Some people dream of the Rich and Famous all the time; for others it is rare to dream of someone famous. I’ve had quite a few dreams of Governors and Presidents, fewer dreams if any about people from Hollywood or Music Row (I live in Nashville). My favorite such dream occurred the morning after the Presidential Election in 2008 as the last image I had before going to sleep was that proud American moment – for Democrats and Republicans alike – when the Obama family waved at all of us from Grant Park in Chicago. My dream went like this:
There is a restaurant associated with a retreat center and I am coming in – lots of glass and several sections, some large, to the restaurant. It is compartmentalized perhaps in the same way as the parking garage was yesterday in real life at the doctor’s office. At any rate. I wind up sitting with Bill Clinton about 20 minutes or so. We talk and he is glib and very much at ease. I may share with him a dream I had about Hilary. [A woman from ] contracts brings him a cup of coffee and asks if I would like one too, out of courtesy, and I reply “I would, thank you”. Thinking then of cream and equal, which I see on the table, I say, “I’ll have mine black.”
I woke up amused for a couple of reasons, one being the comfort and ease that Bill Clinton displayed like a regular guy, reading the paper as I recalled in the dream. And of course, endorsement of the change to a new president, “I’ll have mine black.” I never order black coffee!
Dr. Michael Lennox in his book Dream Sight tells us that celebrities are the gods and goddesses of today; the images of publicity now rule where the Olympians reigned in the time of the original Dream Temples. So in one sense, those personalities to whom we give our time and attention may constellate in the dreamtime. I was concerned in another dream that Sigmund Freud, with whom I had been hanging out all day, was eating pork for dinner. I then decided it must be my issue, not his. Very apt, since he had been dead sixty-five years when I dreamed thus.
Research says that dreams of famous people occur perhaps less than you would expect. But that research is evolving, and as Americans face more and more screen time in their week, It doesn’t take a lot for a Snooki or a Kim Kardashian to emerge in the dreamtime. So the question I often hear is, how do I know if that really is Dr. House in my dream? Here are five explanations of the Rich and Famous appearing in your dreamscape:
1) You want to be noticed. Maybe you’re feeling a little low profile in the workplace, unappreciated at home, or maybe just want to catch the attention of someone in particular. Sharing the spotlight with someone famous is a way of name-dropping, perhaps.
2) The famous person carries a meaning that is important to you. If it is a political figure, the dream may sharpen, challenge, or justify your views. Someone glamorous in a dream may ask you how well you are caring for your appearance and wellness. And the presence of a spiritual or religious icon may invite you to awaken the part of you that has compassion or connection for others.
3) “Day Residue:” Or, a recent exposure to the images of that person. Ever awaken with that song in your mind you heard the day before? Sometimes these hook lines and catch phrases stay with us for days. So it is when watch Television or see a movie. Some dreams seem to be mostly a continuation of the drama with ourselves in it. In a way, my dream of the presidents was more likely a leftover from watching the election outcome than it was a desire to hang out with Bill Clinton. Focus on what is different about you in the dream, what is the theme of the action, or what makes this dream your dream and not theirs?
4) Wish fulfillment and Fantasy: Sometimes, we just want to win the lottery and party with the Kardashians. Come on, admit it!
5) Compensation. (This is not about getting a raise at work) Compensation is a term coined by Alfred Adler in 1907 in a work about the concept of inferiority feelings. The short cut is we admire in others some aspects we lack or are currently developing.
Carl Jung used tell us to pay attention to the little people in dreams. It is not always the big shot – we must ask, “what about the dream of the celebrity really applies to us?” So even if dreaming of celebrities is a rare event, it sometimes makes the dream memorable enough to recall and share the next day. That makes it noteworthy – it is a portal into our dream world, and if we can get beyond the initial amusement, we might just learn something about ourselves.
An earlier posting covered the relationship between dreams and the first 5 steps of the Anonymous programs. For readers who work with clients in recovery, this post addresses the “forgotten” steps, 6 & 7, about which very little is said in the original 12 step recovery literature. It is not surprising that as the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published with the most senior members of the fellowship being sober only four years, and no more than ten members with two years clean or more, that there was limited experience in the fellowship about how elements of the shadow emerge over years of recovery. So there is no surprise if people get better at the rate of a step a year, there were just two paragraphs on steps six and seven in the original edition (1939). So here’s a long post on a short subject . . .
It has been said that “No matter what step someone is actually working on, people in recovery get better at the rate of a step a year.” If that’s true, it would be clients in advanced recovery, their second five years, where we see dreamwork active in these areas. Yet clients with substantially less time seem to experience dream content around the principles behind these for steps: Willingness & Humility.
When treatment programs proliferated in the 1980s (after new insurance coverage and before the onset of managed care,) many treatment programs operated a 30 day program taking clients through the first five steps. They left off at the nebulous step six, which is described in a single paragraph of the original 12 step textbook but which someone could spend a lifetime working: “Became entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.” This refers of course to the less desirable qualities dredged up in the steps related to admitting a problem and committing a written introspection shared verbally with another recovering person. When I think of steps six and seven, I think of instincts, often survivor skills, that worked at one time and no longer work for the person in recovery.
