Sansaku: Forty

Sansaku:  To Open, Not Close


I was writing about resistance yesterday, and the theme of “pull, don’t push” is a common one in dreams.   It’s also one of the great topics in psychology and therapy.  In the analysis of dreams, it’s often where we start.

A good friend of mine says, “You’re like my daughter: you hate change, but once it happens, you don’t want that to change either.”

When I traveled, I used to fall in love with a village, a campsite, a group, and would never want to move or leave.   And surprise, I’m still that way.   I’m happy right here and now and don’t intend to change.   Or is there something I’m resisting?   Probably.

One of my favorite Pema Chodron books begins with this quote: “Confess your hidden faults. Approach what you find repulsive.   Help those you think you cannot help. Anything you are attached to, let it go.   Go to the places that scare you.”   God help us.

When she gets to chapter one, she opens it with a sentence from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”   And then she tells a story that has this moral at the end: Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.”

When I think about the psychology of resistance, the push and the pull of conflicts and wounds, the image of a shell and then teeth come to mind.   We try as best we can to protect ourselves, and none of us succeed.   Life has a way of having its way with us.

And these wounds that come unbidden are sensitive to the extreme, which is why we guard and defend so closely. Touch on one,  you’ll know.   It’s why we have all kinds of ways to deal with them, but we also long for healing.   It’s quite the dynamic.

Chyako reminded me that the Japanese say, when it comes to romance, if pushing doesn’t work, try pulling.   And there’s the comic nightmare where the man is trying to escape by pushing on a door that clearly says pull.   Of course, it’s the opposite if you’re trying to get in.

Our lawn is not the tidiest on the block, although I do think it’s one of the more interesting ones.   We have lots of trees including a dead aspen, and the grass grows well enough.   But I have a slight wound.

I’m a bit embarrassed when I look at our yard through the eyes of two neighbors. Both have waged war on weeds and brown spots.  It’s obvious I haven’t.   I start to compare, and forget that when I look in the mirror a similar kind of yard is looking back at me.

I had a zen teacher in college who was from Korea and found great amusement in some of our sayings.  One day he said, “You say that the other man’s grass is greener.”   And then he paused and laughed, “Don’t you know that grass is grass?”

I try to remember that; just like I try to remember that what I see in others is most often a reflection of what I’ve projected onto them.   It’s hard to argue against this in dreams.  And it’s why Jung said, “We meet our self in a thousand disguises along the path.”

And that’s a can of worms, to open, not close.






Sansaku: Thirty-Nine

Sansaku:  It’s a Pull, Not a Push


If dreams deal with the repressed, and Freud tells us they do, dreams also deal with wish fulfillment. We’re trying to remold reality nearer to the heart’s desire.

So what does a dog dream of? Freud suggests the dog is chasing rabbits and gnawing bones. But what chases the dog in his dreams? How does the dog symbolize his humans, that relationship?

There are two sides to the dynamic, and the descriptors are endless: positive/negative, good/bad, pleasant/painful, wanted/feared. Without this polarity, it’s mostly entropy and nothing much happens. We don’t care.   It’s not emotionally meaningful to us.

When Muriel said, “We’re a mirrored reflection of the ways our parent’s saw us,” I knew I needed to ponder it.   Some sentences are pregnant, but we’ve got to see it through.   Only then, does the child, the new being come to birth.

Think about this primal mirror; it’s as magic as it gets.   We have many hopes and needs, wants and fears, idealized and otherwise. And if they are mirroring us, what do we project?

Freud said that the events and happenings of the day triggered our infantile fears and desires.   Just like “Rosebud,” in “Citizen Kane,” childhood holds a secret and a key.   But that’s just the start.

We forget how the boss becomes the critical or idealized parent. Now suddenly regressed, the repressed child returns.   And what happens when we become the boss?

Freud said, we would always be struggling with this dynamic in life, and the best we could do was to accept and understand the terms of this struggle.   We are trying to make the unconscious conscious.   The more we uncover, the more we find is there. No analysis is complete.

Just as St. Augustine denied responsibility for his dreams, we have elaborative, highly symbolic, and bizarre ways of defending against these elementary fears and desires.   But here’s the good news: we can deal with them, grow with them, and consciously evolve.

In this way, dreams take what is manifest – the outer events of the day, the experience, and recasts them in the dream content.   The content, less defended and repressed, reveals the underlying latent meaning. It shows us where we are and where we need to go.

