Friday, January 24, 2014

A Symbolic Dream

From time to time I'm interested in dream interpretation.

Readers who have the patience to bear with me through this unusually long post will find a detailed interpretation of yesterday's dream that expounds on meanings that may not be apparent on the surface of things.

One note: although it's true I am a Parabola editor, a "parabolic" interpretation, in this case, means an interpretation that works, more or less, as a parable.

The Dream: Jan 23, 2014

I am traveling in Europe; the country is Germany. Although there is a prelude to the scene, the essential part of the dream starts here.

I am near the back of the bus, a distinctively metro-type, city bus. L., a friend of mine and longtime group member (a real person, not a dream character), is with me on the bus. She is Jewish, but of Indian origin, and easily carries herself as a Brahman... we do not find it necessary to exchange words, but take seats together.

Next to us is a German woman. For some reason, I feel the need to explain to her who we are and why we are there. Although my German is, essentially, native, it has fallen out of use over the years, and so I'm a bit hesitant at first to explain to her who we are. I finally tell her—in German, in the dream—that we are colleagues, and that we are traveling on a pilgrimage of sorts. I explain to her that we follow the teachings of a spiritual master. I don't explain to her that that person is Gurdjieff, because it seems likely she won't understand that, and I don't want to bother explaining. She nods in affirmation; we exchange a few additional brief words. It’s unsure to me what the point of the exchange is, but it seems to have been necessary, as though intent and purpose had to be communicated. On the other hand, it may be that there is just the quite ordinary wish for a personal contact behind it; it’s unclear. Both motives are present.

As this exchange takes place, we’re beginning to ascend a hill. It is passing places of historical or tourism interest; primarily, it would seem, archaeological.

My friend L. fades into the background and ceases to be important to the dream. The German woman is still with me, but remains silent.

As we continue up the hill, the bus somehow morphs into a wooden cart drawn, as improbable as it may seem, by a donkey. I’m in the cart, and the German woman, who has now exhausted her role, is still with me. We are passing one site after another that seems somehow compelling, interesting, worth stopping for, but we plod on towards the top of the hill. As we move upward, sets of impressions strike me.

There are numerous stone crypts embedded in the ordered, trim green grass of the hillside. It is vaguely reminiscent of an Etruscan necropolisAs we pass the first set I sense these are very interesting, representing catacombs or some other ancient underground earthworks worth seeing. It seems, in point of fact, like these holes are a major part of what I came for, that they are maybe somehow connected to the essence of my journey.

I want to stop and look, but we don't; and I finally realize that it isn’t on the itinerary. So I make a deliberate choice to continue on. When we pass the second group of sites, higher up the hill, the holes are cruder and do not have any architectural embellishments. They are just plain holes in the ground— but there are people worming their way into them nonetheless. The holes beckon mystery; one wants to believe that wonders are hidden in their depths.

The figures and their action remind me in a peculiar way of the characters in a painting by Hieronymus Bosch or Breughel. Once again; I want to stop, but we carry on up the hill.

One other vital feature strikes me as I gaze on this scene. There is a striking, magnificent, pastel blue sky with a hint of sea green and graceful, amorphous clouds in subtle herringbone patterns. 

The instant I see it, it falls deep into my body. The impression is one of the deepest Grace and serenity, of an overarching glory, the deification of nature and, indeed, the Presence of the Lord Himself in this landscape. 

The holes in the ground and the activity around them pale in significance to this vision; I realize that the center of gravity of both Being and value lie here, not in the various sights to be seen, or the attractive holes with their mysterious contents.

I am reminded of Dutch landscape paintings or of expansive cerulean skies, as painted by Goya; in any case, while my impressions are distinctly related to a higher and manifest divinity, the corresponding parts in me associate it with bygone, yet undeniably great, artistic achievements. It seems like the skies that have been painted this way in the past were created specifically to convey this indelible impression of divinity, and that any other way of understanding them is actually without meaning.

We reach the top of the hill. The cart slows and stops. This is the point at which I really register the fact that the locomotion is now provided by a donkey, but it seems quite normal to me somehow.

The cart is of rough wood, vey basic; practically medieval, in fact. For reasons unexplained, it turns out that a very large rock has also accompanied me up the hill in the cart. By now the German woman is getting out of the cart and essentially gone from any conscious part of the landscape. Instead the rock, which is slathered in wet dirt and mud, as though it had just been pulled from the ground, looms large. It carries great presence, but in the moment does not announce a specific significance. Its presence is, in some senses, completely  illogical. I wonder for a brief moment why it is there; perhaps it relates to the holes in the hill.

The top of the hill is a destination of sorts, although it is a primeval one. Instead of tourist installations, kiosks, concessions, information booths and sights to be seen the ground is barren. The soil is yellow. It is pockmarked as though heavy rains had been eroding it.

