“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.