Who Is My Family, Really? The Projective Tendencies of the Mind In Dreams and Reality by Paul Levy
Over twenty years ago I fell down the proverbial rabbit’s hole, stepping through the looking glass, so to speak, never to return to the ordinary, mundane life I had been living. I began having direct, overwhelming experiences of the dream-like nature of this waking reality of ours. Stuff began happening in my life, what we commonly call synchronicities or miracles, that could only happen in dreams. At first, I was fascinated by these totally out of the ordinary phenomena. But over the course of years, I have discovered that the true gold is to be found in what alchemy calls the “prima materia”, the rejected and marginalized parts of our everyday experience.
There is a correlation between being wounded somehow and spiritually awakening to the dream-like nature of our situation in this life. The two experiences are inextricably linked. There is an archetype that relates to this, that of the wounded healer. Such a person experiences being wounded as a numinous (that is, holy, mysterious, supernatural) event. Instead of trying to circumnavigate or seal the wound, the wounded healer goes into and through the wound. In the darkness he finds, as if by enchantment, germs of light. Thus flows the archetypal descent of the shaman into the underworld—into the unconscious—in which he is able to transmute the darkness into blessings.
I can relate to this. Unlike many people who describe spiritual experiences filled only with light, love, bliss, ecstasy, celestial angels and luminous rainbows, my own experience of awakening has had a profound sense of shadow and darkness and I am convinced that my experience is related to that archetypal descent of the shaman. It can be terrifying, but instead of marginalizing this darkness, I want to illumine it, as I feel this might compensate for an imbalance in the as-yet little understood phenomenon we call “spiritual awakening”.
All in the Family My father died last week. We had a terribly difficult relationship. In life—what I call “my waking dream”—he played the role of being an abuser. It wasn’t the more overt form of physical or sexual abuse. It was the more insidious form of emotional abuse that remained practically invisible to any third party. Whenever I’ve tried to talk about this with other family members, I’ve been met with denial, as everyone would inevitably defend and protect my father.
I have learned that this is typical of what happens when an abused person speaks their truth. To this day, my subjective experience of the abuse has never been validated by my family members. For me, this is crazy-making. My family’s refusal to hear and honor my experience tells me that my experience is not true, not real. It is as if they are saying that I am hallucinating, making it up, that I am crazy. I am left feeling like I hold the family shadow, i.e. the family’s craziness.
Over the years I have noticed a persistent scenario going on inside my head. In this mental movie, I present the indisputable evidence of what happened between my father and me to various family members. I “prove” what happened, they finally “get it”, and at last I am vindicated and free.
Of course, I’ve tried all this with family members in “my waking dream”, with no success whatsoever. Regardless, the process in my imagination continues unabated.
Clearly there is part of me that wants external validation from my family. Such validation would make me feel less crazy.
I had a profound dream a number of years ago. In the dream, I and a bunch of other people were on the lookout for Dracula. We were all chanting “Bela Lugosi, Bela Lugosi”. Then, I saw Dracula. I tried to point him out to people, but no one else could see him. I woke up.
That dream illumines my predicament with my father and family precisely. The abusive part of my father’s personality is not different from the metaphorical vampire. When someone doesn’t heal their own abuse, they unconsciously act it out, thereby passing it on in an unbroken lineage of transmission—just as someone bitten by the storied vampire in turn becomes a vampire. This is the nature of the situation with my father, yet whenever I’ve tried to get this across to my family, it’s like I’m in some sort of sci-fi nightmare—no one gets what I am talking about.
When I contemplate my situation from the dream point of view, I notice something very intriguing. On the one hand, I am convinced that I have awakened inside the dream of my family abuse. I see what is actually happening, and I see that others in the family don’t see it. This is lucid dreaming—not that uncommon really. But what I find very curious in all of this is why I want so badly the recognition and validation of my fellow dream characters (my family members) whom the awake part of me sees as asleep. There is a peculiar disparity here, and I suspect it is right at this edge that my unconscious is to be found. At this edge there is a part of me under some sort of spell.
