Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Shrink's Epiphany

Last night I had a high-energy dream of someone being transformed internally, and was told that "the superego must be integrated". Afterwords, I saw beautiful,multicolored cosmic flowers or Christmas-tree lights that rushed towards me. I seldom dream in color. I have been through three therapists over thirty years, and have had my first conflict-free day of my life, even achey with a cold and battling winter depression. Everything feels different. Freud's superego is the idealized and judgmental other, frequently childhood authorities or heroes, that lord it over the ego, in dream and psychically. I suppose I had a shrink's epiphany. What dream epiphany have you had this season?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dream Play in the Beyond, An Invitation to Play

In the previous post, I asked a dream-incubation question, “What is beyond the dream?” After the dream visitations of the Day of the Dead, I asked, “What is beyond the body?” and got this dream in response:

I drive my red Triumph Spitfire (the one that I went back to college to retrieve in the healing-dream post) into a tropical town and roll under a big truck in an intersection. I turn off the ignition and crawl out, unharmed, while rescuers take a lifeless body out of the car. They place another victim in a body bag, that shakes spasmodically, and I feel for the victim. The rescuers tell me that it is a miracle I survived.

I look where they have put my car and realize that I could get in and drive away, but I want to stay and help. Besides, I can’t escape, because a red Triumph Spitfire is easy to spot.

In my previous healing dream, the red car is my body image with old gas. After the crystal dream- incubation question, “How can I be faithful?”, one of the responses was, “filling stations”, to service others with old gas. Now the response to my question, “What is beyond the body?”, is similar—don’t escape, but stay and help the others. That’s the miracle!

The same car appeared in a dream response to the question, “How can I be free?” I am racing in my car and flip off the track. The car with my body disappears, while I remain on the track and feel a gradual transformation, beginning at my feet and moving up, like the description of the death of Falstaff by Shakespeare. Having become the living dead, I return to my college fraternity house.

It could be body narcissism represented by my college sports car, but that is how the ego isolates itself from others, from the fraternity. In the first half of life the narcissism fuels the heroic journey, but the second half is the time for fraternity and service, in this realm and beyond.

The red Triumph Spitfire was used in dreamplay in the dreams that I have shared. I invite you to share vehicles that have appeared in your dreams—cars, buses, airplanes, bikes—anything that comes to mind. It’s playtime!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Who is the Dream Play Mate?

In the previous post, the quantum leap of lucid dream energy allowed me to finally leave the childhood home of my midlife dream journey. I asked a dream-incubation question, “What is my lucidity?”, and had a single dream image of a man, collapsed, with strings attached to his body, like a puppet. It was as if the strings held by the puppet master were cut. The new freedom gained on awakening from dream, separated from the puppet master, can be traumatic.

So who is the puppet master, the dreamer who dreams the dream? -- the id, the Self, the not-me, the divine? I incubated the question to see if the dreamer would identify him/her/itself and got this dream in reply. I am on a bus with my wife and others. Beside me is my office laptop computer. I am sitting up front looking out of the windshield as we descend rapidly, causing me concern. I get out at the stop at the bottom of the descent and leave my wife and laptop behind, but get concerned again, run out into the street recklessly and try to get the bus driver to stop for me, but he regards me impassively and drives on.

So who is the puppet master or dreamer? Myself, the dream ego? My wife, my feminine counterpart or anima? The bus driver, the pilot of the dream of my married and working reality? The dream ego has an infantile wish to escape his marital and work responsibilities in the descent of the second half of life. It could be his dream. His wife and anima wants to keep the karmic couple together, the yin and yang, and wants the dream ego to feel the pain and consequences of separation, like the puppet cut loose from the master. The bus driver knows the marital and working reality is only a dream and will not let the dreamer back on board once he has awakened. The driver is indifferent to the loss of reality, the descent, the impermanence of the waking of reality. It’s only a dream.

If the divine is indifferent, why does it bother to answer my questions? The indifference is to my dream, not my awakening. The divine is concerned with awakening; the dream is only a vehicle, a bus. Only play.

The world religions are about awakening. Christ awakened, and the name Buddha means “the awakened one.” But what is it to be awake? What is beyond the dream? I incubated that question also and got only one word in response -- Phoenix. The mythological Phoenix is the bird that rises from its own ashes. Life after death? Reincarnation? Rebirth? Transformation? Then I started humming the Glen Campbell song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” The next line is “she’ll be rising.” Who will be rising? The mythological bird? The collapsed puppet? The wife I left behind on the dream bus? My anima, my soul? There’s a lot of play in a single word.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Midlife Dream Play--IV The Ascent

My therapist and guide on my midlife dream journey, Z, retired not long after my dream from the last post, but it took me ten more years to finally leave my childhood home in my dreams. It was not until I was able to become conscious in my dreams, to dream lucidly, that I made the escape.

In my first lucid dream I am in my childhood home as I had for over ten years of dreams in analysis, but for the first time I leave! I haul my stuff behind me in some kind of tractor, out of the driveway and into the street out front of the house. I see some black boys in the street, similar to those in my first dream with Z, The Descent, and say, “I’m dreaming,” and everything becomes more intense and alive. The boys pass me without incident, and I decide to use the street as a runway to take off in my tractor and fly. It is a difficult and belabored takeoff, but I do clear the ground and rise above my neighborhood.

The technique of saying, “I’m dreaming” is practiced daily while awake whenever a target event occurs. I practiced this technique whenever what I experienced while awake was in my own imagination, like anxiety or over-excitement, psychic reality versus the concrete. Therefore, when I felt threatened by the boys in the street, I recognized the anxiety and took responsibility for the psychic reality, the imaginal. I could acknowledge the imaginal consciously while both awake and asleep and take responsibility for it. Otherwise I never would have had the courage to finally leave my childhood dream home after all those years of analysis. The month before I had dreamed that the ocean was now close to my childhood home when in fact it is twenty miles away. With the imaginal so close I could finally leave home.

Lucid dreaming is awakening to dream, to the waking and sleeping dream, to the imaginal that includes both. It is our egos that awake from the illusion of our duality, our separateness and isolation, our conflict with others. I see threatening males all the time, but its only a dream that I awaken from. As Jung would say, I take back my projections of my vitality onto threatening men and realize that it is all a dream. Taking responsibility and control in lucid dreaming is taking back all the power the ego has given away. With that power, I was finally able to leave my childhood dream home and face the threatening street males and even fly a little with all my baggage after years of dreamwork in therapy and ASD conferences.

