Doing dreamwork—speaking with people one on one in a therapeutic way about their dreams, attempting to create a healing, transformative process for a fellow human–there’s a lingering paradox for me. On one hand, I’ve been taught, and truly believe, that at my best, I am merely holding space for the other to discover the strength and inner guidance their dreams provide for them to heal and grow. It’s something I love about dreams—no one can ever understand your dream better than you. On the other hand, I know that because of my experience with dreams and studying I’ve done, I do have a place of authority within the dream, and can frame dreams in a powerful way to trigger a certain kind of healing process or inner perspective. Further, I know how powerful it can be when the individual fully trusts the teacher and submits themselves to them, and how much healing and growth can come about when that submission is met with love and tenderness.
So which one is it? How do I walk the line of leaning in and holding space? The paradox feels tied to questions of transference and projection that have plagued me since I began my work. Transference was a term coined by Freud naming basically the feelings that the “patient” had toward the “psychoanalyst”. The underlying assumption for Freud, of course, is that an analyst should act as precisely that—someone conducting an analysis–observing the ‘subject’ and collecting data and reporting it back. Transference was the term he used for the feelings that the patient had towards him. As was his tendency generally, he traced this ‘transference’ the patient had towards him back to their childhood experiences and relationships.
I’ve always been dissatisfied the idea that I should create a black curtain between myself and my clients, and simply analyze in an abstract way any feelings they had about me, as if we didn’t have a relationship. Namely, this is because more than anything else, I am asking my clients to believe that they will heal if they allow themselves to feel their feelings in the moment. How can I then pretend that I don’t have any? At the same time, of course, I am supposed to be making space for the other to heal, right? Aren’t they specifically paying me so that they don’t have to worry about who I am? Navigating client relationships has been difficult for me at times and for these various reasons.
These questions of how I am ‘supposed’ to manage the relationship I have with my clients, or people that I do healing work with are always with me, as I feel they should be. This is because ultimately, in putting myself out there as someone who wants to engage in a healing process with another, there is a lot of power that will be exchanged in that relationship. For, if you are able, through whatever modality, to assist in another’s healing, it’s quite natural for that person to project power and leadership onto you, and to idealize you. In spiritual contexts, the projection of being ‘super human’, or even ‘divine’ can arise. This can lead them to adore you or despise you. Some argue that this projection as vital—that the individual must see you as above themselves to succeed in a healing process. I’m not so sure. Certainly, because I have given myself over fully to various spiritual teachers, I know how powerful it can be. But I have also experienced how it can be damaging and limiting. After having witnessed a teacher that I assumed to be super human appear quite human indeed, I found myself in a tailspin. So much of the growth and transformation I’d experienced being his student now felt tainted somehow, and I didn’t know what to believe. I realized that instead of having to truly grapple with that murky swamp that is developing a deep self-trust—I simply trusted my teacher, which was much easier, since his flaws were much more obscured to me than my own flaws were to myself. In doing so, much of my ego was wiped clean, and I truly did heal and grow. But when I saw that he was as flawed as I could be, it was hard to know how to move forward, and I felt deeply confused about who I really was.
Because of these harms I’ve experienced and witnessed, it’s questionable to me when spiritual teachers and leaders argue that it is necessary for projections or transference to be maintained in order for individuals to heal. Especially when that conviction is perpetuating an economic model that is only nourishing those who are bathing in those divine projections. In a way, though, debating whether it is necessary or not is irrelevant, because the fact is, it’s present. And so, with all things that simply are, I feel like the first step is just to recognize it, and try to develop strategies to maximize the healing potential of any spiritual student-teacher interaction while mitigating any harms.
As far as spiritual teachers and leaders go, there is currently an imbalance between walking alongside those who seek healing and placing themselves above. Meaning, there are a lot more spiritual teachers and gurus out there that not only accept these projections but cultivate them, and this imbalance is causing considerable harm and abuse within the exact communities that vulnerable individuals seek out for refuge and healing.
In just the past 7 years of my own individual spiritual journeying and learning, I’ve come across numerous teachers and leaders who not only took on projections of super-human divinity but then went on to abuse them—either by stealing and hording their devotee’s resources, abusing individuals physically, verbally, or sexually, and/or manipulating individuals to remain in the state of loyalty, admiration, and worship of that individual for their own egoistic or materialistic gain.
This is not to say that whenever these things happen pure evil has occurred and the teachers and leaders in question should be roundly condemned and ostracized. Truly, it’s just to say that this is common, quite similar to the way many relationships unfold in society, and certainly there have been countless individuals who have been healed and transformed quite profoundly by teachers who have also abused their power. Me included.
