…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.