The dream has its origin in wholeness, manifests in polarity, and aims at totality.
Eighteen months after my wife passed away, I had a dream one night about her that profoundly changed the way I look at dreams and dreaming. One seemingly simple image in the dream contained, on closer inspection, a full composite of the whole dilemma that I was grappling with at that stage of my life. It was the image of a cube of blue chalk that goes onto the tip of snooker or pool cues, and that my wife and I exchanged at some stage in the dream.
A year and a half after you’ve lost a loved one, your greatest challenge is to balance the interplay between “holding on” and “letting go” of, what you’ve had with her and your memories of her.
Our home was still filled with pictures, objects and symbols of my wife’s presence, and yet my life had taken many new and different turns, away from our relationship and the life we had lived. I was constantly struggling with the interplay between holding on and letting go, between keeping memories of her on the one hand, and creating new experiences on the other. This one little object within the dream was a complete summary of my whole dilemma. If you’ve ever played snooker or pool, you will know that the tip of your cue cannot do without this chalk. You have to apply it regularly to maintain the firmness of contact between the cue and the cue ball, to prevent the cue from slipping as it makes contact with the cue ball. With the blue chalk on its tip, the cue can “hold onto” and “release” the cue ball simultaneously, and therefore most efficiently. For this purpose the blue chalk has unique and contrasting qualities: It is soft and firm, powdery and hard, comes off easily and sticks tenaciously, but above all it ensures a firm hold and a simultaneous release on contact with the cue ball. It is not a 50/50 type of substance. It is 100% effective with a firm hold, and 100% effective with a full release. My dreaming mind could not have chosen a better image to capture or condense my total life’s dilemma at that stage, my essential and central theme of that time, into one symbol – to hold on and to let go.
I see a dilemma as a life issue wherein contrasting opposites or polarities need to be managed. There is no “this or that” choice, no singular solution, ”yes or no” decision. A dilemma is a more complex “this and that” way of managing an issue. With a dilemma you have to attend to both sides of the polarity, appropriate to the situation, and with a flexible inter-change between the two sides. What is important in a dilemma is that the two poles are inter-dependent, and excessive emphasis on one pole will be to the detriment of the other pole, and eventually to the whole circumstance that the poles are embedded in.
For example, after someone close to you has died, if you hold on too much without letting go, then you become clingy and fixated, and if you let go too much without holding, then you’re forcing extrication or separation. Both extremes will lead to a painful over-emphasis and some form of suffering will ensue.
A dynamic interplay between both the temperate or middle two opposites is required. Eighteen months after someone close to you died, you need the qualities of blue chalk.
But then, as they say in the infomercials, “there is more”. I started looking at the rest of that same dream, and discovered to my amazement that each separate image and action within that dream contained the same “holding on” and “letting go” polarity within it. This to me was an astounding discovery.
Here is the full dream. As we go through it, see if you can spot how this central theme or dilemma of opposites (“holding on” and “letting go”) is captured by the various underlying images, people and activities (given in bold):
My late wife (Ruth) is in a pole-vaulting and golf championship. The two sports are somehow mixed up, but there are three levels of playing fields (bottom, middle and higher). The bottom level is for golf, the top level for pole vaulting, and the middle level for snooker. She is on the bottom level playing golf with another woman who has very distinct tough muscular legs. They both are preparing to take a free drop (lift the ball, clean it and drop it again), as they are lying in divots. One of the spectators in the gallery says that they are not allowed to do that, and we all are “holding our breath” (an actual phrase uttered in the dream), because they might be penalized. The scene then shifts to the top level where I am in a pub, with genuine wooden panels on the walls. I have Ruth’s two pole vaults with me, and suddenly realize that she might need them. I battle to squeeze through a wooden trap door, and then run towards her, feeling very heartsore and saying, “I’m coming Ruthie”. As I reach her she is somehow on the middle level, and when I hand her the pole vaults, they become snooker cues. As I hand it to her, I say, “Remember to put blue chalk on before your shot”. She looks at the tip of one of the cues and says, “Look how smooth it is without chalk”. She has a tone in her voice that implies that it is not fully functional without the chalk.
Throughout this dream one can notice how the central dilemma or theme of “holding” and “letting go” is contained in each and every image, person and activity:
POLE-VAULTING: This is a sport where you slot the pole vault firmly into a hole in the ground (a tight grip or hold), and then release or let go into the air over the crossbar. Your hands also have to grip well/hold onto the pole vault, and then at a crucial point release as you soar through the air.
