Over the years I have attended numerous workshops with Jeremy Taylor, a Jungian psychologist who specializes in dreamwork. The fascinating thing about Jeremy’s view on dream interpretation is that, in his view, all dreams are “big” dreams:
- All dreams come in the service of health and wholeness
- All dreams are like onions and every layer has its own relevant meaning
- All dreams reveal their meaning as we are ready to hear its message
But, as most people do, you might ask what about nightmares? How do they come in the service of “health and wholeness?” Well in Jeremy’s view the scary aspect of a nightmare is simply there to tell the dreamer that he/she has been missing the point in less dramatic dreams. It is past time to wake up and hear what it is the dream so urgently wants to convey. For example consider the classic nightmare: A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens. Scary enough to shake the old grump, Scrooge, into his senses so that, he can—at last—see what is truly important in his life and in the community life of the nineteenth century. It is as relevant today—perhaps more so—as it was in 1843.
I have ,for as far back in my adult life as I can recount, watched a version—almost always the Alastair Sims one– of the Charles Dickens’ story on Christmas eve—or closely there abouts. I never tire of it. I am always deeply moved—almost always to tears. For all the years that I had kids at home I made them sit through it with me—they’ll tell you the same thing only less sympathetically. It is as close to the essence of spirituality as I can possibly imagine. And now on the eve of an American presidency that could easily tear down every hint of a just, sustaining or sustainable government in the world’s largest economy; a presidency that comes with a frightening capability to wage nuclear war, I turn to the Dickens’ nightmarish/redemptive story A Christmas Carol for both solace and some inspiration about what I can possibly do about the horrific news from south of the 49.
First the inspiration: I find the character that Dickens presents in Scrooge to be a profound insight into the heart and soul of the 1%; the miserly, me first, me only, spiteful to nearly all others 1% who simply cannot relate to nor understand others.
“Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”
Charles Dickens shows Scrooge having to learn the lesson of the spirit of Christmas, facing the reality of his own callous attitude to others, and reforming himself as a compassionate human being. The reader is shown his harshness in the office, where he will not allow Bob Cratchit enough coal to warm his work cubicle and begrudges his employee a day off for Christmas, even claiming that his clerk is exploiting him. In the scene from the past at Fezziwig’s warehouse, Scrooge becomes aware of the actions of a conscientious, caring employer and feels his first twinge of conscience.
Even the warning from the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley–a ghost obsessed with his missed opportunities to do good while he was alive—only rattled the miserly Scrooge all the more: “Business!” cried (Marley), wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Scrooge was frightened but not moved to change.
Things begin to change as a second ghost takes Scrooge to see some of the personal past he has missed with his business is all that matters attitude. He sees his former fiancée, Alice, as she regretfully states openly the rift that has grown between them as he has become wholly absorbed with business. “Already, as a man in the prime of life, Scrooge had begun reflect the choices he was making…His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of later years, but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.” Love that had once flourished between them had, very obviously, been replaced by a “golden Idol.” Scrooge defends his new values saying he is simply dealing in the world as it is, “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” Noting that Scrooge is a very different person from the young man who once loved her, Alice releases Scrooge from his commitment to her remarking further that when it was made “…you were another man.”—now Scrooge has a changed nature with entirely different views of what is valuable.
Three ghosts come and go before Scrooge wakes up to a whole new perception of what life is about. A kinder, gentler, more generous, understanding Scrooge appears.
A much happier Scrooge appears, “’I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. ‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world…’”
“He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness…He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”
The story is as close to the essence of spirituality as I can possibly imagine! Whether or not Scrooge’s ordeal resulted in actions that changed the world or greatly benefited others, Scrooge’s relation to others and to life changed through the insights he gained in his nightmarish encounter with the ghosts of Christmas. The generous of spirit and pocketbook Scrooge is a much happier person, “His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him.” I have a really deep conviction that over the next 4 years we will need to draw on that perception of Scrooge’s: what we do to be good, kind, caring for other people and the other creatures of our Earth is going to have to be “quite enough for” (ourselves). It seems very likely that for those who care about a just and sustainable world the next four years are going to be little victories and big defeats. Trump was bad enough but the cabinet that he is appointing is a nightmare to rival Scrooge’s ghosts. The next four years could easily justify an angry, most unhappy response, but I think the challenge will be to transform that response to a deep-seated joy in learning to love and care for and identify the value in all those democratic, social justice, environmental values/issues that we once assumed to be universally accepted. We must reawaken the dream of the common good, of democracy’s highest calling in ourselves and for our societies. And doing that good work will have to be “quite enough” of itself, or we will burn ourselves out; we will become consumed by our anger that things are going so far astray.
And there is yet another argument for this “quite enough” attitude. It seems to me that protests, confrontations will be needed to emphasize the values we do stand for, but we will need to make the case with the lives we live, what we do, comes from an experience of self or selflessness that is good of itself; that to care for our Earth and its creatures is a better/happier way than hate and avarice. The thing I have noticed about Trump and his adherents is they don’t look very happy. While some have tried to label Trump’s supporters as the working poor, I’ve seen statistics that the average annual wage of Trump supporters is almost $70,000—now that is not grinding poverty. These people maybe betrayed and neglected but they are not the working poor and if they are unhappy it has to have something to do with the inability to understand or visualize the most elementary conditions for happiness—happiness that was obvious to Alice and only after a traumatic encounter with ghosts with Scrooge.
It is not so difficult for me to understand the feeling of Trump supporters that their America has been taken away from them and they want it back. There does not seem to be any understanding that the grasping and greed are actually the source of their unhappiness rather than an imagined poverty or shortage of spending money.
What, I wonder, would happen if these Trump supporters saw, as Scrooge eventually did, that joy flows from generosity of spirit rather than grasping for material wealth? As Scrooge learned joy, the kind of joy he didn’t even know how to look for, is about an expanded/inclusive sense of self. It comes from within rather than without. It is, perhaps, the only key that could unlock the hate and avarice that now seems to have such a devastating grip on the American psyche. We could, it seems, nightmare our way to a better world.