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.