When I was a girl, my mother would sometimes spontaneously burst out with a line from the Song of Songs in the Bible—something like “My love! Look, he comes! Leaping over the mountains!” A sudden joy would fill my heart, although I had no idea where these words came from.
They come from the Song of Songs, the only place in the Bible that speaks of the ecstasy of sexual love, of desire, passion, surrender—everything so many religions have wanted to suppress and even destroy for millennia. But it comes in dreams. We dream of desire, of sex, of turning from the tenderness of our first crush, of wanting a man or a woman and then remembering we’re married. Many of these dreams are about sexual union with the divine, and our various ways of avoiding it.
This wild passion that stirred in me as a girl has come again and again in my dreams—God reminding me that this is my birthright—ecstasy in my very muscles, bones, and blood, in this life, now.
I’m just returned from a North of Eden couples’ retreat—my favorite of the many we do. It’s an opportunity to step more deeply with my husband into our marriage in the light of the spiritual calling of our dreams. We have been married 28 years and spent most of that time locked in a battle of wills glossed over by a somewhat harmonious exterior and an agreement to not rock the boat. Our dreams have continually shown us where we were projecting our own inner pain onto each other—blaming each other for the hurt and fear we didn’t want to feel. This blame took many forms, and unraveling it has been a long a difficult process. Avoidance doesn’t go down without a fight. In many ways we have been so focused on dealing with the “issues” that we haven’t acknowledged the gifts that have been rising along with our consciousness of the fight we’ve been in. This retreat showed us that a new day is dawning. At the retreat I had this dream:
Dream: I’m traveling with a family, including a 13-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend. The boy shoots darts at the girl, into her open mouth. There are needles all over her head and face. She looks distraught. I am scared and run downstairs to tell her parents. Then there is a shift and the family and I are out on the town, without the girl—just the mother and father, the boy and me. I am now the 13-year-old girl with my lover and parents. I have an incredible feeling in my heart of lightness and joy, like red flowers.
The girl who is shot and then disappears in this dream is the girl I became at 13—I knew it as soon as I was asked what happened to me at that age. I became “me”—the talker, the know-it-all, the brain disconnected from the body…I put aside the girl with the leaping heart and set my sights on the trudge toward adulthood.
In this dream, the trudging girl is killed so that I can become the red-flower-heart girl again. In the enactment of this dream at the retreat, this dream was matched with a beautiful dream my husband had of being a white lily lying beside the Animus. We knelt together, red flower and white, and I wept.
From the Song of Songs:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys . . .
My beloved! Look, he comes, leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved lifts up his voice and says to me,
"Arise, my love,
my beautiful one, come with me.
For, behold, the winter is past. The rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth.
The season of singing has come,
and the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
Come . . .”
My love affair with God is reflected in my love affair with my husband. In many ways, for us, the winter is past—or at least a winter. We have faced into some very dark places to arrive here, the rose and the lily, on the cusp of a new phase of relationship that is based on both of us surrendering to the Beloved who comes leaping over the mountains.
I don’t know what this new phase of our relationship will be. It begins with this gesture, on our knees, vibrating petal to petal as we both remember the source of this vibration—God’s love for each of us.
I dreamed I was lovers with Carl Jung. In the dream I was a younger woman and Carl was a large older man. What I remembered of the dream was the physicality of him—how he held me, wrapped around me, lay on top of me, covered me. I don’t remember any words spoken, or even anything particularly sexual. Just his body against mine. In the dream, I was also self-conscious about being chosen by this incredible man. This shame/reaction came right up when I woke from this dream, in the guest bed at my brother’s house, and thought, Really? Carl Jung?
When I spoke of it in my dreamwork session, the word “contained” came out of me. That was it. I felt contained, held in by this man standing in for the Divine, bringing this version of God’s love for me. It made me cry.
I have been working on a team that is editing a book Marc Bregman, founder of Archetypal Dreamwork, is writing about Carl Jung’s The Red Book, which was only released in 2009. This book was kept secret, first by Jung and then by his family, for almost 100 years. It’s the story of Jung’s descent into the unconscious when he was in his early 40s—a chronicle of the work he actually did himself, the terrible and the sublime.
