?”

Don’t Force It

I have learned by some bitter experience that if I go out to create meaning and purpose without being called it can be met with disaster. In the late nineties in my desperation to find meaning in my life I went and became a Big Brother. It was truly a disaster; it did not feed me; nor the poor kid I adopted. To be fair he had not been entirely honest about his interests, for example sports actually consisted only of video games and even walking was not popular. I suspect I am one of the only people to get fired by their little brother. It was a huge relief.

Practice Discernment

Be cautious about taking on things that seem unduly familiar or have a “should” connected with them. When searching for meaning we are vulnerable to that which make us feel comfortable (caretaking for example) or the desire want to model our life on someone we admire and respect.

Recognizing The Call

How do we discern a call? I think there are four key things to look for:

– It approaches you rather than you seek it out.

– It evokes passion and inspiration.

– The doors open easily to bring it forward.

– There is affirmation of your choice from an external source.

I love the poem Suspended Blue Ocean by Hafiz that reminds us the journey is not always meant to be taken so seriously. It concludes

There is only one rule

On this Wild Playground,

For every sign Hafiz has ever seen

Reads the same.

They all say,

“Have fun, my dear; my dear, have fun,

In the Beloved’s Divine Game

O, in the Beloved’s

Wonderful Game.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Soul’s Journey – Exploring the Power of Belief

June 8, 2019

WC Fields“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”

W.C Fields

For much of the eighties I suspect that this quote by W.C Fields summarized my worldview. The beauty of this belief is that as long as you were upright there was the possibility of it coming true. Recently I have become fascinated by the power of a belief to influence external circumstances. There are so many stories of miracles, manifestation, positive life change, and mystical experiences that it raised the question of how and why so many different beliefs appear to have power.

The Power of My Parents Belief

My parents truly believed that God would provide. Their belief came from scripture. In Philippians 4:19 it states “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” They believed this and there was always just enough even if it took a miracle to accomplish it. On one occasion I heard them discussing the fact that they could not meet the mortgage payment on our house in a lovely part of London and unless God showed up with some solution we would be forced to move. The next day an envelope containing a significant amount of currency arrived with a note to my father saying, “God asked me to send you this.”

Is The Proof In The Pudding?

These types of miracles were not uncommon in Christian circles and of course were presented as evidence of their one true God. However one thing I have learned about belief is that you can’t manufacture it and once it has evaporated it has no power for you any more. I recall more than once my mother saying to me, “you have got to have faith and my response “mum you can’t ‘got to’ with faith”.

More Miracles?

In the early nineties I began to let go of my atheism to embrace a concept of the new age called manifestation. The basic premise is to set a clear intention then bring positive reflection and visualization on the outcome and the inherent power of the universe will eventually work. This was best marketed in a book and video package titled The Secret that presented miracles just like the Bible. And despite eminent critics like author and depth psychologist James Hollis crying, ‘hogwash”, it works – at least for a time to people who truly believed it. Even yesterday a friend of mine was describing utilizing just such a technique to achieve a breakthrough in their career.

Back to Christianity

In the late nineties I came full circle and embraced Christianity in what was called “the new thought” form at the Unity Church. It had a much nicer, mother/father God and no crazy notions about salvation through blood. Everything in scripture was to be explored as mythic guidelines for living. At the centre was a core belief that if you were in right relationship with God then all good things would be yours. Financial success, relationship and health were easily attained however if you fell short then each of these would suffer. So if someone got sick, you could heal yourself as long as you were good with God. (I realize now it was basically The Secret with an added sense of responsibility and guilt.) At the time my belief had its own power in the manifest world. I have a record of a number of occasions where I appeared to defy science through instantaneous healings. It served me well until one day it no longer made sense and as Hollis mentions, “When the energy leaves the symbol all you have left is a dry husk.”

The Esoteric Exploration

In the year 2001 I began a much more esoteric exploration that embraced many of the wisdom traditions – Sufism, Buddhism, Jewish Mysticism and Christian Mysticism. At the mystic level beliefs are not so much about getting things but more about how to live. Loving kindness, compassion, mindfulness, equanimity, sympathetic joy for others became measures of one’s life. I was also introduced to depth psychology and Carl Jung. I learned that true change required me to understand myself at a deeper level and that spirituality was no longer enough. The path to true change was through psychology and understanding the unconscious. The quest for things was replaced by the desire for meaning.

