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.
Breaking the 500 barrier on “Linked In” connections.
A new job and a new practice.
So one year later, another hot August day, another bright idea. I have been here before. This blog started the way many other things start: Thinking while doing something else. Doesn’t matter if I was in the shower, or driving to work, or crocheting. My mind was elsewhere. And in that elsewhere my mind thought, “I bet I have 52 topics for dream blog! I could do a post a week on just what is in my head now!” So I dictated to Siri a list which by the time I got to work (Yes, I WAS in the car) had gotten to 31 different topics. As I transcribed I thought of several more. I had to write.
The Medium is the Message
It has been fifty years now since Marshall McLuhan taught us that phrase in his book, “Understanding Media.” What he meant was, we need to study the medium in which the message is brought to us. Dreams have been recently pooh-poohed as a soft medium with no more message that the random firing of neurons, or on the other extreme perhaps, a spiritualist seance every night.
So in service to the 20th century’s best known “medium”, Edgar Cayce’s son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, is quoted as saying, “The best interpretation of a dream is the one you apply.” And to update that to the present, this year, one of my favorite new dream quotes is: “The best interpretation of a dream is the dream itself.” No interpretation needed; the image is the image.
Today, one year into this blog, I might agree that I had to write, and I also might have to admit now I have less to say. The best experience of the dream is the dream, and we all have them every night. Trying to capture every message from every dream is like cataloging snowflakes to prove their difference or discover their similarities. At some level, we all have to let the snow melt into the ground and await the next skyfall.
That being said, this morning, I looked over my original list of dream topics. It looks to me like there are a lot of areas left untouched. So oneward in this, Post One of Year Two: once or twice a month, it does not hurt to have a reminder in the inbox about the value of the miracle that happens repeatedly each night.
The guy everyone loves to hate and no one can stop reading, that is the Sigmund Freud I know. Two parts genius, three parts misogynist, and some combination narcissist and cocaine addict, but one hundred percent confident in himself was Freud. Freud’s theories so dominated American culture from about 1910 to the 1970s that his works affected law, medicine, psychiatry, literature, art, and other diverse disciplines. In the second and third decades of the 20th century, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used the principles of psychoanalysis in a way that changed permanently the public relations and advertising industries in America, finding ways to promote smoking and bacon, for instance. [I find it hard to believe bacon ever needed unconscious promotion, by the way. That’s how well the programming has stuck.] By the 1930s, when the nation and much of the world was in a financial depression, psychoanalysis seemed to be the answer to collective woes, one person at a time. Alcoholics Anonymous was in formation at that time and contains reference to psychoanalytic terms such as “unconscious.” In popular culture, the influence of psychoanalysis found it’s way into a prominent role in the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Spellbound starring Gregory Peck.
Perhaps I had an early bias in that I knew Freud mostly through Jung and Jung’s split from Freud, which prejudiced my views from about age 20 onward. However, it is thrilling to consider the types of conversations Freud and Jung, and others pictured below, would have had on the journey of the groundbreaking trip to Clark University in September, 1909. Freud and Jung apparently analyzed each other’s dreams on the voyage. The trip was arranged by G. Stanley Hall, then president of Clark and a prolific author of varied periods such as adolescence (he framed the term, sturm und drang as the mood related to teenage years) and senescence, a subject in which he was already gaining firsthand experience during this trip.
Freud Defined the Early 20th Century
If nothing else, I would likely have had some resistance to Sigmund Freud due to the number of times I had to study the Topographical Theory of Consciousness (Ego, Id, Superego, etc.) How often did I have to study Sigmund Freud? More times than right triangles, more times than any poet but Shakespeare, and more times than European History and American History courses combined. He showed up in Religion 111 class at Sewanee when I was 18 years old (Future of an Illusion and Civilization and its Discontents) a Behavioral Psychology class there as well, and references to him constantly in German 351 (in translation, a course on Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky). Then in graduate school for counseling, then in graduate school in psychology in a school where they recommended applicants read the 24 Volume Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud before admission, followed by an introductory course devoted to him.
So, multiple exposures over time in reading Freud – what changed? Reading Freud’s early works makes it clear he was a caring doctor and therapist and, one the way to forming his theories in granite, he showed excitement about tussling with the ideas of consciousness in order to help people with obvious psychosomatic disorders. Like other things in life, we sometimes finds what works – and then stop doing it. So it seems with Freud. It is an easy mistake to try to generalize the most personal lesson, something one sees in a patient and may or may not see in oneself, and then try to cast a rule about that observation in a way that says, “Eureka! I have found it, now I must bottle it and sell it!”Freud’s belief system hardened.
Approaching Mental Health in Victorian Times:
Early in his practice, Freud was amazed at the scope and damage of child sexual abuse. He very aptly traced problems that arose at the end of the latency period to earlier childhood sexual abuse, citing development as the trigger for later dysfunction. Freud saw that before an age at which children could understand sexuality, they did not have the capacity to fully understand the scope of their abuse. Only when they developed romantic or sexual feelings at an age of 8 to 10 did symptoms again come to the surface. His early writings on hysteria and on anxiety have a great deal to offer even today. During the 1890s, as he was not gifted in hypnosis, he used a pressure technique and the power of suggestion to unlock memories held by the body – which he presumed was mental memory: “”The [forgotten] pathogenic idea . . . is always lying ‘close at hand’ and can be reached by associations that are easily accessible.” [Standard Edition, Volume II, p 271] He became increasingly convinced that the threat of childhood “seduction” or abuse, imagined or fantasized, had equal power as the prevalent abuse from which he seemed to distance himself in later years.
