So it is when "Gita" appeared in a one-sentence dream. But first, some background.
The dreamer is a professional woman in her sixties. Accomplished, successful in her work,
a practicing Protestant, a wife and mother, she is also a person haunted by a bothersome anxiety that something bad may happen to disrupt her strong efforts at organizing and making her life happy. Very committed to her religious faith in a rather progressive denomination, her shadow-like anxiety conflicts with her belief in a God who will protect her and vigilantly maintain a just world, safe-guarding especially those persons who seek to live by the moral code she sees presented in the Bible.
With this as a brief background to my dreamer's life, and with her kind permission, I will share two quite evocative dreams she brought to our work. This is the first dream:
Two girls, around the age of seven or eight, are touring a house,
talking and playing with each other. They go into a room -- a kitchen? --
and see on a shelf a small box. In the box is a snake moving around.
I look it in the eye. Glancing around, I see a second snake on the counter.
The first snake continues to look at me and me at him.
When I asked my dreamer for her associations to the house, the young girls and especially the snakes, she responded with a somewhat blase air, revealing little affect, curiosity, or concern for the young girls or herself (who alternately experiences herself as observer and participant in the dream). Aware of my own heightened sense of danger, I asked her how she felt, particularly when she saw the snake and especially when she made eye contact and realized the first snake continued to hold her in its gaze. But she again appeared to slough off my questions and seemed to be impervious to any recognition of danger.
Allowing myself to sit for just a little while, but holding in mind what seemed to me to be a response incongruent with the dreamer's description of her situation in the dream, I asked her if she thought her attitude and associations might be "Pollyanna."
She, in turn, and to her credit, held my question for a few seconds and -- now finally showing some emotion -- said, "Yes, they might well be."
"Do you think you might approach other threatening situations in life with such an attitude?," I asked.
Then, in what appeared to be one of those moments when you come upon something deep and disturbing, she acknowledged that may be the case, that she felt uncomfortable facing threatening situations and would rather not dwell on them.
When she returned for her next appointment, the dreamer confessed to having a hard time giving up her Pollyanna attitude, a word she was now using to describe herself. Referring back to her theology, she said she found it hard to think of a God who left Jesus to suffer on a cross. That same God would leave her also hanging on her cross, suffering, and there would be no escape from it. This view of life felt very disturbing, she said. It shattered the reverie of a happier idyllic world created by a positive God who protected people from suffering if they lived according to her God's moral law. This was the world into which she escaped to avoid the anxiety that might arise in her at the hands of her father with his threatening dark moods and explosive anger as well as her mother's passive aggressive jealousy.
The dreamer talked at some length about her childhood and what she now acknowledged to be her defenses against the anxiety always lurking in the background of her daily life. "But," she said, "last night I had a strangely enjoyable and comforting dream." This is her dream:
I am enjoying a wonderful conversation with an elderly man who
says his name is Gita.
She remembered nothing else except that the conversation was so meaningful that, when she woke up, she tried to go back to sleep and reconnect with the dream.
I asked, "Who is Gita? What do you associate to him?"
Her answer surprised me: "The Bhagavad Gita"! My surprise was because the dreamer had never indicated any interest in other religions or world cultures. Fascinated with her response, I asked her how she knew about the Bhagavad Gita, one of the holiest books in Hinduism.
To my continued surprise, she told me the following story. As a child, she lived in the county, growing up outside her relatively small rural town. But when she entered high school, each day at the end of classes she would walk to the county library a few blocks away and read until 5:00 PM, when her mother would conclude her secretarial work and drive by the library to take the two of them home. She read many interesting books in the adult section, she told me, and one of her more interesting discoveries was the Bhagavad Gita.
Her understanding of the Hindu holy book was quite superficial, as might be expected from a fifteen-year-old, which she was when she read the book forty-some years ago. It had to do, she said, with religion, yoga, and life.
"What about Krishna?," I asked.
Out popped another surprise with that question. "Oh, yes, I just remembered. When I finished college, moved into my first apartment and got a cat, I named him Krishna"!
But she did not know who Krishna is, nor Arjuna, a main character, nor the basic plot of the Bhagavad Gita. But she was interested in learning about the book: how it means "The Song of God," that it deals with the meaning of human existence, the responsibility of facing the suffering of one's duty in life, how the brave warrior Arjuna felt he could not face the epic battle about to take place among his kinsmen even though he was a strong warrior, the fact that Krishna was an incarnation of the Supreme God of the universe in Hindu religion, and that Krishna urged Arjuna to suffer his responsibilities with the assurance that Krishna would be with him in life and in death.
As in my dreamer's conversation with Gita in her dream, she seemed to be enthralled with the themes of the Bhagavad Gita, especially the idea of facing suffering but not being overwhelmed by it. "Several things are going on in my mind," she said.
I will summarize her thoughts as she reported them: First, she found some kind of comfort that the act of suffering was dealt with in such a profound, universal way within a culture and religion of another place and time. Second, she was astonished that a dream could come to her at a time of her deep need with an offering of insight that would bring comfort. Third, she stood in awe witnessing the working of her psyche. It could hold in memory a reference to an obscure book she read more than forty-some years earlier, when she was a naive teenager, and now manifest as a dream image in the form of a wisdom figure such as Gita. "This," she said, "is awesome."
Finally, I had the sense that this encounter with the God-image of another culture -- although in a dream -- helped her to deepen her own Christian understanding of God. It opened the door to her instinctual life (represented in her reported first dream's two snakes). Although she was standing at the threshold of integrating her instinctual and spiritual life, the naivete of her Sunday School theology yielded to a more mature realization of the deeper Mystery within which we live, move, and have our being.
But also within which, and of which, each of us dreams.