Lucidity is like a quantum leap to a higher level of energy and consciousness in dreaming that allows dreamplay while asleep. When I realized that I was dreaming in the street in front of my childhood home, I was able to play with flight rather than be concerned with the threatening people. Without Z, my guide, I was on my own.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Midlife Dream Play--III Ilumination

After a few more years of midlife dreamplay with Z, my therapist and guide, I arrived for the session after sharing a dream in which my deceased mother fell to the ground where I took her in my arms and told her that I loved her, and was told by the doorman, "We wouldn't be meeting today." He gave me her room number in the hospital. I knew that she was old but I didn't know her age. Since she hadn't called and canceled our session, I feared that it was serious. As I returned home to call the hospital, the image of holding my mother in my arms flashed in my mind and I felt the emotions again, but for Z this time.

My fears grew when I called her hospital room and got no answer. I called the nurses station and was told that she had an infection and was in for tests but had fallen and broken her hip while trying to find the toilet in the night. And I had just told her the dream the previous session!

I went to the hospital for visitor's hours the next day. She looked beat up, had a black eye and bruises on her arm. I touched her fingers gently and was reassured by her grip. I realized that I had never done the same for my mother and was thankful for a second chance before realizing that this was not a dream.

"So you started your August vacation a week early," I said, but was still uncertain what was real and what was dream. I just stood there holding her hand and gazing into her battered face. With her sitting behind me in therapy I only looked her in the face as I arrived and left, and I was the one lying down the rest of the time. This was a disconcerting reversal. For a moment I thought she had staged it all for the therapeutic effect, but her condition was far too real. She was the patient now, I thought. I squeezed her hand and repeated my words to my mother in the dream, "I love you."

In our first session after Z’s vacation, I shared this dream:
I'm in the dining room of my childhood home and focus on a framed figure from the wallpaper (Colonial Williamsburg pattern). I feel sorrow and cry. "You're crying for your lost childhood, not your home," I chastise myself. I go to my childhood bedroom, but my parents are there, asleep on a sofa bed. My mother gets up and hugs me, and I am reassured to feel her two breasts after her mastectomy. "Wrong room," I say and go to my grandmother's room, but my uncle and his wife are staying there. Then I realize that my parent's room with their plantation bed is my room now.

Even my dream is telling me that my childhood is not my home. We don't go back home to childhood but to our home for the second half of life. Even our lost completeness, what I am crying for, is not the completeness of the second half. Completeness was originally merger, oneness, and, as the midlife journey teaches, the resolution of the conflict of duality, of Plato's split people, becomes neither one nor two in the second half. Colonial Williamsburg is gone with the wind along with childhood.

I do a final tour of the home that I cry for--first my bedroom where I find my parents sitting on a sofa bed, the place for overnight guests. They are gone now and just visiting. I move on to my grandmother's room. She ran the kitchen and the cleaning woman--my first Z. She's gone also, replaced by her son, my uncle, just as I have replaced my parents. Their room is mine now. In reality their plantation bed is in the guest room of my current home, where I must return.

It is ironic that my mother died of breast cancer as if her nurturance was diseased. Now she has been made whole again after my previous dream of holding her in my arms and saying that I love her, which I repeated to Z in the hospital. The symbol was integrated into my midlife home when my eleven-year-old daughter greeted me with a hug and the news that she had gotten her first bra the night before the dream. In case I hadn't noticed.

It required years of dreamplay with Z in my childhood home to restore my mother’s nurturance, just as the play of darkness and light transformed the dark father into the ruddy-faced grocer in the previous post. The trickster is very playful!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Midlife Dream Play--II The Quest

After a few years of dreamplay and journeying with Z, my therapist and guide, I had this dream:

It's after midnight and I can't sleep. I go out the kitchen door of my childhood home, through the carport, into the backyard and walk around to the other side of the house beside my parents' bedroom. I look at the sky in front of my house, which is a beautiful blend of darkness and light.

I walk back around to the kitchen door and open my eyes to see the doorknob glowing in the dark, closer than I expected. I go into the kitchen and hear a car driving into the carport. I drop down and hide on the floor below the windows, paralyzed by fear, but manage to get up and confront the man at the door.

He has dark, slicked-back hair, like the actor George Hamilton, and is wearing a business suit. He says that he is inspecting the fruit producers in the neighborhood. Not enough people are eating fresh fruit, and the producers are having to freeze their product. Salmon also. People don't realize that salmon contains a special ingredient, he says. While he speaks, he is eating grapefruit sections. I feel as if I'm doing what I can. Meanwhile, his appearance has changed to a ruddy-faced, stocky man like a grocer or butcher.

It's after midnight--midlife. I can't sleep and begin an odyssey of my own. The journey begins in the kitchen of my childhood home where many of my dreams are located. The kitchen was the domain of my grandmother, the maid and cleaning woman, a guise of the Latin woman from my Descent dream in the previous post. Beside the kitchen is the carport--the port of entry to the outside world and, later, the Ascent.

Behind the house is the backyard where I played, where my father buried my childhood dog, but that is only a passageway. I want to see the sky out front. I could look at the sky from the carport side of the house, next to the cleaning woman's kitchen, but I want to see from the other side of the house, beside my parents' bedroom. Same sky, different perspective. From that perspective the sky is a beautiful blend of light and dark--the opposites. From there I can see the dawn coming and the end of my quest, but I am not ready and return to the kitchen and the transition space of therapy and play.

Back in the darkness I must open my eyes to see the doorknob of the kitchen door glowing, closer than I expected. I am not ready for the dawn but there is illumination in the doorknob to my midlife transitional space. Inside I hear a car in the carport. I am paralyzed by fear and have dropped down, descended into the darkness below the windows and the light.

Somehow I rise again, manage to get up and make a stand. The dark father has come to inspect fruit. Tropical fruit.

There were citrus trees in Florida where I was born. My family brought a grapefruit tree back home from Florida and planted it beside the kitchen. Each winter its growth was killed back by the frost, but it would grow new sprouts every spring. Even at midlife. After midnight. Fresh fruit is healthy; it should not be canned or frozen. The Latin woman's tropical tree can be transplanted, however, and regenerate itself at springtime.

