Grief is a sacred journey

A Dog, a Dream, and a Prize: Jung in the Heartland

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With Sami (photo by Jenna Hullett)

I sit in a woman therapist’s office. On my lap, I hold a dog, too large to be a lap dog. The dog trembles against me in fear. I pull her against my breasts and belly, bury my face in her fur, and inhale deep warm dog scents. The room is filled with nurturing love and protection. We are safe here, this pup and I. We are safe.

***

When I woke up from the dream, I knew the dog was Sami, my son’s partner’s recently rescued pit bull mix. Sami is a 35 pound abandoned girl who spent lots of time at the Central New York SPCA before Jenna adopted her. My dog and I went with Jenna to meet Sami before adoption, so I felt close to this little dog from the beginning.

Jenna, Sami, & Willow meeting at SPCA in May

Sami wasn’t housetrained and didn’t know any human rules or commands, but she was a quick student. She kept her eyes on us. Are you leaving me? Do you love me? Is this scary? Do you have a treat or can we go for a walk? Are you sure you love me and won’t abandon me? When something scared her, her ears folded back against her head.

Sami is comfortable at my home. She loves snuggling with my Lab Willow and taking long walks on my trails off leash. I pull her on my lap when she’s frightened by a thunderstorm or a new situation. It’s a big adjustment to be part of a human family after whatever trauma she suffered her first year.

Jung in the Heartland conference poster, Oct. 5-8, 2017

The evening before the dream about Sami, I received an email telling me I’d won first place in a writing competition called “Memories, Dreams, Sensualities.” The competition was run by St. Louis Jung Society for their conference Jung in the Heartland. First prize was $1000 and an invitation to present my paper at the conference in October.

I was elated and honored to win with my essay “Wild Nights: Grief Dreams, Mythology, and the Inner Marriage.” (The article will be published in October after the conference.) The conference looked wonderful with excellent, accomplished main speakers mixed with experiential workshops.

Then fear crept in. First place? Me?

I’ve studied Jungian Psychology intensively and worked with living teachers and therapists since 1970. I’ve written articles and given workshops. Jungian ideas inform my psychological and symbolic perspectives, the way I digest experience and find meaning, and how I work with dreams. But the judges read my entrance submission blind to the identity of the writer. My fearful voice pointed out that they would learn I’m not a therapist and don’t have formal Jungian credentials.

The congratulatory email said if I couldn’t be there in person, I’d still receive the prize and have my article published in their newsletter. Someone else could read my piece at the conference.

Carl Jung (public access photo)

“No, NO,” I thought. “The article is about my dreams, my grief, my experience, a mythological story I love, and my marriage. I want to read with my feelings, my voice, my tears. Even if I struggle with hearing, I can give a good presentation. I’ve proved that many times.”

So there I was, pulled between a desire to go to the conference and my fear. It was late by then. I was exhausted and needed to sleep. Instead, my mind went on a fear rampage: “You’re too deaf and have vertigo. Traveling and days of listening will take a physical toll. You shouldn’t go. Besides, your article will make you vulnerable. It’s loaded with grief. You’ll cry. You’ll do a bad job. They’ll see you aren’t what they expected.

Willow comforting Sami

After the emotional onslaught, I fell asleep and dreamed of trembling Sami—afraid of being abandoned, in need of reassurance and love. In the dream, I held her fear close to my heart in the womb space of that protected room.

The dream message was clear. I could go to the conference if I took care of my vulnerable self. I said to my fear, “We can do this. I promise I’ll take care of you. I promise I won’t abandon you no matter what. I promise we’ll be OK.”

I replied to the woman who had emailed me about the prize. I told her I have Meniere’s Disease and problems with hearing in noisy conference environments, but wanted to come to participate and present my essay. I learned I’ll have a single room where I can retreat for hearing breaks. Inner Sami and I will be all right.

Sami will attend incognito (photo by Anthony Mansfield)

I look forward to attending Jung in the Heartland’s “Memories, Dreams, Sensualities,” October 5-8. (Early registration deadline with a lower conference fee ends on September 1.)  I look forward to presenting my paper with my fearful inner animal held close against my heart.

