Posted inHenry's Messages, Koans

Light and Dark: Koans and Dreams, Part 4 of 4

July 25, 2015

Whatever is the way to wholeness, to healing, to true helpfulness for ourselves and others, it surely cannot ignore suffering, any more than it can ignore illumination by unnameable love.


Click to read Light and Dark: Koans and Zen Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Is There a Difference?

The way I see it now, that experience could not have happened, or would have taken much longer to happen, had I not done the emotional healing of the dreamwork. The transformative power of meditation has a profound ally in our dreams. They each work different defences, in different ways, until we give up and allow greater forces to work through us. Instead of knowing, we learn to not-know. Instead of being the hero of our own story, we become a servant, a helper, in a greater story.

Archetypal Dreamwork has helped me in my emotional and relational life. My marriage has been transformed into a field of love, of welcome challenges. Increasingly the archetypes, animus and anima, direct my actions, rather than my own limited perspective. But it also helped me in my Zen training. It was basically a psychological and emotional block that I came up against in the course of that training, and by turning aside just a little, to dreamwork, I was able to make much faster “progress” in Zen. It makes sense to me. Why should we necessarily turn our backs on other kinds of help, just because we are engaged in one certain kind?

Coming back to those two early experiences at the age of 19, one of cosmic liberation, the other of existential despair, perhaps they were less important in themselves than as gateways into two parallel journeys, that in the end are only one journey: of the soul’s healing and awakening. We all know both rapture and despair: the first may drop us into a vast love; while the second asks us to face our own deepest wounds. It is useless to ignore either..

Whatever is the way to wholeness, to healing, to true helpfulness for ourselves and others, it surely cannot ignore suffering, any more than it can ignore illumination by unnameable love.

Another way of looking at both koan and dream work is that our life is a story. We begin with one story of ourselves: our birth, childhood, adulthood, work, relationships. When we enter Zen training, we submit to another order of story in which we are deluded beings struggling to find our way in a universe that we understand quite wrongly. We are asleep. Gradually we awaken from the dream of “our life” into a liberation without any story. Only then can each moment arise fully and freely.

Comparably in dream work, we surrender to another order of narrative. We are no longer heroes in our own stories. Instead we are errant creatures lost from our true home, gradually being coaxed back into the fold. Then the “story” of the old self is given up. We die to that self, primarily by opening to the feelings our dreams are asking us to experience. We pass through the keyhole of feeling, of woundedness, of trauma, into a new story, one we could never imagine, an epic in which we have only a bit part, but that is enough.

Just as Zen opens up the possibility of dropping into timeless, spaceless reality, so dreamwork can open us to a vast wound. It’s as if there’s a psychological equivalent to spiritual experience, a place of infinite wounding in which we find infinite support. In the very heart of the feelings against which we protect ourselves, we find the love we seek, and our healing is found exactly where we’d last choose to look for it: right in the heart of the pain we thought we were trying to get away from.

Written by Henry Shukman and originally published in Spring Journal, Vol 89, Spring 2013


Image Credit: Lotus Night, by VY CC0 Public Domain, from
Featured Image Credit: Alien Planet, by ChadoNihi, CC0 Public Domain, from

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