Embracing The Mystery

Why is belief so powerful no matter what you believe in? It is truly a mystery although I sense it is part of the journey toward change and personal growth. Perhaps we need something to believe in to coax us along the yellow brick road. Once the belief loses its power for us we can never go back we have to go forward or stay stuck. My current belief too has its own power to manifest through dreams, complexes, signs and synchronicities all connected to my belief in the power of the unconscious.

At times like this I go back to the Sufi poet Rumi as my exponent of the mystery.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to Sleep

Rumi – exquisitely interpretated by Coleman Barks

 

 

 

 


The Soul’s Journey – Exploring the Dynamic Feminine

May 23, 2019

A Planet in Crisis

I know I am not alone in believing that our planet is stuck between paradigms. The old one doesn’t work and we have not found a new one. The very future of homo sapiens is at stake yet recent world events indicate we are regressing rather than progressing. Recently I read Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief lessons in Physics. he has a clear opinion on the future of the human race, “We belong to short-lived genus of species. All of our cousins are already extinct. What’s more, we do damage.” Can we survive? I still live in hope and recently had a dream that inspired me.

A Dream in Three Acts.

Act 1 takes place in a forest. I am part of a dissident group that is being pursued by government troops. They are firing at us. I do not feel scared but fascinated to the lengths the authorities are going to attack us. Then they bring up a tank. This seems way over the top but before I can flee the troops mutiny and begin attacking each other.
Act 2 we have escaped to a conference where the mood of the group has turned ugly – resentful, aggressive and unbalanced. I am concerned about what may happen and text a woman I know who possesses some kind of authority. She replies immediately that she wants to meet. I find her in a small, somewhat Mexican looking town. Her name is Eva and she says she wants to address the group. I am sure this is a good idea and take her to the event. She is petite, dark haired with incredible presence.
Act 3 something amazing happens as she arrives at the venue. She seems to connect positively with everyone she meets, embracing them and uplifting them. The news of her arrival ripples through the gathering. Meanwhile I try and locate the organizer whose name is Ian. Eventually I find him in a room where they are setting up the final session. He seems disinterested in what I have to say but I beg to talk to him. Finally I begin telling him what has transpired but before I finish I notice Eva has arrived beside him. He immediately hands her the microphone but she wants to use the small lapel microphone that has somehow got tangled in my left foot. I have no shoes on. As she begins to speak I feel myself fading into the background. My work is done. I wake up feeling a little frustrated I heard nothing of her message.

Resolving Problems at Another Level

When I considered my personal environment in which this dream occurred, I had another insight. I have been wresting with the state of the world and the future challenges that face homo sapiens (see https://wp.me/phAyS-Eh). This dream seemed related to those concerns
My feelings in the dream moved from curiosity to apprehension, from concern to action, concluding with a sense of satisfaction at having played my role. However I am left with a lingering question about what my role is?
Albert Einstein once said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” It seems to me we keep trying to fix things at the level on which they occur and perhaps the dream is about new solutions. Changing leaders and ideologies, engaging in opposite solutions creates even greater friction and misunderstandings.
Suddenly the first act of the dream makes sense, our society is at war with itself. The dream symbolizes what is all to real in our society at the moment. There seems to more and more polarization.
Following this thread the second act suggests that as we attempt to fix things at the same level with the same tools, the energy of those attempting to force changes on societies, can turn ugly – protests, violence, revolution, loss of respect and even abandonment of proper principles, all lead to chaos. The imposed solution creates even more resistance and power shifts back to the competing side.
In the third act Eva represents another way. The name is interesting in itself. My unconscious selected a version of the name Eve that means life or the living one. She carries all the aspects of what I sometimes refer to as the divine feminine – compassion, caring, equanimity, love, empathy, passion and enthusiasm. This archetype carries great power. Yet she is also dynamic. My sense of the dream is that it offers the idea that change must occur through the dynamic feminine.
But what does that mean both individually and collectively. Unfortunately I don’t hear her speak. My role was to introduce her. What could that look like in my life? I need to begin by holding the energy and hope for change and seek the guidance for how I can contribute to encouraging a shift.