Again, there’s a rub, we don’t just repress all that is dark and dangerous, but also what is most divine in us.   “It’s our brilliance we fear.”   Dare we glimpse who we are deepest down in our soul?

I’m going to define repression in terms very similar to the Jungian shadow.   It’s what we can know and should know, but haven’t.   It’s all those parts to our selves, which we’ve forgotten or haven’t yet realized.

When you try not to think about an elephant, you’ll understand why repressions do not work.   The more we try not to think about something, the more stuck we get.

This is the psychological impasse, and it’s where the action takes place.   It’s what happens when you won’t take no for an answer.   So long as you push, so long as you resist and defend, the door won’t open.   It’s a pull, not a push. Say, yes, and what else am I missing.







Sansaku: Thirty-Eight

Sansaku:  St. Augustine


“Thank God, I’m not responsible for my dreams.”  St. Augustine

After I wrote that sansaku about Muriel, the psychoanalyst I met in the elder hostel dream class, I went looking through my notes on Freud, to see what kind of a fool I’d been back then. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

When I was studying economics in graduate school, I had a professor who was big on both Freud and Marx.   He said that the discovery of the unconscious and ideology marked the end of the enlightenment.   He said they destroyed our assumption of rationality.

It doesn’t mean that we’re not rational; it means we have a dark side, and it’s of paramount importance that we know this. And the more we believe we know, the darker the shadow.

That was forty years ago and things haven’t changed.   The whole world seems to be saying, “Thank God, I’m not responsible for my dreams.”   We still have trouble with the truth.

One of the ideas Freud began with is the simple fact that the world does not conform to our wishes, and the dream is an attempt to remold reality nearer to the heart’s desire. He wrote, “The motive for a dream is the wish, and the content of the dream is its fulfillment.”

But there’s a problem with this.   While we think we know ourselves, we don’t.   Many of our wishes go against our values and counter our personal and social beliefs.   And these impulses are there, whether we want them or not.   St. Augustine didn’t want them either.

And just because we’ve censored and suppressed some of these troublesome wishes, doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.   In fact, when they’ve been “successfully” repressed, things get really weird.

He believed the more we repressed something, the greater the energy charge.   And since the energy needed to be released and dissipated, it was up to the dream to do this. Two of the more problematic repressions were sex and aggression.   Just turn on the news.

If St. Augustine was doing his best to be a good Christian, you can well imagine what kind of dreams he struggled with.   I’m betting they were plenty lascivious and none too gentle and meek.

Because these wishes and impulses argue against our self-conceptions, they are often disguised and distorted.   Freud called this the neurotic symptom or reaction formation.   In other words, when we don’t face a problem directly, the attempted cure becomes the problem.   Now we have two problems.

For example, and I’m guessing, St. Augustine’s going to continue to be horny and pissed off.   He might also get righteous and judgmental about those who don’t properly repress.   And now that the devil’s out there, watch out.   It can justify all kinds of violence.

With this understanding, Freud realized there was much method to madness, and the bizarre twists of both mental illness and dreams began to make sense.

It turned out, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, that this rather obvious fact is hard for most people to swallow.   Instead of seeing how we’re subject to these deceptions and owning up to them, most of us go with St. Augustine.








Sansaku: Thirty-Seven

Sansaku:  An Unexpected Journey


I took an unexpected journey this week, and while I didn’t leave home, I’m glad to be back.   I took a road trip through the land of sickness.   It was a weird one.

I’ve had migraines come on fast, where I barely had time to take shelter, and a toothache that slowly devoured me, but this one sucker punched.   I didn’t see it coming.

I knew what it was, I had vertigo, and it felt like a hang-over without the headache.   I’ve always been susceptible to motion sickness, and have puked in cars, planes, boats, and amusement park rides.   But nothing quite like this.

Because I don’t know much about the condition, I was free to imagine all manner of cause.   A friend of mine, who just happened to be suffering from a similar symptom, said he immediately evaluated himself for stroke.   I’d spent some time there, too.

He thought his was viral, and would pass in a few days.   I wanted to believe that, and waited for the sudden take-off that spun me into nausea to gradually cease.  It didn’t.

I was slipping into a depression; I could feel it.   I hadn’t posted a blog in days and could only concentrate on one thing. It was spinning me into a state of hyper-vigilance, and I knew what that meant.   This was becoming traumatic.

This is why I don’t drink, even though I like to.   I hate the spins.   I’m probably lucky my body protects me.   I might have had potential.

