Dreaming and Awakening

I’m busy this week. And about a thousand miles away from summer’s dance of laziness.

It’s good, though. A different kind of dance. If July and August were a slow, languid waltz, then September is shaping up to be a peppy, energizing quick step.

But I’m lucky. I love my work and when fall rolls around and life intensifies, it feels good to stretch into it. It’s a reminder of the natural ebb and flow: the tide may go out, but it always comes back in again.

And this week, as so often happens in my work, the tide is carrying a theme back to shore. A similar story that’s showing up every day.

A story about the tension between dreaming and awakening.

Truth be told, this is a story that plays out for most of us, throughout our lives, even though we’re not always aware of it.

And I’m guessing you know that I’m not talking about going to bed at night to sleep and dream and then awaken. No, I’m talking about a deeper story. But it sounds kind of cryptic, doesn’t it? So I’ll let a quote from Carl Jung say it in another way:


Hmm. That’s still a little cryptic, isn’t it? So you might be wondering, what, exactly, is his point?

In a nutshell, he’s talking about the tension between ego and soul.

Ego is the conscious part of the psyche that resides “outside.” Its job is to plan, organize, analyze, focus, take care of things, manage, strive, achieve, and help us make our way in the world. And that’s important. Without ego, we would be shivering masses of jello, inert and unable to function.

Soul, on the other hand, is the unconscious part of the psyche that resides “inside.” And it’s much harder to put into words. In fact, my pen has just stopped writing. Because writing, you see, is mostly an act of ego consciousness. And my ego struggles to form words to express something that’s so different from it.

But since I’m actually writing by hand today rather than typing on a computer, I have a better chance of describing soul for you. Especially if I pause, close my eyes, shift into free writing, and invite soul to speak:

I am soul. A cave filled with wonder. Darkness with shafts of light. A small, trickling stream. Sparkling, silver, stillness. As you wander through me I welcome you. I ask you to stop, to be, to imagine, to look into the deepest recesses.

OK. That’s what soul wanted to say today. Tomorrow it might be different. But soul will always speak to us in the same way: through riddles, metaphors, symbols, poetry, art, ritual, and imagination. If we’re willing to step into that and translate it, then the awakening process is well under way.

And we’ve opened the door to embracing the tension between ego and soul.

But that’s hard. It requires slowing down, letting go of some control, making time to enter a rather mysterious world. Perhaps most difficult of all, though: it may require stepping back from putting our dreams into action. At least for a little while.

I know. Why on earth would we want to do that? Shouldn’t we always dream big? And go for our dreams, all out?

Well. Yes. Sort of.

But I think Jung is trying to tell us that putting our dreams into action in the outside world is often driven mostly by ego. Ego’s good at that. It wants to make things concrete. It wants to run ahead. Yet there is a dark side to all that striving, wanting, dreaming, doing, running. We risk living only half a life, following the twists and turns of ego, relinquishing the deeper wisdom of heart and soul.

It’s tricky business, though, looking inside to awaken soul. Because soul might say:

No, I don’t think so. That dream of yours pretty much shuts me out.

Or: I’m tired of doing, I need to play for a while.

Or: Yes, this dream feels deep and authentic and soulful.

Or: This dream isn’t meant for the world to see. It’s about your relationship with me.

Or: That’s cool, but there’s more here than meets the eye. So spend some time with me before you go running off again.

And let’s face it, we don’t always want to listen to that, do we? Or I should say, ego doesn’t always want to listen.

So the eternal tug of war between ego and soul, dreaming and awakening, continues. It’s complicated. Far from simple. But worth mucking around in, don’t you think?

In fact, how about you muck around with me in the comments today and we talk about this?

How have soul and ego come into conflict in your own life?

Have you ever put a dream into action that seemed right at the time but turned out to neglect the voice of soul?

What’s soul trying to tell you these days?


