When a person is too deeply embedded in the collective, outer reality of everyday life, the discovery in his or her own dreams of universal, archetypal images… can be a freeing experience. –James Hall
In the world of archetypal symbolism birds in our dreams often indicate a spiritual endeavor. After all, they fly above us, closer to the heavens than we normally find ourselves. Their freedom looks exhilarating. In the body of a jet where we might find ourselves flying faster and higher than birds, we still lack open air, the wind in our hair so-to-speak, and we’re confined in mostly small seats amongst other people, who rather than lifting their arms entrained in synch with ours, are coughing, eating, sleeping, working, or looking more concerned than carefree. Therefore when we observe our fine feathered friends in dreams, we consider the context of course, but often think of the heights and liberation of the spirit.
Of a very large species, unless we are ornithologist, we mostly categorize the birds we see in dreams generally. Two important dreams I had at a time of spiritual initiation in my life delivered messages about two divergent paths due to the differences in the winged creatures and the situations in which they appeared. Yet both dreams appeared to promise worthwhile journeys.
I had been steeped in sorrow when a dream lifted me out of my depression almost immediately. At the time of the dream I had not been a student of dream work, but even in my relative ignorance, I could feel that the dream was a blessing. As background information, let me state a that I had lost my father in adolescence. When I was thirteen he suffered a nervous breakdown and when I was fifteen he died of a self-administered overdose of drugs. He was a doctor, so I often wondered if he had intentionally ended his life. Another pertinent fact relating to this period in my young life was that my mother told my siblings and I that he died of a heart attack. In her own shock and pain, she soldiered on, never visibly mourning, so that we did not express our grief either.
I grew up with a certain suspicion about my father’s death but I kept it to myself and repressed what emotions I had about those two difficult years. I was just becoming a woman and my advent into womanhood was affected by what I had witnessed, a kind of quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation in my father. I began to pick boyfriends and later, men friends, who would abandon me and I often reacted with some hysterical end-of-the-world responses to the termination of these relationships.
By the time that my bird dreams occurred, I intellectually understood that my reactions to the loss of a partner were irrational and at times, out of proportion to the seriousness or lack thereof, of the relationship. I “knew” that my unarticulated grief for my father surfaced and further exacerbated my sense of loss.
Knowing however, didn’t help the feelings to subside. So when in my mid thirties, I was suffering from the betrayal of a man I had been very happy with, I didn’t seek out traditional therapy, having gone through five years of that a few years back after a divorce. One day a friend suggested I see her astrologer who lived on an island in Casco Bay, outside of Portland, Maine where I was living. I liked the idea of crossing the water, an archetypal theme in itself, to find some answers as to why my grief was inconsolable.
I sat on the ferry at ten in the morning, smoking a cigarette. In those days I’d lost my appetite for meals and I lived on cigarettes and spring water. The clear October landscape hurt me with its gorgeous auburn leaves and cerulean sky and the bright contrasting colors stabbed at my eyes like an insult, the whole landscape somehow provocative of my lost happiness. A day for lovers, I thought.
Whatever the weather, during that difficult time, I seemed to turn each day into another reason to mourn. The beautiful vista of churning dark blue water wrapped around the speckled islands of the bay only made me feel my loneliness more intensely. In my self-contained universe, every song on the radio seemed designed to bring back the image of my lover, our romantic ritual of dancing in his living room. I wallowed in memories. Images played through my mind like some dopey refrain of the country music he’d introduced me to and yet, quite the wailing country diva myself, I kept bringing them back in order to ask myself why it hurt so much. Was it just the stock cliché, betrayal, jealousy, anger and humiliation I felt, or was it truly losing the essence of this wonderful man from my life that caused me this irrepressible grief? I was convinced of the latter. Some things you just know.
As I debarked from the boat and turned on foot up one of the unpaved roads of the island, my anger was gone but the grief puddled up in my body so that only the consistent rhythm of my sighs, like the whitecaps, one after another washing against the boat, could convince me I was still living. As clueless as the gaping gulls who waddled toward me in search of a hand-out, I had crossed the water to find an answer. Once on the island, I followed the twists in the dirt road according to a scribbled map, my gaze drawn from the street signs to the wild flower gardens, the slatted fences and yards littered with tricycles and lawn chairs even this late in the season. The weeds which had begun to overtake the gardens seemed to smell of decay.
I entered Mary Alice’s screened-in porch and rang the bell. Though I doubted I would find any solace in the reading, I was curious as to what she could say without knowing me or my situation at all. Yet within my two hour meeting this lovely and talented astrologer, a wise woman and mistress of metaphor, was able to give me explanations about the fragile state of my psyche that made more sense than the reasoning I’d worked through in my therapy.
Her first image of me was that my hands were stuck in a Chinese puzzle. The more I tried to wiggle them out, the more I found them locked up. Without getting too technical, I’ll just say that she showed me how two very intense planetary transits were at work affecting my moon or emotions, and Venus, my relationship life. She advised me to simply surrender, to sit in my rocking chair by the fire, drinking tea with my favorite blanket around my shoulders, playing my saddest country arias allowing myself to descend into the divine abyss of loss- (the key word here is divine) “Until you are lifted out,” she said. “And you will be lifted out.” She peered at me seriously; “And when you are, you will become someone entirely new. moon rocks weed