Dream of a Dead Brother

I’ve been away from my blogging for awhile, mainly because of a very sad personal event in my life—in early July I got the news that my older brother Ivor took his own life. My primary response to the shock and grief of this event has been to ask myself over and over again: why would he do this? How could he have come to such a point? Was there some horrific piece of the puzzle that I knew nothing about? What could have happened in his psyche to bring him to such a dark place? At times I have felt like a detective in a psychological mystery thriller trying to solve a bizarre case, as if I could find out the truth about what he was really going through and then suddenly everyone would feel better.

Well, that hasn’t happened, and I don’t think it will. And I’m still puzzling away though not so obsessively now; I guess it’s part of what I need to do to process the shock and grief.
As a student of dreams I was hopeful that some answers (and some healing) might come to me in a dream. Would Ivor visit me in a dream with a comforting message, or bring forth some clue about the missing puzzle piece? Would I experience a so-called visitation dream, a direct communication from the soul/spirit of a recently dead loved one? (in his co-authored book Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work With Them Stanley Krippner defines “visitation” as “a dream in which the dreamer was greeted by ancestors, spirits, or deities, and given messages or counsel by them”, something I would certainly love to happen to me). Well, I don’t think this has happened, not yet anyway. But I have had two dreams about Ivor since his death, both of which have been helpful for me. I’d like to share one of them which I call “Ivor on Stage”–

“As I am entering a large auditorium I can hear my brother Ivor’s voice from inside. I’m very excited to hear him!. I am aware that he has recently died, but some special event in his honor is taking place here that involves him being temporarily present. When I get inside I see that Ivor is up on stage talking (lecturing? preaching?). The auditorium is starting to fill up although there are still many rows of empty seats. Clearly there is going to be a major celebratory event taking place–there are tables of food being set up, and several areas where musical instruments are at the ready. I sit down to listen. Now that I am inside the auditorium the feeling tone changes dramatically. I feel very strongly that this is not my place. I cannot relate to what Ivor is saying. I sense that he is doing this for the sake of all the people in his community; that they need to hear him speak on these matters. I don’t even feel that I could say hello to Ivor or identify myself as his brother. The only role I could have would be that of a unconnected observer….I wake up”

When I woke up and reflected upon this dream I was struck by how alienated I felt. Alienated from Ivor, from his community, and from the way he was relating to his community; I was a complete outsider to all of this. I was aware of similar feelings I have had in waking life–my brother was part of a very cohesive community that had originally developed around a shared spiritual path; it was a very loving and supportive community, but one that I had trouble relating to. In this dream I seemed to be sitting right in the middle of this trouble.

So I decided to try working with this dream as a limiting field motif. In physics a field can be defined as “a region in which a particular condition prevails”. I use this concept in dreamwork every day. Dreams often depict a region in which a problematic condition prevails, and in so doing pose the question to the dreamer: “what might you be able to do about this situation?” In this case I entered a certain region (the auditorium where Ivor was addressing his community) and immediately began to feel the effects of the prevailing conditions– alienation and estrangement from my brother in the way he relates to his community. We could say that the auditorium is a depiction a neural field that constellates itself within me when I am around these people (or even if I think about them). As soon as I enter this field I start to feel a certain way. Such dreams typically have a strong element of lack of freedom, lack of choice, lack of possibility. Like iron filings that find themselves within a powerful magnetic field, we are aligned and organized by the effect the field exerts on us, we don’t have much of a say in the matter.

Or do we? As a dreamworker I have seen again and again that the dreamer does not consider the possibility of trying to get away from the influence of the field. The dreamer will usually remain within the field and suffer its effects, typically waking up with a feeling of frustration, anxiety, and stuckness. Even once awake, when asked what could be done in response to the negative dream situation most people will think of trying to change the conditions within the field, rather than leaving it. This is what I first did when I woke up from this dream. I asked myself: “Why do I need to feel so estranged? Why am I not trying harder to hear what Ivor is saying? Why don’t I introduce myself to some of his friends and try to make some connections?”