As I step out onto the earth it suddenly becomes apparent that the hill is heavily populated with cats. They have spread feces all over the hill, and it is very difficult to step anywhere without stepping in it. My excursion suddenly becomes an exercise in attention requiring me to lurch from one spot to another to avoid stepping in the cat poop. Despite the ludicrous nature of the situation, there’s little humor in it; I am invested in trying not to get myself dirty. At one point I end up clinging to a particularly steep location, uncertain of where to put my hands without getting cat excrement on them. I manage to extricate myself, but not without difficulty.

Parabolic meanings


This dream begins invested in childhood, represented by the location (Germany) where I lived as a child, and by the location at the bottom of the hill, which represents a life which must be lived and a destination to travel to. Because I start at the bottom of the hill, the assumption is that progression up it will represent an improvement in station and situation; to rise is to be in a better place. The fact that the hill has tourist attractions, mysteries, and other people on it who are interested in such things represents all of the material world and its attractions and interests.

My friend L.

My friend L. is my female side; foreign, exotic, spiritual, and yet at the underside of all the events. She exists within, but my maleness is by far the dominant element in all of my life. She’s there as a nod to the situation, not to expound any of its dharmas. The fact that she shares my spiritual search and is, in fact, in my group (as well as being a musician and artist, like myself) simply underscores why the dream has chosen her to represent me in my feminine guise or mask.

The German woman

The German woman is the outside world. It accompanies me everywhere I go in an inner sense, and I constantly feel the need to explain myself—perhaps to justify who I am and what I am doing. The ambiguity of both her presence and my need to explain show how mistaken my belief in the need to rationalize such things is. In the end, the journey that is taking place is objective; it is within myself; and it actually doesn’t need the other characters to present its arguments. It’s significant that the element representing the outside world is also female, because it implies that my relationship to the outer world is similar to my relationship to my inner one and my spiritual search—in both cases, a receptivity is needed, as presented by the woman, who is creative, generative, and represents the side of Being that can be penetrated not by the male organ (let us note, even the slightest hint of sexual intent is singularly absent from this dream) but by a spiritual organ—the living presence of God.

The Gurdjieff element

My exchange with her about the Gurdjieff work (which doesn’t mention it, but firmly casts the dream in the landscape of spiritual effort) indicates my need to state my case; to establish the fact that I’m on a journey, a pilgrimage, with a specific purpose. Given her minority role after this exchange, one could argue that the German woman exists solely to provide a vehicle to state this case, so that the remainder of the dream’s meaning will be abundantly clear. Dreams can be quite clever this way; in the same manner that Bosch’s paintings often provide keys unlocking the specific meaning of various scenes, dreams may well provide the dreamer with a symbolic key to help convey the understanding the dream is attempting to bring.

These dream-initiated understandings are far more important than the superficial, or “conscious,” understandings of the waking mind, because an understanding that has been absorbed into the fundament of the unconscious is, first of all, much more deeply learned and, secondly, has acquired the capacity to serve thereafter as a more powerful motive force in conscious or waking understanding. So the processing of dream elements and meanings becomes an important formative mechanism in the function of ordinary consciousness if it is properly understood. We might thus say that a dream can, sometimes, represent what has been acquired by the formative or associative mind but also digested by the soul, which is a much deeper and more vital inner process.

The hillside

As I move up the hillside, the chief element at work in my dream persona is desire. I want to explore the hillside; but at the same time I want to reach the top, which is considered to be the “final” aim, or destination. So I am conflicted in my various desires from the beginning. Compounding and confounding the matter is the fact that everything in life (the activity on the hill) is attractive, interesting, and mysterious; I want to be there with the rest of the folks exploring its hidden recesses, which seem to promise things I want, although, ironically, I don’t even know what they are. It is the very implication that there are desirable things buried in the holes on the hill that attracts me; my desire is, in other words, formed entirely by imagination.

I have, at least superficially, the patience to overcome this, because my aim is firmly set on the agenda of reaching the top of the hill. The situation is such that I could definitely bail out of the cart and investigate the holes; but I don’t. This implies a kind of discipline which, in fact, I can distinctly remember exercising as a part of my mental attitude as we climb up the hill. I am able to say no to the desires and continue the planned journey, rather than be distracted by mysteries... fat lot of good it does me in the end, mind you, but there it is, chalked up as a purported merit.

The holes

I mentioned that the holes, and the people entering them, convey the distinct impression of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. This is primarily because of the incongruous, even mildly ludicrous, image of people diving headfirst into the holes; not exactly a comely behavior. The connection to indulging in an activity of the lower parts—a willingness to dive back from the bucolic green slopes of the hillside into the Plutonic depths of the underworld—is implicit; and Bosch specialized in depicting human activities from this wryly amusing perspective. 

