Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lunar dreams

Last night was the Full Moon. Some believe that a full moon represents the completion of a cycle in our life, the fruition of something begun during the dark of the moon two weeks earlier. I often ponder these cycles in my own life, over weeks and months, to see if there are meaningful connections to be made.

So what was “seeded” at the New Moon on the 16th? What intention did I set at that time, consciously or unconsciously? Checking my November journal, I noticed that on the night of the New Moon I had the following dream:

I’m running around happily in “my back yard,” which in the dream is up on a hill. There’s a steep drop-off or even a cliff at the back end, with a creek way below. I hear someone talking loudly—it’s a Vietnamese woman talking to one of her kids, maybe explaining where she’s going or what she wants them to do. I can’t understand her, of course. I run back to watch her, and suddenly find myself standing on the very edge of this cliff, a little below the top. I watch the woman, who is wearing tabis, those Japanese (and Vietnamese?) foot coverings with a separate big toe, as she ducks under a barbed wire fence and wades into the stream. I am a little envious of her apparent freedom.

Then I realize that this cliff is made of soil and very soft sandstone, and that there is nothing beneath me except a 40-foot drop. I’m startled and concerned, so I very carefully clamber back to the top.
I recognized that last image as a reference to The Fool from the tarot: the fellow who, carrying his knapsack and accompanied by his little dog, strides in blissful ignorance right off a cliff. The Fool, among its many meanings in the tarot, has a kind of “beginner’s mind” feel to it—a trusting innocence that just takes what comes in life without judgement or forethought. It’s one of the Major Arcana, the “trump” cards that indicate something of particular and archetypal importance in a reading.

But who is the Vietnamese woman? What message does she have for me?

In reverie I re-enter the dream: The Vietnamese woman is intent on her business; aware of me but not friendly. She wades upstream; she seems to be gathering things—crayfish, it looks like—from under the rocks. I kick off my shoes, put on my muck boots, and wade in after her. The water is cold and deep and goes right over the top of my boots—I take them off, too, and wade barefoot, which is difficult and painful. The woman glances at me disdainfully, as if to say, “Well. You certainly didn’t prepare yourself, did you?” Her slippered feet have no problem with sharp rocks or algae.

The woman is collecting crayfish. I suddenly remember that crayfish appear in one of the tarot cards: The Moon, another of the Major Arcana. Reading Rachel Pollack’s books on the interpretation of The Moon in the tarot, I notice all kinds of references to wildness, to our sensitivity to life that is so often covered over by ego consciousness. In the context of this card, Pollack suggests, the crayfish may be a symbol of our deepest, most unconscious terrors.

Another connection appears in my mind at that point: at a discussion with a group of depth psychologists the Sunday before the dream, our topic was the movie “Where the Wild Things Are,” which deals in an imaginal way with our deep need to allow our inner wildness to be expressed. The crayfish may symbolize terror of and from the unconscious; but the Vietnamese woman is hunting them for food. The crayfish is food for the body; the terrors of the deep unconscious, perhaps, are food for my soul, and I must search for them without the imagined protection of the rubber boots of ego consciousness.

It is difficult to explain the relationship of all this with my private life at the moment, simply because much of what I am struggling with is so very private. I have lately been feeling a strong tug toward involvement with the world—with my business endeavors, with my book, with friends new and old, with things that feel strange and uncomfortable. I have been resisting that pull, hiding out in the barn with the horses. This dream suggests that isolation is no longer the best idea. Like The Fool, I need to summon my basic innocence and trust in the Universe. I have to get into the water—I can no longer stay dry and safe and uninvolved. But at the same time I need to take precautions, to prepare myself so that I can be effective and not get hurt.

One final, provocative connection, in the words of a song that I heard that same night: “It’s never too late to reach out your hand in love.”

[Note: the image of the moon is by Ghirlandajo, obtained from Wikimedia Commons; the image of The Fool is my photo of the card from the Ryder-Waite tarot deck.]

A few comments on Freud and dreams

Arguably the most famous exponent of dream interpretation as a psychological tool is Sigmund Freud. His monumental work The Interpretation of Dreams opened up a whole field of research and theory. For Freud, the dream is something that happens inside our own heads, a process whose essential function is a kind of wish fulfillment—and the wish is usually infantile, unconscious, and sexual in nature. Because these unconscious wishes are unacceptable to our waking ego, the dreamwork disguises them so that the ego isn’t shocked into waking us up.

Freud's worldview and mine are fundamentally different. For Freud, the unconscious (the source of dream images) consists primarily of things that have not been noticed or have been forgotten by our conscious ego, or—and more important—that have been repressed by our ego. Freud also insists that everything in his psychology can be defined scientifically. This automatically excludes anything like the imaginal world: gods, spirits, archetypes, or dream images as autonomous beings.

For Freud, dreams have no intention of being understood. You can analyze them and decipher their meaning, but this is an action that we perform on the dream, not something that the dream intends. In my view, on the other hand, the dream may represent an avenue for communication with not only the personal unconscious but with the collective unconscious, with the imaginal world of spirits and archetypes.

