I had this dream 18 months ago and it was the kind of dream experience that happens occasionally – waking up out of the dream and upon falling asleep again, going straight back into the dream. It was 6 years between this one and A Mother’s Love but they are intimately connected. In that post I told the story of how the song by Anne Murray I’ll Always Love You acted as a bridge to re-unite my mother and me after a painful estrangement. In this dream I was desperately trying to find that same song to play it in memory of her.
A service is being arranged for Mum. It’s not clear when she died and it doesn’t appear to be a funeral but more like a memorial service. I don’t know where we are or who I am with but it feels like family. We are working out what music to have. I say we must have at least one Anne Murray song and suggest ‘I’ll always love you.’ The dream then goes into one of those marathon ‘can’t find what I’m looking for’ episodes. I know I had made tapes of all the Anne Murray albums I had but couldn’t find any of them. I decided to try and find the original LP records and re-copy them and the search was then on for the albums, again to no avail.
The scene then switches to the kitchen in my current house and Mum is with me. I don’t recall the details of the conversation but the gist of it is that I am very worried about something. Initially Mum shows concern but as the conversation proceeds she starts teasing me about my seriousness. I get upset and ask her why she is treating me like that. Her response is “It’s because I love you.” In an exasperated tone of voice I say, “If you really love me you wouldn’t make fun of me.”
I wake at this point, still quite upset. I know I should write it down but before I can rouse myself, I fall back to sleep and the dream starts at the beginning again except this time it feels like I am in my old house. I redouble my efforts to find the song but to no avail. There is someone with me supposedly helping but she is prattling on about I don’t know what and I become increasingly annoyed at the distraction. I finally give her a mouthful and tell her to piss off and leave me alone and with that I wake up.
This time I got up and wrote it down. It was obviously important because of the escalation of the intense emotions in the dream and the residue that carried on into waking but I was quite baffled by it. Mum had been dead for 31 years at this stage and most of the dreams I had of her were what I termed spirit visits and they almost always had to do with healing or solving some emotional difficulty. This one too felt like she was trying to help me but without knowing what we discussed, I couldn’t work it out.
Later in the day, I was on my way into town when I got a call on the mobile. It was a friend calling to see if I wanted to meet for coffee. This friend happened to be one of the few people I could discuss dreams with and they were always our favourite topic of discussion. She had been my hypnotherapist many years ago and was intimately acquainted with all my family issues. The timing of her call seemed more than a coincidence so I was happy to change my plans and meet up.
We tossed around some ideas but nothing felt right. The most obvious interpretation was that not being able to find a song called I’ll Always Love You as a tribute to Mum and the amount of frustration and anger I felt in the dream suggested some unresolved grief or even anger but I felt pretty much at peace with my relationship with Mum at this stage of my life. We also looked at the other woman in the dream who was hindering my efforts to find the song as a kind of inner saboteur figure getting in the way of me finding this ‘always’ (eternal) love. This did make sense as I often felt at odds with myself but as dreams don’t usually tell you things you already know, it still didn’t feel like a good fit. We parted not having come to any satisfactory conclusion and all I could do was let it percolate.
Next afternoon I got a call from my sister to tell me she had just learned that our aunt – Mum’s sister – had died and that the service was going to be next day. The news affected me deeply. Her death wasn’t unexpected, she was 90 and in a nursing home but it posed a dilemma about whether or not to attend. Aunt had been my second mother growing up and I had lived with her family at different periods of my life. Although disclosing about the abuse I had experienced at the hands of her husband had driven a wedge between us, I still cared deeply for her and wanted to pay my respects. I hadn’t had much contact with the family in the intervening years and I didn’t know if I would be welcome. My sister decided against going so it meant I would be on my own.
I texted my friend with the news saying that I thought there might be a connection with the dream as it was Aunt having a go at Mum that caused Mum to stop talking to me and then eventually reconnecting via the song in the dream. There was a flurry of text messages and in the end I got one telling me to think about whose feelings I’m protecting and if I want to go, to take a risk and just go. I was taken aback as it sounded quite exasperated and most unlike her but then it hit me – this sounded very similar to the conversation with Mum in my dream! Here I was making a big drama out of the issue instead of just following my heart. As I reflected I became more convinced that the conversation I had with Mum in the dream was about this very dilemma and that she was encouraging me to go. With that, all feelings of trepidation left me and my mind was made up.
As it turned out, it was indeed a memorial service and not a funeral. It was held in football clubrooms and there was no casket, which made it feel very much like the sense I had of the event in the dream. Aunt’s only daughter, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years, broke the ice when she saw me by holding her arms wide for a hug and telling me how happy she was to see me. To my great relief my other cousins were equally friendly and that helped ease my feelings of awkwardness in this large gathering of relatives I had never met, having had little contact with the family in over 30 years.
The tributes to my Aunt told of a woman who was absolutely devoted to her family and adored by them and who didn’t have an enemy in the world. Two of her children and several of her grandchildren paid tributes to her and they all told the same story – how she made each and every one of them feel special and absolutely loved. I knew this side of her and it was unquestionably true but I also knew what lay in the shadows. Her determination to keep the family together and defend her image and her role as matriarch meant protecting her paedophile husband and turning a blind eye to his activities at any cost. I wondered how many people in the room had been affected either directly or indirectly by their shared complicity. Was it possible that the love she gave so freely balanced out the negative effects? At this stage of my life I could no longer judge her choices and behaviour, or condemn her for her attitude towards me and nor did I want to.
