“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”–The Tempest
In waking from my dreams, I try to think of what our Jungian instructor has told our class about ways to remember them and then to try to make sense of what we have gone through the previous eight hours or so. When I turn off the lights, I find myself anxiously looking forward to the host of characters, known and unknown, current and past, who will come a visiting and who will invariably entertain, hopefully illuminate, possibly frighten, but most of all baffle me.
My wife Jody is better at keeping her diary of what the voices and images have told and shown her. She’s also good at lying still for a short while after waking so as not to chase away her memories. I have much to learn.
In class we talk about the dream world and notions of how our unconscious steps forth when our eyes are closed to tell us something. What that something is, of course, is the great mysterious rub. How and why do our mothers and fathers, past lovers, teachers, friends some gone and some still arm in arm, enemies who have bested us or been put to flight, mentors who have nourished us, all conspire to put their hands upon our shoulders once again. They come uninvited to let us know they are still there ever ready and willing to come back to haunt, instruct, contradict, give our memory a fresh scent, to make us smile and hope for more, to frighten us into the breakneck speed of flight, to arm us for new battle, to let us relax into fond memories of a sweet embrace. They also make me wonder why some come clothed as specters ready to do me harm, while others are draped in carefree love and abandon.
As most of us try our best to understand our waking hours and the events, people and critters of the day who bring us joy or make us shudder, we also grapple with the meaning of our dreams which can be ephemeral, ethereal and sometimes without apparent meaning. Whereas we think we can deal with and understand what we see and what can pull us from our chair in our conscious hours and slam us into the great din of noise that swirls about us, our dreams are another matter. The meanings and lessons to be gathered from our dreams take us on a new kind of quest.
In this conscious world, we believe what we see, feel, taste, and smell, even though we know we can be fooled by appearances. When I slow down and take the time to just sit and think, my conscious world can assume such rich meaning. The aromas coming from Jody’s kitchen are unmistakable. I feel at times like one of Pavlov’s dogs when dinner is in the making. When I glance over to the windows in the sun room, the colors of the Indigo Bunting and the Grossbeak that are now at our feeders are compliments to the bright yellow we see in the many Goldfinches that have molted into excitement and jolts of light now that the winter seems to have withdrawn. We both smile as we simply watch as though such colors are entirely new and we are dazzled.
In our sleep world, though, I seldom smell the lilacs or see the new green that is slowly replacing the browns of our yard. My odorless unconscious plays out in black and white and I’m unaware of the barking of beloved dogs from my boyhood who come back from wherever they go to sit at my side for their long deserved scratch behind the ear. I don’t see sunsets, but I do feel the wind at times, although it’s neither cold nor drying. The rain sometimes falls, but I don’t seem to get wet. It seems to be just an excuse to nip into a doorway to the unknown where I might chance upon a banquet of old friends of a bygone time. They all are mute, though, despite what I think is a rowdy scene with much laughter. Fortunately, I rarely open a door that leads to a menacing dark cellar. When I venture forth, I do find myself on occasion on a desolate battlefield where some conflict has been fought but is now left to sort out. I see forms but they are abstract and hardly human.
I do hear music, though, which seems a contradiction, but I think has a meaning. I continue to explore this exception.
Like most of us, I have unanswered questions that repeat themselves in my dreams to those who left before I was old enough to know the right questions to ask. I also have regrets that I feel the need to redress. Penance for old crimes and misdemeanors come in various dress and parade before me as if on a fashion model’s catwalk. One great sin takes me back to childhood when I was frustrated with a homework question and I asked my mother to stop singing in the background as she ironed since it was “disturbing” me. How much I would give to change that musical scene where I could once again hear my mother’s voice.
Disturbing dreams thankfully are not all that common. In earlier times of my life I did have recurring nightmares of one sort or another. But as I have grown older I seem to have learned to make my peace with traumatic changes, although such acceptance has been difficult and stretched over time. When my late wife, now gone so many years, appears, she’s always in the light of health and joy and never lying in the hospital bed in her own silent world. My dad died on a respirator as I sat with him overnight before he officially was declared dead. But when he pops up in a dream, he’s always singing or holding forth in the way I remembered him.
In slipping from the details of particular dreams to bigger dreams with ambiguous symbols, I’m fascinated with what shape and theme my dreams take on. My symbolic dream combines wood in some manner along with the equally convoluted nature of music. As a long-time woodworker and relatively new wannabe musician, I see complexity and unresolved patterns in both. In these arenas, my dreams take me to my shop as well as to the recital hall where I face similar challenges that can be as rewarding as they can be disappointing. The dreams sometimes come out as anxieties in the shape of wood that refuses to assume a form I want to impose on it. The same happens when I am unable to make the sounds that I think should come out of the bell of my alto saxophone. I don’t dream of being naked on the music stage or being conked on the head by a flying wooden projectile, but I do see in my unconscious how my worries surface into my efforts to make something out of an inchoate mass of fiber or musical notes.
So it’s not the openness of what the ocean dream signifies, or the claustrophobia of a stalled elevator, or the race through the airport that visit me at night. Since I’m much more of a mountain man than a beach bum, I find the symbolism of the forest more meaningful than the pounding of the waves. I also see a richness to the grain of the wood that is not evident to me in the grains of sand on the beach. And just as my audible musical dreams turn me in various directions and at times without clear interpretation, my turning, sawing, and joining of wood is a metaphor for how I view much of my life. As we are all evolving and growing individuals, these dual symbols of music and wood capture what I consider part of my individuality as well as my part in the greater seen and unseen nature of my existence.