By: Ken Kimmel, M.A., C.M.H.C.
In their deepest sense, dreams reflect the condition of our evolving human souls. Dreams over a lifetime may appear like paper-thin cross sections of a 300-foot redwood tree. The patterns running through its veins, from roots to treetop, reveal our wounded condition as well as the resiliency of the human spirit. Our job is to bear the painful as well as the profound truth, forging from within us a Self of deep integrity and moral responsibility.
Our society in general knows little of the sacrifice necessary for this to occur. As the initial dream in our series of dream interpretations reveals, ours is a culture bound to eternal youth and narcissism. The following dream is from a 40-year-old man who admits to fears of deep intimacy, despite the fact that he has been married for 15 years:
”I’m with three men, including Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian. I’m his sidekick. Each man pairs off with a woman, and I’m “left” with Geena Davis. I feel deep love overflowing for her, as if my long-lost love returned.
“Without any prelude I lay upon her. She tells me with deep sadness that she can no longer open up to me because she would then need me too much. She is certain that I cannot promise her not to ever go away. I want to tell her that she is my one true love, and that I will never leave her, but if she is acting so insecure and needy, she would push anyone away. I want to explain my side, but she hardens her heart and decides on a whim to go “out on the town,” wearing a skimpy red evening dress that a hooker might wear. She acts distant and tired. I notice I have this blood-red caviar in my lap, the same color as her dress. When she walks out the door, I feel abandoned and I pursue her.
“On the front porch I am confronted by a big, older black man, like a former football linebacker turned bodyguard. He’s mean and aggressive. Instead of sympathizing with my abandonment he wants to beat me to a pulp, as if he knows what I have done to Geena. I think that if I act like the hurt little boy he will be understanding and let me pass to go find her. And I think she will come back to me. But no way, not this time.
“Then there is this strange scene as I go searching for her, of a ferris wheel turned on its side on a movie set. A Chaplin-esque stunt is being staged as a comical illusion. Although gravity pulls us down, it appears to be taking us skyward. The wheel spins faster and faster. I feel great danger, like the little boy in me is approaching disaster. I awake very disturbed but disconnected to any real feeling.”
Understanding the Dream’s Major Symbols
Such a rich, complex, and emotional dream as this will unveil its meaning over many painstaking weeks, months, even years. In the space this article affords, let us look to the dream’s major symbols, beginning with the questionable company our dreamer keeps.
Dream characters will tend to represent the unconscious attitudes the dreamer holds Seinfeld is supposedly a television show about nothing. But his show is very much about something: Narcissism! The characters on this TV show have been together for some eight years and not a single one has sustained any sort of a meaningful relationship because they are all so self-absorbed and immature.
Like a hungry boy, the dreamer is “given” Geena Davis, his ideal “screen goddess,” to use. His naïve expectations of instant gratification replace the struggle that real human connection requires. He doesn’t choose. He has neither internal nor external boundaries that define him as separate and moral, as one who knows good from bad, for that is something that a man has to do.
This indicates the psychological state of submission to the archetype of the Negative Mother within, where the child inside has never learned to struggle or to say “no.”
Children’s fairy tales tell it best. Consider the story of Hansel and Gretel. When Hansel first enters the magical gingerbread house of the kindly old woman of the wood, he is fascinated and seduced by the wonder of it all. He is soon imprisoned and fattened up to be eaten by the witch in disguise.
In this man’s case, everything is provided for and the easiest way is always handed to him—for a price. When one is possessed, there is just you and her, and the outside world is behind three feet of glass. To be moral, one must be able to relate to another’s pain and have the courage to own one’s shame for causing it.
In narcissism, this retreat into the protected cocoon is chosen time and again, for who needs to adapt and accept the limitations of pain of ordinary life when the promise of the “Garden of Eden” is yours for the asking?
The dreamer’s inner woman is an image of his soul, and she is the carrier of a deep anguish that certainly reflects the pain both he and his wife must have felt over the years of failed attempts at intimacy. The retreat to narcissism at its core is to hide the wounds suffered in the earliest years. In the dream he cannot bear to be needed to the depths that she feels, for that would require real vulnerability. He justifies his cowardice and avoidance by cleverly interpreting her pain of betrayal as insecurity and dependency.
And yet he professes an undying love for her only when he can’t have her. The depth of her soul’s love for him is boundless. How long has she waited for him? How many times has the “feminine within” come back to him, believing his promises of love, only to have her neck slammed in the door?
So, she finally gives up on him and leaves, while slowly dying inside. She dons the garb of the seductress. The blood-red dress that matches the spilled caviar in his lap suggests the primal colors of fire, passion, lust, rage, and all the life energy spilling from the sexual Chakra. The psychic contents cannot be contained, nor does the kundalini energy have a way to rise up to the heart where real healing can take place. She, as whore, is constrained to enact the mechanical actions of sex with no heart or intimacy. This speaks to all the “spilled seed,” the wasted life’s blood and the pain of love unfulfilled, relegated to the baser levels of survival. Only the “fish eggs” hold out the promise of a spiritual rebirth, in time. In the worst of dreams there is almost always a piece of God lying in the dunghill, usually overlooked.
This deeply felt tragedy is the result of a fear of being devoured or hurt, but beneath the feigned innocence is an entrenched heart that will not risk vulnerability. “Geena Davis’s” withdrawal brings on those age-old feelings of abandonment, prompting the dreamer to search—unsuccessfully–for the mother who will make it all better.
Instead, he comes upon the fierce black guardian at the porch—or “gateway” to another place—who wants to smash him like a bug. This is the dreamer’s shadow figure, who carries the desperately needed physical, brutish, ruthless, masculine power that he needs to fight for freedom from the negative bonds of the mother. As we know so well these days, many men have never had fathers who could teach them how to grow up and be men. This “dream warrior” serves as just such an initiator, but his method isn’t dainty.
The final, bizarre scene presents the dream’s major turning point and culmination. The ferris wheel is turned on its side, where up is down and down is up, with death imminent by a fall from great heights. Simply put, this man must come back down to earth, or die. The fateful crash and deflation breaks the negative hold of the mother upon him. This pendulum swing, or enantiadromia, is defined by the Greek Heraclitis as “Where the deepest point of saturation with darkness gives birth to a rapidly expanding point of light.” The forces serving for wholeness and union manifest often at the time of greatest need. Death is change.
Three Necessary Tasks
In conclusion, for a man such as this dreamer to return to earth to find his manhood and his heart, he must commit himself to at least three tasks.
First, he must be willing to suffer to his core and feel the shame for all the harm he has caused the feminine in his lifetime.
Second, he must fight for the real relationship, with all the difficulties and flaws inherent to human beings. He must learn what it means to sacrifice.
And finally, he must develop the discipline, boundaries and steadfast qualities that come from the place of Guardian and Father. This is a worthy task for any man–and the greatest gift that he could ever give to those who love him.
About Ken Kimmel…
Ken Kimmel, M.A., C.M.H.C., is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and has been Director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Dream Studies since 1980.