FCRP: A Place for Dreamers and Friends of Jung

or When Dreamers Dream

by Gary Soulsman

A Quaker acquaintance, who attends to his dreams for what bubbles in the night, like a liquid and illuminating light, recently told me a dream that he felt important - about approaching a deep and mysterious lake and making a mighty cast with a fishing rod.

For this Friend, nighttime symbols can be leadings to wisdom and he was intrigued that in this dream he caught a terrier instead of a fish. As he brought the dog to land, he could see a hook lodged in its neck.

The dreamer winced and felt chastened, knowing the terrier was in pain. The dreamer was also grateful that another man (a tender aspect of himself?) stepped forward to care for the animal.

Self-exploration is a task the dreamer takes seriously and we both know when wading into hidden aspects of the dreaming self one never knows what we will discover: It might be a wounded part of our nature -- and this is how the dreamer looked at the image of the hooked and injured dog, once hidden, now pulled into the light.

Maybe this phase of my journey is about learning to love a wounded part of me,” said the Friend who in the same conversation told me he is gay.

It was a delicate moment of sharing, one I was grateful to receive and I know that it hasn’t been easy for him to find a partner or always feel self-acceptance.

I said that as he is more loving to his wounded terrier-self that it just might become “man’s best friend.” He smiled and agreed.

Quakers, who are savvy about dreams, such as the folks who attend the annual Memorial Day Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology in Annville, Pa., know that we work with our dreams to savor the guidance they bring. A new awareness, delivered in this way, can change how we live and bring a sense of wholeness.

As someone raised as a Southern Baptist and unaware of the rich legacy of the Society of Friends until 20 years ago, I’ve been a bit slow in fully appreciating how welcoming so many Quakers are to receiving the wisdom of dreams and the insights of psychology. But like a good old dog I’ve now caught the scent of how things are.

It was helpful to discover the blog of Anthony Manousos who has written as LA Quaker. In February 2011 he wrote about how much dreams have meant to him and how many contemporary Quakers believe that divine leadings can come through dreams.

Manousos traces this interest all the way back to George Fox, who Quakers revere as the inspired founder of the Society of Friends. Aware that some dreams rehash the business of the day and others could be full of anxiety and fear, Fox observed that still other dreams could lead one to a higher sense of purpose and be a source of enlightened wisdom.

Fox himself recorded such an enlightening dream in his journal. In the dream Fox “went underground and found people in vaults and graves and he liberated them,” writes Manousos. “He did this repeatedly until he went to a very deep place in which he found a beautiful woman in white guarding a treasure. This woman told him that he was not to touch the treasure.”

Manousos suggests that this may be both an inner and outer wealth. On the one hand, “through the practice of silent worship, he (Fox) not only found liberation for himself, but also for others,” writes Manousos. “But the dream suggests that there is a deeper dimension to the spiritual life that is beyond words.”

In the 20th century, depth psychologists, such as Carl Jung, would call this awareness, having a sense of the “numinous,” or the mysterious and trembling divinity in life. No wonder modern Quakers have been drawn to Jung, who felt the sacred dimension was often revealed in dreams.

For more than 70 years this strain of Quakerism has been keenly felt at the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology. In the 20 years I have attended this remarkable weekend it’s been common for people to stand at Meeting for Worship and share insights from their dreams - images and revelations that seem meant for all. And during the long weekend, there is usually a small group, among the several offered, where people share dreams.

The conference was begun by Elined Kotschnig, a Quaker living in Switzerland between World War I and II.  It was Kotschnig who urged Friends to compare their understanding of divine guidance with what psychoanalysts, such as Jung, were learning about the soul through helping people with their dreams and everyday issues.

I’ve learned this from Janelle Stanley, a New York City resident, who helps plan the conference on religion and psychology today. A graduate of Union Theological Institute, she wrote a paper, while earning her doctorate, tracing the interest among Quakers on pastoral care.

Stanley writes that from the first meeting that Kotschnig had with Jung she could sense a strong spiritual connection between the guiding principles of Quakerism and Jungian psychology. Jung spoke of the psyche as under girded by an autonomous reality that gives impetus towards wholeness and integration..

Jung’s idea is similar to Quaker leadings of Light, according to Stanley, and at FCRP there is a history of Jungian analysts sharing the intimations of guidance they’ve witnessed in clients.

It’s hardly a surprise that this May’s speaker is Donald Kalsched, a Jungian analyst who will share insights on what early trauma does to a child and the archetypal defense patterns that arise during overwhelming pain. He’ll draw from his new book, published this year, called “Trauma and the Soul: A Psycho-Spiritual Approach to Human Development and Its Interruption.”

Kalsched has put forth a theory called “archetypal self-care systems,” which he likens it to an auto-immune system that fights disease. These systems can be miraculous in their self-protection, encapsulating a hurting child in a magical world of enchantment where he finds solace and preservation. But by calling for protection in this way, the enchanted world becomes entrapment.

For both Jungians and Quakers, Kalsched’s theory has implications. It suggests that the psyche is not only impelled towards integration and individuation -- or calling one to the Light. Much of the time, in deeply traumatized people, the psyche’s impulse is to weave a defense, like the web of enchantment in fairy tales.

For a wounded adult, who thinks he would like to draw closer to others, approaching a felt sense of what it was like to be vulnerable as a child will re-ignite what it was like to be attacked in his family of origin.

Let’s imagine a very young child whose dependency needs are attacked or ignored by overburdened parents,” Kalsched told interviewer Ann Malone in 2003. “Pretty soon, the child internalizes the parental attitude toward its own neediness and starts to attack itself as soon as its dependent need is felt.

Such children become self-sufficient too early....(and) use their own aggression internally to defend against this need.”

Many of us have seen this, if not in ourselves, then in others we’ve wanted to know better. But for the early trauma victim, opening to others can equal re-traumatization.

All of which has led Kalsched to speak of the autonomous Self “as both light and dark,” open and protective, integrative and prosecutorial.

And while complex, the psyche’s divided nature is miraculous, he says, in that it allows a person to survive, in the face of immense suffering.

It also raises a question: Are those of us who’ve lived with intense early trauma, blessed by God just to be alive, even with our divided self?

This May, in giving four talks on his ideas at Lebanon Valley College, Kalsched will share his latest insights on that question. In the past, he’s pointed out that we are all suspended between two worlds, one material and spiritual. But trauma survivors, by their need for a protective and enchanted interior, typically have direct access to a rich spiritual world.

The danger is getting caught in this enchanted place, though with recovery from the isolation that trauma engenders, a traveler may find himself in the company of others with magical dreams to share. Here’s to their telling wherever - and whenever - it occurs.

(c) 2013, posted with the permission of Gary Soulsman