Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bring Forth What is Within You

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." - The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

I ran across this maxim in Robert Aitken's book The Mind of Clover, and was immediately struck by it. It reminds us that if you do not act according to a conscious dynamic, you will invariably act according to an unconscious dynamic. Repression is truly dangerous because it implies a refusal of knowledge, which leaves us subject to all kinds of negative forces inherited from our personal and collective pasts.

I have a certain interest in dreams, and often in discussing them, I run across the opinion that they're just meaningless garbage spewed forth by the sleeping brain, a sort of psychological excretion. I can understand this viewpoint, but in the same way that biological feces can reveal a great deal about an individual's health and diet, so too are our dreams composed of material rich with meaning. After all, nothing in a dream is accidental. Unlike the waking world, every detail of our dreamscapes is generated by our own minds. To dismiss them as meaningless is to ignore the subtle promptings of our unconscious, which desires ultimate union with the universe.

One time years ago, I was arguing just this point with someone, a young man who almost violently rejected the notion that his dreams were meaningful. "I have dreams about sharks a lot," he said to me in challenge. "I'll be in the ocean, or in a swimming pool, and I'll know there's a shark coming for me, and it scares the hell out of me. I've never even seen a shark outside of an aquarium. What does that mean?"

And I had to stop myself from chuckling, because his dream was so to the point. In dreams, water invariably signifies the unconscious, and living creatures within the water indicate hidden or emerging impulses. Thus a whale might indicate a significant impending transformation or need for it, or perhaps repressed experiences coming to the surface. A shark, on the other hand, indicates precisely a fear of the unconscious, the belief that if he were to give his unconscious doubts about his life free rein, it would precipitate a painful transformation. So the very example he gave as evidence his dreams were meaningless showed instead his fear that his dreams were meaningful, and the depth of that trepidation was in exact proportion to the need to acknowledge these inner impulses.

This is also the dark side of many religions (and this person was religious). By acceding their beliefs to an external dogma inherited from past generations, and amputating their own natural curiosity, believers fail to recognize the real reasons behind their behaviors, and thus open themselves to all kinds of harmful impulses. Often they lead double lives, one day an upright churchgoer, the next a dissolute drunk.

Even when the offenses appear minor, there remains a cognitive dissonance between their religious and secular lives. Many religious followers find no problem liking, say, both a sermon and a football game; but in fact these two activities are worlds apart, the viewpoints inherent in them separated by enormous chasms of time, geography, economics and history. What relationship, after all, does a Biblical text handed down from a Middle Eastern tribe thousands of years ago have with a twentieth-century sporting event viewed on an LCD television? Virtually none, of course, but even so they coexist in the minds of their followers, the tension between them unacknowledged, its pressure building and building like water behind a poorly built dam. How long before cracks appear? How long before it bursts? Better by far to let the river flow free.

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