Night Lights: Shifting Through Dream Image Work (Part 1)

 Building_on_fire Fire is raging in the dilapidated building. A pack of rough, hostile men, have locked the gate to the parking lot so I can’t move my car. Injured people lie on the ground—some may be dead. One young girl’s foot is twisted in a deformed way. I notice I am barefoot and my feet are burning from the hot pavement. I think to myself “I have to get out of here!”

 I had this dream just before the man in my life dishonored me. Again. Obviously my unconscious knew beforehand and gave me a warning. He was not the first of my fair-weather lovers but the drama of this dream hit me over the head. My car, usually indicative of how I am able to change locations, sometimes indicative of the body, is stuck. Blocked. Trapped. The last words “I have to get out of here!” gave me very clear directions. And so, I moved on.

 The great teachers tell us there is only the present moment; the past is gone. But we carry the pain of the past in our cellular memory. Even when we think we have surpassed the past, we often haul it around wherever we go. Eckhart Tolle In his book The Power of Now refers to it as “the pain body.” Until we change the images that connect us through the body to our negative emotions, anger and sorrow, shame and guilt, we may continue to carry the suffering of the past.

 Accepting the past is certainly easier said than done. From what I have learned by studying dreams for twenty-five years, we are continually haunted by the repeating themes of those experiences that initially wounded us. There are some traumas, especially those of our childhood or adolescence that will stay with us forever, but by shifting our perception of the event, we can significantly heal the unconscious mind. By specifically accepting and acknowledging the images that haunt us, we can move away from and beyond the past. And because the unconscious is a repository for the whole continuum of our existence, our dreams can present the future as well as the past.

 It is a fact that everyone dreams. If you do not recall your dreams, they exist nonetheless. We would go insane if we didn’t dream. When deprived of sleep, tortured prisoners come close to a complete break down. If you make room in your life to pay attention to your dreams, the unconscious rewards you; they will show up more often and you will remember them. One way to accept the past is through processing the dreams. If you join a dream group, or commit to some dreamwork sessions, I promise your dream recall will improve. By consciously honoring your dreams, they will return the respect.

 Dreams tell us where we are emotionally. Sometimes we groan in recognition of the “same old” patterns, the pain of loss, or wounds to the ego. Each scene in a dream is usually a snapshot of the same issue. Followers of Jungian thought agree: it is the Ego that suffers. But the Self, the larger wholeness of what we are, can transcend the ego . . . if it is willing to let go. The letting-go takes practice but by processing dreams regularly we can learn to slip out of the ego’s point of view and explore repressed aspects of our personalities. Everything is projection. The world we experience outside us is inside us. When a shift occurs inside, it will occur outside. With courage we can even recognize and admit to the shadowy parts of our nature. As a society we have deemed unacceptable certain negative traits and so it is both necessary and natural for us to repress them. But once we recognize these aspects of ourselves consciously, it is easier to observe and forgive them in other people.

 We all want to shift to higher consciousness and we believe in shifting we can help shift others. But the shift doesn’t happen without the unconscious on board, for it is the unconscious mind that comes up when we see and feel the old hurts arise. Because the unconscious is, in fact, so completely unconscious, it will not be fooled. It tells the truth, but tells it in symbolic language. If we are willing to do the dreamwork, we can affect the unconscious consciously. We may try to keep positive, reciting positive affirmations until we’re blue in the face, but if the unconscious mind is not in alignment with these statements, the affirmations won’t be effective.

inception-movie      In the film Inception, about collective dreaming, the characters are aware that if they do not remain lucid in the dream state they are vulnerable to an offensive onslaught by their angry and disagreeable projections. Most of us rarely dream lucidly, i.e. our egos are mostly unaware they are dreaming. To us the dream world seems perfectly real and therefore we can feel at times that we are under siege. But like the characters in Inception, we are just victims of our own projections.