A Tight Grip on his Baby, Psychoanalysis
Early on, Alfred Adler was the golden child of Freud’s slowly growing psychoanalytic movement. Few people today realize that Freud sold only a few hundred copies of The Interpretation of Dreams in the first seven years of publication. So those who revered his early work were not overwhelmed by his stardom (Okay, maybe Ernest Jones was). Adler had a falling out with Freud, then Carl Jung was the temporary heir apparent of psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung have differing accounts of the rift, but in Jung’s account there is striking similarity to the concern Adler expressed about dogmatic adherence to sexual development as an uncompromising position (no pun intended.)
Freud was human and fallible, but a very remarkable human indeed. As my story-telling friend Beth Easter once observed to me, “Grandiosity gets things done!” So a man of such confidence and action inspires some, alienates others. Freud’s endurance has as much to do with the uncanny way in which he seemed to polarize different camps and the many fields of endeavor in which that polarization is not easily dismissed. Reading biographies, either critical or worshiping, can do little but color in the lines Freud has already given us in his writings. Among the works of recent years, after Freud’s canonization has fallen a bit short, is Phyllis Grosskurth’s The Secret Ring.
In this work, the author uses the symbol of a ring Freud had made for the guiding members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society as an image for the inner circle (pictured at right about ten years into their operation, long after the departure of Adler and Jung) through which Freud reined in psychoanalysis.
As an addiction counselor and a group therapist, I have used throughout my career a list of defenses which can be traced to Freud, in part through Anna Freud. Whether it be mind games (rationalization, justification, alibiing, ) attempts to delude (switching focus, arguing, manipulation) and about forty others. Defenses are a necessary part of navigating childhood, functioning after trauma, and moving on after loss. If we had in the forefront of our mind at all times the memory of even one percent of all our emotional and physical pain, it would be debilitating. The problem is that those things that buy us time developmentally or in recovery from trauma do not serve us well over time. There is also “simple denial” which may be considered a complete erasure of a once known fact. There is minimization, a way of making large feelings or issues appear less of a problem. to these, and more, we owe Freud the concept of “knowing and not knowing.” This is how we are aware of something on one level of consciousness, and not another. It is an awareness most therapists use every working day of their lives, and Freud illuminated that significantly for all of us. That is some of the “love” relationship part with Sigmund Freud. Thank you.
Now Back to Quibbling . . .
But back to the main point. I started with a distaste for Freud, grew to have an appreciation for him, then ultimately returned to a more enlightened disdain than before. Coming along as I have in a less patriarchal era, and influenced by reading several feminist writers who have forced me to think in a different manner, I now find it hard even to excuse Freud for being a product of the Victorian era. Secretly, I love many of his writings and for his advancement of thought, Ultimately, I appreciate that we continue to have meaningful arguments 75 years after his death that are helping us shape our beliefs, meaning his influence is now alive in three centuries. And in the final analysis, it has been difficult to rely on Freud’s arguments for anything meaningful in my practice today.
I mostly quibble with Freud over that for which he is most famous – The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud adheres more and more as the book continues to the dogma that has been perhaps most successfully assailed by investigation and research: “A dream is the fulfillment of a wish.” It is as though he was convinced that by saying it enough it would become true. And for seventy years more or less, it stayed that way. Not until Kleitman and Aserinsky published in 1953 their study on REM sleep, the same year that Calvin Hall broke away with The Meaning of Dreams, did the chink in the armor begin to widen in the scientific world of sleep and dreams. Still, in popular consciousness, Portnoy’s Complaint and Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart) were still representing psychoanalysis and psychiatry to the public well into the 1970s. It is hard to convince people today a psychiatrist is only there to play chemistry set with neurotransmitters, as many of my contemporaries still expect a fifty minute couch session.
The Love/Hate pays off for some . . .
Edward Glover and Bruno Bettelheim are two authors who took Freud’s side when it was popular and paid dividends to do so. Both of them drank the ideological Kool-aid that psychoanalysis proffered for half a century. Ernest Jones was also in that camp, and, quite the opposite of Bettelheim, Jones without much of his own talent her survived off Freud’s fallen crumbs of knowledge and wisdom like a pigeon in Mary Poppins. For the last forty years or more, it has paid to hate bury Freud, rather than to praise him. In the interesting but bashing book “Freud and Cocaine: The Freudian Fallacy, E. M. Thornton points to ways in which Cocaine might have had a negative impact on the development of Freud’s theories. What is most interesting is that what she says about Freud’s hypnosis guru, Charcot, could just has easily, over even better applied to Freud:
[His] work was quite unintelligible to his detractors both before and after his death. But to imply that a man of his calibre spent years of his life in pursuit of a chimera is to do an injustice to a very great neurologist.
I will close with a quote I like from Freud written before his Interpretation of Dreams. He started out with a gentle and welcoming mindset for the dream image or the images uncovered in his pressure association technique. A former mentor of mine once said something that I often recall, “If a client brings you an issue once and you miss it, that’s okay, it will come up again. If you miss it the second time, they will go somewhere else.” Freud said something similar in a statement that speaks to the importance of recurrent dream images and which equally be applied to most of his controversial concepts:
A picture which refuses to disappear is one which still calls for consideration, a thought which cannot be dismissed is one that needs to be pursued further. Moreover, an image never returns a second time once it has been dealt with; an image that has been ‘talked away’ is not seen again.