Wednesday, 25 January 2017

An Interpretation of a Dream of Success

I pay careful attention to dreams and often find that they give me valuable information. As an example, I have received a warning of a forthcoming injury, which I sadly ignored and had to pay the price. My dreams also give me information on unresolved issues and how they play out in my life and relationships. After several years of diligent dream journaling, I am disappointed on those rare nights when I don’t remember my dreams. I shall also confess that some of my dream material still seems like mumbo jumbo.

Sometimes I have special vivid dreams that I can clearly connect with a theme that is going on in my life at present. This was the case a few nights ago, when I dreamed about people and places of my past as well as someone I have never met.

A very central person in the dream was a successful author whose work I love. This person came to visit and owned a café in a town where I used to live. The café was supposed to be popular because of the association with the writer’s name, but somehow it was very quiet. I knew that I would meet the writer later and was excited about it. Before I relate the encounter with the famous man, there is another part of the dream I want to share first.

A person who used to be close to me was in the dream, and we were together in a group meditation. The person is still in my life, but very much on the periphery. In real life, the change in my relationship with this person was quite painful as I had to let go of the good times but knew we were outgrowing each other. In the dream this person denied having any association with me. In addition, I felt excluded due to the actions of the group leader, who I felt could sense that my heart was not in it. Even though I learned that my friend was going through a difficult time, I left the gathering, feeling rejected.

A river in Scotland, not quite as dangerous as the Zambezi.
Back to the main thread of the dream, and I find myself sitting in a small boat with the famous writer. We are about to go through rapids à la Zambezi River in Africa, but it is also in Scotland where I currently live. Only in dreams can you be in two places at the same time.

Famous author to me: “So you are also a writer. What is the name of your book?”
Me: “In Search of the Golden City.”
Famous author: “Ah. You’re deep.”
Me: “How do you know that?”
Famous author: “I can tell by the title of your book.”

I am somewhat flabbergasted, but I think to myself that of course he knows something about the symbolism of gold. He talks about his café, and says that actually it is not as successful as expected. He adds that there is tension in his business due to politics. I think to myself that it cannot possibly dim his prosperity, but it is a valuable reminder that nobody’s life is perfect, and nor should I expect mine to be.

Reflecting on the dream in the morning, I felt that it was telling me something about the changes I made in the last few years, with the result that some doors closed. The old friend in the dream represents the structures of my past and my relationship to it. There is a reason why some people and situations that used to be stable fell away. Some of it had to do with my own attitude, but the point is that I cannot retrieve what has gone lost.

I thought about the meaning of the Zambezi River and the rapids. As a child I was fortunate enough to go into remote places in Africa. Some of these trips were rather difficult, but until today I remember the animism I felt in nature. I didn’t understand it at the time, but those experiences stayed with me and became very meaningful.

Being in a boat in white water with a person whose work I admire and who engages with me refers to the uncertainty of following my dreams. I am in a risk zone with only the forces of nature to guide me. Yet I feel connection regardless of where I might end up. Considering the famous writer’s struggles, I felt that the dream told me that I have to let go of archaic ideas of success. According to the world’s definition, I will always fall short and it is risky anyway, even for those who make it work. The things I value have found me and will continue to do so. Whatever price I have to pay for not “fitting in” will be worth the satisfaction of following my heart.

A day or two after the dream I saw a real quote on social media by the author I dreamed of about closing doors on the past. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is not a pleasant word to many. It implies we need to give up some things we love for the sake of hopefully gaining something else we need or want. The everyday reality for most people contains a mixture of pleasure and pain. Nobody can do everything, and where we need to make choices there is often a sacrifice involved.

In modern spirituality I find a prevailing notion that we can have and be everything we want if we apply the spiritual “laws” of the universe. I don’t agree with this, because it denies so many aspects of the human experience. In this context sacrifice is shunned as something negative. Since sacrifice is a prominent theme in religion and mythology, I want to look at the deeper meaning of the concept and what it can teach us.

