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Not the same without you 2

Thresholds: Liminal Space and a Grief Observed.

Liminal: The space between places. Not inside, not outside. Like getting to sleep and thinking I am awake ~ yet dreaming already. The room is no longer the room; no longer am I alone. Or awakening, seeing the familiar trappings of the bedroom, yet feeling the traces of the dream thoroughly in waking life and as real as a set of pajamas. Liminal space is the twilight of dreams in which one thing is seen in a different light.


So here are some definitions of Liminal I have gathered around me to help describe this fleeting phenomenon, the phenomenon of fleetingness itself:

  1. Of or pertaining to a threshold or entrance
  2. Barely perceptible
  3. Of or relating to a transitional or the beginning stage of a process, see “inceptive; inchoate, or marginal”
  4. Of or relating to a sensory threshold
  5. an intermediate state, phase, or condition: In between; transitional, e.g., “in the liminal state between life and death.” (Deborah Jowett)


So now I have a dog, approaching fifteen years old and unlikely to make it. She is frail and requires help to get up and down the two steps of the house. She is incontinent. She is well beyond every forecast life expectancy given when she was diagnosed with Seizures (2001),  Cushing’s (2011) and now Addison’s Disease (2013). She has trouble standing up. Doorways terrify her; she struggles between the desire to go out or come in and the fear of falling and not being able to get up. A doormat can and does trip her, and sometimes when the doormat bends back I cannot get the door open fast enough for her weakening systems. Today was going to be the day to put her down, but our vet is out of town.

Libby 2003

Last night I had a dream – one of those deep, unreal, convincing dreams.:

I am at my grandmother’s house. Everyone is in the back living room and there is someone knocking at the den door. I call out that I am coming, As I get there, it is my father (who died in 1999, the year Libby was born). He is there with another relative, not my mother, more like a cousin, younger than he. I can’t open the door because of the mat. I tell them to stand back, I have to close it and straighten out the mat before I can open it again.

A friend of mine who lost his father earlier this year was comforted by the words of a minister: “All deaths are linked.” So his father’s death was linked to his wife’s losses. So Libby’s pending death is linked to the loss of my father, my mother, other pets, friends, and acquaintances. It is linked to my own death, whenever that should be. And there is something about this doorway, in that house where no one would still be alive, that is like the space I am in now about to say goodbye to a wonderful friend and family member.


So, associations in this dream: Grandmother’s house: this is my maternal grandmother’s house where we gathered twice a week for dinner. Very festive, very family oriented. Yet for thirty years, the only time any of the living from that time gather is for a funeral, perhaps a wedding. That will change this summer as an aunt and uncle have planned a gathering. Father: My father’s illness and death was huge in the many changes in my life, sparking in me a fear of my own mortality and that of others. While there has been other losses, none were as close as this. I coped by going to many baseball games that year, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philly, Detroit. Something in baseball attracted me, seeming universal (there are sooooo many more spiritual baseball movies than any other sport). Think, Field of Dreams, the original Angels in the OutfieldThe Natural, or Bull Durham. And this year I have season tickets for the first time. Ever.

Mat. Associations to mat: Mat is where one stands in liminal space. “Wipe your feet, for you stand on Holy ground.” (Misquoting of Exodus 3:5). Also “Mati” for death. Mat as in matted hair of my dog. Mat as in material, matter, something of substance and tangible, as opposed to the intangible or liminal.


So, what does the dream ask of me? What does it mean, what does it want me to do? Part of my reply is that if I could clearly answer that I would hardly need to dream at all. If I knew the answer to that I would not need to write at all or to discuss my dreams with others. Yet the dream as an act of comparison is pretty clear: There is a portal. There is a ‘here’ and a ‘there.’ And what we see in the ‘here’ is linked to the ‘there,’ both in terms of time (such as the days in which family was ‘there’ as opposed to here) and space (in terms of this side or that side of the doorway), and also in something that is beyond time and space, neither here nor there. Dreams, especially dreams like this one, point me to the infinite, that which is beyond any door I know. Beyond this space. Twilight.  Liminal.

Not the same without you 2

Updated July 9, 2014:

Has gone to her reward.

The staff from Belle Mead Animal Hospital were amazing, and Libby seemed so ready to let go of her pain and struggle. The dog who is so full of energy and a will to live now slips into her own dreams, then into the dreams beyond.

My wife, Tricia, is actually staying with our other dog Samantha to work from home  today. I plan to bring Sam for a half day to my workplace and we will see how that goes. Thanks for your support.

