The night before the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, I dreamed that someone calmly walked up behind me and began shooting me with a semiautomatic rifle. As the bullets went through my back, I contemplated what was happening. I thought about how my body was being torn apart by the dozens of bullets passing through my torso. I wondered about dying. And, a moment before waking up, I considered (and hoped) that I might be dreaming.
Perhaps it’s common that on the heels of an emotional week, one’s routine gets altered a bit. I’ve started, stopped, and tried again, but it seems I just cannot bring myself to work on a dream interpretation this week in the same old way. Is it because I am too affected by the shootings? Maybe, but I’ve gone about all of the other tasks in my life more or less as normal. I do feel a certain level of exhaustion and some sadness that I can’t name though. I’m aware that there is something else going on beneath the surface. New emotional layers have been touched and engaged.
I had to inquire: what is the unconscious asking of me right now? Why is my creative space blocked to the point that I cannot write? In all areas, I realize, things need to shift a little, and get real. I can’t be phony or robotic, continuing on with the same old routine and not expect to feel inauthentic. In my writings here, I realized, there’s something else to be said, a new space to be explored. In the dreams I choose to write on each week, there is an absence. What am I not saying here? Without context, it may falsely appear that what we explore is the totality of how dreams and the unconscious are explored. But there are things not written about, things not said.
There is so much in dreams that often feels too dark or too serious to engage in this format. Too sexual or too strange. Too chaotic or too violent. I am not writing, for instance, on the dreams I occasionally receive that seem to convey hidden trauma. I don’t want to engage those dreams that appear to have something nestled within the imagery that should only be stirred delicately and in a safer space. I dare not unravel such dreams here. I do not want to expose too starkly memories that someone’s psyche has spent years attempting to forget.
Some dreams, if the interpretation is listened to, require a complete reorientation of behavior, perhaps the canceling of plans, or the trust to jump into the complete unknown. Sometimes, dreams are seemingly prophetic, mirroring instincts around danger that our conscious minds are likely to dismiss. In the same way, they can also state things exactly as they are, picking-up on what the conscious mind has missed. Without careful attention to a very literal interpretation of some dreams, a symbolic exploration is misleading. As with danger, dreams can sometimes reflect our awareness of ruptures in relationships, betrayal and lies, when a person’s consciousness is being duped. Without a therapeutic environment or very careful exploration, it is hard for us to know when those dreams appear here.
Dreams are not always concise enough to present in a single paragraph, nor explore in four or five. A single dream is often only one installment in a series of hundreds: a single page in a volume on one relationship, one memory, or one hope. Before things come into consciousness, we may chew on them for years. Seen in that context, one dream may show only an evolution of an image or a part of a person, reflecting transformation over time. Without those other dreams, we cannot know what we are missing. We cannot benefit from what those other dreams would illuminate. We cannot watch, inspired, as a person evolves.
In this format of dream exploration, we also cannot easily see how different people may dream the same incredible, poetic, nearly identical image. The same yellow bird arriving at that same juncture in emotional growth. Or the solitary snake showing up to mark a return to an instinctual, embodied awareness. I cannot easily share with you here what I experience as a therapist, witnessing people speak on images I know well from my own dreams, or reporting an inner experience that perfectly mirrors material I’ve studied for years. It is not easy here to stand in awe before the mystery of what is hidden inside of us and shared between us.
Finally, I do not write here about dreams that leave me utterly bewildered. I do not share with you those dreams that I cannot even begin to crack. What is absent here, therefore, is an ocean of dreaming in which I am out of my depth. In relationship to the unconscious, almost everything is beyond our ability to grasp, even after years of learning its language. It is this extraordinary complexity of dreams and the vastness of the unconscious that keeps me intrigued, endlessly. It is this intrigue that I hope to share with you here.
Happy holidays to all of you, and thanks for reading! It is solstice today, a time for renewal that we don’t always remember to honor. Take care of yourselves and of each other as we move into 2013. It will be a great year.
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Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their late teens, 20s, and 30s. For more information about therapy services in Portland, visit www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com