One of the tools I discuss in my book about lifemapping (a work in progress – which I may or may not finish, that incorporates ritual, self analysis, delving into darkness etc) is dream interpretation, as I have always found this to be a very satisfying method for understanding what’s going on. I’m fascinated by universal symbols, archetypes, the collective unconscious, the Shadow, anima/animus, the integrated self and so on. I have recorded my dreams since I was little and discovered that I have some common themes and some not so common. I found that it’s important to keep in mind factors such as what substances you have ingested or what foods you have eaten before bedtime (for example – if your digestive system is trying to negotiate with a variety of cheeses or spicy dishes then your dreams will be infiltrated with interesting if not alarming imagery!)
I also found it interesting to note that, for me anyway, smoking marijuana either stopped me from dreaming or at least remembering my dreams. Alcohol made dreams more vivid and colorful. I’m still grappling with the notion of drugs either opening gateways in the mind to hidden concepts, memories and dimensions that are actually there or if they just simply create hallucinations. Whatever happens, don’t the symbols, memories and the ‘raw materials’ already exist in our subconscious – so the idea should be, whatever works to flush them out?
I always found the dreamworld to be a magical state that provided endless insights and ideas. One of the earliest dreams that I can remember was when I was living at Nanna and Pa’s. It was after my parent’s divorce and my two brothers, Peter and Lucas, as well as my cousin Georgia were living there, with my father. In the dream we were all in a car, including Georgia’s father (he and my dad are identical twins). The men were sitting in the front and us kids were sitting in the back. We were driving up and down some very steep hills. We arrived on the top of one of the hills (it was night time) and our fathers got out at a gas station to pump the gas and get something from the store.
All of a sudden the car started rolling down the hill, faster and faster. Our dads were still back at the gas station and we were screaming for them. As we were plummeting down to the bottom of the hill, Georgia and I were trying to lean over to take hold of the wheel. I woke up just before we crashed at the bottom. I had this dream four nights in a row. I was about 5 years old. I realize now that it was an anxiety dream brought about by our parent’s divorces and that Georgia and I were trying to figure out how to take control of the situation, but couldn’t.
Car dreams have appeared here and there in my life, along with other vehicles. Symbolically vehicles represent the way you are traveling in life, or life itself. It’s all about what’s going on, whether you have control of the vehicle etc. I’ve often dreamed of being in the passenger seat, or not being able to drive properly, which is indicative of how I’ve felt with the direction my life has taken, over the years. One dream I had was with the car splitting in half – and both halves going in two different directions! Other dreams had me feeling like I couldn’t control the steering wheel or couldn’t make the car go faster. The best one I had was where I was on a motorcycle and was on a long straight road, all by myself and I was going full throttle! It was wonderful. At that time, my life was taking off and I felt like I had more control.
I’ve also dreamed about trains, often feeling like I was on the wrong train, or seeing a train crash into the ocean. (Water is supposed to represent the subconscious, or emotions.) Now that I am living in another country, I dream about planes and feeling stranded, or flying back to Australia and feeling like I can never get the connecting flight back here!
A major dream theme for me is the Tidal wave. When I was in my twenties, it was ominous and overwhelming. They were huge and would wash over me, devouring me like a monster. Sometimes I would be inside the tunnel and would see furniture such as clocks, chairs, tables etc in the water. I would be panicked, wondering how to get out and worried about drowning. Eventually I would be outside of the wave but on the beach and seeing it coming, still freaking out and trying to run, but my feet were heavy in the sand or the drag of the water would be pulling me into the wave.
Other times I would be in a city and I would see a wave coming over a tall building, or I would see the water sluicing down alleyways. It got to the stage when they were not a bother, as the last one was where I was sitting on a sunny beach and I saw a wave in the distance. I didn’t panic. I just observed it dispassionately and once it crashed on the shore I watched the foam gently creep up to my feet and tickle my toes. I realized that it signified my having tamed my emotions (to a degree!).
