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Dream 1-5-15

January 5, 2016

My father and I are out walking through the countryside. My dog is with us, enjoying running around, its nose to the ground, checking things out. As we approach a field, suddenly I see that there is a cheetah lying in the high weeds just off the road, watching my dog, clearly with the intention of eating it. To try to scare away the cheetah, or at least distract it, I shout and wave my rake [which suddenly makes an appearance] high above my head, with the idea of making myself look very big and threatening. I tell my father to do the same, but he fades from the dream at that point.

So now I’m standing between the cheetah and my dog, who is running around, a hundred feet or so behind me, blissfully oblivious to any danger. I succeed in engaging the cheetah’s attention to myself, as I can tell from its intensely interested, hyper aware, stare at me. It prepares to charge. I prepare myself to counter its attack, by imagining how I might be able to ward it off with my rake (e.g. should I surprise it by charging it as it charges me? might I land enough blows to its head that it will give up and leave? but what about its ability to tear flesh not only with its teeth but with any one of its four paws?). If my dog sees what is happening and comes to attack the cheetah, it won’t stand a chance. It becomes increasingly clear to me that if the cheetah attacks, which seems imminent, I won’t stand a chance either.

*     *     *     *     *     *

But this was not a nightmare. My emotions were urgently engaged by the need to struggle mightily to defend my dog, and then myself; but my conclusion regarding my chances and impending death felt matter-of-fact, simply the way of things in nature. As I was waking up, I stood ready to die, and then my imagination was of leaning on my rake, receiving the blow with equanimity—although my waking tendency is to imagine myself resisting whatever comes.

So here I was, imagining myself while I lay sleeping in my bed; and while I lay sleeping I was being imagined (and now while I am typing, imagining and being imagined—all part of the one big image).

Some Interpretive thoughts:

I.  Why include an interpretation of this dream in my narration of this novel?

As narrator, I share the author’s interest in the healthy or sick imagination, as they relate to psychopathologies of our democracy.

I think this dream is especially useful as an example of what an image is, and how an image expresses meaning, in contrast to literalist thinking (for example in fundamentalism), and thereby for its connection to our analysis of our democracy. In addition, it connects with some autobiographical content that helps characterize my character as narrator.

Interpretation of a dream or a life, or Life, should not be literal, should not be fixed, like the letter of the law, that killeth. It should be a loving act. Fundamentally (so to speak) one should live with the dream, allowing it to wear its veil, to keep its mystery that is its life. Even women who wear a cloth that is meant to render them invisible, like deer on a moonless night, to the eyes of God and man, move to transform that cloth into a form of their feminine beauty, a revelation of their personhood, a shadowy figure of the beauty in their hearts, an image of being. (That’s my interpretation of that image, knowing that I could be mistaken, but moving to de-literalize.)

If I read my dream literally, it’s just some goofy thing that my brain has done during my off hours. If the things of the dream are only details, they don’t even carry the import that waking facts can carry, such as if I actually confronted a cheetah, or even read about what I should do if I ever confronted a cheetah.

But in my dream, my night chef, or night artist (we all have one, even the literalist), has taken a selection of ingredients from my waking experience, and made me a nice dish. It has begun by de-literalizing (Hillman’s term)—it has conducted an analysis, an ana-lysus, a breaking down, like the chef or the cheetah or the imagination, and then concocted a new syn-thesis, cooking together the things as images into a dream-scene as image, which it has presented to me for my re-imagining as soul food.

In doing so, it has set the table with an example, a vignette or episode, of how best to dine, to live. How best to interpret, to make meaning.

Big Dreams such as this—dreams that arrest our attention, feel profound, stay with us—are like highpoints on a pilgrimage, or even stations of the cross (that’s an image, not to be taken literally)—we are re-visioned and re-visited by them; we re-visit with them, sit with them, keeping each other company.

By an affectionate reasoning that is circular, circling, we arrive at the needed consciousness, ultimately an imagination of the dreamer as an image of Life, informing the dreamer but bigger than the dreamer.

A healthy democracy—a healthy people with a healthy democratic imagination—lives that way. As in the dream of an Independence that bonds us with humanity.