This week, right on the tails of my dream, I found myself working on a section of The Red Book in which Jung writes about the need to withdraw into ourselves before we can truly be with others. Well, he doesn’t say it like that—“withdraw into ourselves”—that’s just me pussyfooting around. He talks instead of God coming for us, with a whip:
“…the God will step between men and drive every individual with the whip of icy cold to the warmth of his own monastic hearth. …”
I have not wanted to approach my own monastic hearth of self. I’m more comfortable orienting myself to what’s going on around me, to everyone else. Just this morning, I watched a video clip of a woman who communicates with animals, and thought—I should do that! Then I read about another woman who has written a book about her wild ecstatic union with the Divine—I should be like her! Anything but my own hearth, because, as Jung says, the way there is driven by God’s icy cold whip—the icy cold of withdrawing from “them” all of the “thems”—my friends and family and community and random strangers doing fascinating work in the world. Jung wrote:
“If you embrace your self, then it will appear to you as if the world has become cold and empty. The coming God moves into this emptiness. . . . If you are in your solitude, and all the space around you has become cold and unending, then you have moved far from men, and at the same time you have come near to them as never before. . . . now, if you are in solitude, your God leads you to the God of others, and through that to the true neighbor, to the neighbor of the self in others.”
I can’t be in relationship if I’m not there. Simple, and also about as radical a thing as I can imagine. Me, there. Me, here. Not wondering what others are thinking or wanting. Not wondering what I should be doing. Not thinking about what something means. Just me, here. What…?
Here’s how this radical concept worked in my life this weekend. Feels a bit like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but here goes. My husband and I were taking a walk in the woods, something we like to do on weekends. When he walks in front, he tends to get ahead of me. I used to react to this, but I’ve come to accept it. He stops for me periodically, we walk together, talking, not talking, then he might get ahead again. When I walk in front, he walks right behind me, which I like because I like to walk together. On this walk, I was in front at one point and he started to pass me when the path widened. I felt a reaction rising up. I was pissed. Wow, I thought, take it easy. But I couldn’t shake it—the familiar feeling of being bullied, and the instant rising up of the bully in me (He’s not going to pass me!) I hated what was happening in me, but it seemed like all I had was the voice in my head that my husband was being a jerk, that and the physical fight-or-flight sensation of the reaction in my body. All of my energy was outside of me, in the projection onto my husband. Then I remembered that I had an ace in the hole, my dream about Carl Jung.
Taking a moment in the world and bringing the dream reality to it is called in Archetypal Dreamwork “the cut.” My cut was to go to the embrace of Carl in my moment of reaction. So I did, and damn if I didn’t suddenly feel contained, and…loved. Right there in my reaction. It was like disappearing and appearing somewhere else. The reaction was gone, completely, into the thin air it came out of, apparition that it was. My husband passed me on the path, and I just looked around and marveled at the world around me and at this man I am so privileged to love.
“…if you are in solitude, your God leads you to the God of others...”
I’ve been sitting here, debating about whether to end this piece here, but there’s one more quote from this chapter of The Red Book that I want to put in. It comes right after the preceding quote, and it’s important to me because of the word “incapacity.”
“If you are in yourself, you become aware of your incapacity. You will see how little capable you are of imitating the heroes and of being a hero yourself. So you will also no longer force others to become heroes. Like you, they suffer from incapacity. Incapacity, too, wants to live . . . .”
In my place of reaction, which I have learned from my dreams is a leftover emotion from the past, I am actually incapable of changing. I need the help of God. This time I had the dream of Carl Jung to help me, this very particular feeling of physical containment, so particular to me, so tailor-made. This is what dreams do, what they bring—the very thing we need the very moment we need it.
As for the part about the hero—my hero persona is the “I can do it,” which, when pushed, projects—and then becomes—the bully-on-the-path. That bully wants my husband to know my needs, to never push me, to concede when I want him to, and to always know when that is—in short, to be my hero. But we both suffer from incapacity, which Jung tells us wants to, and must, live in this world. For me, befriending this incapacity means reaching a hand up, imploring, in my moment of need.
