is a hummingbird,
is a hummingbird,
Dreams speak to our non-rational self: our emotional, instinctual, conditioned unconscious, and experiential selves. They reach beyond our carefully construed ego self to bring new insight and understanding with the purpose of positive growth. While they speak with the language of metaphor and symbols, using a symbol dictionary limits the interpretation, and is, therefore, not recommended. The best way to look at dreams is to break down their elements and look for the associations that can best be bridged with our outer lives, remembering that it is the symbology, and not the literal translation that has relevance.
Let me demonstrate using my own dream from last night:
I am seated at a round table with my ex husband and his wives. The occasion, it seems, is the funeral of my present husband. The three of them have just returned from a cruise (their first) and were so taken with the experience that they have bought me a gift certificate from a travel company so that I can go with them the next time. I am taken aback: not only is this unexpected, it is highly inappropriate given all the circumstances. Jay’s sister-in-law (who we jokingly call his other wife) is quite animate and friendly, as is my ex. His wife does not look at me. I examine the gift certificate. Is is for just under $900, and from a travel agent who is on the verge of bankruptcy, so not guaranteed. I mention this and they say that is why we have to act now. I see my husband, bed-ridden in the next room and tell them he is not even dead yet. This is all so wrong. The women leave but my ex stays. He hands me some pieces of clothing that his wife wants me to have. They are used, but obviously washed – red satin pjs with hearts on them. The first two garments are size small. “I have never been a small” I tell him, handing them back. The last piece looks large enough, but is just the top, no bottoms. “Accept that, at least!” he commands. I do and as he leaves I wake up feeling the ludicrousness of this dream.
1. Setting – Where the dream takes place is a good starting point. When considering setting, notice whether it is familiar or unfamiliar. If unfamiliar, draw out any associations or memories that the images conjure.
My dream takes place indoors, at a round table
– the round table makes me think of Arthur and the knights of the round table. (I’ll come back to this symbol later.)
– I had table dreams regularly when going through my divorce, while I was negotiating a settlement, as in what both parties brought to the table. (Dreams often use puns to illustrate a point).
– indoors might indicate something inside myself.
– this is supposed to be the occasion of my current husband’s funeral, and the setting appears to be more ‘back at the house’ than the funeral parlour, so the indication is that it has to do with something in my own home, or inside myself.
– time of day seems to be late afternoon, early evening – if there were other mourners, they are gone. Age-wise, I am in the later years.
2. Actions – the movement in dreams can help us understand progress, or see where things are going.
The action takes place indoors, at a round table, with three other people, then moves to the sitting area with one and eventually alone.
Associations or thoughts – Three’s a crowd: the feeling of being ganged up on. (this draws an aha for me. I am feeling ganged up on by my friends and family who keep asking me why I haven’t had an MRI.) Then sitting face-to-face with my ex – facing the issue full on, and then alone – A reminder that in the end we are all alone – it is a place we need to be most comfortable in.
3. Themes – It sometimes helps to insert an ‘as if’ here:
It’s as if my ex-husband and his wives have offered to take me on a cruise – this would be totally inappropriate under any circumstances, for so many reasons, and reminds me of the time when we first separated, and he wasn’t paying support but offered to take me on a $350 balloon ride for my 40th birthday – it was so inappropriate as I needed the money for food and shelter at the time. Is there something here about how others are not always sensitive to what you need in the moment? This certainly ties in with the pressure I’m getting from others to get another opinion. It is their agenda, not mine.
It’s as if I am holding ceremony for my current husband and he is not actually dead yet.
Big aha here! I worry about my husband all the time: his eating habits, lack of exercise, and alcohol consumption. I am burying him, before he is even dead. Boy, I need to let this one go!
It’s as if I am reluctantly being handed a gift (the clothing from my ex-s wife): not sure about the connection here. Will have to give it more thought. Is someone offering me a back-handed gesture of help? Reminds me of a term my father used : watch out for Philadelphia lawyers- meaning be wary of people who have nothing invested in your issue.
4. People – Keep in mind that the people in dreams are also symbols, so consider the character traits and behaviours of the people represented. Gestalt therapy suggests that all elements of a dream are parts of the self.
Ex-husband – narcissitic, anti-social, self-serving – what part of me is this? Certainly my fearful self – when cornered or attacked, I will defend me at all costs. How am I negotiating with this part of myself?