GOLF: This is a sport where the central swing technique is to coil, pause/hold and release. On your backswing you have to make a full turn, then pause or hold at the top, before you have a full and free release. You also have to make solid contact with the ball for it to be released most effectively. Good connection will ensure successful release.
THREE LEVELS OF PLAYING FIELDS: The bottom level is closer to the earth, and here they play golf, with their balls in divots in the ground, and the woman has muscular legs. The top level is for pole vaulting, where you get your body away from the earth. Lower levels normally have more of a holding or “earthy” feel, while higher levels have more of releasing or “ascending” feel. Sport playing fields in themselves are also places where there is adherence to a pattern of play with rules, as well as the freedom of play with individual flair and release. Stick (hold onto) the rules/pattern and play with full surrender (let go), is the dynamic of a sport playing field.
A WOMAN WITH TOUGH MUSCULAR LEGS: Somebody with tough muscular legs has a firm grip onto mother earth, is stable and solid. Yet, those same strong muscles make it possible for you to move more freely, to explode forward and upward with full release. Imagine any field and track athlete without strong muscular legs that can stabilize and discharge simultaneously. In golf, a pair of strong legs is also an asset that makes for both stability and freedom of movement.
A FREE DROP: In golf, this activity is allowed under certain conditions. The activity is one of picking up the ball from a bad lie (so you are releasing the ball from restriction and holding it at the same time), and then dropping it (letting go so that it can settle again).
A DIVOT: The word divot is used both for an empty little hole in the ground and the piece of turf that came form it. As a hole, it is “empty piece of earth” (nice paradox there!). As a piece of turf it was unearthed by your iron club as you hit the ball. You often see the divot flying through the air after a good iron shot. This is literally the earth in air, the grass and its gripping roots flying freely through space. In golf it also used to be etiquette to then replace the divot, i.e. re-plant the released piece. This allows the grass to take hold again, after being uncoupled.
SPECTATORS IN THE GALLERY: Spectators are fully engaged, yet not directly involved. They are “gripped” by the event, but detached from it. They are part of, and apart from, at the same time.
“HOLDING OUR BREATH”: This speaks for itself as a direct analogy for holding and releasing. Breathing is the one activity that depicts these opposites best. You can hold your breath, but for how long before you have to release and let go?
PENALIZED: When one gets penalized in golf, you are being “held accountable”, and a shot or two gets added to your score. At the same time you are then set free to continue as you now have paid your dues. You are detained by the rule and the penalty, but also released to carry on. You are shackled and liberated concurrently by penalties.
A PUB: This is a contained space where people can let go and enjoy their free time. It is a holding environment that makes a feeling of release and let go possible.
GENUINE WOODEN PANELS ON THE WALLS: These panels were trees before, earthed or held in their natural environment. They have been released or uncoupled from their environment, but have been re-attached, and are held firmly, onto a wall. Being genuine wood, they are from the wild and wide outdoors (free), yet they are fixed and bonded (held).
POLE VAULTS: These are long flexible rods that an athlete slots firmly into a hole in the earth, hangs onto and then releases, in order to be catapulted into the air as high as possible, freely through space.
A WOODEN TRAP DOOR: A trap door holds closed and contains, as well as opens up and allows freedom of movement. While I am battling to squeeze through the door, I am held or bound on the one hand, and liberating myself on the other, at the same time.
RUN TOWARDS HER: The act of running requires firm footing and letting go. Each step is a compact and firm physical hold and a powerful release. On an emotional level, I’m running towards her, but feeling heartsore. In other words I’m going to make contact, but feel the loss and separation. As I run towards her I say, “I’m coming Ruthie”. Now of course the Freudians would have a field day with this dream full of pole vaults, snooker cues and trap doors, with the words “I’m coming…” added to the picture! Be that as it may, even the sexual connotation to the word “coming” has a holding and a release component to it!
SNOOKER CUE: This is a wooden rod with a thinner tip that is used to push the cue ball with. You have to hold onto the cue, but move it backwards and forwards to feel the correct release, and then when you’re ready, maintain your hold on the cue, but let it go with a pushing or punching motion onto the cue ball. Now of course I hear the Freudians again, and of course they may be right. But holding and releasing in this dream is still the central theme, and contained in every image.
BLUE CHALK: As discussed before, the snooker cue with the blue chalk on its tip, can “hold onto” and “release” the cue ball much more efficiently.
