Today I’d like to tell you a story. I learned it from Jeremy Taylor, my dream work mentor, colleague, and beloved friend. The first time I heard him tell it, I had a huge “aha” experience, which has deepened as I’ve heard him tell it again. At first I thought I’d include his telling of it here, but for the sake of the shorter blog format, I needed to paraphrase it, and do so with his permission. (And with the understanding that the inevitable loss of subtlety is entirely my responsibility.) I urge you to read his much fuller and insightful original version of the story in The Wisdom of Your Dreams, pages 238-246. I hope my imagined version of the story will lead you into the quote that follows and that all of it deepens your understanding of Bright Shadow Projection.
Imagine Michelangelo. His immense creativity. Now imagine that Michelangelo is reborn in the late twentieth century in a city in the United States. His family is comfortably upper-middle class, and his parents love him dearly. His preschool crayon drawings are displayed on the refrigerator, and his parents indulge his many childhood interests by paying for lessons and classes in a variety of subjects. As Michelangelo grows up, his parents convey through constant subtle messages that his art is “cute,” and a thing of his childhood he must leave behind. And because his parents wrap their messages in love, Michelangelo can’t just toss away this misdirection of his calling in an act of rebellion. Rejecting the misdirection feels like rejecting the love. He develops incredible self-discipline to stop his urge to draw until he becomes so disconnected from his calling he has no idea what his true passion is. His discipline leads to success in school, and his parents reward him with praise and encouragement for his academic success.
So our reincarnated Michelangelo goes to college, where he struggles to choose a major because he’s driven every hint of what his truest interests are out of his consciousness. But he settles on a liberal arts major, and then, because it’s the path of least resistance and he has the skills to succeed, he goes to law school. He does well there, and becomes a successful lawyer. But at the same time, he becomes an insightful art critic, able to spot talent in its earliest expression, and he buys from true artists, helping them get on their feet and building his own very valuable collection as the artists become famous. Michelangelo marries, has children. He has every outward sign of success.
Except, he’s plagued by nightmares. His whole adult life, his dreams will come and sound the alarm. Because he’s Michelangelo, with the potential to redeem our cultural projection of the masculine, taking it out of the violent, angry archetype and into the creative, compassionate archetype, through a single sculpture or painting. And he’s not answering his call, not owning his own bright shadow. He sees it with piercing accuracy in others precisely because he has it so strongly himself.
From Jeremy Taylor:
I weave this little story here because I am a dream worker, and for forty-plus years, I have been listening to and working with the dreams of people who might as well be reincarnated Michelangelos. They are people who have been weighed down by the oppressions delivered to them with love and who as a result have failed to become conscious of, or take personal responsibility for, their own unique and wonderful gifts, always finding it so much easier in the short run to “see” them only in their appreciation of others. So many of the dreamers I work with have spent their lives projecting and seeing their own gifts only in others, and being variously exhorted, inspired, and tormented by their dreams as a consequence.
I believe that at some deep level, every human being is a reincarnated Einstein or Michelangelo. We all have unique and extraordinary gifts—gifts that are always ever so much easier to “see” in others than to “own,” taking full responsibility for ourselves. As the Australian artist Rowan Williams says, “An artist is not a special kind of person—every person is a special kind of artist.” In this sense, all life’s challenges and activities are “art.” Every good parent, every honest soldier, every ethical businessperson, teacher, farmer, and doctor is a “special kind of artist.”
In order to evolve and develop our individual consciousnesses and become truly healthy and whole, we must be more than merely “nice” and “decent.” We must each discover, develop, and evolve in the direction of our own deepest authentic character and personality. We must consciously acknowledge and give shape to our idiosyncratic gifts and talents, both individually and collectively. In that crucially important endeavor, bright shadow projection, and the consequent failure to live out and express our own unique gifts and talents, causes more harm, even in the short run, than the endless, ubiquitous, and self-indulgent projection of the dark shadow, which causes unspeakable havoc and misery every day.
It is always the unique and idiosyncratic gifts, talents, and energies that are reflected and held hostage in the bright shadow. It is also precisely these same energies that are the only ones capable of healing the wounds and restoring the collective health and wholeness crippled by the rampant projection of the dark shadow. Evolution, both individual and collective, draws us inevitably in the direction of all the archetypal creative energies we first catch sight of in our bright shadow projections.
Posted by permission of the author. From Jeremy Taylor, The Wisdom of Your Dreams pp. 245-246 (Author’s italics)
Jeremy Taylor, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, has worked with dreams for more than forty years, blending the values of spirituality with an active social conscience and a Jungian perspective. He is the author of The Living Labyrinth: Universal Themes in Myths, Dreams and the Symbolism of Waking Life, Dream Work and The Wisdom of Your Dreams. Jeremy Taylor is also a published poet and a prizewinning screenwriter. He lives in Fairfield, California, with his wife, with whom he leads Myth and Dream Tours around the world. You can find him online at www.jeremytaylor.com.