Ex-husband’s sister-in-law: outgoing, Russian bride, in an abusive marriage – what part of me is this? The reason we call her the ‘other wife’ is that she spends more time in my ex’s house than her own given the circumstances of her marriage. She is the twin sister of my ex’s wife, the more outgoing of the two, but is making poor choices in her life. This reminds me of my own mother who could never leave my father despite the abuse that went on in their marriage. I am aware of the baggage I carry as a result of my parents’ marriage. Good to be reminded that I bring that to the table.
The Russian bride: bitchy, demanding, inflexible: Yes, my ex married a mail order bride (I always joke that he had to go all the way to Siberia to replace me). She is the anti-thesis of me – a fighter, who stands up for her rights, and won’t back down no matter what – this is me when backed into a corner. This was me the night before last when Thor and I had a fight about his health. I lashed out with a vengeance. Like the wife in the dream, I couldn’t look at myself after, I felt so ashamed.
Thor – in the dream he is sick and dying, or originally thought dead. Thor is driven, thoughtful, giving, a caretaker and provider. He is all the parts of myself that I like. Have I given up on them? I am not able to be caretaker or provider right now which causes no end of grief. But, like Thor in the dream, I am not dead – just sick in bed. The end is not here!
5. Symbols: Dreams, like symbols, have layers of meaning, some archetypal, some societal or cultural, but mostly they are personal. It is important to examine personal significance.
Table – for me, the table has historically represented negotiation, as in “What do you bring to the table?” This table is round, which reminds me of the Arthurian tales in which the table was round to signify equality – no head of the table. Round tables at school allow for more communal discussions.
Cruise – Thor and I love to cruise, but have been unable to because of our illnesses. Going on a cruise is what we hope to do as soon as I am able to travel. It offers comfort, luxury, and a variety of destinations, as well as lots of entertainment – all without having to move from hotel to hotel. The dream offer of a cruise holds no allure. It is my husband I want to travel with – in the dream and in life. (An aha moment).
Used pjs – in the dream they signify a peace offering, albeit not well thought out, almost as if last minute. Pajamas are associated with the bedroom, and intimacy. That the Russian bride would offer me pjs is curious. Things that are odd in dreams often hold important messages – I will come back to this.
6. Feelings – this is important. Our ego tends to filter emotional responses and regulates them so that we behave appropriately, however; the dream time allows for expression of anger, remorse, fear, etc. Understanding our underlying feelings can help us to make healthier decisions, and heal old wounds.
disbelief , incredulousness – where am I feeling this in my outer life? Not sure.
incensed – the feelings here are for my ex-husband, and while it has been many years since our divorce I suspect I am still harboring some resentment for the way the marriage ended and how he treated me in the aftermath. When I lashed out at Thor, it was undoubtedly with some of this leftover resentment.
7. Questions: what questions arise from the examination of the dream?
Why would I be entertaining my ex and his wives? Or more importantly – How am entertaining my ex and his wives (parts of self)? How have I enabled self-centered, explosive, foreign aspects of myself to persuade me? How have I allowed myself to even contemplate fulfilling my dreams without my husband ( I confess the thought of divorce did cross my mind – knee-jerk reaction).
Why pajamas? Which leads to another thing to consider:
8. What is odd? All dreams are odd, admittedly; but what is odd even for the dream?
The red pajamas.
An exercise to do here, would be to describe the object, as if to an alien, who has no concept of the item, its use, its origin, or social application.
These pajamas are used for night wear; women wear them to sleep in, or for lounging at night, usually when company is not present. These are red, satiny, so light weight and comfortable on the skin. They are fashioned after a man’s shirt, with matching pants, typically, although the only one that fits me is missing it’s partner. They have long sleeves, and button up at the front. They are modest.
After having exhausted the description possibilities, the next step is to take out the references to the object and replace it with “I am”.
So: I am used for night wear; for sleeping, or for lounging at night, not when company is present. I am red, and satiny, and light weight. I am comfortable. I am fashioned after a man…..etc.
Note: Work with a dream until you reach an ‘aha’ or breakthrough. Always work until you have a positive outcome: a resolution, a healing, a new insight that inspires positive movement.
6:30 am. Thor’s alarm goes off. Was I asleep? It is still dark outside and like every other morning, I have nowhere to go, so I roll over, but my mind has already engaged, or rather re-engaged, stuck on the same LP track (a function of this disease) that has been running through my mind all night. I get up, shuffle to the bathroom and while I relieve myself, take my mornings puffs of inhaled steroid to kick-start my lungs.
[Test #1: Can you find a reason to get out of bed when you’ve lost your ability to work, and no one needs or expects anything from you?
