Psycho-spiritual process is not linear. As therapists one of the things which we are doing is trying to spot the points in someone’s process where they might be able to make a shift – to get across the stream. This image comes up in dreams quite often, a river that must be crossed, but there is no bridge, no boat, no safe place to swim. At that time we know that psychologically the journey can not be made. We have to sit with the person on the side of the river they are on – they might be able to see the new landscape of where they are going but they can’t get there yet.
Crossing the river sometimes needs a sacrifice to be made. The familiar mythical image of ‘paying the ferryman’ is important here. In many cultures some sort of financial inducement is given to that which will guide us over from one side to the other. In my own culture it is pennies on the eyes….before 1971 penny coins were large, plenty large enough to cover the closed eyes of the deceased, the payment for the crossing. So as therapists waiting to help the person find a crossing place, we might well be looking at what might need to be sacrificed. Maybe a defence structure, or a point of view, or a way of life. Some sort of self identity which has to be relinquished.
Incidentally this image is also alive in the practice of the wishing well. If you want something from the numinous, from the gods (‘make a wish!’), you have to give something, to throw in a coin – to make a sacrifice. Adopting this principle you should never be tempted to pay for someone else’s therapy. The person seeking a way forward in their life usually needs to make a sacrifice.
A crossing place will emerge when the person is ready to do what it takes to move to the further shore. In a dream this might be neatly indicated by the appearance of a bridge, boat etc, but when there is no dream the therapist has to spot it. Spot the opportunity opening up for the person to move forward. Seeing their willingness to sacrifice, to give something up, might well be what tips you off as a therapist to the fact that your client has accessed the crossing place. Pounce on it before they change their mind, for some clients bridges will be a rarity. It is our job to help them seize the opportunities the unconscious allows for the person. This is where we earn our keep, not as the creators of bridges and builders of boats, although sometimes we can help with that, but much more so as the scouts who can see the opportunities when they arise, and who will enthusiastically and boldly point out what we see and help the person find the courage to seize the moment.
The crossing will take them to a new spatial place in their psyche. The therapy will leap forward, new vistas open and the next stage can begin.