When the invitation came for anyone present to say a few words, I hesitated long enough to settle my pounding heart and then went forward to tell a little anecdote about her perming my dead straight hair when I was around 4. Her daughter had very tight curls just like her father and so when she took me home, Mum at first mistook me for my cousin. It was a sweet memory and typical of the little things she would do to make a child feel special. She gave me more affection than my own mother was capable of and to dwell on what I saw as her betrayal would be to negate the very positive influence she had on my formative years and all the love she showered on her own family throughout her long life.
There was a funny little incident towards the end of the service that again reminded me of my dream. A rather outmoded portable CD player was being used throughout for the music, with one of the granddaughters operating it. When the celebrant announced that The Sunny Side of the Street would be played to accompany the slide show, she duly pressed the button only to have something quite different start playing. There ensued a comical scene of trying to find the right track. The player was on the floor, which made it even more awkward and as she became increasingly flustered her father came to the rescue and amidst apologies for the ‘technical difficulties’ it was eventually located. I had a little chuckle to myself. It wasn’t Anne Murray but as my mother had also been a big Willie Nelson fan I know she would have thoroughly approved of the choice.
Another interesting bit of information that emerged at the service was that it was my Aunt and Uncle’s 65th wedding anniversary on the day I had the dream. Aunt survived him by 5 years and one day so they had 60 years together. As they were married the year I was born, it was also my age. This coincidence further convinced me that the dream was about Aunt’s death, rather than my birth mother’s. Over the years I have had countless dreams that have occurred on significant dates pertinent to the people in my dreams, regardless of whether they had been on my mind consciously or not prior to the dream. Without this one I doubt whether I would have had the courage to go and I was so glad I did, as much healing came from it.
With my cousin’s permission I made a recording of the service and listening to it again later enabled me to reconnect with the side of my aunt that had become a dim memory for me. Her 7 year-old great granddaughter gave out sunflower seeds to plant in her memory, which I sowed the following day. Appropriately it happened to be All Souls’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It felt very satisfying to do so and as I nurtured them over the following months and watched them bloom and then die, I felt that I had at last found the peace with the past that had been my quest for a long time – consciously for the past 20 years but unconsciously probably my whole life.
It wasn’t quite the end of the story though as I had another dream a year later that got me in touch with some residual anger that was most likely connected with the anger I expressed at the end of this dream. That will be the subject of the next post.
Here is a brief description of Jung’s approach to dreams from Daryl Sharpe’s Jung Lexicon available online at http://www.psychceu.com/jung/sharplexicon.html
Independent, spontaneous manifestations of the unconscious; fragments of involuntary psychic activity just conscious enough to be reproducible in the waking state.
Dreams are neither deliberate nor arbitrary fabrications; they are natural phenomena which are nothing other than what they pretend to be. They do not deceive, they do not lie, they do not distort or disguise. . . . They are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand.
“Analytical Psychology and Education,” CW 17, par. 189.
In symbolic form, dreams picture the current situation in the psyche from the point of view of the unconscious.
Since the meaning of most dreams is not in accord with the tendencies of the conscious mind but shows peculiar deviations, we must assume that the unconscious, the matrix of dreams, has an independent function. This is what I call the autonomy of the unconscious. The dream not only fails to obey our will but very often stands in flagrant opposition to our conscious intentions.
“On the Nature of Dreams” CW 8, par. 545.
Jung acknowledged that in some cases dreams have a wish-fulfilling and sleep-preserving function (Freud) or reveal an infantile striving for power (Adler), but he focused on their symbolic content and their compensatory role in the self-regulation of the psyche: they reveal aspects of oneself that are not normally conscious, they disclose unconscious motivations operating in relationships and present new points of view in conflict situations.
In this regard there are three possibilities. If the conscious attitude to the life situation is in large degree one-sided, then the dream takes the opposite side. If the conscious has a position fairly near the “middle,” the dream is satisfied with variations. If the conscious attitude is “correct” (adequate), then the dream coincides with and emphasizes this tendency, though without forfeiting its peculiar autonomy.
Ibid., par. 546.
In Jung’s view, a dream is an interior drama.
The whole dream-work is essentially subjective, and a dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public, and the critic.
“General Aspects of Dream Psychology” ibid., par. 509.
This conception gives rise to the interpretation of dreams on the subjective level, where the images in them are seen as symbolic representations of elements in the dreamer’s own personality. Interpretation on the objective level refers the images to people and situations in the outside world.
Many dreams have a classic dramatic structure. There is an exposition (place, time and characters), which shows the initial situation of the dreamer. In the second phase there is a development in the plot (action takes place). The third phase brings the culmination or climax (a decisive event occurs). The final phase is the lysis, the result or solution (if any) of the action in the dream.
Gloria and Bessie 1983
…the mother stands for the collective unconscious, the source of the water of life…
~CG Jung Individual Dream Symbolism… CW 12: §92
I worked through this dream with Jane Teresa Anderson in the early days of her dream show podcast (link), way back in August 2009. It has taken all this time to unfold fully and though I am in a much better emotional space than I was when I had the dream, meeting the challenge I set myself in it is still a work in progress.
I am in the study of my house with Mary. As we come out of the study, I notice water on the floor. I point it out to her so she won’t step in it. When we reach the dining room I see there is a large puddle of water also pooled on the carpet by the table. I notice an empty glass in the place where I usually sit for meals. I get a mental image of someone picking up the glass, and without realising it is full, spilling it and leaving the trail. I know that ‘someone’ is me but don’t recall doing it. The trail of water leads back to the study through the kitchen and family room to where I first noticed it.
