I have had a recurring dream that I had again three nights ago. It takes place in various settings, but all of them rather grand halls. One in particular had the look of a football stadium it was so large, but also ornate and very fine. I am supposed to put on some performance. Usually it is with a choir, but sometimes it is in a play. If it is a choir performance, I have spent the whole day obsessing over preparations for the event only to forget my choir dress, or to have brought the wrong one. I have traveled some distance, and there is no way of correcting the error. Sometimes the dress is something like bright yellow, which would be very conspicuous. If it is a play, I have forgotten my part, or never knew it in the first place, and my costume is incomplete, or missing entirely. I’m not naked, but not wearing the expected costume.
The key emotional aspects of the dream are the inevitability of what will happen. From the beginning of the dream and my obsessive preparations, I know I am going to come up short, then when I do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is the stress, the embarrassment, and the complete lack of options other than letting everyone down and failing completely to contribute to the performance. The stew of emotions has become so familiar I can readily bring up the memory of them.
What is a costume or a choir dress to me? It is a mask, a role, or my non-shadow self that I present to the world. The choir dress is significant in the uniformity of it. I am not allowed to stand out or differ from the other members. The costume in the play is significant because I am not allowed to be myself, but to conform to a role, a part that I am playing. For whatever reason, I am unable to meet the demands of the society I am in. I can’t play the part, wear the mask, or conform to the expectation.
In the last three years, I have found myself in several of these kind of binds in my conscious life. First, with my own family. I have felt that the person that I have become is vastly different than the person my parents wished I would grow up to be. In some ways, I see myself as disappointment to them, but in other ways, I am defiantly defensive; angry that they don’t see the very positive aspects of myself the same way I do, as essential parts of my core person that I am determined to nurture although they are undesirable to them. In the end I feel exposed and self-conscious, as though wearing a bright yellow dress in a field of navy blue singers; isolated and out of place. My husband’s family likewise is disappointed in my unwillingness to conform in my ideas and perceptions.
My church is in a climate of change right now, which is good for me, because I am also in the midst of great transformations. It is as though I have constructed a chrysalis and my insides are being melted down into something completely different than I was before. Perhaps something that can fly? I am becoming something I was always meant to be, but something much different that I was before, which is scary for everyone. What will become of my relationship with the church of my childhood? Will it be big enough and welcoming enough to accommodate my new wings? I see many encouraging signs, but the future will take time to reveal itself.
Lastly, and perhaps most dramatically, I have parted ways with my old party, the GOP. Unlike the other groups I have mentioned, this one has not been due to my transformation, but the transformation of others. The party that used to exist in 2016 is no more. Of course, I am not the same person politically as I was three years ago, but I still hold most of the same core values as I used to. On the other hand, the GOP has become infected with a severe case of populist nationalism that has made it entirely incompatible with my value system. I seem to recall one version of my dream when I came to the concert dressed in an old choir dress and everyone else had on a new one. That is how I feel about the GOP. I no longer fit and there is no solution but to leave the concert.
What is my subconscious mind telling me? The stew of dream emotions is familiar to me in conscious life. It forms the backbone of so much of my suffering. It is evidence of the dreaded double bind. There is no easy path, and most of all, no path that involves comfortable companionship. I am alone in my yellow dress. What of the concerts? What of the play? Should I go out on stage and proudly perform, pretending to be what I am not? Should I exit the affair and find another production? Should I give up the stage and become an accountant?
One of the things you learn in plays or choir concerts, you are part of a team. There is no maverick on the stage. It is a brutal place where you will be seen and judged by hundreds of people. This binds performers together in a way that few other things can. It isn’t fair to your team to stand out and ruin it for everyone, but what if conforming is impossible while also being true to yourself? What if you know in your soul that the show won’t be right without you? That the hole is too big to justify leaving the stage entirely?
This analysis leaves out the part of my own fallibility. Usually the dream involves my own absent mindedness, not a principled choice to rebel. But in a way, owning my shadow side, the absent minded side, is the whole point of the dream. My principled decision to accept my own fallibility and embrace my whole self, including the person who lets down her friends and fellow performers, is the conflict represented by the dream. How can I accept her though? She is not able to play the part. Perhaps the answer is that she needs to ask for help? Perhaps in asking her community for help, they will see the conflict and come to the rescue? Perhaps they will see that the old dress is preferable and change their own costumes? Perhaps the solution lies with the group and not with me alone? That’s an uncomfortable situation as I have so little power over others.
Whatever the group decides, I have to embrace my own self, including the shadow side regardless of how much difficulty it causes the people I love. Hopefully there will be room for me on the stage. Hopefully a solution will be found that makes it possible for me to contribute in spite of my flaws. Vulnerability is the key. And asking for help. And having a little bit of faith that God will provide a way, just as he did for the Israelites through the Red Sea. All things are possible to Him who knows all things. In his mighty hand, I will place my trust.