Here’s an example of the difference between my approach and Freud's. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud recounts the story of a father who had been watching over his son’s sickbed for many days and nights, and whose child finally died. The exhausted man lit candles around his son’s bed and went into the next room to lie down. He fell asleep and had a dream that “his child was standing by his bed, caught him by the arm and whispered to him reproachfully, ‘Father, don’t you see I’m burning?’” The father awoke and discovered that one of the candles had fallen over, the bedding had caught fire, and the child’s body was indeed burning (pp. 509-510).

Freud argued that the dream represented the process of wish fulfillment: The father desperately wished his son to be alive once more, and so the dream, using the father’s memories of the boy’s words and actions, created a scene where the boy was indeed alive. My own interpretation, based on a different view of reality, would suggest that the exhausted father’s mental defenses were lower than usual and the boy himself, from the other side of death, was able to communicate with his father directly and alert him to a dangerous situation.

A Freudian interpretation of dreams can provide valuable psychological information. I have no argument with that. However, I do believe that dream images, if they are regarded as at least potentially autonomous, can even more effectively show us "the royal road to the unconscious."

Fire and ice

Browsing my journals from earlier this year, I came across this quote that seems very appropriate at the moment:

Finding the power of the sacred, not despite suffering, but in the midst of it: This is the alchemy of the dark emotions. Through this alchemy, grief moves us from sorrow for what we’ve lost to gratitude for what remains. Fear of life’s fragility is transformed to the joy of living fully, with openness. And even despair becomes the ground of a resilient faith—not just an opiate for our pain, but a profound commitment to life as it is. — from Healing Through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan
There have been moments of grace in my life when, in the midst of intense grief and emotional pain, I was able to embrace the experience with joy and gratitude that added an almost unbearable sweetness to the agony. It is at these moments when I have felt myself transformed.

Would that those moments of grace occurred more frequently....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Five Dreams: Pieces of a Puzzle

The five-dream series began on a Friday night. Initially, the first dream seemed like nothing more than a warning or a reminder: an old grief, buried under all my current activity, is still present, active, and strong; it’s something I mustn’t lose sight of. But four other dreams followed, two on each of the following two nights. These five dreams, coming as they did after an extended period where I didn’t remember any dreams at all, act like pieces of a puzzle, each of which comments on or amplifies the others in the set to make a more complete picture.

My assumption is always that two or more dreams occurring on the same night are related in some way—not that they can’t be viewed individually, but that they have at least some elements that speak to the same issue. It often takes a bit of work to figure out the relationship between them, but working with them in this way is invariably provocative and useful.

Saturday night I remembered two dreams. In the first one, the Old Wise Woman (in the guise of a dear friend) and I are walking past a warehouse full of objects and animals that I find vaguely frightening. Still in the dream, I have a sudden insight: “I’m afraid to go inside! And that’s my unconscious!” As soon as I realize this in the dream, the images—people, horses, strange and wondrous animals—become astonishingly vivid and vital. I understand that this kind of intensity, even in waking life, is possible for me if I will muster the courage to do my soul-work. The distractions of my waking life make this difficult, but it is possible.

Later in that same dream, I find myself with a group of people waiting to run a “130-mile race.” Trouble is, I’m wearing flip-flops. Instead of running the race, I find a different door, outside which are many exotic and magical horses and other creatures. It turns out that perhaps I don’t need to run the race after all.

The second dream from Saturday night highlighted themes that echo those in my dissertation: the ways in which women sacrifice themselves for relationships. In this dream I was offered the opportunity to witness this process as the dream ego and also as another, younger woman, and to experience the feelings and consequences of these sacrifices.

Sunday night I also remembered two dreams. The first one involved my mother: in the dream she is young and just setting up housekeeping, while I am my current age. I am visiting with her and helping her set up her new home. There was a lot in this dream about relationships, too—especially about important relationships that did not go well for her, or for me. At the end of the dream I am in tears and she comforts me. When I woke up, I could feel her presence strongly.

In Sunday night’s second dream, I work for a small family business (not my own family) which is foundering. They are going to have to lay me off. Instead of just letting it go and continuing my own life, I try to give them my contact information so that I can continue to work for them, even without pay, but find that I can’t manage to write out my name. Some part of me, it seems, does not want to be so loyal!

I’ve abbreviated these dreams, of course; they are quite detailed, and will need a lot of work to fully understand what the images have to say. But the main theme is clear, once all five are viewed together, and particularly in the context of my life at this moment:

The busy-ness of my life is making it easy to avoid doing the deep psychological exploration that is so necessary if I’m to continue my soul’s journey, which is also my life’s chosen work. Working consciously with one’s dreams and fantasies is not easy, and is often unpleasant when difficult issues surface. But the reward is enormous. And the dreams seem to suggest that I don’t need to take the “normal” route—the 130-mile race that the others take. There is another way, and one that leads to magic and adventure.

The first three dreams seem to be giving the “big picture.” The second pair of dreams hints at the personal issues involved in my fear and reluctance to follow what I know is my own path, and they suggest that the roots of this reluctance may lie in my ways of dealing, as a woman, with close relationships. This is a cultural heritage, one handed down through my mother and the Motherline.

Can I find another way? Can I find that other door and that other path? I’m sure going to try.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Huge Fat Man

Here’s a dream that I had a couple of days ago, after a friend and I had been talking about abusive marriages:

I am living with an abusive husband—it’s not clear if it’s my husband, or another woman’s husband, or if it’s some kind of multiple marriage. There are other, younger women living in this household. We are all terrorized by the man.