An interesting (almost precognitive) dream I had was when I had started a relationship with a guy who turned out to be – to put it politely – quite a handful. He was draining on my nerves and drove me nuts. Jim was an unemployed writer and we hit it off, even though I had a feeling that it was going to be trouble. I fell for him straight away as he had a wicked sense of humor and was very intelligent. I learned a lot from him and he exposed me to books, music and art that I might not have gotten into, so I am grateful for that, at least.
When we first started dating I had a dream about wading into the ocean. I was walking under the surface as though I had lead boots on. I could feel the current gently buffeting me about but I kept walking. Then I could see all these mines – the circular ones that are anchored at the bottom with chains, like balloons on strings. I had to navigate my way past them. It was like walking through a dense forest and I had to make sure I didn’t bump into them, with the current pushing me this way and that. As soon as I woke up I knew what it meant. This one was going to be trouble.
It was intense and there were a lot of tears and angry words. He was infuriating as he had no issue with taking and not giving in return. He would snap for no reason and had issues with drinking. He made me feel bad about my appearance as he was a typical small man caught up in the idea that women have to be petite and weak. I put up with him for two years and finally let him go. It was during that relationship that my brother died and his sister committed suicide, so at least we were there for each other. Everything has its reason, I suppose.
I’ve talked about my mountain dreams in my post ‘Otherworldliness’, so I won’t mention it again here – other than to say that I wonder if it represents the integration of the self, according to Carl Jung. That would explain my utter fascination with it and how I yearn for it so much!
Snakes have often been a recurring theme for me. Some say they represent psychic power or sexuality. The symbolism always depends on what they represent for the dreamer. One dream I had was where I was flying through a lush jungle and I saw a large, beautiful green snake on a small island in the middle of a lake. I flew down and spoke telepathically with it. I woke up feeling so at peace! Another dream had me walking up and down some stone steps of an ancient temple and I saw a strange, small blue snake with horns. Then I saw another one with a head at each end of his body. Symbolically, the snake in a circle, swallowing it’s own tail means wholeness or infinity. Maybe the snake having two heads meant that I had to make a decision before I could be whole? (I can’t remember what was happening in my life at that time.)
Another snake dream I had was where I was underwater – swimming with a large snake, hanging onto it. The water was murky and we were dodging rotten logs and flotsam and jetsam. I think at the time I was worried about sordid sexual relationships.
One of my significant dreams I had before coming to the U.S. to live, was about a house, that seemed to be somewhere in a place like Indonesia. It was tropical and mysterious. The house was very mysterious and I was interested in buying it but next door was a yard that I had to go through to get to it. The yard was protected by stone animals that came to life every time I entered it, like a video game. I criss crossed and negotiated my way across until I finally made my way to the house.
Once inside there was a large rectangular room where an Asian looking, blue ghost lady was floating along the four walls, going in circles. Every time she passed me I was scared but I knew I had to speak to her to buy the house. I made it past her to the bathroom but then she vanished and a woman was cooking in a kitchen, back from where I’d come from. I realized it was too late. Still trying to figure that one out.
One of the scariest dreams I had was one of the most profound, as it involved the integration of the self. I was in a dark attic, sitting cross legged. At the other end of the attic was a little blonde haired girl. I knew she was evil as she was eating body parts and had jagged teeth. She looked like a demon. She was wearing a tattered white dress that was splattered with blood. There were lumps of meat all over the floor. She saw me and then started floating towards me, her teeth gnashing and her eyes flashing, with her arms outstretched.
I was petrified but realized that I had to accept her as she was a part of myself that I kept hidden. (Either my rage or some other aspect I didn’t like to admit to.) The fear became more and more intensified the closer she got to me until finally she was in my arms. Suddenly she transformed into a ‘normal’ little girl and was sobbing into my shoulder. I comforted and hugged her, telling her that everything was going to be alright. Once I awoke I realized that something huge had just occurred and felt very proud of myself.
I know that some people think that other people’s dreams are boring but I want to include the important ones (important to me, at least!) in my memoir as they’re a part of my history. Dreams afford us the opportunity to explore our motivations and to analyze our lives from different perspectives. They can be warnings or messages of hope and peace. If nothing else, they are a well of inspiration and wonderful ideas.
