CHILDREN, SOUL AND SELF
The importance of symbols and dreams
in our children’s early years.
By Gary Caganoff
The core of parenting for me is to help my children’s sense of self to remain as intact as possible as their personalities develop – by being as aware as I can possibly be, in each moment, of my own actions and reactions to them. To let any unjustified fears go that get in the way of them being themselves. Letting them be themselves helps them keep (to whatever extent they allow themselves) their sense of self, which, I believe, may lessen the depth that they push their soul and ultimately Self into the unconscious – as we all inevitably do to what ever extent.
The social conditioning methods of Control Parenting through manipulation, threat and punishment is based on fear, where Natural Parenting is based on love and trust. Trust that they will learn all they need to learn of social etiquette in good time. With plenty of love-without-fear (from us and perhaps from themselves) we may be hopeful of lessening the depth to which they bury soul and Self in the unconscious.
Transpersonal Psychology believes that the time from conception to soon after birth, children are in wholeness; immersed in the ‘higher’ elements of Self and soul, as well the ‘lower’ elements of intuition, essence, and life-force. As their personality, or ego, forms, and they begin to become conditioned to the outside world, the world of duality and contradictions, their sense of wholeness shifts to separateness, which then creates the feeling of emptiness; existential emptiness. The pain of wholeness giving way to this very deep emptiness of existence is so great that the child quickly buries it in the unconscious and continues to develop according to their social conditioning, creating personal and cultural shadows – individual and collective baggage. (The child’s development is also influenced by the karma they brought with them and how they were birthed, but that’s another story.)
Social conditioning is important to help keep our societies in some sort of working order, but only to an extent. Most of the measures we put on our children (which were put onto us by our own parents and theirs before them) really aren’t necessary and only serve in helping the child bury her self and soul and create a society that is psychologically repressed and orderly rather than naturally dynamic and free.
Most, if not all our life dramas and traumas come from this original burial and unconscious denial of the loss of wholeness and the false belief that we are separate. The fear of re-experiencing the immense grief of this existential pain is what most, if not all people fear. From out of the unconscious rises the threads of this existential pain but masked with a deep fear of death if they even try to recognise what lies beneath. Hence, people run from it any way they can. However, any shadow knocking on the door of consciousness that is still ignored will just get more powerful and painful. Most, if not all of the personal as well as cultural and global problems stem from this original denial and it is the beauty of a personal crisis that brings the ‘dark’ energy up to the surface. I say beauty because, in all it’s terror, it is a gift for the opportunity to surrender to it and transform. What does die is not the body, but the ego and all its beliefs, which then serves as a clean conduit for Soul and Spirit to come into consciousness. But the child can’t do this. Only the adult.
I have experienced all this in the Transpersonal work that I have been doing for some years, working with modalities such as breathwork, sandplay, dream work, voice dialogue and meditation. But what is blowing my mind right now is that I can watch my children’s own personalities grow and thrive. Catching glimpses of their psychological growth solidifies further the theory and practice of the Transpersonal that is so unquantifiable simply because it is so subjective.
There is one incident that happened when my daughter was five and a half that showed me clearly the interface (if I can call it that) between wholeness and separateness – the beginning of forgetting, or burying, soul, and the psyche’s expression of the development of ego; her personality.
For a couple of weeks I observed my daughter telling people that she had, ‘forgotten how to fly’. With my love of symbolism I knew this involved her soul. I didn’t say anything. Just observed. Then one morning she said she had had a dream. This is a bit of a custom in our house; if anyone had had a dream during the night then we share it in bed that morning. Every time my daughter shared a dream you could tell she was making it up just to have a go. Which was cute. But this particular morning she didn’t make it up.
She dreamed that she was wearing a large dark blue necklace around her neck, and when she pressed the bottom bead she could fly!
What an amazing dream! We wrote it down and I have started to help her keep a dream diary. From my experience in dream work and symbol work, my interpretation is that this dream is symbolising the change from wholeness – just ‘being’, where there is nothing to ‘do’, in this instance to fly – to having to ‘do’ something in order to fly again – press the button.
With this dream her psyche is helping her transition out of that infant and even pre-form wholeness, which is in the process of being forgotten, and begin to build layers of symbols that will later serve as an inner path to uncover the source – soul and Spirit; the treasures and the gold – which she will do consciously as an adult – if she does.
Also, the necklace is very interesting. It is round. A circle. A symbol of wholeness. Perhaps the first layer of symbolism her psyche is expressing. That evening she became quite driven that she HAD to learn how to fly. Having unconsciously now rejected the necklace and it’s power she was upset that she didn’t know how and pleaded with me that we look for ways to fly. I tried to explain that ‘it’s all inside of you’, which she quickly rejected. So I suggested we look on the internet for ways that people fly; in planes, gliders, microlights. But when she saw videos of people hang-gliding she lit up and said, ‘that’s it! That’s what I want to do. When can we do that dad?’