The real horror of our situation is that his cruel acts are sudden, unexpected, and seemingly random, and we end up being terrified every moment, not knowing when we’ll be struck or locked in a room or whatever. We all try very hard to please him, knowing all the time it’s impossible, but we’re afraid to leave and feel we have nowhere to go.

Finally, I realize that if I don’t act—if I don’t run away and get help—he will kill me and the others. I manage to escape into the street outside, though he soon realizes I’ve left and comes almost immediately to chase me. I run into the street, screaming for help, praying that he doesn’t see me and catch me before help comes. Fortunately, two police show up right away. They are going to arrest the man and save all the other women. Then I wake up.

I suspect this dream is as much vocational as personal. Dreams often give us messages that speak to things greater than our personal lives. And this dream does something else that can be very useful in figuring out what the “message” is: It references another dream from several years back. With the help of a dream journal, we can take a look at both dreams and see what the relationship is. Here’s how I’m working with this:

The images in the current dream are archetypal: the abusive husband, the terrified wife/wives and/or daughters. I was never abused in this particular way, though like so many women, I have suffered my share of abusive marriages and other relationships. The dream ego initially puts up with this terrifying, painful, and ultimately life-threatening situation because she is afraid to leave. Finally she realizes that if she fails to act, she and the other women will be killed. When she finally summons the nerve to escape, she discovers help is right there.

The abusive husband in this dream is huge, fat, unshaven, and slovenly. This reminded me, when I woke up, of another dream I had four or five years ago, where a huge, fat man would sit in his upstairs kitchen window and watch the activities of a houseful of women and girls next door. The women were terrified of him. The police, in this dream, refused to help.

After that initial dream, in active imagination/reverie, I engaged the threatening figure, the Huge Fat Man, in conversation. He eventually told me that a long time ago he had wandered into that kitchen and had been unable to get out. Over time, he had become obscenely fat, miserable, depraved, and dangerous. He felt like a part of my psyche—this is not always the case with images—and my understanding was that some part of my active nature, the part that might be described as “yang” or “masculine,” had gotten stuck “in the kitchen,” that is, in more traditionally feminine activities, and had been unable to get out.

I have worked with this image to free up the outgoing, active parts of myself, but lately I have once more been feeling “stuck” in my life, afraid to step out on my own. The recent dream, by referencing the dream of the Huge Fat Man, recalls these issues to my consciousness and speaks to me on a personal level.

There seems to be a greater message in this current dream, though. My dissertation explored the psychological effect of the patriarchy’s suppression of our women. My professional work revolves around issues of women’s autonomy and agency in what is still a patriarchal culture. The fact that the victims in this dream are not just the dream ego but “a number of other, younger women,” and the archetypal feeling of the dream images, suggests a vocational element for me.

This vocational element is something I will explore, again using active imagination, by trying to persuade the various figures in the dream to talk to me. Are they suggesting a direction I might take in my work? Or are they simply underscoring the urgency of their situation and encouraging me to break out of my stuck place?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Music Room

Here’s part of a dream that came to me back in June. The dream itself was interesting, but became even more intriguing when I returned to it some time later in reverie, or what Jung called active imagination.

Dream: I’m upstairs in a building, in a room with a high ceiling and big casement-type windows whose openings are much larger than usual. This room has a comfortable feel to me—it’s very old, maybe hundreds of years old. It reminds me of someplace I’ve been—I can see cabinets with glass fronts on or in front of the walls, which are stone. It’s sunny outside, and there is a huge tree, maybe an oak, outside the window. There seem to be books lining some of the walls and in library cases with glass doors on them. Someone says, “It’s the Academy.” There are many wonderful secrets to be learned here, ancient knowledge. I am very happy to be in that room.

Then I and some others are in the hallway outside this room. The hallway is more like a veranda around a central courtyard several stories high with a skylight way above. It’s a lovely space with an old, old-world feel to it.
Reverie: Looking at the room now, with my waking eyes shut, I see that it is a library, but not a modern one at all. There is a huge stone fireplace at one end, on my right as I look out the windows. A long wooden table stands in the center of the room, which is maybe 40 feet long and half that wide. The table is smoothly finished though the wood seems weathered in some way—maybe just very, very old. There is an air of history in this room, though it’s clearly used regularly. It’s very clean. Although it’s a library, there aren’t rows and rows of books here—there are a few very valuable books that people come to read and study here.

The windows are odd in that they don’t fit the style of the rest of the room. They’re clearly modern-style casement windows, though not new by any means, and they’re much larger than such a room would be likely to have. These windows are each probably eight feet high and maybe four feet wide, and they take up nearly the whole wall. The sills are a normal height above the floor. No curtains—none needed, because of the huge tree. That tree has to be two or three hundred years old, at least—it’s massive.

This building has the feel of a library or museum. The veranda has a railing along the edge—is it wood or metal? I walk over and touch it…it’s wooden. It’s a little scary looking down over it. I’m on about the third floor, and there are a couple of small trees or something planted in pots in the middle on the ground floor. The filtered light is lovely. This place is so beautiful! There are two or three floors above where I am. I wonder what’s up there? And what’s in all the other rooms? This place is delightful—I want to stay here and explore.

