Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Black Dog Rx at the Conference of Vienna

I rediscovered a travel journal I kept during a visit to the strange city of Vienna, where I led a workshop in January 2006. I'll share an excerpt just for fun, as a sequel to my previous post titled “Black Dog Sightings” (January 27).

A doggie theme began to develop en route to Vienna. On the Austrian airlines plane, I read aloud from the German text of the bilingual airline magazine, in a basically hopeless effort to bring my German up to speed. I amused and then irritated my wife and daughter by reading repeatedly the opening sentences of a humorous article describing a dog's eye (or more precisely, dog's nose) view of Vienna, describing the places with the best smells:

Ich bin ein Hund. Ich habe eine Nase

After we checked in to our hotel, we found that tales of the Austrian devotion to dogs are more than legend. There were dogs everywhere. There was one at the table of the first place we stop for refreshments, a beisl (a simple pub-restaurant with communal tables) in the Inner City. This dog had his own seat, from which he jumped up to lick faces and sniff at dishes as they were served, to general approval. His people were hard-smoking men with sharp, calculating eyes. One of them pulled out a jeweler's loupe to examine the stone in a piece of jewelry that was traveling from hand to hand.

On the night before my weekend workshop, I dreamed:


My black dog is speaking before a conference of the dogs of Vienna. He tells them that dogs have a vital role to play in helping their humans to survive. The human animal, he explains, needs not only food and water and air and love; he requires something called meaning or purpose. The best way to put humans in touch with purpose is to bring them back into contact with their dreams.

Some of the Viennese dogs object that they are already giving their humans the best thing. "We love them no matter what. We love them no matter how they treat us, and we are always there for them."

"It's not enough," my black dog says firmly, ears pricked.

A Viennese dog called Viktor speaks in support of my dog. "In Vienna, there is no doubt that man requires meaning. It was the lack of a personal sense of meaning that produced the collective nightmares that were born here and threaten to return.

"We dogs of Vienna," he insists, "must take on the role of psychopomps [soul guides] and oneiropomps [dream guides] at night."

The motion is carried overwhelmingly, with much tail-wagging.

Later, I walk with my black dog in the immense park that surrounds the Schönbrunn palace. We encounter the old Emperor Franz Josef, walking in his military uniform. My black dog, with fine deliberation, lifts his leg and pees on the emperor's leg.

I woke up laughing.

The black dog in my dream is one I loved deeply. He had been killed on the road nearly twenty years before, yet he remains a frequent character in my dreams. Beyond his own great spirit, he has become something more than the dog who shared my home: a kind of everyday (or everynight) Anubis.

Some other elements in the dream were familiar. I had done a little reading on Austria, and knew that the Emperor Franz Josef ruled for 68 years, resisting the modern world to the extent of refusing to have telephones or electric light installed in his vast palaces, stolidly chewing through the same dreadful boiled dinner (Tafelspitz) every day. The name “Viktor” and the substance of his speech reminded me of the Austrian Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, and his wonderful book titled Man's Search for Meaning.

I drew a picture of my black dog lifting his leg on the emperor before walking to the subway stop near the cathedral to catch a train to my workshop.

The first dream that was shared in the group that morning featured a huge black dog lying at the dreamer’s feet while a human-sized bird fluttered on her lap. I sensed terrific dramatic potential in her dream story, and asked her permission to turn it into spontaneous dream theatre. When I explained that this would involve casting members of our circle to play-act every element in the dream, she pointed her finger at me and said, “I want you to be my big black dog.”

My dream of the Conference of the Dogs was pretty cute - so cute that as I typed up my handwritten journal account, I felt, in addition to amused delight, some amazement that my dream-maker had induced my morning editor to let this report through. Certainly the hard-boiled reporter who still lives inside me (with his saw-toothed skepticism) would never have allowed me to concoct this in a regular state of mind.

I am again struck by the creativity and wisdom of our dream-makers. I was in a city notorious for seasonal depression (the Viennese have a whole vocabulary of their own for gloom and despair) with one of the world's highest suicide rates. Walking through cobbled alleyways the night before, my family and I had felt a terrible sense of oppression - and then realized we had come to the heart of the old Jewish quarter; most of Vienna's Jews perished in the holocaust. In that bitter January weather, the leaden sky hung low over the city like heavy lid, stealing the air.

