Category: Dreamwork

Question Everything, A 4th of July Meditation

As it’s the 4th of July, I just posted an American flag by Andy Warhol on Facebook along with Whitney Houston’s video singing the Star Spangled Banner. I surfed through my friends’ remarks for the day, lots of flags and remembrances of those who fought for our freedom and support for our courageous troops who are still serving, as well as those who’ve paid the ultimate price.

It’s heart-moving and provocative emotionally to see the out-pouring of patriotism. But ever since I was a kid and learned about the divisions of borders, other countries, some hostile, some brutal to their people and what has been done in the name of patriotism (not to mention religion), I’ve had serious doubts about the separations these kind of loyalties create. And last night I was with a playful and talented group of people at a karaoke party where people sang plenty of good ‘ole American songs, and wore red, white and blue blouses and hats. Holidays are always great reasons to get together with others and celebrate. One guy sang Toby Keith’s notorious hit “Courtesy for the Red, White and Blue” almost as good as Toby himself.

I listen to country, corny as the lyrics can be, I like the stories, I like the beat. But I can get pretty uncomfortable with the raging nationalism. I remember the first time I heard the song, also called “The Angry American.” I was living in Boston and it was in the wake of 9/11, a time of heightened patriotism when America had the sympathy of most of the world. There were some lines in the song that offended some of us peacenicks, such as, “The Statue of Liberty is shaking her fist . . . Man, it’s gonna be hell when you hear Mother Freedom start ringin’ her bell and it feels like whole wide world is raining down on you . . . ” then, “we”ll put a boot in your ass, It’s the American way . . . “

In my opinion, it is outrageous, but on another level, I could see his viewpoint and chuckle at the machoism. I grew up in NY, I’ve got that dark humor, and it’s not outrageous in terms of the particular individual that Toby is. Many of his songs reflect attitudes that I don’t embrace but I find him a terrific singer and songwriter and could certainly see where he was coming from. 9/11 was horrific and his millions of fans here and overseas love the song. I’m a die-hard liberal but I admire the clever lyrics and the passionate music.

It’s a revenge song for sure and it talks about “lighting up” the enemy’s “sky like the 4th of July,” which we can directly associate not only to the war in Afghanistan, but especially the “Shock and Awe” which came later as the U.S. military began bombing Iraq. On faulty information as it turned out. And a lot of innocent people were killed. That’s not a chuckling matter.I don’t support the euphemism of “collateral damage.”

When I heard the song last night on the eve of the July 4th, I thought of another artist, Alice Walker, feminist Afro-American poet, novelist and activist. Years ago, teaching one of her essays to college freshmen, I came across her poem, “On Sight” which is embedded in the essay. In it she references the moon-landing of 1969, when astronauts planted the American flag on the moon. Here are some of her lines, the latter part of the poem:

The desert has its own moon
Which I have seen
With my own eye.

There is no flag on it.

Trees of the desert have arms
All of which are always up
That is because the moon is up
The sun is up
Also the sky
The Stars
None with flags.

Point being, can you really own the moon? Do we even own the land? Native Americans thought they belonged to the land, not the other way round. Patriotism is nice to celebrate, a country’s birthday is a good excuse for a holiday, and we like holidays, watermelon, hot dogs and apple pie . . but . . . this late in history, at a time when technology has brought the entire world into communication and more and more young people around the world are creating the same culture, at a time when the entire planet’s environment is threatened by consumerism, overpopulation and continuing wars, too much patriotism may be an outdated, and dangerous habit.

Basic world values are also becoming more similar, countries are still struggling for democracy, even as our citizens raise questions about what true democracy is. Does the congress really represent our country and its changing population? Does it consider what is in the best interests of its constituents, or has it sold out to corporations and lobbyists? Is our media even reflective of true democracy? Or is it designed to keep us in a trance? It appears up front and personal until you really examine the profit over loss principle of capitalism behind it. Who are those guys on Wall Street that caused the melt-down anyway? And what kind of democracy lets them off scott-free?

Maybe we should have World Day, celebrate the Big Bang, the whole creation of oceans and continents unto every corner of the earth. Celebrate people everywhere who are willing to envision real global change. People who are protesting what they don’t like about the world. I like our flag, but back in the sixties I agreed with those who burned it in protest to the country’s activities in Viet Nam. It’s just a symbol after all. And a symbol is only as good as what it represents. Some people forget we have a right to protest our government. A symbol is also an easy way to rally sentimentality (which is feeling without substance behind it). Dividing people according to religion or borders is always a good way to control private interests and sometimes that’s what nationalism does.

