Like the frog in a pot of water when the temperature ever so slightly, imperceptibly, rises to the boiling point, how and when do we human beings sense a danger in our environment? With this word, "environment," I am referring not only to the physical world of our habitat, our material world, our physical cosmic structure; I am referring as well to our social, spiritual, artistic, and psychological world -- our many worlds both inner and outer.
In which of these worlds did Ava experience such anxiety that she felt the need to talk to someone about it? Ava and I sat quietly, each waiting for the other to speak. Finally I broke the silence and said, "Tell me a dream. You may remember several, anticipating your session today. Tell me the dream that coms to your mind and seems to want to be shared."
"Well," she replied, "I had begun to write down my dreams the past two or three weeks, but this one came to me last night." Leaning forward slightly and uncrossing her legs, Ava spoke softly and thoughtfully as if she was reading a story from long ago.
I was in a house or structure of some sort with many rooms, very old. There
seemed to be many people sitting or moving about. Some of them talked to
others, but there were none I recognized. I kept passing through the rooms as
if I might be looking for someone or something. I felt increasingly afraid when
I realized we might be locked inside. So maybe I was looking for a key or for
someone to help me find my way through the maze of rooms and let me out.
As best I remember, it was a diverse group of people. Maybe there were many
different functions taking place in the rooms. Like me, some people were
moving around and others sitting but I do not recall any specific chairs or sofas.
And there was another odd thing... I don't remember any lighting except for
candles. That also frightened me. The flames were burning low as if they might
be extinguished in a short while. But no-one appeared to notice or be concerned
except me. And I could not find the owner or manager or even a staff person to
call their attention to the danger. No-one appeared who seemed to be in charge.
That's when I realized I needed to speak to someone, anyone, to see if they
knew what was going on and could help me warn others about the candles but
also to find out if anyone else knew the way out.
"What do you suppose the occasion was?" I asked.
"I am not sure," Ava said. "I was still wondering about that as I recalled the dream. It could have been a reception following a wedding, although the energy in the rooms did not convey that sense of joy and lightness. I wondered also about a gathering of friends, acquaintances, and family after a funeral. Or even the reception for diverse participants in an educational/training event, who may or may not know each other. But the atmosphere was neither somber nor joyful; maybe it could be called anticipating as if we were unsure of what to expect.
"And the candles! What was that about, do you suppose?" I asked her. "Did you notice any lamps or overhead lighting, even chandeliers?"
"That is peculiar," Ava acknowledged. "I cannot imagine there would not have been some kind of lighting in a large house like that. However, the event itself was present time based upon the dress of everyone -- anything from business casual, to physical labor, to semi-formal, I believe. But, back to the candles, there may have been a power failure, even though at the time I thought the candles were for atmosphere and was not allowing for the fact that the candles may well have been the only source of light.
"Do you have any idea what time of day it was?" I asked.
"Well," Ava reflected,"I never saw any light from the outside. The windows, if there were any, must have been closed, but I don't recall even seeing any windows or doors to the outside. Strange. You would think there had to be some somewhere"!
"So," I ventured. "In your dream, you appear to be in a state of mind that might describe the feeling that brought you here. That is the feeling and thought that something is not right. Yes?"
Ava thought for a moment and then quickly replied. "I guess you could say that. But so what? That might be expected that I would dream about my waking state of mind. Right? What does that tell me?"
Realizing that this first dream Ava presented may suggest the deep work to come, I wanted to engage Ava in exploring with me the dream as a symbol of her psychic state, leading us into a vast underground of meanings not only for her life but also for the wider culture, including myself. Keeping that in mind, I moved tentatively to consider the dream psychologically. "Yes, it is true that we might well expect the dream to present the feeling and cognitive state of your mind in your waking life, but the dream tells us much more than that. What is the meaning of the structure in which you find yourself with no known exit? Why this diverse grouping of people? Why the candles as the only source of light? Why do you not see any windows or doors? And what is the meaning of this anticipatory atmosphere? Each of these elements is important."
"But why," Ava insisted. "I am talking to you about the real world, not some unreal, imaginary world in my dream. Are you saying this is all in my mind," she protested.
"But think about this," I responded. "In your dream you find yourself in a structure of some kind, do you not? It is, in other words, a complex, another word we use when referring to a building, a structure, or a "maze" of rooms, to use your words for the rooms."
Ava was still not sure where I was going and pushed me to go on. "Let me make sure I understand," she said. "Are you suggesting this is all in my mind? That there is nothing out there that leads me to experience things not being right out in the world?"
"No," I continued. "I am not saying your experience is only in your mind. I think it is both in your mind and in the world outside, inner and outer. Something is occurring out there that is alerting your unconscious to a possible threat of some kind -- a threat or danger that has brought you to this consulting room. We could call it a psychological complex, but I do not want us to get ahead of ourselves because there is still a lot we do not know, and we do not need to get tangled up in psychological terminology."
"But," she continued to insist, "To be clear, are you saying my concern -- whatever you call it -- is psychological?"
"I am saying it is indeed psychological," I replied. "But it is also social and spiritual at its deepest level. And it is very worthwhile that you and I explore this together."