I fetch a towel from the laundry basket and while I’m on my knees mopping up the water on the carpet, I tell Mary about Frank Sinatra’s rejection by his mother. She bursts into tears and I stand and put my arms around her and she cries on my shoulder. She says it reminds her of the way her mother rejected her. I say I am not surprised and then say very gently but clearly: ‘You can’t find love outside yourself, not even from your mother, you’ve got to find the source of love within yourself and connect with that.’
Using the concept of all dream characters representing aspects of the dreamer, Jane and I explored the idea that Mary’s emotional outburst represented some unresolved grief in me concerning my mother’s rejection. This did fit for Mary’s relationship with her mother but I couldn’t relate to it, as I didn’t perceive my mother as being rejecting. As we explored the issue further, I concluded that perhaps my child’s mind had perceived her frequent absences through physical illness and nervous breakdowns as a form of rejection and we let it go at that and went on to explore other aspects of the dream imagery. Days later, the memory of a very traumatic estrangement from my mother that had occurred almost 30 years before, surfaced from the depths and the scene with Mary made total sense.
The estrangement occurred as part of the fallout from my disclosure about the sexual abuse that had occurred throughout my childhood at the hands of an uncle – the husband of Mum’s sister. Although my mother and my aunt were the only ones I had spoken to, somehow word got around and all hell broke loose in the family. It emerged that this uncle’s activities were not only very widespread but also well known. In spite of that, I was branded a troublemaker and a liar and treated like a pariah by all except my sisters. I became the family scapegoat. It’s an all too common scenario for anyone who rocks the boat by speaking up and a powerful deterrent that perpetrators and their enablers exploit. Mum didn’t speak to me for 9 months and when she did reconnect, the subject was never discussed.
When she finally rang me, she broke the ice with the sad news that her precious dog had to be put down. She had been very attached to him and perhaps losing him made her reflect on our estrangement. When that topic was exhausted, she asked if I’d heard Anne Murray’s latest album. We were both big fans. I hadn’t and she told me it was called ‘I’ll Always Love You.’ I knew it was her way of saying what she was never able to say directly and this, together with the news of Sooty’s death and the fact that she was talking to me again had me blubbering like a baby. When I got hold of the album and heard the title song, I played it over and over. It was almost worth all the pain I had been through to hear the opening lines:
Standing by my window, listening for your call
Seems I really miss you after all
Time won’t let me keep these sad thoughts to myself
I’d just like to let you know, I wish I’d never let you go and…
I’ll always love you, deep inside this heart of mine
I do love you…
When I went to see her, we both carefully avoided the dreaded topic but as I was leaving she said to me “I know I’ve been a bad mother, Gloria.” I didn’t know what to say and her words haunted me for years. I wanted to put my arms around her and comfort her and tell her how much I loved her but sadly she was not comfortable with such behaviour and I knew where to draw the line. I also felt that she somehow needed to make that confession for her own benefit and I didn’t want to take that away from her. She wasn’t a bad mother – bad mothers are the kind that hate their kids and want them dead, like so many stepmothers in myths and fairy tales. She was, though, a Puella Aeternus – an eternal child – who in one sense make good mothers because they can relate to the child on their own terms but on the other hand lack the emotional maturity necessary to handle the responsibility entailed in raising children. She was basically unsuited to a role that was her lot as a woman of her time and place and had the added misfortune of marrying a man whose alcoholism led to him abandoning her to the sole responsibility of raising their five children. The odds were stacked against her in so many ways.
Our relationship pretty much picked up where we had left off and Mum died a few years afterwards. Until this dream, I hadn’t realised how much guilt I had been carrying over telling her about the abuse. As kids we were trained to be good girls and not to worry Mum, with the unspoken threat that to do so would result in her going away yet again. From my uncle I was warned not to tell ‘our little secret’ or else I would go to jail and so would he. Together with upsetting Mum, the thought that I would be responsible for his family being without a father and thereby suffering the same fate as mine was enough to keep me silent until I was 30. After the avalanche of hostility that was unleashed on me then, I closed down for another 20 years, until the death of my husband and the many life changes it entailed brought it to the surface with a vengeance. This dream – and many, many others – was a part of the healing process both of the childhood abuse and the trauma that occurred through my disclosure as an adult.
As I worked through the dream with Jane, we looked at the significance of the reference to Frank Sinatra. A few days before the dream, I had read an article about him in which he had stated that he hated the song My Way and that the only reason he did it was because his fans requested it and that it didn’t reflect his attitude at all. Following the thread of the mother theme we explored the idea that children have to go their own way and that made sense in the context of the dream but again it was only later that I recalled a vital piece of information that was a further key to understanding the dream within the context of the mother complex.
One of the most efficient entries into a dream is to consider what might have occurred in the day or two prior to the dream. We had discussed the article about Frank Sinatra but as interesting as that was, it didn’t have any real emotional charge to it. What did have a charge though and totally relevant to this dream was that the night before I had it, I had decided spontaneously to stop going to a Zen style meditation group I had been attending for about 15 months and had emailed the teacher to let her know. This was a very difficult decision to make because I had a deep affection for her. I had no doubt of her sincerity but was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with what I perceived as a lack of psychological awareness and the attitude that meditation practice alone is ‘the way.’ Several weeks after I stopped going, I woke up in the early hours one morning and had an almost desperate yearning to see her again. As I explored the intensity of the feeling, I recognised that it was the same kind of feeling I used to have at being separated from Mum when I was young. I knew then that separating from the teacher was another necessary step in loosening the attachment bonds of the mother complex.
