These significant dreams stayed with me, at first urgent to be understood. Arising from the unconscious, they presented themselves visually as clear and present as a painting.
Such a recent dream was on my mind as Corky and I took advantage of the free days at MOMA, and headed for the modern painters. I wanted to look at Surrealist paintings and their dreamlike quality and so lingered in front of Magritte’s “Personal Values.” The artist has altered the scale and size of ordinary objects while the blue sky and puffy white clouds look inside the room as well as outside. Meanwhile, Corky contemplated Diego Rivera’s charming picture of a peasant child. Eventually, we viewed most of the art on the second floor, and all the art suggested the potency of dreamlike distortion.
Back from the museum, I called my sister who has worked with dreams and asked her to listen to my dream and help me “get it” as I sensed it held special wisdom for me. She reminded me that it’s helpful to consider every person, animal or object as an aspect of my own energy or myself. After telling her the dream, she asked me to repeat it using personal pronouns for the people or animals in the dream.
Here’s the dream as it relates to my own energy: I have an aspect of myself that wants to create and the dream says I will not be able to use my youthful creative energy, represented by a group of unruly young people, unless I ride a small grey donkey. Only one donkey stands in a corral. I refuse to ride it, convinced I would look a fool. But a higher authority insists I ride it. The grey-brown donkey appears compliant. It’s not a powerful, flashy snorting steed, but a drab, humble creature whose work is to carry me. Reluctantly, I get on and wrap my arms around the donkey’s neck. No saddle, no reins. Immediately, we are running fast and going downhill as if on Fillmore heading toward the Marina but with no cars, bus lines or buildings, just clear sky. I hold tight.
I can do nothing but trust the donkey as it races downhill at breakneck speed. Then as suddenly as it has been going fast, it stops at a red traffic signal. At that dream moment I can’t believe the donkey is this clever. Cheering onlookers appear from side streets and my students gather around me, full of respect. They implore me to teach them. I tell them their work is to write and they go back to school, willing to follow directions.
My dream donkey being the central image in the dream, I began with appreciating its (my) willing and compliant nature—obedient, ordinary, and patient. I thought of this line in Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese:” “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” I experienced in my body that loving softness which was like the feeling I had when I was being Grandma Alzie to Baby Theo, holding and rocking him as he slept in my arms.
One donkey left in the corral represents reluctance and resistance; it is the part of me that doesn’t like to be told what to do. I surmised that the other teachers had already done what they were told. The dream tells me that I, too, having done what I was told now know the steady energy I need to do creative work. Apprehensively, I accept the meaning of the dream. Acknowledging capability scares me more than giving up on myself. Making excuses has been much easier than making art.
With my sister helping me work with my dreams, the Surrealist Magritte inspiring me to blending the inner and outer worlds and Corky insisting that the unlived life is not worth examining, I think I might, as artists do, risk becoming disciplined and steadily create. Who knows what might come of it? Meanwhile, time passes.