 When I was an adolescent my father suffered emotionally for several years, then unexpectedly died. During that time I saw my once powerful, charismatic, playful, devoted and brilliant father alternately in states of helplessness, anxiety, depression and frustration. His pre-mature death was tragic, but I also felt secretly guilty for the measure of relief I experienced as well. As I grew older I was attracted to charming men who were inexorably inconsistent, undependable and prone to abandoning. I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life as a single woman in and out of relationships that thrilled but tormented me as well. And my own inner male, my own ability to venture out into the world with my talents and strengths was considerably damaged.

 Dreams of men attacking me, dreams with the numbers thirteen and fourteen (my age during my family trauma) dreams of being barefoot in the snow, or walking on glass, bleeding feet, splintered feet and lost shoes were common when I began paying close attention to my nocturnal dramas. It took many dreams and many years to accept and forgive the negative aspects of my father that lived on in me. Each time I recreated my “story,” my dreams would bring up the old images. However, with dreamwork, slowly I began to find myself in my dreams wearing men’s shoes, combat boots,  “sensible” shoes. I measured my progress in self-awareness by a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of dance reflecting my state of mind.

   images     Dream: The stereo is playing extremely loud and then it explodes. I say to the people who are there, it’s nothing, it’s fifteen years old . . . it’s okay, it’s time for it to go, but they are worried about a spontaneous fire and the damage it would cause. I notice I am barefoot and could step on a burning remnant of the stereo.

 During a time of tumultuous emotions while getting over a wounding adult relationship, I had the above dream. Again I see themes from that formative stage in my life when I was the adolescent with imploding emotions who held everything frozen within. The stereo is the negative tape in my head playing loudly over and over my sense of powerlessness when it came to relationship. Finally the stereo does in fact explode and my bare feet are at risk, tiptoeing around the burning remnants. The “other people” whom, because they are plural, represent a major dose of my energy, are worried about damage control. They are projections of my inner collective and more cautious ego-aspects. I must feel their fear fully in my body, name it, express and release it in order to vent these repressed feelings.

 In processing the dream I must be the stereo as well and feel its great conflagration. The “fifteen year old” stereo shows the age at which the original wounding occurred, when I internalized my negative tapes. Each subsequent emotional upheaval in relationship would bring up the original pain. Working with this image in dream work, I hold the explosive emotions and find I am crying, grieving the loss I didn’t grieve completely at the time of my father’s demise. At the same time I try and feel myself at a distance from the fifteen-year old girl I was then, in order to hold her in compassion and realize how little power she had to change her situation. Thus one dream contains contradictory feelings that must be differentiated.

 As an adult I do have choices and I note the difference. I don’t need to feel helpless anymore, I say to myself; if only I could convince my unconscious!  Yet by releasing myself from the guilt of being unable to save my father or myself many years ago, I can admit my innocence and honor the adolescent girl who is careful enough not to burn her feet. Still the pull of the collective “others” is the prevailing emotion. They dread the thought of the damage. I am a synthesis of all these selves but once they are differentiated, I can identify which emotions don’t belong to my current life and grow past them.

   Oedipus-Rex-Sophocles         In the myth of Oedipus, due to a frightening prophecy that their child would kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus’ royal parents abandon him as a baby. They pierce his foot to hold him to a rock, leaving him to die of exposure. A kindly shepherd releases Oedipus and he is adopted by another king and queen. Because he is unconscious, he falls to the fate assigned to him in the original prophecy, and unknowingly kills his birth father and marries his birth mother. It is the wound in his foot that identifies the truth when he finally seeks it. The wounded, burning, bare– foot, appeared in many of my dreams.

 I read this myth in college and later taught it as a professor, but because dreams are so variable, I hadn’t seen my own vulnerable feet as a father complex until dream therapy. With more research I discovered that the etymology of the Greek word for foot contains the root of “phallus,” (hence Oedipus’ sin of incest). My own wound was a sexual one. I had not experienced incest but my later attraction to men who resembled my father inevitably ended in my suffering over my own sexual bonding. Each loss brought up the primal loss.

