Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wake up and smell the stories


"I heard something scratching at my door in the middle of the night," the young man in the front row began. "When I opened the door, I found my dead cat, the one that died a couple of months ago. Then I noticed my house had four stories, which is a couple more than it ordinarily has. I was wondering what was going on in those extra stories up top. Then I heard my dad's voice. He was calling to me, 'Hurry up! You don't want to miss the music!'"
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"How did you feel when you woke up?" I asked. It's always my first question, of any dream.
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"Kind of nervous. My dad passed last spring, and I didn't know what he meant."
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"Have you had any previous contact with your father, since he passed?"
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"Oh sure. I feel like he's been dealing with a lot of stuff, and I've been helping."
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"How did your father sound, when he spoke about the music?"
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"He sounded real happy. Like something happy was going on."
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"If it were my dream, I said carefully, I might think that my father's discovered something really good, and he wants to share it with me. Maybe he wants to show me that he's found his way, in his new life. If it were my dream, I might want to see if I could have a proper conversation with my dad. I want to know the rest of our story. Those extra levels to the house give me the sense of space and possibility. I might want to light a candle for dad, and put out something personal pertaining to him - like photo - and maybe something to eat or drink that he would enjoy, and see whether I can just start up a dialogue. Could you give that a try?"
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"Sure," the young man nodded. "I like the idea of getting the rest of the story."
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I looked around the group. "Would anyone else like to share a dream?" A few hands went up. This was a group of newbies, gathered for an evening program at an adult learning center. For many of them, this was the first time they had told a dream in front of a group. For some of them, this was the first time they had talked about a dream in their whole adult lives.
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"I dreamed I went to this very pricey restaurant," an older woman began. "I started sipping a glass of wine and the glass broke in my teeth and the shards of glass were inside my mouth, stabbing me. I was trying to tell people what had happened, and that I needed help., but they wouldn't believe me, even though there was blood everywhere."
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"How did you feel when you woke up?"
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"I couldn't understand why they wouldn't believe me."
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"Yes, and how did you feel about that?"
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"It's hard to say. Slightly disturbed."
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"But you didn't feel frightened, for example? Or disgusted."
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"Nothing that strong."
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"Well, that's interesting. That sets a little distance. Sometimes it's revealing that we don't have strong feelings around a dream. Reality check - could you go to a restaurant like that in the future?" "Sure." "Is it possible this could involve an occasion, maybe with family, when there is some conflict brewing and it's difficult to say your piece?" "That's entirely possible."
"If it were my dream," I pursued, "I'd think about the broken glass in terms of emotional conflicts. I'd think about my need to express myself in such a way that others can hear me and believe me, on whatever I need to get out."
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This resonated deeply with the dreamer. After more discussion, I asked her for an action plan. She said she would start by keeping a journal and getting practice that way in saying what she needed to say. "Can you come up with a one-liner that moves in that direction?" She produced one right away, "I'm going to tell my story."


This threw my mind back to something I had seen yesterday morning in my local paper, at the bottom of the local news page. It was an ad for coffee. Across a landscape of green mountains scrolled the following text: "I realized today's the day I will tell my story."


The ability to tell our story - and in doing so, choose the stories we are living - is not only a creative gift, it is a vital survival tool. We live by stories. If we don't undertand that, we are probably living inside old, unacknowledged stories that may cramp and confine us, stories passed down through families or imposed on us by others. A grand way to get into the practice of telling our own stories is to share our dreams, large and small.
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Another woman in the group began, slightly diffident, to talk about a recurring dream from which she was always relieved to wake up. "I have a baby, maybe eighteen months old, and I'm supposed to take care of her. I want to get away because I don't know who she is."
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When I asked some questions, she added, "The baby is fine. I'm the one who's not fine."
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"If it were my dream, I might wonder whether what I running from was actually a part of myself. I might want to sit down quietly, at the right time, and take a closer look at that very young child and see whether she is a very young part of me that separated out for some reason but is now ready to bring her joy and energy into my life."
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This struck a chord. She was willing to give it a try. Through our dream stories, we sometimes find a part of us that was missing is calling to us, seeking a way to gain entry to our lives, to make us stronger and more whole.