I finally decided to get serious, and it took about a half-hour to properly diagnose myself.   I’m grateful for the internet and Dr. Google.   I had an odd sounding condition that was common, although I’d never heard of it.

My brand of vertigo was caused by little crystallized ear rocks rolling around in the inner ear.   When a clump of them goes rogue and bumps up against a particular structure, it’s instant motion sickness hangover.  It’s termed benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.

I went looking for treatment and finally found Dr. Susan Foster, of the CU Medical School, on Youtube.   She said the magic words I longed to hear, “I know exactly what you have. I’ve had it.”

She described her experience and I laughed in relief.  She said, “I woke up one morning and when I rolled over, thought something horrible had happened.   The room was spinning out of control.   And then I thought, this is what I practice as an ear specialist.”

She then explained a relatively simple home remedy that involved rolling the rogue rocks back to where they belonged.   Of course, you had to tolerate the wild ride, and work it through.   But it felt like a miracle cure and I shouted, “Hot damn, I’m back.”

There’s a saying about how good it feels when you stop hitting your head. And even electro-shock therapy was developed after observing people coming out of epileptic seizures and feeling calmness and peace.   It felt like freedom to me.

I’ve also heard it said that a sickness can take you farther than a trip to Europe.   I don’t know about that, but I was definitely grateful to be back home. It was quite a journey.


Sansaku: Thirty-Six

Sansaku:  A Foolish Mistake


In that same elder hostel dream class, I learned a lesson I’ve had to learn many times. I assumed I knew more than my students.   It’s a foolish mistake, and I hope I continue to be shocked and surprised.

After class one day, maybe two weeks into the course, an elegant old woman took me aside and said, “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’ve enjoyed the way you’ve shared with us.   You must promise not to tell others.”

Already I was beginning to see Muriel with new eyes.  I told her I understood and would keep in confidence what she shared. If anything, Muriel was one who could hold a silence.

She told me how she’d trained as a psychoanalyst in Europe before the war.   She was closely associated with many of the greats who trained with Freud.   The war had forced her, like it had many Jewish intellectuals, to come to America.

I have to admit, I was thinking more about myself than her.   I tried to remember what I’d said about dreams and psychoanalysis.   I was sure I’d been, to use psychoanalytic terms, both incontinent and loose.

Although Muriel has long been dead, unless she’s over a hundred, which she might be for all I know, I think she’s okay with my breaking confidentiality now.   Besides, she was very generous and forgiving with my ignorance.   There was no end to the shit I might have said that she could see and smell and hear.

She spoke with a slight accent and always in the most cogent and concise of ways.   I can almost hear her say, “The way we see ourselves is a mirrored reflection of the way our parents have seen us.”

I wish I had recorded our talks, and haven’t yet encountered in my journal if I recorded them at all.   As usual, I’m forced to imagine what she said.

I do remember she had recently closed her long practice and invited me down to Phoenix.   She had some books I might like.   I have no idea why I didn’t follow her home and learn from her.   It’s that same foolish mistake all over again.

And just as I unconsciously dismissed the great experience in my elderly class, our culture has dismissed the wisdom of the dream.   We’re actively educated to devalue them, even the word.  Dream on.

The metaphor of a letter from oneself, even from god, has been used for centuries to describe the importance of opening and remembering dreams.   But unlike ordinary letter writers, this one won’t stop sending letters, even if you don’t open, read, and respond.   The dreams will keep on coming, whether you remember them or not.

If you don’t want to make that foolish mistake, at least with respect to dreams, there are a number of ways to begin to remember them. We have to begin with the way we talk to ourselves. Suggestion is more powerful than we realize.

I think we need to learn how to love and value dreams.   Even the land knows when we love it.   And we need to express this love by remembering to write them down, paint and tell them.   They’re so easy to forget.   The ego has its foolish reasons.

Sansaku: Thirty-Five

Sansaku:  Not Just in Dreams


Twenty-five years ago, I taught a summer dream class for the elder hostel program.   We called them the hostile elders, but they weren’t.

I often ate breakfast at school, since I’d been given a pass to the cafeteria.   One day, however, I was late and grabbed a muffin.   I knew I wasn’t allowed to take food out, but didn’t expect the cashier to chase me down.   She made me leave it.

When I arrived at my classroom, two muffins were sitting on the podium.   Several of the elders had seen what happened.   One said, “You don’t know how to do it.”