My answer: The will to live is stronger than even I might have suspected. Part of me wants to stay with the oblivion of sleep, and another part of me has things she wants to do – life to live – so, yes, I am motivated to wake up each morning and embrace a new day.]
In the kitchen, I turn on the kettle and prepare my over-sized mug for the first cup of tea of the day. Thor is already in work mode – checking his emails – coffee in hand. Tea made, I shuffle back to bed where I start up my own computer and turn on the morning news. I check for emails – mostly advertisements, some postings from blogs that I follow (which I’ll read later) – I am too out of the social loop to receive personal correspondence anymore.
[Test #2: Who are you when many of your relationships have gone by the wayside?
My answer: I am old enough to know that relationships come and go throughout life and while they help shape me, they do not define me. A side effect of losing so many connections is that I am left with a handful of friends whose staying power continually warms my heart.]
Next, I check my online Scrabble games to see if any of my random opponents have played their turn. My brain, more specifically working memory and executive functioning, are affected by this disease. Playing Scrabble is a recommended therapy. Several games await my turn, so I play them.
[Test #3: Loss of brain power: brain fog, confusion, memory loss, etc.
Reality: I lose patience with myself, especially when I make mistakes that affect others. A sense of humour helps, but I do find that this challenge makes me withdraw more than anything. Loss of mental capacity is very tiring. ]
7:30 am. Time to make breakfast. What to have? My go to is instant oatmeal, but on thinking back to what I ate last – sweet potato and a slice of chicken at supper – I think my stomach could handle a bit more. I decide on gluten-free bread toasted with two slices of precooked bacon. I take it back to bed with me and change to the CBC news, rechecking the status of my Scrabble games.
[Test #4: What happens when you no longer have the energy to make optimal life choices?
Reality: For four years I followed a careful vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free diet. Every weekend I shopped for and cooked special meals to enhance my well-being. Now I am unable to shop for food, and depend on Thor for much of the cooking, and as his name suggests he is a meat-atarian! Limited energy equates with limited choices. I have let this ball drop for the time being… to be continued.]
News today is all about the TTC strike, and since I don’t even live in Toronto, I decide that listening further is wasted energy. I shut it off and turn to Facebook, reading about the trips my once friends, now acquaintances, are either taking or planning, what they’re making for dinner, or who they are partying with. I switch back to Scrabble.
8:10 am. Thor is dressing for his first morning meeting then stretches across the bed to visit with me for a bit. We talk about his day. I can feel myself getting sleepy. As he gets up to leave, I will myself out of bed again, taking my dirty dishes to the kitchen, making mental note of the work that needs to be done there, then back to the bathroom where I relieve myself, brush my teeth, and think about washing my face, but now I am too tired. I go back to bed instead, choosing a Sonza playlist for sleeping and setting it next to my pillow.
10:36 am. I hear Thor come home, enter the bedroom and check on me, but I am still sleeping and not ready to get let it go. I glance at the time, and notice the faint calling of my bladder, but give in to heavy lull of sleep.
11:47 am. The insistence of my bladder is too strong to ignore now. I get up, amazed that I have slept so long. Thor, hearing my movement, calls that out that I have an appointment in two hours. This time I do wash my face, apply some cream and brush my hair. Sitting facing the dresser, I wonder what to wear and settle on the usual – yoga pants, a t-shirt, and hoodie – my uniform.
I feel renewed after such a long sleep – the best I’ve had in days – so offer to make lunch. Normally, I would nuke a bowl of soup, but I know Thor prefers it heated on the stove, so I pour the pre-made soup into a pot and turn on the stove. I clean up the dishes left from breakfast and complain that the soup seems to be taking a long time (I have limited capacity for standing), so Thor takes over. Not wanting to go back to bed just yet, I sit on the couch and notice all the toys still left out from our granddaughter’s last visit. I try to tidy up, but the movement makes me dizzy, so I sit back down – it will have to wait for my next little burst of energy. Thor serves up the soup and we eat in silence. Not much to talk about on my part; he is no doubt thinking about work.
Soup finished, I snatch an apple out of the bowl and go back to bed.
[ Test #5: Living with restricted energy
Reality: Setting boundaries and valuing the little energy I have is a difficult life lesson: so much of what I do in a day is habitual or mindless. Choosing to use my energy for something useful like writing, or spending time with loved ones is a happy choice. Yet, I find it hard not to get lost in distractions, or worse, “shoulds” ( I should do some laundry, sweep the floor, tidy the table, and so on). I still have lots of work to do in this area. ]
12:27 pm. I listen to an audiobook: The Hare with the Amber Eyes. Some of it is hard to follow, but the narrator’s voice is low and soothing, so I keep pushing forward with the story.