Had a dream last night, 7/8/14, first after Libby . . .
May 2009 Smantha Close up
Libby is stuck in a doorway. I am going to retrieve something outside and Sam [pictured at left] gets out. She goes to a garage area where people had left the gate open. People with cars who should have closed the gate. In the dream, as in real life, I am able to flag Samantha down because she is out of shape. Her rehab program starts now!

As for Libby, she starts another program, another assignment, another life. And how grateful are all of us that loved her for the love she brought to us!

Really, there's no bad place to start working with your dreams. The "Idiot's Guide" books are sometimes helpful!

The Worst Books on Dreams

Okay, what is a “Best” List without a “Worst” list? Worst lists are probably among the most popular you can imagine, be it from a Red Carpet Epic Fail, a list of bad B movies, or train wrecks. Name your disaster, and people line up to see it. The 1970s would have had no culture at all had it not been for the blockbuster disaster films that kept people like Ernest Borgnine and O. J. Simpson in the public eye after their best years. I won’t say they kept the people “relevant.” [Contemporary culture does not have to be a good thing. Think, ‘Kardashian.’]

Really, there's no bad place to start working with your dreams. The "Idiot's Guide" books are sometimes helpful!
Really, there’s no bad place to start working with your dreams. The “Idiot’s Guide” books are sometimes helpful!

But books on dreams are so abundant that a search with only “Dream” in the title will yield misdirected results. Books on the “American Dream,” owning your dream home, meeting the soul-mate of your dreams, or any number of other concepts that alone could fill the library of Alexandria without having one book on nocturnal images. So ruling these out, there are large classes of books that generally are bad news for dreams. Those large classes include:

  • Any Dream Dictionary written after the second century, and 96.7% of the ones before that date;
  • Any book part of a metaphysical series that includes aliens, Mayan prophecy, or Chakra alignment (not that there is anything wrong with those efforts, it just kinda cheapens things)
  • Any book that promises to make the meaning of all your dreams transparent;
  • Most books on Lucid Dreaming, see # 2 above;
  • Rants.

I’ll give an example of each.

We’ll start with “Any Dream dictionary . . . ” Almost all of these are reductive. They take a symbol, and reduce it to a single meaning. This robs dreams of their aliveness and cheats the dreamer of her independent associations to the dream. For instance, having a 1 year old baby in a dream, that is yours (but not in real life) will likely mean something different to a grandmother, to a woman who has lost a baby, and to an adolescent experimenting with unprotected sex. Hard to say that image means just one thing – even in the dream the image may refer to more than one thing or being. Hard to pick just one in this category, I would suggest anything that has an author’s name starting with X or Z is straight out of an empty-headed book mill that counts on a gullible public.I will say, swimming upstream from this is the exception to the rule, the surprisingly helpful Element Encyclopedia of 20,000 Dreams offers helpful suggestions, more like a thesaurus of possible meanings than a “this-means-that-and-only-that” approach.

Next, we’ll go with a book in a new age series. A serviceable example here is Caitlin Matthews Celtic Visions book. The book itself may be fine; I’ll probably never know. Caitlin Matthews has authored or co-authored more than 50 books, including many indispensable scholarly works on fairies, tarot decks, and today’s living legends of Celtic shamanism. I may be shallow for thinking her book has less to do with effective dream research than it does effective branding. I am thinking though of buying the irresistible Sherlock Holmes Tarot, due out very soon. Reading some new age books qualifies as a guilty pleasure of mine, and I often curl up with reads about near death experiences of soul retrieval. But no dream works from this source, thank you. There are just too many books rooted in clinical practice and sound research.

For the types of books that offer complete demystification of your dreams, I’ll offer the 1911 Edition of Madame Xanto’s Dream Book, The Penn Publishing Company, 1919. I would not want the upcoming centennial anniversary of this appalling hard copy version of the Magic 8 Ball of dreams to go unnoticed. Note these entries: “Beheading. – To dream of seeing someone beheaded is a good omen, and promises the fulfillment of every hope. To be beheaded, success in love and riches.” However, to dream of a hermit bodes treachery. Maybe I just don’t like it when hermits get a bad rap. I am certainly wary of anything promising too much in the way of interpretation and anything that shortchanges the individual work with images. This approach, again, takes away from the dreamer the personal associations that since before Freud and Jung have been essential parts of a viable dream approach.