I walk down the hallway in active imagination and discover a huge, ancient, wooden door on my left that opens into what seems to be a music room. There is a grand piano there; someone is playing a tune I can’t quite hear. I step into the room. Its layout seems nearly identical to the Library, with a great big stone fireplace on my right. I notice that the fireplace is empty and very clean, but that there are some wood ashes around the hearth. I feel the mantel, tracing its outline with my fingers.

Then I turn away from the fireplace. There are long, tall windows along the entire length of the room, just like in the Library, and window seats with cushions in them. I can see the grand piano to my left. I walk to the window seat and sit down there. I can feel the tapestry cushion, the stone or maybe plaster wall against my back as I put my feet up. The glass in the window is very old and a bit wavy, even to the touch. It’s raining outside, though I can’t see through the glass.

As I sit there I touch the piping at the edge of the cushion, feeling its texture and the roughness of the tapestry. As I swing my legs back over the edge, I notice that my feet don’t quite touch the floor—it makes me feel like a child. I look and I see that I have on black maryjanes with white socks—maybe even with ruffled edges!—and my legs seem plump. I look at my arms, and they’re plump, too! And my hands are small and childlike—it seems I’m a child here! It’s like Alice in Wonderland!

The sensation is very odd. I crawl on my hands and knees for a bit on the window seat cushion, feeling the old stuffing give slightly beneath me. Then I get down—my legs are even shorter now, and it’s a bit of a drop to the floor. I walk toward the piano and am quite surprised to find that I can almost walk right under it! It’s shiny and smooth to touch. I walk toward the piano bench, which is nearly at shoulder height—another surprise!

The Pianist is there, motionless—or maybe I’m “out of time,” somehow, even here in the imaginal world. I touch the leg of his pants—it seems to be a man, though I can’t see his face at all—and the fabric is silky. There is a ribbon of braid down the outside seam like some kind of uniform. I can’t tell much more. Suddenly I come back to the waking world.

The events and images I encountered in this reverie were totally unexpected, just like a good imaginal voyage should be. Why was I so small there? While I was on the window seat I felt myself to be maybe five or six, but when I got down I must have been much younger—pudgy and very short indeed. Maybe three years old? That’s a time from which I have almost no memories.

Later on, I was able to return to the Music Room, where I again experienced myself as a child of three, and was able to explore the space that way. My adult self could observe the reactions of my child-self—an odd but useful experience!

This kind of exploration is a skill that can be learned; it is a valuable tool for understanding ourselves and others more fully. The next entry will point out some of the techniques I used.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Dreams Are Back

Three days ago I started remembering my dreams again. Last night, a gray cat knew who had been murdered; I lay on the floor trying to convince him to tell me.

This new series of dreams has a much darker tone; gone are the laughter, the fun, the joking with friends. Instead, these latest dreams are filled with images of war, murder, and uncertainty. This is clearly a new phase.

It's pretty typical to see groups of dreams follow patterns like this. Sometimes a set of images will appear consistently over a period of days or weeks, then give way to another series, only to reappear later on. I expect my laughing friends will come back to visit, even while the darker images prevail. Psyche often seems to send reassuring images to lighten the load of darkness as we work through difficult times.

A wonderful book that details a woman artist's psychological journey via her dream images is The Dreaming Way by Patricia Reis and Susan Snow. It documents the healing power that dream images can have when they are used consciously.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Alchemical Horses, Part One

My dreams remain elusive this week; at best I still recall only fragments and vague images. This has gone on for a month now. When my dream-life isn’t available to me, I go looking for other sources of information and guidance.

The most prominent feature of my waking life right now is the horses. Midnight, the 22-year old Egyptian Arab, dropped from the sky into my life a few months ago: My friend the plumber, whom I had met all of three times, offered to let me care for his much-loved horse because his own time is taken up by his new business. Since then, I’ve been spending at least two hours a day, five days a week, at the barn. Lately I’ve also begun caring for Luka, a two-year-old Missouri Foxtrotter colt, whose owners find themselves in a similar bind.

Horses, in any normal world, do NOT fall from the sky into one’s life, and yet here are two of them. Archetypally, what is the horse for me? What is the personal meaning of this animal in my life?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a numinous dream-horse I encountered some years back, in a dream so powerful that I included it in my dissertation. This morning, when I looked it up, I discovered something very interesting: The dream occurred during a period when I was unable to contact the Ladies, my Guides for the dissertation process; a time just like the present moment, when I was terrified that I was spinning my wheels, doing nothing of value. Here’s the passage:

Throughout this period my dreams continued to encourage me at the same time they reminded me, sometimes not too gently, that I was avoiding “getting my feet wet” with the real work of the dissertation (which, in retrospect, was not the writing but more a state of mind). In one dream from early May,

I’m on a ferryboat, going to a lovely, quaint city that looks to me like Venice. The boat comes to a stop but in order to reach the shore we have to wade through water, chest-deep but very clear. I can see rocks covered with barnacles and coral-like living organisms, and I worry about stepping on and injuring them. I wade on and the water gets deeper as I go under a kind of waterfall—through which I have to wade in order to get to the city. I’m frightened as the water pours over my head, but I go on anyway. I know that I can swim but am very aware of how easy it would be to drown, and I’m terrified. I can hardly breathe.