Dealing with Death
Until 1997 I hadn’t lost anyone particularly close to me, other than distant relatives, whose funerals I went to out of respect and to show support. The first funeral I had been to that I remember was for my cousins’ baby who had died of cot death (SIDS) when I was twelve years of age. It was 1978 and a grey day in Melbourne. My cousin was small and skinny with the front of her hair dyed orange and she was clutching onto her boyfriend. They were both crying uncontrollably and everyone else was huddled around them in a protective circle.
I remember the coffin being so terribly small. Everyone commented on how in the hell they could’ve fitted him in there. It was powder blue with a royal blue ribbon around it, only needing two men to carry it up to the altar. Afterwards, at the wake, I heard snippets of hushed conversation about the events leading up to the discovery of his lifeless body in his crib, how the blood had settled in ridges so he must’ve been dead for a while.
At the time, they didn’t know much about cot death and everyone puzzled at what happened, what could’ve been done and how hopeless the situation was. I was a very young twelve year old and didn’t know how to react so just hugged my cousin and said sorry and she gripped me and said “luv ya cuz!” It was all very confusing and sad.
For a long time, death happened to other people and I was somewhat cocooned from it, until 1997, when it caught up with a vengeance. Early in the year, I was in a relationship with – let’s call him John, who was many things but he mostly drove me insane. We had been together for about a year. I learned a lot from him and he was passionate, crazy, insanely funny, hyper intelligent, unemployed and a writer. I loved him to death but he was a serious drain on my energy. I had been doing my own tarot readings for years and at the time had pulled the cards out every so often, but every time I did, as I was shuffling, the death card kept falling out. Every time!
I consider myself mostly secular, but at that time, it freaked me out. It happened six times in one week and I decided not to touch the cards for a while. Two weeks later I picked them up again and carefully shuffled, deliberately clearing my mind and thinking about my career and other pleasant things. When I cut the cards and turned half the stack over, the death card stared me in the face! I was mortified. I quickly put them away again and told John, who was Catholic and straight away he was freaked, telling me to stay away from them.
At the time I hadn’t had my period but I’d always had issues with my cycles so didn’t think much of it, until I ended up having to go to the emergency room with unexplained bleeding. It was a miscarriage. After it was all dealt with I thought of the death card but brushed it aside, as I was upset over losing the child, even though it wasn’t planned and probably for the best seeing as the relationship was by no means stable.
Two weeks later John and were in my kitchen, making dinner when the phone rang. It was my stepfather who matter of factly told me that my younger brother Peter had died of a heroin overdose. Just like that. I’ve always had a delayed panic response to crisis. It’s always way after the dust has settled. I calmly asked what I needed to do. He asked if I could come with them to view the body. I agreed, hung up and asked John if he could watch Zack, who was ten years old at the time, so I could go and identify my brothers’ body. He was dumbstruck and came around the counter to hug me, telling me – “Of course!”
We talked about Peters’ wretched life and how on the one hand it wasn’t a shock, but on the other – how it was still a surprise. We had all tried, at various and numerous times to help him, to offer a stable home and to get him help. But it never worked due to relapses and so on. Things would get stolen, he would get involved with seedy circles and bring them back to our homes. There were mountains of broken promises, rivers of tears, lies and hopeless regrets.
My mother and stepfather turned up and we drove to the hospital. I was worried about Mum as she was so calm and rational. She kept saying over and over that at least the hopeless struggle was over, as though she was trying to convince herself. I knew that deep down it didn’t matter – the struggle, because the bottom line was that her baby was gone. The chance for trying to help him one more time was ripped out of her hands. We talked like robots as though reading from a pre-approved script until we arrived at the hospital. Once inside they took us to a room and a nurse told us that they had him in another room. She pulled me out of the room for a minute to tell me that Peter was on a slab and rigor mortis had set in, so it probably wasn’t suitable for Mum to see him like that. I agreed that it was probably for the best if I was the one to identify him.