Even as a kid I was always freaked out by the Star Spangled Banner’s bombs bursting line. And those bombs are kind of like fireworks. I prefer John Lennon’s lines in Imagine, “Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too.”

And I know I’m not the only dreamer. . . Socrates called himself a citizen of the world, not just Athens. Then again, they gave him the choice of hemlock or exile. He took the hemlock because, as he said his “daimon” or intuition did not object when he thought that being exiled would defeat the purpose of his life which was to teach the youth of Athens to question everything.

The Moving On Dream

After a long hiatus, I have returned to my dream blog. It’s not that I wasn’t dreaming all these months, but I have been working on two other books, an Ebook on Writing Memoir (in a few months it will be on my site) and a poetry manuscript. My last blog entry was on my mother’s death. I want to return to that period because I had so many dreams at the time, there was almost an onslaught I couldn’t keep up with. Having lost my father when my siblings and I were all still quite young, our mother became a powerful matriarch. Now that I was losing her, albeit that she was 94 and 5 years into severe dementia. I know I had many mixed feelings. She had for so long been sharp and clear and independent. It was heartbreaking to see her totally dependent. Since I was the sibling most in charge of her, I coped best as I could with hiring aides, visiting nurses, changing medications but my dreams repeatedly told me my own feelings were out of control. I felt helpless and inept when it came to seeing my mother lose her mind. Since I am single too, I couldn’t help but come into contact with my fears for the future.

Here is one of those dreams that, in retrospect, I would call “prognostic,” that is, it tells of the future, tells me the future without my mother would be all right. Jung might have called it “a compensatory dream,” because it compensates for my conscious attitude which was doubtful and frightened at the time I had it shortly after her death. Here is the dream i wrote down:

We’re going to travel in this heavy car, a modern SUV. It’s early morning. We pack in confusion. Should I bring a blanket, a scarf? All my siblings and me, and my mother, who is going to drive us to a house we rented for a vacation. She’s confident, or trying to be. All the bags are in the trunk. My brothers are young, we’re all younger, close to the ages we were when our father died.We’re going to be gone for a long time. I worry I’ve forgotten something. The car moves slowly like a boat. Sometimes I’m steering, sometimes, Mom. We kids squabble amongst ourselves. I see a high school boyfriend, he may be in the car too. We’re going to a new place with all our stuff. We’re somewhat excited, somewhat anxious. It all depends on Mom. She’s driving . . . I’m driving . . . This is the world after Daddy.

It’s not a difficult dream to analyze, pretty transparent. It’s early in mourning. We;re squabbling, which is what we did as not everyone could agree on when she should be relinquished to professional care. What did surprise me was the throwback in our ages, and the sense that we all lived together like we did when my Dad passed unexpectedly when I was 15, my older brother 17, and the two other kids 11, and 6. The truth is we’ve all been living all over the country, in different states, for close to 30 years. I can’t recall the last time the four siblings were together. It seems that always one of us is missing. And my mother lived alone all this time, a long distance from all of us except my sister. In any event, I was the only unmarried one and it made sense for me to be the chief caretaker. I moved to Florida to see about my mother and she was worse off than she’d let on. Then came five difficult years. She lived to 94 and in the end she only died from old age. Her mind was gone but her body stayed healthy for several years. Her suffering was really our suffering, especially mine as I watched day after day as her mind deteriorated until she was oblivious. I found it painful to watch, though after awhile she wasn’t conscious of what was happening.

In the dream we are both driving at different times. Ultimately she drove the situation and I had to steer it. It was one of those dreams where you have to get somewhere and you’re not even sure where you’re going. There was a sense of it being a good place, a vacation, a place of rest. I suppose we are all headed there eventually. In dreams cars often represent the body, the way we get along in the world. The way the car moved like a boat is interesting because in many threshold dreams, one is moving across water, as in crossing the river of life into death. We see that theme so much in literature. I think of Dante’s Inferno, or Greek mythology where the boatsman, Charon, escorts the shades (souls) to the underworld of Hades (which is not the Christian hell, but just the world of those who had died. ) The car itself is a big SUV. I’ve never had one, nor did my mother or any of the kids. But I associate “safety” with the size of the car. Comfort too. It’s a good choice of a car to travel in. We’re all a little insecure. Soon it will be the world after Mom. I want to get there, to that resting place, her resting place, settle down to a life without mom . . . What will that be like?

