Category Archives: Traditions of Dream Work

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.

 

Tiber Island, Dream Temple in Rome from 290 BC

Asclepius in Rome

Tiber Island, Rome
Tiber Island, Rome

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

Asclepius with Serpent-Rod
Asclepius with Serpent-Rod

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

Tiber Island Coin showing bridges, snake
Tiber Island Coin showing bridges, snake

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:

Clinic MWSo 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.

Tiber Island Image 4

A picture of confidence: Sigmund Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong, yet never in doubt.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Sigmund Freud

The guy everyone loves to hate and no one can stop reading, that is the Sigmund Freud I know. Two parts genius, three parts misogynist, and some combination narcissist and cocaine addict, but one hundred percent confident in himself was Freud. Freud’s theories so dominated American culture from about 1910 to the 1970s that his works affected law, medicine, psychiatry, literature, art, and other diverse disciplines. In the second and third decades of the 20th century, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used the principles of psychoanalysis in a way that changed permanently the public relations and advertising industries in America, finding ways to promote smoking and bacon, for instance. [I find it hard to believe bacon ever needed unconscious promotion, by the way. That’s how well the programming has stuck.]  By the 1930s, when the nation and much of the world was in a financial depression, psychoanalysis seemed to be the answer to collective woes, one person at a time. Alcoholics Anonymous was in formation at that time and contains reference to psychoanalytic terms such as “unconscious.” In popular culture, the influence of psychoanalysis found it’s way into a prominent role in the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Spellbound starring Gregory Peck.

Perhaps I had an early bias in that I knew Freud mostly through Jung and Jung’s split from Freud, which prejudiced my views from about age 20 onward. However, it is thrilling to consider the types of conversations Freud and Jung, and others pictured below, would have had on the journey of the groundbreaking trip to Clark University in September, 1909. Freud and Jung apparently analyzed each other’s dreams on the voyage. The trip was arranged by G. Stanley Hall, then president of Clark and a prolific author of varied periods such as adolescence (he framed the term, sturm und drang as the mood related to teenage years) and senescence, a subject in which he was already gaining firsthand experience during this trip.

Standing L-R: Freud's First English Translator, A.A. Brill; His posthumous biographer, Ernest Jones; Early Psychoanalyst,  Sandor Ferenczi; Seated: Freud, Jung, with G. Stanley Hall front and Center. Clark University, 1909
Standing L-R: Freud’s First English Translator, A.A. Brill; His cabin boy and posthumous biographer, Ernest Jones; Early Psychoanalyst, Sandor Ferenczi; Seated: Freud left, Jung to the right, with G. Stanley Hall front and Center. Clark University, Worcester, MA, September, 1909.

Freud Defined the Early 20th Century

If nothing else, I would likely have had some resistance to Sigmund Freud due to the number of times I had to study the Topographical Theory of Consciousness (Ego, Id, Superego, etc.) How often did I have to study Sigmund Freud? More times than right triangles, more times than any poet but Shakespeare, and more times than European History and American History courses combined. He showed up in Religion 111 class at Sewanee when I was 18 years old (Future of an Illusion and Civilization and its Discontents) a Behavioral Psychology class there as well, and references to him constantly in German 351 (in translation, a course on Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky). Then in graduate school for counseling, then in graduate school in psychology in a school where they recommended applicants read the 24 Volume Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud before admission, followed by an introductory course devoted to him.

A picture of confidence: Sigmund Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong, yet never in doubt.
A picture of confidence: Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong; yet never in doubt.

So, multiple exposures over time in reading Freud – what changed? Reading Freud’s early works makes it clear he was a caring doctor and therapist and, one the way to forming his theories in granite, he showed excitement about tussling with the ideas of consciousness in order to help people with obvious psychosomatic disorders. Like other things in life, we sometimes finds what works – and then stop doing it. So it seems with Freud. It is an easy mistake to try to generalize the most personal lesson, something one sees in a patient and may or may not see in oneself, and then try to cast a rule about that observation in a way that says, “Eureka! I have found it, now I must bottle it and sell it!”Freud’s belief system hardened.

Approaching Mental Health in Victorian Times:

Early in his practice, Freud was amazed at the scope and damage of child sexual abuse. He very aptly traced problems that arose at the end of the latency period to earlier childhood sexual abuse, citing development as the trigger for later dysfunction. Freud saw that before an age at which children could understand sexuality, they did not have the capacity to fully understand the scope of their abuse. Only when they developed romantic or sexual feelings at an age of 8 to 10 did symptoms again come to the surface. His early writings on hysteria and on anxiety have a great deal to offer even today. During the 1890s, as he was not gifted in hypnosis, he used a pressure technique and the power of suggestion to unlock memories held by the body – which he presumed was mental memory: “”The [forgotten] pathogenic idea . . . is always lying ‘close at hand’ and can be reached by associations that are easily accessible.” [Standard Edition, Volume II, p 271] He became increasingly convinced that the threat of childhood “seduction” or abuse, imagined or fantasized, had equal power as the prevalent abuse from which he seemed to distance himself in later years.

A Tight Grip on his Baby, Psychoanalysis

Early on, Alfred Adler was the golden child of Freud’s slowly growing psychoanalytic movement. Few people today realize that Freud sold only a few hundred copies of The Interpretation of Dreams in the first seven years of publication. So those who revered his early work were not overwhelmed by his stardom (Okay, maybe Ernest Jones was). Adler had a falling out with Freud, then Carl Jung was the temporary heir apparent of psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung have differing accounts of the rift, but in Jung’s account there is striking similarity to the concern Adler expressed about dogmatic adherence to sexual development as an uncompromising position (no pun intended.)