What Can I Do?

A journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step. I began a meditation this Summer where I stand beside an ancient tree. I tap into the living energy that has witnessed the transformations of the past 500 years and has seen our progress and our backsliding. I reflect on the positive changes I have seen in my lifetime: human rights, gender rights, the right to be gay and lesbian, transfer of power in South Africa, peace in Northern Ireland, the end of segregation in the USA. I affirm a prayer: “I am a radiating beacon of love and hope, show me the way.”

NB After writing these words I went to the gym for a workout. I always listen to a blog and today it was by eclectic author and anthropologist Wade Davis. (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/wade-davis-light-at-the-edge-of-the-world-1.4499962) He offers a vision for hope based on his observations as an anthropologist and offered a wonderful quote from his father: “As my father would say, ‘what side do you want to be on? Do you want to put your shoulder to the wheel of justice, or do you want to be part of the problem?”


The Souls Journey – Creating Your Self Care Kit

May 8, 2019

Stress Can Grow Like a High Rise

Recently I have encountered a number of friends  experiencing unusual levels of stress. including death in the family, changing jobs and countries, personal illness, marriage, changes in employment of a partner and illness of a loved one. Two psychologists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed a stress index to assess if stress related to developing illness and in their opinion it does. If you are experiencing four of the above factors you would be at a higher risk of illness (See index)

Then We Forget Self-Care

One thing my friends had in common was that the aspects of their lives concerned with self-care had evaporated. Pressure of life had got in the way of things like exercise, yoga, going out in nature, relaxation and play.

It is no wonder that stress and anxiety create such a toll. It seems a general rule that the first things to go from a stressed life are the things that could actually help us cope. We are more likely to devote any available time and space top mindless distractions. Why is that?

Likely it is some form of childhood coping mechanism that has never left us. Under pressure we are more likely to engage in old patterns. Hiding one’s head under the covers seems a sound strategy to escape life’s challenges as a six-year old. Perhaps it has less relevance today.

Developing a Self-Care Kit

Each of us needs to identify our own self-care plan and find a way to remind ourselves when life takes a turn for the worse. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” Each plan needs to be individual.

Mine embraces daily meditation, a walk in nature, listening to music, writing in a journal, learning poetry and stopping watching TV at least an hour before bed. However we don’t all feel stress equally. It is essential to pay attention to how life unfolds.

Mindless TV and Games Playing and other Distractions Are Not Self-Care

I have learned to recognize that when I find myself slipping into mindless pursuits it is assign of underlying anxiety. I try to check in each evening and ask, “Did I live a balanced life today?” I do not beat myself up if I have not but I do attempt to stay fully conscious of what is going on in my life. And make adjustments.

So What To Do?

I also believe that times of great crisis remind us to assess whether the path we are travelling is in concert with our deepest being. Jungian analyst James Hollis in his wonderful book Living An Examined Life suggests, “When what we are doing is wrong for us we can temporarily mobilize energy in service to goals but in time such forced mobilization leads to irritability, anger, burn out and symptoms of all kinds.”

I think our society has detrimentally confused selfishness and Self-Care. Self -Care can help reduce stress and make our lives more productive and meaningful. Each of us should design a simple “Go To-Self Care Kit As the poet Hafiz (exquisitely interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky wrote in his poem The Swing, “You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy, mix them, mix them.

Components for a Self-Care Kit

Developing your own self-care kit requires identification of the aspects of your life that bring you joy, help you to feel grounded, support you in moving into the witness state (observing what you are experiencing) and exploring the moments you seem to move into a relationship with the mystery or a larger sense of who you are. Some examples:

Meditation, Contemplation, Centering Prayer, Yoga – all ways of stilling the mind. Medical doctor and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zynn runs a successful mindfully-based stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts medical Center that has demonstrated significant results.

Exercise: Running, a bike ride, walking, skiing, and many others can get us back into our bodies and  help reduce anxiety and stress.