One aspect of the dream analysis I did with Jane that I was never fully satisfied with was to do with the spilled glass of water. I said to her that it had brought to mind the song My Cup Runneth Over With Love and she suggested it might symbolise having an over caring attitude towards others and ‘spilling’ my love indiscriminately. That certainly had validity but I felt there was more to it than that and it was only when I connected the dream with the meditation teacher – my ‘spiritual mother’ – that I was able to join the dots. The two rooms in the dream – the study with the computer and Internet connection and the dining room where I did all my reading – represented ‘my way.’ The connection with the meditation teacher also added another dimension to the water symbolism; because life as we know it cannot exist without water, at the archetypal (spiritual) level it symbolises the life force itself – another name for which is love. The way I understand the symbolism now is that I was unconsciously spilling my life force energy (love) by following a path that wasn’t suited to me. My way home to myself was very eclectic. I studied widely and was involved in various groups but the main practice aspect of it was through a combination of meditation, dreamwork, Jungian psychology and A Course in Miracles. All of these methods have as their common denominator the development of trusting one’s own inner guidance and this dream was clearly demonstrating that very principle.
At the end of the discussion with Jane I confessed that though I agreed with the sentiment expressed, i.e. the need to find the source of love within, I was at a loss as to how to do it. She suggested a dream alchemy visualisation exercise but I never followed through on it. I had by that stage developed my own way of working with dreams and this kind of prescriptive approach, as well intentioned as it was, felt too controlling and manipulative. As the dream unfolded organically over time, I realised that I was on the right path already with what I was doing and just needed to have patience, perseverance and faith. I often felt lost and lonely and still do at times but I realise now that is the price to pay for following one’s own destiny.
The choice by the dream author of Mary as my alter ego was very auspicious. We met through a study group of A Course in Miracles and became very good friends. As our friendship developed, we found many correspondences in our lives, including being born in the same year, growing up in the same town and moving to the same city at the same age and living in similar places as our lives progressed. We are also alike personality wise, with many common interests. The main difference in our lives is that she has children and I don’t. I can’t think of anyone I know who would be a better fit as a reflection of myself. I don’t think it’s coincidence that she shares the same name as the most well known Western icon of the Great Mother. She also shares another connection with Mother Mary – her birthday is the same as the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the recognition of the purity of the mother of the Christ Child at her own conception. I don’t know what to make of that but this dream seems to keep unfolding.
I had this dream 12½ years ago. It impacted me strongly at the time and left a permanent memory trace because of its transformational nature. I was prompted to write about it by a blog post I saw with a similar theme of awakening consciousness and healing. The post, Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing, is the story of Toko-pa Turner’s dream visit by her Holocaust survivor grandfather, in which he apologised to her for passing on the effects of the trauma that he was only able to cope with by keeping it to himself. My dream visitor was my maternal grandmother and though the circumstances differ, the theme of unprocessed grief resonating down through the generations and the longing for completion – which appears to be as desirous from the other side as this one – is similar.
I am in my dining room and Grandma Sweet is sitting at the table. She is young, attractive and very happy, so unlike how I remember her. I tell her I realised some time back that my hands are just like hers and put my left hand against her right to demonstrate. I say I have a photo of her that shows it very clearly and go off to look for it.
I rummage around in the pile of family photos but can’t find it and wonder if I’ve thrown it away. When I find it I realise it is her wedding photo – a fact I had forgotten. Her husband is sitting on a chair and she is standing with her left hand resting on his shoulder. It clearly shows the distinctive line of the thumb and the long fingers.
I think to myself that Grandma might like to see what has been happening in the family since she died, so I put her photo aside and start sorting through the rest to make a selection. In the process, I misplace her photo and have trouble finding it again. When I do, I look at it and realise ‘Oh, Grandma doesn’t need to see these, she knows everything that’s gone on.’ It was quite a revelation.
As I emerged from the dream, I was overcome by a sense of deep compassion and love for her that took me completely by surprise. Our family had lived with Grandma until I was 11 and I remembered her as a bitter and miserable old woman, frequently bedridden, always complaining and smelling of citronella. According to her she had a bad heart but according to Mum the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I never liked her as a child and was further influenced by her antagonism towards my mother and the stories Mum told of her oppressive childhood. When I awoke, my perception of her was instantly and permanently transformed.
I had the dream just a few days before my divorce was to be finalised, so that made some sense of losing the wedding photo but I had no clue as to why it would be Grandma as she had never remarried after her husband died, as I had. At this point she had been dead 42 years and was part of my distant past. Why was she showing up now? I also wondered about the significance of the hands – why had they been made such a big deal of?
I posted the dream to the forum I was on at the time hoping for some clarity from other viewpoints. One of the suggestions was that I might be ‘handling’ life like Grandma and that had a certain resonance because at that stage in my life I was feeling very fragile and barely holding myself together. The unexpected ending of my second marriage had derailed me just as life was beginning to settle down after all the upheaval of my first husband’s death. The fact that Grandma was so happy and youthful in the dream gave me hope that the future would be brighter and I concluded that the message of the dream was just that – you will be happy again.
