Category: Dream Exploration

“Dear Lena”: An Interpretation of Lena Dunham’s Dream of Neglected Pets

I’ve often said, if only to myself, that Lena Dunham has made a career out of portraying the same neuroses of the twenty something years that I have made a career trying to fix (or perhaps, “heal”, “ameliorate”, “support” would be better verbs). I’m a fan of Girls, even if I squirm in discomfort throughout most of the episodes–it’s all just too accurate, too unfortunately spot on. So when Lena’s new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, came out I was excited to read it. And reading it, I was delighted to see her stance of self-reflection on all the events–sexual, neurotic, physical, dietary–that she shares with us on HBO. When depicted there without a witnessing eye, it all just looks like such haphazard misery (which it is). But with greater awareness and some modern feminist perspective, Lena sheds light (see below for pun) on what her wiser self thinks about the trials of coming of age in the modern era.

In her explorations, luckily for us, Lena also divulged a recurring dream. After essays in Section II all about the body and her relationship to it, she ends with this:

My most frequent recurring dream is one in which I suddenly remember I have a number of pets living in my home that I haven’t tended to in years. Rabbits, hamsters, iguanas, stacked in dirty cages in my closet or beneath the bed. Terrified, I open the door, and the light touches them for the first time in ages. Desperate, I dig through the clumped, wet, wood chips. I’m afraid they’re decomposing there, but I find them still alive, thin and milky eyed and filthy. I know that I loved them once, that they had a better life before I got so distracted with work and myself to let them shrivel up and nearly die. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,’ I tell them as I clean their cages and fill their bottles with fresh water. ‘How can i make it up to you?’

Dear Lena: 

Your dream is quite telling, and its regular recurrence suggests it’s revealing an issue of particular importance to you. You intimate a sense that the dream is related to your desire to have children, and your fears. After a diagnosis of endometriosis, you’re contemplating the possible necessity to have children in the near future, but you share your resentment too of these theoretical babies. That they’ll interrupt your life, that you’re not quite ready. “I can feel them. The babies. . . .They’ve come too soon, and I can’t do any of what I had planned. All I can do is survive.”

This dream may be about your mother instinct, about the fear of your ability to care for these babies, though I think it’s less to do with future kids and more about how you care for the subtler parts of yourself. As you note in your dream, something changed when you became so distracted with work. Those sweet creatures that live in your home with you, those creatures that depend on your conscious self for survival, they became neglected, buried in darkness, earth, and wood. If–speaking in sweeping dream interpretation generalities here–the “I” in the dream is your ego consciousness and your house is symbolic of your whole being, what are those parts of you that have become so neglected, under nourished, and unseen? Where have you hid them, and why?

I wrote an interpretation last year that shares a number of themes with your dream: thirsty iguanas and other animals in the house and backyard. It was a dream, like yours, pointing towards the persistent, undeniable demands of one’s animal nature in a modern life. Just because we pretend in all our work, intellectualism, and consumption of information, that we’re not connected to our bodies, doesn’t mean we’re not. And just like with babies, the occasional snack, glance, and moment of physical affection won’t cut it. More attention, more awareness is needed.

Your dream suggests that you have let your self-care slide, and you are terrified to face that neglect. The very good news, though, is that your dream indicates you’re already taking steps to heal. Nervous and scared, you go to face what you have done, entering the dark closet and shedding light on what was once in darkness. You are coming to consciousness, illuminating an area of your life that maybe you had hoped, if you paid it no mind, would just go away into the dark recesses of the earth. Luckily those aspects, although atrophied and weak, are still alive and grateful for your renewed attention. Your apologetic attitude towards them is a good sign too: though you’re horrified that you neglected yourself in this way, you are increasingly aware of your need to be gentle with yourself and your body, and increasingly sorry that you checked-out for so long.

