On Dreams, Wholeness and the Wisdom of our Sleeping-Selves

When I was very young, I had a recurring dream about sharks. In this dream, I was standing on a very high bridge, and below me in the water I could see sharks swimming, circling. The sharks knew I was up there, and they were waiting for me. One night, the sharks started jumping out of the water. At first they jumped a few inches, barely making a splash. My bridge was very high, but I couldn’t walk away. I was stuck there, watching the sharks jump, and each night they jumped higher, and higher. As they jumped, I could see their teeth, and the deep red of their mouths, and each night they got closer and closer. The last dream I remember, they were inches from my face, and I knew that the next night, they would eat me.

This dream created an intense phobia of bridges in my waking life. I’ve mostly gotten over it (living in a city that is divided by a river, one must), but when I was younger crossing any bridge would send me into a muscle clenching, hard pounding, absolute panic of terror. My little brother loved to exploit this fear, and I have a vivid memory of a road trip to visit an Aunt in Virginia that involved crossing a 20-something mile long bridge. My brother and my family thought this phobia was hilarious, but to me it was very, very real. I still get the old fear, on occasion, if I am crossing an unfamiliar bridge that is very high and narrow.

My dreams have always been this real to me. They have always been vivid, and full of emotion. I remember a nightmare I had when I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old in which I was riding in the school bus, and there was a giant earthquake, and the land all around us started to fall away, leaving only hot magma, until the school bus stood on a tiny sliver of land and I knew that next we would fall into the lava and be burned to death, like that terrible scene from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I still can’t watch that scene. I remember a dream when I was a teenager, and in love for the first time, and part of a very close-knit group of friends. I dreamt that we were all in a house, and we’d been shot, and we were dying and we knew it, and we had the night to say goodbye to each other. Just the other night I dreamt that my ex-husband and all of his cousins were trapped when a highway tunnel collapsed, and myself and another cousin managed to dig them out, alive, but my ex-husband’s head had been crushed by a falling rock. In the dream I was in hysterics, and I woke up crying.

My dreams have often felt mystical. I’ve had lucid dreams. I’ve had prophetic dreams, in which I dreamt something (always something simple and apparently meaningless) and the next day it came true. I only have one person close to me that has ever died, but I’ve dreamt of him many times, and in these dreams we’ve often had conversations about his death, as if I am actually talking to him from the other side. I’ve dreamt about the gods, and about ancestors of my spiritual tradition, and in these dreams I’ve felt that I was being guided and instructed. I guess it is an easier medium for them, since it bypasses the talking, logical day-mind that immediately tries to rationalize everything that happens.

I’ve always felt extremely grateful for my dream life. It truly feels like another life, one that is more magical and fantastic than I can experience with my physical body, though no less real. In my dreams there has been learning, healing, pleasure, joy, confrontation, sorrow, love, and reunion. I know that this dream-life is not something everyone needs or would appreciate, but I always feel a little bit sorry for people who tell me they don’t remember their dreams.

I’ve been writing a lot about my childhood the past few weeks, and a lot of dark and sad things have been coming up. It is nothing new to me, and while I am pleased to finally be able to write and process these things, I am tired of trying to deal with the things that happened to me. I’ve been trying to deal for a long time. I’ve specifically been wondering if trying to communicate with the person that was a primary cause of this trauma would be useful at all. She’s been out of my life for a long time and I really want to keep her that way.

And then last night, I dreamt of my childhood tormentor. In the dream, I was the age I am now, 31, and she was the age she was when I was a child – late 20’s. We sat on the front porch of a house, somewhere in the South, and talked. She was always very funny, and charming, and in the dream it came back to me how often I enjoyed her company. In the dream I was angry, and I demanded that she tell me why she’d done the things she’d done. She’d laughed, and with the wisdom of a dream-person – partly her 27-year-old self, but with the wisdom of divinity coming through to talk to ME there, in the dream – had told me that she had done the things she’d done because she hadn’t known any better, or hadn’t had the tools to be any better, and therefore, even though it is hard to acknowledge this, she’d done the best she could. We talked some more, about childhood things, and I found a deep hunger to be close to her and through allowing myself to be close to her, to have connection to my childhood again. To remember the good parts, of living in the South, of being a child, of being raised by her, even. We laughed and told stories and sat there, two women, drinking beers with our bare feet up on the porch railing, in short shorts, both of us funny, and quick-witted, and sarcastic and bright and alive. I remembered that she was all of those things, and I had wanted to be like her in all of those things – and now I find that I am. She turned and asked me how my life is now, and I told her about writing, about starting an astrology practice, about being a witch, about my dog, about my struggles to understand love and relationships, about finding peace and happiness, about my hopes and dreams. She listened, and commiserated, and laughed, and told me she was proud of me. And then we continued to sit, there on the porch, together, as the dream faded out.