I grew up in the Christian religion, and one of the main tenets was the sacrifice of Christ, the son of God, for the sake of humanity. In the Old Testament we read about God demanding Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. The son and father are saved in the last minute due to the love of God and the faith of Abraham. The New and Old Testament examples of sacrifice both involve divine love and the threat of death. In both cases human death is not the final outcome as Christ is resurrected and Isaac is saved with a ram sacrificed in his place. In the New Testament story God sacrifices his son for the love of humanity, while in the Old Testament example human sacrifice is needed to please God. As a child I found the idea of sacrifice vindictive and I never understood why Christ had to suffer for the sins of others. A symbolic interpretation however may shed light on what the sacrifice means.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia by François Perrier.
From Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
In Greek mythology there is Iphigenia, daughter of the Greek king Agamemnon in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Her sacrifice to the goddess Artemis was required for the king’s war pursuits to be successful. An animal was also involved as according to some sources the king offended Artemis by killing a deer, which was sacred to her as a goddess of hunting and wild animals. In some versions Iphigenia was saved and replaced by a deer. Iphigenia also appears as a priestess of Artemis. It is worth noting that Artemis is a virgin goddess, and the sacrifice was planned to take place on Iphigenia’s supposed wedding day. (Source: Wikipedia)

In The Undying Stars by David Mathisen, the theme of sacrifice in religion and mythology is discussed in detail. One of the theories presented in the book is that ancient myths, including those found in religious texts, point to the heavens and are an allegory for the movements of the stars and planets. The movement of the sun is used as a metaphor for the (recurring) journey of the human soul in corporeal existence. It is suggested that the theme of sacrifice is connected to the equinoxes and the animal symbolism is associated with the signs of the zodiac. In the case of Isaac, the ram is clearly Aries, the sign of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere or autumn in the southern hemisphere. It is suggested that the deer in Iphigenia’s case represents the constellation Centaurus, which is near Virgo and the crossing of the celestial equator at the September equinox.

Because the equinoxes signify a turning point from longer days into longer nights or vice versa, they are a metaphor for the process of birth and death, or the journey into or out of the human body. The book provides a far more comprehensive explanation, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic. For the purpose of this article the idea is meaningful as it demonstrates the cosmic significance of myths. In the case of sacrifice in particular it tells us something about the balance between the spiritual and material sides of our existence, as signified by the balance between day and night on the equinoxes.

Going deeper into the notion of traversing the boundary between spiritual and physical, I think sacrifice has to do with how we create ourselves. I have written before on the gift of limitation. To know the individual self it is necessary to leave behind the realm of infinite possibilities. We retain some creative potential which we can work with in a world constrained by matter. To return to infinite love, the body and ego must be left behind. Of course nobody really knows what happens after death, but some research, such as the work of Michael Newton, suggests our souls contain memories of lives on earth even after leaving our bodies. Connecting this with the movement of the sun as a metaphor for the journey of the soul, it is worth noting that there is day and night at all times of the year in most places on earth. Sometimes there is more of the day and sometimes more of the night, but the two polarities exist side by side.

In the story of Iphigenia the sacrifice to a virgin goddess is meaningful if we consider that her (possible) death happened on her wedding day. To me this says something about the sacrifice required in partnership. To be committed to someone else, a person inevitably gives up some of their freedom and independence, perhaps symbolised by virginity. If we go with the version of events where Iphigenia was saved and became a priestess of the goddess, this could indicate a different kind of devotion to an ideal. The benefits of partnership are forfeited by those who choose the path of chastity. If chastity signifies inner development, it could perhaps point to the solitude involved in embarking on a spiritual journey.

The word sacrifice comes from the Latin sacrificium, which is a contraction of sacer, which means sacred, and facere, which means make. To make the experience of giving something up sacred, we could perhaps adjust our understanding of sacrifice. Between the polarities of humanity and divinity where sacrifice usually takes place, there is a tension that cannot be resolved. I believe this points to the yin and yang in the universe, the sacred dance of opposites where new things are created. This is also illustrated through the sexual unity between man and woman resulting in the birth of an offspring.

Love is a theme in all these examples of sacrifice, although in the example of Iphigenia there is also conflict and self-interest that could lead to death. In each case the victim is saved through love, devotion and mercy. The wisdom of sacrifice could be that when we adopt the perspective of the soul in our human endeavours, suffering can be transcended. The need to choose what we dedicate ourselves to is highlighted. The journey in the human body with all its trials can be understood as a gift when considering the bigger picture of our spiritual origins.