Tag Archives: James Hillman

Past, present, and future of the clan

150 Years of Family Dynamics and a Small Dream . . .

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

ZeusPedimentOlympiame. 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 needPharoah Clock 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:

Clockwise from upper left; Randal McGavock (1826-1863; Philip Lindsley (center, 1786-1855); William Cocke, (1768-1848), Jacob McGavock, Felix Grundy (1777-1840.)
Clockwise from upper left;                                                                                                                                 Randal McGavock (1826-1863); Philip Lindsley (center, 1786-1855); William Cocke, (1768-1848), Jacob McGavock (1790-1878), Felix Grundy (1777-1840.)

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?

Past, present, and future of the clan
Past, present, and future of the clan

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.

DreamTending Venue 2~1

Settings for Working with the Dream

Place.

There is something about working with a dream that invites consciousness of place. The first time I met Ed Casey, in April of 2006, he mentioned how beautiful a place Ojai [California] is. “You should go there when you have time.” Ed is the author of many books about place:

Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps (University of Minnesota Press, 2002)
The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (University of California Press, 1997)
Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Indiana University Press, 1993; second, expanded edition, 2009)

So when Ed tells you to go someplace, you go. Seven years and 30 trips to Southern California later, I went. And Ojai is a beautiful place.

Ojai Valley

I was fortunate enough to have a couple of classes with Ed on Phenomenology and Ecology between the time of his recommendation and the time of my visit, and I was not the same person in part because of the the result of his frame of reference. I got there just before sunset, and the depth of my appreciation for Ojai and for Ed would be the subject of another blog.

For now I am concerned with the setting in which we work a dream, and the view from Ojai might be just such a place.DreamTending Venue 4~1 cropped  So might the comfort of one’s own study, office, or the outdoors. Just as in remembering a dream, the setting in which it occurs is so important, so it is when re0inviting the presence of the dream in waking consciousness. When working with the images of a dream, as suggested in the work of James Hillman, Steven Aizenstat, or Robert Johnson, paying attention to the surroundings might be a key element in our ability to invite the image to come alive.

Some qualities to consider when sitting with a dream:

  • Quiet may be important, and limited interruption
  • Absence of electronic image, foreground and back
  • Access to art materials, clay, sand, or sketchbook
  • An inviting setting for the Guest, free from distraction
  • A flame, optional, representing the living image
  • Something organic; a flower, a plant, light
My favorite place to have my dreams held by a mentor
My favorite place to have my dreams held by a mentor

So in my home, I have a place for me and a Guest, whether that Guest be a dream figure of someone working with a dream:

DreamTending Venue 1~3 croppedAnd in that space the chairs are almost at a right angle. The attention is not on me, but allows for the attention of one or more people to be on the place in the room where the image will come. The door through which she may walk; the shelf on which it may perch; the floor on which he may sit.

DreamTending Venue 2~3

Office, too, has the same position of space; plenty of light; and invitation to doors and windows for the dream image to approach. There is also something in this that reminds me of the sign in Jung’s office, translating to the English, “Bidden or Unbidden, God is Present.” That’s a sound reminder that the Higher Power or the Pantheon is not a mere lackey to be conjured up: Always present is the Psyche. Always here is the Divine. Always at DreamTending Venue 4~3 Croppedhand is the Image. What differs is not the quality of that Presence, but our [my] ability to be present and to connect with that image. So whether it is a solitary spot or a group setting, as below, thee is always room for more. Isolation may be the choice but solitude can get very crowded very quickly. And pictures herein do not do justice to the majesty of the settings in which very personal and very transpersonal work with the dream image can be done. If you are new to dreamwork and want to know how, this particular entry offers little help, except perhaps to point to those who know better. Those who know, better.

DreamTending Venue 5~5

So I have Ed Casey on my mind as I am flying to Southern California tomorrow. And though it is somewhat out of my way, I am intending to drive the windy path to Ojai, and to worship at the Cathedral of Place recommended by Ed.

 

 

Votary Figures and SBE 4

Meditation and the Dream

Last week I was thinking of a story that arose from the Catholic monastic tradition. My flawed memory is that his time of year about thirty years ago I was reading Lawrence LeShan’s book How to Meditate but I cannot find it there, so I can’t properly attribute the source at this time.  The story goes that a monk was new at meditation. He had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and was very pleased, seeing this as some advanced state of enlightenment. He related his good fortune to his mentor who promptly told him, “Go back to sitting, and if she appears again tell her to go f— herself.” This seemed pretty blasphemous to me at the time, but the image has lasted.

 

Behind this story is the primacy of meditation for meditation’s sake. The idea is that to free one’s mind totally also means freeing it of the images from the spiritual dimension as well as from the tasks of life: “Did I pay the AmEx bill?” and “Does the dog need his Parvo shot?” are equal to distractions of divine revelation from opening of the crown chakra. For instance, in The Lotus of the True Law, or Saddharma Pundarika, the Buddha, “sat cross-legged on the seat of the law and entered ipon the meditation termed ‘the station of the exposition of infinity,'” when a marvelous thing happened:

And at that moment issued a ray from within the circle of hair between the eyebrows of the Lord. It extended over eighteen thousand Buddha-fields in the eastern quarter, so that all the Buddha fields appeared wholly illuminated by the radiance, down to the great hell Aviki and up to the limit of existence.

Votary Figures and SBE 1

So the draw toward meditation is perhaps that experience of “enlightenment” such as the Buddha with the curl modeled for us. I’ll have to say, that is what I anticipate every time I sit, and that’s my goal when I contemplate the station of the exposition of infinity.” That was also, by the way, the goal each time I smoked weed in the 1970s.

chill

And meditation is often defined by our ability to anticipate and dismiss mental distractions. Dreamwork sometimes operates in a different order. In the dream we are presented with the images first. Then we write out the dream, and share the dream with another and associate on the image. We invite the image into the room. We allow the image to take form, to dialogue, and to instruct. We are no more master of the image than a chimney is master of its smoke. Dreams start with the image, the image comes to life, and the image brings meaning or experience. Meditation has a different directionality; we start with the experience, the image is banished or put to death, and undisturbed mediation proceeds. Of course, neither process is that neatly linear, and neither direction is right or wrong; I am just pointing out there is different directionality and different meaning. One thing happens if one’s aim is to banish the image; another thing happens when one is open to interplay or submission to the will of the image.

Meditation is a broad term to many people; perhaps a more narrowly defined term for those who have adopted a formal or regular practice for a number of years. In the mind of this writer, meditation and dreamwork overlap and yet are distinct: and meditation can be a tool to enhance a dream image, to allow it the live of its own much like an active imagination such as may be described in the works of dreamworkers as different as James Hillman and Robert Johnson. This morning, in approach of the New Year, it is my intention to allow an active imagination in a meditative style between the part of me that meditates and the part of me that dreams.