It is clear that this dream has a central theme running through all its images, people and activities. The theme is a current life dilemma, expressed as a polarity between two opposite but complementary ways of being. It is as if the dream was insisting on making the polarity between “holding on” and “letting go” visible. It is almost as if the dream has searched through some of the best images it could find in my mind which encapsulate the notion of holding and releasing, and put them together into a narrative form. What I find fascinating is that every single image, person and activity in the dream contains this central theme, and does so with images that embrace the current topic of opposites within themselves. It is as if the dream as a whole is like a holographic plate, wherein each part of the plate contains the picture of the whole.
The term “Hologram” is derived from the Greek words “holo” meaning “whole”, and “gram”, meaning “to write”. Thus the hologram is an instrument that “writes the whole” (1). A unique and remarkable feature though is that each half, each quarter, indeed each tiny little fragment of the holographic plate contains the entire image. I want to use this as an analogy for what my dream revealed to me. Each little fragment of the dream had the whole life theme written into it.
Ullman (2) mentioned that during dreaming we move out of the particle mode of awakening into a seamless whole and an interconnectedness. Hartmann (3) refers to the “hyperconnective” nature of dreams in what he calls an “autoassociative net”, and Hobson (4) refers to the “hyperassociative” nature of dream content. I support these notions, and want to propose in addition that some dreams not only associate around a central life theme or issue, but that the issue is captured in the form of an overall polarity dilemma, an inter-play of opposites that is contained, expressed and repeated within each of the separate dream images and activities. Each dream image is a “mini-wholeness” between two opposites, within a central or overarching wholeness that contains the same opposites.
Using the Yin-Yang symbol as a depiction of wholeness and unity of opposites, my “holographic dream” can almost be depicted as follows:
The overall life dilemma in my dream between the opposites of “holding on” and “letting go”, is represented by the large Yin-Yang. In the dream this dilemma can be captured by a central image in the dream (the blue chalk). The other images in the dream (represented by the smaller Yin-Yang figures), contain the same dilemma of opposites, but get symbolized by different images and activities.
POLARITY IN THE SYMBOL
Let us remind ourselves for a moment that the true meaning of the word “symbol” comes from the Greek word symbolon- sym- “together, common, simultaneous” plus the stem of ballein, bolon- “that which has been thrown”, from ballo- “I throw”. (5 & 6).
“By ‘symbols’ the Greeks understood two halves of corresponding pieces of bone, coin, or other object which two strangers or any other two parties broke between them in order to have proof of the identity of the presenter of the other part” (7). What is important, as Bryson e.a. (8) says, is that the symbol, the broken-off part, is not a separate element but carries with it and points to, wherever it goes, the whole in which it participated as well as the situation in which it was broken in half.
This is why the images in my dream are true symbols, in the sense that they throw two opposites, which belong together, into a unity. They represent the qualities of both poles, as well as the total context within which they are embedded.
Jung put it well: “…night after night our dreams practice philosophy on their own account” (9).
Freud and Jung demonstrated often that many meanings can be compressed into one image. I want to say that one meaning can be contained in many images. A composite theme compiled of two opposite and extreme ways of being, gets condensed or compressed into each image, and runs throughout the whole dream. Multiple compressions of contrasting and polar experiences take place within the dream, each condensing the dreamer’s whole life dilemma.
ANOTHER DREAM EXAMPLE
A sixty year old divorced woman who didn’t have a close relationship for a long time, and just started an intense but stormy relationship, had the following dreams one night:
FIRST DREAM: A tortoise is trying to climb up the leg of a dinner table, but falls back and its shell comes off.
SECOND DREAM: I am in the airport transit hall with my suitcases next to me. I see a strange man that I don’t know and we flirt with each other but without any physical embrace. Then I see a life-long friend, and we have an affectionate embrace, but no sexual innuendoes. I’m looking for my cell phone to call home. I can’t find it but I know it is not lost.
While processing the first dream she mentioned how open to hurt and vulnerable the tortoise feels. She then spontaneously mentioned being raped as a teenager, and how awfully defenseless and exposed she felt. She managed the incident through total disassociation as it happened. The dilemma that she faced in the new relationship, and contained in the tortoise image, was between openness or transparency on the one hand, and protected privacy on the other, as she experienced the new man as quite intrusive and overbearing. She sometimes felt over-exposed and vulnerable, and would become closed off and fortify herself in relation to him. As he started showing signs of abuse, she fluctuated between vulnerability and personal fortification.
