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Listening to the Dream

Copyright 1996 by James Dolan


The dream comes, unbidden. Those who lived in myth saw the dream as a visitation. A sojourn in divinity. Dreams were not thought of as 'weird.' Reality had not yet been invented, so nothing was 'weird.' The world was a vast and mysterious place. Anything was possible.

We live in a mythical reality, too. Ours is the mythology of Apollo, reigning the world as Science. We see science as the conqueror of myth. Our mythology underpins reality, just as the Greeks' did. Joseph Campbell said that for moderns, mythology is somebody else's closely held beliefs. From which, of course, they need to be converted. Let us see the Dream as more than an odd occurrence that happens while sleeping between bouts of work and television. Let us say the Dream opens into the older world behind this 'reality.' I want to think, along with James Hillman, that in the Dream, I stand before Divinity.

Let us invert the relationship between dreamer and dream. I become a sojourner in the Dream world. Not "I had a really weird dream last night!" but more "I was had by a dream last night." When I say, "I had a really weird...," I diminish the Dream, and make it small. When I say, "I was had by a Dream..." I am small, and the Dream is great. A visitation by divinity. An act of transformation. A discovery of the 'Not Me' part of the personality. To creativity, to the Shadow.


There is a phenomenon called the Teaching Dream. This dream has action so clear, we must remember it. We usually call this Dream 'Nightmare.' 'Nightmare,' the galloping black horse, bolting from the darkened woods, bringing us our terror. Interesting too, that Nightmare is a she, one of the mysterious forms of Soul.

Nightmare is dark, and carries darkness, bringing us Shadow. Shadow is in the Nightmare as the stranger, knocking at the door, while we sleep. Shadow is Other, hidden in the next room, waiting for my entrance. In its unseen presence, my hair stands on end, and I will awaken if I do not engage in hand to hand combat with it. My combat is my need to repel, to reject, what is truly my self. I would do to it what I fear it will do to me. I would kill it, if I could.


Letting the Nightmare speak to me, I find that he who knocks is tired, hungry, and cold. He wishes to be let in and cared for. I discover that the relentless stranger is an emissary, a dark Hermes with a message from the gods. A patient once encountered a figure dressed in black on a nightbound country dream-road. Remembering that we discussed allowing this figure to approach, he pulled to the side of the road and waited, listening in silence as the footsteps crunched over the gravel to the car. At the moment of highest anxiety, the figure bent over, and said in a quiet voice, "Where are you going? I've got something I need to tell you." The message was unimportant, because the dream showed the patient's readiness to listen.

Encountering the Shadow is a step toward self wisdom, destroying our naiveté about our own 'goodness.' Here is what the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tze says about 'goodness'

No. 38
A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
and is therefore not good.

Unintegrated, Shadow remains projected, so we are always dealing with 'mean' people, abusive spouses, people taking advantage of us. We are surrounded by conflict. Worse than the projected Shadow is the split away Shadow. This is when true evil is done, for the individual will not take responsibility for his action. The worst evil is committed by those who are 'good.' Embracing the Shadow, we become safer.

Our capacity for harm is not all that is in Shadow. Our sexuality is there along with our creativity. They are connected by shame. Many are no more willing to let their true sexuality be known than they are to let their true artistry emerge. Shame is the drawstring on the Shadow bag, cinched down tight. To go into the Shadowlands is to get past the Cerberus of shame. Dream is the opportunity to do so, to feel naked. To sit down at a meal and have our teeth fall out as we bite. To have an endless rope of snot coming from our noses as we meet the in-laws. To stumble into the vastest, foulest, latrine we ever saw. The humbling of the ego, the greeting with the other side. All that we would pretend we are not, waits in the Dream.


We must swallow the bitter pill and say that the monster we would kill is I, disguised as Not-I. The Not-I comes as: the menacing killer, the slinking 'it' in the shadows, the knock at the door, the evil doctor, the nameless beast attacking us. All that makes us shudder. These are the signs of the rejected and disowned. Recognized as living under the same roof as the I, the Not-I begins to transform, and we see the horror as Ego's own work. Ego sees the Not-I as ghastly to justify the internal war against it. No great leap is required to recognize this mechanism in the wars against the Jews, the Catholics, the Moslem, the black, the white, the gay, the Other...always the Other.



I want to be present to the Dream, so that it knows I am listening. I want reverence for the Dream, as you would the wilderness, for the Dream is the wilderness. There, we connect with the world, the world speaks to us. It is our connection to the wild, the soul of the world. We must conserve our capacity to Dream. It is the reminder that once we were wild, and underneath, still are.

Let us follow the compass of the Dream:

Down -- If you have ever descended into a cavern, you will know that there is something striking about going...down. Entering the cave, we leave the world behind. This is the direction of Soul, down and in. Soul is feminine, of moisture, of chambered enclosure, uterine.


She is the dark staircase we descend. Down is the direction we fear the most, of claustrophobia, the grave, the crypt. It is the end of ego. It is the falling dream. Soul in the dream is always Down. We loathe down. But in Dream, we frequently find ourselves Down and In.

. . . I am in a dark cavern. Above, in the shadows,
I can see long arches extending from a central spine,
descending out to the right and left.
I have only a small lamp, a candle, for a light.
I know that I am in the belly of a great whale.
There is a girl with me, whom I don't know,
but feel very familiar with.
The surface on which we stand is bisected
by a broad, black line.
Together, we follow the line into the dark...

Down and In, in the body of collective soul, hand in hand with an unknown girl. When journeying in Soul, she comes to meet us as a person. As a young and beautiful girl, as an ancient crone, sweeping with her broom, as an unknown familiar. Another dream retells the tale of Perseus, his mount, Pegasus; the Labyrinth, the Medusa.