So now another aspect is forming, perhaps a second layer: The passion to fly! We are able to see now where our own passions may come from. Symbolic expressions of the soul crying out to be recognised. I know this is true for myself. Filmmaking, which I always wanted to do since I was ten, was an expression of my search for the truth. Little did I know it was The Truth I was looking for, not just social justice and environmental truth. Also, my passion to explore some of the earth’s great wilderness areas, go mountaineering, do multi week solo hikes, came from the deep desire to explore my inner self, to enter into the unknown terrain within and find the seemingly impossible – the Truth of my Self. It wasn’t till I learned to meditate did I realise that what I was seeking lay within. The wild landscapes served as a symbol or metaphor, or map, for the landscapes of my own psyche.
Knowing this, perhaps our passions help us stay true to our life’s journey, to what Jung called the process of individuation; our circumambulation towards the Self? When my son was three he asked, ‘why are we stuck in this world?’. After recovering from shock at these deeply profound words coming out of him I asked him if he felt ‘stuck’ in this world. ‘Yes’, he confirmed. I was speechless but my wife asked him where he’d rather be. ‘In Japan’ he said. Perhaps meaning anywhere but here. His question shows that there is something in him that also knows about not being stuck. He knows that being stuck is not how it was before. It will be interesting to see his own passions unfold as he grows.
Speaking of Japan there is another story which beautifully shows that there is something inside of us that already knows the Truth and it is only lost if we stop listening to it. Though, we can learn to listen again if we become more aware of the meaning of the symbolism that arises in our world – which is a projection of our own psyche onto the world to remind us to turn our attention inwards, even if only for a moment.
In June 2012 (just before my daughter’s necklace dream) my wife, the kids and I spent two weeks in Kyoto, visiting many of the the amazing Zen Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. One temple we discovered turned out to be the highlight of the trip. We took off our shoes at the entrance, gave a 100 yen donation and were directed down a set of stone stairs into the dark basement of the temple. It was pitch black. As we didn’t understand Japanese we figured out that we had to hang onto a swinging hand rail made of giant Buddha beads, like meditation beads but bigger than a fist. So we hung onto them and followed them into the dark. We twisted and turned, moving slowly, feeling our way through. My daughter was in front, then my wife with our eighteen month old boy on her back, then myself. Soon we saw a faint light and found that beneath the light was a large smooth granite stone in the shape of a dome. The idea was to spin the granite dome whilst making your deepest wish. We each spun it and made our wish. Then we continued on and made our way back up another set of stairs into the light.
We were all deeply moved by the experience. My daughter loved it. She called it, ‘The Gloom’. For days we couldn’t stop talking about ‘The Gloom’, so we decided to go back and do it again. We did and it was equally profound. This time when we made our exit, a lady, who remembered that we had come a few days earlier and could clearly see we loved this place, gave us a printed English explanation of what this place was. This is what it said:
“Zuigu-Bosatsu is symbolised by a Sanskrit character (hara) which is known as a motherly Buddha, who will grant any wishes you have if they are sincere enough to come true. The basement of Zuigu Hall is regarded as the womb of Zuigu-Bosatsu. That is why it is completely dark inside and there is supposed to be no space for your attachment. You are supposed to walk through the basement following the Buddhist beads.
“When Zuigu-Stone (which has the symbol of the hara inscribed on it) appears in front of you, you will make a wish and turn the stone with your true prayer. After you are out through the womb, you will purify yourself and feel the re-birth with the virtue of Zuigu-Bosatsu. 100 yen would be greatly appreciated as a donation.”
When I read this to my daughter, as she was so curious to know, and after trying to explain the concept of ‘attachment’ which she had asked about, she then asked me if I wanted to know what she wished for. When she told me tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Her deepest wish was, ‘that God and Mother Earth would get married’.
Now this could be seen as cute, but for me it was deeply symbolic and again shows that she is still connected to her deeper knowing (as if I feared she wasn’t). To understand this we must understand that all myths in all cultures stem from the one mono-myth of the hero’s journey to wholeness, which in the language of symbolism is the marriage of opposites, male and female, Sun and Earth, which is unity; wholeness. The illusion of separateness has finally and consciously been realised and the Truth experienced. It is not the child who does this. It can only be the adult with a mature enough ego and enough consciousness that they trust (have faith) that they will not be annihilated in the process.
What is it in my daughter that knows that God (male, sun) and Mother Earth need to ‘get married’ – become One? No one told her this. This is beyond intellectual conception, but not beyond her psychological, or symbolic/archetypal perception. Something in her psyche is perceiving separateness and that there is a deep need for them to get back together, to be re-united in wholeness.
As well, the death and rebirth symbolism of the womb can’t be ignored which is part of the mono-myth, the very first myth of the journey the hero has to take across the ocean in a boat or the belly of the whale (both symbols of the womb) a journey to reach the point where the Sun merges with the Earth, where it dies to be re-born the next day to take the journey again, and again, and again. (Refer Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). My daughter’s sheer delight in ‘the gloom’ showed me that she knew this deeply.
None of us can avoid the ‘fall from Grace’ we experience at or soon after our birth, but as adults we can perhaps help our children to not bury their soul and Self so deeply by getting out of their way, which comes from learning to get out of the way of ourselves. Which in turn helps us on our own journey of surrender to the fear of non-being. By ‘getting out of the way’, I don’t mean abandoning them to their own devices but by dropping our unconscious games that we play to keep ‘in control’, which then frees up the energetic space, or the dynamic of the relationship, so that we can hold that space in love-without-fear, enabling all involved to live authentic lives and thrive.