It certainly rocked my world on Saturday.
I found myself saying to a friend this week: “If it feels hard, you probably need help.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew they were for me. Even seeing them here, I can feel a mild reaction--But I can do it myself! I have been the hardest person in the world to help. I used to get annoyed at my husband for asking me to help him fold blankets because, if I can do it alone—why can’t he? Anytime he tried/tries (it still happens) to help me with something on my computer, I would be sure to make him pay, usually by just being a bitch during the whole process.
If it feels hard, I probably need help. I’m writing it again, to let it in a little more. The challenge for me is the first part—knowing something is hard. I have been such a whirlwind of activity and compulsion there was not a moment to admit that anything was hard. The harder something was, the harder I pushed. It was a matter of pride.
I have had dream lately of killing spiders, which has seemed like a good thing on an archetypal level as spiders in my dreams stand for the dark energy in me (the bitch during the computer-helping sessions, for example—think “black widow”). Recently, though, I had this dream:
In the house I grew up in, I see a huge spider a foot long. I run into the kitchen to tell everyone and Scott (my husband) that I can’t kill it; I’m too scared. Scott grabs a pillow and goes in and hits it. It runs fast under a couch. I’m scared it will hide and be in the house forever. Then it comes out and Scott nails it, breaking it into pieces. We leave the room. Later I go to show it to someone and the thorax is still moving. Then it lunges at me, crawling toward me like a person dragging her legs. Scott clobbers it again and it goes down.
In this dream I acknowledge my fear and ask for help. It’s great too that the person who helps me in the dream is my husband, because I do need so much help from him. He has been helping me learn to ask, with asking words (“Would you please”), which have not even been in my lexicon. I have said things instead like “You know what we should do?” or, most aggressive, “You never…”
The most radical thing about dreams, to me, is that they are all about relationship. Archetypal/divine figures come in dreams to help, love, comfort, confront—to BE with us. Meanwhile, in my case, in my dreams I am often scrambling for something, caretaking someone, incensed about something, or…killing spiders, alone.
Alone is my go-to place whenever my terror or pain or trauma is triggered, in even the smallest moments like when my computer goes wonky. Like a cornered animal, I lash out (quietly, passive-aggressively usually, but believe me, my husband knows the fangs are out). And yet, to this cornered animal comes help in so many guises, dream by dream. Slowly, gingerly, I am taking steps toward that help. It starts with knowing something is hard, or even just that I don’t like it—or don't like how I’m acting. From there I have to swallow my pride and ask for help. So simple a child could do it…only, in fact, a child.
I recently watched a clip of the comedian Louis C.K. being interviewed by Conan O’Brien (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c). He talks about letting the sadness that’s coming “hit you like a truck” to find the joy on the other side of it. Yes! I thought, when I watched this wild red-haired man talk about pulling off the road to cry when he heard a Bruce Springsteen song on the radio.
I have felt sad all my life. When I was a girl, I would worry about it—I remember asking myself time and again why I felt so sad. I would think about my short life and couldn’t find anything to justify my innate sense of grief. My parents hadn’t died—no one I knew or loved to that point had died. So why did I feel this way? The other side of it was that I wanted to feel it because nothing else felt so real, so true. I liked going to funerals, one of the only places where people seemed to have permission to feel sad; the free flow of tears was a relief to me. I wanted to cry them.
Many people have said to me some version of “If I start crying, I’m afraid I’ll never stop.” This tells me that most of us know that the sadness in us is deep, profound. It’s like the bedrock of our being. But we want to stay above it, in this sort-of-okay place. As Louis C.K. put it, “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your product . . . and then you die.”
When I attended my first Archetypal Dreamwork retreat, I was stunned to be in the presence of people who were expressing their sadness—crying real tears, not feeling sorry for themselves, or blaming others or their lives. They were crying from the bedrock place. I felt like I had found my people.
My dreams have given me permission to cry from the bedrock place, to just enter the feeling and stay, stay, stay until the shift. Because here’s the thing about the sadness—it is a doorway. I have never known the shift not to come. Going all the way into the sadness can sometimes be a challenge, but once there, if I really stay, something precious rises—love, joy, softness, openness.
