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?’
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
Q: I am inside a very wealthy estate home where a family lives, a white family. I understand that an Asian-American woman and her daughter are also part of this family, although they are not integrated. It’s as if the family hasn’t known that they existed. I learn that the woman and her daughter have a fortune. The Asian woman has known about this money of hers, but the rest of the family has been oblivious until now. Then there is a big meeting, as if to decide the future of this money. It’s understood that this money belongs to the whole family and they need to decide how it’s distributed. The meeting room is filled with mostly white men. The woman and her daughter aren’t there. A man arrives with his son who is in his late teens. The man is very blonde and white and he’s to serve as the judge at the meeting, which will be like a trial hearing.
A: Last month, I wrote a dream interpretation that dealt directly with the meaning of race in the unconscious, as well as one that explored a motif similar to your dream in that it featured a well-to-do Japanese man. I’ll explore more of the meaning of these issues and symbols here, but I’d encourage you to read through both of those interpretations as they’ll help to stimulate your own associations and thoughts about the meaning of your dream.
Your dream opens in the setting of a family estate. This setting suggests a couple of things to me. First, it indicates the plurality within psyche: our single personhood is made up of many different aspects of being, just like a single family is made up of different members. We are not just the “I” character in our dreams, and the image of a family estate renders this beautifully and simply. Second, this image also makes me wonder if the problems with which this dream wrestles may be ones that your whole family wrestles with. So much of our individual psychological viewpoint is rooted in the values, culture, and themes of the family in which we were raised; we are deeply influenced by our environments, and just as a plant will thrive or die, grow tall or grow crooked, depending on the conditions of the environment in which it was planted, so will we. While this may be stating the obvious, I offer it here because I think it’s an oft forgotten aspect of our own psychology when we’re exploring our individual dreams or individual growth. We are products of our environments. Important to keep in mind, however, is that our personal evolution will invariably effect the evolution of our family and culture as well. We each have the power to be change agents, just like those little mutant genes in Darwin’s theory of evolution that start to pull a species in another direction.
The most basic cast of the characters in your dream are: you, the white men, and an Asian woman. For our readers, I’ll report that you are a white American. Broken down simply, you represent the conscious ego attitude of your psyche, the white men represent the rational, masculine, intellectual viewpoint that dominates your psyche, and the Asian woman represents the under-appreciated, “irrational”, feeling, feminine, yin standpoint. For Western psyches, Asian characters in dreams often represent that which is opposite the dominant standpoint of one’s psyche (East versus West) which in America almost always means the artistic, feeling aspects as we are such a thinking, information, goal-oriented culture. If an Asian character arises in a dream, it’s worth exploring how it portrays one’s underdeveloped feeling type. (Of course, one would need to explore their personal associations to all the racial and cultural parties represented, as well as take into account one’s personal heritage.)
From the Jungian view, and certainly my view, the goal of psychological development is not “health”(whatever that is) or to function seamlessly within one’s social environment (most modern societies are pretty unhealthy!). The goal is more aptly described as wholeness. To pursue wholeness means that we are frequently trying to accept parts of ourselves that our dominant attitudes do not initially perceive as being valuable. This dream seems to be dealing directly with this issue, and it’s sending you a very lovely and validating message that there is great wealth to be found in parts of you that are just becoming visible. She has “a fortune” — she’s rich! Her value is undeniable. Also, money can represent energy. Think of the mythological relationship between Gold and the Sun. Or the modern parallel of Black Gold, Oil, where the tie between money and energy is evident. Money and energy are archetypally and literally linked. This wealthy part of you is a storehouse of energy, and her value for you is tremendous.
Now, what you’ll want to be attentive to is the fact that “the ruling principle” of your psyche continues to be the dominant white man, rational, thinking, legal perspective. Your feminine, feeling aspects are increasingly being recognized for their value, but they’re still not being included in decision making. They’re not even in the room. The result is that this part of you that the Asian woman and her daughter represent is being violated, de-valued, stolen from. Their perspective and authentic voice is not being honored. It suggests to me that while you may understand that the feminine, feeling, relational, instinctive, yin aspects of your character are important (they’re being recognized as part of the family), they are not yet deeply affecting your being. The value that the rest of your psyche is starting to recognize is not yet at the stage of altering the whole system.
The revolution that will need to take place within your psyche is akin to the social revolution of including the feminine perspective in land ownership and voting. The Asian woman who represents these different functions in your psyche will not only first need to be brought into the room where decisions are made, but she’ll need to be able to alter the process as well. She can’t just join the courtroom proceedings that is being run, and was established, by the dominant lawyerly masculine function. They’ll need to learn from her and allow her to help establish the proceedings under which decisions are made about her money for the sake of the whole family. Like the meeting of Native American tribes and the White Men that riddle our history, all “deals” that were struck between the two within the legal framework of the white men were a charade. The only fair deals that these two peoples could have struck would have required profound evolution of each population as the two grew to understand and value the very different cultures and systems of justice they each brought to the table. The fact that one simply dominated the other was not ultimately a win for either side. As we’re recognizing more and more, the dominance of the white culture over the Native American resulted in tremendous loss of wisdom and heart based thinking. We’re needing to reclaim much of that for ourselves now.
What does this mean psychologically? This aspect of your being that the Asian woman represents cannot simply be incorporated intellectually. You can know that you are needing to feel more and think less, for instance, but until you get in a non-intellectual way how to do that, the value and energy she carries won’t be released. She’ll need, over time, to affect your whole character.This will initially be scary for the more intellectual, rational aspects of you, but as you learn to incorporate what she has to offer and ask her what she wants and needs, you will be transformed, and you’ll be the richer for it.
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