Last week I dug through some boxes of my grandmother’s belongings that had been packed away for years in my parents’ basement. I brought several beautiful dishes to light, including a set of delicate stemware each in a different vibrant color, a tea set of beautifully painted china, and two cups and saucers in floral patterns.
The crumpled newspapers that protected them from breaking date from the fall of 1977. The newsprint is yellowed, the dishes dusty and a bit grimy from the acidic paper. As I washed them in preparation for display, I couldn’t help but think that these dishes are like the best aspects of many people—delicate and beautiful but wrapped and packed away. At first they are hidden for safekeeping, but later because they are forgotten—out of sight and (mostly) out of mind.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned from dreamwork is to attempt to own my brighter gifts and talents. My teacher calls this “Bright Shadow projection,” and the idea is that we often fail to recognize or acknowledge our greatest gifts, and are able to see them and admire them only in others. Owning our gifts can be harder than owning our prejudices, because we have a cultural bias against being “too full of yourself” or boasting. So we learn, usually very young, to tuck away our brightest lights into carefully packed boxes in our souls, and then sigh with unnamed yearning when we see our heroes shining with that same light.
In order to grapple with this process, I’ve made lists of qualities I admire in others, and then searched within to see where those qualities in me have been hidden. It isn’t easy, but my dreams, and the dreams of my fellow dreamworkers, point us relentlessly in that direction. For example, one of my friends recently dreamed of a man whose work he greatly admires. In the dream the man sits at a table, teaching his followers, and there is an empty chair across from him. The dreamer realizes that the chair has been empty for a while, and even though others are also standing, this chair is for the dreamer.
Of course, reclaiming and using our gifts can be a frightening process. After all, we first packed them away in order to protect ourselves, maybe from others’ teasing, or jealousy, or anger. But the effort it takes to ignore our truest selves can lead to exhaustion and depression. Recognizing and reclaiming the talents I have has unlocked rooms of joy in my life. When I’m truer to myself, I attract the people who truly resonate with me. And I’m stronger now than I was when I first wrapped up those parts of me that seemed too big for the people around me to handle. I have more knowledge of how to channel my gifts in ways that don’t overwhelm those near me. And I have the enormous pleasure of seeing my friends embrace their own gifts.
Another dreamer recently reported the “billboard” message from one of her dreams as: “To the extent that I choose suffering, I increase the suffering in the world. To the extent that I choose joy, I increase the joy in the world.” Unwrapping our hidden talents, while it may feel terrifying, leads to greater joy. It makes us more whole as individuals. And to the extent we make ourselves whole, we bring greater wholeness to the world.
There is a place at the table for each of us. The world needs our talents and gifts and art and creativity and problem-solving. To keep our gifts wrapped in ancient newspaper is to deprive ourselves and the world of what is most needed.