I woke up and felt as if the dream had actually happened. I mean that, in my body, where it counts, the dream DID happen. I feel more resolved and at peace about the things that happened in my past than I ever have. I feel understanding and empathy towards her, and to my surprise I feel an affinity and connection with her that I didn’t realize I needed.

In a workshop this past weekend on Nonviolent Communication, my teacher said off-hand, as we were getting ready for a practice exercise, that sometimes when you bring a real-life conflict to a practice session, you are able to work things out for yourself in such a way that you don’t need to have the confrontation with the actual person. I found the truth in this last night. I give thanks again, as I always have, to my dream-life, and to my subconscious  and to the parts of my spirit that long for wholeness, and know better what I need to get there than my waking self ever will.

On Imbolc, Sadness, Being Gentle with Yourself, the Kindness of Strangers, and Getting the F^#$ Out of the House

I’ve been having a hard time getting out of bed this week.

This is nothing new for me.  I spent a really long time being depressed.  Like, most of 20 years.  The mornings are still a rough time.  I wake up feeling sad, or lonely, or anxious for no apparent reason, or worried about whatever ‘thing’ is going on in my life at that time.  I have vivid dreams most nights and they often color my mood in the morning.  It’s great when I have a sexy dream about Dax Shepard (this actually happened a few weeks ago, THANK YOU subconscious) or something, but more often it’s dark and scary like scenes from a horror movie, or I’m visiting a place I love and can’t get to (the house we lived in when I was a teenager, and the cannery I work at in the summers in Alaska being the most common), or dead loved ones are coming to visit and then I wake up and have to get used to them being dead all over again.  Point is, having a hard time getting out of bed is not, for me, unusual or a big deal.  The big deal is that I DO get out of bed, and that I am usually able to shake off the sadness after a few hours or a few days.  During all those years of depression, just a hint of sadness or anxiety would send me into a very fast and very intense spiral of, “oh shit, I’m getting depressed, oh no, it’s all going to fall apart, I’m not going to be able to get anything done, it’s just going to get worse and worse, everyone is going to hate me, oh god, what if this is the time that I kill myself…” etc etc, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I would jump up and start wildly running around trying to distract myself from the sadness, and it would just make it worse and then there I was, down the deep dark well, watching TV for weeks at a time, crying in the bathtub, and eating Wendy’s because I didn’t have the energy to cook anything.

I have since learned a few things.  First and foremost, that sadness is just an emotion like any other.  It has its place, and you have to honor it and give it space.  I’ve learned to be gentle with myself at these times, and go easy.  To not expect so much from myself.  To not label my feelings as anything or meaning anything, but just let them come.  Sadness manifests physically in me (maybe it does for everyone?) and I have learned to just let the big dark weight in my chest and the low energy and the drooping shoulders have their time in my body.  This morning, instead of getting up and exercising and walking Bear and making a big breakfast and cleaning up, I got straight into the shower and listened to music and sat on the floor of the tub while the water ran over my head (a habit I picked up at the cannery, where there are no bathtubs).  I stared into space and fiddled with my toes and sang along to ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ and just FELT SAD.

At the same time, I’ve learned that energy can get stuck easily, and I have to push through this desire to just lay in one place and not move for an entire day, and GENTLY get some energy moving.  We had a lot of sunshine early this week, and so I took Honey Bear for walks in the morning.  Long, meandering walks with no route and no intention of ‘exercising’ or burning calories.  Just wandering.  The first day, I was in such a terrible mood that I was probably scowling as we walked.  Bear had stopped to poo and an old man was walking toward us on the sidewalk while she squatted.  People are weird about dogs, and I have been glared at or yelled at for Honey Bear’s waste enough times (even though I always pick it up!) that I am a bit defensive anyway, much less on this day when I hated the world and everything in it.  So when this man yelled something at Bear, I whipped around and said “excuse me?!” in my most severe, don’t fuck with the cabbie or I’ll cut you, voice.  I still am unclear on what he was trying to say to her, something funny that didn’t translate, but he came up and started petting her, cooing at her that she is such a good dog, so pretty, etc etc while vigorously scratching her butt and patting her belly.  He was a very tall, slender, wrinkled man in his 70s or 80s with longish blonde/white hair under a hat, plaid shirt, jeans and sneakers.  He looked like what I imagine my dear friend Eric would have looked like if he’d lived to be that old.  I think that about all tall, thin, light-haired old men.  It gave me the same bittersweet, painful but welcome pang of grief that it always does.  He finished loving on Bear, smiled at me and walked off slowly, grinning into the sunshine.  We walked around a corner and came upon one of those rings in the sidewalk that someone once told me were meant to tie up horses, which I totally don’t believe, but why are they there?!  You sometimes see little plastic horses tied up to them around Portland, and on this one was a plastic Triceratops with a plastic T-Rex riding on his back.  My sadness was not gone, but how can you stay wrapped up in your own worries with sweet old men that look like your dead friend, crazy dogs pooping in the grass, plastic dinosaurs tied to the sidewalk, and the sun shining and the air feeling like Spring at the beginning of February?

