Dreaming With Lemurs

Dreams mean different things to people according to culture, time and place. For tribal cultures, dreams were often revered by being incorporated into the life of its members through rites of passage, or taken as prophetic messages. These practices have mostly faded away in cultures where individuality is highly esteemed. As technology enables individuals to sustain themselves seemingly independent of a tribe, there is less need to rely on the messages that dreams bring.

When thought of at all, we moderns tend to think of dreams as personal messages referring to one’s individual psychology. Even psychological practices discourage us from sharing dreams for fear of contamination or the loss of a temenos. I share this concern.

But, I am challenging myself here by sharing with you two dreams to see if there may very well be a shared constellation between dreamers, even in an online environment.

Why not expand our understanding of dreams as meaningful to both the dreamer and the tribe? A tribe can be any group of individuals where connection somehow constellates. Familiarity with tribe members is not necessary for dream meanings to constellate. We have much more in common than our differences may keep us from realizing, yes?

Recently, I was given two dreams which prominently featured a similar animal. The first dream, dated October 18, 2014, included an astounding sense of lucidity and went something like this:

As I wake up, I am actually beginning a lucid dream. I’m standing in the street and realize that if I move I can float upwards above the street. As I move upward, I see a small animal. I move cautiously towards him. It might be a bat, but I don’t see wings. I look into his face and eyes and hold out my hand to him. He then sits in my hand and we look deeply into each others eyes. I let him go and then wake up.

But, I am not awake, but am lifting off the ground into a vivid night sky. There are multiple moons and planets visible everywhere. I am aware of the ability to float around at will. The beauty is so stunning I wake up.

The second dream, dated December 18, 2014, was recorded like this:

On a boat moving towards Liberty Island with Paul (my husband), we move past the island when we see another beautiful island beyond. On the island there are vertical rock formations which have small delicate, ornate tops.

We reach the shore and look around to see a herd of elk-like creatures scampering off the rocks onto the beach where we are. I touch the ornate rock formation and to my surprise, it breaks off. I feel bad about that. I turn around and can feel an animal biting my upper back. Paul says suddenly, “It’s a lemur.” The distinction of his words made me turn around and look. The lemur was now on the rocks and I see him with some cats who are his friends. I am no longer afraid and wake up.

Ring Tailed Lemur

Upon waking I felt very moved by the presence of the lemur, but wasn’t even sure what a lemur was. I thought they were part of the cat family! So, after reading up on lemurs I realize that the animal in the dream from October was also a lemur. It had bothered me that although it resembled a bat, it wasn’t. Upon seeing a photo of a lemur, I recognized that the bat was actually a lemur.

Lemur’s are from Madagascar, and sad to hear, critically endangered, but were very much revered by the native culture. A myth about the Indri, a kind of lemur, portray Indri brothers in story as enacting the original split between animals and humans:

“Most legends establish a closer relationship between the indri and humans. In some regions it is believed that there were two brothers who lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first indri. The indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.” Wiki

From Wiki: Serge Gomes da Silva – oeuvre personelle (own-work)

Also called babakoto, the Lemurs have a very distinct call and response style of singing. I found some YouTube’s of Lemur sounds and as I hit play, all five cats in my home went on immediate high alert. Honestly, I have never seen all of them react the way they did. I had to stop playing the beautiful haunting lament of the Lemur sounds. Time to get head phones!

“One explanation for the name babakoto, is that the calls made by the indri resemble a father calling for his lost son.[10]

Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.”

But Roman and Christian cultures do not see the lemur as a friend of humankind, but as vengeful ghosts of the deceased haunting someone who has dissed the ancestor with an improper funeral or burial.

Lemurs were so-named by the 18th century zoologist, Linnaeus, because of the nocturnal activity and slow movements of the slender loris.” And In Goethe‘s Faust, a chorus of Lemurs who serve Mephistopheles dig Faustus’ grave.”

