Q: I’m in an underground room, all white and I’m making a horror movie. A scruffy hippy in his 30s is playing an innocent little girl who I’m chopping up and burying in a white bathtub. I have a big bowl of pasta sauce I’m using for blood. I have work appointments and I need to get upstairs for them, so I’m telling her to wait in the bathtub so we can keep doing the movie when I get back. I look in the tub and next to where the girl is shoved into the tub there are many flower bulbs growing. I see them working to make their way to the surface. I have a change of heart, upon seeing them. I feel hope, like spring is coming. I put the lid on, leave the room, and start walking up the stairs to my appointments. Halfway up the stairs I think, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I turn around and go back to the room, open the door, and the little girl is standing inside the door. I tell her we can stop and not finish the movie. I feel relieved and I start cleaning the pasta sauce splatters off the surfaces of the room.
A: It’s a blood bath! Or so it seems. That symbolic phrase denotes slaughter, a theme that is repeated throughout your dream. You are filming a horror movie and (forgive the gruesome repetition) chopping up the little girl. But… this slaughter is not real, it’s just a movie: the blood is pasta sauce, the girl is unharmed, and you can put the whole thing on pause as needed. The realization that this is only a pseudo nightmare suggests to me that you already have a good handle on what this inner turmoil has meant for you. You can look at it through a separate lens. It also seems, however, that your inner life has had to take a back seat to your work life for a while (note that you try to “put a lid on it” as you head to your appointments). But things are shifting now. As you are climbing the stairs, an image that suggests you’re gaining consciousness around this issue, you stop short and state clearly: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Thank goodness.
You’ve been in a state of emotional fragmentation (dismemberment) but you are moving towards new growth and wholeness (spring and the little girl standing up in the doorway). Things have undoubtedly been difficult lately, and your role as the director of the horror film suggests that your conscious mind has believed it was her duty to be hard on you. Your ego self was directing the torture of your inner child. Your conscious mind has been putting your vulnerable parts through the wringer. But you’ve had a definite change of heart. You don’t need to do that anymore. You’ve developed some self-empathy where it may have been lacking. A new time is dawning. Spring is on the way.
The images in this dream are really quite remarkable in their archetypal and alchemical progression. The mythological motifs that appear are worth further exploration to shed light on this dream, your own personal myth. For starters, the descent into the basement where there is a little girl and a scruffy man, as well as the motif of the return of spring, point to the myth of Persephone in which Hades abducts the newly matured young woman and takes her to the underworld. Despite the abduction and suffering that Persephone and her mother Demeter undergo, this story reflects the growth of a young woman into an independent person, away from her more psychically binding relationship with her mother. She is stolen into the depths, but she finds growth and union there as well. This myth is also a wonderful reminder of the cyclical nature of our inner lives. It can be helpful to remember that, when things are hard, new growth will follow: year after year, the frost of winter melts and spring arrives. Descents into the underworld are a natural part of human psychology and from those periods of life we can find new growth. Out of the blood, you see flower bulbs growing.
Another parallel story is the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Fitcher’s Bird, in which a new bride discovers the dismembered and bloody bodies of her sisters in a tub behind a locked door. (Yikes!) Ultimately, this young woman saves herself and her once chopped-up sisters, putting them back together again and bringing them back to life. It is a story of the redemption of feminine power and strength, and it’s a story that can represent the conscious transition of a woman into a new level of psychic independence. As there is no mother in the beginning of this story, it has also been interpreted as recovering a self-care instinct for women without proper mothering in childhood.
There is a great deal in your dream that also reflects the alchemical stages of development: the colors red and white, the blood, the dismemberment, and spring. Like stages in Kundalini yoga and other systems of enlightenment, alchemical imagery reflects psychic progression and growth. The goal of alchemy, like the work with the unconscious, is to turn non-valuable matter into gold: to turn the stuff of life into greater consciousness. We could explore the alchemical themes in this dream for ages, but to keep things brief here, I’ll share a quote from Jung with you which suggests the real power and benefit of this bloody scene in this all white room: “…In this state of ‘whiteness’ one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have ‘blood,’ it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the ‘redness’ of life… Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness” (as quoted in Edinger, Anatomy of Psyche, p.147).
A new phase of creativity and life is dawning, my dear. All the images point in that direction. There is blood, life force, an image also synonymous in alchemical language with fire, heat, passion, energy. You are also moving upstairs from the depths. The girl is whole again. Flowers are growing. And you state that you are ready. Some youthful, vulnerable part of you is now free to move forward and integrate into your consciousness. There is so much more for you to explore, should you choose to do so. How old is that girl, for instance? What was happening at that stage in your life? And what about that scruffy hippy? Who does he remind you of? But regardless of how deeply you continue to explore these images for yourself, I feel confident that you’re emerging from what sounds like a difficult period. Trust it. Spring is coming.
