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The Red Center
THAT MONTH, AFTER MY FATHER'S DEATH, I BECAME DRIVEN TO perform a ritual in my office at the end of each week. On the wall behind my chair, over the fireplace--which used to warm the Cambridge, New England, Victorian room years before I moved in to make it my psychoanalytic office in 1977--hangs an unidentifable tool that used to belong to an ancient woodstove. A thick cast-iron shaft elbows up in aspiration to a circle at the top, while staying solidly connected to a circle at the bottom end below.
After the death of my father I began to touch the bottom circle, cupping it with my left hand at about the height of my head. Then I would close my eyes and see the galaxy. My vision would travel in a spiral along this Milky Way to the center. There I'd see my father's scalp, with his pride of white hair he loved to comb back in a V between bald, glistening skin (though I never thought of my father as bald). It would hover in the center of the galaxy, where the light was most dense. Many tiny stardust dots would become a cloud of white starlight.
Then I would say "Thank you for all you have given and for all you have not given. Now take it all back." I'd send off the turmoil and leave for my leisure at home. My rational self grins with imperious superiority at these childish antics, but to this day, three years later, the foolishness continues to ritualize itself at the conclusion of each week.
Ilyatjari the ngamkari, an Aboriginal spirit doctor of the Pitjantjabara people of central Australia who treats body and soul, sits across from me. His dark, shining face, with curious eyes that observe me with intensedispassion, is all business. He knows how far I've traveled--across continents and hemispheres--and what little time I've got. He wants to talk with me. How do I want to use this less than a week? I tell him that I want to discuss dreams with him. This is a formality, since I had written to anthropologist Diana James, who speaks his language, months before this initial trip to the Australian outback, asking her if she knew of an Aboriginal dream doctor willing to meet with a Western dream doctor to discuss our trade. Ilyatjari had agreed.
"Shall I first tell you how I work?" I ask, so he can observe my work. He nods after receiving the translation. He, his wife, and his sister-in-law obviously think it an excellent idea. They sit on the burnt-sienna powder-kne sand, comfortable in their dusty clothes. My clothes are getting there, but they still have some leftover cleanliness of half a world back, where I packed them in my black backpack. I sit on a travel stool, minding my back, although later, in the heat of our conversation, I will move down to sit closer to them. A speckled brown mutt sleeps stretched out behind llyatjari.
I randomly choose the last dream I worked with, since the work is still fresh in my memory. It had been the dream of a young white man, presented at a Melbourne dream practicum (a dreamwork training using live material of participants). While talking, though, I realize his story is about myself as well; the choice has not been random.
"The day before yesterday, this man in his early thirties presented me with a dream I worked on," I begin. The dream involves a car. I know that llyatjari travels the red desert in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. We had seen him enter the camp in a cloud of dust, driving the car from the right hand side, as they tend to do down under, grinning at Diana in an impish kind of way.
"This young man is driving a car from the driveway of his powerful house in England. A great Western home. A mansion. He can hear the sound of the pebbles on his driveway. He loves driving the car. It is an open car. Very powerful. Then he gets to the highway and begins to drive full speed. The motor screams. Full throttle. Suddenly, the motor is doing too many rpms (revolutions per minute) and it is beginning to hiccup and stall, leaping forward, then stopping, shaking the car in nauseating commotion. The driver hears the screaming of the motor, until he realizes that there is a woman sitting next to him screeching at the top of her lungs, terrified. The driver is shocked and wakes up, shaken."
Diana concludes her Pitjantjatjara rendition. All three elders nod. The desert around us is silent, contrasting with the speed of the driven.
"That is the dream. Now, here is what I did. I first asked the dreamer to feel the power of the car. He could feel the power deep down in his body, down to his groin, his genitals, and it felt exhilarating and potent. Then I help him feel the motor, screeching along, not able to satisfy his demand for speed and power, overdoing it. He can feel the impact on the body. This is a very typical Western male dream," I add. "That's why so many Western males end up with heart attacks from working too hard. They're driven. The motor is making more rpms than it can take."
As Diana translates I note that they follow me, that they hadn't experienced before. That feeling of vulnerability he is left with, after he goes through the fear of the woman himself, is essential to his life. It is this fear that makes him push people away. Experiencing the fear deeply may actually reduce it. Avoiding this fear by driving himself ever harder is dangerous. It makes him isolated, distant from people. He is a lonely man. He drives people away.
"Maybe now he can be with a woman without driving her away, maybe now he can have a family." I conclude this brief synopsis of the Melbourne dreamwork, becoming aware of the fact that the importance of family is something universal, which everybody understands. Some of llyatjari's grandchildren are making a racket in the background, together with Diana's six-year-old son. I have made the dreamer appear more isolated and terrified than he had actually been in Melbourne, but I wanted to bring out the full potential impact of such a dream.
"That is a good way of working," llyatjari relays back to me. I blush. The two women are moved at the thought of this terror-driven young man with speed in his heart to the point of breaking. Their eyes are moist.
"How does he work?" I ask Diana.
Ilyatjari's dark brown face looks like that of the gnomes we used to hear about in childhood fairy tales deeply worked, serious but with a playful gleam in his eyes as he tells a story to Diana, who will translate his tale section by section. Around us is the rust-colored earth, worn and brittle, as though the world were made of dust. Myriad little flowers shimmer, speaking of the recent rains that made the desert flourish. The trees look like they live off drought, with their parchment skin of dried-out bark that ought to be dead but isn't.
|1||The Red Center||1|
|2||Act of Genius||10|
|3||While Dreaming and Upon Waking||27|
|6||Dream Practicum 1: Change of Season||104|
|7||Dream Practicum 2: Macabre Experiment||131|
|8||Tracking Your Own Dreaming||163|
|9||My Old Man||206|
|Appendix: Dream Material Processed in Chapter Eight||211|
|Bibliography of Related Work||237|
|About the Author||243|