But just because something is natural and common among humans doesn’t mean we can’t do better. I feel there is a new balance to be found, a new way. As someone who wishes to support the healing and growth of individuals and humanity in whatever way I can, I feel like it’s important to seek out and try to model a way of spiritual healing that is against further harm. I actually quite firmly believe in the genuine good intentions of so many healing warriors on this path of determining a new way of healing for the people, of connecting with spirit, of creating community. I honor those who struggle and speak for a new way of understanding processes of the mind, who work to uplift the diversity of individuals psychology rather than attempting to conform individuals into a particular way of being. But as the old cliché goes, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. It’s not enough to have our hearts in the right places. Our bodies and our energies and our minds have to be there too. And then we have to do the work.
As someone who identifies as a healer, I want to figure out how to truly hold myself accountable. I feel a little lost in terms of finding models for myself. All I really feel right now is that growth is needed beyond these old super-imposed power structures that bind us. It’s time to develop a new way of defining the roles of teacher/student within a healing, spiritual context that aren’t based solely on authority, submission, and power.
I wish I could say I’ve figured out what these newly defined roles should be and how to maneuver them gracefully. All I can say is, I’m working on it. My breadcrumbs now are the things I’m drawn to as I continue to seek out teachers for myself. I look for teachers that are open and vulnerable about their own healing process, transparent about their plans and desires, and model humility and curiosity as they walk their path. I look for teachers who are learners. I’m no longer impressed by teachers who appear to have it all figured out, are convinced their way is the best or only way to heal, and/or demand to be respected and submitted to without taking the time to honor and lift up those around them.
And so, I try to model myself after what I seek and those teachers I have found that embody these qualities. I struggle the most with humility. I feel more committed than ever to this effort, and more daunted as I continually, session after session, see how my ego wants to direct the other person’s process, prod them where I feel they ‘should’ go, or feel disappointed or hurt if they ‘don’t get it’. It’s a constant struggle for me to come back to my own humility. Luckily I have been given the amazing gift of using dreams as a healing modality. Since their wisdom is so beyond anything a human could come up with, they succeed daily in turning me on my ass and reminding me how deeply human and shortsighted I can often be.
Vulnerability and transparency are difficult too. It’s hard to know how much to share and when. Even in writing this, I feel the ways I haven’t been totally vulnerable in this post. Yes, there is more of my story, of this story that I could share. But I’m not ready to talk about the ways I was harmed yet. They are just my dirty laundry. Maybe someday I will. But I don’t feel ready for it yet. That’s as honest as I can be right now.
I am motivated not merely by the desire to watch individuals heal, although I think that is desperately needed and always a miracle. But on a deeper level, I know that if humanity is going to survive the environmental catastrophes looming ahead, we are going to need to rely and support one another on a scale that we haven’t experienced in America in generations. This is why I feel like it is so necessary now for us to release our projections on one another, and quit trying to make sense of our world by identifying the heroes and the villains, the righteous gurus and the spiritually corrupt. We are all heroes and we are all villains, we have all loved well and then failed to do so. There are no divine beings among us except each and every one of us, and until we learn to recognize this and live like it is really true we will continue to barrel head first off this cliff.
At the same moment I must remember that had I not trusted my teacher so absolutely when I began my studies with him and been open to what he had to teach me, I would have never experienced the amount of healing and growth that I did. In that acknowledgement, it’s important to note that we don’t need to sacrifice trust, openness, and respect for the teacher’s experience as we look to alter the problematic power dynamic that so often characterizes these relationships.
The real truth is, we are all healers, and we are all teachers. We are all capable of showing up when we are needed, of being the right shoulder at the right time, of providing the right embrace at the right moment, of offering right words to the right person. Not only are we capable of it, but the time has come for us live as if these abilities come naturally to us. Because they do. Humans do naturally know how to heal one another, and maybe even more importantly, the right way to heal themselves. When we can relax and allow that to flow through us every once and awhile, amazing things can happen. The time has come for us to stop feeling ashamed if there was ever a teacher or healer or mentor or parent or lover along the way that made us feel anything other than that this was true, or that we needed them in order to be whole. Find teachers that remind you of the truths that already lived in your bones. Find the teachers that desperately want you to be you, whoever that is. Find the teachers that remind you the secrets to your own glory are truly that—secrets that are only really known in those private conversations between you and your connection to the source. Find the teachers that listen when you tell them that they have gone too far. Most of all, learn to be that kind of teacher to yourself. Some might even say your dreams are a direct line 😉
Dream well sweet ones,