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The next day we walked to Laurelhurst Park, where I took pictures of the ducks and Bear was admired by everyone we passed, including a sweet old white-haired couple who spent 5 minutes exclaiming over her.  The woman had once had an Akita (Bear is part Akita).  The man ‘didn’t like dogs’ but just couldn’t stop petting Bear and repeating how darling she was, in his English accent.  She accepted this worship as just dues for a Queen such as herself.  On the way back from the park, we passed the house of a sweet old mother/daughter pair (mother, at least 95, daughter in her 60’s) who I’d given a cab ride to.  They’d insisted on letting me borrow all of their Chelsea Cain books and left them on the front porch for me to pick up on my way home.  The daughter was in the yard when I passed and I reminded her of who I was and we chatted about the books and TV shows and the sunshine and how our dogs were barking at each other over the fence.

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I say thank you to all of these people.  The dinosaurs on the sidewalk and whoever put them there.  The ducks and the sunshine and the birds.  The little girl ‘fishing’ in the pond with a stick.  All the people running with that terrible look of pain and concentration on their face.  The people standing in a clump near the off-leash section of the park, watching their dogs play and awkwardly avoiding eye contact with each other.  The old man and the white-haired couple and the book lady.  None of this ‘fixed’ my sadness or made it go away, but it moved some energy, gave me perspective, and made me feel a little less isolated.

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The day of the dinosaur toys and the sweet old man was Imbolc/Brighid.  As a pagan, this is one of our 8 big holidays of the year.  It is one that I have never felt much of a connection to.  It is a time for spring cleaning, initiations, pledges and dedications.  It is halfway between Yule and the Spring Equinox… halfway to Spring.  I really felt Imbolc for the first time as I walked around the neighborhood with Bear that morning.  Spring is in the air, but it’s not quite time yet.  Everything is waiting, conserving energy, doing the quiet work of getting ready.  And so I say to you all, and myself:

Happy Imbolc.  The light is coming.  The seeds are there.  They are sleeping.  Give them the space and time they need to blossom.

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On Magick, Connection, PMS, Priestessing, and Why I Don’t Do Drugs

The first indicator that this fare was going to go very wrong was that my customer was unconscious.

It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night in January.  I’d gotten the order to the “rave” club down by the waterfront in Southeast.  The place is notorious for providing cab drivers with overly intoxicated customers, and probably puke to clean up at the end of the fare; but, the order had a note that said ‘employee’, and it is January, and it was early in the evening, so I felt ok about it.  No… that’s a lie. The truth is, I was having a terrible, terrible night, and I was completely and totally resigned to misery and hardship for the 10 hour span of my shift.  So when the ‘employee’ came up to my window and told me they would be bringing me a customer who had “overdone it a little bit, but she should be fine” I wasn’t surprised in the least, and when this girl who had overdone it ‘a little bit’ was carried out to my car by a large man, her head lolling backwards across his elbow and her breasts falling out of her pink sequined top, I just took a deep breath and opened the back door.

I know you won’t all be able to understand this, but partially my terrible night was caused by that typical and unavoidable reality of being a woman: menstruation.  As I get older my PMS get worse and worse.  Is this a curse from Nature for not having children?  I don’t know.  But I know that the 3 or 4 or 7 days before I start bleeding are becoming so uncomfortable emotionally that I absolutely long for the old custom of going into a tent for the duration of your cycle.  What bliss that would be.  This month I was a little surprised that it didn’t happen, and also vaguely proud, like somehow I had OVERCOME this issue through my own strength and fortitude.  I started bleeding yesterday with nary a PMS symptom in sight.  I popped some Midol, put on my black jeans and black shirt and jean jacket, and headed for work feeling like the all-powerful goddess I obviously am.