The prevailing mood is both excitement and nervousness. Something is changing; something new is coming to be. I was surprised in the dream to see my high school boyfriend but upon waking it made sense to me. He has appeared in many of my dreams always as an escort, a shoulder to lean on. I was lucky to have had such a loving, supportive boyfriend back then and he stayed in my unconscious and shows up symbolically in situations where I am unsure of myself. As Jung taught, everything in the dream is an aspect of the dreamer, so I have this inner, young masculine,18-year-old energy, inside, enough to take over and lead the situation as 18 is often the age we leave home.

There is a sense in the dream that we will be away a long time. And it was a long road to my mother’s death. And of course, it is a life-changing event. I won’t ever live in the mother’s presence again. The feeling paralleled somewhat how we all felt when my father died. His death was sudden and unexpected and all of us pulled together behind my very strong mother who raised all four of us by herself, put us all through college and didn’t do anything for herself until we were all out of the house. Mom did the driving. And so the association to my father’s death naturally spoke to her own death. Yet the dream was reassuring, at a time when I did not feel reassured.

The feeling of being at sea is a good metaphor for those last years with my mother. Still, the dream indicated it would be all right. We would get there . . . get through it. We’re in a big strong car, it will take us there safely. We can trust that we’ll get to the right place, at the right time. And we did.

To hear a discussion on dreams, writing and intuition, please watch my video interview posted on the right hand corner of this page.

3 Week Webinar on Demystifying Your Dreams

Wed April 18, 25, and May 2nd at 7:30, a one hour seminar and demonstration of interactive dreamwork. Using Jungian active imagination we will explore the netherworlds of the unconscious. Many of us have the same themes in our dreams so we can learn from working on anyone’s nocturnal journeys. Learn how to recall your dreams, use them for questions. The unconscious mind is a treasure trove of information both personal and collective. As humanity heals, we must witness and release our shadow sides. It’s a fact that the more attention you pay consciously to your dreams, the more they will speak to you. Join me for three weeks of plumbing the depths, bonding in love and compassion, joy and laughter. Deep down we are all one. Email me to register:

Spiritual Memoir Workshop Sat. Feb 25th The Duncan Center

Writing Spiritual Memoirs with Deborah DeNicola

Saturday, February 25th 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Lunch  and Labyrinth Walk included. $77
15820 S. Military Trail, Delray Beach, FL

Book the event here

Isn’t it time you told your story? We all have revelations from monumental moments in our past when we began to shift spiritually and moved into our own spiritual searching. This class will prompt you into a piece of writing about your own awakening and in the writing process, you’ll discover new insights.

Philip Zaleski, the editor of the Best Spiritual Writing Series, says the Spiritual Memoir is “. . .poetry or prose that deals with the bedrock of human existence, why we are here, where we are going and how we can comport ourselves with dignity along the way.”

It’s about the disillusionment that starts us on our journeys, the quest for truth, and the revelations, solace and joy we experience in the growing process. Telling our stories helps us define who we are and what our purpose is. These stories can help to awaken others as well as encourage others when they enter what Carl Jung calls”the dark night of the soul.”
The writing process brings out unconscious material that teaches us from our inner, higher selves.

Please join me for this writing retreat.
“Whatever it takes to break your heart and wake you up is grace.” Mark Matousek
For more information or to register for the class call Deborah DeNicola, 617-823-1530
Deborah DeNicola’s  most recent full collection of poetry, Original Human, was published in December 2010 from WordTech Communications Press. Her spiritual memoir The Future That Brought Her Here from Nicolas Hays/Ibis Press was released in 2009 and reached #1 in Psychology on with 25 rave reviews. Among other awards for her writing, Deborah received a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. She is the author and editor of six books including Orpheus & Company; Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology published by The University Press of New England. Please visit her web site where she practices Dream ImageWork, writing and working as a free lance editor to help others birth their books.

“DeNicola tells us story after story. Rich, full, interior. Seeking validation of her own mystical experiences, she validates those of her readers . . . Interspersed through her written journey are divine poems. I mean divine in the holiest sense. Deborah DeNicola is an inspired poet. She uses her artistry to understand her world.”
—Dr. Susan Corso, The Huffington Post

Excerpt: My dream placed me in an underground tunnel with mud walls. I began to see the outline of a woman covered in clay. With our eyes closed, the group followed me deeper into the cave. The feeling was overwhelmingly claustrophobic, but I crept along the mud floor until I knew instinctively a spot along the wall where I must begin digging. To my surprise, for this was long before my interest in the Black Madonnas, my active imagination uncovered a black African woman, very proud and strong. She was an object, yet she felt alive.. Though she seemed thoroughly other, my emotional attachment to her was immediate. I ended the session with the statement that I knew she had been walled in for a very, very long time.www.thefuturethatbroughtherhere

Of Butterflies and Mothers: The Numinous Dream

A month ago, I lost my almost 95-year-old mother. I felt that I’d been losing her incrementally, one small stroke at a time as she descended deeper into dementia for the last five years. At the end she was content, docile and sweet, though we had had some rough times in the years before when she was in the early stages.