34 thoughts on “Dreaming and Awakening

  1. Wonderful quote by Jung. And fantastic post about ego and soul and how one does not have to kill the other. How life is a balancing act between the two. Let’s try it. My soul, what would you like to say today? [Life’s a long story of creation. Trust your power. Trust the power around you. You feel small but you are not. Let yourself create your wellness.] Ah! I like that!
    Thanks, Patty!!

  2. Hi Patty — I can definitely relate to what you say about the risk of the ego dominating our creative expression — in my experience, an idea for a creative project will come up in meditation or just when I’m “being lazy,” which is what you might call an experience of the soul, and then months or years afterward will be spent with the ego trying (and perhaps fighting) to bring that vision about.

    • Hi Chris – Oh yes, ego often wants to dissect, analyze, question those creative urges. Interesting how you call it a fight, too. In Carol Pearson’s book, Awakening the Heroes Within, the Warrior is actually one of archetypes that helps us create a strong ego container. Sometimes perhaps too strong? All that discipline and focus can work against vision sometimes.

  3. For me it is more that the soul is speaking and the ego is concerned that it won’t be perfect or right or that it won’t be all it is supposed to be. We are working on it!! Or the ego hears and responds to the issue and the soul hears and can’t get a word in edgewise before the ego has spouted off. Again, we are working it!

    Right now my soul hurts – that deep, inner soul/bone hurt in that I am feeling that sad… and the ego, bless its heart, is silent – allowing the soul to not only feel but to speak.

    • Yes, I hear you M. I wonder, though, doesn’t perfection sometimes come from soul too? The shadow side of the inner artist is ripe for the drama of taking on too much and brandishing ourselves with criticism. I’m not sure perfection always flows from ego. Because as wonderful as soul is, it definitely has a dark side. Funny how I forgot to mention that in my post! At any rate, I love your gratitude for your silent ego right now. Thanks for sharing that.

  4. Hey Patty,
    Another lovely post! That picture of the stairs beckons me …

    Lots of sleepwalking going on out there. Folks don’t look inside or even up to see where they are going. Often reminds me of a burro following the burro in front of him or her. I can relate to writing by hand. Start all my essays like that on scraps of paper. Then I transfer to the screen. Interesting how the hand will take the mind in new direction the computer seems unable to. Maybe it’s the white line/screen fever?

    As for more mucking around here, I agree that dreams can be turned into “to do” list things and soon they are not dreams but chores. I try to do the things my heart & soul urge me to do rather than the “make more money” brain. And when it comes to writing, it cannot be hurried. Sometimes I need to wait six months in between essays or newspaper columns. Other times, like the past month, I bang them off one after the other. Then I need to take a break and I do.

    Same with painting and often singing. One creative pursuit rolls in and another rolls out. I refill and then return.

    I’m certain you are a fantastic dream encourager!


    • Hi G – Yes, I love those stairs too! Down they go into a very special place, I think. Sleepwalking is a good way to put it. And the “make more money” brain, as you so accurately name it, is one of the toughest ego nuts to crack. And there are so many people preying on that, so many “dream encouraging” programs these days that appear to be about soul at first glance but are really about ego and getting all you can. It’s depressing actually. So I do try to do another kind of dream encouraging. But I gotta say, it’s hard sometimes. Because people do want magic. And a lot of money. And no risk. And comfort to boot. OK, enough of that! I love the story of your own creative process. It’s delightful.

  5. Hi Patty! AWEsome picture! And of course awesome post. I also vibrate intensely with what G. said above! I’ve given my Ego the name Doubt and that keeps it in place and perspective for me. This is the time of awakening for the whole planet. Time to get over ourselves and pay attention to the energies and potentials. Watched a one hour video this morning – David Wilcox 2012 Enigma. It took my breath away and my head is still swimming. Check it out and I promise you, it will shake things up in terms of beliefs……..in about everything! The guy is NOT a crack pot. The friend who led me to this knows him and has done years of research.

    • Hi suZen – Nice reframe on ego, to doubt. I like that. Thanks for the heads-up about David Wilcox. I’ll have to check that out. Hugs!