Actually, I dreamed this dream in the early morning of last November 23, but I found it so meaningful that instead of posting it immediately I’ve been quietly thinking about it, off and on. I’ve been “working it” a lot—even on some mornings while waking up.

The energy center seemed to be my head, chest, and arms, with the emotional urgency—intensifying attentiveness, and gathering it all in—centered in my heart.

II.  Contextual personal history:

The landscape was that of the gently rural northeast quadrant of Indiana where I lived most of my life.

I’ve mentioned before that I consider “the dog” to be one of my totemic animals, because of the frequency in which dogs have appeared significantly—and without conscious forethought—in my life, dreams, and writing (poetry and this novel).

My first love (after my mother) and first BFF, a constant companion of my boyhood from age 8-11, was my dog. Like Dickinson, “I started early—took my dog— / and visited the sea,” except that my sea was woods and fields. That pet died when I called it, to have it safely at my side, out of a field and right into the path of a speeding car on a country road. And I had other dogs, in my adulthood, who were among the extraordinary persons of my life, some of the most noble and honorable as well as affectionate.

But I’m not a boy in this dream, I’m a young man, at an age when I had a wife and children and was beginning my profession.

I’ve also lived with very fine cats, among whom the one that I remember most meaningfully is Hermes, who was very alert, affectionate, graceful, intuitive and insightful.

So it was nice, too, for that cheetah to come for me. One of my main boyhood activities, including when I was accompanied by my dog in the woods on the path along the creek, was running lickety-split; and my ability to run was an early feature of my social sense of my identity. I was not an endurance runner, but for years I was faster in the dash than anyone I encountered, on the playground and then at track meets. Several times, even in my mid-adulthood, oddly I found myself challenged to a dash, e.g. “to that tree,” and my challenger found that my running was of a different kind (and probably too serious).

Cheetahs are like that, so they attracted my attention long ago. It’s part of their able beauty. And then, at some point I learned that in Sanskrit, rooted way back in my language and culture, the name of that cat means “body.” Well, actually I guess it doesn’t, but by the time I learned that actually it means more like “uniquely marked”—although it looks to me to by similar to “dead body”—psychologically that didn’t matter; and furthermore, it is related to “leopard,” which I had become very interested in, in connection with Dionysus.

The father figure is a bit confusing to me, but so was my father. A dominating male, typically he was both a presence and an absence. Being professional military, he was a figure of dedication, courage, discipline, authority. Of course in order for me to wave my rake, he had to fade. But more important, in order for me to come to a meeting of minds with the cheetah I had to be standing alone. Just my heart; my executive ego accompanied me to the creative moment, and then surrendered its no-longer-useful dominance.

I am, myself, a father—and no doubt a confusing one—of adults, so I have experienced from the fatherly point of view that moment when it is necessary to fade.

This rake is a “garden rake” (not a leaf rake), a rake like the one leaning against the house outside the back door at this very moment, with strong metal tines, like teeth or claws. I became very familiar with such rakes early, because we gardened and then I worked in landscaping, which included raking dirt around plantings, raking up weeds that had been chopped out, raking up wood chips when we took down a tree, and gathering together any such refuse on the ground.

Me, I’m the one with his arms in the air, waving and shouting while dreaming while sleeping. My amygdala has done its part, and now I must give it its do, process its info, and give it a better perspective. I’ve taken many years getting to the point on the path where I can lean on my rake in oneness with that beautiful cat.

III. Action: A young man and his father walk onto the stage from our right. (We can approach the dream as if watching a play or a film, or reading a novel or a poem. We can watch and read our democracy that way too.) A cheetah lies in the weeds on the stage to our left. A dog is running loose circles and loops in the near distance. Almost immediately the young man spots the cheetah. He quickly formulates a response and puts it into action, waving a rake, imagining the situation, and facing its reality. Then he leans on his rake, as he and the cat look into each other’s eyes. Mirroring.

Notably at that point the curtain falls, the play is complete; the dream is whole, without the cheetah having charged, without the death of the young man or his dog (still out there following its nose).