And yes, I fight it, like everyone. It’s a mystery still to me why I don’t wake up every morning settled down in the bedrock, where I feel real. The pull of the sort-of-okay place is very real. But I believe that God can only reach us when we are ourselves, our bedrock selves. This may be why so many people find the love within only once they’ve hit rock bottom—because anything above the bedrock is some form of ego compensation. Sadness has never failed to bring some version of the arms of God to hold me.
I recently told my husband that I wanted a new bag for my birthday, to treat myself to something nice so I’m not always carrying things in a backpack like a hiker/survivalist. He was looking for some new shirts, so we went shopping together. In the first store, he asked me what I was looking for in a bag. I froze, reacted, projected that he was controlling me, going to suggest things I didn’t like. Outside the store I told him I was in a reaction and what it sounded like—that he was to blame and was going to keep me from getting what I want. We bumbled around in the conversation, I did some blaming (it was the way he said what he said…), and he got hurt, but I kept going because I knew this had nothing to do with the bag, or my husband. I was reacting to wanting something, which I rarely let myself do. The attack thoughts go something like this: If you want something, it will be taken away…Don’t want anything. I kept talking with my husband until I hit bedrock, felt the sadness of living with this ugly voice, felt the regret for blaming it on him, finally cried. Once I was there, the issue disappeared into thin air. We went on to have a really great day together (and he helped me choose the perfect bag).
As Louis C.K. said so beautifully, “Sadness is poetic; you’re lucky to live sad moments. When you let yourself feel sad, happiness comes rushing in to meet the sadness.”
Why this is, I don’t know. But I believe it’s one of the best-kept secrets of the human condition.
In a dream I had not too long ago, I was walking with a kind, gentle man who was telling me that my behaviors (can’t remember whether he said all of them or some of them) come from my past lives, including the fact that I don’t close doors and drawers. When I woke up from this dream I was struck by the very particular way I am known by this divine man I call the Animus. I knew at the time that I often leave drawers open and that I like doors to be open, but I didn’t think of it as a thing. Yet he knows me down to this detail, and even why I have this idiosyncrasy.
This morning I found myself looking at my open dresser drawers and thinking about this man, this dream, and all of the dreams I have had and followed into my psyche—the quirky ones, the terrifying ones, the ones that filled my heart to bursting. The way I am known by God, as shown in my dreams, brings me to my knees.
Today I am living with a recent dream in which I go into a women’s prison to clean up after accidentally peeing in my bike shorts. I go into a stall and close the door, but a woman opens it. I step out and ask if she has robbed me while I was in the stall and she says yes. I ask her what she took and she shows me some things I don’t care about. Then I ask if she took any money and she says yes, and my credit card. I tell her I’ll have to have that back. She gives it back and I walk out of the prison, clean.
I walked through the open prison door. Damn. I started this piece with no idea what I would write—just that I wanted to start with the dream about the open drawers and doors. Then I sat, waiting, and thought to write about my current dream, and before my eyes the two bent and curved to fit together like two hands clasping…mine and His. His and mine.
Can it be that I am now walking through the door I have compulsively, unconsciously wanted open all my life? Clean of the shame of having pissed myself—in terror? Well, terror has certainly been my constant companion. My dreams have shown that in abundance. I might have sat back in judgment of all of my dreams of fear and devastation, listening to any of a hundred voices telling me Why go there? or This doesn’t mean anything or … oh, maybe those two voices sum them all up—avoidance. Instead, with help from my Archetypal Dreamwork analyst Marc Bregman, I have stepped toward the darkness my dreams have brought, along with God’s love and compassion. In my dreams, God has walked with me and spoken of my open dresser drawers; He has also shown me terrible scenes of death as well as my own complicity with the demon that would keep me locked up and denying that I was, and wanting others locked up too, even those I love. He still shows me where I am still complicit, but He also has given me this dream-gift, showing me that in some fundamental way, I am walking out of prison.