Freud was human and fallible, but a very remarkable human indeed. As my story-telling friend Beth Easter once observed to me, “Grandiosity gets things done!” So a man of such confidence and action inspires some, alienates others. Freud’s endurance has as much to do with the uncanny way in which he seemed to polarize different camps and the many fields of endeavor in which that polarization is not easily dismissed. Reading biographies, either critical or worshiping, can do little but color in the lines Freud has already given us in his writings. Among the works of recent years, after Freud’s canonization has fallen a bit short, is Phyllis Grosskurth’s The Secret Ring.

Secret Committee of Psychoanalysis, Berlin, 1922.  Standing L-R, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones, Seated, Freud, Sandor Ferenczi, Hans Sachs.
Secret Committee of Psychoanalysis, Berlin, 1922. Standing L-R, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones, Seated, Freud, Sandor Ferenczi, Hans Sachs.

In this work, the author uses the symbol of a ring Freud had made for the guiding members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society as an image for the inner circle (pictured at right about ten years into their operation, long after the departure of Adler and Jung) through which Freud reined in psychoanalysis.

Another interesting read has to do with Freud’s collection of art, artifacts and relics. One such book is Stephen Barker’s Excavations and Their Objects: Freud’s Collection of Antiquity. Another, and one of my favorites, is the Sphynx on the Table: Sigmund Freud’s Art Collection and the Development of Psychoanalysis by Janine Burke. Freudwas renowned as a fine collector of period pieces with an impeccable taste. What Jung gathered through archeology of the soul in the spiritual remnant of man through the ages, Freud collected as tangible pieces of history.

Consciousness, Feelings, and Defenses

Sigmund and an obviously delighted Anna Freud
Sigmund and an obviously delighted Anna Freud

As an addiction counselor and a group therapist, I have used throughout my career a list of defenses which can be traced to Freud, in part through Anna Freud. Whether it be mind games (rationalization, justification, alibiing, ) attempts to delude (switching focus, arguing, manipulation) and about forty others. Defenses are a necessary part of navigating childhood, functioning after trauma, and moving on after loss. If we had in the forefront of our mind at all times the memory of even one percent of all our emotional and physical pain, it would be debilitating. The problem is that those things that buy us time developmentally or in recovery from trauma do not serve us well over time. There is also “simple denial” which may be considered a complete erasure of a once known fact. There is minimization, a way of making large feelings or issues appear less of a problem. to these, and more, we owe Freud the concept of “knowing and not knowing.” This is how we are aware of something on one level of consciousness, and not another.  It is an awareness most therapists use every working day of their lives, and Freud illuminated that significantly for all of us. That is some of the “love” relationship part with Sigmund Freud. Thank you.

Now Back to Quibbling . . .

But back to the main point. I started with a distaste for Freud, grew to have an appreciation for him, then ultimately returned to a more enlightened disdain than before. Coming along as I have in a less patriarchal era, and influenced by reading several feminist writers who have forced me to think in a different manner, I now find it hard even to excuse Freud for being a product of the Victorian era. Secretly, I love many of his writings and for his advancement of thought, Ultimately, I appreciate that we continue to have meaningful arguments 75 years after his death that are helping us shape our beliefs, meaning his influence is now alive in three centuries. And in the final analysis, it has been difficult to rely on Freud’s arguments for anything meaningful in my practice today.

I mostly quibble with Freud over that for which he is most famous – The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud adheres more and more as the book continues to the dogma that has been perhaps most successfully assailed by investigation and research: “A dream is the fulfillment of a wish.” It is as though he was convinced that by saying it enough it would become true. And for seventy years more or less, it stayed that way. Not until Kleitman and Aserinsky published in 1953 their study on REM sleep, the same year that Calvin Hall broke away with The Meaning of Dreams, did the chink in the armor begin to widen in the scientific world of sleep and dreams. Still, in popular consciousness, Portnoy’s Complaint and Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart) were still representing psychoanalysis and psychiatry to the public well into the 1970s. It is hard to convince people today a psychiatrist is only there to play chemistry set with neurotransmitters, as many of my contemporaries still expect a fifty minute couch session.

The Love/Hate pays off for some . . .

Edward Glover and Bruno Bettelheim are two authors who took Freud’s side when it was popular and paid dividends to do so. Both of them drank the ideological Kool-aid that psychoanalysis proffered for half a century. Ernest Jones was also in that camp, and, quite the opposite of Bettelheim, Jones without much of his own talent her survived off Freud’s fallen crumbs of knowledge and wisdom like a pigeon in Mary Poppins. For the last forty years or more, it has paid to hate bury Freud, rather than to praise him. In the interesting but bashing book “Freud and Cocaine: The Freudian Fallacy, E. M. Thornton points to ways in which Cocaine might have had a negative impact on the development of Freud’s theories. What is most interesting is that what she says about Freud’s hypnosis guru, Charcot, could just has easily, over even better applied to Freud:

[His] work was quite unintelligible to his detractors both before and after his death. But to imply that a man of his calibre spent years of his life in pursuit of a chimera is to do an injustice to a very great neurologist.

I will close with a quote I like from Freud written before his Interpretation of Dreams. He started out with a gentle and welcoming mindset for the dream image or the images uncovered in his pressure association technique. A former mentor of mine once said something that I often recall, “If a client brings you an issue once and you miss it, that’s okay, it will come up again. If you miss it the second time, they will go somewhere else.” Freud said something similar in a statement that speaks to the importance of recurrent dream images and which equally be applied to most of his controversial concepts:

A picture which refuses to disappear is one which still calls for consideration, a thought which cannot be dismissed is one that needs to be pursued further. Moreover, an image never returns a second time once it has been dealt with; an image that has been ‘talked away’ is not seen again.

Freud in his London office, late in life. 1939.
Freud in his London office, late in life. 1939.