The Arts: Music, poetry, art, theatre can all offer nutrition to cope with life’s traumas.

Grounding: This is considered a powerful way of addressing emotional trauma. Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, is Professor of Psychiatry and the director of the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research unit at the University of Western Ontario recommends a Grounding Toolkit.*

Journaling: Writing and exploring can also be extremely cathartic.

Frequently we will argue that there is not time for these things but that is generally resistance. When the Buddha was asked, “what do you do when you are to busy to meditate” he replied that he would meditate for twice as long.

*This includes walking meditation where you’re paying attention to the feet on the floor; listening meditation where you’re listening to ambient sounds; nature meditation where you’re looking at trees and sky and the like. There are also equanimity practices where you imagine yourself being a mountain going through seasonal changes with a sense of continuity and stability to your “mountainness,” even though there is a lot of change going on around you. (https://s3.amazonaws.com/nicabm-stealthseminar/Trauma2017/confirmed/NICABM-TreatingTraumaMasterSeries-Module3TalkBack-TraumaticMemory.pdf)

 

 

https://s3.amazonaws.com/nicabm-stealthseminar/Trauma2017/confirmed/NICABM-TreatingTraumaMasterSeries-Module3TalkBack-TraumaticMemory.pdf


A Soul’s Journey – From Clarity to Confusion

April 17, 2019

Either this deep desire of mine will be found on this journey
or when I get home
It may be that the satisfaction I need
Depends on my going away, so that when I have gone
And come back I will find it at home.
I will search for the Friend with all of my passion
And all my energy until I learn
that I don’t need to search.
The real truth of existence is sealed,
until after too many twists of the road.
The seeker says,
“If I had known the real way it was,
I would have stopped looking around”
But that way of knowing depends
on the time spent looking.

Extract from Baghdad Dreaming by Rumi

Living An Examined Life

This morning I began to read for must be the fourth or fifth time Living An Examined Life by eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis. It is a profound book of guidance for the soul journey and I found myself thinking, “This is the only book I really ever needed” then laughed out loud as I recalled Rumi’s poem above.

My bookshelves are full to overflowing with different theological, and philosophical perspectives of life. Today some of them seem downright crazy and it amuses me that they captured my attention so intensely at different moments on the journey. Some I still love but many reflect a very different station of my life. From belief in the occult and bizarre new age extra terrestrials to the tomes on new thought and how we could have everything we wanted just by setting intention.

Each of these stations of my life had its own power then at a certain point I needed to move on. As James Hollis suggests in his book Hauntings, “There are only answers that make sense to you in this moment in your life and they will fail you tomorrow. What is seemingly true to day will be outgrown when life or our Soul brings us a larger frame through which to view them.

A Trip Through Time

My library is like a time machine. From the New Testament, the last gift my father gave me, to Living An Examined Life, the books journey through evangelical Christianity, to new age craziness, to the power of intention, new thought consciousness to an eclectic combination of Christian mysticism, Jewish mysticism, Sufism, and Buddhism. Then the sad realization that despite all my Soul study and reflection I could still relapse into the same reactive, inconsiderate, impatient SOB I had always been. So my library then became crowded with books on psychology and all of James Hollis’s eighteen books as I realized the journey of the Soul necessitated not only Spiritual but psychological exploration.

Certainty Evaporates Like A Mist Over The Ocean

Now after twenty-five years certainty has vanished; I stand in awe at this unfathomable mystery of which we are all part. As C.G. Jung observed, “No-one can know what the ultimate things are. We must take them as we experience them and if such experience helps make life healthier, more beautiful, more complete and more satisfactory to yourself and those you love you may safely say, “this was the grace of God”. or more simply expressed by Sufi mystic Rubia of Basra, “No-one knows anything about God and those who say they do are just troublemakers.”