Because the framework within which the forum operated considered that everyone and everything in a dream represents something about the dreamer, I missed entirely the fact that this was a spirit visit from Grandma. As such it had a healing power that went way beyond the scope of psychological insight because it came from the deeper part of the psyche that Jung called the collective unconscious – a sphere of reality beyond that of the personal unconscious. In addition to reflecting my personal attitudes and beliefs, Grandma’s appearance in my dream was showing me a greater perspective – a viewpoint from beyond the physical time-space world. Although I lacked the knowledge and understanding of the Jungian approach to dreamwork at the time, the numinous quality of the dream ensured that it would continue to gestate in the depths until its wisdom and meaning came to fruition.
As a result of the dream I decided to research the family history and was shocked to learn that Grandma’s husband had died of cerebral syphilis. The story we had grown up with was that he had sustained a head injury in a fall from a cart and never recovered. Grandma was only 37 and was left with 5 children, the oldest being 13 and the youngest only 18mths old. I also learned that she had lost 4 children in infancy, including one who had been born more than a year after her husband’s death, with no father’s name cited. Poor Grandma! I could only imagine what shame and grief she had to bear, on top of trying to survive with no means of support. By the time I came on the scene in 1950 she was 60 years old and no doubt had been well and truly worn down by life.
I framed the photo that had been in my dream and kept it on my bedroom dresser where it served to remind me of the strength and resilience I had inherited through the motherline. Grandma Sweet may have lost her sweetness through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but her survivor spirit was an inspiration to me. When I moved house several years later I packed the photo away. It was a fitting gesture to moving on, as it had been her death that had resulted in my mother moving with her daughters away from the mining town that had been our home with its stifling atmosphere, oppressive conditions and lack of opportunities for women.
It was only recently that I got a new perspective on the significance of the hands in the dream. The Toko-Pa Turner blog post referenced at the beginning of this story appeared on the Depth Psychology Alliance Facebook page I follow and I posted a comment: I had a dream of my grandmother once. She said nothing but I was shown a photograph of her in which I recognised my hands were the same as hers. A lifetime of antagonism towards her melted away. I love what Amy Beth Katz said about our ancestors returning in our dreams. That is definitely my experience.
Amy responded with: You have healing hands, Gloria, don’t you?
My immediate reaction was ‘No way!!!’ but the intensity of my denial surprised me and so I began to wonder ‘why so adamant?’ I had worked as a massage therapist many years ago and had also done Reiki but neither were really my thing, so that didn’t fit. Then I thought about the fact that through all the dark times, starting with my late husband’s cancer diagnosis 20 years ago, writing was what kept me sane and helped me work everything through. I did dialogues with dream characters and other figures from the imaginal realm, cathartic rants that I ritually burnt, worked and re-worked a book (still a work in progress), wrote about my experiences with hypnotherapy, wrote up my dreams and explored them through writing, participated on the dream forum and journalled religiously. Writing has, without question been the most healing thing I’ve done with my hands but it was mostly self-healing.
Then I thought about this blog – from the very start my intention in writing about my dreams has had healing as the focus, as that has been a constant thread in the dreams. I initially decided to blog my stories because I’ve always loved reading other people’s stories and been helped a great deal by them but I have been stalemated for over a year because of that insidious voice of self-doubt: It’s too hard. It’s too personal. You’re not a writer. What’s the point? Who cares? Who wants to read it anyway? People will think you’re nuts (well, I thought I was myself at one point so that would be no surprise). Why don’t you just go and enjoy yourself? And the most crippling of all – uttered with a sneer of course – ‘Just who do you think you are?’
As I pondered this, I remembered a story my sisters and I had grown up with. Mum had won a writing competition at school and received a prize. When she proudly showed it to her mother – Grandma Sweet – Grandma became very angry and told her not to waste her time on nonsense like that. And so she didn’t, instead following in the path of domesticity that was laid out for her as a woman of that time and place and social status. She ended up like her mother, a ‘deserted wife’ with 5 young kids to raise. My impression of Grandma was that she was a mother and homemaker by nature and that her great misfortune was in the tragedy of her husband’s early death. Not so my mother; having to conform to the domestic life was a disaster for someone with her free spirit and resulted in a lifetime of nervous breakdowns with the inevitable trauma to her daughters as we were split up and bounced around among relatives and neighbours.
When I think about this dream now I picture the gesture of putting my hand against Grandma’s as a ‘high five.’ It wasn’t really like that in the dream and yet the image is very compelling. I do feel her dream visit was a blessing. I am sure she would approve of what I’m doing and I know my mother absolutely would. My mother and grandmother couldn’t tell their stories and suffered accordingly but I can and am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so and intend to make the most of it.
Healing is a wonderful Australian film based on a real life program in which prisoners in a minimum-security facility assist in the rehabilitation of injured raptors. The film is set at the time of the inception of the program, which coincides with the arrival of the main character, Viktor Khadem, at the prison farm. He is recruited for the construction of the facilities to house the birds and is thus involved in the program from the ground up, metaphorically creating a template for the fresh start he is preparing for in his own life. The theme of the injured birds being rehabilitated for release back into their natural environment is reflected in the lives of the inmates preparing for integration back into regular society. The contrast and similarities between those involved in the program and the injured birds is explored with sensitivity and empathy.
The avian star of the movie is a magnificent Wedge-tailed Eagle named Yasmine and the close up opening scenes of her soaring through the air are breathtaking. Most of us only get to see these giants of the skies up close in captivity, or on road trips. The sight of Wedgies feeding on road kill is familiar to anyone who has spent time traversing the endless stretches of roadways that criss-cross this vast continent. The elegance they exhibit when fully airborne is in stark contrast to their clumsiness as they beat a hasty retreat from their meal and lift their massive bulk into the air when a vehicle approaches at high speed.
