I dream a lot. I used to dream much more, but even today I have dreams that I remember and write down. I have always dreamed (or should it be ‘dreamt’?) as far back as I can recall. Unfortunately, most of my dreams were nightmares that, at the time, I would have preferred not to have. Then, some time ago, I began to realize that dreams were a very important part of my life, showing me things I had to know, either about the past or the present or even the future. During childhood, adolescence and right up through my childbearing years, nightmares –I can see now- were trying to tell me something, trying to get my attention so that I might find a kinder way to be in the world. After my divorce, when I was working through all the mess I had inside, dreams became a roadmap, usually in three parts which showed me where I had been, what was happening at that moment, and where I should head to next. I became fascinated with the workings of my sleeping mind and began keeping a dream diary. Slowly I came to see how dreams had been and continue to be a guiding force in my life. I truly believe now that I would not be where and what I am today if it hadn’t been for the guidance of dreams. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at this. With that intention, I begin this section of the blog that will be dedicated to dreams past and present, that have in some way or another shown me the path to be followed or how wrong was the road I was on.
Last night I had a dream; it was quite vivid. My dream-self was in a strange city and she had to get to “Dana Hall” (that being the boarding school I attended at sixteen) but she could not remember the way to get there. She was with her small grandchild who was also her namesake and during the whole dream she held her hand tightly. Together they entered the lobby of a hotel where there were several desks behind which sat persons offering information. The dream-self chose the desk with the least people in line and stood awaiting her turn. When she was about to advance, someone cut in front of her and stepped to the desk. For a moment she considered protesting but immediately became aware that the desk to the left was available. She approached and took a seat. A young man of indistinct features (blondish, thin, and relatively young) asked what he could do for her. When she told him, he immediately began writing the directions needed on a yellow post-it while saying them out loud. What she heard was very confusing with names of streets that supposed a knowledge of the city that she lacked, so she asked him to please be more specific, to simply say, for example, “go to such and such corner, turn left, then two blocks down turn right, etc.” This he did in silence using another small yellow post-it.
The scene changed, as scenes do in dreams, without any transition and my dream-self found herself out in the street, still holding the hand of the child. She looked in her purse for the second yellow paper but only found the first one that continued to be much too confusing. Desperately, she searched for the second one, delving into the purse with increasing anxiousness and pulling it up to her eyes to see if she could catch a glimpse of yellow. Time was running out; without the post-it she would not be able to get to Dana Hall (why she had to go there was not part of the dream, but it was –obviously- very important that she do). She clawed her way through the debris in the purse but the small yellow paper was nowhere to be found. With each passing moment, her desperation and feeling of powerlessness increased until it finally jettisoned her-me out of the dream.
When I awoke, I realized immediately the connection to everyday life (I had originally written “real life” but realized that dreams are as much a part of real life as anything else): in less than a month I will be going to the Byron Katie School for The Work to do the Spanish translation. Therefore there is a trip to a “School” that is providing the framework for the dream. But it is just the framework because everything is already organized and I have no doubts about the trip. So this is the palpable situation that allows the dream mechanism to make a statement. And in its statement, this dream is far from new. As a matter of fact, the only thing surprising about it was that I was having it now after so many years of its absence.
The dream of having to go somewhere and not being able to get there was a constant in my life for many years until I understood its message. In the previous dreams, however, the impediment was usually physical: I had to travel and couldn’t get to the airport in time, or got there and found I had lost or forgotten my ticket, or I got on the plane only to realize it was going to San Francisco when I wanted to go to New York. Nevertheless, the end result (emotion) of those dreams was exactly the same as in this one: extreme desperation and a feeling of absolute powerlessness that yanked me abruptly from sleep. That series of dreams (or perhaps I should say “nightmares” given their unpleasant emotional content) ended after a retreat with Richard Moss in France when I found a satisfactory interpretation and felt I had understood the message. The specific dream at that time was about having to go to Acapulco (Mexico) but getting tied up in traffic on the way to the airport and not being able to arrive in time for the plane. My father was accompanying me in the taxi but had nothing to say about the situation. I remember, in the dream, being angry that he seemed so nonchalant about my predicament.
The Moss retreat provided ample time to contemplate the possibilities of the dream, so I began picking it apart. The key of that dream was the place I was going, Acapulco, described many times in commercials as the “Paradise of the Americas”. The key was “paradise” which absolutely stunned me. My real-life experience in Acapulco had been anything but paradisiacal as it had been the place of some of my rudest awakenings from childhood. The contradiction between reality and what the dream was suggesting made me stop and think. The clue was the presence of my father in the taxi. My father was a teller of tall tales, most of which were totally idealistic, impossibly romantic and completely unreal: this was symbolized in Acapulco as paradise. Now I can understand that my getting mad at my father in the taxi was because, after his having dangled this paradise in front of me, he now seemed indifferent to my not being able to get there. For many years, however, I had believed that the dream meant I was doing something wrong and that was why I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go. This had caused me real suffering.
