Season’s Greetings everyone! We’ve made it through a rough year! If you’re ready for something uplifting, here’s an uplifting story about a beautiful piece of dreamwork. As is so often the case, the breakthrough didn’t happen in the original dream, but in the re-entry. A 41-year-old man named Alan recently told me this dream, which he called ‘Keys Snapping’:
“There’s a man following me, he’s a government officer or some sort of security person. He has a set of keys on a long chain, and he’s flicking them out at me again and again, like a yo-yo, or like if you were snapping a towel at someone. It makes a loud flicking, snapping, jangling noise which is very irritating. Why is he doing this?! I try to just move away from him, but he keeps following me, and he keeps snapping the keys at me! I plead with him to stop, but he is relentless. He won’t stop! Finally I turn around and grab the keys. This is a violation of some rule, so he starts to get angry. I plead with him again to please stop. But he is relentless. He says: ‘Come on, keep moving.’…I wake up.”
Imagine if this was a movie. A mysterious character played by Liam Neeson appears, dressed in an intimidatingly official-looking uniform. He starts to torment the hero (played by Eddie Redmayne) by repeatedly flicking a set of keys at him. Finally, the hero can’t take it anymore and he turns to face his tormentor and grabs the keys….and then… the movie ends! How would you feel? To me it would feel very incomplete and very unsatisfying, like the beginning of a good story that got cut off. We humans don’t like partially-told stories. If the show ends with a cliff-hanger, we generally want to see the next episode.
So, how can we get to the next episode? Well, if we’re talking about dreams, which we are, there is an easy and natural way to get to the next episode–by re-entering the dream and seeing what the dreamer wants to happen next. I asked Alan to go back into the dream scene, just at the point where he has grabbed the keys. I asked him to stop the action right at this point, and to imagine that he was his best self, feeling strong and centered and aware of his options. True, this was not the way he was feeling in the original dream. In the original dream he was feeling persecuted, pleading, and powerless. This shows how important it is, both in awake life and in dreamwork, to be able to change our perception of what is happening to us– if we can do this, a whole universe of new possibility suddenly opens up.
“Now” I said, “There you are, with the keys in your hand. What, ideally, would you like to do and say in this situation?”
With no hesitation Alan replied: “I want to pull the keys away. Enough!! I want to stand up to him. Now I’ve got the keys in my hand. The officer gets feeble and small and starts to fade away. It seems like he actually wanted me to take the keys, and once that happened he just fades out.” Good! Alan has changed the course of the dream action. We are now entering some new territory; we are dreaming the dream forward, or more accurately, imagining the dream forward. Since this new event has arisen organically from the situation that occurred in the original dream, uses the same elements and characters, and starts in the same setting, I believe it is legitimate to say that it is arising from the same source– namely Alan’s psyche.
And we don’t need to stop here. We could stop here, but why would we? It seems as if we are on the verge of something important emerging. Alan is now standing there with a set of keys in his hand. Keys to what? I asked Alan how many keys there were. “Four” he replied, clearly specifying a number, rather than saying ‘a few’ or ‘a bunch’ or ‘four or five, maybe six’. In Dreamish (the native language of the dreaming mind) if a specific number is highlighted, it is usually for good reason.
So far we could say, as a working hypothesis, that by standing up for himself Alan has been given the keys to four…somethings. Problems? Issues? Potentials? We don’t yet, it will take a bit more work of imagining the dream forward to find out. And we don’t want to try to do too much all at once. If we could find out something about just one of these keys and what it could open up, that would be a great start.
I asked Alan to choose one key from the bunch and focus on it. Immediately. His imagination went to work:
I see a snow-capped mountain. There’s an entry into the base of the mountain, a natural doorway going in through a cave. I enter the doorway. Inside I see a small child huddled in the corner. A boy, I think. About 4 or 5 years old.
What do you feel when you look at the boy?
I feel sadness in my chest. I want to hold the boy…comfort him…care for him.
Okay, good, go ahead and imagine doing that.
I’m sitting down with the child, just to spend some time with him. We need to be together, to be sad, to cry together. He embraces me. He lets me hold him. I’m consoling him, telling him it’s going to be okay. He says: ‘Where have you been?’ I say: ‘I’m here now. You’re going to be okay.’ I bring him out with me, we pass through the mountain door. I’m carrying him in my arms. I feel like I am walking very upright, very confidently. I will bring him home. It feels like he is a part of me.
It now feels as if we are dealing with a personal spirit motif– showing a part of Alan that has been split off by some traumatic event in the past. This part (the young boy) that has been holding the unbearable pain of this event ever since, orphaned and alone, hidden in the unconscious underneath a mountain of self-defensive adaptation. It is often possible, and can be very helpful, to help the dreamer identify the traumatic event, or events, that originally caused the split. The approximate age of the orphaned figure in the dream will often provide a clue, so I asked Alan what key events may have happened to him at this age, 4-5 years old.
That was the age I was when my parents divorced, my Dad moved away, and we moved to live with him. That little boy was very scared. I think he has something to do with my ability to love, as opposed to being scared.
The beauty of a dream like Alan’s is that it sets the stage for the reconciliation and eventual healing of traumatic wounds such as this one. The human psyche likes to be whole. It does not do well when parts of it are split off and hidden away from the whole personality. Such defensive adaptations can be life-saving and sanity-saving, and often they are the best we can do at the time of the original trauma. But years later, as adults, we will want to become whole again, and we will start to have dreams of lost, orphaned, and exiled parts, like Alan’s little boy.
But…wait a minute!…that little boy wasn’t in Alan’s dream! The mountain and the boy only appeared later, when Alan was invited to go back into the dream scene and move it forward. So– is it legitimate to help Alan re-connect with a part of himself, based not on a dream image, but from an image that arose subsequently during dreamwork? Yes, it is, if it arose from the same psychologically true place.
My experience in working with Alan on this dream was that the whole dramatic sequence was inside him, ready to play out. But it was blocked by something. It was blocked by the fact that he could not quite stand up for himself and grab the keys that were being repeatedly thrust at him. Once Alan had a bit of support with this bit…boom!…the whole story unfolded itself with no hesitation, and with very little further prompting or support required.
Not all dreams are blocked, of course, but, as much as I hate to say it–the majority are. This work requires a rather specific skill-set. You need to be able to identify where something dynamic is trying to happen (example: a person is being repeatedly offered four keys). Then you need to identify the nature of the blockage or stuckness (example: this same person is not taking the keys, instead he is staying in passive victim mode, feeling persecuted). Then you need to set the stage for the dreamer to help him identify what he would ideally like to do. (example: yell ‘enough!!’ and grab the keys). Then you need to help him imagine and visualize doing this exact thing. Then…if successful…you just need to stand back and witness the unblocked stream of imaginal energy burst past the broken dam that had been holding it back and rush towards some new part of the story. Just think of Alan’s four keys…we only saw the story of the first key! There are three more in his hand!
This skill set is called re-entry dreamwork. My particular version of it I call Re-enter and Re-imagine, or RERI for short. It is very interesting work: part live theatre, part coaching, part psychology, part therapy, part visualization, part…a lot of things. It is ideally suited to help us locate potential growth points that are still enfolded and are seeking for ways to push out into actualization. So, if you’re looking for a new career, or a new skill-set to add to your career…you might want to consider re-entry dreamwork.