Welcome, once again, to the sunny Aquinas room at the University for Creation Spirituality in Oakland, where, with a fluttering pulse, I'm waiting to share an old and mystifying dream with a dream-interpretation class taught by pioneering dream worker Jeremy Taylor. To prepare us for the task, Taylor has us stand in a circle, join hands and breath slowly. This is to quiet what he calls the "monkey mind," and allow our intuitions to rise. It isn't working for me. My own personal monkey is chattering like Cheetah on a bender as I ponder what my dream, which came to me when I was 10 or 12, might reveal to all these friendly strangers.
"Remember," says Taylor, as we return to our seats, "only the dreamer can say with certainty what the dream really means. That certainty usually comes in a moment of wordless recognition we'll call the 'Aha!' It's up to Vince to tell us when that happens." Finally the room quiets, Taylor nods my way and my dream life takes center stage.
I am climbing a steep, busy street in the town where I grew up. Near the top of the hill, the street becomes a bridge across a deep, narrow ravine. In waking life, I cross the bridge every day on my way to school. I always pause to lean over the railing and stare down at the railroad station a few hundred feet below But in the dream, when I reach the bridge, I'm stunned to see that the ravine below has become a vast blue lagoon with rock-strewn shores and a wide mouth opening to a misty, bounding sea. I am staring into the vivid blue distance, where a golden sun hangs above the ocean, when motion in the foreground catches my eye. Something is moving slowly through the clear water beneath the bridge, something huge and silent. I watch as its rippling shadow, the size of a behemoth, swells incredibly to the surface. Then, it gently breaches — a great blue whale.
The astoundingly incongruous sight of the whale beneath that uptown bridge fills me with the most profound sense of wonder I've ever known. As long as the dream lasts, I watch the mammoth creature swim.
Finding the Meaning in a Dream
There are a few appreciative grumbles when I finish, a soft, supportive gasp or two. My mouth has suddenly gone dry. After a brief pause, several group members point out the obvious sexual imagery of the dream — the feminine waters of the lagoon, the phallic nature of the whale. "Twelve years old ..." says a group member named Annette, "it could be a dream about puberty." Somebody mentions the Earth Mother. Somebody mentions the V-word. I choke down a momentary panic and fight the urge to flee. "I don't think it's about sex," I mutter. "No Aha." Someone wonders if it's an attempt to get in touch with the feminine side; someone else is struck by the image of a small boy facing a huge, mysterious universe. None of it strikes up a tingle.
Then someone says, "If it were my dream, I'd wonder if the dream was making an analogy between the train station and the whale." I didn't get her meaning, but somehow her comment set off a small depth charge in my brain, and I was amazed to remember, for the first time, that only months ago, I'd had the dream again. A distorted form of it, at least. This time, it was set in Philadelphia, on the banks of the Schuylkill River, which had fantastically become the shores of a shallow, crystal-clear ocean. In the clear water, I saw thousands of dolphin-sized fish, moving in precise rows stretching beyond the horizon, swimming robotically, inexorably, toward the shore. The group asks me to describe the details of this new dream and how it makes me feel. I tell them the fish are dull metallic gray and shaped like artillery shells, and that the dream gives me a slurred, minor key version of the stirring sense of wonder I felt in the first.