This article is a Dream Studies Portal exclusive: an excerpt from the new book The Tranformational Power of Dreaming by Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner.
This selection is in the words of Tom Verner.
Carole felt trapped, became very depressed, took an overdose of pills and ended up in therapy with me after a brief stay in the “psych ward” of the local hospital. She began having a dream that recurred a few times a week. In the dream she is asleep in her bedroom: the door opens and “awakens” her. A dark figure comes toward her. The figure gets closer and closer and terrified she wakes up in a cold sweat.
We talked about the dream and how terrible she felt being back in her parents’ home with the baby, how trapped and alone she felt. I encouraged her to try something. I asked her if she had the dream again to try and become conscious in the dream and ask the figure, “What do you want?” To face the fear in her dream, as terrifying as it was. I said this would take great courage but I thought she could do it. She said she would try.
I had been studying the Senoi peoples of Malaysia and their ways of working with dreams. They encourage this kind of lucid dreaming in which a dreamer stops in the dream and faces the fear asking, “What do you want from me?” I was having success with this method in my own dreams and with patients. This notion is captured in the Senoi proverb we have already mentioned, “Where the fear is, that’s where the power is.” This is a simple, profound psychological truth, based on the principle of projection, which Jung described as “turning the world into a replica of your unknown face.”
Carole came to the next session reporting that she had continued to have the dream almost every night. The dream was becoming more and more intense and terrifying. She had managed to become conscious in the dream but was unable to get the words “What do you want from me” out of her paralyzed body. But a new detail had emerged. The intruder had a large knife and the sense that he wanted to kill her became frighteningly clear.
The dream continued to haunt her sleep and new details continued to emerge, including that the intruder was wearing one of her favorite high school jackets. The final terrifying detail to emerge as we got closer to the naked reality of the dream was based on something she had failed to mention during our sessions: her baby daughter slept in the room with her, and the intruder was heading in the direction of her baby and not her! She began painfully to touch on her feelings of resentment toward her daughter. She felt her daughter had ruined her life, had destroyed her relationship, and forced her to move back home. She wept bitterly as she talked about these feelings. Her shame was as strong as her resentment. She loved her daughter but found a powerful part of herself wishing she had never been born. She was caught between these powerful poles.
Finally she had the dream for the last time. The intruder came into her room, she found the courage to say out loud, “What do you want from me?” The intruder was headed toward her daughter’s crib. Again Carole screamed, “What do you want from me?” The intruder now came toward her bed and stood over her with knife raised. The intruder brought the knife down, as if to plunge it into her heart. But as the knife got to eye level it transformed into a brilliantly lit torch. The torch revealed the intruder as the most startlingly beautiful version of herself she had ever seen, wearing a white dress and standing illuminated in the light.
I was overwhelmed with awe when she told me the dream at the next session. What a testimony to the power and creativity of the dream source within us. Facing her fear, facing the truth of her murderous feelings toward her daughter had revealed, in a most wonderful way, her own beauty and power. It had taken months to work toward the truth and terrifying beauty of this dream.
Something had changed. Within a few months Carole was able to apply for a program at a local Community College that supported single moms wanting to attend college. It took time, but her life gradually reflected the illuminated, powerful person she saw in her dream.
The recurring dream lets us know that real change, deep transformative change, may involve facing unacceptable parts of ourselves. The purposeful part of the creative psyche is revealed when it won’t give up. Here the dream itself says, “I will not let you of until you face your fear and accept the blessing I have brought to you!” The poet William Blake asked, “What is the price of wisdom? Shall it be bought for a song, or a dance in the streets?” And then he answers his own question, “Nay, it takes all that a man [or woman] hath.”
This recurring dream of Carole’s gives us a truly masterful example of the therapist’s trust in the integrity that lies in his own client’s core, and in the wisdom of the dream (though in the beginning it seemed like a nightmare!) Most importantly, he was able to provide a safe space in which she could face her own deepest fear of her ambivalence towards her own baby–unacceptable in the conventional works from which she came but not in the wiser world of her own eventual wholeness.
Order your copy of the Transformative Power of Dreaming here.
About the Authors:
Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology at SUNY Ulster and the author of several books, including The Healing Power of Neurofeedback and Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. The founder and director of Stone Mountain Center, he lives in New Paltz, New York.
Tom Verner is a practicing psychotherapist and professional magician and was a professor of psychology at Burlington College for 35 years. The founder, with his wife Janet, of Magicians Without Borders, he lives in Lincoln, Vermont.
The Transformative Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul by Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., and Tom Verner © 2017 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.