Tag Archives: twelve steps and dreams

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.

Loretto Chapel Staircase

On Top of the Spiral Staircase: Steps 10-12 and Dreamtime

On Top of the Spiral Staircase: Steps 10-12 and Dreamtime

Earlier posts addressed the first five steps of the anonymous programs and steps 6-9. This post is concerned with the “Maintenance” steps in recovery, steps 10, 11 and 12. By “maintenance,” this has nothing to do with harm reduction approaches like Methadone or Suboxone: that may be content for a different blog. These are called the maintenance steps because most of the personality change has been accomplished in steps 4-9; the remaining steps have to do with solidifying gains. And the recovery slogan that applies to monitoring dreams in this area is: “Eternal Vigilance.”

Maybe one of the most surprising features of tending dreams is the report of so many people in long term recovery that addiction or using dreams are such a present form even two and threLoretto Chapel Staircase e decades into recovery. Many people report the relapse dream, usually recounted with remorse, as a literal eye-opener, a dream from which they awaken startled and sometimes shaken, still not sure in that uncertain  haze between sleep and waking if the dream was or was not an actual event.

Day-Blind

One clap of day and the dream
rushes back
where it came from. For a moment
the ground is still moist with it.
Then day settles. You step onto dry land.

Morning picks out the four
corners, coffeepot, shawl of dust
on a cupboard. Stunned
by brightness, that dream —
where did it go?

All day you grope in a web
of invisible stars. The day sky soaks them up
like dreams. If you could see
in the light, you’d see what fires
keep spinning, spinning their mesh of threads

around you. They’re closer
than you think, pulsing
into the blue. You press your forehead
to the cool glass.

They must be out there in all that dazzle.

Chana Bloch

In Professor Bloch’s poem, the dream vanishes with the thunderclap of day. In a using dream, recovery vanishes and the dreamer is left with a lifestyle as old and comfortable as winter gloves at the season’s first snow. The veteran of recovery considers the dram, evaluates the last few days looking for emotional disturbance ofr conflicts with people or values. Finding nothing she moves on. Finding something, maybe a call to a trusted other is a timely action.

For many people in longer term recovery, the dreams are problem solving dreams as would be found in any person any time. Hadfield (1954) listed four pertinent reasons for dreaming which seem as applicable today as then;

# 1: Wish fulfillment: Imagining the problem as though it were solved
# 2: Re-creation of Problem: Not to resolve an issue, but to bring it to forefront
# 3: Possible Consequences: Not just problem statement, but saying how this might work out. . . and . . .
# 4: Self Portrait: “There are other dreams which appear to present a self portrait, a picture of the psyche as it is; they are photographic, mirrors showing us to ourselves and in doing so helping us to face up to our problems in the psyche.”

#1: Of all Freud’s observations on dreams, perhaps “Wish Fulfillment” is the notion that has taken so many rightful hits. It seems that to dream something one wishes for or its opposite is too wide a hoop to miss. Also, research has shown those deprived of food, for instance, may dream no more of eating and food that the normal population, . That and many such experiments have debunked or weakened that notion. Still, dreamwork

sometimes shows us as being in a fAmiens Cathedral 1940suture accomplished state that we might want: the ability to turn away from a bad ethical or moral choice; the ability to exercise our faith or belief in a positive way; even encounters with angels or Deity.

#2: Re-creation or repackaging of a problem – perhaps this is the dreaming psyche’s way of saying there is something so subtle that it needs to be brought forward in stark relief. Maybe this is some seeming harmless form of denial or lack of self honesty – which could lead to a dangerous and slippery slope. Step 10 in the anonymous programs is concerned with recognizing error and correcting it in real time by admitting mistakes or problems. Recovering persons are encouraged to take stock regularly of their actions and to remedy matters when they are small deals in order to stave off big deals. Sometimes a dream may bring a conflict to the forefront in advance of the dreamer’s conscious ability to see it coming.

Problem Solving
Problem Solving

#3: How about possible consequences? Many of the people I work with report that a using dream has given them the option of considering the chain of events that would happen if a relapse actually took place. They derive all the benefit of bad experience without having to engage in the bad experience. It should be remembered there is a difference between a dream shared with revulsion at the thought of relapse versus a dream with enjoyment or thrill about relapse, as is discussed well in David Schoen’s 2009 work on “The War of the Gods in Addiction.” Willful and enjoyable relapse in a dream is not a great sign, though usually in early recovery. However, talking with another person about a using dream allows the dreamer to consider and “think through” consequences of actions.

"How am I supposed to think about consequences BEFORE they happen?
“How am I supposed to think about consequences BEFORE they happen?

#4: So the fourth suggestion Professor Hadfield makes is the notion that the dream holds up a mirror. This is exactly the purpose of step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” It was true in the mid 20th century in psychoanalysis also – dreams have a way of making the marginal worries or problems known and actionable to the conscious mind. This is the type of insight many dreamers seek when taking their dreams to another for consultation. Recovering persons are encouraged to notice their motives, even at incipient stages, watching for fear, resentment, selfishness, and dishonesty as the early seeds of a potential relapse. Reporting this to another person is a cornerstone of maintenance recovery as well as a common and natural component of DreamTending.

Reflecting Pool
Reflecting Pool

Dreams, with their reflective capacity, problem solving functions, canary-in-the-coal-mine alert systems, and capacity for us to evalaute wishes against action, seem to have many of the functions embodied in the maintenance steps of recovery. And the same people who look to dreams for spiritual or human development, amay also find the same in the “self-forgetting” or mindfulness aspects of steps 11 and 12 of the Anonymous programs.

 

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.