Salmon is a different kind of recovery--a second half of life recovery. It's what Erik Erikson calls generativity or the transfer of power to the next generation. Odysseus returned home and rescued his son's patrimony and Prospero gave up his magical powers and his daughter's hand in marriage. To the indigenous North Americans the salmon is a mythological creature for its powers of generativity, its struggle upstream to its source to lay its eggs for the next generation, to regenerate itself like the grapefruit tree.

The actor George Hamilton was the lawyer to the Godfather in the film, but his dark, sinister appearance changes to a ruddy-faced Nordic--from dark to light. Hermes was the god of transformation, of alchemy. He could change appearances--the mercurial trickster and player. He was also Odysseus' guide in his encounter with Circe and convinced Calypso to set the voyager free to return home. The trickster in my dream changes from dark lawyer to the Godfather to a dealer in fresh produce, a grocer or butcher. At Scott Peck's community building workshop I became close to a Nordic looking German named Manfred. Man freed. Man freed by both recovery and transformation, freed by dreamplay with darkness and light.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Midlife Dream Play--I The Descent

“I work with dreams”, my therapist, “Z”, told me at our first session at the beginning of our midlife dream journey. I told her that I dreamed now and then, but had come to her because of my interest in the unconscious. We chatted for a while, and I went home and began our journey immediately with this dream:

I leave school for summer vacation and ask an important friend to look in on my two Porsches in the garage when I call. I get off of the train onto a sea wall overlooking home far down below. The road down to home is further on, but I got off early, at the peak of the railway where I could just slide off the train onto the sea wall. Below the wall is a shear drop, but I wave, cheerily to my two friends on the train, who wave back. I carefully get down the steep drop from the wall and go back to the nearest and most direct way down to home, not the road further ahead.

At the entrance of the way down, I must pass a family of crabs in the sand. A young crab leads me through the bones, picked clean by the crabs, to a side exit to the way down. I run into the sandy way with my old dog, leaving behind the threatening people. My old dog then sprints ahead of me and I can't keep up with him.

I arrive with my wife and baby daughter at an unassuming house down below. My wife climbs through a side porch towards the back. She asks me to lift our daughter up to her, which I do with some difficulty, then realize that I can't climb up myself. I notice a way to crawl under the porch and say, "I'm not proud," then crawl under to join them. As we enter the backyard of the house, I notice an easier way around the house that requires no climbing or crawling. The female owner of the house is working in the backyard and says, "Yes, there are many ways."
She is joined by six or seven smiling children. She is young and attractive. I say to her in Spanish, "Estoy muy joven," then correct my grammar and say, "Esta muy jovenes." Still wrong.

I'm taking a break--going on vacation from school, leaving my Porsches behind with an important friend. My worldly trappings. Portia was the wife of Brutus who had an important friend in Julius Caesar. Some friendship! Odysseus left two women behind when he returned home--Circe and Calypso, his two Porsches. In his case the important friend was immortal. Caesar proved to be all too mortal. But Odysseus had challenged the gods with the ambition of Brutus.

Like Odysseus I am impatient to get home and get off the train early. At the peak, at midlife. It is downhill to the road home, but I get off onto a sea wall at the beach. My Washington dream journey began at the beach with the important friend, the powerful black man, in hot pursuit. The sheer drop is as anxiety provoking as the sea was in Washington, but I wave, cheerily to my fellow travelers on the train.
Somehow I negotiate the steep drop and backtrack to the nearest way down to home, impatient once again, and like Odysseus, encounter the hazards of impatience and regression. The entrance to the way down is guarded by a family of crabs. Both my mother and father had died of cancer, the crab, their bones picked clean--another midlife specter. In The Tempest, the spirit Ariel sings:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.

So there is the hope of transformation, a sea change into something rich and strange, in this ordeal. Like in Washington there is the sea, waiting for me—the quantum sea for formless play—on the seashore.

I need a guide through the crab hazard, and when on the sandy way down. Shamanic journeying is often guided by animal spirits, and my dead dog comes to my aid, his spirit too swift for my mortal legs. On Odysseus's return home he was recognized in his beggar disguise by his old dog, dying in the garbage of the suitors, and Dante found animals in the dark wood on his midlife way.

I arrive at home with my wife and child, my Penelope and Telemecus, but again, like Odysseus, there is much work to be done. The house is unassuming, unlike the Porsches I left with the important friend, so at least the grandiosity has been worked on. My childhood home was unassuming, and I would remain there in my journey for many years. The work involves choosing the way as it was up top getting off the train. My wife takes the high road and I the low. I'm not proud. There is an easier way, neither high nor low, neither my wife's nor mine. The woman working behind the house tells me there are many ways. My work is to find mine, as Joseph Campbell described the heroic journey.

This is my first dream, as I began my work with Z, my guide on the midlife journey. The woman in back of the house in my dream is hanging laundry--dirty clothes have been cleaned. More work to be done. My grandmother did the wash when I was a child in my childhood home, and Z is eighty years old. But the woman in the dream is young and attractive with six or seven happy children, a good mother. My grandmother had seven children, and my young attractive mother was the oldest. More work will be necessary in sorting these women out, the "jovenes." More work and play. I am back with the children in my childhood home. I'm not only confused about their identities but my own as well. I tell the woman, "I am very young," in Spanish. It is the regressive way I took by backtracking from the seawall.

When Odysseus returned home he was recognized not only by his old dog but by his childhood maid as she was bathing him and saw his scar. The woman out back in my dream is a washerwoman also. With Z the seawall and crab family lead to the attractive Latin washerwoman. Odysseus would never have faced the underworld without the seductive charm of Circe. There is work as well as play in the underworld.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Midlife Dream Play

It is said that the first half of life belongs to Freud, the second half to Jung. Our first forty years are dedicated to channeling our sexual and aggressive drives to the aims of family, community and economy, heroic efforts--the life instinct versus the death instinct. At midlife the darkness becomes visible as William Styron documented in his account of depression. Lurking in the darkness is all we left behind in our heroic quest, all that detracted from our destiny like the ruins of an earlier civilization buried under the new. For the remainder of life we excavate the buried ruins for the treasures of life's second half. We still fear the darkness but appreciate what can be reclaimed before we ourselves are reclaimed. This is the time for Jung's archetypes of the collective unconscious, the shadow of our heroic ego, our opposite-sex soul or spirit that we have neglected, the mystical which made Freud so uncomfortable.

