Healing Our Shadows: Dream Work Part 1

Posted by Joanna Rubini on

I've said this before but it bears repeating. The only way out of our self created despair, our self created hell, is through love of ourselves. I cannot speak from experience of living through torture inflicted by others, but I have lived through several bouts of self torture. And most of us in Western culture chronically live in a low grade of self inflicted torture. What we didn't realize was that we were 1) taught to constantly berate ourselves in the guise of improvement, which has 2) kept us hurt, fighting, efforting, suffering and 3) that this subliminally installed mechanism has allowed most of us to be controlled and limited.

Healing, or more accurately stated, the recovery of our complete selves, is easy! The ingredients needed are courage and faith. We all, every one of us, get to believe and experience life through the lens of that which we believe. So why not make the ride pleasant? Why not make the exploration of self, of our pasts, of our belief formations and wounds, interesting and satisfying? 

One way into ourselves is through our shadow. What is shadow? Basically, it's a title given to all the aspects of us that we deemed undesirable, unacceptable, unlovable as children. Every one of us has a different looking shadow. Many men in Western culture are taught to suppress their warm sensitive receptive side, so their shadow is just that. They learn that boys should not cry, that in order to be accepted and loved (which we all crave) they must staunch their soft sides, deny those needs, stuff those feeling. The result is often pain and/or tightness located in the left side, the feminine, the receiving side, of the body. Likewise, many women in Western culture, are taught to deny their masculine aspect. Their take-action, anger, aggression, and dominance in sexuality. Aspects of this side are banished into our shadow. We cannot understand why we are uncomfortable and sad or angry, we just know that we are. We put on a brave face, but our bodies slowly get louder with their messages to acknowledge the hidden side of us. An easy way to identify our shadow is the recollection of childhood nightmares. We separate aspects of ourselves into the acceptable and the not acceptable as children. If we recall recurring nightmares we had back when we were little, we will be able to identify what aspects of ourselves we shoved down into the shadows. All characters, good and bad, that we see in our dreams, even if they appear to be other people, are reflections of ourselves. So the big bad wolf, the dirty bearded man, the snakes, the cruel mother...endless aspects of ourselves. Two examples of working through childhood nightmares for 'healing' follow.

Dirty Bearded Man: My own recurring nightmare was the dirty bearded man. I would find him in dreams: I was in my grade school, walking up the stairs, through the doors at the top level, and he'd be there sort of under some mysterious vague stars, in the shadows sitting amid dry dust and old leaves, lurking under a tree draped eerily with Spanish moss, surrounded by dusty dirty nature which had grown it's way into the school. I don't remember if he said anything, I just remember the persistent terror of seeing him. The dreams eventually stopped, but each time was the same and each time I ran away from him. And I have always remembered him and the dream. A few years ago, after I had been in acupuncture therapy for a while, I started actually seeing him. In life. In actually living breathing life, I began seeing my nightmare man. He was about the same- a drabness about his hair and beard color. Dirty torn clothes. But I am one to smile and greet everyone equally as it is my belief that we never know when or who is a messenger or angel sent to teach us or save us, so naturally I did the same to him, I offered a smile to a stranger as we passed.  Until I realized I was seeing my nightmare. The first day I saw him, his face was not pleased with me. He offered only an intense glare. After that, I started seeing him far and wide, close to my home and close to my work, at all different times of day. I was less openly friendly then, much more wary and avoidant, and eventually just frightened. It peaked one day after an acupuncture appointment. He was crossing right in front of my path as I left the building. I was insane with fear. It was dark, raining, I was riding my bike. I went straight to my father's house to attain a sense of safety again. And he gave me that, my dad, just like when I was a kid. He didn't laugh at my living nightmare, he just reassured and loved me. That night I met the dirty bearded man in my dream. As the cozy wooded bar scene unfolded, I had my father's advice saying "don't be afraid, don't be afraid" so as I sat at the bar chanting this mantra to myself, I actually let the man approach me with his message. He explained that he didn't want to hurt or frighten me, he only wanted to tell me I was beautiful.  And all these years I was afraid of him!

This alone is a healing, and this is what dreams are for. To help soothe events that in our waking hours, we cannot reconcile. It can be taken a step further when we are awake. The bearded man, after meeting him in a dream bar, completely evaporated from my earthly awareness, as I suspected he would. I no longer had the fear of him in the now. However, I could still clearly recall my childhood dread of him. To heal, I chose to consciously enter my childhood nightmare. I laid down, closed my eyes, and pictured my grade school, I pictured myself going up the steps and through the door at the top landing. I was, in my visualization, both my present adult self, and my child self. I was afraid, but I was also curious and determined. I knew who I would find through the door. The dirty bedraggled man. And he was there as always. I approached him, not to attack or confront him, but with curiosity. I asked him who he was, why he was there in the shadows in the dust. And he responded. He was me, he was the masculine aspect of me that I had long ago banished into the shadows. I had decided as a child for my self preservation to hide my forthright side, the side of me that speaks up in my defense, that goes after what I want, that speaks up when I was asked to do something I loathed to do. I cast him, my masculine characteristics, aside, without food, clothing, water. Nothing. I hated that part of me. But of course, our shadow side, the parts of us that we hide, still exist, they just get no attention, no love, no acknowledgement, no voice. When he explained who he was, what he was, I felt such a rush of love and gratitude for him. All of these years I had lacked that part of me, but he had remained steadfast awaiting me. Awaiting acknowledgment and coming home and reconciliation. This conscious exploration of my childhood nightmare offered me a healing. It brought me a feeling of robustness in my body, a bit more stability in walking the earth and absolutely, a stronger voice than I had previously allowed. 

This work on your own terrors can be amazing, freeing, and so worth it. "Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid." and if you are afraid "I am afraid, but I'm willing to be brave..."



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