I find myself imagining that my family members just don’t get it. I feel their judgement of me, their contraction from me. I imagine, based on experience, that as soon as I bring up what has happened between me and my father—as soon as I simply give voice to my experience—their eyes will glaze over . . . again. They’ll simply close down, seeing me as crazy once again. The question I then find myself asking is, who are these family members who I’m imagining this about?
Full-Spectrum, Multi-Dimensional Holograms, Just Like You and Me If you’ll indulge my view here, it is clear that, just like me and you and all the rest of us in this waking dream of ours, my family members are nothing more nor less than infinite, open-ended wave functions, pulsating anew, in and out of the void, every nanosecond. They are full-spectrum, multi-dimensional holograms, just like you and me.
But I notice, upon deeper inquiry, that in my mind I am solidifying their infinitely fluid wave functions into concretized form, and then I imagine this is who they really are. In conventional terms, I have “put them in a box”.
It is true that in the past my family members have manifested, in a very convincing way, the behavior of judging me poorly. But that was then, not now. Yet I notice that when I even imagine in my mind (or dream up) who my family members are, right now in this moment, they appear to be those same limited, hardened identity patterns of before. It is as if I have become traumatized by their previous manifestation, and am actually putting myself under some sort of spell, as I see myself holding them and concretizing who I imagine them to be in a very limited way. And then I relate to them as if this is who they actually are, which evokes this very part of their hologram into incarnation, thus confirming ever more absolutely that this is actually who they are. I have thus gained even more evidence to support my solidified view of who they are, and the wheel turns, ad infinitum.
Upon inspection, I am doing exactly to them (solidifying their hologram) what I imagine they are doing to me. It is as if I am reacting to my own mirrored reflection. There is no getting around the fact that, in essence, the problematic nature of my relationship with my family members concerning my father’s abuse toward me is something that I am actually, in some way, responsible for. It is like I am entrancing myself, as if under some sort of self-created, infinitely-perpetuating spell, where I actually dream up into materialized, incarnate form the very energies that I am fighting against, and then I imagine that the problem objectively exists “out there”. In the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is like I am fighting against my own shadow, my own reflection.
The obvious question is: why am I doing this? Why do I dream up family members to play this out with, as if entranced, imagining that this is who my family really is, that they objectively exist in this way? It is as if I have unconsciously dreamed up my family members to play out, in full embodied form, inner figures that exist inside of my own psyche. In full incarnate form, appearing in front of me as my own family, are the inner figures of my psyche who, in essence, are telling me that I am crazy, that my experience is not valid. Upon inquiry, it is clear I have dreamed up my inner process in and as the very universe itself. I have literally, as well as symbolically, dreamed up my family (my father included) to pick up roles in my process (and me in theirs).
In essence, this is to wake up to the nature of my situation, which is that I am not out of my mind (crazy), but am actually walking around inside of my mind. In other words, I am dreaming.
I could continue fighting with these dream characters, trying to convince them that they are not seeing clearly—but this makes no sense whatsoever, based on the realization of the dreamed-up nature of my situation. Besides, whenever I try to convince my family of my point of view, it always seems to have the opposite effect—it just seems to prove to them all the more how crazy I really am. Furthermore, to try to convince my family of my experience is not to honor their experience of my father, which is clearly different than mine. This is a place that I struggle with, as I immediately think that my experience is more true than theirs, that they are not seeing what actually happened with my father, etc.
When is my trying to convince family members about what has actually happened with my father not only not skillful, nor compassionate, but actually me unwittingly stepping into the role of the very abuser that I am trying to pin on my father? It’s a question worth contemplating. When an unconscious content is ready to be integrated, it always gets dreamed up, into and as the dreamscape. To view my situation as a dream, it is clear that I am dreaming up in the dreamfield a figure who I want to see me, to recognize what has happened with my father, to validate my experience. To view my situation as a dream is to realize that this figure is a reflection of an inner figure that I have projected out and dreamed up into the dreamfield. The unconscious always approaches us from the “outside”. It is clear that I need to recognize this figure as my own split-off part, and step into it, own it, as I am the only person who can validate my self. The one who needs to see what has happened with my father is no one else out there, no one other than me.