I enter a strange part of the city,
driving my white Mustang convertible.
I feel naked and unprotected with the top down
in this dangerous part of the city.
There are young criminals all around, fighting,
murdering one another, dealing drugs.
I stop and get out. From nowhere comes
an old woman, directly at me.
I know she wants me somehow,
not my money or my car.
Her eyes glow, and I can barely take
my eyes away from her gaze.
I feel myself becoming more and more afraid,
but I can't move.
Finally, I jump in the car, and start to pull away,
but it won't accelerate fast enough.
She is still coming. I awaken...

The dream describes the outland of the psyche, where the dangerous parts of personality live in shadows. Ego visits on a shining white horse, only to be horrified by what it finds. Ego assumes that the worst will happen. What would happen if we said, "Greetings Mother! Long time, no see. Tell me how you've been." A transformation might take place. When doing Dreamwork, we take the narrative past the place where the dream ended.

Up --Spirit appears as flight. People mention the dreams of flight with pleasure. As Soul is feminine, and moves us down and in, Spirit is masculine, and moves us up and out. We fly on the wings of the dream body. We are Eros, the son of rushing Wind and Night Sky.

The flying dream is an Erotic dream. It is a dream of Love. It is profoundly masculine, and profoundly spiritual, having to do with the faith we put in our wings, and with closeness to the gods. These dreams speak of aspirations, of the desire for divinity. Like Icarus, we wish to be closer to the sun. It is the experiential opposite of the falling dream.

Left -- The left hand is the hand of waywardness. It is the underhand. The unexpected comes from left field. For right handed individuals, the left is the dark side of the body. It cannot be 'seen' by the brain. Have you ever corrected the swim stroke of your left arm? or brought it more fully into your golf swing? The Romans called the left hand sinister, and henceforth, all that is left-handed and 'evil' has been known as sinister. The Dream plays on this bias to show the ego being taken where it would not go, but must, if it is to integrate with the other components of Psyche.

It was night, and I was following
one of my old girlfriends from high school.
We were in an old and run down part of town.
She kept walking ahead, and I was wondering
where she was taking me. Just then,
she took a left turn down a dark alley...

Again --

I had never been here before,
and everything seemed strange.
I looked around and saw
a staircase to my left,
with the stairs leading down.
I felt a shudder, as I realized
I would have to go down there.

Left is where Soul would lead us, in her efforts to mystify and confuse. Don Juan told Carlos, in Further Conversations with Don Juan, that death is always at arm's length to your left.

Right -- The Romans called the right hand dexter. All that is accomplished, polished, refined, trustworthy, masculine is the work of the right hand. With the right hand, we point the way, to the future, over the horizon. We sit at the right hand of God. We do the right thing. The right hand is the hand of Spirit, of heights, of clarity, of vision, of power, of analysis. It is Apollonian. It is the direction we trust, as it is flooded with divine light.

It is possible to build prejudice against Spirit, the 'right' side of things, clarity, vision, insight, etc. This is not a good idea, as we simply shift the load from one side of the scales to the other. We simply note the powerful cure the Dream has to offer. The Dream is Psyche with the hair still on, running wild, like Blake's Tyger, in the forests of the night.



Fate and Destiny take their first steps in the Dream. They come as stories which describe what could happen. We each are on an arc from one gravitational mass to another. One is the uniqueness of origin, the other is the uniqueness of destiny. Every circumstance of our birth, and before our birth, the lives of parents, culture, state, world becomes our uniqueness, extending to the position of the stars, sun and moon. This is our 'sign'.

From this set coordinates, we begin our arc. And drawing us inexorably into its field is our destiny. We are pulled, we have a vocation, a calling Voice that will allow for nothing else.

I find myself in a port city on
the Great Lakes in the 1850's.
I am a steamship captain between assignments.
I board a sailing vessel, along with
a great throng of people,
and soon enough, the ship leaves the dock
and makes its way to the open water,
which is actually a wide river, flowing to the sea.
Suddenly, there is trouble, a loud thud
and then a groaning of the timbers,
as the ship is pulled apart and begins to sink.
I greet this catastrophe with calm,
as I am certain of my ability in the water.
I assist others as I encounter them on my way,
but soon, I am by myself, floating in
a gathering current, out to the open sea.
I am comfortable as I float along,
unsure of where I am going.
I feel deeply satisfied as I feel
myself approaching the ocean.

This is an encounter with Destiny. The subject senses himself surrendering to the pull of that which is greater than he. It is unknown, but he trusts. In trusting, he feels satisfaction. This is the feeling that develops as we link ourselves with our calling.

There is within us that which doubts and resists the Call. In Nikos Kazantzakis' great book, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus is introduced as a strange character who has transient episodes that give him the sensation of being gripped by the skull in the talons of a great eagle. These episodes are God calling him to his mission. In Gethsamane, he prays with heart and soul to be let out of what is about to happen.


Fate is the corruption of Destiny. Fate is the hag in our dreams. In this dream, we witness our own destruction, for that is exactly what we do when we resist Destiny. We are telling divinity that we choose not to develop and bring into the world the gift we came with. We are given nearly endless opportunity to do so, but if we hold our ground, we tempt Fate.

Destiny comes as love- love for an activity, an artistry, a place, a family, a country, a man, a woman, a child. We can see our destiny in what we love. In refusing Destiny, we refuse love, and depending on the totality of the rejection, we open ourselves to the dark and destructive forces of the universe.


Copyright 1996, by James Dolan

The editor says I must stop now.

To communicate further, please e-mail me at james.dolan



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