The inference seems to be that I am forever drawn back downwards towards lower instinct and impulses, even though I like to think of myself as on an ascending journey towards a higher level. Not only that, the circumstances are attractive—the very mystery that surrounds me as I rise up the hill, with its attendant airs of ancient civilizations and treasures to be unearthed, all of which seem to be an essential part of the search—are in fact distractions that can impede my progress or even drag me back down.

The vision

This is actually the most important element in the dream, because it has a real feeling quality. In this particular element, a higher energy enters, and for a moment I sense the actual presence of God and His connection to earthly spheres. The landscape, the events and the circumstances are informed —inwardly formed—by the Lord’s presence.

Everything else in the dream pales in significance to this scene—and indeed, the colors expressed by the sky are the most vivid impression of the whole dream, falling into me like a kind of manna or sacred food. The Lord feeds me and feeds me generously; and the journey up the hill is a mere side show compared to this, even though I have managed to cast it as it the central event. In a way, the voyage up the hill is my whole life; and as I get halfway up, in the dream, I suddenly see that all of the real meaning and food in life is invested not in this climb up the hill, but in God and my relationship to Him. 

This relationship is offered by God and mediated by him; it is freely and generously given. Yet my impression is that it’s the journey up the hill that will bring me to God; and it’s only my arrival there that can impress upon me how very deeply mistaken I am about this.

Not only that; the mirroring of the sky within me reminds me that I myself am an impression of God; I have no substance of my own, but am merely an image that reflects Him and in fact wholly belongs to him, as is expounded in Meister Eckhart’s sermon # 14.

The donkey, the cart, and the stone

As I reach the top of the hill, my vehicle has degraded from a modern bus to a tumbril. Typically an executioner’s vehicle (think about that), it represents a descent from modernity into humility as one moves upwards. Not only is the cart a much lower and less ostentatious form of transportation; it is equipped with two symbols of Christ’s passion. 

First, the donkey, representing the animal on which Christ made His entry into Jerusalem. The implication is that the cart is actually an exalted form of transportation; good enough, in fact, for Christ. 

Second, the cart has a stone, representing the stone that was rolled away from the tomb: in other words, resurrection. We could even, if we wished, extrapolate and suggest that the hillside itself may represent Golgotha, although this is a bit of a reach. The underlying currents, however, are there; and given the subtleties of the unconscious, the association can’t be discounted.

So the entry to the hilltop, traditionally a place not just of spiritual elevation, but also of surrender, is accomplished in an air of humility, with the possibility of sacrifice hovering in the background.

The hilltop

The hilltop is populated with cats, highly intelligent, loving, but also very wily—and, in many senses, completely uncaring and intensely selfish creatures. It represents life, with all its intellectual trappings, its wit, its warmth, and its attractions. The hilltop, which represents the highest station that can be achieved on this earth, is densely populated with the cats; and this is a message about the most that can be discovered, attained, or achieved, in this life. 

Furthermore, the hilltop, which once again is a pinnacle, is covered in excrement. As such, the place of my aspirations is at once essentially earthly, and at the same time completely worthless— it’s a toilet. The inference is that no matter how high I rise within this earthly sphere I am never going to rise higher than the lowest element that surrounds me in the material world. 

I have confused myself; what I think is a journey to the higher was, in fact, already accomplished much lower down the hill—in fact, it has always been accomplished. This is symbolized by the fact that the overarching cosmological conditions—the sky itself— within the dream already presuppose a Presence within and under the influence of God. My search is a worldly one; His Presence, however, is eternal and heavenly. The search itself distracts me from His Presence, which is already here.

While it might seem like a degradation of the sacred nature of God’s creation to see it all represented as excrement, the hilltop doesn’t represent the natural or material word; it represents, in the end, my aspirations and beliefs. Anything I can think of is as nothing compared to the Lord; and this is the message the hilltop broadcasts. For as long as I’m entangled in this morass of cats and cat feces, I will stumble from pillar to post with no real awareness of the Lord.


It’s interesting that the Gift of the Lord is given halfway up the hillside. Yet I go on. Fully cognizing the nature of the Lord, I still fall prey to my willfulness, and the agenda I have already set. 

It might seem extreme for the dream to cast the “entire world,” as it were, into a realm of bare dirt and animal feces, but we can’t second-guess the uncompromising accuracy of the psyche when it comes to such matters. It is, in essence, a dismissal of all worldly thoughts, concerns and things as utterly worthless compared to God. The idea is well-known to student of esoteric and religious sciences, but the symbolic illustration of it in such graphic manner lends it a much more than casual inner weight.


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