Category Archives: Frontiers of Dream Work

Medicinal Meditation: A Healing "Hair of the Dog" that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.

Big Dreams

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.

William Blake ~ Jacob's Ladder
William Blake ~ Jacob’s Ladder

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:

"The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly" dream; detail
“The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly” dream; detail

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:      Bear 2

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 . . .

Thoreau Bearing 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.

Greater Detail: Young, Wounded Goat
Greater Detail: Young, Wounded Goat

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.

Tough Old Goat 1The 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.

Medicinal Meditation: A Healing "Hair of the Dog" that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.
Medicinal Meditation: A Healing “Hair of the Dog” that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.

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.

Mefloquine (Anti-malarial) Structural Formulae

In Defense of the Nightmare: Why Troubled Sleep Sometimes Makes Sense

Common formula these days: Can’t sleep or bad dreams; go to the doctor; get a prescription to wipe out your dreams. A 2006 Dissertation by Kimberly-Anne Ford, Mefloquine dreams: Exploring the subjective experience of risk and safety and its role in the regulation of pharmaceutical drugs in Canada, explored the subjective experience in dreams of drug side effects. While that was only a part of the ethical considerations raised in the dreams, it is a step into the truism that something happens in our dreams when we are not taking psychotropic medicine, and something else happens with our dreams when those medicines are introduced.

Mefloquine (Anti-malarial) Structural Formulae
Mefloquine (Anti-malarial) Structural Formulae

I was talking recently with a friend who was riveted one weekend with the coverage of two horrific world news stories unfolding at once: The violence in the Gaza strip around mutual shelling from/to civilian areas, and the Russian Separatist activities including the militant shooting down of a civilian flight killing nearly 300 peFractured Earthople. Whether it is Kosovo of ten years back, Beirut of three decades ago, vulnerability to terrorist attacks since 9/11, or other forms of consistent national violence, it becomes clearer that the world can be unsafe and unsettling.

Pair that with the trauma on a personal level that happens all over this country: One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The “Ray Rice” situation is horrific for that family, as is every situation in which domestic violence occurs,  and for them it is happening in public. The fact that this and other NFL stars such as Peterson, MacDonald, Dwyer, and Hardy, are all in the spotlight elevates the visibility of a previously invisible problem. One in every 240 Americans will be murdered – at present homicide rates. Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL star, is now awaiting trials on multiple murders.

Today, one in every 34 Americans is either incarcerated or under supervision – meaning there is a lot of crime out there – and a good deal of punishment. And on top of the nastiness that occurs among friends or in our homes, nearly all adults as of this writing watched the horror of 9/11 unfold in real time on live TV just thirteen years ago. There is not an illusion we are safe from THEM (Russians, Terrorists, Asians, Muslims, Drug Cartels) or from US (Excessive Government, Militia, Police, Swat Teams, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Gangs, and Dodger Fans). So part of the question might be, “Why don’t we have more nightmares than we actually do?”

Ebenezer Scrooge

Nightmares operate on several levels. Even that statement, simple enough, operates on a lot of levels. There are night terrors, more prevalent in childhood, more present in trauma survivors (and onot always explained by trauma). These are not the nightmares of the nearly well: these are debilitating physiological and psychological events. Recently, I met a woman receiving treatment for PTSD, and one of her prescriptions is in place to take away her nightmares. Where, then, do they go? Should we not be disturbed? Are we paying attention enough? Are we doing enough?

Traumatic events bring about more horror than the mind can process. Imagined fears can bring about a similar effect to realized terrors. And these overwhelming urges arise in our sleep, some say so that they may be dealt with in a way and at a time that we are prepared to handle them. Wipe our our REM state of sleep, and what are the consequences? Where do those images go? Are we simply bandaging our wounded so they can return to the front lines of home, family, war, workplace, and not feel like the bad things that happen really occur? I am asking not because I have answers, nor because I want them; but more, as Rilke said, because I love the questions. Today, I live the questions.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now.

– Ranier Maria Rilke

 

 

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!