The city, with its ancient, old-world feel, is reminiscent of the City of the Ladies [(an imaginal city described by Christine de Pizan in1405)]. Yes, there are dangers in working with the unconscious, but if I was ever to reach that City, I knew I had to take the chance.

During this time I was also avoiding active imagination—still resistant to whatever I might learn there—and not consciously giving the Ladies the opportunity to speak with me. However, I could sense their presence, and indeed at times I seemed to have a kind of invisible entourage with me, frightening the dog as I worked in the yard, but I was too busy defensively racing from one chore to another to be still and listen.

About this same time I had another dream, in which I encounter a dying horse. I comfort it in its last moments, and as it dies, I say, “A heavy soul has left this tiny body.” As I carefully rearrange its body for burial, I discover it weighs no more than a deer. The horse, a powerful symbol of shamanic travel between the worlds, seemed to offer itself as a guide into worlds to come. The small, beaded, wood-and-yarn effigy that I made in its honor now hangs over my desk as a talisman, reminding me that such travel is possible, and that I am not alone.

Fear remained, in spite of such reassurances. I dreamed of climbing a frightening wooden staircase, dark and old, carrying a lamp up to an old woman who lived there. When I forced myself to crawl up the stairway in active imagination, I found, not some dreadful witch’s den, but the bright and clean apartment of the Old Wise Woman. This was a theme that had shown up in my dreams every few nights: Face your fears! Nothing bad will happen!

As I re-read this passage this morning I was struck by the similarities between that time and this one, reflected by the symbols in dreams and waking-world experiences. Though at the moment I can’t seem to remember my dreams and active imagination seems blocked for me, my waking life is full of horses, and I dreamed the other night of water pouring over my head, nearly suffocating me.

I am now reminded of other horse images: There once was an imaginal horse who obediently raced alongside my parents’ car when I was a child, gracefully and effortlessly leaping driveways, hedges, even entire streets. As an adult, I dreamed of Elvish princes who could transform themselves into horses at will.

More recently, during a workshop with a shaman, a horse came to me in a vision, offering himself as a guide on the next stage of my life’s journey. “Conveniently,” I had forgotten about that….

And the messages—face your fears! Nothing bad will happen, and in fact, you are moving forward. Transformation is occurring unseen and unnoticed.

It seems I need to do some more work with the Horse.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Midnight's Visit with the Vet

Older horses’ teeth don’t wear evenly, it seems, and they tend to develop sharp points on inside or outside edges that can cut into the tongue, cheek, and/or gums and make eating difficult. Removing these sharp edges is done via a procedure called “floating.” I cannot imagine how that word ever came to be used for this procedure, which is routinely done every year or two for a horse of Midnight’s age (22-plus).

So I’m standing there in the barn with Midnight, holding the lead rope, waiting for the vet to check his teeth. Vet takes a quick look and says, “Yep. They need floating.” A quick injection into a vein in his neck and within seconds Midnight goes all glassy-eyed. Half a minute and his head goes down, his legs start to wobble, and I ask the vet, “How many of your patients actually fall down with this stuff?!” “Oh, in 25 years, I’ve only had two fall over.” And I’m thinking, “Well, here’s number three!” But Midnight doesn’t fall, thank goodness. The vet walks out to his truck.

The vet comes back from his truck with what looks like a heavy bridle with a strange, large bit. He gets it into Midnight’s mouth and cranks—turns out the “bit” is two metal plates that catch his front teeth and hold his mouth open. Midnight’s tongue flails around for a while but he’s too woozy to offer much resistance. Vet says, “Here. Hold right here,” pointing to the side of the bridle thing. I grab the strap and hang on.

The vet plugs in this contraption that looks like a cross between a huge, flat, metal toothbrush and a chainsaw. Before I have time to holler, he’s got that thing inside Midnight’s mouth and has turned it on. Folks, NEVER again complain about YOUR visit to the dentist, OK? Things could be much, much worse.

It must not hurt a whole lot, though, because Midnight really didn’t put up any fight at all. Most of the head movement was from the vet thrashing around inside with the rasp thing. The sound was awful, the smell of burning tooth enamel pretty horrific. My next question was, “Say, how many owners have you had pass out on you?!” “Why? You need to sit down?” It was a near thing, but I managed, by sheer force of will, to stay on my feet and not throw up. I figured that wouldn’t have helped anything, after all, and I didn't want to look like a wuss.

So the vet keeps this up for quite a while, and I realize he’s only done the lower jaw. Then he says, “Here. Hold his head.” Wasn’t that what I was already doing? Nope. He meant get under Midnight’s head and hold his head up. Now, Midnight weighs 900 pounds, and I’m here to tell you, about 300 of those pounds must be in his head. I’m not that big a person, and I’ve got this enormous horse head over my shoulder and I’m trying to hang on to it and hold it 1) still and 2) up in the air while the vet grinds away at the upper jaw.

Midnight, all this time, is just standing there drooling (yes, all over me). Finally, the “floating” is finished and the “bridle” comes off. It seems that there were a lot of hooks and sharp points; the vet is confident that now Midnight will be able to chew much better and will stop losing weight. I sure hope so; I don’t want to have to go through this again for a long time!

