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Milky Way

The Intertwining of Dream and Waking Lives

April 2014

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As a part of my psyche, Ralph the Seedy Rug Merchant played the part of a subpersonality that Bill Plotkin – ecopsychologist and founder of Animas Valley Institute, where I did my recent dreamwork intensive – called a Loyal Soldier.

Loyal Soldiers are named for the Japanese soldiers in World War – typically stationed on some remote outpost or sparsely inhabited island – who kept fighting long after the war was over, and refused to believe it was over, even when told by their commanding officers. Their tenacity – which was largely responsible for keeping them alive under harsh and even intolerable conditions for so long – serves as a metaphor for the hold of this particular sub-personality on the psyche, since we are often conditioned to believe that our very lives depend upon the survival strategies they instill in us. Plotkin considers the Loyal Soldier (Soulcraft: Crossing the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003, p. 92):

". . . a courageous, creative, and stubborn entity formed when we needed somewhat drastic measures to survive the realities (sometimes dysfunctional) of childhood. This subpersonality’s primary task was to minimize the occurrence of further injury, whether emotional or physical. The Loyal Soldier’s approach to this task was – and continues to be – to make us small or invisible, to suppress much of our natural exuberance, emotions, desires, and wildness so we might be sufficiently acceptable to our parents (and/or other guardians, siblings, teachers and authority figures . . . The Loyal Soldier’s adamant and accurate understanding is this: that it is better to be suppressed or inauthentic or small than socially isolated or emotionally crushed – or dead."

All these years, Ralph the Seedy Rug Merchant had been protecting me from what he and my ancestors believed would be a diminished existence, suffered in poverty, instability and social ostracism should I fail to heed the ancestral code. His strategy was to diminish me – to keep me smaller than my creative passions wanted me to be – but his motives were noble and pure. I had to honor that, even as I recognized that it was time to inform him: the war is over.

According to Plotkin, the particular form of soul work necessary to release and transmute the Loyal Soldier involves feeling gratitude for the protection that they have provided; convincing them – and yourself – that there is no longer the same need for protection that you experienced as a child; and then giving them a new job that makes better use of their true talents and skills, and that does serve you in the life you have created for yourself since the original wounding that gave birth to the Loyal Soldier in the first place.

Plotkin notes that it helps to have an image of the Loyal Soldier, which often comes in dreams. Ralph the Seedy Rug Merchant may not have been the first embodiment of my Loyal Soldier to appear to me in dreams, but he was the clearest and most recognizable, contacting me at a time when I was ready to release him.

I say this without qualification, since in the conversation that ensued, it soon became apparent to me that Ralph had, in fact, been waiting for me to liberate him from this job, which had in fact, become onerous to him. He was weary of the war, and wanted to go home. The same ancient message that it was his duty to instill and reinforce in me, had made him tired, and kept him smaller than he needed to be in the fulfillment of his own creative destiny in the dream world. Being the fiercely loyal soldier that he was, he could not just abandon his post, but he could – in the conversation that we were having – be freed from his responsibilities.

His existence in the dream world in some sense mirrored mine and was tied to mine in a way that I could only truly recognize after I had granted him his independent existence. As long as he was only a symbolic image of my own psyche, he would be bound to it, as surely as I am bound to myself. Although the archetypal pattern that governed his life was similar to mine, his life was not. Once I was able to make this astounding discovery, the cord between us was cut and we could have an actual relationship – in much the same way that I can have a relationship with another person in this world. I could talk to him, and he could respond in his own voice, telling me things that I couldn’t possibly know about him, and that had no parallel in my own life.

To read the next post in this series, go here.

To read more blog posts, go here.

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