You’re no stranger to admitting neglect of your body. Many a moment in Girls circles around this (semi-fictional) theme, and you share more personal stories in your book. What’s new in the book, however, is a revelation of your increased awareness about the importance of caring for your body, lady parts and all. Even though they are hidden and unseen, things like your instincts and your organs, critical for survival and well-being, must be as tended to over and above emails, deadlines, dates, and drinks with friends. They’re voices aren’t always as loud as the ping on your phone or the shouts of work and relationships, but it is critical that you listen. Your dreams can help you in that arena. If you ever see a suffering animal, pay attention. Ask it what it needs and don’t run away.

If the animals you encountered had been oceanic, animals like fish and octopus and whales, I would think you were being drawn to attend to issues of your emotional life. Animals that swim suggest something related to the waters of the mind and feelings. Earth bound animals, on the other hand, may point more directly to the well-being of the physical body. Jung viewed animals like iguanas, snakes, and crabs in dreams as prognostic indicators of organic issues. Iguanas, in their dragon-like quality, might relate particularly to issues of motherhood within the body as the Dragon in mythology relates to the Mother and the tricky life path of destroying the Mother Complex.

Wonderful that you have provided these animals with fresh water. You’re providing them with new life, new emotional energy and loving attention. You are providing yourself the same. You ask the animals at the end of the dream “How can I make it up to you?” I would encourage you to meditate on this very question in waking life. Do not shy aware from the discomfort that may arise when you go into that sad, frightened place within yourself, aware of the neglect and lack of awareness that was once rampant. Instead, listen. Keep opening that closet door a little wider, keep shedding light on the issue, and don’t turn your back on them again. Increasingly, these animals will find new life and you’ll notice it, joyfully, in every moment of yours.

—-

Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!

Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com

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“Insects and Spiders in Bed. My Pregnant Wife & Me.” A Dream Interpretation.

Dear Satya:

portland-psychotherapy-dreamsQ: I went to bed with my newly pregnant wife. I was lying with her as I felt something on my right shoulder. When I turn on my phone light I noticed it was a daddy longleg and try killing it. As I freak out thinking of what else may be in bed, I decide to check under where I was lying and notice three other spiders. One was a wolf spider and two were unknown with multiple humps resembling eggs on each back. They were black and gray, large and extremely creepy (unlike a daddy longleg). . . We got out of bed and hit the lights. I shook myself down and brushed my body off and had her help. I then took off my clothes, which I notice still had random insects on them. I went back to the bed and saw that the side I was sleeping on was full of insects coming from the ground to the blanket and into bed. There were 4 large centipedes that crawled into the bed.

The sheet I was laying on in my dream is the wool blanket we use at the fire station where I work. It’s one I always refuse to use as I think its disgusting because people always sleep with it and never wash it.

Where my wife lay, there were no insects of any kind and she had nothing on her when we got out of bed. She stated in my dream that whoever we got the bed from was the issue. I argued saying it’s not the bed but another source of course, and that we needed to have it dealt with and to call an exterminator.

A: Thank you for sharing this dream, and congratulations on your coming baby! You shared this dream with me after finding the interpretation I did of a Spiders-In-Bed dream two years ago. As this is a very common dream, I’m glad to explore the images more deeply here. You will know from my first interpretation that spiders are very often referencing the Mother Complex in dreams. When they show up in dreams related to beds, I pay particular attention because it suggests that your mother is — symbolically speaking — in bed with you. In this case, I would venture that your relationship to your mother is somehow (probably unpleasantly) infecting your relationship with your wife. Having said all that, however, you also note specifically the Daddy Longleg several times, suggesting that your father is also involved here. The first questions you might reflect deeply on (not with your knee-jerk feelings): How are your relationships with your parents influencing you now and on the dawn of becoming a father, how are you feeling? What are your fears?