The darkness also contains the madness that we found overwhelming as vulnerable children in the face of the inevitable traumas of birth and growth. Winnicott believed that our human authenticity hides in that madness and must be recovered, cautiously, when we are ready, no matter how painful the reencounter with the darkness. Winnicott called the madness “creatice chaos”, the area of formless play, the infinite sea of quantum energy out of which reality emerges.

Darkness is reencountered in dream. Both Freud and Jung had midlife dream journeys that resulted in Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams and Jung's encounter with the collective unconscious. Jung described his encounter in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections as a steep descent into a dangerous inferno reminiscent of Dante's midlife journey. For seven years Jung dreamt of Salome, Elijah, Philemon, Ka and other creatures of the lost civilization that embodied spirit and soul as well as madness. But like Odysseus, another midlife voyager, Jung returned from the underworld destined for home and his journey's end.

Shakespeare encountered the darkness in The Tempest and reminded us that "we are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep." Like Jung, Shakespeare envisions a magical old man and soulful young woman, Prospero and Miranda, who guide him through the storm and a reencounter with his madness, to his own vision of home.

Home is in the darkness. It is where we started and where we're going. Home is our madness, both ecstasy and pain. There the opposites reunite that were torn apart in heroic quest. Like Plato's divided creatures we find our missing half in the embrace of Yin and Yang.

Freud was more reluctant than Jung in embracing his missing half at midlife. Perhaps the heroic drive was more compelling, or else the fear of the darkness was stronger, but, for whatever reason, Freud remained, like his hero Moses, excluded from the promised land. Of course, Freud offered the hero Oedipus as his guide in his dream book, another wanderer in the desert longing for the promised land. Both Oedipus and Moses are patriarchal heroes superimposed on the ruins of the matriarchal civilizations buried in the darkness. They are part of the "archaic heritage" that Freud cites for dreams that originate beyond the experience of the dreamer, similar to Jung's collective unconscious.

Just as the mythological heroes who descended to the underworld, Jung had his guides to the collective unconscious in his dream journey. Winnicott calls therapy “two people playing together”, with the therapist as guide as the mother was for the child at play. I had a midlife dream journey with an eighty-year-old woman as my therapist and guide. She was trained by the anthropologists Roheim and was well equipped for my descent into the archaic past. Together we experienced Winnicott’s formless play in midlife transitional space.

The next four posts will explore the phases of my midlife dream journey with my guide: the descent, the quest, illumination, and the ascent, similar to the ones presented at the Mythic Journey workshop at the Washington Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference related in an earlier post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dream Play with the Dead

After the annual conference of The Association for the Study of Dreams in Santa Cruz, I had treatment for my prostate cancer the week of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and felt under attack myself. At the conference I had told Sven Doerner that I would come to his dream-sharing retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico during Day of the dead festivities the end of October. Local curanderos(healers) participated in the dream sharing and were available for individual healings, which sealed the deal for me.

The retreat was at Sven’s hacienda in the sacred valley of Monte Alban, which my wife and I had explored thirty years earlier. It was like going back to college to get my Triumph Spitfire. Sven’s dream-sharing approach is for the group to reenter a dream hypnagogically as in Jung’s active imagination, intensifying the bodily sensations and “cooking” them alchemically in the retort of the group. The goal is to free blocked or channeling diffuse impulse, especially opposing impulses. Blocked impulse would be earth or body bound, while diffuse would be air-borne, intellectually or spiritually. The alchemical retort of the group is transitional space between body and mind, earth and air, like the water in my Washington dream, a medium of flow versus being stuck or all over the place. Yet another imaginal space for dreamplay, but a living, human space.

After three flights from New York during post-9/11 security, I arrived in Oaxaca after dark and was driven to the hacienda wondering what I had gotten myself into. The next morning the sun lit the bougainvilla outside my window and reassured me.
In the first dream I shared with the group there is a primitive shower with a pull chain which I don’t use. I go out into the hall in my terry cloth bathrobe where my father passes me with his eyes closed as if he doesn’t want to wake up, and he’s wearing a robe like mine. The night before I had placed his watch chain on the alter for dead loved ones who may visit us during the Day of the Dead, and it served its purpose well. He had died of cancer when just a little older than I, and I was determined not to follow him. But my father was no more engaged with me in death than he had been in life. Some in the group wept for me but I remained dry-eyed until someone said, “Pull the chain!” referring to the primitive shower. Once again I was resisting the water, blocking the flow.

The next night I dreamed of two college friends in a dorm room. The larger of the two learns that his father doesn’t love him and acts out self-destructively with alcohol and cars, then dances dangerously on the balcony ledge until he falls. The smaller reluctantly goes to his assistance, taking him in his arms down on the ground. The larger one gets the smaller in a rageful grip until the smaller reassures him, “I can help you.” Next the smaller jumps down from the balcony himself, lands safely on his legs and joins the larger who is waiting with a guitar to make music together.

In sharing the dream I felt the rageful grip and the joy of making music, opposing impulses in the alchemical method. The acknowledgment, “I can help you,” allows the two to make music together rather than act out self-destructively. “The tomb is empty,” one of the local healers said, cryptically.

Later in the week on the Day of the Dead, the group spent the night in a local cemetery, where the townspeople covered the graves with marigolds and lit candles.
That day we built a sweat lodge and purified ourselves for our spirit encounters.

At the end of the week in Oaxaca I had a healing session with the curandero who made the cryptic observation. He felt my prostate cancer was a lower back problem, and I told him the dream image of being draped backwards between the bull’s horns and my back going out afterwards. He said I had undigested anger down there, and, after my dream encounter with the rageful roommate, I had to agree. The healer gave me a limpio or cleansing with sacred water blown from his mouth onto my heart and the back of my neck, and sent me back to New York with baths and pills and a medicine pouch which I carry in my pocket as.

