I seem to do a lot of my inner work in dreaming. It has always been this way. My psyche seems to like to work on issues of importance while my mind sleeps and luckily, more often than not, especially if I intend it, I wake up with good dream recall. I have also discovered that if I present a dreaming intent my psyche readily obliges, giving me just what I need. Over the past few weeks I have made some decisions, one of which, as you know, was to change my name to my married name. This is not as easy at it may sound. Any woman who has faced this prospect upon marriage knows this. Suddenly, a well-known identity is challenged and the big question of “Who am I?” arises. During my recent process of making this life changing decision I had the following dream.
I am having a funeral for Jan Hughes. I am burying her in a field on a hill, under the spreading limbs of a tall tree. As the funeral progresses I have an inner dialogue with this “old Jan,” as she is lowered into the grave, as dirt is thrown onto the casket, and as she is put to rest. I tell her that I am not abandoning her, that I am not rejecting her, but that she has done her life’s work and it is time for her to recede while a new me takes over. I am thankful for the life we had together. I thank her for accompanying me this far and for taking me on my recapitulation journey. I tell her this as her grave is covered, as a headstone is put in place, and as I walk away and leave her buried under the tree, knowing that something is not quite resolved, but I am not sure what it is yet. Even so, every day, in the dream, as I pass by the spot on the hill where she is buried I see her headstone and know that I have made the right decision.
Three days later, I have another dream related to the same theme. In this dream I am approached by a woman who I recognize from my past. When I knew her I was in awe of her and admired her for many reasons. She was beautiful. She wore her hair in a short pixie cut and I once cut my hair like hers, wanting to be like her. She was tall, not exceedingly thin, and she had perfect posture and moved with definite grace, totally in her body, while I am short and in the past tended to hunch my shoulders more than I do now, totally not in my body. She carried herself with such confidence and seemed totally relaxed with who she was, both in her work and in her personal life. In the dream, she is old, her hair is longer and very scraggly, thin, hanging in her face, her expression is withdrawn and dark, her eyes sunken and haunted looking, her skin wrinkled and her cheeks, once so plump and rosy, are cavernous. She comes very close to me and peering into my face says in a harsh whisper: “I love you. I have always loved you. I want to be with you. I want to be your lover forever. Don’t leave me.”
“Oh, yes,” I say, “I remember you came to me in a dream once before and told me the same thing, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” she says, “but you wouldn’t pay attention.”
“But I’m married now,” I say. She looks devastated when I say this and I am not sure what to do with her. She looks sad, sick, lifeless, and I feel her love for me as well as her pain at being rejected. I don’t want to make her feel any worse, but I can’t figure out what to say to her. “I’ll keep it in mind,” I say, referring to her desire to love me forever. And at that she disappears and I wake up.
As I write down this dream upon awakening, I begin to see this woman as my shadow. She tells me that she loves me and is asking me to integrate her. She is my extraverted self whom I have kept hidden for so long, unloved and uncared for, as I have lived most of my life as an introvert. I chose the life of a freelance artist and writer so that I did not have to be in the world or interact in the world, except minimally. She is asking me to take her as my lover, to give her life, to be what I once projected onto her and in so doing restore her beauty. It is my personal challenge, in this life, to be extraverted. I know this. I am totally at ease in introversion, in doing inner work, it is all I have ever done, but being in the world is and always has been my challenge.
It is interesting to note here that I did recently bump into this woman from my past, several months ago, and I was struck by how much she had changed. She did in fact look quite haggard. Her hair was longer and rather thin and, I thought, rather unattractive compared to the way she looked with a shorter cut. She looked almost unhealthy, whereas ten or so years ago when I last saw her she looked beautifully ageless, with that amazing posture and self-assured presence. When I saw her recently I felt that we had almost exchanged personas. She looked the way I did ten years ago, before I did my recapitulation, before my real inner work started. Now I have long thick flowing almost white hair, I am softer and more glowing, and my hunched shoulders are pulling back, my posture exhibiting more self-confidence, and my haunted look is gone.
When she comes to me in the dream, this woman from the past is asking me to embrace her as she is now. The last time she came in a dream, I rejected her, and she mentions it. I was not ready at that time, but now I am. She, the shadow, wants me to love the old self now, to embrace the woman I have buried, but also to not reject her. I must not only love what this woman, this shadow once represented and what I projected onto her, but I must also love what she now carries, the old me. And I must do so without feeling sorry for her, but fully embrace her with compassion and love for our unfolding journey together, in real life and in dreaming life. And I must also accept her admiration of me, as I have changed and evolved, for that would complete the picture. As I take back the long ago projection, and love all these parts of myself, I am accepting the challenge.
This is the kind of stuff that the psyche presents to us, whether in dreams, in daily life, or in what happens to us. We are always, in some way, presented with our issues; in problems that arise and in the people we meet and interact with. When we are ready to make some changes and move on, embracing our evolving selves, we are given the opportunity to integrate, to take back our projections, and to embrace the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to still become. I guess I would just like to stress that, in looking to the workings of the psyche, I was able to see how these two dreams were meaningful in my own process of change, and how, as I looked deeper, I was presented with what really lurked below the surface, asking for resolution.
Even though I feel like I have done nothing but deep inner work for the past ten years, I am still being challenged to keep doing it, to go deeper and deeper, into my own shadows. You never know what or who might be lurking there!
Until next time, may your dreams take you where you need to go!