Your first instinct when you see the Daddy Longleg in the dream is to kill it. This is a red flag to me in regards to how you are living your conscious life, and something I would encourage you to explore. Everyone knows that Daddy Longlegs are harmless spiders. Why do you want to kill it? As a general rule, one’s reaction to other living things in dreams is very telling of one’s conscious relationship to lesser conscious aspects of themselves. Again, I’m curious: are you attempting to deny your feelings related to your father or your feelings related to becoming a father yourself?

When I explored a little more about the Daddy Longleg, I discovered that they are the only spider with a penis, mating directly through penetration (arachnologists, please correct me here if needed!). Again, this specific image points us to questions of procreation. Then, shortly following the Daddy Longleg’s appearance in the dream, other spiders appear — a highly dangerous Wolf Spider for one — and you see humps resembling eggs. Eggs: another image highly suggestive of procreation and new beginnings. Three spiders with eggs on their backs, one spider with a penis. 3+1 = 4, 3 feminine spiders plus 1 masculine spider… very curious, archetypal symbolism here, as the feminine and masculine are interwoven… 3 tends to be a number indicative of the masculine while 4 is a number suggesting feminine wholeness. (Typically, the 3+1 arrangement is the opposite combination; think of the Trinity + the Holy Mother, for instance.) Perhaps this is more complex archetypal symbolism for another time…

As a symbol, the Bed in dreams very often points to the “marriage bed”, a phrase suggesting the very beginnings of a union. Similarly, you can note that a synonym for “Bed” is “Foundation.” The bed is the foundation of the relationship much like a flower bed, the place from which plants and weeds alike can grow. This image is reflected in the way in which you see the insects coming up from the ground. So, in addition to questions of fatherhood, this dream seems to really be directing your attention to the foundation of your marriage. From the way this dream unfolds, I would say you are unconsciously bringing some stuff into your marriage that you need to take a hard look at. The mess in the bed is on your side.

To bring this into very practical language, I would say the following: you are clearly chewing deeply on what it means to be a father right now, consciously or unconsciously. I would venture a guess too that you’ve been moody and overwhelmed. Again, the fact that your side of the bed is covered in insects and that your wife’s side is clean seems to be telling you to be honest about your side of things. Your side is dirty, that’s undeniable. This makes me wonder if you’ve been blaming your wife for things lately, maybe that you two have been fighting a bit, and through your dream, your unconscious is correcting your conscious belief about who’s right and wrong in the marriage. Notice the way you disagree with your wife in the dream: she states, “whoever we got the bed from was the issue.” She’s pointing here to the root of the problem and perhaps is suggesting that your parental influences are infecting your marriage. Again, look at the image of the marriage bed here. Symbolically, your bed, your foundation, came from your parents. You can’t just call an exterminator to kill the problem. Just like killing the Daddy Longleg didn’t make the spiders go away, calling the exterminator to deal with the bed is just pure denial. It’s not going to work. In the dream world, death is just a precursor for resurrection.

You state it clearly, your wife is helping you clean up. Take a good look at that image. I imagine her supporting you to sort through your past and your fears and your feelings. In the process, you’ve been removing clothing, an image suggesting the removal of false layers, of the personas in which we all walk around the world. Good for you. This is a strong symbol in many fairy tales, and shows up in dreams regularly as well. True transformation often comes with the removal of skins or clothes. Accept her help.

Finally, I’ll offer that your association to the wool blanket from work makes me wonder if you’re not bringing work home with you, in particular, other people’s stresses. You’re disgusted by this blanket and yet in the dream it is part of the foundation on which you are sleeping with your wife. How much of your work life is infecting your relationship with your wife?

There is a lot here for you to face, dear Dreamer. You can make a choice, gently but directly look at these issues I raise and whatever else occurs to you while you explore this dream further. Or… try to just kill it, call the exterminator, argue about the roots of things, and live in denial. I would suggest that these insects, your moods and frustrations, your upset words will continue to infest your life and marriage if you don’t deal with the foundation of things. But, as always, the choice is up to you.

Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!

Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com