The Dream as a Path of Initiation
By G. Scott Sparrow
Twenty-two years ago, my friend Benny hit a palm tree driving back from Mexico late one night. Before driving while drinking received so much attention, it was customary for teenagers along the Rio Grande River in south Texas to stay up late dancing in the border lounges, and then to head for home in the wee hours of morning along a perilously winding road that followed the course of the river. Many of us who passed our teenage years on the border – where alcohol for minors was only a bridge crossing away – can recall times when we should have been dead. I still shudder at our foolishness. We were just luckier, not wiser, than Benny and his two friends who died that night.
Shortly afterward, Benny began showing up in my dreams. He appeared deranged, even demonic – intent, it seemed, on hitting or killing me. I would run from him, scared out of my mind and wondering why he would want to hurt me, his friend. In one dream, I realized it was a dream and I tried to wake up to escape him. But I couldn't escape the dream in time; and he assaulted me before I could rouse myself from sleep, terrified.
As a budding metaphysician, I realized that Benny could really have been there as an earthbound, or confused, discarnate soul, attacking me. That idea did nothing to reassure me. But as a student of Jungian psychology at the time, I also realized that Benny could represent an aspect of myself – my “shadow” – that was profoundly disenfranchised and enraged by my neglect of him. Along these lines, I eventually came to realize that Benny represented my own aggressiveness and need for power that I had suppressed under a facade of outward spirituality. Quite possibly, he was angry that I had become such a wimp.
I also knew that both could be true. He could be “himself” and a part of me. From this perspective, our relationship was continuing to offer both of us ways to evolve toward wholeness, even though he was physically dead. Whatever I did in the encounter that represented a breakthrough for me could release him, as well, from his own commensurate soul-level dilemmas.
Benny had always scared me a bit. On one occasion, his flirtation with power almost killed me. While I was skin-diving near the Mexican town of Puerto Vallarta, Benny lofted a volcanic rock in my direction “just to see if he could reach” me. The rock plunged into the water a mere foot from my head. If I hadn't drowned from the blow, it would have been a miracle, for I was 70 yards offshore in 20 feet of water. Benny made a lot of people nervous with such displays of uncontrolled aggression.
Before the series of dreams came to a powerful end, I had an opportunity to be “spiritual” in one dream with Benny. He appeared in front of me, holding a knife. He said, devilishly, “I want to show you my new knife.” Suddenly, I realized that I was dreaming! I knew what to do then. At least, I thought I did. I said, “You are only a dream. May the Light of the Christ surround you. Go away.” Nothing happened, and Benny crept closer. He was obviously amused by my ineffective tactic. Without wondering how I obtained a knife of my own, I began doing battle with him until I eventually disarmed him – an unlikely outcome, since Benny was much larger and faster than I was in real life. I did not complain.
Then came the culmination one night while I was on vacation in England. In the dream – the final one with Benny – he had me pinned down, pummeling me with his fists. I knew that he would eventually kill me if I didn't free myself. I managed somehow to free one arm. Instead of hitting him back, however, I reached up and gently stroked his shoulder. Looking back, I don't know why I thought this would do any good. But he stopped hitting me immediately and began to cry. His tears fell into my face, and he said, “I only want to be loved.”
Years before in “real life,” I had made the mistake of making an obscene gesture at him. I was about six at the time, and he was ten; so it wasn't a very good idea. Sure enough, he pinned me down; and he spit into both of my eyes to show me how foolish I had been to defy him. It was a singularly humiliating and disgusting moment. Now, however – through the avenue of powerful dream encounters – our relationship had become fulfilled. I had found the courage to fight him and then the heart to embrace him. He, in turn, found it possible to voice what his aggression had so effectively obscured – his need for love.
If one looks back on this series of dreams, one can see that the whole purpose of the dream series was to elicit new responses from me. The dream was not so much a message as it was an opportunity to respond in a new way. It was an initiation – a test that was fulfilled only by acting in a new way and by expressing a new spirit. Any interpretation of the early dreams with Benny would have been largely useless and misleading, unless they included an analysis of my inadequate response to him. That is why I often say that much of what we call dream analysis misses the whole point of the dream.
G. Scott Sparrow, EdD, is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in therapeutic dream work and transpersonal counseling. He has written Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light (A.R.E. Press, 1976), I Am with You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus, and Blessed Among Women: Encounters with Mary and Her Message. He is also on the faculty of Atlantic University (AtlanticUniv.edu) where he teaches online continuing education courses for counseling professionals.