I recently had a dream. At first, I didn’t consider the dream to be significant. But when I woke, I was “instructed” to free associate meaning. This was a dream that intended for me to reflect on my life – open myself to possibilities of change. Change is a universal condition, so I decided to share.
Here’s the dream: I am back in my job as a director for a social service agency. It feels very real. I feel highly competent (as I did at the time), but also isolated (which I didn’t at the time). I can hear people in other areas of the building saying, “Jim price said (this or that guiding principle).” The tone was reverential. I was, however, completely alone — feeling I could be replaced. It didn’t feel like I had anything important left to do, that my work had been completed. A friend walked into my area, and I said: “There are people who think I’m important, but the plan is to replace me.”
I wake and have a flash memory that takes about a second (my experience arrived whole). For this post I will need to unravel the details. My memory is filled with all the associations I had with being replaced while working for the social service agency in my dream.
The first association has to do with impermanence and non-attachment. During the mid stages of my working life, I considered the notion that “I could be replaced” as somewhat essential to an inner sense of freedom. Even though a lot of people relied on me, I wasn’t stuck. On days of frustration, I engaged in a thought experiment as to how the job site might look in 1000 years. In that circumstance, the whole company is erased by time. Bureaucratic and petty details of the job are no longer of any significance. I liked imagining trees having replaced all traces of buildings. Perhaps there were cloud cities, out of view, that lived off the light of the sun.
There was practical value to my feeling of non-attachment. I wasn’t afraid to voice my opinion or stand up for important principles that might affect the clients, staff, and entire company. I recall the two owners trying to corner me, as their director, into adapting their views. I stood by my principles, and recall saying: “I realize that everyone is replaceable.” I hadn’t planned to say it, it just came out — as Carl Jung would say — from a voice in the room. It settled like a turning phrase. As it turned out, my vision gained traction. When I retired, the remaining owner had not forgotten my gentle assertiveness. Never have I been so lavished with praise and thanks, so complemented for elevating clients, staff, owners, and company. I felt extremely humble, listening to echoes of his soul. I suddenly felt like I wasn’t replaceable. The company would not able to renew my unique management style (which was partially shamanic). But I felt I was acting from my Soul’s potential, and that the job had come full circle. I retired because I personally needed to be replaced — to replace my circumstance. I had to honor change.
Next, I was considering the dream in association to a Carl Jung quote: Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering (Psychology and Religion). The quote didn’t quite fit the dream (because I am not neurotic and do not ignore legitimate suffering). I was “urged” to free-associate. I could feel something stagnant or unrealized straining at the periphery of my consciousness. I realized that the word caution fit better than neurosis. Caution is a reasoned resistance to change. Caution often is reasonable – when it prevents blind impulsivity. Caution can be a problem if it blocks growth or potential. Why the caution? An incomplete vision of my current situation — stumbling on the threshold of renewal.
When something unconscious is made conscious we have the opportunity for legitimate suffering. Legitimate suffering is the discomfort of uncompromising mindfulness — the refusal to gloss over ambiguous feelings. The refusal (in this primed moment) to simply count my blessings. The refusal to defend the status quo. The thing about change — whether internal, external, or both — is that you don’t know for sure where it will lead. The human tendency is to hedge your bets with safety nets. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea. But it’s a good idea to give uncomfortable developments a full hearing.
Listening in the dark may seem counter to the standard self-help script: look on the bright side of life. Jung suggests that there are prime opportunities when we should strip away ego-salves and stare ambiguity straight in the face. In what ways might I be re-placed? We are always in the process of growth and renewal. The goal is to align external circumstances with the Soul’s potential.
Later in the day I consider areas of my life where I may be stagnant, where I may not be living with the soul’s courage — the courage to be different, the courage to claim my identity in the light of day, the courage to accept inconvenient change. That’s not meant to diminish my accomplishments. The fact is, in this life, we’re all going to be replaced in all sorts of ways — ultimately in our passing. Another way of saying this is that we have the potential to reincarnate throughout a lifetime and beyond. I know I can be re-placed. At the same time, if we are living out of the core of our life, living the Soul’s journey, our experience is enduring — not replaceable. Aye, that’s the stuff dreams are made of.
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