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.