Was it the spirit of my father who visited me in my dream on Day of the Dead, or was it a masochistic Freudian wish fulfillment, a judgemental superego, or a Jungian compensation for my spiritual inflation in the sacred valley of Oaxaca? Perhaps I, the dreamer, was encountering Winnicott’s “not me” other—a ghostly playmate. The encounter did lead to dreamplay the next night with my grief and rage that surfaced in the dream character represented by my college roommate. Our play evolved into music-making, as the grief and rage became song.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Playing With the Divine

During the third annual conference that I attended of the Association for the Study of Dreams, there was a shamanic dream-incubation ceremony. At the previous two conferences, I had been drawn to the shamanic sessions to heal a low-grade prostate cancer and wanted to continue. The dream association is a group of therapists, researchers, teachers and practitioners that provides the communal energy of both intention and attention required for dream incubation.

At the evening ceremony, we chose quartz crystals from the sacred stones and feathers in the center of our circle. I associated crystals with superficial New Age practices and, as we danced to the drum around the circle, having our crystals blessed, I was skeptical, but, like at the previous two conferences, I suspended my disbelief. I maintained my determination as we sat down for the guided visualization in which we wound up at an underground spring to ask our crystal a question to be answered in our dreams that night. We were told that the energy of our crystal would enhance our intent, and out of nowhere came my question, “How can I be faithful?” Then I repeated it slowly, “How can I be faith-full?” Full of faith.

Back in my dormitory room, I held my crystal in my left hand, the receiving hand, as instructed and asked the question three times before holding it under my pillow and closing my eyes. With such intention, my attention didn’t last long as I was immediately bombarded by hypnagogic images and words as soon as my eyes were closed. Where were the words coming from? I wondered in my liminal state. First, I heard “take the 1:30 bus” and recalled that I had signed up for a bus trip to the Field of Dreams, an Indian dig where dreams had led anthropologists to major finds. The next morning I checked the departure time for the bus. It left at 1:30. Next, I heard the words “white light,” which reminded me of the light in my crystals. Then I heard “don’t talk,” and tried to still my racing mind and focus my attention. “Filling stations,” I heard next.

The year before at the conference, I had my first healing dream of going back to college and retrieving my red Triumph Spitfire with old gas, which concerned me. Now I’m told by whomever that to be faith-full I must be a filling station, providing gas for myself and others. I thought of stations of the cross; filling stations are service stations. Recovery programs and spiritual disciplines emphasize selfless service to be faith-full.

Then came the only dream of the night when I drifted off to sleep after the onslaught of hypnagogic answers to my question. In it, I am on a low dock on the beach with a wet, naked woman pressed against my back. I can feel her belly in the small of my back and feel her breasts higher up my back. She feels wonderful, but I wonder if I’m being faithful. At the convention two years before, before I got the prostate cancer diagnosis, I attended my first shamanic journeying session and dreamed that a large black man pursued me and dragged me down to the beach towards the sea. I realized that if I resisted him I would be anally raped in the sand. Now the sea was rewarding me with a healing image, a wet mermaid pressed against my lower back, near my precarious prostate, where the black man had threatened to violate me two years before. I must have been faithful, because my faith was being rewarded.

At 1:30 the next afternoon, I went to find the bus to the Field of Dreams. The leaders of the crystal ceremony the night before joined us to perform a ceremony of atonement with the Indians and their land. I learned that the site was a quarry for stones used in their ceremonies thousands of years ago. Quartz was one of the stones and, fortunately, I had brought along my crystal. It was then I knew the purpose of the words “take the 1:30 bus” from the night before.

Where do those words come from? James Grotstein, in his incredible book Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream?, implies that there is an “ineffable subject of the unconscious” who is, in fact, divine. Grotstein offers both a dreamer who dreams and a dreamer who understands -- the ineffable subject and the manifest, personal audience, like the hero and chorus in Greek tragedy.

Freud’s id, the source of primitive desire, possesses the “phylogenic heritage” of mankind, much like Jung’s collective unconscious. Part of our phylogenic heritage is, of course, everything divine, from nature and spirit to a monotheistic God. Jung’s Self is one of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Both Freud’s id and Jung’s Self, as we mentioned earlier, are possible sources of the words I heard in response to my question “How can I be faith-full?”

The British pediatrician, D.W. Winnicott, observed the play of his young patients and proposed transitional phenomena like play such as creativity and religion, that magical area between what he called the me and the not-me which is neither created nor discovered but emerges like a dream. Winnicott’s not-me could be like Freud’s id and Jung’s Self at play with the ego in transitional space and dream.
Like children’s play, dreams can be curative and instructive, but they are play -- dreamplay. Play can be serious; life and death can be the stakes, but it’s only play, only a dream. Children confront the trauma of otherness and duality in play. Birth can be painful, separation from the divine, a loss of completeness. Play seeks to heal the separation, to reconcile the split and the loss. It is a dance with the divine, which has become alien, utilizing both the concrete and the imaginal and the overlap between the two, the transitional space. There, ego and id or Self, me and not-me, play “on the seashore of endless worlds,” to quote Winnicott and Tagore.

The separation from divinity has resulted in an emphasis on individualism versus the shared myth, ritual and community of the earlier cultures. Individualism has heightened the trauma of otherness and duality and the resulting narcissism and addiction to fill the “God-shaped hole.” While the traditional myths and rituals have faded, dreamplay with the divine remains as a cure for the traumatic separation from the whole.

Freud considered dreams fulfillment of infantile unconscious wishes, which is what play is all about. And, in emerging from the unconscious, the ego finds the id primitive and alien and must heal the split between consciousness and the unconscious with dreamplay. In a similar process, the conscious ego finds Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious, including the Self, alien and overwhelming. Jung’s individuation is a transitional phenomenon achieved through play between the ego and the Self, the me and not-me of Winnicott.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Divine Dream Play

Dreams were once divine. In early Greek and Biblical times, mortals received inspiration, guidance and healing from the divine in their dreams. Before the philosophical and religious establishment became the exclusive voice of the divine, gods and their emissaries intervened nocturnally in the lives of mortals. Those Greeks seeking healing would go to sacred sites of the demigod Asclepius and incubate a dream and wait for a sign from the god that a healing dream was imminent, then retire to the dormitory to be visited by the god or his assistants in dream. At Epidaurus, those assembled would experience the catharsis of tragedy performed in the open amphitheater where the communal chorus would bemoan the fate of heroes. The combination of communal catharsis and divine dream intervention was healing. Then Plato declared that dreams were not divine, just as later Catholic leadership determined that the divine no longer communicated with mortals but was confined to official texts, interpreted by their priests.