I could not walk free from prison without knowing I have been imprisoned and feeling the pain and terror of that imprisonment, and without the regret of knowing how I have been the prison guard of others. When I walk out that open door, when I do it right now, I feel the fresh air of freedom, the disorientation of sunlight on my skin, and fear because I have only known an imprisoned, imprisoning life. Here at the threshold I look for His hand, because another thing my dreams have taught me is that I will need God’s help to learn how to walk in the fresh air.
I woke up this morning in a funk. It’s been a while since this has happened. I felt joyless, didn’t want to get out of bed. Ugh. I told my husband what was happening, then felt the familiar projection onto him, that he will distance himself from me, be angry. Then came a flash of my own anger at this voice in my head that keeps me kowtowing to whatever anyone else might possibly be thinking of me…
Took myself for a woods-walk and started in on God—of the “where the hell are you” variety. I just let myself complain, out loud, and damn if I didn’t feel Him, the man in my current dream who runs with me home and stays with me as I lock the world out (see my previous post “Pissing Fawn”). It’s weird how, as soon as I start talking, He’s listening, even when I’m being a jerk. I kept whining--What the hell am I here for? Do I even want to do any of the things I’m doing, will do, today? Should I just quit everything? I hate…all of it. What the hell is going on here? All I know is what I don’t want; I don’t know what I WANT.
I did this for a while, fully aware that I have my dream homework to go to, of being the fawn pissing as I stand with Him and the 6-year-old girls burst through my flimsily locked closet door, in their joy. This homework pissed me off, too. Joy? I remembered another dream I had in the cluster of dreams my homework came from:
Dream: Post-apocalyptic. A group of us are together, no technology or anything. We have to survive on the earth. It’s not oppressive or terrible, just simple, new. At one point I put my hand in mud and pull up jelly beans. A man tells me this is my special gift. Everyone has a gift to give others; this is mine.
I remembered I had asked God, around the time of this dream, to tell me what my calling is, what I’m here for. This was the answer. When my analyst saw this dream, he just said, “Girl.”
I was still irked. What kind of answer is girl and joy to my cosmic, existential question?
At this point I decided to stop pretending I didn’t believe in the dream, to stop bitching and to stand as the lock flies to pieces and the girls rush in, one right up onto me, legs wrapped. I felt it, the joy, and then the tears came. My anger rose again: If it’s joy you’re giving me, why am I always CRYING?
I heard Him, then, tell me this: You’re just getting used to it.
That’s what I needed, didn’t know I needed. The voices of complaint went quiet and the woods came into focus—bark, leaf, stone.
This joy is like new legs I have to learn to walk on. I feel it now, the tremulous step, the scared-to-fall. I can spend the rest of my days avoiding this joy that dances with pain, being pissed that God isn’t coming the way I want, or I can trust that what he brings is what I need—jelly beans, berries, girl-legs around my waist.
And if I have to be a putz to fight my way back to Him, He’s Ok with that, too. I’m just getting used to this.
I spend way too much time and energy thinking about this blog and not writing on it. Time goes by and I consider what I might write about, more time goes by, and then some more. This morning I remembered something I forget all too often—that when I write, I don’t have to know what I’m going to write about!
Sitting here at this keyboard, I am stopping now and dropping in to my “homework”—the place from two dreams that I am committed to returning to and feeling until my next dreamwork session. My homework is to be the fawn pissing on herself, and to be with the divine figure I call the Animus, in this PTSD state…as the six-year-old girls burst in the door with love and berries. This comes from these two dreams:
Dream: Some people have a fawn in a cage that’s so small it has to lie down. It’s pissing and shitting all over itself. I’m upset and say something and someone tells me it’s OK, that’s just what they do. Later the fawn is standing outside the cage, still pissing on itself. I feel really disturbed.
Dream: I’m in a large, ornate house feeling very oppressed by all the people there. I finally can’t stand it anymore and run outside. The skies open and rain pours down. My bike helmet has shit in it so I start running home in the rain. A man is with me, feels fine to be with him, like a brother, no effort or pressure. I go into my house with him and lock the doors. It’s small like a closet. I tell him the locks are a joke, anyone can break in. The doors burst open and a bunch of six-year-old girls come in. One leaps onto me and wraps her legs around my waist. I dance around with her. The place is crowded now and the girls bring in a delicious breakfast of berries and things. No one gets their own plate; we are going to share, eat from the same plates. I feel scared and also a desire to eat this food.