One client who struggled with authority – for good reason early on – could not outgrow this shortcoming later in life. She had a dream of running from the police, and “I had a garden I had planted and someone wanted me to do something different with it but I was very stubborn about it.” She was actually in relapse for about a month before she admitted her stealing and drug using to staff in her continuing care environment. She recreated some months later the struggle with authority represented as an instinctual exercise of her will against authority.
Instincts and Mediation
That’s “Mediation,” not “Meditation,” and certainly not “Medication.” However, meditation is an artful balance toward the instincts that seem to be at the heart of steps six and seven, and these days many people in recovery are on medications they rightfully need and should not abruptly stop without physician advice. What we are talking about here is “mediation” of the instincts, the “mediator” often being an observer consciousness in the dreamtime. That sounds complicated, but what it really says is that sometimes a dream figure can help us not damage others by instincts flowing unfiltered into our actions. In fact, Sigmund Freud so based his dreamwork on sex drives, and made a bulwark of it, that it took half a century for psychiatry and psychology to look at anything else. John Barth, inspired at rebellion in his novel, End of the Road, wrote quite a humorous riff on this dynamic, if Freud were correct, then:
this one simple yen of humankind, poor little coitus, alone gives rise to cities and monasteries, paragraphs and poems, foot races and battle tactics, metaphysics and hydroponics, trade unions and universities? Who would not delight in telling some extragalactic tourist, “On our planet, sir, males and females copulate. Moreover, they enjoy copulating. But for various reasons they cannot do this whenever, wherever, and with whomever they choose. Hence all this running around that you observe. Hence the world?” A therapeutic notion!
While sex without restraint is ultimately the undoing of the characters in Barth’s novel, most people in recovery have a wider range of impulses to navigate or to mediate. Sex and aggression, sure, are present. Several clients lately, well beyond the fourth and fifth steps, have had dreams involving a devil or the devil – and not always as an adversary. Shelley Marshall, in her book, Your Dream of Recovery” relates a 6th step dream of a client dancing with the devil. To some degree, every human has to dance with the devil of instinct – when cut off by a driver in traffic – when attracted to someone, when tempted to overindulge. These are examples of what step 6 in the recovery literature of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to in this way: “At this point in our development, we are under heavy coercion to do the right thing. We have to choose between the pains of trying and the certain penalties of a failure to do so.” (12 and 12, page 76).
What connects Shadow Work and these steps?
First, the Shadow can be explained as repressed material that unconsciously affects our decisions, moods, and relationships. Robert Bly calls it “The long bag we drag behind us.” Connie Zweig, Editor of the Tarcher Putnam book “Meeting the Shadow, and author of Romancing the Shadow, says that Jung had in mind that everything which stands in the light casts a shadow. The concept comes from Jung’s dream in which he was carrying a lamp outside, and he was increasing unnerved to the point of desperation with fear of that which crept up behind him – his own shadow. In the end, the shadow for all of us is what we have chosen to repress, including aspects of self which may be instinctual in nature. Shadow work begins with the introspection of step four (personal inventory) and brings dark material into the light in step five.
Fight or flight impulses in school aged children sometime mean the difference in riding on the bus in peace of falling under the wheels of it. At certain times, it is not cool to show fear, weakness, vulnerability (mostly in men) or intelligence, competency, or sensuality (mostly in females.) The phenomenon of girls “dumbing down” is well documented in the literature with an onset around age 8-10. Appearing too smart may be a social disadvantage. Early sexual development, considered an advantage for boys (socially, interaction with adults) is a disadvantage to girls. Layer on top of this a variety of family or social messages, like “Be thin,” “Be nice,” “Don’t cry,” “Hurry up,” “Shut up,” “Don’t tell anyone what goes on in this house,” or “Toughen up,” and you have the makings of some very valuable survival skills that do not serve us as the adults we would like to be.
Dreams sometimes express conflicts between those instincts that kept someone alive in a key dysfunctional relationship but which endure beyond the life of that relationship in an unhealthy way. In the example dream above, the dreamer had suffered significant abuse from an adult at a key point in her life; her problem in part was that she persisted in her rebellion long after her family member got help. Change in viewpoint or change in mode of acting and reacting is appropriate not only for substance users, but for those who grew up in a dysfunctional home or who found an alcoholic partner (ACA and Al-Anon), or for someone who engages in a behavioral addiction or process addiction (for which Overeaters Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous might be a solution).
Another way steps six and seven make themselves known is through the Complex. That is the person you cannot stand and can’t say why; the things that go wrong without reason; the stunted relationship or the day everything you pick up seems empty or broken. In the complex lies a secret: something about us has gone awry and keeps replicating itself. It looks like the fault lies with others, but responsibility is closer at hand for the dreamer. A complex is usually a set of circumstances in which a person falls into a familiar and undesirable pattern without being able to see her role in creating the situation, often asking, “How did I wind up her again?”