Part of the appeal of the film for me was that it resurrected the memory of a powerful healing dream I’d had 6 years after my husband’s death and after seeing the movie I felt inspired to share it.
This is the dream:
I’m walking alongside a road when I see some feathers on the ground. I look at them, wondering if they are from an eagle. I spot one that I know is an eagle’s feather. I show it to a man who appears nearby and as I do, it transforms into a giant feather that reaches right across the road and touches a pine tree on the opposite side.
At that moment a car comes along and I lift the feather like a boom gate to allow it to go by. Inside the car are three young men, all laughing as if enjoying a joke together. They look familiar but the car whizzes by too quickly for me to identify them. Just as they pass, the end of the feather breaks where I am holding it and I see that inside the shaft is a spiral structure, which I assume gives strength to the shaft.
I am awestruck trying to imagine the size of the bird that this feather must have come from. In my mind’s eye I see it flying over, slowly and silently observing all below.
I was quite perplexed by this dream as I couldn’t identify any of the characters and yet I felt I knew them. The man who materialized at the roadside with me I recognized as the same one who had been on the bus with me in my original vision and who showed up in just this same way in many dreams. Over time I came to regard him as a kind of companion/guide. He didn’t speak but it was as though the act of showing him the feather caused it to grow. I felt that it was a significant dream but didn’t know where to start, so posted it to the dream forum I was on at the time with the comment that I thought feathers might indicate a message from the spirit realm but didn’t know what the message was.
Later, I resumed the book I had been reading the night before I had the dream, Hello From Heaven, which was about after death communications – ADCs. There were some stories of unusual encounters with birds that bereaved persons felt were messengers from their deceased loved ones and as I was reading, my mind drifted onto the dream. Soon I was absorbed in a treasured memory of an encounter with a trio of Wedge-tailed Eagles, presumably a pair of adults and a juvenile, that my late husband and I had been privileged to share. The 16 acre property we lived on had panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and I had just come from the house when I spotted them spiralling slowly upwards out of a valley, one above the other, on a thermal. I called Roger over and we stood together watching them.
Initially we could see them clearly with our naked eyes but as they rose higher and higher they became harder to see, so I went to get the binoculars. We stood together silently, passing the binoculars back and forth and as we watched, the first one left the thermal and glided off in a straight line. It then began circling widely until the second one joined it and finally, when the third one reached them, they headed due east at a constant altitude. By this time they were barely visible even with the binoculars and we soon lost sight of them. With the spell broken, we went back to what we had been doing.
As that memory faded, another incident came to mind that occurred on this same property. We had a large shed we wanted to use to collect rainwater from but the three huge pine trees adjacent to it were constantly dropping pine needles into the gutters. They also posed a fire hazard to the shed and so on that basis and taking into account that they weren’t native to the area, we reluctantly decided to cut them down.
There is a bit of skill involved in tree felling but we had removed a few smaller pines by this time, so didn’t anticipate any problems. The first two fell without incident but the third one refused to topple. Eventually Roger decided to get the tractor out and pull it over using a very long rope and while he was organizing it, I went and got my camera. This was a pre-digital SLR with a mechanical lever to advance the film and as the tractor started to inch forward, I put my eye to the viewfinder to take a shot of the scene while the tree was still standing. It started to lean ever so slowly but took so long to fall that I was able to wind the film on and get another shot with it mid way before it finally crashed to the ground.
I took more shots of the whole scene. There was now light and space where previously there had been a great wall of dark green and the three majestic trees lay in a row amidst shattered branches and hundreds of scattered pinecones. By this time the noise from the chain saw and tractor and the sound of crashing trees had faded into silence and as I lowered the camera and surveyed the scene, tears began to roll down my face. Roger came over and said, “Did that make you feel sad?” I nodded my head and he said, “It did me too.”
Now a whole cascade of memories began crowding my mind, triggering an upwelling of grief but just as it threatened to overwhelm me, I heard a voice inside my head say, “Don’t pine for me!” I knew instantly that this was the message of the dream and it was coming from Roger. In a flash I also knew who the figures in the car were: Roger was in the driver’s seat and with him in the front was my sister’s husband, Kim, who had died two years before him. Kim and Roger had worked together in their teens and Kim had introduced Roger and I. In the back of the dream car was my cousin, Ray, who had died the year before Kim. Three young men, all in their forties, dead within three years of each other but if the dream was anything to go by they were having a ball and right in that moment I envied them. It had been a very difficult 6 years since Roger’s passing and at the time I had the dream I was at my lowest point. I felt more like the felled trees than the soaring eagles.
I was a bit mystified by the message at first because although I knew I wasn’t fully over my grief, I wouldn’t have described it as pining. Then I remembered a quite dramatic incident from the night before I had the dream. In the book Hello From Heaven that I had been reading, there was a story of a young man who had been killed in a helicopter crash appearing to his mother, telling her he was happy and imploring her to let go of him. As I read the story, I began to wonder if there had been any resolution to the visitation I’d had from Roger 4 years earlier in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. I began mentally talking to him, asking if everything was O.K. now and if not to let me know if I could do anything to help.
