In 1969 when singer Peggy Lee released, Is that all there is, she posed an intense existential question. She wasn’t searching for an after-life but musing about the disappointment that life can be, even when faced with the unbridled energy that is a raging fire or lost love.
Since I’ve been tangling with dislocation from my own religious and spiritual tradition, this question of the more has become increasingly enchanting for me. If there is no clear, coherent system to fall back on, no organised set of stories, ritual, music and art and no matter how much you might have argued the toss about it all over the years, what do you do then? For some people, the answer to a religious disconnect is to walk away from it all and that’s understandable because tangling with existential questions in an isolated vacuum and foregoing easy answers, is irritatingly difficult.
Call me bloody minded or obstinate if you like but I could not accept that all those years of exploration and engagement with a spiritual pathway could be just wiped out by a religious bureaucracy unhappy with my tentative observations. Because, if I took that to its obvious conclusion I was faced with an organisation that held tightly to itself the power to decide what people involved with that religion could or could not think, or even experience. That realisation made me very uncomfortable.
But if someone had told me that the next step for me would be conversing each Friday about my increasingly interesting dreams with an elderly Catholic priest 14,362 kilometres away in Canada, (hereafter known as The Analyst) I’d have been concerned about their sanity. And if I’d realised the depths that this would take me to, I would’ve been too frightened to embark on this journey to the interior aided by Jungian analysis. But that would mean I’d be missing out on an enchanting transformative experience.
Just so we’re clear, it’s not that my life has dramatically changed. I’m still in the same job, I eat the same food, still keen on Pinot Gris, my dog and I walk the same walk every day, I cruise Facebook, the pub group meets religiously on a Friday night and I still binge watch Netflix and Lightbox, but everything is different. Instead of being hooked by the external world, enticing and all as it is, I’m being drawn further and further down into, what, exactly?
The Jungians reckon there’s an unconscious depth for all of us and that we’re also part of a collective unconscious, a kind of universal connectedness and that exploring and listening to this part of existence helps us become conscious. Put another way it’s the idea that the spiritual journey is the process of awakening to reality. Google spiritual awakening and you can take your pick of gurus expounding on that with sayings short enough to fit on Pinterest, but what does it actually mean?
Even though I’m steeped in this kind of language and exploration I don’t think I know what it means for me right now and perhaps, in that space of unknowing, I’m too open to influence. After all, when I stopped to talk to a psychologist colleague of mine the other day and tentatively mentioned something about dreams and Jungians, he announced in authoritative terms that ‘they make things up’. I walked away impressed at how deftly he’d shut me down by minimising something I suspect he didn’t know much about and in the process cut off any opportunity to talk about this experience that’s incrementally opening another dimension of existence for me.
So, I smiled, not in the least put off but only because I now remember dreams and exploring those dreams has, at some unfathomable level, changed everything. But every day I assume there will never be another because I used to only remember a few dreams a year. That all changed when The Analyst, bless him, said he only worked with dreams, so I dredged up a startling one from two years before and off we went.
However, it’s not for the faint hearted this descent into the waters of the unconscious. There are fascinating dragons and serpents and mythological creatures that seem to dwell here, along with strange houses, bizarre happenings and random people from my life. Everyone knows something about this from their own dreams but what we make of it will be different for each person.
And that’s one of the most interesting things, to be learning to trust and put my faith in what rises up within me. To be finding that exclusion from my religious tradition has opened up the possibility that there is indeed more, unusual though it is turning out to be.