I went back into the room and without explaining why, told Mum that I should be the one to identify him. She agreed – still stunned and said that she wanted to remember him the way he used to be. Before I walked out she said “Make sure you check the tattoos. Remember? Jimi Hendrix? And get the rings if they’re on him.” I said ok and followed the nurse into the hallway where a kindly policeman was waiting to lead me to the room.
Once at the door he turned and stopped me as I was ready to just casually walk inside. He told me to prepare myself. In a calm voice he said “The person you’re about to see is not the same as the one you’ll remember, so take your time.” My mind was racing but I just wanted to get it over and done with, so I nodded impatiently and said ok. He opened the door slowly and held it open for me to walk in. I took two steps and instantly – a tear shot out of my eye like a bullet! There he was, like a statue from Pompeii, on a cold metal slab, on his back, with his arms twisted upwards as though warding off an invisible attacker.
The plastic tubing was still in his mouth and a clear plastic sheet was draped over his body. It was like something out of a horror movie. The expression on his face was contorted as though he was still in discomfort. The smell of formaldehyde was overwhelming. I started hyperventilating. The policeman had a hand on my arm, asking if I wanted to take a break. I said no, but was having difficulty dealing with what I was seeing. I remember thinking “Check the tattoos”. I saw Jimi Hendrix on his bicep. It’s amazing how your mind tries to trip you up. I kept saying to myself “Are you sure it’s him? Check again!”
I kept checking and even when I said to the policeman, “Yes it’s him” and we walked out the door, I had to turn around and have a second look, to make sure. As he walked me back to the room where Mum and Brian were, I composed myself and asked the policeman to make sure we got his rings back. He promised and he did. As soon as I walked into the room I looked at Mum and didn’t even have to say anything. Straight away she collapsed into sobs and it began.
For a week the grief kept its’ distance from me. I was the one who called all the relatives all over Australia and planned the funeral. I organized the viewing before the funeral (we decided not to have an open casket – even though they did a great job on Peter and he looked so peaceful). On the morning of the funeral, that’s when it hit me. I was sitting on the couch next to John, when all of a sudden it was like a cannonball hitting my stomach. I had previously assumed that grief was just like any other emotional pain or depression, just deeper. No-one tells you that it’s a whole different ball game.
I physically felt it, in my stomach, like a rolling black ball, all consuming and dragging me down in a pit of despair. There was nothing I could do to fight it. It horrified me, as I could not control it. I could hear a howl come out of me that I had never heard before. John grabbed me and held me, much to his eternal credit – he did have a human side. I sobbed and gasped, drowning in a pool of darkness, wondering if I would ever come out of it. About ten minutes later it subsided. When I finally came to and sat back up I realized that this might happen at the funeral. I wondered if I might be able to control it then.
At the funeral, one of my cousins played the didgeridoo – which is an amazing instrument at any time, but at a funeral it drags out your grief, kicking and screaming, by the ankles. Everyone was kind of holding it together until he started playing, when the curtain finally closed over the coffin. The deep bellow of the instrument grabbed our souls and we surrendered. It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. But very necessary.
A week later I was having a shower and the grief monster hit me again, right in the pit of my stomach. I doubled over and collapsed on the bottom of the shower and waited for it to subside. It was like being possessed by a separate entity. It came in and after it did what it had to, it left. After that I was able to control it better.
Two weeks after my brother died, we heard about my uncle committing suicide. It was during the anthrax epidemic and farmers were having to cull their stock. He had been depressed and two weeks earlier had started taking prozac. My aunty told me that he had walked into his neighbors’ dam and drowned himself.
A month after that, Johns’ sister committed suicide. She gassed herself in her car after a relationship breakup. John and his family were devastated, as they had already lost a younger sister when John was quite young and their father a few years earlier. That whole period was a fog of death. It was so surreal and it took quite a while to get back to some semblance of order.
It wasn’t until the end of that year when I remembered the death card popping out all those times. It took a long time for me to be able to take the cards out again!