It’s striking to me how opposite in nature the views are between the Madagascar natives and modern Europeans in their association to Lemurs. Perhaps the dream speaks to a need to reconcile the opposition between these two views? On a personal level, that opposition is very much of a concern to me and upon hearing these associations, I was impressed by how strongly resonant the two cosmologies play in my current thinking.

In mythology, and perhaps because of their size, behavior and likeness to us, Indri are thought to have a common ancestry to humans. A lover of animals all of my life, I am honored that the lemur has come to me in my dreams. Going out on a limb, so to speak, I would love to hear of your associations to the dreams or the lovely lemurs.

The Story So Far

Case history: our public, outer life, a collection of facts, figures, biography and stats.

Soul history: the private interiority of identity, memory, feeling, reflections, dreams and beliefs.

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman says:

“We can regard history from the viewpoint of soul. By carefully collating what happened, history digests events, moving them from case material to subtle matter. Hidden in this fantasy is a tenet of my faith: soul slows the parade of history; digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events. I believe that had we more experiencing there would be need for fewer events and the quick passage of time would find a stop. And then I believe that what we do not digest is laid out somewhere else, into others, the political world, the dreams, the body’s symptoms, becoming literal and outer (and called historical) because it is too hard for us, too opaque, to break open and to insight.”

But neither case nor soul history ever provides a final and complete truth, much as we may imagine particular goals. It’s not that truth does not exist, or that it’s relative to other truths, but that any perspective is a limitation, including only what the lens can see and the heart is open to.

Identity, an accumulative sense through time of being myself and not another, also defines others through distinctions and likenesses, distinguishing us externally as a self among other selves.

Time marks us with habits, memories and limitations through which a distinct version of a story is imagined as fact and takes up residence in our hearts. Although the whole truth of our selves and others can never be wholly seen, we weave a continuous story through the assemblage of historical facts. Digital bits plucked out of an analog background, although never to be grasped fully, can be intuited.

Often disguised and lived through us as fact, story begins in imagination and fantasy, and presupposes an ending, a conclusion already present and working in us. Character continually forming and aiming us at our particular fate.

The stories premise is the conclusion seeking to resolve the tension inherent in living through its characters and plot.

“Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

Through framing our and other’s identity the story bumps against the indiscernable analog field, gathering suspense and building plot through the motion of time. Our story tells us how we got from there to here, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s the past arriving but also the present speculating on where we are going.

Is this an illusion? “From Old French illusion, from Latin illūsiō, from illūdere, from in- (“at, upon”), + lūdere (“to play, mock, trick”)” Who is the narrator and who does the story, the characters and plot serve? Is it for the sake of the end, or is it for the sake of the display of characters? What if the play, the story of our lives enacted, carries the goal within itself? A play for the sake of play, ecstasy and love.

In dreams, the dreamer’s world divides into characters to tell another story. The characters, plots and settings show us a shadow world not always congruent with our dayworld story. Here, we who would be one, divide and multiply into shadow characters and sub plots, sometimes hardly recognizable to our waking self.

Perhaps the play becomes play, ecstatic with desire and love through knowing, a) there is a story, b) someone is telling it, and c) there are characters, plots, beginnings and endings shaping your character and your fate. Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion. You are the author, the characters and the plot of the story of your life. But not the you sitting on the outside in the directors chair, not the digital you, but the analog you coming through you from deep within the source of the scenes.

“Healing begins when we move out of the audience and onto the stage of the psyche, become characters in a fiction (even the godlike voice of Truth, a fiction), and as the drama intensifies, the catharsis occurs; we are purged from attachments to literal destinies, find freedom in playing parts, partial, dismembered, Dionysian, never being whole but participating in the whole that is a play, remembered by it as actor of it. And the task set by the play and its god is to play a part with craft, sensitively.”

