Crossing the River of Shadows

When we remain unhealed, we are forever repeating the past and its story. And that story will contain illusions and self-limiting beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. This is why finding an effective healing modality is so important, especially for people who have been badly hurt (like me). 

While creating safe and compassionate social spaces is important, in itself the system can’t heal us (overprotection – rescuing others – can actually damage prospects for healing). Healthy relationships with others are also important – but again, they are insufficient. Indeed, if you are carrying the past with you, developing healthy relationships is going to be very difficult. For we tend to act out the same stories again and again, only with different props and actors. 

We have to find a way to nurture ourselves. And that requires motivation and commitment. Healing rarely happens by itself. We have to create the spaces, within and without, that invite the possibility of healing. The seeming contradiction is that we are not in direct control of healing. There’s a surrender process that is needed, a relaxing into the wound and allowing it healthy expression. 

And then there is Grace. The mystery of it all, and the awareness that we are guided and helped along the way by forces we typically cannot quite touch or see. At least, that has been my experience.

We never quite know when something previously unseen is going to arise from the psyche. Healing is not an end state. It is a process. And it has its own timing. 

I still get taken by surprise when emotional energy patterns arise. This is when I realise that there remain inner stories and beliefs that are seeking to be heard.

One pattern I have long noted is that whenever we seek to move forward in life, to take on a big challenge or to shift into a more expansive expression of self and life, these shadows WILL make themselves known. And that is why seeking challenging paths is a good way to facilitate healing. Yet, by definition, shadow work requires discomfort, and destabilisation of the small-s-self. 

So it has come to pass that as I have arrived at the moment of the publication of my new book Power and Presence, a new but familiar story has unveiled itself. A dream I had about two weeks ago informed me of this quite clearly. It occurred just as a sense of unease and anxiety was beginning to arise within me. 

The dream was situated in my old home town of Taree, which lies beside a large coastal river in eastern Australia: the Manning River. As kids, we often swam in its cool waters, especially on sultry summer days. Quite often we would swim across to the other side, which could be perhaps 200-300 metres distant, depending on which part of the river we jumped into. 

I wrote the dream into my dream diary, when I awoke early in the morning. 

May 9, 2023, 3:38 am

I dreamed of swimming across the Manning River. I was on the far side, away from Taree town, beginning on the opposite bank. The water was high and murky, and the sense was that the current in the middle was fast, and could carry me away to some unknown place or out to sea. I was scared. But for some reason I had to swim to the other side. I wasn’t sure why, but knew that this was what was needed.

I set out to swim across, and not far out I came across some aboriginal people swimming across also. They were swimming across quite slowly, and seemed submerged just below the surface. I had to swim around them, including some children. It seemed like they were a family. I was quite friendly to them as I swim around them, kind of joking with them and laughing, perhaps to ease my fear of the situation and that I didn’t feel safe in the deep and murky waters. 

I passed them, and then I got close to the other side of the river, but then suddenly the water changed and became deeper and colder. I felt more afraid, because it was harder to swim, the water seeming darker and more treacherous. But I persisted, and battled over towards the bank. The bank was not in the town, but situated in a forested area a little upstream. 

It was getting really hard to swim at the end, because my arms were not coming out of the water, because I was so exhausted. Then I arrived in shallow water perhaps three metres from the bank, and it felt clearer and safer. I was able to stand with my feet at the bottom. 

As I was getting close to the shore, I saw I was carrying a kind of receptacle, something like a big pencil container with a zip, which I was holding. Except that it also seemed like a large clam. This thing was kind of like true big pencil bags we used to have at school when I was a kid. Suddenly I realised there was a big crayfish inside, with sharp claws, and it was attaching itself to me or biting my fingers. I was trying to get rid of it, shaking it off. Then just as I was about to reach the bank I saw saw (a relative) as a child, just near me but closer to the bank, and he was laughing playfully at me, because he seemed to see some kind of crab also, next to him. But it wasn’t biting him

Then I suddenly seemed to be ashore, and I was in some kind of restaurant or hotel close to the river bank, looking back towards the river. I was safe and comfortable, yet I was concerned about the aboriginal people I’d passed, especially the children. I was gazing out over the river. I hoped they were okay, and felt guilty. I felt I should be helping them. But the sense was they seemed to be fine. But then there also came the sense that that beyond their immediate safety, perhaps they were on drugs or something, odrinking too much.