Here is an example of a person stuck in a victim complex – for good reason, but stuck nonetheless. This dreamer, actually in the same group as our less successful first example, had a series of abusive boyfriends. It would be easy to stop there, but a key dream for her revolved around an image of her journal, which was kept in a safe, in a lingerie store. What could seem more private than that? Looking with courage at her role in the dynamics of her relationships was key in this woman moving forward through her “character defects” into more responsibility for her behavior with transparency and a desire for help. By safeguarding her recovery, and by holding closely what she was learning through journalling and therapy, she did not have to act on impulse. At last contact, she was clean 18 months and active in her recovery program. There’s power in the action of talking things out and writing things out; it keeps these defects of character or distorted thinking from caroming around the mind unchallenged!
It seems fitting to follow a post on snakes with a post on the archetype of healing, Asclepius. Homer identified Asclepius in the Iliad as the physician father of a couple of excellent physicians. Carl Kerenyi argues that a narrow interpretation of that slender reference misled Asclepian scholars throughout the nineteenth and half the twentieth centure in assuming he was some local tribesman not far removed from Homer’s hometown. There is evidence of an older and more developed notion of Asclepius and of the wounded healer several hundred years before Homeric times. At any rate, Asclepius is most identified with his major temple at
Epidaurus in Greece, but in the center of Rome, not a mile (as the vulture flies) from the Colosseum, lies Tiber Island, home to an ancient Asclepian Temple. Separating myth and legend from fact concerning the origins of Tiber Island is no easy task, so we will let all three stand together as so frequently occurs in these posts. Tiber Island dates to antiquity and legends that go back to ca. 510 BC and to the fall of the unpopular despot Tarquin the Proud. That a temple of Asclepius thrived there comes into more historical clarity in the documentation surrounding a third century BC outbreak of plague in Rome. The Senate consulted the Sybil, priestess of Apollo, and were told to seek the cure for the plague in “the one who wounds,” specifically, to fetch Asclepius himself from Epidauros. So a boat was dispatched for that purpose.
Hesitant to leave the comfort of his temple for travel to the Roman Senate, Asclepius agreed to send his proxy in a snake. He announced his decision by appearing – in a dream of course – to the Roman Senator Ogulnius. Ovid gives this a Roman account: “Be not afraid; I shall come and leave my statues,/ But see this serpent, as it twines around/ The rod I carry: mark it well, and Learn it/ For I shall be this serpent, only larger/ Like a celestial presence.” So the divine, celestial passenger rode first class from the Temple at Epidaurus
and within just a few oar strokes of the seat of the Roman Empire, the enthusiastic snake jumped ship and headed for the Tiber Island. Now, if you are captain of that ship, sent to bring home a Greek god and returning empty handed, you have two choices: either admit you lost the sacred snake and that you spent two months traveling for nothing, or amaze the senate with your tale of how the snake chose the island with religious zeal. So there, three hundred years before Christ started teaching, in this manner upon Tiber Island was founded the Roman Temple to Asclepius that later became the site of St. Bartholomew.
So, what happens in a dream temple? Yes, the goal is healing, and just how is this to be accomplished.? Anthony Shafton tells us in the SUNY press Contemporary Dream Reader that the setting and the process was to facilitate a dream through incubation. Shafton reminds us of the Freudian notion of day residue, that virtually anything that happens in the day may become grist for the dream mill. People came to the temple in order to receive inspiration from the god, Asclepius himself, dwelling in the temple, much the same as Christians might look for the Holy Ghost at church. Now for a fun fact that Shafton points out: The online Merriam-Webster links the word “clinic” to the following etymology:
So there it is, straight from the Asclepian Dream Temple to the 19th century Viennese consulting room couch. Dreamers were encouraged to relax, bathe, and recline for the dream or vision that would come in the temple. In the Abaton, a holy dormitory, pilgrims would lie on a couch, and sleep for a numinous encounter. The inspiration would carry the medicine. Because a one thousand year old temple stands on the site of the ancient dream temple, there are no archeological excavations of the Dream Temple at Tiber Island to verify location and floor plan. We do know that a well predating the church operated for quite some time, and water was an important cleansing part of the overall healing ritual.
In working with dream images today, it is my belief that every dream -even the dark ones – carry a form of medicine within. The wonderful thing about a dream group is that neither I nor the dreamer has to be smart enough to figure that out – someone in the group will inevitably find a peace that is affirming and available to the dreamer, which the dreamer has the right to accept, reject, or revise. Whether the Greeks and Romans would largely personify Asclepius as the god of the dream, or whether the images themselves seemed to be a part of the pantheon, we can only guess. I suppose many people had concrete notions of Asclepius, and others understood him as a spirit of the living dream image.