The Art of Sacrifice

Now the first thing you might notice is that this poster is not the work of a professional graphic artist, or even an experienced amateur. In keeping with the discussion about not being afraid to venture into the unknown world of art to pursue the gifts that art has to offer, I present to you the first unveiling of "Beyond These Shores"1. At the suggestion of my creativity teacher, I painted my first poster in acrylics as a way of exploring the full meaning of the significant transformational dream I experienced, detailed in the companion narrative, The Storm.

In the journaling or retelling of dreams, it is easy to overlook significant symbolic material. By returning to the dream to revisualize or "amplify" it, one can gather the full richness of its message. In the conscious world we experience unique turning points, significant rituals or rites of passage, such as the first date, a first job, the first kiss or a first marriage. As in the world above, when the unconscious delivers pivotal dreams such as this one, and they are recognized and acted on, it is likely that they will occur only once in our lives. It is important to journal and explore these dreams to gather and savour all the nourishment that they have to offer.

Significant dreams contain archetypes, inherited psychological structures whose instinctual images are universal to the human experience. Archetypes work together within these potentially life-changing dreams to convey an important story to the dreamer.2 In the dream of The Storm the dream ego who has the role of hero finds that his ship, an archetypical representation of his consciousness, is in imminent and grave danger. To save his ship, the hero dives into the ocean, representative of his unconscious, most often perceived as a feminine symbol in a man's psyche. But once in the ocean, the hero cannot survive in his present form and he, personifying the dream ego, dies. His death represents a psychic transformation into a dolphin, a creature who has adapted to the ocean of the unconscious.

To progress in the life journey, the hero has to be willing to sacrifice the limiting concept of selfhood, his or her ego. The ego performs a vital integrative function within the psyche, harmonizing and adapting all that we know of ourselves into a cohesive whole. The ego insulates the conscious self from dangerous and destructive elements in the unconscious which we may not be able to deal with. But unfortunately, the ego is also very conservative and overly protective, preventing helpful and healing material from emerging from the psychic sea of the unconsciousness. The ego operates through illusion, maintaining its control by convincing us that it is in charge and that all that it has shown us is all that there is to reality.3 But one has only to ask the question, "Who is the author of the dream?" to realize that the ego does not really have all the answers and that it is ultimately not the one who is in control.

Through the integrative process of producing art, the power of the beneficial parts of my unconscious were stirred and ready to guide me into a new experience of growth. The higher part of the self who is the script writer of the dream, who we could call the "guiding self", presents the dream ego with a choice. He may continue in a path of self-destruction from which his analytical powers, the "light of reason" in the captain's cabin, cannot save him, or he may surrender to the unconscious through the seemingly irrational act of diving into the ocean, sacrificing the ego's limited perceptions of reality for the good of the whole. At some basic level, a realization has emerged from the psyche that in order for it to heal itself, some of the illusions of the ego must be destroyed.

The dream ego as hero sacrifices himself and feels he has died. The dream ego cannot come to terms with the extension of his reality, he feels separated from the body, the rest of the psyche and from his limited conception of the divine. He wakes into the despair of total alienation that is like the touch of hell. The ego, now wakened into consciousness, is not dead but transformed, but he remains in shock and isolation for he is not able to come to terms with a new reality which now extends into what was the unconscious mind. He feels dead because the illusions he has of himself, his concept of self, cannot be reconciled with the new reality he is beginning to experience.

The ego has gone through an extremely traumatic experience, far greater than any nightmare. Unlike a nightmare, part of the feeling of death he is experiencing is actually a new peace and harmony which he cannot consciously recognize. He cannot come to terms with it yet, but at some barely perceived level he has seen the symbol of hope that has emerged deep in the ocean of his unconscious, the triple flowers of new life, and a secret part of him knows that there has been a change for the better.
1. This title comes from the music album by Iona, Beyond These Shores (Leeds, England: Open Sky Records, 1993)
2. Man and His Symbols, ed. Carl G. Jung et al (New York: Dell, 1964), pp. 56-71.
3. Ibid, pp. 72-82.
The Inner Beloved ©2004 David J. Wilson
Updated November 28, 2004
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