As if on cue, there was a loud bang from the adjacent room. The cat that had been asleep on the bed in the room came flying out with her fur standing on end and I leaped up from my chair sending the cat on my lap flying for cover. I went into the room to investigate but couldn’t see anything amiss. It had sounded similar to a bird hitting the windowpane but besides being unlikely because it was nighttime, the shutters were down, so it didn’t make sense.
Needless to say I felt more than a little disturbed by this. Was Roger saying he is not at peace? The subject of his prior visitation had been dropped from any conversation with my mother in law soon after it happened and she had since moved interstate. I no longer had much contact with her and besides, spirit visits were a subject I was somewhat wary about myself at the time, so didn’t feel inclined to broach the subject with her again. I did the only thing I could think of and said a prayer for her to find peace and closure. That night I had the dream.
As I reviewed the whole unfolding saga from the pre-dream incident and the dream itself, to the memories it evoked and the message I received, it became clear that ‘don’t pine for me’ was more like ‘stop worrying about me.’ The visitation I’d had previously from Roger was unmistakably real and had convinced me once and for all of the survival of consciousness but because it was a plea for help with no satisfactory resolution rather than a message of reassurance, it had raised more questions than it answered. My search for understanding is what had led me to reading Hello From Heaven .
Although the dream helped me let go of the concern and sense of responsibility I had been feeling on Roger’s behalf, I was still left wondering about how unfinished business for those who have passed on is dealt with. This had never been a concern when I believed that death was the end of the story. Eventually, I would make an in-depth study of a wide range of beliefs and viewpoints concerning what is generally referred to as the afterlife but in the meantime, I decided my main priority was to sort myself out. Regardless of what I learned about what happened after death, I didn’t want to be dealing with unfinished business on my deathbed or taking it with me if I was going somewhere else, nor did I want to leave any mess behind for anyone else to deal with if I could help it. I had an intuitive sense that it was best to deal with the problems I had while I was alive and I still hold that viewpoint.
One aspect of the dream I could never come to any definite conclusion about is whether or not I was seeing the spirits of the three males who’d died or whether they were regular dream figures. Was it a case of my dreaming mind giving me an image that would put my mind at rest? A psychoanalytic approach would certainly see it that way but it didn’t feel right to me at the time and still doesn’t and in the final analysis that is what counts. Dream interpretation is an art, not an exact science. One thing I can say is that the dream didn’t lend itself to the usual kind of psychological analysis of the characters. Even after I realized who the occupants of the car were, I couldn’t make that approach fit. I’ve had countless dreams of Roger over time but this one stands out in my mind as having a very different feel to it.
The presence of my ‘guide’ was an important clue that this was no ordinary dream but there were also the feathers, the pine tree and the spiral inside the feather. Feathers and birds are universal symbols of the connection between heaven and earth, as are trees with their roots in the ground and crowns in the air. Conifers have a special significance because they are evergreen and so are symbols of eternal life. The spiral, which was in the dream itself and repeated in the associated memories of the spiraling eagles and the patterning of the pine cones, is a universal pattern and also symbolic of the link between heaven and earth, as it is ubiquitous throughout nature and the cosmos.
As for what made the loud noise, I never did find out but it certainly got my attention and having had more of this type of incident than I can possibly count by now, I know better than to put it down to ‘just a coincidence.’
All your past except its beauty is gone and nothing remains but a blessing. A Course in Miracles
“The world is not left by death but by Truth” is a quote in A Course in Miracles that I came across in 1999, in the wake of a fairly dramatic visit from my deceased husband in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. The visit and its aftermath convinced me of two things: that his consciousness had survived and so had the attachment bond to his mother. Both of these scenarios had caused some consternation when they collided with my previously held worldview that life ended with the death of the body but it was a troubling incident at the time of his diagnosis that caused the ‘Truth’ quote to resonate most strongly within me.
Back in 1996 when Roger first told me he had terminal cancer, I asked him how he felt about it and without hesitation he replied, “It will solve a lot of problems.” His statement reflected the attitude I had long held for myself that death was a way out when life got too hard but it was a shock to hear him voice the same attitude. I had always regarded him as the strong one and capable of surmounting any difficulties, however he had recently begun to see a psychologist, so obviously all was not well.
He’d had a couple of major depressive episodes over the years we had been together and had appeared to pull through them but like a lot of men, he was reluctant to talk about emotional problems and I was not privy to what was really troubling him. From the scraps of information he shared and the gradual unfolding of events, it transpired that it was his estrangement from his mother three years earlier that was causing him the most grief, at least on the surface.
The final falling out had had a long incubation period, as these things do, stretching way back into childhood and involving a complex web of family relationships that are almost impossible to tease apart in any way that is ultimately satisfactory. In the final analysis love and forgiveness are the only way through the pain but we don’t give up our defences without a fight when we perceive them as protecting us. With his cancer diagnosis he stopped seeing the psychologist but he did reconnect with his mother. Though there wasn’t much change in the situation overall, at least they were able to spend some quality time together and I was very grateful to have her help to share the care that he needed.
One day I was lamenting the situation with a friend and he offered the opinion that some folks just know they’re not going to make it in this lifetime, so they check out. He then shared his views on reincarnation and his belief that our relationships are neither accidental nor confined to a single physical lifetime. After listening politely I replied that I didn’t believe in that sort of thing and that as far as I was concerned, we are all accidents of chemistry; we are born, we live, we die, end of story. He didn’t push it any further but what he said had struck a chord with me because of my own ever-present ambivalence about life.