This morning I woke with a vague memory of having understood in the night, in a dream, that what I know my life to be is nothing like what it could be if I lived in the moment, in the love, even with all this pain and fear I feel. This dream of the fawn feels like the gateway to that place I’m only just now beginning to miss.
This fawn…me. When my analyst used the term PTSD in my session, a surge ran through me. Yes, that’s what this constant anxiety and dis-ease feels like. I hit it all day long, the freeze, the blood-pump panic. It took me many dreams to learn these places that live under my happy, high-functioning persona. But it’s not enough to know that I freeze, that I panic. There’s no “fixing” this “problem.” Every synapse in my pea-brain rebels against this notion that what’s broke cannot be fixed. That what’s broke can only be lived, until the healing comes.
Being the pissing fawn has been a powerful experience. Every time I remember her, I feel a grounding in my lowest chakra, an is-ness. I believe the person in my dream who says “That’s just what they do” is divine (though I react to him in the dream). The traumatized fawn just does what she does; in her innocence she can’t control anything, even herself. Pissing like this brings relief right now. He is here, the man who says “That’s just what they do,” who is the same man who runs home with me in the rain in the other dream, who stands with me in my locked closet until the girls burst in, the soul of me—bringing my most-favorite breakfast of berries.
Even all these years into this work, I was surprised to receive the homework of being the fawn. The simplicity of it—oh, here’s a fawn pissing on herself; be that. I forget that the dreams just come. Like this fawn, they just do what they do. And I just need to step into them and do what I do, until the next dream, the next gift. I don’t know what will happen.
Except that I’m going to go eat some berries for breakfast.
Last night, in a meeting of my North of Eden dreamwork colleagues, Bill St.Cyr was talking about the paradox of having a training program for dreamwork analysts, retreat leaders, and teachers. He said something like, “The thing is, we’re already trained! We just have to get out from under all of our projections and reactions.” This is not a new notion for me (didn’t Socrates say that education is drawing out what’s already within?)…but last night, I got it in a new way.
I’m already trained/healed/whole/loved. But I still struggle to believe it. When and how I step out of the truth of divine love and onto the path of reaction and projection can still be a mystery to me. This is why I need my dreams. The Archetypes who come in my dreams are like loving (or gruff or terrifying) beings who are handing me excavation tools. Like my dream of trying to save a child who’s in no danger at all. This dream is not an accusation, but a trowel or pick or … something sharp like that. It’s a gesture (thanks, Sue Scavo) toward my behaviors of caretaking and anxiety, not so I can feel ashamed and vow to give them up, but so I can lift these behaviors up and look underneath.
The problem for me has been my reactions…to my reactions. When I see I’m reacting, shame can get in and turn my attention toward trying to fix whatever is “wrong with me.” I am learning to trust that every reaction, no matter how nasty it may look, is a marker. I’m learning to say--Oh, I’m reacting. What’s underneath? It may be fear, hurt, or the need to speak (read: fear). If I can stay with whatever IS, the reaction often fades away and I can return to the present moment, to myself. This still feels like nothing less than a miracle when it happens. If I can’t get out of my reaction, I can at least know that what’s happening in me is not reality; sometimes it takes a while to come out of it.
At a recent dreamwork retreat at Kripalu in Massachusetts, I stepped into my “strings” (group dream enactment) of a dream of going to the garden of some old friends of mine to find some flowers for a young girl. The garden is overgrown and in ruins, small bulbs lying on top of the dirt. I have a moment of feeling like a trespasser. Then my friends arrive and greet me happily, an awkward moment in this rundown garden. They tell me they are moving away and I feel like something big is over.
