My Sneaky Psyche: The Black Panther and My Spiritual Path
Oh no! It’s been so long since I’ve written. I've been busy completing the second draft of my memoir, which is due December 22nd. Yikes! Last week, as I combed through 150 pages of journaling and dream reflections related to my life experience in 2018, two words seemed to sum it up perfectly. Exhaustion and Surrender.
As I contemplated what I might share in a blog post, one image jumped out. My psyche grabbed hold of this image to move me along my midlife journey, which ended up being focused on reconciling sexuality and spirituality - not by my choice.
During 2018, I was being squeezed so hard, I could hardly stand it. The more I tried to remain in control – to fill in the gaps left by the impact on my children of their father’s addiction, to tolerate a job I once loved but now hated, seeking for ways to earn money with my new passion – the less in control I felt.
This image turned out to be one of many that helped me transcend my fear of surrendering to something transcendent. To ask for help from the Source. Call it intuition, the Self, God or cosmic consciousness. I was addicted to the need to be in control, at least to be in control of how I thought about things. Now, that was falling apart too.
Why do I share these personal stories? Because they might help some of you who are struggling through your own unraveling or shifting. My stories are told through a lens that sees things our conscious egos cannot, because it is afraid of losing control. My framework offers tools that can help people find their own answers.
I hope this post inspires you to be more alert for images being used by your soul to communicate something important. These messages will likely go unheard without an openness to learning the mysterious language of the unconscious.
The first time a black panther showed up in my dreams was the day after Christmas 2016.
The panther and I made eye contact, almost as if
there was a mutual understanding of something.
I was scared and calm at the same time.
He walked away. I crept around the corner.
Only now do I realize that this was a kind of intentional first contact between me and the Divine or my Self – might as well have been first contact with an alien. I had no idea that the black panther had religious symbolism, including that of Christ consciousness. I laugh now as I realize the timing of the dream was completely lost on me back then.
A little over a year later.
The Black Panther film, released in February of 2018, descended upon me. I’m serious. I felt compelled to go see that movie six times.
My weekly visits to the local historic dinner theatre had become a deeply meaningful ritual by now. This ritual included walking eight blocks to and from the theatre and needing to sit at a certain table.
“Here you go,” the owner would say as he personally delivered my Cosmo.
“Hey Roman.” I enjoyed the attention of course, but also learning about the process of running a movie theatre.
“Hmm,” I would say as he explained his take on the movies he would be running. I don’t know if he got my crazy depth perspective, but our love for film is what we had in common. And I loved supporting a small business owner.
And I loved my personally delivered Cosmos.
I never knew what would happen on my walk home from the theatre, as my body processed the film. Sometimes I skipped home. Other times, my avoidance of puddles in a summer downpour seemed to match the sobs that were released. I felt amused that blockbuster superhero films seemed to be my psyche’s vehicle of choice for what it wanted to communicate.
When I got home after seeing Black Panther the fourth time, and after having had two Cosmos, I soon found myself in the midst of a volcanic eruption. Anger first, and then tears gushed out of me after my fancy blinds fell apart. One slat after another slipped out of the cords and onto the floor.
Why? I thought as I looked up, desperate for an answer.
“It’s not you,” I reassured my son, who was standing there watching me.
“I know,” he wisely intuited. He tried to help me replace a couple slats.
“I’m so fucking tired,” I yelled. This is how I had learned to safely express emotions that I hadn’t been allowed to express as a child. I simply walked around the house shouting, “I’m angry!”
Walk away, I told myself. I knew better than to force it in the moment – fixing the stupid blinds. I walked away, leaving a pile of slats on the floor. My dog looked at me with a confused look.
The next day I journaled, “Whoa! I must have needed that release.” I think I left those slats on the floor for a couple more days.
Four months later, I had this experience during what felt like the threshold between the world of consciousness and sleep.
There was a black panther in my room.
I was lying on my bed, facing the other way.
I felt its head over my body, its breath warm,
like it was looking at me, or over me.
I was afraid to turn towards it.
My therapist helped me put a name to how I felt – reverence. Yes! A kind of awe and fear felt at the same time. The feeling of not being able to look at the face of God or the Self.
Two months later, my black panther showed up again.
I was walking outside.
I sensed that the black panther was watching me.
It was in a tree. There were more black panthers.
Just watching me.
I felt a complex kind of fear – I wasn’t sure of their intentions.
It felt like a majestic feminine one moment
And then the masculine in another moment.
During the weeks leading up to this dream, I fell down the steps in my house two times in two weeks, in the middle of the night, in exactly the same way, except the first time I was naked. I had to use crutches for a week, and my right foot was black and blue for six weeks. Not only that, I had hurt my shoulder, I had slammed my knee into my car door, and my neck was so tight, I had to sleep on a heating pad.
I’m a slow learner I have come to realize. Perhaps those black panthers in my last dream were patiently waiting for me to stop grasping for control. I call myself a recovering control-freak. I wouldn’t figure all this out until a few months later, when one day I felt the relief that comes from transferring the burden of your life onto the transcendent. This all is detailed in my memoir of course, which I plan to publish next year.
Surrendering in a culture of trauma is difficult. Surrendering to love, and even pleasure, for women is difficult, when the fear of oppression and even of being murdered is part of your psychic DNA. That is why men and women are in need of healing the wounds of their feminine and masculine, which have been distorted by the dominator model of social organization we call patriarchy.
I hope I provide a safe space for the kind of reflecting that might contribute to healing these wounds.
What You Can Do Next
Are there images that are calling you? In your dreams? Through your Netflix binging? Try this:
Journal about the image as best you can. Whatever you remember from your dreams. All the different shows you’ve been obsessed with. Just write down what you remember.
Draw the image. This is not about being an artist or being accurate. Pretend you’re in kindergarten and just draw. This could also end up being words, or phrases, or just splotches of color. Allow your imagination to flow.
Answer the question, “This image makes me think about . . .” Keep asking yourself that question, and write down what comes up, no matter how crazy. The crazier the better. The unconscious uses symbolism to get around your ego.
Ask yourself, “Where is this happening in my life?”
You might not get a major insight right away, buy you might. Try it and see what happens.
As I share more and more about my experience of reconciling sexuality and spirituality, some of you may jump to the conclusion that I was or am being pulled towards Christianity. This did not end up being the case. Indeed, some images of Christianity were used as a way for me to heal the damage done by so-called Christian authoritative voices.
At one point, I did become excited about the prospect of my journey being to help Christianity evolve beyond patriarchy. That did not end up being the case either. Rather, I concluded that the Divine is too expansive to be trapped within some interpretation by fallible human beings.
I do believe my experience is likely not unique, but part of a larger desire for a new reconciling God image, that will only become visible as more people, especially women share their experiences.
Christmas is a wonderful time to contemplate what new birth will take place in and around you as we move into a new year. Amy Grant’s, Breath of Heaven, is one of my favorite songs. If you really are attempting to unfold as God wants, you may feel the burden one can imagine Mary felt being responsible for the birth of a Divine child. That’s what happened to me by the end of this particular year.
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