For some, there comes a time when even the archetypes seem to collapse, when the very functioning of the psyche departs familiar symbols. The themes and structures that carry the life story shift and break. The heroes and villains, the magicians and shamans are called home from their places in the world. If you are somewhat of a monk you can watch the shift, the unraveling, see how the story has worked in you, where in the world you’ve pasted the field of action, the actors. All that was and isn’t anymore.
In this kind of internal cataclysmic change before new images offer themselves there is a brief opportunity for an experience Joseph Campbell describes as the true experience of the Other. The shocked mind stutters and, for a moment, it stops, is beyond the symbol, the story. Before awe, before fear, before questions and answers, it stops because it is beyond or outside all of these.
This moment is the goal of most initiations; “the killing” it is sometimes called. Intentional experiences are brought about to achieve exactly this shock beyond conscious reach or participation. Emptiness. Even the unconscious attachments, the deepest dynamics, can shift. Even the archetypes, for a brief period, seem suspended, unless it is the archetype of absence, the archetype between stories.
Once the new arrives, the psyche has remade itself not by offering new symbols for old roles, not to tinker with the old story, but it is as if the characters called home during the crises have abandoned form. What is left is a color, a shape, a tone, a sequence of numbers. Later these expand; the psyche does its work; new archetypes arrive. Or perhaps they’ve been there all along waiting in the wings. Other cultures would say they waited on the mountain, the beach, or in the woods. Something comes inside that has been waiting for you, or someone like you, or for the human opening, the right human opening.
It can feel a bit like possession, invasion. If initiation is what propels the experience there will be people at hand to anchor, to guide. If there is not, if the experience is spontaneous, or even if it was sought, it can be easy to look for the wrong sort of help, someone who treats the disorientation as a mental health crises. Which it is not, unless it is defined in that way. Unless it is brought into the personality, which is too small to contain it.
Dreams can be the guide during this time. Astrology, if you have someone who can look deeply and knows this kind of experience. There are archetypal therapists who can enter this arena though care has to be taken that what arrives isn’t forced into an old theme, a place to small to contain it, or the process rushed. At times like this, help might be needed, help that can stay with a new narrative no matter how irrational, and who does not exploit the new becoming and the powerful energies attached. It can be a lonely time, in part because the characters of one’s psyche are not in the world as they’ve been before, and because there are few people one can beneficially talk to.
This last is important. It is one of the reasons we can only talk to people who have been there. Joseph Campbell used to make a big thing of this – don’t tell people who don’t already know. In a similar vein, Frank Waters, who was on the receiving end of some criticism when he published the Book of the Hopi, answered that if you didn’t already know his book would not tell you.
Here are some clues about meaningful help. If the input takes you back into grubbing through family dynamics, you are probably off the central message. It is not that the family system can’t be brought to bear, but it is on the wrong level. And something else – if what is offered by friend or professional brings you into the sphere of anxiety, or self-criticism, you are on the wrong level as well.
Take it up several notches. What does the universe want from you? What new spiritual entity has entered your psyche? It will be much bigger than your personality. More than whether you are considered rude or difficult. More than whether you are doing what others consider right. More than habits and preferences. The people I know who brought the most powerful changes weren’t necessarily always easy company. Nor did they always behave well. I am not denigrating sensitivity, kindness, tact and compassion, but I am saying that we sometimes elevate these qualities above the spirit’s calling. What the universe needs from you. From me. When the world disappears, let it go. Something else will come. Another story.
So, this hasn’t been much about dreams, I suppose. I’ll just offer this in closing – if the way you are considering the meaning of a dream makes you anxious, you are probably in the personality and not on the same level the dream is speaking. When we feel criticized by dream material it is usually because we are in the personality, and, as we all know, the personality can be uncertain and therefore defensive. It seems to me the spirit is always looking in us for a bigger story to be lived through us. Spirit creates the circumstances, sends the messengers. When we feel our world collapse, there it is.
It is enough to bring tears, the way the spirit works. The miracle of it. The love in the destruction.