  6. Hi Patty,
    I love the photo..to me the stairs are going up to the Light above…
    As far as dreams..I’ve had some amazing dreams come true this past week..so dreams have been on my mind.. I think the ‘impossible’ became possible because I turned my mind off and allowed for it all to happen..In my life I practice unfolding…so if I clear the space and am ‘ready’, amazing may be experienced..I do allow my heart whispers to roam free, but I don’t pursue, I am ready and open to the moment and experience as it is presented..quite magical indeed:)
    I lead with my heart so my soul is always forefront and heard…when Ego says please listen, I do listen and then release..what I focus on grows..so I focus on my heart whispers with overflowing gratitude..

    • Hi Joy – Sounds like your heart and soul are very much in sync with what you are creating in the real world. And that’s a place that’s the perfect blend of ego and soul. So congratulations!

  7. My first time here. Very thoughtful article.

    I tend to envision ego and soul as lovingly interconnected – a pair of hands, clasped, fingers intertwining. Writing may dip into each. Eyes open, or closed.

    • Hi BigLIttleWolf – Welcome, and thanks much for stopping by. That’s a beautiful image you’ve shared. It resonates deeply with me.

  8. Patty,

    I enjoyed this post about ego and soul and their different roles. I like the term “soul” for what I would usually call the “intuitive” side. I think “soul” is more comprehensive.

    When you started talking about “soul,” you made me laugh with this line, “In fact, my pen has just stopped writing. Because writing, you see, is mostly an act of ego consciousness.” :~)

    I think my “soul” does speak me frequently. For me, conversations with my “soul” are about trust. I will hear the words of “soul” when I’m willing to trust myself to really listen to them. I think you are right, the words that come from the “soul” are often not as direct as those from the ego.

    However, that being said, I just thought of a time when I think “soul” shouted at me. I was debating leaving a job, but didn’t feel finished yet. I woke up one morning from a dream and the only thing I remembered was this line: “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” I still laugh at this memory:~)

    • Hi Sara – Oh, that’s a wonderful way to imagine soul – as the part of us that understands what it means to trust our intuition. I’ve had my share of times when I didn’t do that, and I always remembered later the intuitive voice that I could have listened to. Love that story about the dream. That’s the way my soul often speaks to me, too, and I pay much more attention than I used to.

  9. Dear Patty,

    Soulfulness has indeed been close to my heart these days. It feels like there are time periods in life where soul beckons in a big way and I’m feeling the call at the moment.

    I resist becoming too “busy” and not attending to the inner. Lately, my soul is expressing through playing the djembe, dancing to Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms, doing EFT, and hula hooping. 😉

    Feels like a good way to balance the left brain stuff!

    Re: ignoring soul – I notice that when I forcefully push (read: tenacious) for something I believe I want. In the process I lose sight of the remarkable unfoldment that occurs when I let go – an unfoldment more magical than I could imagine or orchestrate.

    Awesome topic – life is more magical and beautiful when we bring our soul along for the ride.


    • Love those ways your soul is getting expressed, Lauren! And I experienced the start of too much of “busyness” you speak of just this morning. My soul said a loud, “no,” however, pulling me back and insisting I give it some time during a super busy week. I’m so glad I listened. Thanks for the visit and your wise words.

  10. Patty, this post is wise, yet challenging to understand. I get what you are saying, I see the difference between the ego and soul you describe. But I just don’t know how to reconcile them in my life. When I hear a voice in my mind, is it my ego or my soul speaking? If there’s something I just can’t get out of my mind – some exciting new possibility – is it my soul or my ego? This is a post I will be coming back to, to re-read and deepen my understanding.

    • Thank you, Eva. That’s such a good question. It’s hard to tell; sometimes a racing, exciting idea is soul. But not always, because ego wants to run ahead and “do” everything. Which of course leads to overwhelm. I’ve found I need to have practices in my life that deliberately open me up to the inner soul voice. Things like art journaling, walking, gardening, listening to music, spontaneous movement, free writing. Then I’m more able to discern the voice of soul, and perhaps more important, balance ego with soul. Does that make sense?