What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)Public Domain

Hillman uses the Greek god Dionysius, whose motif was that of display and drama, to help us see our lives as a participation in story, dramatic figures on a world stage, not as an illusion, but as necessary parts in the display of the greatest show there is:

“If the structure of Dionysian logic is drama, the particular embodiment of Dionysian logic is the actor; Dionysian logos is the enactment of fiction, oneself an as-if being whose reality comes wholly from imagination and the belief it imposes. The actor is and is not, a person and a persona, divided and undivided – as Dionysus was called. The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located – contrary to Laing. Authenticity is the perpetual dismemberment of being and not-being a self, a being that is always in many parts, like a dream with a full cast. We all have identity crises because a single identity is a delusion of the monotheistic mind that ”would defeat Dionysus at all costs.”

And finally:

“We have been long led to believe that logos can be defined only by Olympian structures, by children of Zeus and Athene, or by Apollo or Hermes or Saturn – logos as form, as law, as system or mathematics. But Heraclitus said it was a flow like fire; and Jesus that it was like love. Each god has its logos, which has no single definition but is basically the insighting power of mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. It is an old word for our worst word, consciousness. Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,”  and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Class Notes – Session Six*

In Class Six of the Jung Platform’s online series, Alchemical Psychology, presenters Robbie (Robert Bosnak) and Pat (Patricia Berry) begin with a discussion on deriving meaning from matter, or the materials. This is a continuation of the discussion on fueling the fire in alchemy which needs heat to purify and transform the metals, or materials. Knowing the nature of the fire also involves an understanding of the nature of the fuel used to sustain the desired temperatures in the work.

Robbie reminds us of Hillman’s urging not to be in a hurry to derive meaning from the materials but to stay with the image. The image, whether in a dream, a memory, or a substance – is that which already has its own qualities, layers and depths. The more we can stay with the image the more we begin to discern its nature. Pat uses the analogy of being a servant to the material; ‘…”a waiting on” that is invisible and had no desires of its own.’ She sees serving as something lost to our culture because of its modern, and mostly negative, connotations. Serving can be seen though, as a respected art, an art of leaving one’s personality behind, becoming invisible to give oneself over much as an actor or a writer does.

The idea of absence, or a lack of presence being seen as a desirable trait in alchemical work is very appealing to me and I really enjoyed Pat’s speaking to an idea that doesn’t get voiced very often today.

As Pat noted in Japanese Kabuki dance-drama, the karoko are entirely dressed in black and are the most valued members of the performance as they are responsible for changing props and scenery without being noticed. From Wiki:

“Scenery changes are sometimes made mid-scene, while the actors remain on stage and the curtain stays open. This is sometimes accomplished by using a Hiki Dōgu, or small wagon stage. This technique originated at the beginning of the 18th century, where scenery or actors move on or off stage on a wheeled platform. Also common are stagehands rushing onto the stage adding and removing props, backdrops and other scenery; these kuroko (黒子) are always dressed entirely in black and are traditionally considered invisible.”

The nature of invisibility returns the discussion back to charcoal, a porous substance already purified by fire, and so desirable as fuel. As Hillman says of charcoal:

“It has been through the fire, a twice-born fuel, first as natural wood, then as the essence of that wood. Charcoal: an opus contra naturam. Also, charcoal signals in its lifetime the colors of the alchemical opus: black lumps, white ash, yellow flame, red coals. Most mysterious: even the origin of the English word is unknown.”

As Robbie says, charcoal is a fuel that, because of its nature, does not interfere. As Hillman puts it:

“Neither reagent nor catalyst, charcoal is the fuel that does not interfere, a giver of energy asking nothing for itself in return. This is the quality of energy that fuels the opus.”

Air, a necessary fuel for the work is also invisible, and as Robbie notes “it is the inspiration not of the material but of the fire.” In alchemy there was often pictured a servant, called the Puffer, who worked a bellow to control the airflow into the fire to maintain the desired temperature for heating the elements. Air has always been known to us as a primary animating element, necessary for creation and for light. Air is the vital essence of soul or spirit, the very breath itself, called prana, ruach, chi or pneuma which still survives in words like pneumatic and pneumonia. It is also one of the four foundational astrological elements that make up the cosmos; air, fire, earth and water. And as spirit is air, it inspires or expires, as the breathing in and out a life force we are continually nourished by.