1:00 pm. Esther calls on her lunch break and we discuss her weekend and their upcoming move. She sounds very upbeat, and I hang up feeling good about the conversation – I don’t have to worry about her today.
[Test #6: Worrying about others.
Reality: An excess amount of idle time equates to surplus opportunities to think about others, and as a mother, to feel guilt and concern where my children are concerned. Sometimes, my mind will dwell on past situations and I will spend days spinning over something I’m sure I’ve done wrong. This is one of the reasons I see a therapist. Unnecessary emotional spinning is a definite drain of energy.]
1:15 I play a few more turns of Scrabble.
1:26 Thor reminds me we have to leave soon. I put my cellphone in my purse and go one more time to the bathroom. We discuss whether or not to take my walker. I don’t need it to get into my appointment, but I will if we decide to stop on the way home. Take it, I say. It gives me options.
It’s a beautiful sunny day, and as we drive across town I note that most of the snow has gone from the streets and sidewalks, with only the last black-crusted bits remaining. I feel uplifted, hopeful. Maybe I can get out more, I tell Thor.
[Test #7: Keeping hope alive
Answer: This is another wonderful function of spirit: the ability to regenerate hope! Hope springs from a sunny day, a friendly exchange, a thoughtful gesture, and in my case, a restful nap.]
2:00 pm. The appointment today is my weekly acupuncture visit. Usually I sleep during this visit, but after this morning’s rest I lie instead and think of writing this column, and whether or not I need to continue coming every week, or if I could use my energy for something else.
3:30 pm. We decide to visit at a new Farm Boy on the way home. I want to find some ready made salads I can eat for lunches. The store is big and a bit overwhelming for someone who has been housebound for so long, so I choose a few aisles, adding some things to Thor’s basket. Walking is slow, and I have to sit while studying products. I feel my muscles straining, but push on, so excited to be out and about. I see a former student, and stop for a quick chat. When my my muscles start screaming, I ask for the car keys and head out to wait for Thor in the car, but the sun is so bright and warming that I perch on my walker and soak in the outdoor air. An elder gentleman stops to chat and tells me his wife is housebound and won’t come out. We swap stories and sympathies. When I can no longer sit up, I return to the car and put my seat back.
4:30 pm. Back in bed, pleased by my outing. Missed a call from Marie, but my voice is hoarse from the exertion of going to the store, a signal that means I need to rest, so I’ll text her instead. I put the heating pad under my back and notice I am suddenly cold, so pull up a couple of blankets. Low grade fevers seem to spark up with exertion too.
I work on the blog.
6:00 pm. Thor asks if I want dinner in bed or at the table. Bed is the answer – my muscles are strained from the earlier activities. I set my writing aside and prop up my pillows, anticipating dinner. It is superb! Almond crusted trout and waxed beans. I turn on the news, a habit I still haven’t shaken – but tire of it quickly. I have some prerecorded shows to watch and want to catch up on. Even though I am only supposed to watch one hour of television per day (it’s too stimulating) I decide to have a marathon and watch three shows.
9:30 pm Being able to fast forward through the commercials helps, but now I have a headache, and the images from the programs are locked in my brain – this is why watching too much is not a good idea – I cannot shake things easily. Also, I noticed that I am very emotional and cried easily over every little thing – another sign that I am off balance at the moment.
10:00 pm. Finish writing this blog, and text with my girls. Ready for bed but wired. Will check in on my Scrabble games and then maybe work on a jigsaw puzzle to quiet my mind.
[Test #8: Compliance
Reality: It will be days before I recover from the “extras” I indulged in today: my muscles will complain and stop working, sleep will become elusive, and I will not have the energy to get out of bed. I will become cranky, feel discouraged, and want to give up. Then it will pass, and I will try again, and when I feel good, I will want to do to it all – that’s my nature. (Not to mention that I am obviously a slow learner.)]
Life is constantly testing us – living with chronic disease only magnifies this universal truth. Some days I am more conscious of those lessons, and able to learn and grow; other days I prefer to just exist. Right now, I would say I’m passing with a C-: lots of room for improvement.
How about you. Are you acing life’s tests, or just getting by?
It’s been almost a year since I received the diagnosis of ME/CFS; two years since the visits to the emergency room escalated and I knew something was very wrong; four years since I suspected my system wasn’t working right. Step by step along the way I have died in little pieces: watching my dreams (some shared, some personal) slip away.