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
Q: I’m in an OB/GYN practice located in a lodge-like house surrounded by big pine trees. The doctors are all men in scrubs. It’s nighttime and the doctors are sleeping on cots so they can attend to patients going into labor. I sleep on a cot in between two other girls my age. Three times during the night, all three of us are awakened by a scary dream in which the house has tipped over. Then it’s breakfast. I’m trying to cut up a teal & purple clay-like substance to mix with my scrambled eggs, but it keeps getting stuck to the knife. Then I realize I’m eating on a piano. I start to play the piano but the girl next to me, who is now my best friend, tells me to stop. I’m irritated and feel rejected and also a little bit confused. I was making a lot of mistakes and having a hard time recalling the piece I was trying to play. Then I wake up.
A: What a very detailed and quite intriguing dream you’ve sent along! You are in the woods; new life is being created, women are going into labor; there are only male doctors; there are three young women with three dreams in which a house tips over; you have eggs you’re struggling to eat as your knife gets stuck in clay; you’re irritated that your friend has asked you to stop playing the piano; and then you wake up. What does this all mean? Whew! We’ve got our work cut out for us.
You informed me that you are a 24 year old woman currently working in publishing. “What are your associations to the obstetrics and gynecology practice?” I asked. “The OB/GYN thing is kind of funny…” you responded. “Despite having no background in science or medicine, a couple months ago I was toying around with the idea of going back to school for medicine, and I told my sister that if I were to do that, I’d want to be an OB/GYN.”And what about the piano, I wondered. Do you play? “I played classical piano growing up,” you wrote, “but I haven’t played much since I graduated from college in 2010… Growing up, I was always fluctuating between feeling really inadequate when it came to piano and also pretty lazy. I almost never practiced as much as I should have. I’ve always wondered if music is my ‘passion’ in the way people use that word today, but I’ve never felt like I’m all that good at it.”
Here we have two responses related to work, craft, and passion. It’s evident that you’re sorting through issues related to your career and future: what you want, where you’re going, and how to get there. At the moment, you’re quite uncertain about your competence and your passions and not sure where to place your energies. With the piano, you felt both inadequate and yet struggled to put in the time and effort to achieve success. Consider this tension. I’ll state it plainly: this inner ambivalence is holding you back. In seeking your passion, ask yourself if you currently have the tenacity to practice and work hard to achieve what you seek. Do you have the focus to really, devotedly, go after something that you want? Do you have the ability to make a choice, faced with the possibility that it may be the wrong one? Your dream suggests that something may be holding you back: at breakfast, you are trying to cut through a substance that might be seen as your prima materia, the muddy slough of life that has not yet turned into nourishment. What is the old stuff of your life that is preventing you from integrating the new stuff? The eggs, of course, are also indicative of rebirth, mirroring the general theme of reproduction, pregnancy, and birth in your dream that is being sought but somewhat thwarted.
The masculine, dynamic aspect of your psyche is highlighted in that male only doctors are attending to the labor, as well as in the occurrence of the number 3, which symbolically also represents the masculine (think of the Holy Trinity). Does your feminine nature, your relational, emotional, contemplative, instinctive side need to get more involved? What do you need in your life to allow the knife of discernment to cut cleanly through the mud that is keeping you stuck? Your dream, and your responses about the dream, illuminate some important attitudes that will either help you move forward or hold you back.
Everything that is possible within us has to be manifested through hard work. We all hold within us endless potential, but it is only through dedication, practice, and persistence that we can bring that potential into actual existence. Your dream highlights the image of labor, but only in such a way that also indicates reward. To go into labor, to be in labor, to labor… this is work, terrible, terrific, devoted work from which there is no escape. For the woman who labors, however, there is an extraordinary reward of transformation for herself, and of new life. New beginnings.
You are certainly pursuing the large questions of what you want in your life and how to get there. You are being asked to wake-up, terrified by the possibility that your world will be flipped upside down. But this is part of growing-up. At this stage of life, it’s important to mature certain aspects of the childhood ego that are hanging on for dear life: tendencies to be sometimes overly inflated and sometimes overly insecure (see this tension in your response to your relationship to the piano). The cure? Devote yourself, like a craftsman, to learning a task. Trust in detailed work. If you don’t yet know the big work towards which you are being called (the passion you seek), work on the meticulous learning of a smaller craft instead. Devote yourself to building a skill. Baking. Yoga. Cursive script. Choose something just to practice a detailed art and learn. Make a choice. Seek the pride of patience and devotion. Wax on. Wax off…
If you trust it, the inner development that results from this work will positively influence all other areas of your life. Whatever seemingly small, even mundane task that you choose to master will have bigger payoffs than you could have anticipated. Labor and you will find new birth.
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