File:Old bellow.jpgFor the fire, air both increases the heat and cools it down depending on the application, and for us both gives and deprives us of life. From Hillman:

“Fire actually burns air, the flicker of the flame is the same oxygen that we combust. As we live, we are burning, consuming the wind, thereby generating the calor inclusus that sustains our days. Our death is expiration, the windbag emptied, the fire out. The act of breathing is our first participation in the cosmos, circulating in our intimate interiority.”

And because this passage is Hillman at his best…

“Fire lives on mind, and the sustaining heat of our warm-bloodedness depends on inspiration, on fantastic invention, breezy wit and windy rhetoric, on brain-storming, rarefied theories and cool ideas. The mind, a blast-furnace…The alchemist with his puffer and bellows sucks into his project inspiration from the nous of the world, the archetypal mind that moves like the wind around the whole earth.”

Here Hillman makes reference to those whose work has come before ours – texts, works and art that we inhale to inspire us, as one book opens another.

Also inherent in air is the quality of detachment, coolness and space. The fire, and our work, both need some breathing room, the right amount of detachment or cooling to keep it from getting too hot to work with or from going out.

We move next to the nature of the metals, which contain within them a correspondence as in astrology to the seven planets. They are then in Hillman’s words, “in touch with the gods; they bear mythical messages.” Each metal then carries within a spirit, a guiding principle that “teaches the artisan.” This spirit or subtle body becomes the focus of alchemy and is referred to as “the sophistication of the metals.” The idea is to realize a desired quality in the metal that will be desired in the goal, or the stone.

Each metal imposes its own discipline on us and has an astrological correspondence, iron/Mars: rage or passion, copper/Venus: beauty, surfaces, shine, lead/Saturn: weightiness, time, structure. The alchemist is then seen to be hastening nature, aiding the elements toward a desired perfection, an Opus Contra Naturum that still follows and is guided by nature, but not without resistance.

“Nature does enjoy its natural state and resists change, yet it also struggles against its predeliction for stasis, subduing itself and making change possible. Nature sophisticates itself, dividing its ambivalence into two aspects – the unchanging and the changing.

The natural body of the metal may become a liquid, a powder, a vapor; it can combine, shift colors, submit to the effects of other substances. The subtle body, however, persists in its own self-same unalterability.”

In conclusion Hillman insightfully gives us a more psychological way of seeing alchemy:

“It takes heat to subdue the innate resistance of a substance, a heat gentle enough to melt the stubborn and fierce enough to prevent regression to the original state. Only when the regression to the original “found” condition – the substance in its symptomatic presentation – is no longer possible, only when it has been thoroughly cooked and has truly separated itself from its historical and habitual mode of being can an alteration be said to have been accomplished. Then the substance, which psychology might call a complex, becomes less autonomous and more malleable and fusible, having lost its independence as an intractable object that objects and resists.”

All quotes except where noted: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

*Because I missed class 5, I’m going to skip to 6 for now. If time allows, I may listen to the audio of the session and write something in the future.

Class Notes – Session Two

If you missed it and are interested, you’ll find my notes on Session One here.

After the second class on James Hillman’s, Alchemical Psychology, I find myself at odds. Something seems to be missing. The hosts, Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak, engaged in a wonderful discussion about the nature of the vessel and the use of heat in alchemical work.

However, I think we may be at risk of losing Hillman’s ideas about language presented in the introduction of his book. Beginning the work with more of an emphasis on the problem of language, we might invite Hillman’s work and voice into the classroom.

File:Arcimboldo Fire.jpgHillman’s book starts by asserting that it is our speech that needs therapy, to release us from “this massive curse of Western consciousness.” The tendency to literalize language is to miss its function as a referent. To “literalize” is to constrict words to a “singleness of meaning,” compared to metaphorical language, where the imagination naturally perceives multiple and layered meanings.