My black dog dream allowed me to enter the workshop with a light heart and a vivacious, viral humor and joy. The first woman to share a dream - the one who cast me to play the huge black dog in it - that morning explained she had lost most of her family, including her parents and older siblings, in the Holocaust. Others in the group included psychiatric nurses and hospice volunteers who spent their days among the thought-forms of madness and distress, and carried some of the burdens that go with that. Lightness and laughter helped to lift all of that and opened the way for some deep healings.

I'll follow the Black Dog Rx every time, even when it's cute.


Naomi said...


In a dream I had a pair of black dogs making a ruckus outside the house. My dogs were inside looking out the windows at them.

Somehow they got in and were going wild in the house, looking directly at me in a semi confrontational way. Then one of the dogs peed on the carpet.

Interesting how these black dogs, pyschopomps, have a rather earthy way of putting humans in their place!

Robert Moss said...

Hi Naomi - This is the way dogs mark their territory, of course. If this were my dream, I would wonder in what sense the black dog (and all that he represents to me) is affirming his role in my life...Oh yes, I'd have a good belly-laugh, too :-)

Grace said...

Three times one of my dogs (passed on) who happens to be black made me laugh at the end of a dream . Two were dreams with feelings of sadness, one of fear. My dog did funny things like: jump 30 feet into the air to catch a flying balloon and fly over the river with the balloon in his mouth, or plaster himself onto a door like a glued stuffed animal, or up onto a stone wall. Every time he moved so fast and funny! It completely took me out of the fear/sad part of the dream, I couldn't help but be surprised and amused!HMMMMMM, I may think about exploring this aspect more.....re read the blog and dream on what my dog was telling me.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Grace - I love the happy dream scene of your dog launching into the air and flying across the river. After the death (of old age) of the sister of my beloved black dog who was killed on the road, I dreamed the two of them were flying together high above the ground. Then they seemed to merge and become one.

Grace said...

Well, being up so early I don't always journal my dream, but make a commitment to write an intention for the night. Last night I asked for my black dog of previous dreams to let me know what the "message" of the funny tricks was. I dream I am with my father in law who just passed, and his family, all he wants to do is sit, he has no energy. The family is busy and buzzing with meal preparations, and there are adopted babies of mixed races around. Then I find my sister in law has decided to "babysit" several dogs, many are pint sized with very funny faces! "Like little German men" I say in my dream. Then out comes the funniest, he is only the size of my thumbnail! "How does he ever keep from getting stepped on?" I say. Message? May be that dogs have a good sense of humor during trying times, maybe they do a lot of wonderful things in their energy bodies. As the day goes on, I practice lightening dream technique, mostly by myself, but sometimes with a friend. This is a good one!

Naomi said...

The black dogs were trying to get my attention. To wake up.

I remember scolding one dog and taking his collar in hand and escorting it out to the deck, then all of a sudden I realized what was truly going on.

Robert Moss said...

CODA: Ich habe eine Nase

Not long after I posted this essay I received a cry for help from a friend in Europe. She reported that her young daughter had gone to Morocco and she had heard nothing from her in nearly two weeks. My friend asked me whether I would "dream" the situation of the daughter and see whether she was okay.

I was quite skeptical about my ability to be of any help. But later that night, as I lay in bed, I decided to ask for black dog help in tracking. No sooner had I admitted my cluelessness about how to track a young woman (whose name I did not even know) in a country I had never visited - and decided to seek help - I found myself off and running, into a foreign city full of intriguing smells.

One of those smells became overwhelming. It was the smell of burning hash (as in hashish) and it was so strong it seemed to be filling the space around me. Following this smell, I gained some insight into the young woman's situation. She was doing some recreational "stuff" on the tourist trail in Morocco - I saw her companions, and the building they were in - but was basically okay and would be coming home soon (I saw an airport departure board with the name of her home city, a smaller city in Europe).

I emailed my friend these impressions. In her response, she expressed great relief. Then - a day after my tracking - she reported she had just heard from a friend of her daughter (one of those I had seen in my tracking); her daughter may indeed been doing some "stuff" but was now heading home. All well.

Under ordinary circumstances,my sense of smell is pretty feeble. But when the black dog is around, Ich habe eine Nase - for sure.