Those of us who regularly journal dreams are often in search of the Big Dream, that overarching spiritual glow we get while basking in the presence of the divine that makes Jacob’s Ladder look like a cat nap whimsey.
Russell Lockhart says of the Big Dream:
The reason why interpretation fails big dreams is that interpretation tends toward understanding . . . only in terms of what already is known, while the bog dream is speaking . . . in terms that are not fully known . . .
Too often perhaps we have those dreams of great mystery and awakening. Perhaps we admire them for a day or two as the glow follows us into waking life. Perhaps we sit on the side of the bed watching it run past again in our waking presence, say “oh!,” only to metaphorically roll back over and fall asleep. The challenge of this post is to seek out the Big Dream, and when it visits, find a way to keep the light alive and burning in your soul!
I mentioned Jacob’s Ladder at the beginning, and that dream which has had such a huge impact on the last three thousand years of history, geography, religion, and politics should not be treated as lightly as I did above. It certain qualifies as a Big Dream among big dreams.
And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Hence, the origin of the promise behind the promised land. Pretty big dream, huh? For most of us, we may never have a dream so large that it alters the lives of say, several billion affected people, as did the dream of the Patriarch. So how do we distinguish between the big dream, the wishful thinking dream, and some garbage-in-garbage-out “day residue” from the day before?
Deborah DeNicola helpfully gives a clear and succinct answer: “Numinous dreams are any dreams that leave you in wonder and move you emotionally into awe, as if you’ve been graced with a transcendent presence.”
For those of you looking for a brief and well researched post, this is a good stopping place. For those who are willing to attend deeply to an experience, stay with me!
A recent dream, worked first with my Dreamtending partner, and later with a mentor, has led to a feeling of the transcendent presence in each of several figures, all of whom seem larger than life. First, the dream fragment from the middle of a much longer and equally substantial dream:
There is an evil man, later he is a Billy Goat, that is a bad character that is threatening a small Latino boy of 6 or 8 and his mother alternating. Each time he would seem to get the upper hand a force would intervene. I have the awareness this is a series and therefore none of the main characters will be killed. At one point the man/goat dreams the boy onto a rock and the boy may be about to be killed or smashed and a bear attacks the goat and sends him off. The boy throws small rocks at the goat that can do nothing but the goat is fleeing the bear more than anyone and the woman in league with him and the boy, I am thinking, can regain some esteem by thinking he is a part of driving off this goat.
The goat is forced to a cave where “Billy Goat Gruff” is coming to work and is now unfortunately for him having to choose between returning the face the bear or taking his chance with the toughest of his kind. He engages with the even more aggressive Goat; this Tough, Old Goat as they go farther into the cave and as I follow and watch. . . .
There is more before and after, but I awaken thinking about the toughest Goat, as well as the bully billy goat, hereafter the “Young, Wounded Goat” that has to meet him. This picture of that scene emerged:
Each of these figures has become larger than life. From this one dream has sprung a conversation with other dreams; imagery and dialogue with each of the five dominant figures, and a felt presence throughout the day of one or more of the figures. I’ll start with the Boy.
“Paco,” not meant in a pejorative fashion here, is a boy who shows up in at least four dreams in the month in which this dream visited. In one he is throwing rocks off a bridge on the way to a town while a woman approaches him from across the water. In another, he is in a hole in the ground, protected by the same bear who presents. Paco is protective of his mother, and intensely a fierce competitor – survivor qualities in a boy who sees family as important. My concern for his self esteem is a key to the take-away for me as the one who views and participates in this dream. This is the time to acknowledge the consistent work of Jill, my dream partner, with this image of this boy and the connection to other dreams and images I have shared with her over these months and years. Jill brings her own life experience, her shamanic ways of knowing, and an incredibly patient presence in allowing me to deepen into meaning or into pain, however it unfolds.
Bear has long been a family totem. Bears, as Jill has helped me see, are the repressed feminine in my family in the form of play and mirth and love that they were allowed to bring forward. Bear is Protector in this dream and in the other referenced above which happened about a week later. This bear reminds me of the bear in a dream of friend Tammy, whose Bear in a dream she shared with a group of us a year ago seems to be “the one who notices” and calls attention to important action in the dream. My Bear is not the same as her Bear, but the two know each other. Bears happen to be present throughout my office, and each one I see is a reminder to be present and to notice . . .
Young, wounded goat: The “numinous” or openly spiritual aspect of this dream is that from the outset I knew there is something of my destiny that is inextricably tied up with the destiny of this wounded goat. The watercolor I made shortly after the dream captured the bright, fresh, and dangerous nature of this wound. To make peace, I had to deepen my understanding of this goat’s wounds – and my own.
Tough, Old Goat: The tough old goat, as he announced in my meeting with my mentor, is not impressed by the appearance or presentation of the young wonded goat. “He has seen 4,000 young goats come and go. Not every young goat gets to be an old goat, but every old goat was a young goat once.” There is wisdom in this figure that reminds me at once of my original AA sponsor who died over 26 years ago, and whom I think of every day. \
The “Mother” figure has not yet been touched in this discussion with the fullness her presence and her vulnerability represent. For length, and out of respect for some of the work I am doing with this fugure now, I will only say shortly that this dream exists for her as much as or more than it does for the young boy.
The combinations of this “Big Dream” include the relationship of goats young and old, the protection of Bear toward Boy, and the underlying relationship between this boy and his mother. Therein lies both some of the original wound; the closeness of child and mother that was affected at some level by the alcoholism in and around both; their alchemical interaction which ranged from the comforting and loving to the conflictual and competitive. And the overcoming of that – ultimately the making of peace with the long buried past – that is some of the magic and the essence of this dream.
Forgiveness and mentorship, healing and repair work together in the formulation of a daily medicine from the parts suggested by the dream: The four components of the medicine are a bit of the old wound (abandonment), an equal part of the energy from the affliction (addiction), the quality of wisdom and experience (sponsor/old goat) and the essence of mountain, the gift of the earth suggested in this dream. These four parts I mindfully mix each day now, and journal the experience.
This draft has now been revised several times since the first draft on February 26th, more than five months ago. It was waiting on this dream that visited about six weeks ago. I want to get back to Russell Lockhart’s quotation: that interpretation fails big dreams because big dreams point to the unknown. I have worked this dream privately for hours, openly with a trusted friend for a couple of sessions, and transparently with a mentor in front of nearly three dozen people. It still has not revealed all of the secrets of the cave nor of the inner relationships of the figures. This is not a big dream because it carries Jehovah or Govinda or Athena or Mohammad, but because Bear notices and because goat feels. This is a big dream not because it will change the course of life for a billion people, like Jacob’s Ladder, nor even in the twenty or more who may read this post. This is a big dream because it may more fully illuminate some dark corners in the life of one. And I feel almost unspeakably grateful for the visitation by this dream and each of the figures. I can only repay that gratitude by continuing to deepen the conversations between myself and them, or witness (bear) the conversations between the figures themselves.