I am lying on a hospital gurney in a curtained room- like an Emergency Room or pre-operative suite. A young boy has just left the room, while the doctors search for an old man that is hiding in a closet.
Sometimes when we refer to a memory or an event in our history, we continue to tell it as we understood it at an earlier time, drawing on patterns of perception no longer congruent with our current understanding. This dream is no exception. I have told the story of this dream many times and only recently noticed that the meaning, and significance of the dream, as I was used to telling it did not include the richer resonances I would emphasize if I were to dream this dream today, or if one of my clients were to bring it to me to work with now as a Natural Dreamwork practitioner.
I dreamt this dream 25 years ago. I was 30 years old, a young physician and mother. The dream was an initiation, introducing me to the power of dreams. The dream prefigured an impending miscarriage, and took on additional layers of meaning, as I prepared to leave the medical world 5 years later. The fact that I view this dream differently now thirty years later does not detract from the importance it held for me at the time but I feel compelled to tell the story again, to update my experience of this dream.
When I dreamt this dream, there were no warning signs of my impending miscarriage. In the busyness of my life the dream was forgotten . Two weeks later, I noticed vaginal bleeding. A pelvic ultrasound showed a mass on my ovary without evidence of an intrauterine pregnancy. As my pregnancy test was still positive, there was a suspicion I might have an ectopic pregnancy, sometimes called a ‘tubal pregnancy’ . In this condition, the embryo remains near the ovary or in the fallopian tube, and never makes it to the uterus where it can grow properly. Ectopic pregnancies are life threatening emergencies because the ovary and fallopian tube do not have the capacity to expand as the embryo grows, risking rupture of the pelvic organs. This is how I came to surgery one Friday afternoon of an otherwise glorious day in June.
The surgery was unexpectedly prolonged, and when I woke from the anesthesia I was told of a tumor on my ovary(rather than an ectopic pregnancy).I had had an early miscarriage without realizing it. The grapefruit-sized mass was a Dermoid cyst:, a disorganized collection of epithelial cells -skin, hair, bone, even teeth. Dermoid tumors are usually benign, but occasionally they are malignant.
On the day following the surgery, I lay in bed shivering, uncontrollably anxious about the possibility of a malignancy. Suddenly my mind flashed back to the dream of the hospital gurney and my body quieted instantly. It was as if the dream spoke directly to my body, communicating in ways I had never thought possible. That the dream seemed to predict my upcoming medical issue was interesting, but what was most dramatic was that the experience of the remembered dream quieted my body and caused my anxiety to disappear in an instant. There was, to be sure a certain logic to my response(as a physician): Immature tumors are the ones that are malignant: but the child had left already. Only the ‘old man’ remained. The experience initiated me into a kind of knowing that went far beyond my rational experience and stoked my curiosity about dreams. When I prepared to leave medicine 5 years later, I took comfort in the dream’s symbolism foreshadowing my growing discontent as a medical practitioner : the new life ( soul child) had left the medical suite, and all that was left was an old man (outworn way of being) hiding out in the closet.
The dream had changed my worldview, opened my eyes, and given me permission to pursue areas of interest that had been, to that point in time, off limits. But the dream hadn’t changed me. I still struggled with the same insecurities, obsessions and relationship patterns that had tripped me up for much of my life. At the time I wasn’t able to experience the dream on a feeling level. Instead I treated the dream as a message to be decoded, rather than experience.
In Natural Dreamwork, in contrast , the focus is on re-entering the dream to feel the feelings contained ( though sometimes hidden) in the dream experience. Dreams are viewed as a portal to our inner world as much as or more than a concrete depiction of our outer life. This dream was not just about my impending miscarriage, but about the condition of my soul.
As I re-enter the experience of the dream now, what I feel most is loneliness, confusion and a certain numbness: I am lying alone without a clue to my predicament and without any support. There is a deep truth to this dream. At the time I was feeling very lonely and isolated, without even realizing this was so. I did not know how to express my needs, pain or confusion even to myself and held the mistaken belief that if I were to express myself I would not be heard: better to be self-sufficient and tough it out than risk vulnerability and exposure. Perhaps this was a legacy of my early life experience, repeated a second time during my medical residency. But the cause of the predicament is not nearly as important as the experience of it. Recognizing our needs, vulnerabilities and wounds is the necessary first step toward healing.
I sometimes wonder if the pace of my healing would have been more rapid if I had the opportunity to work with my dreams more deeply when I was in my thirties or if I simply have needed that much time (20yrs) to feel the depth of what my dreams have to offer. I have had to develop trust in the dream process, in myself, and in my dream guides (inner and outer) before I could really descend into the depths of difficult feelings. That takes time: a great deal of time and many dreams. The hospital gurney dream was just the first of many to follow in which I was shown to be the patient, not the doctor in charge, pulled deeper and deeper into the Mythos of the Wounded Healer. My predicament as a patient has, over time, been imaged in a variety of vivid and sometimes disturbing images ( bone deep cuts, burnt skin, failing heart, hole in the head.), which I have (mostly ) learned to accept and feel. It’s taken time to develop trust in the healing figures who visit my dreams (more frequently now), showing up with love and compassion, and not a trace of judgment.
I am still filled with wonder each time I experience synchronicities between my dreams and my outer life. I still find solace in my body’s capacity to take in dream content before my mind has caught up. But the most impactful, healing work with my dreams now comes when I re-enter my dreams as an experience, feeling whatever the dream evokes in me, doing my best to be receptive to the dream presences that visit me in my slumber.
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