“Our speech itself can redeem matter if, on the one hand, it de-literalizes (de-substantiates) our concepts, distinguishing between words and things, and if, on the other hand, it re-materializes our concepts, giving them body, sense, and weight. We already do this inadvertently when we speak of what the patient brings as “material,” look for the “grounds” of his/her complaint, and also by trying to make “sense” of it all.”

It is because alchemical language is so foreign to us that it does present an opportunity to see through our “massive curse.”

“Alchemy gives us a language of substance which cannot be taken substantively, concrete expressions which are not literal. This is its therapeutic effect: it forces metaphor upon us. We are carried by the language into an as-if, into both the materialization of the psyche and the psychization of matter as we utter our words.”

Especially in our psychological and therapeutic language we hear jargon particular to each school of thought,  some of which has found its way into the culture. When we cannot hear the metaphors and fantasies in the language we use, we fail to recognize that our imagination is the primary mode of perception and we get stuck in a myth called Reality. It’s possible to forget, or not be aware that language’s task of referring to something beyond itself, works by filtering and delimiting the fluid motion of the reality we can never completely perceive.

“Conceptual language, however, is not self-evidently metaphor. It is too contemporary to be transparent; we are living right in its midst. Its myth is going on all about us, so it does not have a metaphorical sense built in it. I do now know, cannot see, that I am really not composed of an ego and self, a feeling function and a power drive, castration anxiety and depressive positions. These seem literally real to me, despite the experience that even as I use these terms, there is a haunting worthlessness about them.”

The genius of Hillman is that he saw the poetic basis of mind and insisted that image is primary, therefore all language and speech is of the imagination. As he so often said, we are in psyche, not the other way around.

“But our psychological language has become literally real to us, despite nominalism, because the psyche needs to demonize and personify, which in language becomes the need to substantiate. The psyche animates the material world it inhabits. Language is part of this animating activity (e.g., onomatopoeic speech with which language is supposed to have “begun”). Unless my language meets the need to substantiate, then the psyche substantiates anyway, unawares, hardening my concepts into physical or metaphysical things.”

So conceptual words become imageless things. As soon as we lose the sense of metaphor, trading images for concepts, we risk being stuck in a container of concepts we are unable to get out of. Images can never be fully contained for every picture is worth a thousand words.

“I said that the one-sidedness of neurosis perpetuates in our psychological language, its conceptual rationalism. One-sidedness – that general definition of neurosis – now becomes more precise. It can now be seen to refer to the grasping nature of our grasping tools, our concepts, which organize the psyche according to their shape. Our concepts extend their grasp over the concretely vivid images by abstracting (literally, “drawing away”) their matter. We no longer see the clay funeral urn or the iron pot-bellied stove, but “the Great Mother”; no longer the sea just beyond the harbor, the sewer blocked with muck, or a dark pathless forest, but “the Unconscious.” “

To understand the value of an alchemical psychology, before we speak of the vessel and the heat, we need to be wary of the inclination to harden our insights into something “real,” and also to understand that imagination isn’t something we need to work on, create or get more of, but something already going on, hard to see, and more so when we call what we see reality.

“According to Jung, neurosis is splitting, and therapy is joining. If our conceptual language splits by abstracting matter from image and speaking only from one side, then the as-if of metaphor is itself psychotherapy because it keeps two or more levels distinct – whether words and things, events and meanings, connotations and denotations – joining them together in the word itself. As the coniunctio is an imaged metaphor, so metaphors are the spoken coniunctio.

Especially, our one-sided language splits immaterial psyche from soulless matter. Our concepts have so defined these words that we forget that matter is a concept “in the mind,” a psychic fantasy, and that soul is our living experience amid things and bodies “in the world.” “

Hillman’s claim that we are “neurotic in speech,” in need of a “therapy of ideas,” are essential insights for an initiation into a more skillful dive into the depths of an Alchemical Psychology.

All excerpts from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.