Everything Dreams

Don’t Scare Those Images Away!


The Dreamer Owns Her Dream: Or, Why Dream Images are Intrinsically Resistant to Psychology . . .

It is a fundamental feature of most contemporary groups that the dreamer owns her experience of the dream. We may have ideas, we may think we see things, and at the same time we are, like the dreamer, only witnesses of a process. And as witnesses, we are removed one step further. The Dreamer is the original observer or participant in the dream; privy to al the senses engaged in the dream: The sounds, the tactile sensations, the smells – even the felt sense of the dream. Sometimes the running narrative of the dream – itself removed a step from the experience – is merely a play-by-play of the visual cues in the dream. 

Often, very specific or leading questions of the dreamer sometimes take away from the experience of the dream aTibetan Lanscape in Santa Fe NMnd may reveal more of a fantasy on behalf of the listener(s) than an accurate “interpretation” or psychologizing of the dream by the listeners. Dream Images hate that! We can scare them off with our own biases or with stupid questions! It is as though you are with a friend who says, “The Lost Puppy in your dream? That is so you. Just think about it, you’ve been looking for yourself in everything lately!”  You might reply, “I’m not sure that feels right,” to which your friend might say, “Of course it’s you. That’s the problem, you’re so close to it you can’t see it.” A different response might be, “Does the Lost Puppy seem familiar to you?” You might answer, “You know, it does look like a dog I had when I was 14” or maybe “Funny as it sounds, it looks like the new guy at work!” These are two completely different conversations; the one in which the listener imposes meaning and the one in which the listener supports the curiosity and the point-of-view of the speaker.When we ask open ended questions, things open up. And when things open up that resonate with the dreamer, many other positive things can happen that disappear when our questions become narrow, diagnostic, or conspiratorial!

"A Dream Loves to be Met in the Way of Dream!"
“A Dream Loves to be Met in the Way of Dream!”

So it is with dreams; as Steve Aizenstat often observes, “A dream loves to be met in the way of dream”  (bookmark above carefully stitched by Kathryn Lea for her father’s birthday!) Occasionally in a dream group I will hear from someone a feeding frenzy of staccato point-blank questions, fired off with machine like precision: “Was the man in the corner like your that guy who stalked you at the street fair yesterday?” or “Why were you in that forest to start with?” or “Did the hallway seem like it was concrete blocks?” I can tell from questions like these the listener has some specific notion about the dream that may be very far removed from the dreamer’s experience of the dream. Let us remember a few points about the experience of the dream and its retelling that set it apart from staccato questions of dream-killing specificity! 

  • Dreams have a “felt sense” that rejects interpretations that miss the mark; most often when people offer suggestions, those on target will evoke a ‘hit’ inside the dreamer as a point of connection;
  • Dreams have their own ready-to-hand knowledge; and by that I mean you can instantly have an understanding of years’ worth of information contrary to waking experience, (like that 18 months you spent as a CIA operative in Lisbon undercover with an Italian supermodel . . . And a dog named ‘Strega…’ ) 
  • This special body of knowledge, unique to the Dreamtime, may be one-off events of nearly infinite detail or may be a rhizome-like web from dream to dream, like a house or structure to which you return on successive nights, or a special power like flight, invisibility, or levitation that occurs in more than one dream, or a repetitive them like always being in airports but never actually getting on a plane in dream after dream. This inner architecture builds on itself, and a single dream auditor can never know all the dreamer has knowledge of in this way
  • As “the body is always dreaming”, there is often carriage of affect in the body in the retelling of the dream; dreams are not merely an event occurring on a small stage in the brain, but engage the breath, the sweat glands, and the polyvagal network of afferent and efferent nerve signals and the chemical reactions and messages that occur throughout the body. Gesture in the retelling becomes important, as this is how the body may tell the story of which the mind or memory is not fully aware. Therefore it is not always just the words, but the embodiment of the dream that presents in the retelling. 
  • Everything Dreams
    Everything Dreams! Dreams Are Happening Now! [DreamTending Coffee Cups honor the work and the dream practice of Dr. Steve Aizenstat, Chancellor of Pacifica Graduate Institute]

Also, I have noticed there are times during which a group that knows the dreamer well sees something in the dream that the dreamer cannot see. I believe this to be different (and surprisingly rarer) than the case in which a group fantasy of perceived meaning runs wild. In the case of this blind spot on behalf of the dreamer, many things can happen. The dreamer may have the option to consider the feedback and to reject it, in which case the wise and patient group will not press any points. Also, the group may meet the dreamer in the dreamer’s own perceptions and curiosity; and when that happens the dreamer almost always arrives at a moving and insightful point, whether or not it encompasses all of the content perceived or imagined by the group. Clearly, nothing is gained by pressing a point, even if accurate, that is outside of the Dreamer’s awareness or ability to integrate. In these cases, as in most every other circumstance I can imagine, the most helpful tack is to let the image be the teacher. Images are dynamic: the information they carry lives and changes with the dreamer’s capacity to recognize or internalize different lessons or tasks. Images are autonomous; they do not require us to decode them, to psychologize them, or to toggle between manifest meaning and some latent, St. Colmans Cathedral in Cobh, 2“real” meaning. In other words, we do not have the right to superimpose our understanding onto an image which is inherently wiser that are we. That is just as much a form of colonialism as bringing our band of religion to “save” a people while robbing them of their rain forests, their natural resources, or their way of life. We think we are so smart . . . until we bump up against a stronger, a wiser, or a more patient force.

