(photo courtesy dianerupnowphotography.com)
Jungian Psychology forever talks about vessels and containers, as does yoga, religion, and alchemy. I can’t say I understand it completely in practical terms but I think it has to do with making an instrument of yourself.
I’m trying to be a good vessel, but I’ve been a resistant vessel lately. A scared vessel. It began from a dream.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life
I am sliding off the edge of a tall apartment building. I am injured, on my back, struggling to grab onto something.
The building tilts and I slide precariously off the edge now, my legs dangling over. The fingers of my left hand are the only thing preventing me from going over, but my grasp is weak. I begin yelling for help to those below but I’m on my back so the sound goes up and they can’t hear me.
I yell louder to the sky, as clearly and as loudly as I can, but to no avail. My weak fingers will not hold me there much longer, not much longer at all. Suddenly I am above myself looking down at my body as if from above, lying there in a sort of sprawled savasana. I come back into my body and am staring straight up into the sky. I feel completely at peace. There is nothing else to do but wait for it.
In my waking life, I’ve never actually dangled, hovered that close to death. I’ve had no acute threat to my physical life, but the dream gave me the experience with all the accompanying emotions, just as if it actually happened. For a few moments, I actually was injured and struggling, dangling at the edge. For a few moments watching myself from above, I actually did feel the peace of acceptance they say comes just before. Dreams have a way of invoking a biological mix of emotion in your cells, and the concoction circulating through my blood when I woke hung me over for a good part of the next day, leaving a deep sense of foreboding that something bad would happen, like someone might die or get sick.
Over the next several days, it was hard to take long, slow, deep breaths in my yoga practice, and even harder outside of my yoga practice. I noticed weakness in the asanas, pain and tenderness in my body, the general constriction fear creates – actual physical effects, from a dream.
Here’s how it went when I told my Jungian teacher, who is way more wise than he sounds in this exchange:
“I agree with you, something’s coming,” he said after examining this dream and several others over a span of a couple months.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Could be anything.”
Like something bad’s going to happen in my physical life? No, he thought more like something in the psyche. I was going to struggle. It was going to be painful.
“Like what from my psyche?” I was grasping for something concrete.
“I don’t know,” he said studying his notes with a perplexed look on his face. Something needs to integrate. He said it would feel less threatening when it was conscious.
“Any kind of timeline for when it gets here?”
“Could be any time.”
Where there is darkness, let there be light
Carl Jung thought the function of a dream was to transform the personality into a more balanced, integrated whole. Much of who we are sits below the surface, outside our awareness, unacknowledged by the one walking around in daily life, like aspects of ourselves we have disowned because we don’t like them.
We might not think of ourselves as mean, for example, because we don’t want to acknowledge the harm we cause to others by our thoughtless comments; or we don’t realize the ways we distance ourselves in our closest relationships; or we act in ways that ensure our deepest insecurities play out. Our dreams will point to which of our psychic imbalances is ready to be integrated, faced, or made conscious, the vessel most likely made ready now to contain the new growth by efforts in our outer life.
Once brought into the light of consciousness where we can see them, we can actually do something about our usual, knee jerk unconscious reactions. When we see that we contain equal parts meanness as we do kindness, for example, the mean comments will no longer be made, or you’ll catch yourself sooner. You’ll apologize if you slip.
Outer practices we do (yoga, study, meditation, prayer) serve as a kind of heat which creates the pressure necessary for these unconscious contents to come forth, one by one. Anxiety is one way we experience the heat. Jung even said tension, pressure, and anxiety are necessary for the unconscious psychic contents to squeeze through the boundary to consciousness.
Where there is doubt, faith
But all of that is small comfort when you’re experiencing the anxiety. Raising our consciousness is hard, humbling work. You don’t think to yourself while you’re struggling with difficult feelings, ‘Hey, great news. Unconscious psychic content is attempting to integrate.’
So now there is nothing else to do but wait for it, this painful, vague, diffuse, unidentifiable thing emerging. I’ll watch my dreams closer to see what comes out of the darkness, freaky as it may be. My attention has been called to prepare for it, to watch for it. The dream has shown me where to focus my concentration, my meditations. I will be with the anxiety when it rises, allowing the breath as much as I am able despite weakness, restriction and fear. When whatever comes wants to come through, I will try to allow myself to go over the edge. Expand my vessel.
Make me an instrument of Thy peace
~St. Francis of Assisi, 13th century