Erik Erikson’s life’s work occurred during the golden age of depth psychology. The Danish psychologist built upon Sigmund Freud’s theories of ego development as a student of Freud’s daughter, Anna. Erikson’s legacy, the psychosocial stages of development, explains psychological growth as the result of navigating conflict between individual and social needs.
Erikson’s model has eight stages, with each stage focusing on a theme and age group. The model presents two outcomes, one desirable, one undesirable. Stage six, intimacy vs. isolation, occurs roughly between the ages of 20 and 30. The conflict of this stage is balancing intimate relationships with self-connection. The theme reached a pinnacle in my life between 29 and 32.
What I’m about to share is a process of working with my unconscious mind to decipher the meaning of this inner voyage at various milestones. The lighthouse is a central symbol, which guided me to understand the significance of this conflict in my life. The woods, and the sea, are accompanying metaphors. As you will see, the way events unfold defies conventional understanding. In what Carl Jung defined as synchronicity, events are linked by meaning, and require a different paradigm of reality to fully comprehend.
The audio version of this article is available below.
A hermit in a hologram
“Space is not empty. It is full, a plenum as opposed to a vacuum, and is the ground for the existence of everything, including ourselves. The universe is not separate from this cosmic sea of energy.”David bohm
Between 20 and 25, I focused on socialising. University and my early years in Berlin, having left the UK, were dominated by partying, shared housing, and being out and about in the world, with little time for inner work. Nothing unusual for most people of that age. But in my late 20s, the pull within was too strong to ignore. The occasional spontaneous journal session and stolen time for self-reflection wasn’t enough. I needed to embrace the hermit archetype, and focus on isolation.
A few years of increased inner focus led to moving into my own apartment, two weeks before I turned 30. I enjoyed my own space, but my home felt like an island, a feeling amplified by the pandemic. I was “moving away,” with greater physical distance between myself and others, but what was I moving towards? Distance isn’t only physical proximity; someone can be right next to you and “feel distant,” energetically or emotionally. Or someone can be “close at heart,” despite miles between you.
Some quantum theorist believe the universe is holographic. Physicist David Bohm described this with the implicate and explicate order — the implicate contains all of the information which is “projected” into the explicate, the visible world. The building blocks of physical reality exist in an invisible realm, and consciousness unifies these dimensions. With this model of reality, it stands to reason individual consciousness can “move” through space, stretch the distance of the cosmos in the blink of an eye.
In a shamanic worldview, this explains soul retrieval, a process where a shaman enters an altered state of consciousness and journeys into the underworld, to recover someone’s soul and return them to full health. What seems like make-believe may be an accessible dimension. For thousands of years, we’ve been aware of the implicate dimension, and our ability to get lost, while on the surface, we continue to exist in body, stretch ourselves to meet daily demands, our eyes forgetting to blink.
Daydream of the voyage
“A ship simultaneously represents fecundity, life of the sea, productivity, adventure, exploration, life journey, and crossing the sea of death. This means that a ship represents the same thing which a bridge does, that is crossing over from one world to another world.”Young-Ran Kim, Symbols and sandplay therapy
Have you ever felt called inward? What creates the gravitational force? Do you feel a sense of movement, even if your body remains still? As if there’s a centre within, a location waiting to be found? If the universe has an implicate and explicate order, do humans, too? Is the explicate the physical body, and the implicate thought or imagination? Can we move through implicate space, and voyage to worlds within?
Once settled in my new apartment, my environment was primed for me to journey deeper, beyond the threshold of myself, into the ocean of cosmic consciousness. Courting sickness, failure, and insanity, to map a world that remains largely unseen, a world responsible for desires, dreams, fears. I’d sampled enough to know its potency, a supercharged zero-point energy, the frequency of divine bliss, existential despair, everything and nothing between.
The first visual traces of my implicate voyage came to me in a daydream. A faint outline, burning in the periphery of my mind’s eye, there if I chose to focus on it or not. I’m on a coastline, warm sun and gentle waves compensating for cold feet. I’m making the final preparations for my imminent departure. I’ve made a pact — whatever I will find, I will share. A deal made with God in return for safe passage. But I’m afraid of losing people, being labelled crazy, delusional. The fear of abandonment tastes like salt.
I have no choice. All I can do is trust the strength of emotional bonds. I turn to a thousand faces I know and love. In the dimension of this daydream, there’s no distance — no past, present, future, no space between us. Light reflects off gold, a compass in my palm, a family-bought birthday present, a prelude to the journey, inscripted with a message of love. “So, this is it,” I say, as a thousand hearts emanate liquid gold, waves that will carry me with buoyant purpose, a thousand lighthouses along the way.
