Take it or leave it.

Monday, May 29, 2017


In the winter of 1913, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung embarked on a process of what he called "active imagination" during which he gave free rein to whatever fantasies occurred to his mind. He carefully noted what he observed in his Black Books, which serve as records of self-experimentation. Months later World War I broke out, and Jung realized that a number of his fantasies were actually "precognitions" of this event. This led him to interpret and elaborate upon his imaginings in order to understand to what extent they could be seen as actual prognosticators of the war to come. The result was his wildly famous (for a 20th century psychoanalyst, at least) Red Book.

This information I have borrowed from the foreword to the 2010 edition of Jung's Synchronicity, and reading it reminded me of a curious instance in my own life of "foreknowledge of an event, especially foreknowledge of a paranormal kind." It has been known at least since the time of Herodotus, which is to say for 2,500 years, that dreams have predictive value. Jung understood this, provided that dreams be correctly interpreted. But the language of the unconscious, which is the engineer of dreamland, is symbolic, and to the rational mind can seem bizarre and nonsensical. 

In the beginning of 2010 I had a dream in which I was in a dilapidated building with my mother. We were in some sort of postindustrial war zone. The building, abandoned except for the two of us, was being bombed in every direction by fighter planes. Oddly enough, given Jung's imaginings, the setting was just like what I imagine World War 1 to have been like. One by one the rooms of the huge building my mother and I were in were being destroyed, and I was trying to lead my mother to safety somewhere within the building. But the safe zone was shrinking and shrinking. Much of the building's exterior had been blown to bits and it stood like a mere skeleton of twisted girders and broken glass smoldering amidst the rubble. When I could no longer find a room to take her we reached a ledge leading to the bright light of day outside, several stories from the ground below. It was either face sure death by staying inside the doomed building or jump into the light of day and into an uncertain fate. I held my mother's hand tightly and looked into her eyes. But before we made our decision, I woke up.

This dream, like Jung, left me worried for months that humanity was on the brink of a third world war and nuclear holocaust. Instead it turned out to be a precognition of my mother's subsequent diagnosis with cancer and the part I was to play in the six years of life which afterwards remained to her. The diagnosis was made the following summer. The cancer, which 16 years before had begun as a lump in her left breast and had been treated with surgery along with chemoradiation, had metastasized to the lining of her lungs and to the bones of her rib cage and spine. As the years progressed she took one medication after another to contain the cancer's spread, and I used my medical education to interface with doctors and to guide holistic treatment. But our life had become a war zone. Clearly the dream building represented my mother's body. The bombs were the advancing tumor, and the damaging drugs used to treat the tumor. And the various rooms of the building were parts of my mother's body. For the next six years I stood by her side, holding her hand sometimes literally, as when I accompanied her in for lung drainages, sometimes figuratively by interpreting test results and scientific jargon - as the cancer decimated her body. After it had spread to the colon and other areas my mother, like the dream's building, was left looking like a skeleton. In life, as in the dream, I accompanied her through the wreckage in our journey to the light on the other side. She took the leap and woke up from the dream we call life. She's safe and sound, I'm sure. And I hope the same goes for our world.

Of course, my dream and its interpretation didn't occur to me until months after my mother's death last August. I don't know that it would have been possible for me to understand the symbolism prior to her diagnosis. And even had I been able to predict my mother's illness and clinical course and my role in it all, I don't think it would have changed the way the drama played itself out by one single whit. But a revelation is an exciting thing. It is the single man's orgasm. And it just goes to show you that though the conscious mind only perceives and understands an infinitesimal part of what takes place in life, the unconscious mind knows everything. And the more you sink your conscious mind into the unconscious, perhaps by spending a bit extra time in la la land, the more aware and all-knowing you become. If that ain't a good argument for a nap right about now, I don't know what is. Ta ta!

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