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here we  are, all of  us: in a dream-caravan.

A  caravan, but a   dream –   a dream,  but a  caravan And we   know which are    the  dreams.

Therein  lies the  hope.

                 Our Teacher Bahaudin, El Shah

Idries Shah gives us an interesting Sufi tale. A certain devout man, convinced that he was a sincere Seeker after Truth, embarked upon a long course of discipline and study. He had many experiences, under various teachers both in his inner and outer life, over a considerable period of time. One day he was meditating when he suddenly saw the Devil sitting beside him. ‘Away, demon!’ he cried, ‘for you have no power to harm me; I am treading the Path of the Elect.’ The apparition disappeared. A truly wise man passing by told him, sadly: ‘Alas, my friend, you have grafted effort upon such an unsure basis as your unaltered fear, greed and self-esteem that you have arrived at your ultimate possible experience.’ ‘How so?’ asked the Seeker. ‘That ‘devil’ is, in reality, an angel. ‘Devil’ is only how you saw him.’


This little story reiterates the importance of recognising one’s shadow and one’s true identity, warts, scars and all. People and societies who are out of touch with their shadow suffer from a form of ‘pseudo-innocence.’ Because they lack self-awareness, they think they are better than they really are. When inner darkness remains unacknowledged, it exercises a malevolent influence on conscious attitudes and feelings, we start seeing ‘angels’ as ‘devils.’ The principle way in which this insidiously occurs, is by projection. In the last chapter, we already saw a variety of ways in which we can learn to recognise our shadows. In the pages that follow, we shall see how our shadows can also be revealed to us and detected by observing the process called ‘projection’ and through our dreams.



Reflections and the Illusions of Projection

The significance of the term projection as used in analytical psychology is not always understood correctly. The very word is misleading. In ordinary language, to project something means to throw it – this implies that the material projected is first known and possessed and is then discarded, thrown upon some external object. But in analytical psychology the term is used differently. A projection is never made; it happens to you. You are in it before you know it. Experience shows that projections are an unconscious, automatic psychic process via which an unconscious content of a subject transfers itself to an object so that the unconscious content of the subject appears to belong to the object. Projections are never made consciously. Projections are always there first, and then recognised afterwards, but not by the majority.


When the distinction between self and others is blurred or lost sight of, the danger of abdicating personal responsibility is great. A common cause of this confusion between self and others is projection, a defense mechanism that allows people to disown or deny unwanted feelings, attitudes, and traits by assigning them to others. Whereas repression appeared to be the most frequently observed defense during Freud’s time, recent psychologists speculate, on the basis of clinical experience, that projection is now by far the most commonly encountered defense. This is a disturbing observation which highlights the plight of modern man, his conscious ego ideal divorced from its debased shadow. Wilkie Au, a Jesuit priest involved in the formation of novices, further observes that projection is especially an obstacle to free and mature obedience when it keeps religious from actively seeking God’s will, the very object of the vow of obedience. He notes that religious sometimes abdicate personal responsibility by projecting onto God or superiors attitudes and feelings that impede and hinder their active engagement in the process of desiring, discerning and choosing.


When we have projected some unconscious element onto someone else, especially if it is a negative or unacceptable content, we always tend to try to deal with it in the other person. Those unacceptable contents that we have discarded in forming the ego personality have been repressed into the unconscious – into the personal unconscious – and, as they always have an emotional quality, an energy content, they act as if they were autonomous and so tend to be personified. Consequently these things are not recognised as our own shadow qualities but are projected to another person; we either blame him, criticise him, or revenge ourselves upon him for them. Or, if the material projected is not negative but positive, we admire him, love him, perhaps envy him, or possibly even hate him for having what we have not got.


The individual who carries the personification of my shadow will be of the same sex as myself, because the shadow is part of the personal psyche. A man’s shadow is masculine and a woman’s feminine. When it is projected to the outer world, it forms, as it were, a shadow personality that is likely to be encountered in some person in the environment who represents to the individual his own shadow qualities that he cannot see directly because they are unconscious to him. The carrier of these projections may even become his special enemy.


There is charming Irish folktale about a village where no one had ever seen a mirror. One day, a farmer of the village found a mirror as he ploughed the field. When he cleaned it, he was amazed to see his late father looking at him. When he told his wife about his discovery she asked for a look. Her reaction was quite different. ‘Who is this ugly old shrew?’ she exclaimed, ‘have you betrayed me for another woman?’ A terrible argument followed. They decided to go together to the local parish priest. Each of them told their story and handed the mirror to their pastor. He took one look and said, ‘what on earth have you been fighting about? This is a picture of my saintly predecessor, Fr. Murphy. Leave his portrait with me and go home in peace.’ The respective shadow of each person personifies itself in remarkable ways. This story also illustrates the fact that no one is immuned from the onslaught of the shadow and the mechanism of projection, including priests, counselors, helpers, spiritual directors, psychologists. It is a quest for each person, especially those who are helping others to face their shadows, to recognise and identify the unconscious aspect of their psyche. In counseling, we must also be aware that the matter of shadow projection is a double-edged sword, for even while the counselor looks out for what he may tend to project onto to the counselee, he must also be noticing what the conselee may be projecting onto him, else he may fall into the trap of accepting the counselee’s judgment of him, when at the bottom the counselee is judging those hidden aspects of himself which he dare not face, or envying the potentialities which he fails to recognise in himself.