The Dead Speak for Themselves

The Dead

James Joyce’s short story, which begins and ends with the snow  “general over all of Ireland,” details a haunting. The male protagonist notices his wife listening to distant music, not realizing the distance is time rather than space:

There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.

Later in the evening he is shattered to learn that attitude, the mood or trance his wife was lost in, was a calling. This calling was from a lost love of his wife’s teenage years. Silently, for decades, this underestimated soul stood, throwing pebbles against this woman’s consciousness. In time, the pebbles break through as flakes of sncemetery snowow. Odd how a mood or trance incited by the weather, the setting, the time of day or the time of year, provides a window for the dead to speak. Dreams, too, offer such a setting at all times.

“I Come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” was Antony’s second most famous line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. But like Perry White in the old Superman series, Antony was haunted by “Great Caesar’s Ghost.” Antony goes on to say while the good is often buried with them, “the evil men do lives after them.” Antony approaches the dead in his famous address to the Romans as a political tool. I wonder how things might have turned out differently had Antony and others remained had  in dialogue with Caesar rather than merely using his death toward a political shift? Antony buried the good and the bad; Brutus and the Senate killed the bad with the good. And the story of Julius Caesar goes on well after the namesake of the story is dead. How do we today attend to, listen to the voice of Caesar? His famous line, Veni, Vidi, Vici – “I came, I saw, I conquered” is replete with the grandiosity that made him great and got things done – yet it is also the flaw that seeded his undoing.

An old professor of mine, Ben Curtis, said that a fundamental axiom of his counseling mentor was, “If you can teach people to bury their dead, you can spend the rest of your time fishing.” As for me, I have not even had a fishing license in over 20 years. Granted, it’s a wonderful notion, but Ben and his mentor knew well what I then suspected –  ghosts will not be banished even when buried properly. Today I no longer try to teach people how to bury their dead. Instead, I am interested in the ways the Dead can teach us rather than to bury us. Maybe we cannot access Caesar; Jung did not aim his vision toward Philemon, his teacher from the imaginal realm, or any of the others from the collective unconscious who have their autonomous being and their sights on us.

Carl Jung’s Red Book, released just a few years ago, is the artistic representation of his process working with the Dead.  It is not just the missing mother or father; In his case, the Dead are ancient. This is work with Aeons of the Dead. “The dead now outnumber us,”* says Sonu Shamdasani, editor of the Red Book. While I am not certain of the statistical exactness of the proportion, I remain aware of the influence of the Dead among the living. Joyce’s short story contains the pervasive influence of Death-in-Life; the monochromatic photographic negative of Coleridge’s ‘Nightmare Life-In-Death’.

Gustave Dore, Detail, Rime of the Ancient Mariner by S. t. Coleridge
Gustave Dore, Detail, Rime of the Ancient Mariner by S. T. Coleridge

Coleridge’s Mariner has a story to tell after making it back from his underworld encounter with the Dead. This story is our story: It is also the underworld story of Ulysses (Odysseus), Orpheus, Aeneas, and Dante in our Western culture. It is the story of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It is death, dismemberment, disintegration, and resurrection. the mariner is compelled, compelled to share his story with a particular Wedding Guest. And this sharing is the result of a recurrent urge; he knows the man with whom he must tell his story. the direct relationship of this to the twelfth suggestion in AA’s steps is fairly transparent: He who arises from the underworld and lives to tell about it has a compulsion to share, as he can only preserve the gains of this experience by giving it away. It becomes an itch that demands nails.

Speaking of nails, what would Christianity be (I ask right after Easter) without the notion of resurrection? Christ died and is risen; Christ harrowed Hell; Christ died so that we would not have to.

And yet we have to.

to the living falls a task, a choice. We can bury (or we can carry). We can avoid. We can join in a number of ways, one of which is listening in. Listening in to an individual it becomes very hard to hear the whispers of the dead; that may take a Jung or a Dante. Listening to the collective voice, hearing the chant of the dead, may be more available to more of us. Perhaps that is why we study history, art, literature. And when we listen in, does something different happen than when we simply try to bury Caesar?

  • Quotation from: James Hillman & Shamdasani, Lament of the Dead. Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (New York: W. W. Norton & Company 2013
  • Detail picture from Gustave Dore’s Illustrations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Nativity Window

Merry Christmas from the Dream Temple


Merry Christmas from the Dream Temple!