So, are we done now? Nope. One more procedure: the vet needs to “clean Midnight’s sheath.” I will let you, dear reader, imagine for yourself what that’s all about. All I will say is that Midnight did not appreciate it much, but once he was walked into a corner and up against a wall, he tolerated it.

And an hour later, Midnight was back in his stall, calmly and thoroughly masticating his grain; I went home and took a nap.

[This is now cross-posted on my other blog, The Alchemical Horse, here on Blogger. You horsey types might enjoy taking a look.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

When you can't remember your dreams....

What do you do when your dreams fade as soon as you wake up? This has been happening to me the last two or three weeks, though normally my dreams seem to want to be remembered. It’s frustrating when this happens. What can you do about it?

First of all, it’s helpful to remember that your psychic work is going on whether you remember your dreams or not—it’s just that it’s happening below your level of conscious awareness. In my experience, these “blank” times are often followed by periods where you recall really vivid, active dreams. Maybe this active phase kicks in once you’ve processed something to the point where your conscious self can benefit from participation.

Second, remember that once you start actively following your dream life, you will always remember the important dreams. Even if you get busy and forget to write an important dream down before it fades, Psyche will send you the message again in another dream, another form. So don’t fret.

Something you can do when the dreams aren’t clear in the morning is to try to catch and write down even the faintest image or idea that does remain. Sometimes even those traces will be meaningful later on, or will show a pattern that repeats. Here are some examples from my own dream life lately. These few fragments represent almost the only dreams I’ve remembered in the last two weeks:

Monday 13 July 2009. No dreams stuck—only something about having two online stores and not being sure how or why.

Tuesday 14 July 2009. Dreams had to do, again, with something going on at some distance, or electronically, or something like that. Something that I felt like I had no direct control over, though I wanted to or felt I ought to. Not comfortable; lots of other people involved.

Thursday 16 July 2009. The dreams I can remember from just before I woke up this morning are fuzzy, but they were busy and full of traveling, new friends, new spaces, interesting activities—and laughter! I remember laughing. Everything was strange, but apparently in a good way.

Friday 24 July 2009. Dream—don’t remember many details—I am traveling and have lost something, maybe a suitcase, and I am surprised that I have my own car there and have to drive myself back instead of riding with my partner.

Sunday 26 July 2009. Dream fragment: Something about beanbags—some kind of joke or funny story. Lots of laughter—friends talking about this. Then someone hands me a paper grocery sack that someone has left for me—inside are beads for stuffing beanbags and bits of ribbon and trinkets to decorate them. We all laugh—“apparently beanbags are in my future!”

Other dreams during the night were similar in that there was lots of laughter, lots of friends, and (in the only other bit that I can remember at all) I was making very funny and entertaining puns and word plays.

Monday 27 July 2009. Dream fragments: 1) waking up and discovering it was 11:30 in the morning; 2) A friend is mad at me because I didn’t remember someone else’s dream, even though they remembered mine. She insists I try harder to remember.

Busy night—more stuff with friends, lots of fun and activity, none of which stuck.

You can see patterns emerging here, and they’re helpful, hopeful ones. Even though I often feel blue in my waking life, something underneath is shifting in a big way. Looks like the changes will be positive. Bring it on!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Life Quilt

I posted a photo today on my Facebook page of an art quilt of mine, one that I hope will be accepted for an upcoming fiber arts exhibition. Someone asked me about it, and there's no better explanation than the final few paragraphs of my dissertation, for which the piece was created:

Concluding Thoughts: The Life Quilt

The image for the final art piece, entitled “Life Quilt,” appeared relatively early in the dissertation process but refused to come into physical form. I started collecting materials for it, imagining its parts and layout, but was never able to begin the actual work. This puzzled me, because the image was so clear in my mind. It was not until the morning when I began to write this last section of the dissertation that I understood why this piece had to wait, and only at that moment was I able to begin to work on it.

The Life Quilt is created in homage to all the Ladies who collaborated with me in this work. It includes phototransferred images from the letters with which I began the journey, scraps of fabric and clothing from my own family and from pieces “found” in thrift shops and antique stores, and some small objects that represent stages in our lives as women. These bits and scraps are collaged, stitched, and quilted together; the edges are neither bound (though our lives have often been bounded) nor finished (as our lives are never neatly finished). The idea appeared about the time I first encountered my imaginal friend Ellen Janney:

I’m working today in the basement studio, selecting fabrics for a quilt piece. A quilt seems like a good thing for the Ladies and me to do together—a quilting bee! I sense several presences. One person I recognize—my mother’s mother, Hazel Comstock. She says, “My granny made quilts … like them crazy quilts.” Hazel so rarely speaks! But she’s interested, at least.

I’ve got some old, fragile laces and fine things; some battered dishtowels; a piece of one of my dad’s knitted cotton “guinea tees,” worn to shreds after Mom died. Pieces of Mom’s old damask tablecloths, who knows how old when she received them, but worn and threadbare in spots even when she gave them to me back in the ‘80s. I’m not being gentle with any of these things. Life isn’t gentle with us; Death, life’s other face, is not gentle. It rips our garments, our dreams, our lives, and leaves us standing, gaping at the sudden destruction, the jagged hole left in the fabric of our existence. Sometimes we’re able to mend the rent, but often it remains. Often, our lives are shredded like shattered silk....