Freud, like Plato before him, wanted to rescue dreams from the caprices of the divine and give them a mortal rationale, like the enlightened scientist that he was. Uncomfortable with the irrational divine, Freud gave dreams a human determinism and a personal unconscious source, later called the id, the mysterious “it” that took on the primitive and mythological aspects of the divine, even appropriating the Greek tragedy, seen often at Epidaurus, with its hero Oedipus Rex.
Jung, unlike his mentor Freud, was more comfortable with the mystical, but found the Eastern concept of the Self more acceptable than the Western divinity and gave it the status of Freud’s id or “it.” Just as dreams were the unconscious desires of the id to Freud, they were the Self’s unconscious compensations to the ego’s unbalanced conscious position to Jung. In both cases, dreams are interventions from sources once considered divine.

The Greek tragic hero had the communal chorus for human reflexion and Jung’s conscious ego had the collective unconscious of shared humanity for compensation. Freud’s was a single-person psychology like his science was Newtonian isolated particle physics, while Jung learned from Wolfgang Pauli and quantum theory that no particle is isolated but goes back and forth from the communal mist of potential. Some quantum physicists associate the infinite mist of potential with the divine.
Freud and Jung worked one on one with the dreamer, interpreting the dream, while dream-sharing groups return the isolated ego to the communal that the Greek chorus provided the tragic hero. In a group, the dream is not interpreted but resonated to by the listeners as the Greek chorus did long ago. Montague Ullman has compared dream-sharing groups with the quantum mist of potential interacting with the isolated dreamer.

Greek dream incubation was part of the shamanic tradition that included Tibetan dream yoga, a practice to prepare for the sleep of death, and indigenous dream practices around the world. The quantum mist of potential has been compared to the dreamtime of indigenous cultures, the spirit world from which waking reality is manifest like a particle from the quantum mist.

And what is dream incubation that brings divine intervention to shamanic practitioners like the ancient Greeks? It is a combination of two spiritual practices -- prayer and meditation. Prayer asks for divine intervention and meditation is the receiving state. Prayer requires intention and meditation requires attention, two additional disciplines that involve energy management. First, intention focuses the energy of the request and attention is an attunement to the divine in a receptive mode. Shamanic practices, like Greek tragedy, are communal activities. The divine is summoned ultimately for the good of the group, and the two energy applications, intention and attention, are enhanced by group participation to recreate the mist of infinite potential out of which the manifest emerges from the divine. That’s why the Greeks would gather at sacred sites and participate in performance and incubation communally. The energy at the sacred sites either from the god or from the timeless practices of intention and attention enhanced practices as did the ritual.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Healing Dream Play

In 2001 I was diagnosed with a low-grade prostate cancer before the annual conference of The Association for the Study of Dreams. Before leaving for Santa Cruz, California, I had a dream of returning to college to get my red Triumph Spitfire sports car that I had left there. The body of the car was in pretty good shape--a few spots of rust, but not bad after all the years. I opened the door and got in, put the key in the ignition but hesitated. I was afraid to start the car for fear the old gas would explode or lock the engine.

I worked on the dream in therapy before the conference. From a Freudian perspective I was worried about my libido. My old Spitfire had old gas. But I also feared an explosion. Old gas can be explosive, not proper fuel. Or there may be engine lock, which sounds like repression to me. Jung would find the Spitfire a compensation for my conscious fearfulness, to fire me up. My college car. The one I drove to New York with my new wife years before. In object relations I have projected my body image, both good and bad, onto my college sports car as do most adolescent boys.
Part of the program at the dream association’s annual conference is early-morning dream-sharing groups for the attendees. My group was composed of less than ten men and women of varied ages. The conference lasts for four days, and I waited until the second morning to share my dream. I didn’t tell them about the cancer diagnosis, but let the dream stand on its own.

It was different telling the dream to a group than to my analyst. I felt more exposed somehow, but my discomfort was relieved by the faces of the group. They said nothing for a moment, but I felt engaged and not so vulnerable. A younger man spoke first, saying that he felt the power of the car. An older man added that he felt in his body what had been lost. A middle-aged woman recalled when she and her ex-husband had rented a convertible in Europe.

There was another pause and a palpable shift in the atmosphere in the circle, as if we had changed levels. A young woman told us of the look in her father’s eyes when he saw a Corvette like the one he had when he was young. Another woman spoke of her first car--a red car that she learned had been owned by a woman who died of cancer. She said that at first she was put off, but soon she was honored to be able to care for the previous owner’s possession. At that point I told them of my cancer diagnosis, reassuring them that it was not serious. They paused again, then said that they were not surprised after hearing the dream.

Afterwards that morning I felt connected to the group members whenever we encountered each other during the conference. They seemed to be different than the other attendees. Whenever I saw them I had to smile. Later in the morning the young woman whose father had a Corvette when he was young came up to me and said that her father called her his spitfire.

At lunch a group member told me of her experience of breast cancer and the value of healing dreams like mine. I didn’t think of my dream as healing until I shared it with the group. Before it had been analytical, but when shared it became a different experience. Then a woman slightly younger than I came over to our table and said that she had dreamed of me before the conference. We had never met before. In her dream I was in the sky wearing a blue robe, which I actually possessed.

That afternoon I went to a session on embodied dreamwork with a different style of dreamshare group leader, Robert Bosnak, a Jungian therapist. His approach is alchemical--isolating opposing feelings induced in the body by a dream and “cooking” them in the alchemical vessel of the group. I realized in my dream, the power of my college Spitfire was opposed to the fear of the old gas, and could definitely be located in my body after the prostate cancer diagnosis. Bosnak compared a dreamsharing group to a pond with water plants as group members, who moved in unison with the movement of the water. The image must have made an impression on me because that night I dreamed I was underwater watching other swimmers on the surface and heard the words “It’s the medium that matters.”

The next morning the group added more dreams of vulnerability, loss and healing. That was “the medium that matters” for that session. After my share the previous morning, I was more open than I was the first day. I had made the plunge into the communal pool.