A song catches my attention
I was living in the district Weißensee (White Lake), jogging regularly around the perimeter of the lake and nearby woods. The inner voyage had been underway for a while, manifesting in my awareness as sea-sickness, waves of anxiety, loss of direction. Implicate and explicate worlds colliding, bridged by emotions and gut feeling. One day, mid-winter, snow and ice, earphones in, shuffle on, a song washed over me; cold-splash vocals woke me up, a waterfall of melancholic determination. The Lighthouse, by Patrick Watson.
Leave a light on in the wild,
It’s hard coming in a little blind,
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods,
Shining a little light, to bring us back home.
I recognised the voice. Watson provided the vocals to one of my favourite songs, To Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra. I was returning to a place that didn’t feel like home, I needed guidance. Those words were reassurance, implausible support, algorithmic affirmation.
Went to find you in the backyard,
Hiding behind our busy lives,
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods,
To help us get back into the world.
Despite all impossibilities, I knew what I was receiving was personal, somehow. I didn’t feel overwhelmed but soothed, my emotional landscape fluttered with optimism, similar to an unexpected compliment from a stranger. These lyrics renewed my determination. They let me know that I’d reached a milestone, that my implicate voyage would have repercussions in the explicate world, an indicator of safe harbour to come.
The lighthouse symbol appears in a dream
Sanya and I approach the lighthouse, unfazed by the temperature of the sea. No memory of our journey here, we arrived immediately on the verge. Dusk casts midnight blue, a cool aura saturates the scene. The lighthouse is imposing, strong, and… submerged. Only the top half is above water, another fact which we seem unfazed by. We swim its perimeter, trying to find a way to get in. This is our home, a place we choose to live. But you can’t live in a lighthouse below the sea.Journal entry of a dream, january 2021
I dreamt of the submerged lighthouse not long after hearing the song, which solidified its symbolic significance. The sea represents the unconscious. The lighthouse, a beacon of safety. Powerful light (awareness) illuminating the dark (unconscious). Lighthouses are built in dangerous places, save millions of lives. The worse the weather, the more useful they become. But they aren’t self-sustaining — for generations, they were maintained by coastguards. Many took their families with them. Some “lightkeepers” worked alone.
Spiritual circles encourage seekers to “be a lighthouse”. Perhaps it’s more accurate to “be a lightkeeper.” The lightkeeper takes up home in a remote location to serve others, to warn them and reassure them. Lighthouses aren’t constructed from the building blocks of spiritual bypassing or positive thinking, but tireless service. The dream reflected this with Sanya by my side, circling the lighthouse together. Her ship navigated the ocean, never too far from mine.
The lighthouse in the dream, without solid foundations, was uninhabitable. Its infrastructure required solid ground. We were close to shore, and my implicate voyage was a premonition of an upcoming change in my explicate reality, what some call manifestation, that what exists in imagination materialises in the physical world.
It’s notoriously difficult to find a home in Berlin, especially your own apartment, and in my initial search, I applied for hundreds and hundreds of viewings. Despite finding an apartment against the odds, my growing sense of isolation reached a critical point. I wanted to move. Ask and it is given, they say. A series of synchronicities led to a miracle.
After I told Sanya of my desire, she encouraged me to look online. The top listing immediately caught my attention. It was a beautiful apartment in an area I’d viewed in my earlier search, and desperately wanted to live, but was unsuccessful. It wasn’t the right time, then, due to my voyage at sea. But now I’d returned to shore, a current of destiny carried me. Within days, a viewing. Within weeks, a new set of keys. My new apartment was based in the woods. Less isolated, more connected, perfect for a healthy solitude, the sweet relief of ground under my feet.
A sychronistic trinket appears in a cabin
My new home provided respite, but I wasn’t “out of the woods.” Around 18 months after my dream of the lighthouse, I went on holiday with Sanya. The symbol had faded from memory until a reminder. One the terrace, in the bedroom window, on the wall, was a familiar outline: lighthouses. I looked at these synchronistic trinkets, and they looked at me, like a stranger you’re sure you’ve met before.
How could it be? Is the universe a complex web of meaning, this very cabin, this very time, this very place, orchestrated for my personal epiphany? My epiphany? Insignificant me that far-too-often sips water and misses my mouth? How can little old me influence the universe, have some role to play in those toys being on display?
Maybe my fears were right, I am delusional. A song is one thing, but trinkets in a holiday-home? But what if we see reality upside down? That ego-centric arrogance makes us believe that we’re not part of a greater whole? Special enough to be an island? After all, we’re an extension of the intelligence that manifested Earth. Who had that thought? Did God read The Secret?
If the lesson awaits the learner, if you’re receptive but still choose ignorance or disbelief, the lesson will do more to get your attention. “More” is usually something “more” impossible, until you can’t ignore it. Minutes after we’d set off on the return journey, as Sanya and I reflected on its beauty, Watson’s unmistakeable falsetto pours out of the rental car’s speakers, as trinkets and songs co-teach, as dream and waking reality shake hands, so impossible I know it must be true.