I’ve never hand-quilted before, and I call on the Ladies: “Who’s the best quilter among us? I’ll need your hands to guide mine, please.” Then, in my mind’s eye, I see a little woman, probably in her sixties; small, frail, white-haired, and encased (the only possible word) in black silk with a white lace collar. Quaker? I wonder. Time period looks to be the 1880s, maybe, from the dress, though it’s an everyday dress and so it’s hard to say exactly. I see her with her head bent over something—a sewing machine, maybe? She knows I’m there, but doesn’t acknowledge me; she’s intent on what she’s doing. Then she pulls whatever it is off the table toward her, gives it a little shake, then looks up at me and smiles. I recognize her now—Mary Ann John Tomlinson, my great-great-grandmother, Ellen’s dearest friend. This is a thrill for me.

I wonder about the way I first saw Mary Ann just now—bent, as if over a sewing machine. I wonder if she actually had one, or if I’m seeing her that way because of the relationship fostered by our work here: almost like I’m seeing the part of her that lives on in me. However it is, it feels so right, and so warm: all of us Ladies, holding hands across the years and the generations, sharing our experiences....

The backing for the piece, onto which the fabric shapes are quilted in what at first seems a random pattern, is faintly imprinted with images of the Mandelbrot Set, representing the infinitely repeating, yet infinitely variable nature of women’s lives over the course of human history. The stitches that appear random from the front of the piece are actually caught up to points within that repeating pattern on the quilt back. Our lives are part of the archetypal pattern, whether we can see that or not.

On that morning when I began to write these concluding paragraphs, I realized that the reason the piece lay dormant for all these years is that it represents the dissertation itself. Parts of this finished work were actually written years ago, and have been incorporated almost untouched. They remained there in my files and in my mind, and I turned them over and over without being able to see how they fit into the overall pattern of the work. All I knew was that they were part of the work; like seeds in the winter soil, they needed to wait for the springtime to sprout, and for the summertime to flower.

The work on this dissertation followed the seasons; each spring it came to life again after a winter’s dormancy. As spring progressed into summer, ideas flowed and writing progressed. In full summer I admired the work’s progress, tended and watered and pruned and weeded. Then, in the fall, that period of work would come to a close and the seeds would fall to the ground; the cycle continued during the cold bleakness of winter. As I write this, spring is once more moving toward a summer during which I will weed and prune the draft and watch it flower into the final version. In the early fall I will defend the dissertation. I do not yet know what the fruits and seeds of this work will be, nor what new growth will sprout from it after the upcoming winter. But I know that the cycle is endless, and that my part in it continues. I am endlessly grateful.

A conversation with Grandmother

Last night I had a conversation with Grandmother, my Guide. I haven’t talked with her in quite a while, likely because of the serious depression I've been lost in for several months. I've only recently begun to come out of it.

With all the blessings in my life right now, how can I possibly be depressed? I even have a horse — the realization of a childhood dream! All this I know. So what on earth is going on?

When I went to bed last night I could perceive huge, empty space around me — not a threatening space, but vast, limitless, full of possibilities. I want the courage to let go and float on the tide of starlight into that space, but it’s terribly difficult. It feels like I’m hanging on for dear life to the shreds of business — busy-ness — here in my daily world. So I prayed from my soul for understanding and guidance.

About 3:30 in the morning I woke up with the realization of the depth of my terror at this moment. I am waiting for The Terrible Thing to happen. This is an undefined Terrible Thing, but for me, it feels like a certainty. There is too much good in my life right now — too many things are wonderful, too much luxury exists, I have too much time and too many resources. I mean, not having to work, and having a horse???! This is just too much to take in, too much to accept. Something Bad Will Happen. That’s the way things work.

Then I heard Grandmother’s question in my mind. How comforting it was just to “hear” her calm, measured “tones”:

“Can you receive?”

Receive? Oh yeah, the cosmic “receive.” Well, short answer: “NO!” I mean, no, for goodness sake, no!

“Why not?”

Well, duh, of course not! I haven’t done anything to deserve this!

“But you are.” She didn't bother to argue with me that I'm a good person, that I deserve good things, none of that. She just cut to the chase. She always does that, and at times like this, I hate it.

Ah. I “am.” The cosmic “am.” Yeah, right. No, I can’t just “receive.” It would be different if some person gave me something. Then maybe I could accept it, like if I had done something for them. But the Universe? No, I don’t think so!

“And why is that different?”

Her questions often make me squirm. Sheesh, I don’t know. It just is. Things don’t work that way. It just doesn’t work like that. Sorry, but it just doesn’t.

“Is this true?”

That prompted a “discussion” of what it might be like to be able to just accept what is at this moment and be happy. I had a flash of that feeling. Wow.... It would be so fantastic, so peaceful, such a lovely place to be. But it was just a flash, extinguished as soon as I perceived it.

Why is my resistance to this so strong? I mean, I have almost everything I could possibly want. How on earth can I still resist? It is true that, like everyone else, there are still some things I do lack, things I dearly, dearly wish I had in my life. But why do I cling to what I lack instead of focusing on what I have? It is weird, counterintuitive, destructive.

“Lack and unhappiness is all you know.” She used other “words” that were more subtle and explanatory, of course, and more nuanced. I’ve worked through huge emotional and psychological issues over the past few years, but this one remains, like bedrock.