In this time of upheaval crossing religious and political limits, I wish there could be nothing inflammatory about wishing someone a Merry Christmas and about talking of Christianity in the 21st Century. My disclaimer here is that I grew up and still live in the South, where Christianity is taken seriously by many people of all stripes. I have attended Universities affiliated with the Southern Baptist, the Episcopal, and the Nazarene churches. At the same time, while many of my friends were involved in denominations which broadly proclaimed Jesus (and we’ll return to that), my family came more from the Northeastern Episcopal tradition of keeping our relationship with Christ cordial and distant. In fact, we referred to him not by Jesus but by his last name, as though respectfully calling him Christ or THE Christ, like a formal relationship with a distant but respected Mr. Christ.Nativity Window

At the Southern Baptist College I attended, I mistakenly pointed out to a professor of religion that Parthenogenesis happens once every 100,000 births,* and Nativity Stained Glasshe was restrained but heated in his response. “As I said earlier,” he emphatically declared, “the death of Jesus was miraculous, and I believe his birth was miraculous as well.” And of course it was. That birth and the aftermath has inspired so much in Western culture and in personal spiritual growth. A related tale is the story of the late 19th century dinner party where a British diplomat asked a prominent Hindu guest why his people deny the divinity of Christ. The response was, “We do not deny the divinity of Christ. Why do you deny the divinity of everyone else?”

So it is from this tradition of respecting the divinity of all that has characterized most of the places I have worked and nearly all the people alongside whom I have counseled or tended the dreams of others. Still, I am often struck working with the dreams of people in this part of the country how Jesus appears to them in the dreamtime: real and as infused with life and vitality as any other Divine figure. These phenomena are transformative, weighty, and valid. Case in point: Jill, a client at YANA about eight years ago, was a tall young woman in her early 30s when she came to YANA House for Women abJill~YANA 2007out nine years ago. Her painting (at right) was constructed on a seven-foot door that had been removed from a closet at YANA, and it depicts her coming to her self while a resident. Her growth, her connection to the feminine in nature and herself, are well depicted in this self-portrait. Last I heard, Jill was doing quite well after leaving YANA with more than a year sustained recovery. Her dream reported below is consistent with her evangelical Christian beliefs:

I am outside. It is like being by a dock but I don’t see any water around. There is a stone in the ground and I pick it up. It is like there is a cartoon scene of Jesus on it, and it starts moving and it is like I am watching the stone being rolled back, Jesus walking out of the tomb dressed in white, and there is light everywhere. It is like the rock has a mirror on it, and light from heaven is reflected on me.

Jill seemed to be in a blissful, trance-like state in recounting the dream. “When I awaken it is like I feel high. My therapist says it’s joy, but it’s not exactly like that. It is like I have knowledge there is no such thing as bad. It comes from God, this knowledge.” Something about her experience in this dream remained with Jill as she moved about the rest of the stay in the extended care sober housing of YANA House. Many of the other women, respecting though not sharing her beliefs, looked up to her as a positive spiritual mentor. Her work with them was genuine, heartfelt, and not in any way proselytizing. If you asked her, she would say Jesus was very much alive in her and with her.

Some people quote Huston Smith with regard to diluting their religion: “If you are looking for water, it is better to dig one well sixty feet deep than six wells ten feet deep.” In other words, honor a single faith specifically and you will strike what you seek. It may also be true though that trying several wells increases the chance you will find a trickle, and I have looked around enough to have slaked my thirst in more than one location. Though I come from a long line of Christians, I have spent much of my life as a spiritual generalist and seeker.Jesus is alive this time of year. Christ is alive this time of year. and the Christian season of advent is, if nothing else, a time ripely  expectant  of the miracle of hope. And today for a change I awoke without an aversion to the concept of Jesus – the first name, personable and caring Son of God more readily embraced by the more evangelical denizens of my realm. Jesus; ready to hand; vital and alive; present and caring. I might insert – hoping not to sound like some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish, but I own much of this year’s  inner work to at least five people whose Jewish background although running silently in the background, emerged in the work of my dreams many times over.

In the work of this year, through my dreams of Jewish Temples and of Christian sanctuaries, I have come to a state of trust in the larger Forces at work. For example, I came into this year quite worried about the planet, and as I write we are approaching a 72 degree Christmas which is startlingly different than the White Christmases or cold ones of my youth. As unseasonal storms (tornadoes) passed through the South last night, it was easy to marvel with awe over the resiliency and power of Earth. I say this even – or especially – in these times of global warming, genetic manipulation, and the biohazard imprint of Man. Despite entering 2015 still bleak and depressed in all of that, I leave the year more hopeful and trusting in nature and in Earth. Christ is alive. The Jewish and Muslim Patriarchs are alive. The Greek Pantheon is alive. The Hindu pantheon is alive. Dreams are alive. And with all of that, I hold hope for the planet, and I do not count as much today, the power of man to destroy what these Forces have wrought.

Peace on Earth; Good Will to All!Merry Christmas!

Currier and Ives ~ Christmas Scene

  • Just to fact-check this, Parthenogenesis is not known to occur naturally in mammals. If it did, the offspring would share the genetic composition of the mother, like a fraternal twin only more so, and would be female, never male.

Honoring Tradition ~ Exploring Frontiers