Still, I needed to find out why I was dreaming this again and again when it was so painful. By that time I had understood that one of the functions of the ego-mind was to build a defense system against all that hurts, bewilders or threatens us in our childhood, and that it continues “defending” us against these imagined enemies all through life until we question it (basically, it is built on the fears of the child). So if this dream wasn’t meant to torture me, but rather to defend me, what was it defending me from? Richard Moss had once suggested using a certain question when confronted with very painful beliefs: “What is the ego using this to protect you from, or what is it that the ego believes would be more painful than this?”
In view of this very uncomfortable, repetitive dream it seemed appropriate to ask the question: “What would the ego consider more painful than never being able to get to Paradise?” The immediacy and unexpectedness of the answer proved to me its very validity: “The realization that Paradise does not exist.” This, of course, was completely in accordance with what I had to learn about my father’s idealized world (that seemed to always be so far out of my reach). All stress was immediately lifted and I felt a freedom from fear that was unexpected. The immediate realization that Paradise did not exist in any way, shape or form out there allowed me to stop beating myself up for not getting there, and from that moment on the dream, that had been a constant over the last twenty years at least, ceased.
Why, then, was I once again having a dream of not being able to get someplace that I needed to go? What could I find different in this dream that might point to a new meaning? The first difference is that there is no means of transportation involved; the dream-self is not impeded in reaching the desired destination by an external thing, rather it is ignorance or lack of information that is the problem; it is a question of not knowing how to get where she believes she wants to go.
This is an important point, considering that in dreams a vehicle frequently symbolizes one’s life and if it is driven by someone else, it symbolizes a life that one is leaving in the hands of others. In this instance, however, the dream-self must get where she believes she wants to go by herself, walking. So she is now directing her own life whereas previously her life was in the hands of others (taxi driver, pilot, etc.)
Another difference is that she is headed towards a school, not a geographical location, which would suggest a search for something internal (knowledge or enlightenment of some sort) not external. Interestingly enough, my travels to Acapulco pertain to a period of life that immediately antecedes my going off to boarding school, which would seem to suggest that the dream woman has gone from searching for something outside her (an idealized, romantic paradise) to realizing that fulfillment comes from inner richness alone. There is a suggestion of independence too, in the fact that boarding school constituted the first time I was living away from my family of origin.
This leads also to the absence of parents (father) and my dream-self being now accompanied by a little girl who bears her same name indicating that the inner child is no longer hidden and dependent on external parents, but living in community with the dream woman who has now become her revised and improved parent.
The young man at the information desk who gives her the directions she appears to need but immediately loses is another element totally lacking in the previous dream. Whereas before she was alone in her despair, on this occasion she can turn to someone for help. Furthermore, the interaction with him demonstrates that she now has learned to ask for what she needs, to not fear judgment for not knowing something. In other words, she has learned to care for herself. So in relationship to the previous nightmares, my dream-self now seems to be a quite different person.
And lastly, the two post-its might possibly be seen as (the first) the way the young man would arrive at the desired destination (another person’s experience which she can’t follow) and (the second) the real way that she must find for herself (hence she loses the post-it).
Interestingly enough, when I first awoke the immediate thought was: “Back where I was before!” But, upon analyzing this dream-self it is obvious that that is not true. My dream self (just as my living self) has advanced in independence, in freedom, in caring for herself and in accepting and living with her inner child. She is an expression of a totally different, and much less cluttered, subconscious. What remains the same, however, is the emotion awakened by the situation which means that once again it is time to ask the important question: What would seem more painful or frightening for the ego than not knowing how to get where it thinks it has to go? And, if we are to learn from the previous dream experience, the answer would be: The realization that there is nowhere to go, that this is it, all of it in its totality in every instant. And the two dreams come together in the possibility that Reality is Paradise.
Is that what the dream is trying to tell me; is it what I am supposed to learn? This might be, but it is only one interpretation. Dreams are known to have many possible interpretations and when one does dream work in groups where one person tells a dream and everyone else interprets it as their own (“If it were my dream…”) the experience and understanding are greatly enriched. But for now what is done suffices.
Postscript: Strangely enough before analyzing this dream but after having it, I received my monthly newsletter from Jeff Foster, a young man I totally enjoy reading and with whom I identify (a young man with information?) and as I read it I felt the joyful urge to attend one of his weekends (a form of school?), not with the intent to learn anything –although undoubtedly he is a person who puts words to some of my deepest experiences- but rather just to bask in the presence of presence (paradise?). When I checked his weekends, I realized it was in a place that I have never heard of in The Netherlands (don’t know how to get there?) so I wrote and requested travel instructions (Holy Cow!) Hmmm. It is not only possible but also probable that sometimes dreams show us what is to come next in our lives.