Social groups can project the contents of their collective shadow on to some minority in their midst. For example, the Nazis believed in Aryan superiority, so they made the Jews the carriers of their collective shadow. Hitler once said, ‘The Jews eat like poisonous abscesses into the nation … We will not pause until the last trace of this poison is removed from the body our people.’ In Indonesia, the Chinese, Buddhist temples and Christian churches are targets of mobs who often accuse them for being the cause of the woes of their nation, including the present economic crisis. What is most disturbing is that group projection is also used by many religious groups in order to maintain solidarity and ensure the fidelity of believers – if its not the ‘devil,’ it could be a group from another denomination. Superpowers wage wars again smaller countries with the excuse that they are implementing global policing – but could this not be a projection of the collective shadow of a nation who is not prepared to confront its own woes. Ironically, history teaches us that finding a common enemy has always united the most diversely interested parties. Jung was correct when he wrote, ‘The psychology of war is a matter of unconscious of projection. Everything our own nation does is good, everything which the other nation does is wicked. The centre of all that is mean and vile is always to be found several miles behind the enemy’s lines.’


All this renders reality a highly subjective experience for each individual, for whatever reality comes to us comes entirely through our relationships with people and things as a by-product, not as immediate apprehension of their essential nature. I do not wish to propose a comprehensive theory of reality or expound some refreshingly new epistemological principle. We are staring here at the riddle eternal, the nature of reality, a topic of speculation which has provided at least three thousand years of contradictions as philosophers have attempted to race undisputed across the quicksands of interpretation. When Fritz Perls (the father of Gestalt method) exclaimed, "everything is projection," he may not actually have meant it in the same manner as that oft-quoted statement of skepticism of Descartes, "I think therefore I am." Modern psychology has not provided any solution to the feud between the Thomistic realist and the Modernist skeptics. But with the discovery of this element of projection, our knowledge and understanding about the manner and nature of perception has been vastly altered in the recent past. The consequence of this insight into ways perception works may have its greatest impact in the years to come especially in the field of education and communication.


How are projections made? Mahoney provides us with a useful charting of its cause:

  1. From the beginning our need for love, self-affirmation, self-realisation, feeds the psychic process of projections and contributes to the trajectory they take. We have already seen how our unfavourable ones fall at some remove from ourselves and our immediate circle while the favourable ones are close at hand, in effect becoming extensions of ourselves. They identify clearly to our status and interest-circle, and that with which our desires and aims are aligned.
  2. Consistently, our projection-carriers actually do possess something of the property we project. However slight, there is a hook in them or it corresponding to that which is projected. It follows naturally, of course, that our intimates are presumed to radiate what we value too: consideration, sincerity, honesty, tact, wit, talent, warmth, the majority of us assume that this roster of virtues fairly tallies with the facts about ourselves, and our immediate circle represents in a real sense the extension of ourselves and that with which we are identified. Conversely, what is negative is never admitted to be nearby, let alone located within us; first and something-for-nothing, bigotry and prejudice – in other words the flaws little and great pitting the face of perfection – are positively the evils they, some distance removed from us and ours, are known to possess, just as our enemies in wartime are "known" to the source of all offense.


The above illustrates the vicious circle which inevitably occurs whenever we are caught in a shadow projection. A projection invariably blurs our own view of the other person. Even when the projected qualities happen to be real qualities of the other person, the affect reaction which marks the projection points to the affect-toned complex in us which blurs our vision and interferes with our capacity to see objectively and relate humanly. When a shadow projection occurs we are not able to differentiate between the actuality of the other person and our own complexes. We cannot tell fact from fancy. We cannot see where we begin and he ends. We cannot see him; neither can we see ourselves.


A particular quality that I observe in others and which always sparks off immediate feelings of irritation and anger, is that of self-righteousness. I seem to be able to mark off the self-righteous characters in the working place, my family and the community. It never occurred to me why this particular quality would provoke in me uniquely intense emotions. It was a quality that I did not merely dislike, I loathed it, despised it and even treated it as the root of all evil. Even as I began to take a closer look at my reaction, I began to realise that I too was being self-righteous by my very conscious act of labeling others as such. It was then that I realise that this was the quality that I especially loath in myself, I had renounced it but had not eliminated it. To ease my own conscious I had projected it onto others; thus veiled in my own blindness I had become what I’ve blamed others for, self-righteous.


