Q: I am in a house that is overrun by wild animals. I walk into a room, the nook just off the kitchen, and I see a Monitor Lizard buried head first in a big vase full of flowers and scummy water. He scurries up and out of the vase as I enter. Outside in the back, courtyard area, a couple of large cats are sitting, maybe a Lion and Cheetah. They were in and out of the house as well. My mom was there, along with other female family members. The animals did pose some danger to us, but there were wary of us as well. It occurred to me that they wanted water, that they were here looking for water. Is that why they had come in from the wild? I assumed that wild animals have ways of getting what they need in the wild, but not anymore, I guess. Not these days. As we stood looking over the yard from above, I wondered to my mom about filling up a kiddie pool with water for the animals. She suggested we do it tomorrow as trying to navigate around them at that moment would be dangerous. I felt for them, though. Tomorrow is a long ways off if they’re really thirsty.
A: Thank you, dreamer, for sending in this dream. You shared with me in writing that you woke up from this dream with the word “Menagerie” in your head, and that you hadn’t been entirely conscious of the meaning of that word: “a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition.” This word, and the tone of its definition, may provide an interesting insight for us as we explore the rest of your dream. You also shared with me that you weren’t feeling physically well at the time of the dream and you wondered if there might be clues to that in the dream.
Indeed, the animal nature of your dream suggests reference to your own animal nature: your physical, instinctual self. The animals have come in from the wild and are invading your home. They’re thirsty. I immediately began wondering in exploring this dream why they’re thirsty, and what they (you) are thirsty for exactly. I wonder too what it means that they’re displaced. The realities of environmental degradation and global warming are bound to show up in the dreams of anyone living in the modern era (we’re consciously and unconsciously experiencing it), but the image should still also be looked at symbolically. The ever expanding cities and shrinking natural world has a psychological correlate for us all. In the modern era, psyche becomes heavily weighted towards the conscious, literal, rational mind and further distanced from the interconnected, mysterious realm of the universe in which we live. The modern psyche is raised to be narcissistic and sociopathic, with ever expanding egos and ever decreasing reverence for whatever it is that we can’t understand. But, whether we like it or not, the wild comes back to us. The grass grows up between the cracks of the concrete, the ants return just when you thought they were gone, and the winds and rain may bring a city to its knees with little warning. Is that what’s happening in your life? Your wild nature is demanding attention. It’s reclaiming territory and making its presence known.
I’ve written a few times about water in dreams, the absence of which makes a showing in your dream. Before exploring the deeper symbolic layers of Water, the first “interpretation” of this image might simply be that you’re thirsty. Really. This fact may be buried in your consciousness, something which you’re not terribly aware of and therefore shows up with your animal nature stating what it’s feeling: “I’m dehydrated.” Whether or not this could be a symptom of your sickness or of a tendency for you in general, I don’t know, but it’s a simple reading of the dream that might be valuable for you to explore. The unconscious inhabits all of us, our cells and our muscles, not just the dark reaches of our mind.
On a more symbolic level, I’m going to start by offering you what might seem like another simple statement (or a stoner’s attempt at profundity): Water is central to life. Without water, there would be no existence as we know it. Adult humans are nearly 60% water. Social centers have typically been built around major water resources, rivers or lakes or oceans. Fountains have been placed in the center of city landscapes and kingdoms. Water is central, literally and symbolically. So we know, instinctively, to bow to the water within us and outside of us. What might this mean for your dream? It may be that you’re feeling somewhat disconnected from life itself, that you’re needing to reconnect to the life force in some way, to your emotions (another aspect of water in dreams), and to the spiritual, soulful realm that gives life meaning. This could also be seen as the Yin aspect of life, the feminine, anima, source of life that animates material existence. This nod to the feminine seems to arise in particular with the mention of your mother and the female members of your family, a theme also echoed with the particular species of cats you mentioned.
The Monitor Lizard in the vase of water is curious to me, especially in that he is situated in “the nook just off the kitchen.” I’m curious here again about the way this dream may be orienting you towards very specific parts of your body. The kitchen tends to be correlated with the stomach in dream symbolism. The kitchen is the place where food is chopped and cooked and broken down, where the alchemy of food digestion begins. So the language around this lizard’s hiding place just make me wonder if there might be an illness or imbalance (not necessarily serious) associated with your liver perhaps, or spleen. I also wonder this because this particular animal is named from the Latin root word Monit, to warn. What, perhaps emotionally, might be stuck in one of the smaller organs near the stomach? You might explore Chinese medicine for some answers here, or visit a good practitioner. The image of the lizard in dreams can also be related to lineage; that from which we evolved. This might tie in again with the appearance of your mother and family in the dream and what you might be working through in your physical and psychic inheritance. Perhaps there is a lineage of disconnection from some emotional depths that you are working to heal. And, of course, perhaps you have personal associations to Monitor Lizards that are valuable for further insights into why this animal is there, off the nook of your kitchen.
