On Tuesday evening, I had the great privilege of attending a guest lecture with Stephen Aizenstat at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Second year students, myself included, are required to attend these extra Tuesday night seminars. However, many first and third year students attended as well to have the opportunity to see Dr. Aizenstat. It was truly a transformative night.
First Steven gave a brief overview of dreams, drawing to our awareness that in our culture we have differentiated between consciousness and unconsciousness, while other culture differentiate between different levels of awareness. Ultimately, dream tending can operate very differently depending on what culture you are part of! Then Steven spent a bit of time discussing his relationship with Pacifica. He said Pacifica started with an image. Steven founded Pacifica, and he discussed how inspirational and supportive his “elders” (including Joseph Campbell and James Hillman) were as he began this beautiful venture. Fun side note: Joseph Campbell’s desk from his New York apartment just arrived to Pacifica on Tuesday and will soon be available for display!
Stephen discussed how to work with the dream image. While interpreting an image can have its uses, the images become static when we do this. The traditional person-centered questions we tend to ask of dreams are: 1) What does it mean? 2) Why is it happening? Stephen introduced us into how to go into the image. The myth living through us is expressed through dream. We can access it by asking: 1) Who is visiting? 2) What is happening? Stephen also explained that even the ego in the dream is functioning as a dream image and that it contains an archetypal depth. To access this, we need to let the imagination take over and look for the particularity, activity, and senses in the dream.
Image alive, body alive.
Body is image; image is body.
Stephen also instructed that the active imagination is probably closer to the psyche than the dream work, and one way he works through the dream image is with active imagination.
After giving us a brief crash course on dreams, Stephen started to ask for a volunteer to work with on a dream image. The second he presented this idea, my hand involuntarily went up. I’ve been facing a recurring dream image that has been clearly asking for deeper attention.
The image I’m encountering presents itself in different dreams under different circumstances, but this essential element is always the same: I’ll find a dead fish, and later it’s surprisingly alive and well. Each time this happens in a dream, my dream mind has no memory of it ever happening before. It’s always surprising and astonishing, and I’m always curious how it has happened. In my waking mind, I’ve come to think of this as my “resurrected fish motif.” The recurrence of the dream has recently become more frequent. Last week when I dreamed it, I thought about how I really need to start working with my dreams again. When I learned Stephen was giving a guest lecture on dream tending, I was quite excited! Which bring me back to my hand flying up when he asked for a volunteer.
Stephen reminded the audience that everything in the room is private, not to be shared with those outside of the room. I jokingly added, “Stop tweeting about my fish!” to my peers in the audience. Since it’s my fish, though, I’m privy to share it with the world! And if anyone who was with me at the lecture happens to be reading this, I welcome any comments! After working so deeply with this image, I am struggling to even put the dream tending experience into a chronological narrative. I imagine those that witnessed it might be able to describe the process more clearly.
After explaining my dream image, Stephen guided me through a type of active imagination. Fish was visible with us. (He pointed out that he removed the article so that “the fish” becomes simply “fish”). To begin with, fish was grey, swimming nonchalantly. As Stephen helped me connect more with fish, it became blue. Stephen repeatedly asked about fish’s movement and my emotional response. I was initially rooted in curiosity, coming from a head space. I felt fish had something to tell me. I then moved to a place of energy coming from a heart place. I came to recognize this energy as creative. Stephen immediately recognized this as a comfortable and familiar energy for me. He called it “home.”
To work within our twenty minute time limit, Stephen prompted me by asking if fish looked at me as I looked at it. Then fish’s eyes fixed on me. I explained fish’s big eyes. Stephen asked how it was moving. I said that fish was wavering back and forth to see me with both of his eyes. I made a motion with my right hand. Fish and I were connected, moving in sync. His fins opened beautifully.
Stephen told me to work with fish for five days. He said this image and energy is something that will probably move with me into my dissertation. He said I should invoke fish when I write my papers this semester.
For my five day’s work, he first assigned me to dance with fish on this first night. He said to start with that fish motion with my hand and follow it into a dance. I found this to be a rhythmic and soothing activity, perfect to embrace just before bed. For day two, I was to walk the grounds at Pacifica and invoke fish and follow him to see where he would lead me across the lush grounds. I was to be in that space with fish. I will briefly say this was a beautiful walk that lead me to an area filled with many butterflies and beauty. It was very peaceful, and really can put no other words on the experience. I am to continue invoking fish daily for the total of the five days, and then I am to do something artistic to create an image of fish. I can already feel that I will draw him (I only wish I could draw well!)
This experience was amazing and gave me so much to work with! I thanked Stephen deeply at the end of the evening. I hope to work with him again. He has some workshops coming up, but I am unable to attend them.
After this evening, it was fun to enjoy my peers’ responses and enthusiasm about what I did working with my dream image. Many shared with with me the various emotional responses they had just watching me engage in the activity. What surprised me though was how many people told me how brave I was for volunteering. I’ve come explain it wasn’t bravery but curiosity that motivated me. Also, fish was really the one that raised my and and got me up there!