I got into my cab, took an order across the river, and immediately jumped on the wrong freeway during Friday night rush hour.  Heading South in I-5 from downtown, there isn’t an exit until Terwilliger… something like 3 miles.  I was stuck behind legions of commuters heading home for the weekend.  I had to flag my order (send it back into the system for someone else to take).  I was hungry and I knew I had just killed my first hour’s profits.  I felt like an idiot.  And then… BLAM.  PMS.  Like a bucket of cold, sad, melodramatic ice water had been dumped on my head all at once.

Cab driving requires you to have extremely thick skin.  There are a lot of people getting in and out of your car.  Some of them are terrible, some are amazing and most are just kinda boring.  But it is a lot of chaotic energy swirling around for 10 straight hours, and most of the time I totally rock at it.  I can sympathize with a crying girl about her asshole boyfriend and how much he reminds me of that one guy I dated one minute, and the next be telling bawdy jokes with a car full of frat boys on the way to the strip club, and the next talking to the redneck truck driver going from a motel back to the truck stop about fishing in Alaska.  I mostly thrive on it.  But those few days of the month when my body is gearing up for the big show, I am like a plucked chicken, all naked and shivering and looking for comfort and warmth, and every single time I try to go to work like that it is a disaster.

And that was my night leading up to this unconscious woman being stuffed into my cab by a strange man.  Just driving around Portland like a plucked chicken.  I tried every single strategy I have to get through it.  When rush hour was just too much for me to handle, I parked my cab outside Powell’s in a taxi zone and went book shopping.  I got chai tea and a blackberry Danish and poked around the Metaphysics and Magick aisles.  I ate my chicken and spinach salad and drank a ton of water.  I tried to stay out of downtown.  I tried to talk to my passengers about my PMS (this was a hilarious social experiment in itself).  I listened to podcasts.  I promised myself that I only needed to make half my usual amount of money and then I could go home, cry, eat chocolate and feel like a damn cliché.

One of the podcasts I listened to was Evolutionary Castings, with T. Thorn Coyle talking to Crystal Blanton about the element Fire.  Thorn and Crystal are Witches, as am I.  Don’t ask me to explain what that means right now, because I have a hard time articulating it.  I’m working on a big piece all about it so I can explain to people when they ask me.  It is partially about recognizing the sacred within each of us and within everything, and acknowledging that we are all Divine.  And I don’t mean this like, oh we’re all part of God’s creation.  I mean, literally, that we are all God/dess.  “God is Self and Self is God and God is a Person like myself” is a quote from Victor Anderson, of the Feri Tradition.  Thorn said, in Kissing the Limitless:

“God Herself is us and we are S/he.  Lover and Beloved.  There is no difference.  And that is not a platitude, but something we can only realize when the time is ripe, and then we are seeded to the core.”

Anyway, that’s a whole other post and it’ll come soon.  Being a Witch is about working with the energy that runs through each of us and through everything, the life force/chi that is that Divinity (and this working would be “magick”).  Sometimes ‘working with it’ means engaging your Will to make things happen, and sometimes it is about getting out of the way and letting the energy/Divinity/magick do what it needs to do.  For me, a lot of joy in the world comes from simply watching this magick happen around me, in situations that others would call coincidence or happenstance but is a deep, important reminder to me that the sacred is everywhere, in everything, all the time.  Even in my cab on a Friday night.  But we’ll get back to that poor girl in a minute.

I am also a student Priestess right now.  I think it is even harder for me to articulate what that means to me, but I suppose if a Witch is someone who sees the sacred in everything and works magick with the life force energy that is all around/within us, a Priestess takes on the responsibility of midwifing that energy and that magick for other people and for some wider purpose than her own, personal needs and desires and growth (although, self-care and taking care of your own needs is the FIRST thing a Witch/Priestess needs to look towards!).  I see it as an agreement between myself and the God/dess to live in full integrity and intention all the time as Her tool.  It gets tricky here because if I am also God/dess then I am making this agreement with myself, so it’s not as sacrificial as it sounds.  And I am just articulating this, right now, for the first time, so I hereby declare this is Witchcraft Vocabulary Lesson #1 as I understand it today and I reserve the right to change my definitions at any time.

Okay.  So, back to the podcast.  Thorn and Crystal talked about a lot of interesting stuff but the thing that struck me the most was a conversation about Priestessing and how it doesn’t end when you leave the ritual or the altar.  How Priestessing is something you live all the time, whether this is at home with your family (or with your dog or alone), on public transportation, while grocery shopping, or at work.  It isn’t something that is compartmentalized.  And this isn’t about being some sort of super-hero or developing a savior complex (I would hope, for myself as well), but just seeing that every moment and every situation is just as pregnant with magick, connection and divinity as those moments in a circle or in prayer or in devotion.  It is about being a tool for help or healing or grace or connection or teaching or whatever needs to be done in that moment.   And it’s about trying really hard not to let your intellect or your fear or your ego get in the way of the magick.  I am totally paraphrasing/adding my own thoughts here.  If you want to listen to it, it is Elemental Castings #50.