In my “strings,” when we acted out this dream, I was stunned by the realization that the happy life I have imagined myself living was never a blooming garden. This devastation is what it actually has been, me gushing about my happy, beautiful life while really living in desolation on a soul level, anxious to please others, caring for everyone so they wouldn’t hate me, worrying about losing it all. This dream came to tell me that the false garden I imagined and believed in, is over. What I believed to be relationship, love, goodness was often simply reaction. And now I can walk away. But to what?
In another dream at this retreat, a cloth canopy hangs just over my head as I hear the words “They’re going to marry you.” “They” are the divine Archetypes. In another dream, a man is looking at me, telling me without words that the dreamwork is a practice; there is no arrival—that I can stand under this canopy with all of my weaknesses and all of the love, and They will marry me.
The night after my dream enactment at the retreat, my dreams brought me fire, in the form of Tony Robbins. I did a workshop with this man in my early 20s in which I walked barefoot over hot coals. It was the first time I consciously, with intention, did what I was terrified to do. (No, I didn’t burn my feet…)
So my retreat leaders brought Tony and the fire to the wedding canopy and had me stand in that fire, facing Him, the Animus (divine male Archetype), under the promise of the holy wedding.
Here’s a picture I drew of that moment.
So here I am at the end of this writing, voices clamoring for me to tie it all together in a neat package. I don’t want to. I’m here right now under the wedding canopy, with these annoying voices and my fear and some anger, and the fire is burning. They’re going to marry me.
Bonus track: After my work was done at the retreat, a woman in the group asked if I’d ever heard Leonard Cohen’s song “Joan of Arc.” I’m a big fan of Leonard, yet I’d never heard this song. It’s about a wedding in the fire. Check it out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqShebAkMQE
The biggest lesson of my dreams, at this moment anyway, is that the terrible thing I waste so much time avoiding, explaining away, covering up… has already happened.
I’m already hurt.
At a dreamwork retreat in the rainforest of Oregon, I stepped in to feel this dream:
Dream: A baby girl (4 months old) is toddling around on a street. An older woman on a minibike comes riding in and the girl runs to her, arms up, but the woman knocks her down and rides away. The girl is lying face down on the pavement. I pick her up, feeling very unsteady, afraid I’ll drop her. I tell my little sister I don’t think I can pick up babies anymore. The baby says she wants to go home to her mother, and I feel that, too, can see her home and her loving mother in my mind, as if I am her.
In the dream enactment at the retreat, I played the baby girl, running with complete trust to the mother, and then getting run over. Pain welled up, and I wept, lying on the floor, feeling the terrible truth that I was run down by the very person who was supposed to pick me up, protect me. I have not wanted to accept this truth. Even at the retreat, I explained to my teachers that, in the dream, really, the woman didn’t know what she was doing—it was an accident. This is how I avoid knowing the depth of my trauma, my deepest pain. Whether my mother in this life, or someone in a previous one, hurt me on purpose is not the point. The dark energy that wants this innocence splayed on the pavement has an intention: no girl for me, no vulnerability, no trust, no innocence, no joy, no love.
I also played the woman on the minibike in the enactment—she lives in me, too. It took a while to really feel the hatred and destructive force, the desire to run the baby girl over. I did finally feel it, the rage at God, the storm of will that said: Fuck you for not keeping this from happening! I will never trust you again! This girl means nothing to me--I can take care of myself, and everyone else!
In the moment of explaining to my teachers that the woman in the dream was not to blame, I was that demonic woman. It was her energy in me arguing that, really, there’s no need to feel so hurt, no need to feel the fear; it’s all just a mistake. Don’t go there; go back to sleep, she whispers, but keep your guard up; someone might hurt you. You can avoid it by being very careful and not trusting anyone.
What this dream brought, what my teachers helped me feel, is the fact of this hurt, which happened in a moment of innocence and trust. It’s a simple thing—to feel a hurt that is. And it’s a complicated, convoluted life spent trying to keep it at bay. Denying, avoiding, explaining, defending, aggressing, conniving, lying, manipulating…my God, the mess I created to keep this hurt from blooming in my heart—a blood-red rose.
