Category Archives: Dream recall

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.

Not the same without you 2

Thresholds: Liminal Space and a Grief Observed.

Liminal: The space between places. Not inside, not outside. Like getting to sleep and thinking I am awake ~ yet dreaming already. The room is no longer the room; no longer am I alone. Or awakening, seeing the familiar trappings of the bedroom, yet feeling the traces of the dream thoroughly in waking life and as real as a set of pajamas. Liminal space is the twilight of dreams in which one thing is seen in a different light.

LIMINAL, DEFINED

So here are some definitions of Liminal I have gathered around me to help describe this fleeting phenomenon, the phenomenon of fleetingness itself:

  1. Of or pertaining to a threshold or entrance
  2. Barely perceptible
  3. Of or relating to a transitional or the beginning stage of a process, see “inceptive; inchoate, or marginal”
  4. Of or relating to a sensory threshold
  5. an intermediate state, phase, or condition: In between; transitional, e.g., “in the liminal state between life and death.” (Deborah Jowett)

THE DREAM

So now I have a dog, approaching fifteen years old and unlikely to make it. She is frail and requires help to get up and down the two steps of the house. She is incontinent. She is well beyond every forecast life expectancy given when she was diagnosed with Seizures (2001),  Cushing’s (2011) and now Addison’s Disease (2013). She has trouble standing up. Doorways terrify her; she struggles between the desire to go out or come in and the fear of falling and not being able to get up. A doormat can and does trip her, and sometimes when the doormat bends back I cannot get the door open fast enough for her weakening systems. Today was going to be the day to put her down, but our vet is out of town.

Libby 2003

Last night I had a dream – one of those deep, unreal, convincing dreams.:

I am at my grandmother’s house. Everyone is in the back living room and there is someone knocking at the den door. I call out that I am coming, As I get there, it is my father (who died in 1999, the year Libby was born). He is there with another relative, not my mother, more like a cousin, younger than he. I can’t open the door because of the mat. I tell them to stand back, I have to close it and straighten out the mat before I can open it again.

A friend of mine who lost his father earlier this year was comforted by the words of a minister: “All deaths are linked.” So his father’s death was linked to his wife’s losses. So Libby’s pending death is linked to the loss of my father, my mother, other pets, friends, and acquaintances. It is linked to my own death, whenever that should be. And there is something about this doorway, in that house where no one would still be alive, that is like the space I am in now about to say goodbye to a wonderful friend and family member.

ASSOCIATIONS

So, associations in this dream: Grandmother’s house: this is my maternal grandmother’s house where we gathered twice a week for dinner. Very festive, very family oriented. Yet for thirty years, the only time any of the living from that time gather is for a funeral, perhaps a wedding. That will change this summer as an aunt and uncle have planned a gathering. Father: My father’s illness and death was huge in the many changes in my life, sparking in me a fear of my own mortality and that of others. While there has been other losses, none were as close as this. I coped by going to many baseball games that year, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philly, Detroit. Something in baseball attracted me, seeming universal (there are sooooo many more spiritual baseball movies than any other sport). Think, Field of Dreams, the original Angels in the OutfieldThe Natural, or Bull Durham. And this year I have season tickets for the first time. Ever.

Mat. Associations to mat: Mat is where one stands in liminal space. “Wipe your feet, for you stand on Holy ground.” (Misquoting of Exodus 3:5). Also “Mati” for death. Mat as in matted hair of my dog. Mat as in material, matter, something of substance and tangible, as opposed to the intangible or liminal.

RESOLUTION:

So, what does the dream ask of me? What does it mean, what does it want me to do? Part of my reply is that if I could clearly answer that I would hardly need to dream at all. If I knew the answer to that I would not need to write at all or to discuss my dreams with others. Yet the dream as an act of comparison is pretty clear: There is a portal. There is a ‘here’ and a ‘there.’ And what we see in the ‘here’ is linked to the ‘there,’ both in terms of time (such as the days in which family was ‘there’ as opposed to here) and space (in terms of this side or that side of the doorway), and also in something that is beyond time and space, neither here nor there. Dreams, especially dreams like this one, point me to the infinite, that which is beyond any door I know. Beyond this space. Twilight.  Liminal.