So this is what I was thinking about as I drove around.  I had turned off the podcast and turned on my “Magic” playlist (nothing actually witchy here, just the music that makes me feel good) and taken a Midol which has caffeine in it, and I’d gone into a little bit of a cabbie trance as the night got busier around 10, so I was feeling a teensy bit better as I pulled up to the rave club.  I’m not sure what I would have done when I saw the unconscious girl if I’d still felt 100% like a plucked chicken.  I have a general rule to not allow unconscious people into my cab.  They are more than likely going to wake up and vomit, and they can’t tell you where they live, they might wake up and freak out when they don’t know who you are, etc.  This girl had a friend with her and… I don’t know, I just knew I should take them.  The friend (we are going to call her Mary) got in first and then the unconscious girl (henceforth known as Laura) was lain across the back seat with her head in Mary’s lap.  Mary was obviously high on something.  She was very pretty, with dark hair falling around her face, and her eyes were big with huge dilated pupils.  She told me the address in NE Portland as Laura began to moan and chant “Mo mo mo mo mo mo mo” and wave her hands around in the air.  I started driving, with that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that was the knowledge of the next 20-45 minutes being really challenging and possibly gross.  We got about 7 blocks before Laura started to retch.  I pulled over quickly and got the back door open.  Poor Mary just kept looking at me with her big, dilated eyes as she was trying to navigate Laura’s totally inert body out the door so she could throw up.  Together we got her hair pulled back off her face and held her body up so she didn’t completely slump out of the car.  Mary looked terrified.  Laura kept going back and forth between retching lightly, passing back out and then waking up and clutching at Mary blindly with her hand behind her back while saying, “Never leave me, don’t leave me, never leave me.”  When it became clear that she wasn’t actually going to throw up, I got my empty salad Tupperware container and gave it to them to use as a puke bowl, and we continued on.

I was weirdly calm while this was all going on.  Usually I would be really pissed off but I wasn’t.  We just needed to get this girl somewhere safe and Mary needed to not have the responsibility of an OD’ing friend to take care of while she was high and I was the sober person in the car.  And while I didn’t think of it clearly until afterwards, that podcast about Priestessing not being something you turn off skipped across my consciousness at one point, and I thought, “Huh.  Yep.” and kept driving.  Mary kept apologizing and I kept telling her it was ok.  She kept asking me if she should call someone.  Laura had by this time passed back out, sitting slumped against Mary with her face inside the plastic bowl.  She was making a really scary, low, slow gasping/choking noise as she breathed, and I told Mary that yes she definitely should call someone.  The 911 operator told her to take Laura straight to a hospital and so we headed for the closest one.  At the ER I ran inside to get help, at Mary’s request.  I knew there wasn’t going to be any orderly standing around waiting to carry fucked up 20-something party girls into a stretcher while 10 nurses ran alongside, attending to her, but I think Mary had this fantasy.  I got a wheelchair and Mary and I hefted Laura into it.  She had vomited into the bowl on the way to the hospital and her chin and neck were covered.   Her skin was clammy and wet and her eyes couldn’t focus.  She didn’t want to go into the hospital but Mary and I told her she had to and got her into the wheelchair.  Mary kept apologizing and thanking me.  I ran her credit card for the $14 fare and got her to sign it.  I don’t work for free, even (especially) in situations like this.  She signed it and tipped me $50.  We had a moment as we exchanged her card for the receipt.  She thanked me again.  I said good luck.  I squeezed her shoulder and patted Laura’s knee, and then watched as she wheeled Laura inside.

This whole situation, rather than causing me to get even more depressed and sensitive, totally energized me.  I will admit that, having a Moon in Cancer, I have a deep need to take care of people.  I’m trying to get this under control so it doesn’t spill out all over friends and lovers in a gross way, and I think I handled this situation just right, to feed that Cancer moon but also take care of my boundaries.  I don’t know how that situation would have gone if it had been another cab driver, but I can imagine that it wouldn’t have gone very well.  I will never forget that look of fear and confusion on Mary’s face as our eyes met, again and again, in the rear view mirror.  This is why I am a Witch and a Priestess.  Those moments of connection that happen, completely out of the blue, unexpected, in the middle of a terrible Friday night at work.