Many years ago I wrote a small book to help people through tough decisions, it was titled “From Confusion to Clarity in Four Simple Steps”.* I think my next book may be “From Clarity to Confusion – A Soul’s Journey”

* www.decisionclarity.com

 


The Soul Journey – Midwife for the Soul

April 16, 2019

Recently I had a dream where I was in a classroom and one of the topics was advocacy; this caused me to review an earlier blog I had written after doing a workshop on the archetype of advocate of the soul. It reminded me that I prefer the metaphor of the midwife for the Soul and so my dream led to this reflection. *

The Spiritual Midwife

As a spiritual coach I believe the role of supporting someone in the birthing their Soul on its amazing journey is a great honour and privilege. The midwife of the Soul’s responsibility is not just to assist in its birthing but to support the growth and development. There is a lovely line from the poet Hafiz, “What is this present love and laughter budding in our hearts, it is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up.” As a Spiritual Coach I help to bring awareness to these Soul moments that can so easily get lost in life’s busyness.

Mirroring The Soul’s Journey

Life can be one constant distraction and remembering the nature and power of our Soul’s journey is challenging and can easily get lost. I keep a Soul Journal where I keep all the examples of mysterious, unexplained synchronicities and serendipity that feel Soulful. Whenever I am feeling lost or disconnected my Soul Journal becomes both a reminder and a reflector.

When a client is sharing the circumstances of their life they sometimes miss the significance of the connecting events. I am often able to become the mirror of their experience reflect how the pieces connect together like a jigsaw puzzle. During one session a client a client shared a series of what she saw as disconnected events:  the recovery of a long lost e-mail connection, a song – “the answer will come on a blossom covered breeze”, the dream of a lost bag, followed by losing the bag, the dream of the visa, culminating in seeing the four blossom covered cherry trees cherry trees. Putting these experiences together like a puzzle formed a picture that enabled her to capture the awe and wonder her Soul’s journey.

Cultivating and Feeding The Soul

Eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book Hauntings suggests seven questions we need to ask ourselves in relationship to the Soul.

  1. Do I have one?
  2. If yes, what do I mean by that?
  3. What does that mean to me?
  4. What does that ask of me?
  5. What does it mean to show up?
  6. Can I mobilize the wherewith all to engage and serve it?
  7. What happens if I do not?

As a Soul midwife this requires me to explore both personally and with my clients the continued focus on these questions. This requires feeding and cultivation. There was a time when I realized that devoting energy to feeding my soul is an essential part of the mind, body, and Soul balance in my life. Up until that time I thought it was enough to meditate regularly. (I have had a morning practice for twenty-years.) However I sensed that my Soul needed more so focus on sacred music, walking in nature and beauty, poetry, journaling, dance, even play became essential nutrients for the soul. So now I commit three segments of the day to my soul – morning meditation, afternoon walk and evening contemplation listening to sacred music,  and reading or learning poetry. In Spring I love to consider the possibility of the Soul saying to me, “as you feed me so shall I blossom.”

Psychology as Soul Work 

One of the great challenges I continue to work with is my failures to be as Soulful as I intend to be. It was only when I realize that unravelling my own psychology was an essential part of engaging my Soul. This journey was begun by a chance meeting with James Hollis’s book, Why Good People Do Bad Things – a life changing encounter that helped me realize that without understanding the factors that were unconsciously influencing my reactions and responses to life, I could never truly be Soulful. Only when we understand what shifts us from our Centre can we truly embrace the role of the Spiritual Warrior.

The exploration of Soul brings us into a relationship with the invisible world. It is life shifting work and as James Hollis reflects in Hauntings, “if we open to this possibility of an invisible, dynamically active world, we then live in a mystery anew, a prospect both inviting and daunting.”

  • An interesting consequence of this process was that it led me to think about the client who was the catalyst for part of the original blog. I was curious about how she was so I emailed her to check. (I had not seen her for over a year.) Her response was as follows, “Isn’t it always so amazing how things happen.  I’ve thought about you a number of times more recently and when I recently drove up Arbutus I glanced at the coffee shop in case you might be sitting there having a cup of coffee!  I’ve wanted to visit with you but because I didn’t have a specific focus or concrete purpose  I put it off.  One time, not long ago, I put it out to the universe that if I was meant to converse with you or someone else the “Universe” would let me know.   Well….I guess this is it….” She became the mirror for my Soul and what a gift that is.

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.”