Merode Altarpiece (Detail)
The Cloisters, New York
Friends will know that I occasionally enjoy interpreting dreams from the point of view of inner spiritual work. In doing this, one adopts the postulate that all of the characters in the dream represent parts of the self which are trying to communicate one's present state and challenges.
It's not too difficult to get the hang of this oneself once one understands that ground rule, and subjecting dreams to analysis on this basis can often yield some interesting results. I probably ought to mention that Wilson van Dusen had a number of interesting observations about dreams in his book, The Natural Depth in Man, that work along these lines. The book is well worth reading for those of you who might be interested.
Below is last night's dream. Remembering it just after I woke up, it did not seem to have much content, but it was actually quite rich.
Dream of January 10, 2016
I had a peculiar dream last night.
We were sorting out inheritances; there were many boxes of silverware, various precious objects, mostly serving pieces of one kind or another. Some boxes were modern; some represented chests that had been in the family for a long time, made of fine wood, with numerous drawers. There was some question as to what might be in them; they came from my grandmother or even earlier generations, and had an air of mystery to them — at least to me. One of them was hidden under a table, more or less, shoved to the back under a tablecloth, and we did not open this one.
Several of the boxes (mostly a bit larger than shoeboxes, maybe double the size) were opened and had obscure silver tableware devices in them. But one — and, ultimately, two — had small and extraordinarily finely crafted sets of forks and knives in them — in other words, place settings, but of dollhouse size. They were in every way utilitarian, and made of real silver, not imitation. They furthermore had such detail on them that one imagined they were full-size silverware that had simply been shrunk down. I distinctly remember a collection of knives, perhaps a dozen in all. Surely, there were forks and spoons as well, but I cannot remember seeing them as clearly. The knives are what stood out.
My wife and my mother were in the area as we looked at these things. I wanted to call my wife's attention to the tiny place settings, but she was quickly off somewhere else.
The scenery quickly shifted from a parlor-room to a balcony outdoors, up high enough that leafy trees surrounded us. It was a more natural and sylvan setting than the area where the inheritances were stashed in boxes — outdoors, not indoors.
Ultimately, I ended up in an argument with my wife, feeling that she was not paying sufficient attention to me. A younger woman, K. from the office — a good friend who I've been mentoring — came onto the scene but politely excused herself when she saw that there was conflict.
In this particular dream, I wasn't married to my wife yet, oddly enough — even though I perceived her as being in the same relationship we have, which has been a married one for many years. I asked her why she wouldn't agree to marry me, and just where the relationship was going. I could see within myself, in the dream, that I was cooking up a confrontation to push things to a point where she would have to commit to the relationship — something that in the past was at times a real bone of contention between us in actual life.
Although her role in the dream was a prominent one, I can't remember a lot of response or interaction from her. As is the case in real life, I did most of the talking.
The dream deflected from the dinnerware theme to the conflict theme without any clear reason. I woke up as we were in the middle of the argument.
I have a wide range of impressions of life (the silverware) which I have inherited through the course of my living. They are somewhat organized, but obscure to me; hidden in boxes of varying qualities. By having different levels of quality, the boxes distinguish the more or less value various impressions have, according to my own inner system of discrimination. Although I have collected these impressions myself, and they all have value — all of them are silver — I'm unclear on exactly what they mean and what their value is, and I have stashed them in many different places without clearly understanding what they represent.
Some significant number of impressions have a value in terms of helping me to dissect and digest very fine inner (spiritual) foods. This is the meaning of the tiny sets of flatware. They are exquisitely crafted because they represent impressions which, while tiny, are of a very high value in my inner work. I don't even know they are they are; yet there are a lot of them, and many of them fulfill nearly identical functions, as evidenced by the fact that there are sets of them (the knives.) The reason I remember the knives most clearly is because these inner tools are tools of discrimination — that is, they can cut things apart and separate them one from another — and because, as evidenced by the fact that I don't know what all these impressions are and don't have them sorted properly, discrimination is what I need to acquire the most. It's worth noting that these impressions — the knives — are also tools. In a certain way, they represent a limited but vital range of "higher" impressions than ordinary ones. Their small size indicates that it is the small things, and my ability to discriminate in them, that matter. (Readers might want to know that Meister Eckhart, in the very last thing he told his followers before he died, said this exact thing.)
My wife and mother both represent feminine sides of myself: my mother, the one that gives birth to me from above, that is, a stand-in for the Virgin Mary, from whom these blessings flow (my mother, in the dream, occupied the location between the place where all these objects of value come from and myself, in a line of inheritance) and my wife, my personal active relationship with the feminine within my own world.
I can already know that there is a dysfunction in my relationship with the feminine within me, because I am not clearly cognizant of the value of my impressions or what I have in me. The argument I am having with my wife is an argument with myself, because I feel that the part of me which receives does not interact with my ordinary self enough. Somehow, that feminine part which receives ought to, in my opinion and in my understanding, have a better idea about all of these inner parts — the silver, the place settings — than I do. After all, household materials and dining, along with the eating of food in general, somehow fall into the realm of feminine responsibility.
So I'm seeking a closer relationship with that responsibility— The female part of myself, my wife— even though I am already in relationship with it. And I'm pretty much complaining to "her" because in one way or another I don't think she's doing enough to contribute. I'm married to her, but I am arguing with her about why she won't marry me. Duh.
In other words, the dream is telling me that I already have the relationship I need, but I am blind to it, and still arguing that it ought to be there. Other female parts of myself (represented by the woman K. who I am mentoring, who arrives but then wisely an discretely excuses herself) are already in the wings and ready to join in the kind of inner work that is necessary to understand this material, but my belligerent and argumentative nature prevents them from coming in and participating.
The scenery shifts from indoors to outdoors representing the inner and outer life, but also two levels. One of them, the inside scenery where I am sorting through the silverware, represents the inner space where former associations are stored and impressions of outer life are digested. It contains elements of the past interacting with the spiritual tools that process them. The outside space represents my present and outer life, and my current psychological state, seen in a surrounding of nature. The fact that it's on a balcony represents the idea that this confrontation is taking place in the higher parts of centers, not the lower ones; and the presence of trees and green leaves represents the idea that there is a real life here, even though there are struggles underway.
The interior space in the dream is devoid of such living, growing things, and represents a more "technical" and mechanical location. That is interesting, because it also represents a place closer to God, as evidenced by the presence of my mother as an interpretive figure for the impressions of value that are stored there. My mother actually does not get involved in explaining any of the silver items, even though she is the custodian and and ought to be well aware of their uses and meanings. This is because I am expected to do this work myself.
All in all, the dream does not represent a negative, because it offers abundance and continuity — the passing of inheritance from one to another. The relationships I need in myself are already present and loving, I just don't see that clearly. So the dream is there to help illustrate a lack in me — a lack of acceptance of my place, and the failure to see and understand that everything I need is already there.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.