There are times when working with Dream opens up a story. That story may be a new story – such as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dream that Robert Louis Stevenson had once. Or it may be a common story, like the having-to-take-a-high-school-exam-dream that soooooooo does not make sense in a person so far removed from the last Homecoming Dance. But what about encountering a story in dream that is so old, you just know it is older than you are? Like those “trickster” dreams in which something shape-shifts into something else, and you just have a feeling this dream is not about the dreamer.
In December 2007 I had what I thought was a pretty average dream about me. A couple of months later, working that dream in depth with a mentor, I felt the entire Greek Pantheon in a struggle about
me. The dream was not about me at all, only my perception of the dram was really about me. The gods of Olympus were duking it out – again. I won’t relay the whole dream, as that would make the length of this post unbearable. But enough to give you the idea.
I am in a living room of the house I live in. I am thinking I should paint this room – [edited for length]. There is an oil portrait of an ancestor in this room. It is actually more like a pharaoh, and I am at some point in the dream thinking when he wakes up, he will wreak havoc and do harm if I don’t have something for him to eat and drink. I wonder if I can fend him off for a while with that bottle of port I have in the dining room.
In a room there are some relics in bookcases or display cases that have value, handed down from the family, including things on top like a 19th century “perpetual motion machine” – those things concerned with keeping some constant motion – they are really like toys. One of them has a series of 8 cups and 8 ball bearings, it takes at least two of the bearings to operate the contraption, and as I am looking at it the last two ball bearings that fit into a cup to maintain motion fall out and quit. I am thinking I need to fix this, feeling really worried that the pharaoh will attack if I do not. As I start to fix it, an older man like my father in law tells me, ‘Here is what I would do. It’s now December. I would tell the guy that runs this he has until February.”
The dream continues a seemingly interminable length. The next scene is about my son and his debate partner; then a scene where I am robbed and humiliated by two men. At the end of the dream I have to track these men down to regain my manhood – for my son more so than for me.
The chain of associations in this dream with a mentor were very long. Part of that is that the images seemed so very, very old, much older even than the 150 years of family history represented. The sadness of two centuries of men who had lost sons, boys who had lost brothers, families with an empty spot, informed me in my body of the weight and responsibility I carry just in being alive. I can see it in the firmly set mouths of many of my forbears, each living with a kind of 19th century ancestral pain:
When my father was 6 years old, his 24 year old brother was killed in a car wreck. Their father, my grandfather, has lost his 22 year old brother when he was 24 due to pneumonia. Their father, my great grandfather, lost his 17 year old brother when he was 19 “whilst a student at Bethany College” in 1864. Their father had also lost siblings, on back. Part of the story was multigenerational grief and loss; what was the other part?
The unspoken part of this family curse was that between my brother and me, without knowing all the family history of centuries back, I had the nagging sense that one of us didn’t belong. As my brother was perfect (Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt; established in my father’s business) – I must have been the expendable one. I survived peritonitic and appendicitis at 11 months of age, against odds, as the family story holds. I always got the message “I am lucky to be here, and perhaps not really necessary in the equation.” The dream references the anger of the gods when they realize that, maybe like some Harry Potter, I was “The Boy Who Lived” when he shouldn’t have. Addiction and addiction recovery, and working through that sense of superfluous existence, is at the heart of the dream. As old a story as the survivors of generation upon generation.
The story unfolded even more deeply. My first wife’s father died at age 39. Her grandfather at 49, and on back in time for four generations at least no Millard father lived to see the age of fifty, going back to her great grandfather who died as Lieutenant Governor in California. Amazing how those two pieces fit together, isn’t it? And bearing down on age 40, perhaps the strain of my own mortality, my family complex and hers, may have contributed to an unconscious flight from my fear of perishing that led to a divorce. Something about all of that became apparent in the dream; something about my history was understandable, and leads to a compassion for both the mother of my children, that first marriage that could not hold, and my current relationship with my children and my new wife and her children. Old story. New cast of characters. Multiple possible endings?
A few images from this dream many years ago stay present with me today. One is the idea of the angry pharaoh, disturbed into awakening by a shaking of the order of things. I occasionally have to make peace with the pharaoh; to convince him time marches on, and that people and systems evolve and develop. Another is the portrait of Philip Lindsey, who really does hang in my dining room. His portrait does, rather; he does not personally hang out there; he hangs in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, actually. And another is the notion of the “perpetual motion machine” and what happens when things stop. Sometimes, when caught in a cycle I cannot see ending, I can visualize this machine, see it stop, and then explore what happens next. Do you have a cycle you wish would stop? Can you see yourself living beyond a problem or complex that currently has you so in its grip that it defines you?
Sweet dreams . . . to you and to all sleeping Pharaohs.