11 comments:

Carol Davis said...

I'm in North Carolina this week leading programs. I'll lead one this weekend for people who are coming to explore their dreams. This evening I had dinner with a volunteer and retreat staff. One woman told a story about her husband's sudden death at the age of 48 in an accident in 1972. She remembered a vivid dream shortly after his death in which he seemed so real that she reached out to touch him in the doorway. She smiled wistfully and reached out her arm as she told the dream. Alas, she couldn't touch him in the old way. We all paused briefly in sweet silence as we felt the angst of that moment. She went on to tell us with a sparkle in her eyes about their son and grandchildren and her great-grandbaby. Her telling of the dream opened a space for us to speak deeply about life, death, love, and joy in the things that matter. Dinner fed our bodies, the dream fed our souls.

Katrina said...

"Through our dream stories, we sometimes find a part of us that was missing is calling to us, seeking a way to gain entry to our lives, to make us stronger and more whole."

My sentiments exactly. I really enjoyed this post!

Robert Moss said...

Dear Carol - Thanks fgr sharing this luminous moment. Yes, dreams do feed our souls, and they sour us to speak and to share from the heart and soul and make room for that in our lives and our relationships.

fran said...

Hi Robert,

Great stories! I like how the guy has a couple of "extra stories" that aren't normally there in the dream about his father.

It has been over ten years since my father passed and the dreams about him have become less frequent over the years, but reading this dream reminded me of the last time we visited. He was trying on a life that was completely different from his last one. Instead of the conservative, rural, nut-n-bolts, practical down-to-earth guy, he was playing at being a very emotional, urban Jewish shopkeeper who is religious, very social and totally feeling oriented. During the dreaming it was him playing this new life of course, but upon waking it struck me how radically different this character is and how I only knew it was him by knowing some deeper part of him. It was also constructive for me to see him as less the father figure and more his own self outside of my conceptions of him. That was one his "extra stories" for teaching me, I suppose.

--fran

Robert Moss said...

Hi Fran - I love your dream of your dad enjoying playing a different role in his new life. One of the features of our dreams of the departed is that they educate us in transitional environments and options available on the Other Side. It's grand when we can see people we loved learning that they don't have to remain stuck in old attitudes (or in anything like the age and bodily condition they were in when they passed).

Nicola said...

Hi Robert
My deceased mother pops in for a visit quite frequently to show me the wonderful new creative life that she is enjoying on the other side.
A recent dream that I posted a while ago on the forum, was of my mother leading me to her creative space which she had filled with beautiful coloured butterflies that she constructed from ostrich feathers. This dream has crept its way into real life this week as im preparing a craft workshop for little ones over the Christmas holidays. After fretting for some time in a search of ideas that someone as young as 4 could manage, I discovered a bag of coloured feathers and sequins which seem to be leading me towards ideas for a rainbow insect world workshop.
My mother was a primery school teacher most of her adult life. I have the sneeking feeling that she knew all about this upcoming event. So thanks Mum for the creative ideas imput.

Robert Moss said...

Dear Nicola - Good to hear your voice. I love your description of your mother sharing what she's doing on the Other Side, and it seems very crafty indeed that feathers reminiscent of those she was working turned up in good time for the holiday season.

Seashore said...

Nicola,
What a wonderful idea from your mom and the other side! My daughter used to love creating with colored feathers...I love the insect/butterfly concept. Have fun,
Margie

aylees said...

Beautiful essay Robert, may I quote you from this? I would like to use part of the paragraph that begins "The ability to tell our story..." Of course I will credit it to you...

Robert Moss said...

Hi Ayles - Yes, please do quote this (with credit).

Poet Unknown said...

I was that young man. Once. Many years later and I hunted this post to remind me of my father and to claim some long buried power. It still resonates and ripples across the years. Thank You, Robert. The good work continues.