While waiting for the results of Thor’s biopsy we made out a bucket list: places we wanted to travel, activities to pursue, risks to take – all requiring energy – all beyond my capabilities right now.
I am told that people recover from this disease – thirty percent completely – and others learn to adapt to the eventual return of some functioning – and so I keep hoping.
I am not one to believe that life is a haphazard set of events and then we die. I believe that there is purpose and opportunity around every corner and that the trials we are given are invitations to delve deeper into the mysteries of the universe and the wonders within.
With this mindset, I await the first dawning of new light: the birth of something new.
Every day I am letting go and surrendering -accepting – this process with an open heart and mind, anxious for the labour pains to begin.
Life remains pregnant with possibilities.
I had a dream once, and along the way
my fairytale destination was thwarted,
upside-downed by malicious intentions,
external influences, and scheming manipulators.
Unconditional love beckoned with promises of protection,
A golden haloed knight, stirring my hopeful heart.
Revelation freed me, renewed potential
bolstered lost aspirations, and I coupled,
surrendering soul selflessly, sealing it
with heated arousal; passionate commitment.
Unconditional love beckoned with promises of protection,
A golden haloed knight, stirring my hopeful heart.
Perseverance brought union, and resigning myself
whole-heartedly participated in companionship,
receiving confessions, uncovering delusions,
sporting reminders of my naivete.
Unconditional love beckoned with promises of protection,
A golden haloed knight, stirring my hopeful heart.
Re-examination of personal duplicity,
reveals wounded obsessions and disguised strategizing.
Taking the initiative, I question at last,the authenticity of my life story.
Unconditional love beckons with false promises
No golden haired knight will fulfill my heart.
If you see me,
rapt up in battle,
wrestling a would-be assassin,
my life precariously hanging in limbo,
no professionals in sight,
please don’t walk away.
I am alone and tiring,
and my assailant is intense –
forcefully focused on bringing me down,
and I am fighting with a strength
I didn’t know I possessed,
and cannot depend on.
Am I shadow boxing?
Fighting a foe no other than myself?
Is this an act of futility
and I a fool for trying?
Should I lie down and play dead
and take my chances?
My spirit says “No!”
I’m not ready to die!
So I fight, and I fight
straining to restrain
my grip tightening
I dare not let go.
And I would not mind if you’d step in
and give me a hand
and take up the struggle with me
offering enough support
that I might call for help
now, when it’s really needed.
‘Cause, strong as I seem
my control is clumsy at best,
and it is only by some strange miracle
that I am winning at all.
So please, before I am lost,
If you see me, struggling with life,
don’t walk away.
At seventeen, my mother married an airman, hopped on the back of his motorcycle and travelled across Canada to northern B.C. to begin a new life. When they returned, after the war, it was to a tiny rural home with no running water or electricity, where she gave birth to twins. Two more babies would follow, as would the realization that her husband was a womanizer and sadist, taunting her with his conquests and beating her when she complained. When he finally left her, destitute with four children, she met and married my father, who brought with him a whole new series of challenges, and they had two more children together.
Illness followed her throughout her life, as lung failure in childhood, a broken back when we babies where young, and three rounds of cancer. Now in her late eighties, she lives out her days, cared for in a nursing home. She is frail, and constantly in pain, and yet, her essence remains.
Forever smiling and laughing, my mother embraces the good and bad in life without judgment. She finds delight in the smallest thing, and in every person she meets. I have rarely seen her feeling sorry for herself, and if she does, it is with a “this too shall pass” attitude.
As a teenager, I would cringe when she would engage total strangers in conversation in an elevator, stating the obvious “Let’s all stare at the buttons now so as to not look at one another,” eliciting smiles and chuckles all around. A trip to the mall would involve multiple asides, as she’d say “hello” to this one, or “buck up” to another, likely all strangers, and definitely all warmed by her open warmth.
Her days were spent hovering over the stove or kitchen sink, a tea towel over her shoulder and a song bellowing from her lips, punctuated here and there by a tap dance.
Everything about my mother exudes joy.
Even today, when I call her at the Home, there will be a flurry of activity in the background – staff and peers drawn to her light. “They call me Mom!” she giggles.
As I lie here in my bed, fighting off the demons of depression, I think of my mom, and all that she has endured and take a page from her book.
“We can’t do anything about the things that happen to us,” she might say. “But we can choose the attitude with which we face them. Why cry when laughter is so much better?”
So today, I dedicate this page to my mother: my Laughing Buddha.
Who is the inspiration for joy in your life?