As she lost her balance, she could no longer walk; as she lost her vocabulary, she would no longer talk. It was a heart-breaking experience for those who loved her and knew her as a strong, independent, beautiful woman for most of her long life. Eventually she stopped eating and drinking and in the last week of her life she was bedridden, her eyes closed to the world. For five days we watched her breath become shallower, her vital signs weakening daily. On the last day of her life she opened her eyes and struggled with her breath for several hours, made a little more comfortable with morphine.

Two nights before she died I had a very short but numinous dream. I am with a group of people outside somewhere and a flock of bright yellow butterflies swoops down upon us and then spirals off in synch above our heads. I think there is a sound of “ooo”ing and “ah”ing amongst us and the sense is that something quite magical has touched us, maybe even blessed us.

According to Wikepedia, the word “numinous” comes from the Classical Latin “numen” which infers the presence or power of the divine. In the early twentieth century Rudolf Otto popularized the word in his classic book The Idea of the Holy. Otto names two characteristics to a numinous experience, a reaction of fear and trembling, or a fascinating attraction. He also suggests there is a very personal response, as if one had had a sacred visitation from the transcendent world. The word sometimes implies a supernatural occurrence.

Many people begin their spiritual journey with a numinous dream. The magical quality of the images and the interaction between the dreamer and something deemed divine leave the dreamer with a lingering sense of having been “touched by an angel.” These are what C.G. Jung referred to as “Big Dreams.”  Even since I began listening to my own as well as other people’s dreams, I have run into this experience only rarely. But these are the dreams people remember forever, even if they do not follow, record and think about their dreams on a regular basis.

I’ve had a handful of these dreams in my life and in some cases they were initiations into deeper searching. In Jung’s terminology, the “Self” is divine. When we put ourselves consciously on a path to “individuation,” Jung’s term for becoming whole, becoming our best selves, fulfilling our purpose, we are moving toward expressions of the Self. Self with a capital S, contains and transcends “ego.” And in Jungian psychology we are intent on going beyond what the Ego knows, suppressing Ego in terms of self-aggrandizement, i.e. anti-egotistical. Usually in our dreams we are observing and experiencing the venture in terms of the ego’s point of view.

But there are often other figures, objects and landscapes that have their own existence, apart from ego, and in dream work we try to make these other ego-alien points of view more conscious so we can know what parts of us are unconsciously expressing themselves. These are aspects of our “shadow.”  But shadow is not necessarily negative. We can have a positive shadow, even a “numinous” shadow where knowledge or understanding seems to come from outside of ourselves.

In many cultures the butterfly is a symbol of the soul. In Greek it is “psyche” which also is a homonym for “soul.”  The overall atmosphere in my dream was infused with a rush of awe. I had the sense that we’d all looked up at the same time, that as the butterflies swooped, our heads raised up to meet them and for a brief moment we were all entrained together.

When I awoke, I immediately thought of my mother with wonder. She had stopped eating but she had done that before and begun again. This time I felt her soul was already in movement toward the other side. Often at the end of praying aloud for her, I had encouraged her, if she saw the light, to go toward it. Though she’d been a fervent Catholic, she looked at me as though she did not understand what I was saying. But I believe the day of my dream was the day she began to surrender.

Dreams that leave us in wonder and move us emotionally into awe, as if we’ve been graced with a transcendent presence, fall into the category of the “numinous.”  Sometimes these dreams may be actual visitations of the deceased, sometimes they are given messages from the unconscious, from other dimensions to which we are briefly given access. These dreams evoke beatific longings and a connection to superconsciousness.

Mine was a healing dream, if only for me. I felt reassured that she had begun her journey. Later I realized the etymology of her name “Stacia” is from “Anastasia” which means “Resurrection” in Greek.

I was comforted by the dream. I wanted her to go; she already seemed to have gone though she’d left her body behind for several years. Yet no one is prepared to lose a mother. It is a primal loss, one that, according to the French writer Marcel Proust, we never recover from. Still, I am so grateful for that numinous dream, the force of, not one, but a whole fleet of winged creatures taking flight, lofting upward to only God knows where mothers receive all the love they’ve given.

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