Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dreaming the Tree of Life

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent… Carl Jung

Dreams have been my greatest teachers. There is something about primal dreams, and I regard Tree Dreams to be in that category, that synthesize the essence of our motion through life: where we come from and where we are headed. I recently pulled these out of an old dream journal and saw them with new eyes.  These are among my teaching dreams.

Three Tree Dreams:

The Tree of Life
A tree is half in the visible world, half hidden in underground darkness. It sends delicate fractal tentacles deep into the moist mystery of Mother Earth, but also equally high into warmth and light. In several of these dreams, my father says he must cut it down and destroy its visible presence. The tree is dangerously proud of its life. The dilemma is it can’t live in just one-half of the world. Visible and invisible are two sides of one reality.

I know that the life generating roots below visibility will die when cut off from their above ground connection to the sun. This theme morphs into many forms throughout my childhood, but the theme of forbidden visibility always comes out the same.


In this dream, a tree is half-dead and half alive; my father is cutting down the whole tree. He says it can’t survive that way and he must destroy both sides. I fight ferociously to save the living side but it seems hopeless; the dead side constantly pulls more and more life from the living side. I struggle and struggle to find a resolution but nothing seems to work.


In yet another dream, someone cut a huge old tree at the base, severing it from its roots. The person who does this believes it is the right thing to do. I’m horrified. I hope for a miracle but it can’t live without roots. Someone tries to help me prop it back up over the severed roots, pretending it won’t make any difference. This is denial and I know it, but I must try. The appearance of life will soon fail.


I go for a walk and discover a tree I once knew about but completely forgotten. When I see it, I remember that originally, there were two trees. I’m shocked and ashamed when I rediscover the forgotten one. I remember that it once gave me shade and comfort, how could I ever have forgotten it. The second tree is also important. If I abandon it, I will grieve as much as for the first. I feel unremitting pressure to choose between them but it’s impossible, I love and need them both.


In another dream, a Cottonwood sapling is secretly growing in the backyard. It’s a volunteer and I’m delighted, visiting daily to water and admire it. Then my father finds it and digs it up as a weed. I am furious and begin digging up the plants in his garden. My mother is horrified. She asks me how I could be so cruel knowing all the effort and hope my father invested in his garden. I feel regret for what I’ve done and stop the destruction. I know how sad he will feel. He will never understand the damage he causes.

Many years later, in waking life he did cut down the Cottonwood tree that was my retreat and comfort from a world that constantly bombards me with demands I can’t meet. He knows how important that tree is to me and that’s why he cut down. After that, I know that I will treat him respectfully but keep a wall between us. I will always hate his God. My father thinks he is doing right, and right must be painful. Life should be painful. Wonder, beauty, comfort, attachments of the heart will only harm ones adjustment to reality. Life will be hard, a struggle, a gantlet to be survived. Love in any form but servitude is dangerous. I’m supposed to learn that good people don’t get what they want in life, and to accept what I get.


Children often live out what their parents most fear. This is especially so when the parents embody very little of their life force, their own unique nature or potential. For this reason, my parents both feared and secretly admired me. They regarded me as dangerous, someone to be hidden and caged. This led to great conflict and confusion. Because of this abandonment to the narrowest ledge of their world, I learned to live with and work through rejection. Their denied life force was the solid material that built this shelf to which I clung precariously overlooking a steep drop. However, by any standards this tiny space was too small to live on. Somehow, I had to make it bigger, hopefully large enough to encompass and transcend both of our worlds.

What if the parents fear life itself and believe God is jealous? They also thought they knew me but it wasn’t I they knew but the fantasy images of their projected hopes and fears. Contradictory evidence was always overlooked, denied, and if too obvious for denial, eliminated. Still I have doubts. Did they really have faith in the molding clay they wrapped around me? It was the life force itself that was the real source of their fear. It was an elemental storm that constantly threatened to rage through our fragile house like a tornado. The fragility of my parent’s world was a crippling dilemma. It seemed that my first obligation was to keep danger away from this precarious and fragile structure. Instinctively I knew that when their house fell the crash would bring down my delicately attached little ledge as well.
In my dreams, the dilemma was to find a way to protect the dead side of the tree because of it hopeless attachment to the live side. It was comparable to being a Siamese twin whose other half was mortally ill. It seemed that there was no way to avoid sacrifice to the connection.

The story went on, and I finally recognized that I was an invisible but special treasure hidden from a jealous god, both a source of shame and fear. All very confusing to say the least. However, it seems that the tension of contradiction fuels creation. The first contradiction is between being and non-being. Having spent most of the first part of life beneath its visible surface in darkness entwined in the buried roots of our family tree my task is to find some healing elixir to rejoin the severed trunk to the roots.