The second dream also captures this central dilemma in each of the images, people and actions:
- On your own in an airport transit hall you are quite open and exposed, yet simultaneously in your own private and protected world.
- A suitcase depicts the interplay between closed and open, private and exposed.
- With the strange man there is openness (mutual flirting) and protected privacy (he is strange and at a distance – no embrace).
- With the friend there is openness (an affectionate embrace) and protected privacy (no sexual innuendoes).
- The cell phone opens up contact with home, but it is lost, so contact is curbed. It is an instrument that opens up connection with others whilst making private conversations possible, often in the open in the company of others or of strangers. A cell phone is symbolically full of the paradoxes and polarities between openness and privacy.
Once again, using our holographic plate analogy, each separate dream image condensed her overall life dilemma of that stage, and did so in the form of a central polarity theme, an interplay of opposites.
LAYERS OF MEANING
Understanding or interpreting dreams is all about illuminating the latent meanings behind the manifest content. I propose a “Deeper Latent” meaning, a central polarity theme expressed as two opposite but inter-dependent poles. In-between, all around or beyond the poles, one can posit Jung’s concept of “Wholeness” or “Self”.
By surfacing the underlying polarity, the dreamer would better understand his/her complete dilemma, in all its contrasting aspects. This would create a fuller awareness as well as an ability to manage the opposites consciously and flexibly.
After my dream I started giving away most of my wife’s belongings and gradually substituted artworks that had meaning to her with my own current symbols and interests. I made her presence absent. At the same time I kept, and still cherish, certain special objects and symbols of hers. I’m making her absence present. Since then till the present, when new experiences ask to be lived, it is the time and place to let go of her. On the other hand I am not reticent to reminisce about her life and the lessons that can be learnt from it. These are the times and places to gladly embrace and hold her once again.
The sixty-year old woman decided to terminate the stormy new relationship as the abuse increased. She was too exposed and vulnerable in the relationship, as the dream indicated, and the disengagement was exactly on time and completely appropriate to the circumstances. At the same time she consciously initiated and maintained a deeper and more open engagement with some of her existing special friends. In her personal relationships she didn’t just have a one-sided protectiveness, but allowed for openness and transparency as well.
The ultimate purpose of becoming aware of, and managing opposites in a conscious way, is what Jung called individuation or wholeness. I maintain that actualization of this wholeness is not such a “distant goal” as Jung made it out to be (10). It happens every time we become aware of complementary opposites in our psyche, and have the ability to consciously manage both sides, either with a sense of timing and appropriateness, or in the sense of holding the tension between the opposites and allowing something new to come from it. Jung (11) put it so well: “Only a unified personality can experience life, not that personality which is split up into partial aspects…”
Dreams can assist with this process. They can be avenues to wholeness through portraying and surfacing opposites. And they can be quite insistent with this task by using each and every dream image. They can also prompt healing by pointing to the necessity to manage the opposites flexibly and even simultaneously. We can have “mini-individuation” processes in every experience, through every dream image, if we firstly constellate the opposites from it, and then embrace both sides with openness and awareness. And like a holographic plate, one small, simple and seemingly insignificant part of the dream can contain your whole life, from all sides and in all its multi-faceted dimensions.
- Bohm, David (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London and NY: Routledge Classics), p. 183.
- Ullman, Montague (Date unknown, between 2001-2005). “On the Relevance of Quantum Concepts tp Dreaming Consciousness” http:/siivola.org/monte/papers.
- Hartmann, Ernest (1996). “Outline for a Theory on the Nature and Functioning of Dreaming” Dreaming, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 2, 4.
- Hobson, J. Allan (2005). 13 Dreams Freud Never Had – The New Mind Science (NY: Pi Press), p. 53.
- Online Etymology Dictionary, http:/www.etymonline.com/index.
- Stein, Leopold (1957). “What is a Symbol Supposed to Be?” Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 2, p. 74.
- Stein, Leopold (1957). “What is a Symbol Supposed to Be?” Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 2, p. 77.
- Bryson, L,. Finkelstein, L., e.a. (1954). Symbols and Values (NY and London. Harper), pp. 21, 73.
- Jung, Carl G. Translated by R.F.C. Hull (1974). Dreams (New Jersey. Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press), p. 257.
- Jung, Carl G. Translated by R.F.C. Hull (1974). Dreams (New Jersey. Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press), p. 108.
- Jung, Carl G. Translated by R.F.C. Hull (1974). Dreams (New Jersey. Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press), p. 155.