***

Have you faced fears and overcome them for something that felt both threatening and compelling? Have dreams helped you make a decision? For other posts about doing what scares me, see I Thought I Could. For a post about giving challenging presentations, see Three Lessons about Loss from my TEDx Talk.

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42 Comments
  1. Elaine, what a delightful amalgamation of the current state of your mind, heart, and writing mastery. I’m so thrilled for you for winning such a rigorous and juried contest. If anything, your prize confirms your credentials: you are an authentic soul with a powerful voice–Jungian through and through–to be reckoned with and listened to. Congratulations and love, Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie. You know just how much this means. The best part about writing “Wild Nights” was reviewing my many grief dreams from 2008-2009 and looking at the dreams from the perspective brought by time. Some I’d forgotten. Most I’d remembered, but it was wonderful to have dream journals to check the details and my reactions at the time. Although I’d worked on each dream years ago, it was eye-opening to see how they led me toward an Inner Marriage. Writing the article became a voyage of discovery–the very best kind of writing experience. I look forward to sharing “Wild Nights” with you in October after it’s published.

  2. OH,huge congratulations Elaine! We all have fears of something or other. And lord knows most writers fret over public speaking about their work for a myriad of reasons. I’m glad Sami has made you see the importance of going to the conference. You are a warrior woman my friend. Now get those red shoes out and read strong and clear! <3

    • Thanks, Deb. I often give readings or speak to groups without concern, but this article is loaded with feelings. But if I could talk about my husband’s death in a TEDx talk, I’ll manage talking about grief dreams. Meniere’s Disease is difficult and I grow more deaf in time. My doctors tell me what good quality of life I have for a Meniere’s patient which is true, because I’m determined and bullheaded. Complex listening situations give me vertigo and disorientation. I’m best with one-on-one conversations in quiet surroundings–not a conference. You don’t pick my handicap up when you only know me online, but in person, I depend on lip reading. Like most things, stress makes symptoms worse.

      I’m laughing. I plan to wear red shoes. I hope to share a few slides with my presentation to illustrate the dreams, the mythology I used, and, of course, Sami incognito for a little humor.

      • Wonderful Elaine. I look forward to hearing about it. And given your disability, have you considered doing videos? That way you don’t have to rely on your hearing or being overwhelmed. You could respond to comments in writing. 🙂

        • Thanks for your comment and suggestion, Debby. I’ve done videos, as in the TEDx talk and others. I believe this presentation will be videoed for later use. When I present something I’ve written, I don’t need to hear other’s words until the question and answer session. If their voices are amplified by a hand microphone, which they will be, I’ll be fine. I love giving an engaging presentation in front of a live audience. I do it fairly often for hospice, Unitarian groups, and readings. This article is very dear to me (obviously), and I have slides to illustrate the dreams and myths. If I need help with hearing, those running the conference knows my situation. So far I manage with my nearly invisible hearing aides, lip reading, and kindness from friends and strangers.

  3. First of all, a huge, heartfelt congratulations on your Big Win. This is awesome – fine writing with a monetary attachment. Like teachers, writers seldom get their due financially. You are up to the task, no question. Remember the TEDx Talk and how you prevailed then. This will be a piece of cake – you get to READ your paper, with expression! Remember too, vulnerability is always an endearing quality.

    Congrats to Sami, Jenna, and Anthony as part of the cast of characters in this week’s story. From my vantage point, I see an even happier back story developing.

    Have I faced fears? Plenty of times. Most recently, my hard-of-hearing partner and I (both in our mid-seventies) tackling brutal traffic in the Greater Vancouver BC area so we could hike in the woods. What were we thinking? Huh?

    • You convinced me, Marion. Or you solidified what I had decided. About a year and a half ago, you wrote me: “Remember this: Daring is your middle name!” (Yes, I saved your words for times like these.) I love that Sami has become part of my dream life. I seldom dream about Willow, but she’s too well adjusted to represent my neurotic parts. I’m watching my family figure out their new life here. Sami has become a symbolic critter for all of us, as well as being a best buddy for Willow.

