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.