The course description was plain: Explore many ways in which dreams have been used and understood in diverse ages and cultures.   Learn methods to remember, record, and analyze one’s own dreams.

I was shocked to discover I had a giant classroom full of students, most of them twice my age.   They might have been some of the best students I ever taught.

I started every class with a quote I wrote on the chalkboard.   And looking at the notebook I taught from, I probably put two or three dream sayings down each morning.

Here are three of them from Calvin Hall: “A dream is a personal document, a letter to oneself.   It is not a newspaper story or magazine article.” “One interprets dreamers, not dreams.” “Anyone who can look at a picture and say what it means ought to be able to look at his dream pictures and say what they mean.”

Looking at my notes, I’m amazed at how much material I tried to cover.   There’s pages and pages, and no way could I have talked that fast.   Besides, many were hard of hearing. I often had to slow down and repeat. I’m a horrible soft talker and they complained about it daily.

It looks like I borrowed heavily from Ann Faraday for my first lecture. “In 1953, many long cherished myths about dreams met their demise.”   I then described the discovery of rapid eye movements and the four stages of sleep.

“The cyclic nature of sleep has never failed to appear in all the thousands of subjects tested and in many species of animals.   It seems to be an in-built mechanism dependent on some biological rhythm.”

“Despite all of the scientific evidence, there are still many myths…   Not only does everyone dream, but 3 to 4 times a night, which means over a thousand a year.   It’s the recall that’s the problem.”

“Why do we forget our dreams?  Scientists discovered it wasn’t due to variations in dreaming or frequency, but it was due to memory.”

“More controversial, is the dream repression and suppression that takes place because the material in the dream contradicts the dreamer’s good conscience.”   It turned out, in the dream labs, people conveniently left out material that dealt with their more sensitive conflicts, anxieties, and insecurities.

But it’s not just in dreams, we do this every day.








Sansaku: Thirty-Four

Sansaku:  Associating on Touchstones


I doubt if Stevenson thought of the touchstone as a symbol when he was writing it, anymore than we think about symbols when we’re dreaming them.   But the idea of a touchstone can become a touchstone if we go looking for them.

I immediately liked the story.   It appealed to my fancy and sparked my imagination.   As a child, I loved to hunt for arrowheads, crystals, and hidden treasure.   It’s what I dreamed about.   I didn’t know back then about the journey within or the symbolic truths we sought.

And I remember when I started looking in the mirror. Mirrors are most definitely touchstones and a closely related symbol.   So are lenses.   We use them to make telescopes, microscopes and cameras. Words like focus and attention come to mind, and how they clarify and craft experience, even the way we remember.

I’m associating, of course, and now I’m jumping to reflection. It’s another symbolic word that’s close to the dynamics of perception, we have reflective consciousness. The problem comes from our extremely limited and relative point of view.   What would it be like to see from a wider perspective?   And how can we see what’s withinsides?

That’s what the touchstone seemed able to do.   It gave insight into a more inclusive inner truth, like mirror neurons.

I’m reminded of something Helen Fisher said.   She was speaking at the college on her book, The Anatomy of Love.   We use both verbal and nonverbal language as a touchstone.   We can instantly tell if someone is nice or not, interested or bored.   A single word or glance will do.

When I was in second grade, I remember my teacher telling me, “I want to talk to your mother.”   I asked her, “Why?”   Sure I had done something wrong.   She said, “It’s your language.”   Again I was worried I’d done something wrong.   Mom called her that night.

When she hung up the phone, she laughed. “Mrs. Sheets only wanted to know what we talked about at home.”   For someone who acted out and hated school, I was fairly well educated.

I can easily hear myself say, “There is nothing so monsterous that I cannot think it of myself.”   While I probably picked it up from my brother, it was definitely a touchstone of sorts.

When I began to study psychology and dreams, I went looking for touchstones and put them in my journal. It seems that both dreams and a journal are reflections on reflections, and we can reflect on them.

When I analyze a dream or symbol, I spend time on the feeling tone and mood.   The level of understanding and emotional development has a lot to do with our touchstone, how we mirror and experience reality. Touchstones can be warped and damaged.

The ring of power in Tolkien’s trilogy was a dark and dangerous touchstone. When Frodo finally turned it on himself, he was ashamed and it changed him.   When he handed to Galadriel, she was relieved to have passed the test. One never knows.

She had her own touchstone, the famous mirror.   Like the elder son’s pebble, she knew how to use it.   It’s like stringing the bow.