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.