One of the longest projections I had experienced was that with my father. My father, being a lecturer and former school-teacher, had always emphasised strict discipline in the home. There were many occasions in which I felt deep psychological pain for the hurts I received from him, often thinking his methods to be unreasonable, his standards demanding and his nature over-exacting. He was never satisfied with anything I did. If I got a string of A’s in school, it was always, ‘You can do better.’ There were even times as a teenager and in a fit of blinding anger when I felt the urge of to kill him. This may seem shocking. But these were the times I felt that I was really pushed into a corner without any room to maneuver whilst the oxygen was gradually sucked out from the surrounding space. Even when I entered university and began working, my relationship with my father never really saw any remarkable improvement. Ours was a tense and distant relationship. I spoke only when I needed to and couldn’t come round to sharing anything personal with him. There were many occasions, when I would see him in my dreams, stern and unreasonable as usual. I would wake up angrily screaming with frustration for I knew I could never really vent my anger on him. Although I had begun my own private studies into psychology, the projection mechanism and dream-work, the interpretation and meaning of these dreams evaded me. Perhaps I did not want the answer, that my ‘father,’ symbolic of tyranny and unreasonableness, had not really been that external after all. It took much work to begin seeing the same patterns of wanting to control and manipulate decisions of others occurring in my own actions. My ‘father’ was really in me, although I consciously swore that I would never be like him. I would often feel a great deal of irritation when others compared me to my father. I did not want to be my father’s son. But I was my father’s son – I shared his same interest in many things, music, psychology, scholarly studies, relating with other people (ironically we were not able to relate that well in the house) as well as sharing some of his weaknesses. This image of the ‘shadow-father’ has also been projected onto male superiors (there is also some element of transference involved here). I would often find much difficulty in talking and sharing with them, often preferring to trust a female confidante. Accusations that others are manipulative and controlling are actually an indictment of my own shadow.


Related to this issue of projection is what Wilkie Au describes as the ‘tyranny of the should.’ This ‘tyranny of the should’ emerges as a result of the person holding up before his own soul his image of perfection and unconsciously telling himself: "This is how you should act." You should be able to endure everything, to understand everything, to like everybody, to be always productive, you should never fail. The ‘tyranny of the should’ has a direct connection with projection when those driven by this tyranny of their inner dictates experience these expectations as coming from others. In some cases, these expectations may in fact originate from others in the environment who impose their demands for perfection onto others; however, when no one in the person’s present or past environment can be identified as the source of these demands, the person may be projecting. I acknowledge that I have fallen into this neurotic cycle of projecting my own perfectionism and unreasonable expectations on my superiors at the working place. Instead of assuming responsibility for my own unreasonable standards, I blamed my superiors for exacting the same from me. The shadow of my ‘shoulds’ was being projected on the firm and its partners until I began to recognise that this unhealthy pattern was originating from myself. In many ways, I continue to detect this pattern in myself and in the manner I relate to other members of this community. In religious life (I would add seminary life), God and superiors and even peers are prime suspects for neurotic personalities who are unaware of the overexacting demands of perfectionism originating in the self ad who are searching for a source of these demands outside themselves. Unfortunately, the neurotic would also be driven to act inappropriately to his projection. He may either swallow the self through a compliance that is childish and self-deprecating or try to salvage the self through a rebellion that is adolescent and self-defeating.


We have already noted in the previous chapter how some measure of our projections can be gauged by the amount of emotion we register. Not only the shadow can be detected in this way but our positive qualities as well. Dreams are also one’s number one ally for seeing behind projections into relationships, situations, conflicts and problems and besides, they are ruthless in puncturing our illusions.



Dreams – Window to the Unconscious

For Jung, as for Freud, dreams are the clearest expression of the unconscious mind. Dreams, to him, are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche – they show us the unvarnished natural truth. By reflecting on our dreams we are reflecting on our basic nature. For him, dreams are an indispensable tool for self-knowledge. The important dreams (as distinguished from the less useful dreams that are concerned with the day’s preoccupation and shed little light on the deeper aspects of the dreamer’s psyche) occur when they are disturbances and dislocations in the unconscious, often brought on by the ego’s failure to deal satisfactorily with the external world. For Jung, dream symbols, or any other symbols for that matter, are attempts to individuate the anima, persona, shadow, and other archetypes and to unify them into a harmonious, balanced whole. Dreams are messages to be read and guides to be followed. Looking at them in another way, dreams are compensatory; they try to compensate for the neglected, and consequently undifferentiated, aspects of the psyche, and thereby attempt to bring about a balance that is lacking. Communication is the prime purpose of the dream; its goal is to achieve psychic equilibrium through the principle of compensation. However, as a natural phenomenon occurring spontaneously, the dream cannot be produced by an act of will or intellect nor influenced by consciousness to tell a different story than it does.