That was the end of the dream.

After years of recording dreams, I have a strong emotional and intuitive understanding of them. I usually don’t need to analyse them too much, as the meaning is often obvious to me. 

This dream, I feel, relates to a deep kind of unease or anxiety I have been feeling over the past few weeks. This has been related to finishing writing my book, Power and Presence, and coming to the stage where I need to move from an introverted state of researching, writing, and reflecting, and go out into the world and promote the book – to engage the world again. 

This requirement represents a far more uncomfortable process than the introverted writing, reflecting and creating process – the initial phase is more in line with my own introverted personality. The need to go out and engage the world is pulling shadow energy out of my psyche, stirring up issues that I need to deal with. These are mostly to do with beliefs of lack of lovability and worthiness, distrust in others and the word, an early life belief in being “stupid.” There is also an imminent sense that nothing I do matters, and that nothing will change the inevitable failure that will come. Part of me just wants to give up and go back into myself. This is the story of the wounded child. 

The feeling in the dream that there is a need for me to cross the river, indicates that to face this next phase in my life I am required to befriend the shadow aspects of my psyche. These are represented by the aboriginal family, and especially the children. The children represent innocence, my inner children. This is why they were symbolically represented as dark skinned people in the dream (this is a common motif in my dreams). This probably has nothing to do with actual aboriginal people, except perhaps that traditional aboriginal culture was grounded in relationship to the earth and not so much to the intellect (the head), as is true of modern societies today. Of course, traditionally, Taree is the home of aboriginal people, and, the name means “big fig tree” in their local dialect. 

The fact that I was in friendly relationship with them in the dream suggests that I am ready to embrace this energy structure. Humour is often a useful tool when dealing with fearful things. Dare I mention “dark humour”? 

The river, especially, a murky river, represents the emotional energy of the psyche, repressed parts of the shadow that have to be traversed – or integrated. The strong current suggests fear of losing control and being swept into the darkness. That’s why I encountered a child (a relative) on the other bank with the crayfish, one biting me, the other close to that child. Actually, the child is also part of myself. The crayfish is, I feel, representative of the “energy” of another relative of mine from my childhood, who hurt me. But the fact that this crayfish episode occurred very close to the bank and where I felt safe, as well as the associated laughter, suggests that I’m quite close to integrating that particular issue. 

The final part of the dream – where I was in the hotel-restaurant feeling concerned for the aboriginal people – suggests that it’s still a requirement for me to look after myself and my psyche, to work with these shadow elements of myself, even beyond the current situation. I still need to be compassionate and caring towards myself. 

The idea of of drugs and drinking, perhaps represents a tendency to drink too much alcohol sometimes, an occupational hazard of expat social lifestyle (although I drink a fraction of the amount of some of my colleagues, it has to be said!). I’ve never done “drugs,” but I feel here the idea of drugs may be referring to addictive behaviour, and making sure I don’t lose myself in distractions or other kinds of socially accepted “addictions” (food, technology, social media etc, perhaps). 

Perhaps that’s why the end was set in a restaurant/bar on the other side of the river.

We all can facilitate our healing process by learning to relax with the disowned parts of ourselves, and to develop conscious, loving relationship with them. We have to be gentle with ourselves, gentle with others, and gentle with the world, even though it has hurt us. For if we do not develop conscious relationship with ourselves, we cannot develop conscious relationship with others and the word. 

Marcus T Anthony’s latest book: Power and Presence: Reclaiming Your Authentic Self in a Digitized World, is now available in kindle and paperback formats.

2 thoughts on “Crossing the River of Shadows

  1. I am going to read this several times and sit with the feelings that come up. It resonates so much with me that it frightens me.

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