At some level what he said made sense and it planted the seed of the idea that our complex relationships are embedded in some sort of continuum of existence. I eventually did my own deep investigation into the concept of reincarnation because of unusual experiences of my own and though I don’t think the birth-death cycle can be viewed as a linear process as the conventional model of reincarnation portrays it, I have no doubt that the non-physical realm interpenetrates the physical plane in ways that can’t be comprehended with our rational minds.
There is a poem by Goethe, The Holy Longing and it’s poignant final lines come as close as anything to explaining to me the reason Roger ‘checked out’ so seemingly prematurely and my own attachment to an escape clause:
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
It is only in following the path that was opened up to me through Roger’s illness and death and the many life changes that followed it, that I have come to understand the meaning of those words for myself. Life is not just about survival and achieving our ego goals but has real purpose and meaning. What has to die are all the false beliefs about who we are, who others are and why we are here; the conditioning we take on in order to be accepted within our family, society, and culture and to make our way in the world. It’s not easy deconstructing patterns and programs when they have become solidified into an identity through repetition. The catalyst for change is usually suffering and it often becomes so intense as to be physically and/or psychologically overwhelming.
When Roger died my world was completely turned upside down. I was only 18 when we met, we had worked together from early on in our marriage, had no children to distract us from each other and did pretty much everything together. In many ways, his family was a better fit for me than my own and so my identity became lost in his. His, in turn, had been lost in his parents’ and I believe it was this struggle to individuate, as Jung called the process, that became too much for him. His death from cancer at 48 was a shock that took years for me to assimilate and it has only been through confronting the identity crisis that it precipitated in me that has enabled me to see his struggles in a different light. This identity crisis is ultimately a spiritual crisis and though Roger was not able to embrace the option of a spiritual path for himself while he was alive, I have no doubt that he was guiding my life in that direction from the other side when he passed over. My dream life opened up almost the instant he died and apart from the healing it facilitated, I received a lot of what I can only call spiritual direction through the dreams.
One particularly powerful bit of guidance came in the form of a type of dream I eventually learned was called a disembodied voice dream, where you wake up hearing a voice speaking but with no memory of a dream. It came at a time when I was trying to find some direction in my life; I had begun a counselling course as a possible future vocation and was also participating in various women’s groups. Somewhere along the line I picked up the practice of doing affirmations and one day I decided to use a forty minute bus ride to do repetitions of the affirmations I had been learning. They were mostly of the self-esteem and confidence boosting kind and I just kept repeating them over and over, concentrating intently so as not to let my mind wander. During the night I awakened from sleep hearing a voice say:
It’s not about self-esteem, the real questions are “where have you come from, what are you doing here and where are you going?”
My well-considered and highly intelligent response was “Huh?”
Next day I happened to see a friend who I knew was involved with Eastern spirituality, so I asked him if he knew what it meant and he said “You come from God and you’re going back to God.” I don’t recall what he said regarding the middle part but the idea about God was not welcome news. At that time the word had connotations of a fickle authoritarian figure who demanded allegiance in the form of suffering and blood sacrifices. Since then my God-image has undergone a considerable transformation and I am happy now to substitute attributes like love, joy and peace for the word God.
I have contemplated these dream questions much in the fifteen years since they came to me and have struggled to make sense of the countless experiences that convinced me that life is indeed continuous. I have come to the conclusion that what I am doing here is learning how to live fully into those God-like qualities that feel so elusive in the everyday struggles of a mortal life. It’s not so much about doing as being and especially being as fully in the here and now as possible and in one sense that makes the question of origination and destination superfluous.
When A Course in Miracles says the world is not left by death but by truth, it is referring to the world we believe is real – the physical world of bodies and dense matter and time and space that we inevitably identify with as we journey through this human life. It is not left by death because what we call death is not the end of life but just the point in time when the soul leaves the body. This is the truth that sets us free. Life is not circumscribed by the events we call birth and death and our little lives here are an integral part of the whole of existence. Coming to a realisation of that for myself has made all the difference in how I view life with all its dramas and has enabled me to accept my own problems and use them for growth and healing rather than constantly trying to escape from them.
Without the spiritual life that was awakened in me through my husband’s death I would not be here today. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate the gifts and blessings that flowed to me from that event because I’ve had to do a lot of healing of my own and went through a very long dark period where I felt like a bottomless well of grief and could see little point in being here. It is only in retrospect that I can see that I have been guided all along.
In 2006 I participated in an Adult Enquirers group attached to the church that I eventually became baptised in and we were invited to write a reflection to end each evening. As I was wondering what on earth I could write, not being given to that sort of thing, a poem began to form that almost wrote itself. I just had to tweak it a bit here and there to make it flow. Many people at the group said they could identify with it and as it pretty well sums up everything I’ve said here, I thought it would be worth sharing. I called it Surrender and it is essentially the story of a soul lost and found. At the time I wrote it, the idea of surrender was pretty scary and it still is in a way but I’m learning to trust that there is a greater wisdom than my little ego that’s really been in charge all along anyway.
I knew You once in all Your glory
When I was unafraid
And had no guilt to block Your light
No tears, remorse or shame
I basked in You, I had no story
To shield me from Your Love
And Your forgiveness and delight
Shone unimpeded from above
Bit by bit, my soul withdrew
I know not how, or why
I slowly turned my back on You
And thought ‘twas You who’d died
For many years my heart stayed closed
But You did not give up
When grief cracked open my resolve
The darkness glimpsed Your love
Once again, I turned to run
But now I could not hide
Your love, Your light were far too bright
At last, my will succumbed