It is hard to get in touch with the shadow because it is part of the unknown self. But when the rational mind or the ego is off guard during sleep, and our psychological defenses are down, the contents of the unconscious, can be manifested in dreams. Occasionally these night time videos of the mind will be about the shadow side of our personalities. As was mentioned earlier, the shadow will be symbolised by a figure of the same sex as ourselves whom we fear, dislike or react to as an inferior person. Sometimes the carrier of the shadow will be someone we know in real life; at other times he is represented as a stranger. In a way we cannot generalise about shadow symbolism in dreams. But in dreams, too, shadow is most like what it is: hidden, unknown, strange to us, and sometimes frightening, because its natural to fear what we do not know. In my own experience, shadow in dreams may be monstrous in some way, or perhaps a person unknown to me or disliked by me. I have encountered the shadow in darkness of night, werewolves, teachers and father figures, people who are featureless, or groups of people all alike and yet foreign to me. Jung did not believe in using a fixed symbolism or dream-book approach to the interpretation of dreams. So much depends upon the individual circumstances and the condition of the dreamer’s mind. The age of the dreamer and his sex and race, for example, must be taken into account when analysing a particular dream element. The same element may have different meanings for different people, as well as different meanings for the same person at different times. Jung preferred to keep an open mind about the meaning of a dream; he did not try to force it into a preconceived theoretical mold.


I used to be an avid fan of horror movies as a child. There was a sick pleasure in being frightened but the aftermath was always to be reckoned with. My parents would always threaten to disallow my watching horror movies if I were to complain afterwards that I had nightmares or that I needed to sleep with the lights on. But parents never learn, do they. Each time I was allowed to watch after having made the same promise, my nightmares would come alive. Inspiration of monsters in my dreams actually came from the movies. Was I just remembering some particular episode of a movie or was it something deeper and more sinister? The most frightful character of my nightmares was the werewolf, it was actually my brother. The recurring dream would always be the same. I share the same bedroom with my brother (in both my dreams and in reality). He would turn into a werewolf in the middle of the night. But I would be prepared for him. Anticipating the transformation, I had already sneaked downstairs to take the large vegetable knife from the kitchen cabinet. When my brother, the werewolf, came stalking for me, I would be ready for him – he would usually end up in small chopped up pieces, only to be resurrected the following night. I had always thought that this dream confirmed my feelings for my brother, whom I thought a bully. But after having analysed it in the light of Jung’s theories, it would appear that the werewolf, and my dream brother, had actually been me. Could not the werewolf represent the primordial and instinctive nature of my soul, with hate and anger at its core? I had already shared my inability to express anger healthily as a child, often repressing these negative feelings for fear of moral censure or even retaliation from the stronger. The transformation of man to werewolf also may have indicated my innate fear that I was capable of transforming into a monster without warning and without any control on my part. The vegetable knife is also another shadow symbol (I’m avoiding Freudian associations) – perhaps, representing my capacity to murder and kill in cold blood. It could also mean that my ego was trying to destroy the ‘werewolf’ within.


In dreams the shadow evokes strong emotions, for the inferiorities constituting the shadow are of an emotional nature. At the beginning, its autonomous appearance is matched by the obsessiveness, or rather possessiveness, of the inferiorities in the dreamer’s character and personality. With increasing insight and persistence the shadow yields to the dreamer’s awareness and if development warrants, the shadow too "develops" through transformation. When I was first learning how to drive, I began to have series of terrifying dreams concerning automobile accidents. I saw myself driving along a familiar road which always turned off into an unknown stretch which was winding up a hill (very much like the roads leading to Genting or Cameron Highlands). My dream would usually conclude in me taking a crash down the hill. The obvious conclusion that I came to was that the dream was telling me about my fear of driving on the open roads. But that was too obvious. It had to be something more. These dreams began when I was in the midst of transition. I had just finished Form Six and was unsure of my future. Decisions regarding the university course had to be made. It was a critical moment of my life when I felt I had lost direction. That was the clue I needed. When I finally settled into university and commenced with my study programme, I had one final dream of the car ride. But instead of ending with a car crash, I reached my appointed destination. An equilibrium had been reached with my shadow.

It must be remembered that a dream always point to an unconscious situation. It is complementary and reveals that which is not sufficiently within the field of our awareness. A dream will not restate a situation which the dreamer already sees adequately and correctly. Where there is doubt in the conscious mind a dream may help to resolve the doubt by reiteration, but whenever a dream repeats something of which we feel utterly convinced, a challenge is thereby raised by the unconscious; our projections are held up to us. Jung described the dream as the theatre of the mind, ‘where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience and critic.’

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