Leave a light on in the wild. Cause I’m coming in a little blind. Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods. Shining a little light. To bring us back home…
Enchantment of the light
Synchronicity is a product of higher intelligence. The conscious you (ego) can’t create it. Although it cannot be forced, you don’t have to wait passively. It requires radical receptivity. In what becomes a soul-enriching interaction, enquiry, carried out without attachment to outcomes, can unearth more relevant insight. Most people don’t do this because it appears crazy. I’m not most people. My enquiry into the lighthouse symbol (see: a Google search) led to a movie.
The Lighthouse is fantastically weird and uncategorizable. Robert Eggers’ follow-up to The Witch shines a light on two 19th century “wickies” (the nickname for a lightkeeper). They’re stationed on a remote lighthouse in New England, and driven crazy by paranoia, hallucinations, and a turbulent dynamic. Fitting the theme of intimacy and isolation, the pair are simultaneously magnetised and repulsed by each other. In a scene that caught my attention, long-time lightkeeper Thomas (Willem Dafoe) explains the demise of his earlier assistant to his replacement, Ephraim (Robert Pattinson):
“Aye, went mad, he did. First a strangeness. A quietude. Then wild fancies struck him. Ravin’ bout sirens, merfolk, bad omens and the like. In the end, no more sense left in him than a hen’s tooth. He believe there were some enchantment in the light. He notioned St. Elmo did cast his very fire into it. Salvation, said he.”Thomas Wake, The lighthouse
Convention says a film can’t contain a relevant message. You’re looking for it, joining dots that aren’t there, a psychological coping mechanism. I used to think that way, but my implicate voyage has taught me that’s not the model to operate by — quite the opposite. My intuition encouraged me to watch at exactly the right time. Madness, quietude, enchantment, salvation… This clarifies the message the lighthouse symbol was illuminating; the dangers of isolation, the risk of insanity if enchanted by the light.
The relief of rooted isolation
In dreams, a detail slightly off-kilter is enough for you to become lucid. Sometimes, peculiarity isn’t caused by the absurd or surreal, but images that don’t make sense by small margins, enough to jolt you away from familiarity. A new meaning emerges from the convergence of symbols that are familiar and foreign, recognisable through implication. A lighthouse in the woods is one of those symbols. The two don’t go together, but their emergent meaning is clear.
If I avoid isolation, I bypass its gifts. I neglect my need for solitude, my spiritual practice, restrain my creative force. I need isolation. But isolation at sea is too unsettling, too far in one direction. A submerged lighthouse is uninhabitable, even if metres from the coast. How do you cultivate relationships while always on the move? Make a home somewhere with flooded rooms? My voyage had to end. Enter the woods, isolation on land, surrounded by trees rooted in soil. The stillness, in contrast to the motion of waves, allows for a grounded connection to the sacred.
“With the exception of hermits and shamans, people who have a specific religious call, and the power to overcome attacks of the unconscious, it is always dangerous to put oneself in an isolated position. Only the shaman or the medicine man can stand loneliness in the woods without getting into trouble. If one risks an encounter with the unconscious, one needs a certain nature wisdom and a certain kind of knowledge in order to avoid succumbing to its impact.”Marie-louise von franz
What’s needed to bear isolation? A lighthouse. A home with a purpose, somewhere to share with Sanya, with friends, with other implicate voyagers. But did the lighthouse contain additional meaning, anything I’d missed? Was there more to enquire? Viewed from above, the lighthouse’s staircase is a spiral ascension into the light, one step at a time.
“The spiral in psychology means that you always come over the same point where you have been before, but never really the same, it is above or below, inside, outside, so it means growth.”Carl Jung
A spiral path appears straight if the journey is long enough, the curve so vast you don’t realise the slight change in direction. It’s why we thought the Earth was flat. The beauty is, the further you feel from home, the closer you are. When I started to feel lost, and distant, the proximity to home became clear. Isolation taught me about dimensions out of sight. That no matter how far you journey, home is always there. Perhaps Erikson knew love carries us through isolation, it’s the only thing that allows us to bear it, to voyage on paths of discovery that lead us closer to truth.
But once you find a home, you can’t remain in the light forever. You have to descend, to do the upkeep, source coal, get your hands dirty, keep the fire burning, withstand storms. You have to set a blazing trail for others on the voyage, to illuminate the darkness. Joseph Campbell reminds us that, once called to adventure, you will face adversity and moments of despair, through which you will grow, and return with a unique gift from implicate worlds. Our explicate world needs those gifts. It needs yours.
Will you dare to set sail, voyage into the unknown, traverse the bridge between worlds, to see for yourself? If you do, I promise to shine my light, so look out for me. Remember that if you feel lost at sea, liquid gold will carry you, and a thousand hearts will light the way, to bring you back into the world. And if you notice impossible signs of guidance, don’t dismiss it as just chance, but allow yourself, for just a moment, to dream of an immaculate order, an implicate dimension, of which you are a very special part.