Traditional European philosophy says: we know our selves intimately. Ideas, images, associations, and feelings present themselves clearly and immediately. We don’t have to assemble jumbled clues into provisional conclusions. A light shines brightly on this inner world.
Knowing the world outside ourselves is more challenging. We have only partial data, and we are unsure how to organize it. The father away from ourselves we look, the more dim and shadowy our perception becomes.
But in 1951, philosopher Gabriel Marcel said this picture is completely backwards. Few of us really know ourselves. Most of us invest little energy in trying to. Really, the “self” is like a dark, un-illuminated spot at the centre of the otherwise known world.
Marcel’s view is not so different from depth psychologists’ belief in the unconscious. Only a small part of the psyche is known to us, they say. Deep structures, cultural memories, and formative experiences drive our thoughts and feelings in ways that we cannot see.
I’m sure this is true.
Look, it has not been an easy month. Not an easy two months.
Yes, I have been in touch with the physiotherapist for the pain, the medical specialist for the low energy, the psychotherapist for the dreams. We’re testing and upgrading everything. And, in any case, it’s a lot better than it was three years ago.
But really, I could not tell you clearly what is wrong.
It’s frustrating not to know. After all, I have a social persona to preserve. A competent persona; a dignified and reserved one. One that does not share aimless existential doubts unless they are shaped into a helpful teaching.
But right now I have only jumbled clues. I have little to say about them, because I do not know how to assemble them.
Still, I have hope that the doubts will become helpful questions, and that the aimless emotions will find a shape. Because I believe that real change emerges from hidden parts of the psyche. A truly new direction will not come from a tired, familiar toolkit. It might not be the result of an intentional healing process. It might express a structure I’ve never seen before.
A few days ago I dreamed: While I am at Or Shalom Synagogue in the adult prayer services, the art teacher W. is leading the children in an art project at my home. Later, they bring the results to the synagogue: beautiful journals covered with gilded fantasy images. I am surprised how many journals there are. And I am even more surprised to find stacked behind the journals pages and pages of stickers filled with beautiful gilded fantasy animals and magical beings. Have these stickers really been at Or Shalom all along without my seeing them?
The dream reminds me: while I engage in rituals of self-examination, the kind I can control, the kind others can see, something magical takes place elsewhere. I am surprised to catch a glimpse of the golden magic and surprised that I had not seen it earlier. Still, I don’t know what to make of it. The intentional activities of journaling, art, and childish play have brought forward only fantasies and raw materials.
Last night I dreamed: It’s election night and I am elected President of the United States. It’s not a surprise; I’ve campaigned, and now my picture is projected on the wall of a big convention centre. My first policy issue is public funding for Hebrew language education. My wealthy, influential brother-in-law supports it, but my advisor says to stick to private funding. I walk outside, where my sister sits at a picnic table making round balls out of clay. She tells me how much she hates me, but it doesn’t bother me at all; I just laugh because it’s familiar and very her.
Yes, says the dream, I am a public person. Should I thus make my spiritual language public? No, says my advisor. Let your private world do its work; that’s where the magic happens. But learn to avoid one key danger of working it out yourself. Learn to laugh at that inner evil sibling who devises unbroken circles of negative thinking.
This morning’s dream: Charles and I are on vacation at a very modest resort; I am alone in our room. It is 11:00 am but the sky is very dark; gradually I recognize a solar eclipse. Through the window, I see a large UFO fly over the town. I grab shoes and leap out the window to follow it, as others are doing, so that we can meet the aliens when they emerge.
Yes, teaches the dream, Marcel’s imagery is very helpful. I’m experiencing an inner eclipse. But right overhead flies something unknown, different and new. Something that might change the world and my place in it. Something I would have believed unreal, had I not seen it pass so close. With just a little bit of self-protection, I am ready to run out and meet it. Others have done the same; I can copy their courage.
Perhaps, as Marcel suggests, the true “Self,” source of possibility, is a dark, un-illuminated centre. If so, we can only hint at it in metaphors. As a Hassidic Jewish parable says, our quest “circles the palace of the Divine King.” As Jungian psychology says “the archetype of the Self is clothed in personal complexes.”
Still, the language of my own dreams says I can “run out to meet an alien” and “discover gold.”
Thus, here is my hope: Out of the dark, a hidden insight will emerge; an insight that will shed light on the world and my place in it; and bring a change that just might be worthy of the name “healing.”