Lucid Dreaming:  first, we can define lucid dreaming as any dream in which the dreamer becomes aware of dreaming in the course of the dream, and is able therefore to direct or control the course of the dream. This happens with me sometimes, not always. But many of the books say this is attainable by anyone and everyone should do it. What I most fear in this is the loss of the insight that can come forth by not acting like a control freak during the 8 hours of my day in which that might actually be possible. Life is better when I do not constantly inflict my choices and my wisdom on others around me. Such an attitude allows me to be open to the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of others. Since I do a poor job of relinquishing control during much of my waking hours, sleep may be the highest and best hope that I may be teachable at some level. Also, I will own a bias that I do not believe dreams are here for entertainment, like Television, but for our betterment, like theater. So here, let’s just take the title, “Lucid Dreaming in Thirty Days” as a painlessly short read that exemplifies lengthier and therefore more asinine approaches.

Here is a disclaimer to the inclusion of lucid dreaming. Exceptions to this rule are the more serious and scholarly approaches to the topic, such as anything by Stephen Laberge or Jayne Gackenbach. Laberge has committed a worthy career of a topic that he and a few others have elevated to a plausible and informed science. Lucid dreaming almost did not make this list, were it not for the abundance of tabloid-quality works on the subject at the other end the work conducted by Laberge and his collaborators. Gackenback is the author of some incredibly helpful books, such as Dream Images: A Call to Mental Arms. She also is a former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Rather than books on Lucid Dreaming, I would recommend a couple of TED talks, in 2013 by Tim Post is the most recent. He advocated lucid dreaming to escape recurring nightmares, trauma, or rehearsal for life problems. He also challenges some of the “known science” on dreams, which I like.

Rants. One reason that this writer has a blog is to rant back at those whose rants annoy him!  A rant is usually rooted in a dogma, and a dogma is usually a very crystallized (opinionated) viewpoint on what can be a fluid and alive process. It was Freud’s adherence to sexual wish fulfillment as an unalterable dogma the cause the Jung/Freud break.The book, “Freud or Jung,” written in 1950 by Edward Glover. It appears to be a disciple of Freud in vigorous and attacking defense of his idol. It is certainly okay to have mentors in this work – I have several whose opinion I place far above my own – yet it is presumptuous to discount the work or belief systems of others with regard to dreams. And with that thought in mind, I will close this hypocritical rant on “Bad” dream books!

Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Indispensable Books on Dreams

Wow. Where to start? Freud started by stealing the title used by Artemidorus of Daldis. Oneirocritica [Greek for “Interpretation of Dreams,”] written in the second century A.D. is considered the capstone dream work following centuries of compilations and dictionaries on dreams. Robert White in 1970 translated the work into English for the first time, rendering it more of a useful historical artifact than an actual how-to book. Sigmund Freud used the German title Die Traumdeutung also meaning “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Published in October, 1899, Freud chose the publication 1900 as he figured both he and the Gregorian calendar were about to usher in a new era. He was right, for as much as modern psychology and psychiatry rail against Freud, he is often the starting point of direction and discussion. These two books must be on any list about Dream Interpretation.

As one can see with the list of Worst Books on Dreams, there are so many books out there, it may be helpful to discuss large classes of books that offer wisdom on working with the dream, then cites some examples. So the groups of the best books on dreams would start with this list:

  • Classics in Psychiatry and Psychology of Sleep and Dreams
  • Authoritative Works on Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Sleep Disturbance
  • Compendiums of several Different Authors approaching Dreamwork
  • Emergent Methods of Working with one’s own dreams or the dreams of others
  • Dream Books that challenge the existing order without tearing down the framework of established methods

Classics, starting with Freud and Artemidorus, make people think. Jung was not as clear a writer as Freud. Memories, Dreams, Reflections with Anelia Jaffe categorizes many of his own career-impacting dreams, such as the dream of the Phallus and the dream of the “spectre of the brocken” from which we derive the archetype of the Shadow. In order to render his 20 volume collected works more accessible, Bollingen Press published a book serving as a compilation from articles on dreams across many of his writings. Classics also include some of the works that may be mentioned below by Allan Hobson, Montague Ullman, or Calvin Hall.

Nightmares: Ernest Jones was an early Cabin Boy of Freud, a yes-man of sorts whose journal articles and other writings seem to reflect less of his own work with dreamers and more compilation of the work of others. At the risk of blasphemy on a number of fronts, he was to psychoanalysis what the Apostle Paul was to the early Christian Church – a good organizer but no author of the gospel. He was ever during Freud’s lifetime a dutiful adherent to the Freudian party line. He may be best known for his three volume biography of Freud, but IMHO his best work with the 1930 “On The Nightmare.” He traces most of his work on this to 1911, after which time it lay dormant for a number of years. John Mack made a serious contribution to the Nightmare literature in 1970 with his book Nightmares and Human Conflict. In the 1993 “Counselling in Practice” series, Counselling with Dreams and Nightmares, there is a great chapter for therapists working with nightmares followed by a creditable distinguishing chapter on PTSD, nightmares, and night terrors,  written by Delia Cushway and Robyn Sewell. Three books, three different eras, and this writer recommends that the last should be first and the first, last.

Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!
Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Compendiums or anthologies from different perspectives: The best of these is a series in the State University of New York [SUNY] Press. The General Editor of this SUNY series in Dream Studies is Robert Van de Castle, who passed away January 29th, 2014. But the editors of each book in the series reads like a “Who’s Who” of contemporary dream thought. These include Gayle Dalaney [Editor, New Directions in Dreamtending], Anthony Shafton, [Editor, Dream Reader: Contemporary Approaches to the Understanding of Dreams], and Kelly Bulkeley [Editor, Among All These Dreamers: Essays on Dreaming and Modern Society]. Length does not permit a longer discussion or more examples, yet each of these comprehensive works each present a different point of view, and in the the reader is certain to find herself or himself. The book that flipped my switch (from a counselor who happens to be a personal dreamworker to a therapist who also works with dreams in practice) is Stanley Krippener Dreamtime and Dreamwork, one of a couple dozen worthy works in the Jeremy Tarcher of Tarcher/Putnam Series on Consciousness studies. Krippener and contributors approach dreams from a healthy variety of different, and at times, conflicting approaches. This clarifies one’s beliefs more than a monograph that argues a specific point.

Emergent methods of working with dreams always excite me. Never do I feel that I have outgrown an approach. Clara Hill, a former president of the American Psychological Association, has made a viable academic tradition of training graduate students in an approach called the A-B-C, and I can read her work and marvel of how she has taken a wispy topic and given it simple form. A good working book for the public and professionals alike is Dream Work in Therapy: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action. This book could fit into the category above, as several authors contribute; however, Hill offers a model that is simple with clearly defined moves at different stages of a dream. An even simpler model is proposed by Robert A Johnson in “Inner Work,” a small paperback and a quick read, nonetheless effective in implementing a four step approach. Johnson takes a dream of one of his clients, and simply carries through a discussion that has practical application for any lay reader or the most experienced dream clinician. Montague Ullman became the Johnny Appleseed of Dream Groups, co-authoring with Nan Zimmerman the wonderful book Working with Dreams. Ullman has contributed into dream ethics a democratic belief that the authority over the dream should rest with the dreamer, and not with an “Analyst” or doctor who has a higher level of knowledge about the dream or dreams in general. Many well-operating dream groups today spring from this notion.

Clinical applications of dreamwork find apt expression in Natterson’s The Dream in Clinical Practice and Bonime’s Clinical Uses of the Dream. More speciifically Jungian approaches can be found in Maryann Mattoon’s Applied Dream Analysis: A Jungian Approach. Erich Fromm’s Forgotten Language should not be forgotten. For non-Jungian approaches, another valuable strain began in 1953 with the publication of The Meaning of Dreams by Calvin Hall. 1953 was also the year of pioneering REM research published by Aserinsky and Kleitman which started to usher in the end of the Dogmatic period of psychoanalysis and its monopoly on dream analysis. Medard Boss analyzed some 20,000 dreams by his estimate in practice and offered also in the 1950s a detailed if not systematic departure from psychoanalysis in his 1957 work, The Analysis of Dreams. David Foukles has made tremendous post-Freudian contributions in A Grammar of Dreams.  And Finally, Allan Hobson’s The Dreaming Brain has become since the 1970’s the watershed book about the deterministic functions of Brain Science in dreaming.

Stephen Aizenstat’s Dreamtending is a model that draws on existing traditions, respecting the work of elders in traditions from academic to shamanic. Aizenstat’s approach invites the dreamer and those in dialogue with the dream to allow the dream images their own autonomy, their own voice, their own existence. Whereas Johnson’s Inner Work offers ideas about how to concretize the image, like suggesting the dreamer get some memento or keepsake in sight to remind the dreamer of the image, Aizenstat follows the model of Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology which leaves the images in their own realm and encourages the dreamer to meet the image there on their own ground, the liminal space of dreamtime. This honors the wisdom of the image by not holding it captive or dragging it into the light of day.

It would be a better service if this were more of an annotated bibliography, or, on the other side of brevity, a simple list of books. But my biases are my biases, and the reader of this blog should form her own opinion based on her experiences with the texts over and above what this author says of them. Sweet dreams!