Fortunately with limiting field dreams, as with almost all dreamwork, we can try one approach, and if it doesn’t yield good results we can drop it and try something else. So I imagined staying within the auditorium, working within the field to try to change the situation and the way I felt within it. I imagined opening up my ears and my heart and really listening to Ivor with as little prejudice as possible. I imagined greeting a friend of his that I had met recently where he lived in California. I imagined trying to change my whole experience of the event, from within it. None of this worked. It was awkward and grueling, it lacked flow, it lacked energy, it bogged down into a mire of shoulds and shouldn’ts. This is so often the case when you struggle to change things within a field–it just doesn’t work because the field is stronger than you are as long as you remain within it.

So I tried the other option (the option that people almost never consider until their dreamworker suggests it)– I walked away from the whole thing. I imagined walking out of the auditorium, closing the door behind me, walking down a path to a beach, seeing Ivor far away down the beach, walking towards him, meeting him, hugging him. Now a very different energy was present, the awkwardness and alienation that prevailed within the auditorium were completely gone. Now it was two brothers face to face on a beach trying to find a way to fully experience their love for each other. This is the scenario I am now working with in my imagination to carry forward the potential healing that I believe the dream can offer.

If you’re not comfortable with the term limiting field, or if you feel there’s a better name for it, that’s fine. I’m really talking here about any dream which depicts the dreamer stuck in an ongoing frustrating scenario, whatever you want to call that. Consider the option that somehow never seems to present itself in this kind of dreamscape—catch yourself, realize that you have an option to leave, find a door, and walk away.

Christopher Sowton

  • Tallulah Reply

    Thank you for sharing this dream and letting us know about the tragic loss of your brother. You are in our prayers and on our hearts. In my imagined version of your dream, the emphasis is on moving into a new field rather than leaving the old one. In the hew field, healing is possible and I hope that for you, it will be deep and lasting.

  • Jamie Reply

    Chris, I am so sorry to hear the news of your brother. This is such a painful loss and leads one on such a deep and profound journey of inquiry, learning, and awareness. It is such a gift that you have your dream work to help you as you move towards healing. Be gentle with yourself in this deep grief process and remember there is no other place to be than just where you are. Sending warm and caring thoughts to you and your family. Blessed Be.

  • Mos Reply

    The news is so sad and painful. I hope that you cope with this big lose very soon; and find the full recovery of the lost beloved brother.
    Application of the world “field” in general and for “the dream as a limiting field motif” is very true. The thoughts, decisions and actions of each of us in any moment, especially in dreams, are the result of interactions of different fields: the genetic, cultural and memory fields; as well as the daily life issues’ fields that we challenge with continuously. All these create a “limiting field motif” of dreaming for any specific individual. The same daily life may guide us to different results; and different daily experiences may take us to a same result. Thus, It is hard to understand why others conclude in a different result than us, even when everyone be logical too; because the wirings are different.
    Maybe, a dialogue with an “Other” in a dream gives an idea that how the “Other” feels about a subject, but that “Other” is not really the one out there, separated from us. The “Other” in our dream is the one identified by the features we experienced and know in connection with that “Other”.
    In any way, as you told, the limiting field of the dream that you are looking for is already growing in you; and very soon you will catch the dream and will achieve the healing by “catch[ing] yourself, realiz[ing] that you have an option to leave, find[ing] a door, and walk[ing] away” from the news that is hard for you to digest; and that is the healing.

  • saeid Reply

    Hi Chris. Sorry to hear about your brother. My deepest sympathies. Suicide is really confusing, let alone with someone close to us. Thanks for sharing your personal healing process. I really liked your take on using the dream for healing and connecting family bonds. Very insightful.

  • Robert Reply

    Hello Chris, I am very sorry to just now learn of your loss, now so long ago. I knew Ivor way back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. I had been associated with his community for a time. I always enjoyed his bright, constant smile, kindness, intelligence and spiritual sensitivity. Some unknown urge had me look him up the other day and I was shocked and saddened to learn of his passing. I am sure he helped and supported many people along the way, I believe the love we create is the most important and I am sure he created much of it. So my heart goes out to you. My prayers and best wishes are with you and Ivor.

    • Christopher Sowton Reply

      Hi Robert
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories about Ivor. He was a wonderful man and did create a lot of love in the world.

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