There is no one “out there” who can give me what I want other than myself. To understand this is to become truly empowered. It allows me to stop fighting against my own shadow, my own reflections in the mirror, which just perpetuates itself in this infinitely closed, crazy-making feedback loop I’ve been describing here. In Buddhism this is called samsara, or cyclic existence.
Interpreting the Dream Of course, the entire situation with my father can be understood to be higher-dimensionally coordinated—Divinely choreographed, so to speak. Its nature can be seen as truly initiatory. The abuse with my father, and my family’s reaction to it, can be interpreted as something dreamed up by the deeper part of me, tailor-suited just for me, so as to bring me to this point of awakening to the dreamlike nature of the universe.
The universe can legitimately be viewed as a dreamed up phenomenon. Instead of being a split and disassociated person who is continually trying to heal his never-ending wound, whose effort in trying to heal himself becomes the very activity which perpetuates the wound, I can simply wake up and recognize the truth of my situation. What is that truth? It is that I and the other dream characters in my family have been mutually dreaming each other up to pick up roles in each other’s dreaming processes. In essence, the only question is do I recognize the dreamed up nature of our situation? Or do I continue on as before, entranced by the creative power of my mind’s inherent projective tendencies, imagining that the problem is “out there”?
Such entrancement always leaves me feeling disempowered, and I am quite certain this holds true for us all. So I don’t want to go there anymore.
This leaves me one alternative. To recognize the dreamed up nature of my situation is to make available the opportunity for true soul retrieval, which is to re-collect and gather all the disowned parts of myself (including the abuser), and to own all of my dream characters as embodied aspects of myself. It is to truly own and assimilate the split-off parts of myself, and to step into my true nature as a whole human being, whose nature is love.
And from here, as I inquire more deeply into “who is my father, really?”, I get to an interesting place where the opposites become blurred. I think of the Kazantzakis (Last Temptation of Christ) quote, “Someone came. Surely it was God, God....or was it the devil? Who can tell them apart? They exchange faces: God sometimes becomes all darkness, the devil all light, and the mind of man is left in a muddle”. On the one hand, I can truly see my father in his role of abuser as being an unconscious conduit for and embodiment of the darkest forces in the universe. Clearly I need not be naïve and ignore or marginalize this part of my father’s full-spectrum hologram. I need to get this part in focus, to really see it, and to come to terms with this part of my father.
But who is my father, really, if not another infinitely fluid, multi-dimensional holographic wave function, just like you and me? So for me to dream him up and solidify him into the sole identity of being an abuser is to concurrently solidify myself into the sole identity of being his victim. In other words, the way I dream up my father right now, in this very moment, has a creative potency that determines my present moment experience. I need to be very careful and conscious here. Not wanting to be identified as victim means no longer identifying him solely as abuser. This opens the possibility for forgiveness.
There’s no getting around the fact that the entire ordeal with my father has activated in me a profound process of awakening which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. So maybe, instead of, or in addition to, being the embodiment of the darkest forces in the universe, I can view my father as the highest level bodhisattva, playing an incredibly unpopular role in my waking dream in order to awaken me to this very realization of the dreamlike nature of the universe. Who is my father, really? In the end, it depends on how I want to dream it.
I would like to end with a beautiful quote by Jung; “No matter how much parents and grandparents may have sinned against the child, the man who is really adult will accept these sins as his own condition which has to be reckoned with. Only a fool is interested in other people’s guilt, since he cannot alter it. The wise man learns only from his own guilt. He will ask him-self; Who am I that all this should happen to me? To find the answer to this fateful question he will look into his own heart.”
And now, as I look into my own heart, I ask, who am I, really?
A leader in the field of dreaming, Paul Levy is in private practice, assisting others who are also spiritually awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, he is in the book Saints and Madmen: Psychiatry Opens its Doors to Religion. Deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, alchemy and shamanism, he is a long-time Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and is the coordinator of the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. He can be reached at (503) 234-6480.