I think it has a lot to do with what I absorbed from my mother — and maybe from the Motherline — about lack of nurture, about complete insecurity both emotional and physical, about the dangers of having to rely — financially or emotionally — on someone other than oneself. Mom was so clear about those dangers and deprivations. However I learned it, it’s my foundational “knowledge” about the way the world works, the way things are at the most fundamental level of my reality. How on earth does one go about changing this?

The way it works is so clear: as soon as I imaging trusting and receiving, I instinctively pull back, and the thought is, “something bad will happen and all this will go away.” There’s a distrust so deep that I can’t even get at it. It’s a part of me! I don’t see how I can change it….

Grandmother wouldn’t give up, though. “Can there be another way?”

I don’t know. I can try. I can try to focus on gratitude. I have an aunt, my mother’s sister, who shared much of that terrible childhood with my mother, and who has experienced tragedy in her life that would have killed most of us. She suggested one day that gratitude is how she survived. I am going this week to visit her; perhaps she can help me understand.

There was an instant of hope. But then I was back whining about what’s missing in my life, wondering how I can ever be happy without it. But Grandmother was tracking right along with me.

“Can you be happy without that?”

I genuinely don’t know. There are moments when I think I can; and there are moments of black despair when I know I cannot.

As Grandmother pointed out just before I went back to sleep, “Happiness comes from within.” Deep happiness can’t depend on another person or on something material; it has to be something essential, inner, arising from one’s soul. And that, I think, brings this discussion back full circle: “Can you receive?”

Wow…. Guess she’s assigned me my homework.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Do dreams have messages for us?

This is a question that’s been asked, no doubt, since humans could first form thoughts at all. Dream images are so real, and dreams are often so strange, that we can’t help but wonder.

My sense of it is that we are on shaky ground if we try to say, categorically, that dreams have (or represent) messages, or that they intend to convey information or meaning. Freud, among others, specifically stated that dreams are not intended to be understood at all. We can, he says, look for meaning, but this is an action that we perform on the dream and not something that the dream itself intends. And many modern dream researchers continue to view dreams as our brain’s attempt to make sense of the more-or-less random firing of nerves while we are asleep.

My own view is different. Because I experience dream images as autonomous imaginal beings, dreams represent an avenue of possibility for communication with not only the personal unconscious—with our own psyche—but with the collective unconscious, with the imaginal world of spirits and archetypes.

In my understanding it is possible to receive messages from specific imaginal beings from time to time—some dreams are very clear about that. In another post I will give some examples of that phenomenon. I believe that the ability to receive such communications can be cultivated through practice.

I think it is safe to say that there is meaning in dream images. The specific images in dreams are drawn to us because of some resonance between them and us—between the images and our environment, our daily lives, or something alive in our psyche at the time we’re dreaming. It’s this resonance that is the important thing to focus on when we’re trying to find meaning in a dream. It’s not the same as saying, “Well, dogs mean loyalty, so this dog in my dream must be about loyalty.” It’s more like that there is some issue that’s alive for me at the moment that recalls, in some way, dog energy or a dog metaphor. Something “dog-like” is going on in my life that drew the dog-image to me, and me to it.

So the trick is to examine the image of “dog” until something clicks—something makes you go, “Aha! That’s like the dog in my dream!” When you get that “Aha!” feeling, you’ve located the resonance. Often, at first, the resonance may be faint and difficult or impossible to put into words, but if you keep rolling it around in your mind and keep it alive in your thoughts for a while, you can begin to elaborate on it and it may start to make sense.

But back to the question of whether or not dreams have messages: by tracking this resonance, and by following images—especially repeating images—over time, you can build up a personal symbol system that will make it easier for you to find meaning in the dream images. Whether or not the dream intends this meaning, or any message at all, we probably will never know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Shift in Reality

I have a smooth, black stone that was 'given' to me by Grandmother Ka’ahumanu, one of my Guides, back in 1996—actually, thirteen years ago this week. For nearly ten years I carried it in my pocket as a talisman, but quit a few years ago for some reason. Early this year, Grandmother asked me one night (in her sternest tone), “Where is the talisman?” “Um, well, I…. It’s on my dresser. I was afraid I’d lose it!” Needless to say, after that reprimand, I’ve started carrying it again.

One day in March I was at my therapist’s office, and I took the stone out of my pocket, looked at it, felt its weight and its smoothness, and realized once again that the reason I need to carry it with me is that it somehow facilitates the contact with the Imaginal World—I don’t know how or why, but it does. That’s what talismans do. So I put it back into my pocket, then went in and had a gut-wrenching, breakthrough session with the therapist.

On the way home, after running a couple of errands, I realized the stone was no longer in my pocket. Assuming it had fallen out, I retraced my steps everywhere, went back to the office to look for it—everything, to no avail. I was terribly upset—this stone has real meaning for me! But it was nowhere to be found. I had lost it for good.

Then, late in the afternoon, I went upstairs to get ready for a dance. There, on the dresser where I always keep it (but on the other side), was the darn stone….

Now, you could say that I imagined this whole thing—but I know better. Reality is more malleable that we’ve been told: it can shift. Reality can shift, and it’s important that we realize this. Breakthroughs can happen—patterns can change—wounds, psychic or bodily, can be healed. It gives me tremendous hope.