I’m already hurt. Feeling this, staying with it, in the midst of my wracking sobs, I feel divine love washing over me. I feel it right now. Like the hurt, the love just is. The two entwined: bramble and rose. I don’t know why the hurt and pain come together, why falling into divine arms makes me cry, why crying brings the feeling of those arms around me.
This is the secret of dreams, why they throw us headlong into terror and bloodshed and cruelty. These are what live in us. Every dream calls us to turn toward the thing, whatever it may be—in my case, this cruelty and decimation of innocence. The baby girl in my dream toddles, reaches up, and is run down, for me. So I get to feel the shakiness that suggests that my caretaking ways are crumbling, that I, like her, in my pain, can feel my longing for the divine mother-love I remember and can return to.
Years ago I had my first snake dream.
Dream: An older woman feeds the family snake to the dog. I’m horrified. Someone tells me not to worry, that it will come out. I look in the mirror and the snake’s head is sticking out of my nostril. I’m terrified and go to my brother, who yanks it out with pliers, breaking its body so that some of it is still inside me. I’m upset that the snake, now on the floor and broken, looks dead.
The snake in this dream is meant to be in me—I am meant to be breathing with this snake. My panic, which turns me away from the power of the snake energy, results in the snake being broken on the floor.
This dream, and the image I drew of it, is in Marc Bregman’s first book The Deep Well Tapes. He called it “Becoming of the Same Breath.”
This drawing appears in the section of The Deep Well Tapes in which Marc writes about re-visioning mythology—in particular, the story of the snake in the Garden of Eden. The bible tells this story as the moment Eve, and then Adam, disobeyed God’s directive not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Eve is “tempted” by the snake and eats, feeds it to Adam, and the two are banished from the garden. Marc tells this story differently based on how snakes come in dreams—and what happens to us when we receive them and don’t run, when we take them into us, let them constrict us, receive their venom in our veins. The snake in the garden brings gnosis, spiritual knowing...and the passion and sensuality of the divine embodied; we are meant to eat of this fruit. It is the voice of the demon, not the voice of God, that shames us, sending us cowering from the garden that is our birthright.
In many native traditions, snakes are spiritual beings based on their regenerative ability to crawl out of their own skin, leaving it behind in the grass, head and all. As a student, practitioner, and teacher of Archetypal Dreamwork, I have had the privilege of knowing the work of many people who have encountered the snake in their dreams. At first, just about all of us run, panic, attack, or in some way react to this divine emissary. This dream is my version of that reaction--Get this thing out of me! But when we receive the snake in whatever way it comes, transformation is possible.
My work from this dream was to stay with the snake in my nostril. I didn’t do it very well. Even as colleagues started calling me Snake Woman, I hid the fact that I was living my life yanking this snake out of me. I was listening to the demon voice of shame telling me that if I lived this way, breathing as snake, I would somehow lose everything--banished from the garden.
My work has been so much about turning toward the things that scare me—tornado, sexy man, a long fall from a cliff, speaking the truth. It has often been about the snake (click on “Snake” in the categories to the right for more about my snake dreams).
Many years, much resistance, and many snake dreams later, I recently had this dream:
Dream: I’m with a group doing some kind of symbolic enactment. I start out in my familiar pride place (“I’m OK, I’m good, I don’t need anything”), but then something happens and I get scared. I shrink down to the floor until I’m minuscule, compressed into a tiny space. There are others like me, or else I’m in pieces, terrified and so tightly compressed I could explode. Then I rise up tall, a black cobra with hood extended.
Fear, not panic, is the key that unlocks the black cobra of my libido and kundalini, the passion that scares me half to death and fills me with an ecstatic thrill—both at once. Learning to stay with my fear and not react to it, run from it, distract myself from it brings the cobra from the ashes of my terror and trauma.
It is I, not the snake, that must be broken, in pieces on the floor. From there, another I can rise, skin shed.
Today, all those years from that first snake dream, I can feel the energy in my left nostril, physically feel it, of the snake breathing with me, me breathing through the snake. I feel it now, and I also feel tremendous fear. The voice of the deny-er is here, too, warning me not to do this, not to live as Snake Woman, Black Cobra. This is my choice, moment to moment—to turn away or to turn toward the fear that births the snake in me.