I have known Elizabeth for a number of years. Outwardly she gives the impression of being a very quiet, gentle and passive woman. I had never heard her disagree with anyone. She is generous, fair minded and loving towards everyone.
She approached me a while back as she was receiving disturbing dreams and felt that her whole life was being shaken. She was experiencing a high degree of anxiety and depression. Her relationship with her husband was unfulfilling and her job as a nurse was not any better. All around she was in a desperate state. Her mother lived with her and that relationship was also confining. Physically her anxiety and stress manifested itself as a systemic yeast infection. She was extremely tired and had little energy and was fearful about what her dreams presented. I learned that Elizabeth’s background included an alcoholic father who had physically abused both her and her mother. She was an only daughter and a woman who never really became separated emotionally from her mother. Elizabeth never remembered disagreeing with her mother: she was a quiet, submissive child who grew into a quiet submissive woman.
There were two qualities which I deeply admired in her. Above and beyond all her pain, she was willing to commit herself to a long and arduous task of self discovery. It was her courage and determination to walk this narrow path and to become a better person which influenced my decision to become her companion along her journey. In the beginning she had many dreams of her childhood. It was as if she had to go back and relive her youth for the purpose of healing. She was invited to enter into her dreams and unlock whatever pain lived there. No moving forward could happen until she accomplished this process.
Our memories carry the burdens of the past which weigh heavily on the present. That is why it is so important to go back and discover the root of one’s pain. No real progress can be made unless past issues and conflicts are resolved. A purgation of the ego and persona and a stripping of its’ attachments are prerequisites for any movement towards the center of one’s true self. Old attitudes must be released and purified in order to clear the way for the journey inward and the discovery of one’s true self. Self-knowledge requires this intense confrontation with the darkness within.
The passage from the unknown to enlightenment demands discipline and great courage. As Elizabeth moved through the dreams of her childhood, much sadness was released through our work together. Active imagination and focusing with her body’s response to pain was part of the process of her healing. Experiencing the state of the child within was a powerful vehicle for the release of her suffering. Then one day she came to me with the following dream:
“My husband is raping me and I feel much oppression. In another room I hear a baby cry and I go to find it because it needs to be fed.”
We worked with the images from the dream. Elizabeth re-entered the dream and I asked her to be with and experience the feelings of oppressiveness and fear. After a while I asked her to remember times in her life when she felt very sure of herself; when she felt she was in control of her life and when she felt loved. With these positive feelings she replayed the dream, only this time she went to her husband and told him all that was in her heart. He started to cry and she realized he too was in pain. Then she focused on the baby and went to the room where the baby was crying. She picked her up and comforted her reassuring the baby that she would not abandon her again.
She placed the baby in a special place in her home. This represented for her a deep part of herself: an inner child which she had neglected, some innate potential which was associated with her power as a developing woman. In the dream, the baby was crying. In order for the baby to stop crying or in order for her to stop hurting, the baby had to be fed. In other words, Elizabeth had to take care of her own needs and she had to feed that which cried out from the depths of her spirit: her Self. She decided she would focus on trying to bring peace and order within herself rather than attempting to focus on her relationships around her. Peace begins within and Elizabeth agreed that if she would arrive at some ego strength and inner harmony, this would have an effect on her outer life.
A few weeks later she came to me with the following dream:
“ I am in a room; there are horses there and suddenly a woman enters the room. She has a gun and is pointing it at me. I am petrified.”
A horse is a powerful symbol of one’s life energy. The woman who is threatening Elizabeth with a symbol of power “the gun” is a part of her Shadow. When one attempts to integrate inner forces there is always resistance, for in a sense the forces must give up their power to the developing personality. In active imagination, I guided Elizabeth to the woman and asked her to befriend her. Elizabeth told her she needed her and her power to help her gain control of her life. After some time the woman, whom Elizabeth named Mira “after her own middle name” agreed to help. Then Mira helped Elizabeth ride one of the horses and although awkward she felt very good.
Then she had the following dream which frightened her to the point of tears:
“A dark, ugly, half human thing is in the corner of my room. I am so repulsed by this creature yet I realize it must be cared for. I place it in my bed and try to comfort it yet I can barely look at it as it is so horrible.”
Finally, that which was buried within the depths of her psyche was released into the light. Although she felt that she had slipped backwards, I knew this dream was a giant breakthrough for her healing. During the time we were working together she compared her life to a tunnel like place which was dark and constricting. It was as if Elizabeth was in a place of nowhere and she could no longer depend on the past securities yet she could not imagine a vision of where she was going.
This in between place is compared to a birth canal; Elizabeth was in a time of waiting, a time of transition and a time of the unknown. Now she had met her darkness, her shadow side which repulsed her. This half human creature symbolized all that she had formally denied. It comprised the feminine power of Mira, the anger at being put down by others whom which she had never made contact with and the underlying potential need for her developing personality. However ugly, Elizabeth realized it needed her to care for it and so she gave it a place of rest in her bed. She attempted to welcome it as part of her and in this act was the essence of transformation. Just as the princess who kisses the repulsive frog in the “The Frog Prince” gave life to a part of herself, so too Elizabeth gave life to herself in the integration of her Shadow.
As she stepped back into the dream, I asked her to move towards her creature. With great courage she looked into the monster and her fear changed as Elizabeth felt the creature was no longer threatening. It was full of sadness. She went to it – her – and embraced her and named her Mary. She promised she would never leave her again and never reject her own self.
The sadness thus represented that part of her true self that had been denied, raped or rejected by Elizabeth. Elizabeth realized that the violent figures she had dreamed of, such as the rapist, were part of her and she accepted the idea that she violated her own being in subtle ways as the dreams had shown. By embracing those aspects of herself, she began to integrate them slowly: a process which is part of a life long journey.
“A man has many skins in himself, covering the depths of his heart. Man knows so many other things; he does not know himself. Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, like an ox’s or a bear’s, so thick and hard, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself.” – Meister Eckhart