Not the same without you 2

Updated July 9, 2014:

Has gone to her reward.

The staff from Belle Mead Animal Hospital were amazing, and Libby seemed so ready to let go of her pain and struggle. The dog who is so full of energy and a will to live now slips into her own dreams, then into the dreams beyond.

My wife, Tricia, is actually staying with our other dog Samantha to work from home  today. I plan to bring Sam for a half day to my workplace and we will see how that goes. Thanks for your support.

Had a dream last night, 7/8/14, first after Libby . . .
May 2009 Smantha Close up
Libby is stuck in a doorway. I am going to retrieve something outside and Sam [pictured at left] gets out. She goes to a garage area where people had left the gate open. People with cars who should have closed the gate. In the dream, as in real life, I am able to flag Samantha down because she is out of shape. Her rehab program starts now!

As for Libby, she starts another program, another assignment, another life. And how grateful are all of us that loved her for the love she brought to us!

U.S. Supreme Court 1925

Moms, Pops, and Cops: Authority Figures in Dreams

Keystone Cops

In waking life you have a project due. When you are home with your family, you think about it. There is a vague sense you are about to be called on the carpet, found out as an impostor, fired or judged. For many of us, that’s when we have the dream that we are back in High School and have a test we have to finish to get out. It vaguely makes no sense why we’re back in high school, due to our age or that we finished college long ago or for whatever reason, but in the dream we dismiss that logic. We do that, perhaps, to confront the feeling of being in trouble. Something or someone in our lives today has power over us like that vice principal with the paddle, the nun with the ruler, or the teacher who could shame us in front of our peers.

In a recent dream group, we were down to the last two members who had not yet shared a dream. And on that night, one shared an anxiety dream about needing to be at work in 5 minutes, saving time by leaving clothes on as she took her shower.  The other group Three tenmember shared, “I had the same dream last night” – the main  difference was 11:30 AM was the time due at work for one, 3:00 PM for the dreamer who does not have a formal job these days! So a single dream, shared by two group members, separated by the figure of three and a half hours.

What these two dreams have in common is more than just basic anxiety. Each of the dreamers has an incorporated authority figure – they themselves are concerned with the consequences of their actions in their respective dreams. This usually seems a bit more evolved, say, than someone having to meet in the dream some patriarchal or matriarchal figure, a Zeus or Hera of power, that must call the dreamer on the carpet.

But these dreams have a silver lining! This type of dream, seen often in the “Failure to Launch” group of 18-26 year olds – yes, those people who pay more for car insurance – is a sign of maturation. Dreaming of the authority figure often seems to be the incorporation of an internal decider, the development of an inner judge who will lead the dreamer in waking like to the better decisions formerly suggested by a parent or other adult.

U.S. Supreme Court 1925

So, what if you are having these dreams at 40, 55, 70? That is not about developing a Freudian “Superego.” It may mean simply that you are in a life situation where a grown up decision needs to be made: leaving a job; practicing tough love with a grown child; setting limits or boundaries in an adult friendship or relationship. When the inner judge is awakened, it is time to see if your actions towards others lack decisiveness – or on the other extreme – have become too intrusive and demanding of others.

At age 20, I had a series of intense dreams of my father – angrier far beyond his normal demeanor, that were so scary I prayed to God for dreams of my father to stop. They ceased immediately, which left me to work out in the daytime the task of growing up, of meeting adult responsibilities in an adult fashion. In my case, it took another few years for that process to round out – but current research supports the belief that formation of the personality still has some flexibility into the mid twenties. So if you are dreaming of authority – look to your own authority within, and accept the challenge!