Finally, to return to the word with which you awoke: Menagerie… Menagerie. The notion of captivity that defines that word is resonant to me in working this dream. It makes me wonder: are you feeling trapped? Are things feeling too controlled and confining in your life? Are you needing to be more wild? Ask yourself these questions. Spend some time really sitting with the notions. Is your life feeling as though you are in captivity and that your deepest self is not getting a chance to roam and be free? If there is an inkling that this might be true, see what you can do to rectify the situation. In your psychic landscape, you can transform the wilderness, bring the flow of water back to where it belongs, and encourage the animals to return to their natural environments where they want to be. In the future, hopefully in the near future, if you can bring more flow back into your life, your dreams will reflect these changes and it will be you who is visiting the animals, out in the wilds where they are most alive and free.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a Jungian 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. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com
After the show, my friend walked up to him and asked about the tag still connected to the shirt he’d worn on stage. “Was that intentional? Did you mean to leave that on?” Trajal laughed as he looked at her and said “of course,” of course it was intentional. It was part of the show. Then she told him: “That thing at the beginning was no big deal,” attempting to offer comfort for what seemed a monumental mistake in the performance. He smiled at her and laughed. That was intentional too. “It was?!” she laughed in surprise (and she’s no amateur in the world of experimental performance). ”Of course!” Trajal replied.
It was all intentional. The minutes of discomfort as we watched Trajal’s partner, Thibault Lac, dig through his bag looking for a prop, halting the show shortly after it had begun. Then the interaction between Thibault and Trajal in the front row and the tiny wrinkle of concern on Trajal’s otherwise stoic face, as if he were hiding anger at his partner’s ineptitude. Then Thibault’s quick departure from the room to look for the missing element, and his small smile that I interpreted as boyish humiliation. And Trajal’s speech to the audience, an audience that waited in line outside, behind closed gates for the sold-out show. Trajal apologized for the fact that they would have to begin the show over.
I was sitting next to Trajal as all this was occurring, an un-intentional move on my part when I chose my seat next to two empty ones reserved by a hand towel. I was next to Trajal when he sat down after his apology, and as he waited for Thibault to return. Trajal’s body folded at moments, his eyes sometimes looking in anguish at where Thibault had run off stage. At first, the audience was silent. But the initial feelings of respect and compassion, and perhaps thoughts that this was an intentional interruption, soon gave way to chatter and then palpable discomfort. As Trajal sat next to me, alone in embarrassed silence, the whispering in the audience grew increasingly loud.
A young woman seated on the floor in front of us, her head half shaved and dyed blue, whispered with friends. I looked over at her as she laughed and rolled her eyes in what seemed a moment of mocking disbelief. Trajal saw her too. He sighed next to me, as if the humiliation has just reached its peak, and turned his head away in sadness. Should I offer him a word of comfort?
Every moment is an opportunity to assess our own reactions, and TBA’s performances have a knack for bringing those moments into stark relief. If nothing else, this was a social experiment, I figured. Was I, as the woman next to the performer, expected to offer condolences and reassurance? Should I, at least, be careful not to turn my back on him as I too defaulted into mid-performance conversation with friends? What was my role to play in this performance?
Trajal stands and walks to the wall to continue waiting. Then, after a time, he decides to simply begin the show again. He announces to us that this search for the prop has taken longer than expected and that he’s just going to go ahead and start. Thibault is still not here. Trajal returns to the black open stage and, without much cue to anyone, the music begins. But this is not the music where things left off. This is a new act altogether. And after a couple of minutes, Thibault joins him on stage seamlessly. I wonder for a moment again if this hadn’t all been planned after all. But why?
The show Antigone Jr. (not to be confused with the “Made-to-Measure” version performed on Friday and Saturday) was an exploration into a hypothetical cross-breed of cultures. In Trajal Harrell’s words, all of the Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church performances explore the same question: ”What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing dance tradition in Harlem had come downtown to the Judson Church in Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”
And it was, in the end, a pleasing performance. A combination of voguing interspersed with an occasional beat generation musing from Trajal, a reading of Antigone by Thibault, and singing from them both. But it was also, always, this highbrow, intellectual work and high-skilled dance on a foundation of seeming disarray. It was not unlike what you might find if walking in on two smart, trained dancers high on something and joking around in a bedroom at 3am. Certainly, this impression was influenced by the costuming: boxer shorts and socks, a gray bathrobe, t-shirts, and an inside-out white something (with the tag still on). What would it have felt like with different clothing? And was that the impression Trajal intended to convey?
Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind with Anna Craycroft as part of the C’mon Language series.