  11. Hi Patty,

    I found this post very invigorating! First, I love Carl Jung so that was an awesome quote to begin this post.

    I know I am keenly aware of my soul and my ego. This hasn’t always been the case, but thankfully it is now. I can always tell when my soul is leading the way, and conversely, when my ego has the reigns. My present point in this journey is learning to have the two work together in harmony. I’m getting better at this and the possibilities are so exciting!

    Thank you for writing such a soul stirring post. 🙂

    • Hey Keith – Thanks! Glad to find another Jung devotee. So true about getting them to work together in harmony. That’s such a worthy effort, and I’m right there with you.

  12. Beautiful picture, and great post.

    It’s hard not to get mystical when talking about awakening. We use words like ego and soul. The Jungian quotation evokes some sort of fantasy, an other-world, allegorical, poetic. But it’s simpler than that, and words always complicate it. It’s right here and now, it’s love, as in the absence of fear, the absence of attachment to thought and beliefs, just being. Simpler than all those words.

    Wonderful reading, thanks!

    • Hi Kaushik – I’m honored you stopped by because you are truly the voice of awakening. And speaking of love, I always love how you get things right down to the core. And in so doing, you help me experience soul, or whatever we want to call it. And bring me back to that simple, serene place beyond words. Thank you!

  13. I’m late getting here as I barely have time to write a post, let alone read blogs and leave a comment these days. Election season is so brutal to my blogging life 😉 But as always, I love this post and how you contrast soul and ego in a very Patty-soulful way.

    I appreciate that you don’t demonize ego. So many spiritual types tend to, and they may not even know it, which sometimes rubs me the wrong way. I’ve worked on making peace with the word *ego*. I don’t dislike the word and I think it’s healthy to *stroke* it. But for the most part, I think ego can be tamed, with a little humility-cultivating experience, a little willingness and a little big picture view of how oneself relates to the rest of the universe. Soul, on the other hand, I think, needs more constant attention and feeding. It’s easier to neglect because it can get drowned out when the ego is content and is getting everything it wants.

    • Hi Belinda – Thanks so much for stopping by in spite of your busy schedule. I love how you say you’ve worked to make peace with ego, because for sure without it we would all be suffering from severe psychosis. And so true that ego is actually easier to reckon with than soul, because soul resides in the unconscious part of psyche that does need constant attention and feeding. Nice way to put it!

  14. I am soul. A cave filled with wonder. Darkness with shafts of light. A small, trickling stream. Sparkling, silver, stillness. As you wander through me I welcome you. I ask you to stop, to be, to imagine, to look into the deepest recesses.

    This is all kinds of win.

    I’m so glad you’re back, Patty. I missed reading your wonderful insights!

  15. Patty — Since I had already left a comment on this post, I decided to explore your site and ended up on your “Inspiration” post.

    What a great story about the man who reinvented himself. I liked what you said about him and how he helped you name your site.

    I like stories also. I didn’t know that you and your husband used the stories you collected in such a unique way. I don’t know about using names, but it sounds like your collection of stories might make an excellent E-book.

    Oops, I just remembered you are focusing your time…and not in need of another adventure…but maybe later.

    Anyway, I enjoy and enjoyed your Inspiration:~)

    • Well, Sara, that is so darn nice of you to come back for another visit and comment. You know, as much as I need to focus my time right now, I have sooooo many ideas I would like to put in motion. Now you’ve given me another great one! I’ll have to stash it away in my little treasure box.

  16. Patty, thank you for this fascinating discussion of the ego and the soul and the ways they challenge each other. I had never really thought before about the ways that the ego might drive my own creative process. I wonder if part of that – for me, at least – is fear of really tuning into what the soul is saying. It’s often easier to listen to what’s expected than what is hidden.

    • Hi Kristen – Thanks for stopping by. I agree totally, that it’s much more challenging to listen to what is hidden. Even sometimes when I think I am truly listening to that, I later find out that it was merely wishful thinking on my part, and really what I was doing was following a call of the collective (which is usually about ego).

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