 Traditional “talk” therapy has more to do with the mind’s realizations than the body’s, or more specifically, the heart’s. And although by my mid-thirties I knew intellectually that I had a father complex that continued to dominate my dreams when I was in a relationship, I could not heal it. Knowing in my mind didn’t help.  It wasn’t until I felt the wound again in an embodied state, an experiential dream work “process,” and felt it emotionally in the heart, that I could work with the wounding and dispel its power.

 Furthermore I began to become aware of how I had integrated my mother’s unconscious mind. Whenever I began a new relationship I dreamt my mother was standing by, discouraging me from getting involved. Of course, my mother would never have owned up to feelings she embodied unconsciously, but I realized how she had overprotected me when I began dating. She probably never knew that her own woundedness had engendered this feeling in me. But children pick up on what their parents repress.

  WARNING_MOTHER.170x170-75   I had an inner mother waving her finger at me as if to say “don’t go there.” She was always off in the sidelines of the dream, a kind of haunting presence, my split-off complex that I had to work through as well. In many dreams I’d be out with a man and there would be this uncomfortable, guilty feeling that I was sneaking around behind my mother’s back as a rebellious adolescent might do. But I wasn’t a rebellious adolescent; I was a grown woman, divorced, independent, a professor, the owner of a bookstore, a mother myself.

 Dream:  I am reaching into the garbage disposal because something is stuck and blocking it up. It is an awful mess as I pull up pieces of slush like rotten fruit and vegetables. There is one piece that comes loose and as I disentangle it, I see it is a piece of meat. A big, bloody piece of meat.  5641922-broken-shattered-heart-lost-love-glowing-abstract-illustration

 This dream is an example of the ingenuity of the unconscious, a dream falling into the category of “day residue.”  At the time of the dream I had had a similar experience with leftover asparagus shredding in my disposal and blocking it up.  People often dismiss a dream that harks back to a recent incident. They say, oh I just saw an elephant on television last night, that’s why I dreamt of an elephant. But they are wrong. The “day residue” dream is significant beyond its surface. The unconscious, like a computer can search, download, collate, and google recent images for their symbolic value. I knew if I processed this dream I would find meaning. By revisiting the dream imaginatively, eyes closed in a low-lit room, I held the meat in my hands and as I did so a sudden sadness welled up in my body. My Ah Ha moment would come when I realized that shredded piece of meat was my own broken heart. 

 Only in the active-imaginative state, guided by the wise questions of a dream mentor could I be led to that revelation. As I held my raw and torn up heart in my hand, I saw that I had disposed of it myself. I could see I‘d blamed the man who hurt me. However, I had allowed myself to be mistreated. I now had the opportunity to forgive him, moreover to forgive myself for staying in a relationship where I was not loved. I had not loved myself enough to value my own heart. Self-forgiveness is sometimes more difficult that forgiving another. We have to own our own self-inflicted injury in order to self-forgive and that puts the onus on us. In truth no one can emotionally hurt us without our complicity. And we allow ourselves to be hurt by making poor decisions or dwelling on them, or by repressing them uselessly. Through dream work we recognize our victimizers as parts of ourselves.

hypnosis-300x215      It wasn’t until I worked on my dreams with the dream image work process which facilitates an altered, theta brain state that I literally felt the many layers of my broken heart and began to understood the repeated images. My mother had also had this broken heart, but had cloaked it in her noble and stoic effort to courageously go on after my father died. She was only in her forties when she lost her husband but she never remarried. I had integrated her own damaged heart into my psyche as well and this informed my dreaming life.


End Part One:  This is the first installment of an article on Shifting through Dream Image Work. The article was published in 2011 in an anthology “Allow Your Spirit to Soar” compiled by Kimberly West. Part Two will follow next week.

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