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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.