The Jungian analyst told me at our first phone call that I should pay attention to any dream I had the night before we met. It could hold guidance for us as we began our sessions. The faculty grant I’d gotten was to study dream work, and Polly had agreed to teach me for a summer, using my own dreams. Her home was on a ridge in the North Carolina mountains. It was made of cedar wood, so it smelled wonderful. Her huge Bernese Mountain dog, Riggi, snuffled me and then flopped down by Polly’s chair. Often during that summer’s work, if I got sad about something that came up, Riggi would heave himself to his feet and come lean on my knees. That first day, Polly raised her eyebrows at me and asked whether I’d dreamed the night before. I had. “I was riding on the back of a white winged horse,” I told her. We were following a deep gorge, flying over its deepest part. Bridges flashed by under us, connecting the sides of the gorge. The wind in my hair and the warm solid body of the horse under me felt both safe and free.
“Let me ask you some questions,” she said. “Every part of the dream is you. Is there a deep gorge in you, a divide between two parts of your inner landscape? “
“There is at least one,” I answered. “My faith and the faith I was born into, my body and my mind, things I’m supposed to believe and things I actually believe. There is a lot of integrating to do.”
“Well, you’re not going to do it the regular way, is what this dream seems to be saying. There are bridges that connect the two sides…”
“Plenty of bridges,” I agreed.
“You’re not going to use any of them. You’re flying over the gorge itself, perpendicular to the bridges. Lots of ways across, but you’re following the gorge itself as your way. Now, do you have a flying horse in you?”
“Um… “ No one had asked be that before. “I have always loved horses. They’ve given me delight, taught me responsibility, given me power, and hurt me badly. I limp because a horse I didn’t know jumped the side of the ring instead of the jump we were supposed to be going over.”
“So, this one is going to be all those things in you. Your power, your strength, your care for beings, and your vulnerability. You know it can hurt you, but this one is flying. If that other horse could have flown, you wouldn’t have fallen hard because it wouldn’t have landed, maybe?” I was nodding. “You’re going to use all those things as you fly along this division in you. Not using the bridges to go back and forth, just flying above and along the gorge.
“This is a significant dream, as you had it the night before we met. It tells you about a theme for your life, or at least for this work we’re doing together.” That felt true. I went home and read up about Pegasus, and learned that he is the child of Poseidon, the sea god, and Medusa, with her fearsome face. With his hoof print he created a fountain, sacred to the Muses, whose waters bring forth poetic inspiration.
We laughed a lot. I told her one day I thought I might be going blind. In my twenties I was ready for anything to go wrong, I don’t know why. She laughed and asked if I’d cleaned my contact lenses lately. No I hadn’t.
She told me about a client who, after months of dream work, finally confessed that he never remembered his dreams; he’d just been making them up. She told him it didn’t matter one bit, that his imagination was how his unconscious was talking to him. They continued to work on his made-up dreams.
I looked forward to the hour’s drive to her home, to the views over the Blue Ridge, to Riggi and Polly’s wisdom, the smell of cedar, her big loom in the main room. In addition to learning that everything in the dream was me, I learned the importance of the feel of the dream, the emotions within it. I’d been reading Jung since college, but I went back to it, and to the books written by his students and friends. Mostly, in my counseling practice which came a few years later, I used regular Family Systems theories, but now and then I’d work with a client’s dreams. I have used mine for guidance throughout my life. I knew it was time to leave my college chaplain job when I dreamed I was graduating in a cap and gown, walking across the college’s stage and accepting my diploma. I knew not to take a job at a downtown church when I dreamed I was a waitress in a restaurant filled with people from that church. They were snapping their fingers at me, treating me scornfully. At a time when I was struggling with whether to make an enormous personal change, I dreamed that I was in a university room with a Gothic window high in one wall. Suddenly one of my favorite authors, Robertson Davies, was with me, and gestured to a ladder, which we climbed. We reached the window and sat together on the sill. I looked behind me and the ladder was gone. I didn’t know how to go back. He gestured to the grassy quad far below. I shook my head – that was too far to jump! He gestured again, and we stood on the sill. He opened his umbrella and held my hand. We jumped together, and the umbrella let us land softly. That was one of several “no way back, only forward” dreams I had during that time.
I hesitate to talk about dreams much, because, after several years of teaching the dream interpretation I’d learned, my dream-maker went on strike. In my dreams, I was only ever reading the plot of the dream in a book or a newspaper. I would read what happened, but there was no color, no movement, no smells or sounds. I stopped teaching about dreams, and slowly my own dreams came back, first as if I were hearing them through a wall, going on in the next room, then finally being able to be in them again.
I’m not superstitious about dreams, but they strike me as a good tool to use, an element, a story, or an image to help my thinking. So often, in problem solving, I can have a failure of imagination about my options. I think of the Tarot this way too, as John Sandford’s character Kidd thinks of it, as using game theory, an image or a thought to knock your thinking off dead center, to help you see all of your options, or to ask yourself better questions.
Looking back on the Pegasus dream, I see its truth. I’ve lived my life counting on the Muses, on their inspiration. I’ve always loved being in and near water. I don’t know if Poseidon only rules the sea, or if he’s involved in creeks, streams and swimming pools. More research must be done. As far as my horse’s mama, I have made a living helping people look at the fearsome Medusa-like things they are unable or unwilling to face alone. Poseidon, Medusa and the Muses, embodied in the strong winged horse carrying me. Feeling both safe and free is a rare and wonderful combination. People are so often willing to give up one for the other, and I’m full of gratitude for the flight I’m on, where I often get to feel both at the same time.
That summer was long years ago. Polly and Riggi are gone now. I carry both of them vividly in my mind and heart. The things she taught me have stayed with me and helped me over and over. Riggi taught me too. When someone is upset, just leaning against them can help enormously.