Later that day at a session in Shamanic dreaming, a lovely female scholar from Russia mentioned the importance of enactment in healing dreams and visions. I remembered that the conferences ended with a Dream Ball where the attendees dress as dream figures and enact their dreams. The past year in Washington, my first at the conference, I had skipped the Ball and gone home early. This year was different; I would enact my healing dream.

Before the Dream Ball I looked through the garbage for my costume. I found a Red Tail Ale box with a bright red hawk on it that would serve as the body of my red Triumph Spitfire. I had brought a red shirt with me, and all that remained was to visit the face painter before the Ball. When the festivities began I had a red “T” painted on my forehead and red flames coming from my mouth. During a break in the live dance music, attendees came up to the microphone and explained their costumes and told their dreams. When my turn came I told the crowd of my Triumph Spitfire, turned on the imaginary ignition, fired up the old gas and made an amplified roar in the speaker system. Then, careful of my Red Tail Ale box, I danced with my dreamshare group, the woman who had dreamed me before the conference, and the lovely scholar from Russia who gave me a red feather from her costume. The young woman who was her father’s spitfire showed me her nails painted bright red and also gave me a red flower from her costume to go with the red feather.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Quantum Dream Play

Freud’s dreambook, like Newtonian physics, assumed a separate entity, subject to external and internal forces with precise deterministic laws. His book was a result of self-analysis, with the distant Fleiss as his external force. Freud, the classical scientist, distanced his dreamwork from the traditional divine or demonic external forces and turned inward to recent waking impressions and unconscious memories and desire. In this early work, he offered an internal, horizontal split driven by repression and neurotic defense to maintain the sometimes alien unconscious world. The goal of his dreamwork was to make the unconscious conscious by decoding the distorted repressed material.

The result for Freud is an isolated ego beset by threats from without and primitive forces from within--in his dreambook sexual but later aggressive and eventually death itself. Dreams become neurotic symptoms like hysteria and obsession defending against the anxiety and unpleasure that these forces produce in the lonely, vulnerable ego as a result of the fragmentation of mind, body and spirit of the Cartesian world at the turn of the century.

In the 1930’s quantum theorists added uncertainty and fuzziness to classical particle physics. Particles like electrons manifested out of a field of infinite potential when observed, only to return to the wave state. Electrons separated by near-infinite space would respond to each other in instantaneous complementarity, faster than light could ever travel. Particles were no longer alone, and neither were individuals. Melanie Klein, a child therapist, emphasized the two-person interaction of mother/child and therapist/patient. The two-person model relied on splitting and projection just as the quantum model did in the field of particles. Projective and introjective identification paralleled the introduction of complementarity to further fuzzy the Freudian classical model of the horizontal split of repression.

Two followers of Melanie Klein--Bion and Winnicott, furthered the two-person field of dreamwork. Bion offered a process of meaning creation from raw emotional input called dreamwork alpha that is similar to the manifestation of a particle from the underlying wave field and the explicate out of the implicate. In the two-person model of Bion, the mother contains the child’s projections of raw, unprocessed experience and transforms them into meaning before returning them, digested, to the child. In a similar way a dream contains raw experience, transforming it into symbolic meaning for the dreamer, often with the help of an analyst, who facilitates the digestion process rather than decodes and interprets as in the one-person Freudian model. The goal is not just to resolve repression by making what was unconscious conscious, but to integrate split-off, projected aspects of the dreamer and make what was fragmented whole, just as quantum theory added a holistic dimension to fragmented classical science.

Winnicott called the two-person field transitional space--the location of dream and creativity, where meaning and integration emerges from creative chaos. Dreamwork and therapy were two people playing together in transitional space, where things are neither created nor discovered, neither me nor not me, just as in the uncertainty of quantum fields an electron is neither particle nor wave. Like Bion, Winnicott doesn’t interpret as much as facilitate the play of me and not me and the integration of split-off aspects of the patient or dreamer.

Carl Jung was influenced by quantum theory and mysticism and extended the two-person model of dreamwork to the Self and collective unconscious. The Self, an archetype that evolves in dreamwork in what Jung called individuation from the collective, is a sort of transitional object between the personal me and not me of the universal, the manifestation of the explicate from the underlying implicate. Jung acknowledged Freud’s dreamwork as causal explanation but proposed individuation and psychic regulation as the purpose of dreamwork. When the individuation process is overly biased either towards the collective or the personal, dreams emerge from the unconscious to compensate the unbalanced conscious position and integrate the polarities. The archetypes of the collective unconscious contained the infinite potential of the implicate order that required individuation to be manifest in the personal, explicate order.

The collective and its connection to the implicate order has been advanced by Montague Ullman and his dreamsharing groups. As in the two-person model, the group listens to the dreamer and resonates to the material, but rather than interpret or facilitate, the group responds as if the dream were their own, transforming the individual experience into a communal dream. The quantum effects of complementarity, non-locality, holism, and uncertainty that the two-person model demonstrated are even more evident in a group. It’s as if the separate, individual consciousnesses of the group, fragmented and dispersed by the Big Bang of creation, are able to coalesce, overcoming the classical mind-body-spirit split as well. Bohm spoke of the holographic whole where each part contains the timeless essence and the ocean of energy of the implicate order out of which explicate life emerges feeling alone and isolated, vulnerable and afraid. The intersubjective awareness in a group seems to offer a higher state of consciousness as the members evoke the implicate potential of the group. When Jung speaks of the purpose of dreamwork as individuation vs the causal approach of Freud, perhaps the purpose is evolutionary as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dreamplay in Washington

I attended the 2000 Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in Washington because of the Mythic Journey Workshop sessions spread over the four days of the conference. Being a Joseph Campbell groupie when younger, I had trained in psychoanalysis to follow my bliss in the second half of life and felt that the Mythic Journey Workshop would combine Campbell and dreamwork. What I was not prepared for was the steady, rhythmic shamanic drumming as I approached the workshop session. The mythic journey was more shamanic than heroic and presented me with something totally new.

The sessions were designed to “disengage the imaginative mind from the rational mind,” which is exactly what the drumming did to me. I tightened my grip on my rational mind when the drummer in a feathered headband began slowly and gradually accelerating the beat while the attendees sat in a circle and visualized a dream image. The image I chose became too menacing as the beat picked up, so I focused on the comforting face of my analyst to soothe my growing anxiety.

