Sunday, October 11, 2009

Playing With the Divine

During the third annual conference that I attended of the Association for the Study of Dreams, there was a shamanic dream-incubation ceremony. At the previous two conferences, I had been drawn to the shamanic sessions to heal a low-grade prostate cancer and wanted to continue. The dream association is a group of therapists, researchers, teachers and practitioners that provides the communal energy of both intention and attention required for dream incubation.

At the evening ceremony, we chose quartz crystals from the sacred stones and feathers in the center of our circle. I associated crystals with superficial New Age practices and, as we danced to the drum around the circle, having our crystals blessed, I was skeptical, but, like at the previous two conferences, I suspended my disbelief. I maintained my determination as we sat down for the guided visualization in which we wound up at an underground spring to ask our crystal a question to be answered in our dreams that night. We were told that the energy of our crystal would enhance our intent, and out of nowhere came my question, “How can I be faithful?” Then I repeated it slowly, “How can I be faith-full?” Full of faith.

Back in my dormitory room, I held my crystal in my left hand, the receiving hand, as instructed and asked the question three times before holding it under my pillow and closing my eyes. With such intention, my attention didn’t last long as I was immediately bombarded by hypnagogic images and words as soon as my eyes were closed. Where were the words coming from? I wondered in my liminal state. First, I heard “take the 1:30 bus” and recalled that I had signed up for a bus trip to the Field of Dreams, an Indian dig where dreams had led anthropologists to major finds. The next morning I checked the departure time for the bus. It left at 1:30. Next, I heard the words “white light,” which reminded me of the light in my crystals. Then I heard “don’t talk,” and tried to still my racing mind and focus my attention. “Filling stations,” I heard next.

The year before at the conference, I had my first healing dream of going back to college and retrieving my red Triumph Spitfire with old gas, which concerned me. Now I’m told by whomever that to be faith-full I must be a filling station, providing gas for myself and others. I thought of stations of the cross; filling stations are service stations. Recovery programs and spiritual disciplines emphasize selfless service to be faith-full.

Then came the only dream of the night when I drifted off to sleep after the onslaught of hypnagogic answers to my question. In it, I am on a low dock on the beach with a wet, naked woman pressed against my back. I can feel her belly in the small of my back and feel her breasts higher up my back. She feels wonderful, but I wonder if I’m being faithful. At the convention two years before, before I got the prostate cancer diagnosis, I attended my first shamanic journeying session and dreamed that a large black man pursued me and dragged me down to the beach towards the sea. I realized that if I resisted him I would be anally raped in the sand. Now the sea was rewarding me with a healing image, a wet mermaid pressed against my lower back, near my precarious prostate, where the black man had threatened to violate me two years before. I must have been faithful, because my faith was being rewarded.

At 1:30 the next afternoon, I went to find the bus to the Field of Dreams. The leaders of the crystal ceremony the night before joined us to perform a ceremony of atonement with the Indians and their land. I learned that the site was a quarry for stones used in their ceremonies thousands of years ago. Quartz was one of the stones and, fortunately, I had brought along my crystal. It was then I knew the purpose of the words “take the 1:30 bus” from the night before.

Where do those words come from? James Grotstein, in his incredible book Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream?, implies that there is an “ineffable subject of the unconscious” who is, in fact, divine. Grotstein offers both a dreamer who dreams and a dreamer who understands -- the ineffable subject and the manifest, personal audience, like the hero and chorus in Greek tragedy.

Freud’s id, the source of primitive desire, possesses the “phylogenic heritage” of mankind, much like Jung’s collective unconscious. Part of our phylogenic heritage is, of course, everything divine, from nature and spirit to a monotheistic God. Jung’s Self is one of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Both Freud’s id and Jung’s Self, as we mentioned earlier, are possible sources of the words I heard in response to my question “How can I be faith-full?”

The British pediatrician, D.W. Winnicott, observed the play of his young patients and proposed transitional phenomena like play such as creativity and religion, that magical area between what he called the me and the not-me which is neither created nor discovered but emerges like a dream. Winnicott’s not-me could be like Freud’s id and Jung’s Self at play with the ego in transitional space and dream.
Like children’s play, dreams can be curative and instructive, but they are play -- dreamplay. Play can be serious; life and death can be the stakes, but it’s only play, only a dream. Children confront the trauma of otherness and duality in play. Birth can be painful, separation from the divine, a loss of completeness. Play seeks to heal the separation, to reconcile the split and the loss. It is a dance with the divine, which has become alien, utilizing both the concrete and the imaginal and the overlap between the two, the transitional space. There, ego and id or Self, me and not-me, play “on the seashore of endless worlds,” to quote Winnicott and Tagore.

The separation from divinity has resulted in an emphasis on individualism versus the shared myth, ritual and community of the earlier cultures. Individualism has heightened the trauma of otherness and duality and the resulting narcissism and addiction to fill the “God-shaped hole.” While the traditional myths and rituals have faded, dreamplay with the divine remains as a cure for the traumatic separation from the whole.

Freud considered dreams fulfillment of infantile unconscious wishes, which is what play is all about. And, in emerging from the unconscious, the ego finds the id primitive and alien and must heal the split between consciousness and the unconscious with dreamplay. In a similar process, the conscious ego finds Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious, including the Self, alien and overwhelming. Jung’s individuation is a transitional phenomenon achieved through play between the ego and the Self, the me and not-me of Winnicott.


  1. Very nice transformation of the skeptic tale.

  2. To be open is to be vulnerable. Being open to healing is to trust that vulnerability will be blessed.


  3. "dreamplay with the divine remains as a cure for the traumatic separation from the whole" --- mmmm, yes, Lou - may I quote you?