What a pleasure it is to read a very human and deliciously entertaining novel that dramatizes how the arts of dreaming can be used to help get us through the troubles of everyday life, from a water leak in an apartment to a family tragedy or the need to get corporate types out of their left brains and the bars on a country retreat. Florence Lautrédou succeeds brilliantly in giving us an effortless seminar in Active Dreaming - especially the core techniques of dream reentry and tracking - in her new book La femme qui ne se souvenait plus de ses rêves, published in Paris by the prestigious house of Odile Jacob.
Florence is well-equipped to play dream guide; she is not only a psychoanalyst, coach and previously successful novelist but was a highly gifted participant in the French version of my training for teachers of Active Dreaming at the Hameau de l'Etoile near Montpellier in southern France. She has traveled with me through the portal of a remembered dream with the aid of shamanic drumming and focused intention.
Florence had me near the beginning of her new book, when her narrator, Anna, says that "My dream fled from me at the end of the night, as it did every morning. Or am I the one who disappears when the night is done?"
The story of Anna, psychoanalyst and single mother, unfolds under the shadow of a literal tragedy: the death of the well known analyst and author Anne Dufourmontelle, who drowned trying to rescue two boys from a sudden storm at sea in 2017. The theme of being overwhelmed by water courses through Anna's days and night - in a rare dream in which she in on a sinking barge, in the leak that has sprung on her floor and forces her out of her apartment.
Her dreams start to return with a visitation by a deceased neighbor, a curmudgeonly eccentric, also an analyst, who kept no records apart from a hundred boxes of soiled Kleenex. She tells Anna in the dream, "I am you".
Anna's fitness coach Fabien claims never to dream. His Rx for any existential problem is always: More sport. "Enfile les baskets" Getting her trainers on in a rush causes Anna to sprain her ankle.
A day comes when Fabien finally has a dream and has to tell it. "It's too strong to keep inside." He tells Anna that in the dream he is with his daughter. They meet two swans who lean their heads on their shoulders then take them flying to a vast and beautiful beach. The swans disappear and now Fabien is with his ex and his daughter, embracing.
Fascinated, Anna recalls the swans of mythology, of how Aengus can only claim Caer Inbormeith, the girl from his dreams by taking the form of the swan she has become. She reflects on how Fabien's happy dream came at the end of a happy day when, unusually, he talked and walked with his daughter in the woods. Not a compensation dream, then. Not to be stuffed in some clinical category. The dream could be seen instead as the product of carburants, of the right fuel. Anna derives the lesson that "You have to get into your life to nourish your dreams of the night."
Anna's dreams start to come back, and deepen. She dreams of a chasm. She is hanging from a cliff by her fingernails. A Finnish woman in green satin appears and takes a cello from its case. Anna is sure she is going to fall to her death but the cellist throws her a rope and three men rise from the abyss to lift her to safety.
She can't talk about this to the first person she sees, a client she's been encouraging to talk dreams but says frankly he's not interested in other people's dreams and is still sympathetic to the notion that there is no time for dreams in the battle of life. She can't tell her supervisor.
A month after her dream of the chasm she hears inner voices that tell her You are not alone and You are building. On a night walk in Paris she sees the woman with a cello who threw her a lifeline. She asks, "Have I begin to live my dreams?"
When I arrived at page 97 I found that I had become a character in the novel.
Anna is trying to explain to her fitness coach how it is possible for two or more people to enter the same dream space. She proceeds to give a description of the dream reentry and tracking techniques taught and practiced by... Robert Moss.
"It is possible to enter the dreams of others. Shamans do it. Robert Moss, a dream specialist, practices this with groups. It's called a reentry...
"You gather in a room. The one who wants to go back inside a dream tells it to the others so they can go too. Each person chooses an image that inspires them, a point of departure. The lights are dimmed, the drum rolls, and off we go!"
The novel shows us how this can be used to heal group dynamics as well as individual lives. A corporate client hires Anna to facilitate a weekend retreat (on "Confidence") at a chateau in the Vexin. I know many chateaus and country estates in France that now host retreats, and Florence's depiction of the ambience is flawless.
Out of the office, among the trees, the suits from Paris party late and drink deep and arrive for their morning session haggard and hungover. All Anna remembers from her dreams is that she received a short email with the brief message: Pas grave, c'est le CC qui compte. "Don't worry, it's the CC that counts".
She gets the message on her way to the meeting. CC means cut the crap. When characters in this novel get to the point, they start firing off bursts of Franglais or outright American English, which by my observation is true to life among French professionals today. The log jam is broken. They are out of the boxes of their left brains and their formal agendas.
Creative solutions come flooding, and a more generous approach to staff and the community. The boss brigs solutions he has dreamed to the office. The group arrange to meet again, on the Breton coast and in the woods, to practice Active Dreaming together. We see lives mended, wounds healed, inner compasses restored. "You have taught me to serve my dreams," Olivier, the boss, tells Anna. When his team gather for their second retreat, Olivier says, "What we need is to know what we truly want."
"Exactly. Fais-nous rêver. Make us dream."
Note on translation: All translations from La femme qui ne se souvenait plus de ses rêves are by Robert Moss. Florence's novel is not yet available in English, but I hope that it will be soon.
Swan photo by Romy Needham
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