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.

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