IV.  Some interpretation (with thanks to my friend, the painter and Sufi, TF, who gave me her take on the images).

So who are this hungry cheetah, this guy with a rake, his roving dog, and even his disappearing father? Oui, c’est moi! In four aspects.

In the center stand I. I’m the dreamer and the central figure in the dream, a defensive but doomed and then accepting ego, intermediate between my body, with its swift intelligence, and my instinctive self, with my rake that makes its appearance at just the right time of need, when (it seems) I must do something.

I’m thinking that my father is the masterfulness of the ego, the executive function that must fade in order for me to experience the needed consciousness. I’m have to have the courage to let go.

Dog might be my instinctive/intuitive spirit of inquiry and knowing—blissfully on the trail, the track—an extended neck on four legs and paws, and at the forward tip, the avant-garde, a nose, moving just above the ground, where the scent is pooled, attending to the scent, hoping to find the animal that was. Relatively unconscious, doing its thing, it fails to see the very present cat.

As a cheetah runs a line, chasing its prey, to me it embodies the vivid energies of both life and death. At the end of the race is a kill (unless there is a sudden swerve and an animal escapes). The swift intelligence of the body includes the knowledge that at any moment one might come across an agent of death, and when one does, good luck with outrunning it. When I was a kid it was too early to gather that knowledge; but now I have seen it happen to dear ones, and I’m at a point in life where it wouldn’t be surprising (as in fact it wasn’t more than a mild surprise in the dream) if I came upon my cheetah.

TF pointed out that the cheetah is an exotic image here, the only wild figure in the group; and the moment she said that I realized how important that is. On an earlier page I shared some thoughts about my imagination of myself during early and mid manhood, haunted and dominated by the archetypal image pattern of the Wise Old Man—overly intellectualized, “wise’ beyond my age and old before my time, divorced from (or at least out of sync with) body and emotions, rigid, defensively fearful of making a mistake, fearful of death. Bly and Hillman helped me bring that into consciousness as I nourished my “wild man” imagination of spontaneity and sense of humor about life, imaged especially through Siva and Hermes (thus the name of my most wonderful cat, during my later middle age).

TF also brought my attention to two other aspects of my dream cat, related to that W. O. M. problem, which had stemmed largely from my father’s modeling of the responsibilities of male dominance: the power of the feminine, and (like the rake at the end) its groundedness in the wild weeds, its earthiness.

So for a moment it’s just me and the cheetah, like lovers with eyes locked as one, eyes of the imagination and eyes of the body, the wild body of the world, with its intelligence of death.

I’m much engaged with that cat; but I think the key to the dream image is that rake, coming into my hands exactly when I needed it, something to work with, a good rake like a good dream with teeth, a kind of consciousness, taking it all in, pulling myself together into a gathered perspective.

Beyond my voice and my arms, it reaches upward as my largest and highest extension. The other elements of the image are on the horizontal plane, especially my dog; but the rake reaches into the vertical, as high as I can take my self, as in standing meditation, or lying corpse-like in Savasana, awareness going up with imagination into the universe as an image of being, like an immense towering cloud of energy in the guise of matter.

Hmm.   A bit of inflation? If so, it was just a gesture of protective awareness, trying to make myself look big. A size to be tried and a limitation to be reached. And then back to the earth that supports us.

It’s the rake of the imagination gathering it all in (cat and dog and father and myself out in the countryside) and then lowered to lean on, in reflection and acceptance. I think that’s the pose, the image of myself, the image of life, that the cheetah came there to give me the opportunity to imagine.

And then to awake. . . .

So I have “come to myself” as of four aspects, like a square with its four sides, and four corners, and lines from each corner up and in to a mid-point.

But lastly, and I think most importantly, I want to share the thought that the more I live with a dream such as this one, in creative relationship with it, the more I realize that while it offers a wisdom about myself, it is not mainly about me; the dream is about the soul, the life of the soul, entering into an active, creative relationship with me, the dreamer, and thereby expressing itself, it’s pathology, its moving and being moved, its gathering its images (including this dreamer) as it imagines this changing being that it lives.

A healthy democracy moves and is moved like that.

[2-7-16 dream of a leopard]

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