      I hope the hikes were wonderful enough to compensate for the driving experience. Big city driving has become harrowing, especially the Pacific coast cities with great weather (at least in the past) and incredible scenery, but also along the east coast. I learned to drive in Detroit, so I can do it, but I don’t like wild traffic.

      • Indeed, we get by with a little help from our friends. I don’t remember typing the daring line, but I’m glad you pulled it out. And, yes indeed, vulnverability is an endearing quality. Just ask Brene Brown!

        Standing by for more, Elaine!

  4. How wonderful Elaine on your well-deserved receiving of this prize and honor! Go Girl!
    You will be a gift to all the people at this event! Love, Peggy

  5. All the best to you, Elaine and congratulations. How wonderful to have your work showcased in this way. I’m so glad you acknowledge the fear and then proceed.

    • Thank you, Monica. The best part about this is that the world (or a little corner of it) says “yes” about the direction in which my writing moves. Once again, as you understand, I have to be a warrior to proceed. I’m very deaf, but that isn’t the hardest part about Meniere’s Disease. It’s the vertigo that brings me to my knees.

  6. Thank G.d for your dream Elaine! And bless Sami for coming to you in your hour of need. What could be more symbolic to you who are ready to face your fears and receive the meaning.

    Winning the first prize is a wonderful acknowledgment of all who you are. So many congratulations! Even though I should speak only for myself, I know that your gift of articulation and soulful expression means much to those who come your way.

    I’m excited for you! Wear those red shoes and wow them all by being you … xx

    • Thank you, Susan. Yes to clear dreams when we need them and red shoes. (I also worked with my Jungian dream therapist to find every nuance of this dream, although our explorations didn’t change my initial reaction. It just helped me know I had to push myself a bit and not cop out.) The shoes are needed for self-confidence when the ego trembles.

      Who knew when I happily agreed in May to help with a rescued pit bull terrier that she would become an immediate star in my dreams and a second “soul animal?” My son and his partner find her a great symbol for their fears, too. I’m learning about this girl’s sweetness and how much love she craves and gives. I watch to see how my Labrador retriever Willow handles their relationship and learn a lot. Willow only responds to love.

      • All this goodness in this insane world, thank you

        • Thank you, Jackie. I always try to hold both sides. The darker things get the more I look for the Light. The happier and lighter life feels, the more I remember the Dark. It’s a spiritual exercise for me to remember both sides are here–out there in the world and within me.

  7. Congratulations, Elaine, and good for you!

  8. BIG congratulations on your win and your courage, Elaine! I agree, you and your inner Sami will be alright! Much love and light to you. ✨

  9. A beautiful and moving article—inspiring, too. Thank you, Elaine, for keeping your heart open courageously, like Sami! And thank you for your lovely articulation of the inner wrestling with fears and uncertainties.

    • Thank you, Kirsten. I appreciate your comments. Like most of us, I have plenty of fears and uncertainties going on in the background and foreground of life. I’m grateful for a dream that responded so clearly to my struggle. I also wonder why my dreaming mind has been nearly silent since that dream, but for that, there are no answers.

  10. So wonderful you continue to stay open to dreams and the wisdom they bring. I’m sure your paper will enlighten many as to their guidance. Cheers of joy for you on your prize-winning entry and mainly for showing up for your life <3

    • Thank you, Sarah. Showing up seems to mean looking those fears in the eye and holding them close. I always imagine there is an easier way but haven’t found it. This may be one of the reasons I love Pema Chodron’s teaching. She doesn’t promise an easy way around psychological struggles–and she’s able to laugh at herself in the kindest way.

  11. First congrats and may you have a wonderful time…

    I do animal rescue mostly cats but I know how it is with some animals when they first leave a shelter… and those that had been someone’s pet are afraid that they are being abandoned again…you write of this so well…

    I have dreams… but they are not exactly of my fears… I have dreams that tell me someone is going to die… and usually with a day or two of the dream… I will have a clue to who it is…I have done this since I was a little girl and the first time my family knew of it was when I was ten and my mother woke me up to tell me that her step mother had died and I told her… her father was dead… When we arrived from Tennessee to SC… her siblings met her at our car and told her father had died. She grabbed me quick and told me to tell no one… they would think I was strange…and people do… I accept that… It does make going to a hospital or Hospice houses and nursing home difficult…I don’t exactly see dead people but I can feel them… it can be over whelming.