Before leaving the workshop for the night, we were asked to stand and move to the drum around the circle, expressing ourselves as the spirit moved us while selecting a dream-incubation stone from the altar in the center. The stone was to be held in our left hand, our receiving side, as we slept that night.

Later I collapsed into bed clutching my smooth, coffee-colored stone, and as soon as I closed my eyes I was bombarded by violent hypnagogic imagery. I knew it would be a rough ride and held on tight. Soon the imagery organized into a dream of running along a path above a beach, arms and legs churning but feet not touching the ground as if I were flying. A powerful black man pursues me, faster than I, and I know he will catch me. He seizes me from behind and forces me off the trail, down onto the beach toward the water. I struggle but realize that my resistance will result in my anal rape there in the sand.

Freud would interpret my dream as an eruption of id impulse from behind me, due to the drumming, of course, that overwhelms me and drags me down to the waters of the unconscious. Jung would identify the black man as my shadow archetype, emerging from the unconscious to compensate for my lack of groundedness. The sea to Jung would not only represent the collective unconscious but the all-inclusive Self. Shamanic practitioners would consider the experience an initiation of my ungrounded rational mind into the quantum sea—an awakening to the imaginal, to dreams.
What is this imaginal sea? The unconscious to Freud was repressed memory and desire, both libidinous and aggressive. Jung included the collective archetypes, our mythological heritage, with the repressed in the unconscious, the most significant archetype being the Self, of which the ego is but a small player. To shamanic practitioners, the imaginal is a reality that parallels the concrete, the realm of soul. The imaginal is inhabited not by memory but by spirits of both the past and the future, outside of concrete time and space. We have a dream body that navigates the imaginal as our physical body occupies the concrete. To the philosophers, the parallel worlds are the phenomenal and the numinous. The imaginal to Winnicott is the transitional space between me and not-me, the area of play and creativity—of dream. Therefore, the sea is the transitional space between the concrete earth and the spiritual sky.

In Winnicott’s terminology, the dream is a conflict of duality, a trauma of otherness. The me running along the trail, feet not touching the earth is arrested by the not-me and dragged, kicking towards the transitional space of the sea where the conflict can be transformed into play. Through this transformation the false self flight along the trail, the manic escape, can encounter the true self in what appears to be a threat. Such is play in transitional space, in the imaginal, in dream.

After a couple of sessions creating our dream staffs from a table full of colorful junk, and expressing our dream in shamanic dance,in the closing session of the Mythic Journey Workshop, we were to present our myth or dream of return from our journey to the group. After more dancing to the drum, I introduced myself as Odysseus washing up onto the beach of Ithaka, home from his long journey on the sea and his encounter with the imaginal inhabitants he found there. There was much play, both aggressive and libidinous, with the inhabitants of the imaginal sea, that allowed Odysseus to return home awake to his true self, wiser than the warrior king who left for Troy.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Playing with Dreams

“On the seashores of endless worlds, children play.”

In his book Playing and Reality, the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott took the quote above from the Indian mystic Tagore. In the book he introduced the concept of transitional space for the play area between the me and the not me, where objects are neither found nor created but simply become as if emerging from the sea. This sea of transitional space is similar to the quantum mist of infinite potential out of which subatomic particles emerge like dreams. Dreams are grown-up play.

Transitional space, like the quantum mist, has creative energy, chaos as Winnicott calls it, and dreams manifest this energy just as do subatomic particles. Freud introduced psychic energy, which had the limitations of nineteenth-century classical physics, while Jung spoke of archetypal energy, which reflected the quantum theory that he learned from Wolfgang Pauli. Archetypes like the opposite-sex anima and animus, the ego’s dark shadow and the divine Self emerge from the collective unconscious like subatomic particles from the quantum mist or like transitional objects in dreamplay. When they appear in dreams, the archetypes have the energy of a nuclear reaction or even the Divine.

The formless play of dreams has access to this infinite creative energy, divine energy, which for millennia has been tapped in spiritual and healing practices. Shamanism is based on dreamplay. Play is transforming and healing for children, as are dreams for adults. Once I dreamed that I flew over the sea to Hawaii and met with a group to discuss dreams. I insisted that dreams are not to be analyzed but are just for the fun of it, like play. On the seashore.

Dreamplay can be done alone. The dream doesn’t have to be remembered; “the play’s the thing,” to quote Hamlet. Dreamplay accesses the formless, quantum energy, perhaps divine, out of which both night dreams and the daytime reality is manifest. James Grotstein, in his book Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream, offers an “ineffable subject of the unconscious” who dreams the dream and a dreamer who understands the dream as the receiver. The two dreamers don’t need the ego, but can play together on their own.

In therapy the dreamer has a playmate. Winnicott called therapy two people playing together, like mother and child originally, as the therapist becomes the dreamer who understands the dream, or resonates with it. Freud’s evenly hovering attention and Bion’s reverie are the therapist’s efforts to join the dreamer in the formless, quantum state and play.

The players increase in a dream-sharing group, but the process is the same. Montague Ullman, a pioneer in dream telepathy and sharing, has compared the group experience to the quantum physicist David Bohm’s implicate order, the mist of infinite potential out of which reality is manifest like subatomic particles. In a group the individual dream becomes communal as each listener resonates as if it were their dream, enhancing access to Jung’s collective unconscious.

In the shamanic tradition dreams are a source of community guidance. Shamans were the community therapists before Freud and before the priests. Dreamplay is part of the energy work in the shamanic tradition, including vision quests and soul journeying. Quantum physicists have noted the similarities between the mist of infinite potential out of which reality is manifest and the energy work of indigenous shamans.

Playing with dreams is like childplay, alone, with another or in a group. Play, like quantum phenomena, requires both intention and attention, which enable spontaneous creativity to manifest like subatomic particles from the quantum mist. In dreamplay the spontaneous response can be imaginal, poetic or metaphoric; a memory, Freudian association or Jungian amplification. Playing with dreams is like jazz improvisation, intimate dance or harmony. It depends on spontaneity, not a deterministic script, like quantum theory versus classical physics. Dreamplay, like childplay, is transformational and healing.