When Dreams Die: Becoming Strong at My Broken Places


William Blake, Illustration to the Book of Job

We all have dreams that die. We dream how we want our lives to be and who we want to become. Many of us dream of creating a family better than our original one. And we dream of being able to share our love in better ways than our early models showed us.

We dream of success, good health, safety, security, love, and warmth…of knowing and being known, of being heard, recognized, and appreciated. We often have dreams for our children, our future, and our creativity. We have little dreams and big dreams, and sometimes we just dream of life being kind, gentle, and just. But what happens to us when our dreams fail? Of course the failure of our bigger dreams that we have invested our hearts in, is more challenging than the failure of our smaller dreams.

For me, Iʼve always found it helpful, especially when Iʼm facing failure, to have a map in mind for the journey that I am facing. So let us look at the failure of bigger dreams. What does it do to us when the marriage or relationship, we had so much hope for, fails? What does it do to us if a child or loved one dies? Or what does it do to us if a business is shipwrecked? Or we are diagnosed with a serious illness? How does it affect us when we finally realize the mother or father we spent our lives trying to please never loved us and never will, or their love was broken and destructive to our souls?

These thoughts remind me of Ernest Hemingwayʼs hauntingly beautiful passage inA Farewell to Arms, where he writes, “If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.” To dream of a better life engages us in being fully alive and shows our deepest longing for a more desirable life. It takes the courage Hemingway is talking about to really be engaged in our lives, to hope, to risk, and to try with all of our hearts. Being fully engaged requires that we dream, and if our dream dies, due to our unrealistic expectations or a cruel twist of fate, how can we become stronger at our broken places?

We should also ask ourselves, “What does broken really mean?” Allowing ourselves to be broken is the hardest part of this journey because of our cultureʼs emphasis on positive thinking, achievement, and happiness. We live in a world where admitting our pain and weaknesses is seen as an admission of failure.

Long before I dreamed of becoming a Jungian analyst, Dr. Jungʼs writings helped guide me through some of my darkest periods and into a new life. Dr. Jung explains (C.W. Vol. 7, par. 254) that when our life collapses, it “…feels like the end of the world, as though everything has tumbled back into the original chaos.” He then gives us three alternatives as to how to face these situations – situations where dreams have died.

To begin with, we may become overwhelmed by our circumstances and events. Then, we may just give up, literally die or figuratively die, and sleepwalk through the balance of our lives, never risking to become truly who we have the potential to be. Secondly, we may cling to the images of our old lives, trying our best to reclaim the vestiges and attitudes of our former lives. We may prop up the facade of our former “normalcy.” I have seen too many people insist on keeping up the appearances of a positive attitude no matter what the loss or illness was. I believe people in this group become in Hemingwayʼs words, a person who is killed with “no special hurry.”

Our third, and best, alternative is to begin the journey that will open us to hearing and understanding the inner voice that can help us become “stronger at the broken places.” With a commitment to this third choice, we enter the classic hero or heroine ʼs quest, the night-sea journey, the dark night of the soul, the voyage that has been called by so many names. We must all take this voyage if we are going to find our capacity to dream again, find a deeper purpose in our lives, and a new myth (a new structure of values and meaning) to live by. We must be prepared to walk through the hell of suffering and passion, through our subjection to the emotional and spiritual crucible in which transformation takes place, in order for us to become stronger at the broken places.

This journey begins with the receptive qualities we find by embracing the natural features of the archetypal feminine. And, as always, this embrace includes accepting our life, which doesnʼ t mean surrendering to it. We must become still, and go down into ourselves, our unconscious, as Inanna went into the underworld. We must honor the muted consciousness of the night, the moonlight, and ponder our lives and situations in our hearts.

For me, this means I must quiet my strong, active personality, my ego, and put it in the position that T. S. Eliot shares with us when he writes that we must let the darkness come upon us, as if we are in a theater waiting for a scene to be changed. In his poem, East Coker, he continues:


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love.
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

As I sit in the embrace of the archetypal feminine, I am there for transformation, and not for mothering, as we explain in our book, Into the Heart of the Feminine. I am trying to become more open to my inner voice through an attitude of spiritual waiting, tending to lifeʼs essentials, and cultivating a readiness for listening for that voice. I am also carefully paying attention to my nightly visits from my unconscious. As my old dreams die, so does my old identity, and during this process I become reacquainted with my deeper hungers and longings to be loved, to experience the Divine, and to know my life has meaning, is valuable, and that I can find a measure of peace and satisfaction. It is while I am in this state that I can begin to experience my deeper Self, the Greater Personality within me that supports me and creates new life.

Through these difficult ordeals, I begin discovering the true meaning of “religio” which is relating back to a power greater than my everyday personality. Enduring the journey and the suffering that opens us to our depths joins us to the greater story of humanity and our Greater Self. We become connected to this Divine Center that will help us be born anew, and will accompany us through the flames of our pain, disappointments, and grief. This journey becomes the foundation for helping us find a new purpose and direction in our lives that is a true expression of the essence of who we are becoming.

But I want to note, that when some dreams die, when some things are lost, we will need to find a special chamber or chapel for them in our hearts. This will be a very special place where we honor our loss and grief, and carry them in our hearts for as long as we live.

As I have lived, loved, and worked, this has been the essence of the process where I discovered the true meaning in Jungʼs words (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 354): ” For we are in the deepest sense, the victims and the instruments of cosmogonic love.” It is also how I have become stronger at the broken places.

Painting above:Illustration to the Book of Job, William Blake

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris

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