    Again congrats…

    • Thank you, Mary Elizabeth–and WOW! If we were having a cup of tea, I’d want to ask many questions about your dreams and how often this happens. It sounds overwhelming to know with a sense of certainty what most of us don’t know (and many don’t want to know). Looking back at life, I wonder if you think your mother responded to your dream knowledge in the right way by telling you not to tell anyone. You’re obviously telling people now. Our minds are forever mysterious–and strange.

  12. Congratulations on the honor your words received!

    Thank you for sharing your struggle over whether to go and why. I’m glad Sami helped soothe your soul into stepping forward. Your words, delivered with your voice and heart behind them, will reach, truly reach those attending.

    (I’ve also got to agree that there’s nothing else like the snuggling trust of a pit mix who needed a good home.)

    I’m looking forward to reading your essay when it’s published!

    • Thank you, Teresa. First thing I’ll do at my presentaton is mention Sami and my hidden disability. People have a hard time remembering my hearing loss because I read lips well, but if there’s background noise, I’m easily lost. I haven’t known pitbulls before, so Sami is my first experience. Her owner Jenna has rescued pitbulls in the past. The shelters are full of them, often dogs who have been taught to be violent. It’s an undeserved bad reputation caused by humans. Sami was clueless about human manners, but not violent. My Lab is a great influence, teacher, and babysitter. I look forward to the essay being published, too. It brings together major themes and passions in my life.

  13. Lovely. Vulnerable. Heartfelt. Thanks, Elaine (and hey, thanks to Sami too)!!

  14. Congratulations. What an honor.

  15. Congratulations on your win, Elaine, and good luck at the conference. You will instinctively know what’s right for you and I love how Sami was the messenger.

    • Thank you, Ann Marie. This prize affirms the direction in which my writing moves and sets a strong focus. In this case, life understood through dreams, Jungian Psychology, and Goddess mythology. And congratulations to you about your good health news and your book. I hope you’re ready for a busy autumn.

  16. Elaine, congratulations on your win. I’m not surprised given the constant excellent quality of your posts on this blog and your almost 50 year immersion in Jungian study and experience. You might even have more knowledge than many Jungian therapists. The fact that you could use your dream to decipher and begin to heal the fear you are carrying yet again proves this point. Go and bask in the attention and acknowledgement that you will receive from your peers. You deserve the award.

    • What an affirming comment, Judith. Thank you. Dreams aren’t often so obvious as this one, but I’m grateful when they are. I work with a Jungian therapist a few times a month to dig into obscure dreams, but in this case, the meaning was immediately clear. I knew what I needed to do when I woke up. The first dream notebook I saved was from 1967. Even in one of those general Psychology 101 classes my freshman or sophomore year in college, Jung stood out and I wanted to know more. What good fortune to stumble into a bookstore where the owner was a student of Jung, meditation, and philosophy.

  17. I’m one of the most fearful persons I know. Afraid of drowning, falling, disappointing people, not being good enough, being alone, …. It would be so great if I could dream and heal. Unfortunately, if I do dream, I don’t remember any of it. Not easy to draw strength from what you don’t remember. I do challenge myself and face my fears bravely on a daily basis. And sleepless nights I lay awake forgiving myself for not being able to shut off my chaotic mind. Those doggies though – my sweet Suki rolls over for a belly rub in the middle of my crazy night and that pretty much puts me at ease.

    • Are you, Robin? It seems you confront your fears head on–for example, the one afraid of drowning becomes a lifeguard. The one afraid of being alone reaches out to others who need her support. Dreams are not everyone’s way. I feel fortunate to have them, but they aren’t in my control and I can’t always make sense of them.
      Self-forgiveness seems to be needed over and over again, at least for me. And yes to the dogs who accompany us. Willow is the calm well-adjusted auntie. Sami is slowly overcoming her fears. I didn’t know a pit bull would swim, but when Willow took the stick out into the pond or Sami’s people left her on the shore to take a swim, she hesitated a few days, but then plunged in. She’s now a happy swimmer. Another lesson from dogs.

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