Dreaming: The Shadow


I have always been afraid of my shadow. And yes, I mean it in both senses of the word – the Jungian shadow buried deep in my unconscious containing all of the psychic material I had long ago stuffed there like old childhood clothes crammed into a trunk with a metal lock threaded into a brass hasp, the key swallowed – and my physical shadow, that substance-less absence that only shows itself in the light.

Pure mind is how I like to describe myself, and I have so subsumed my sensory function, pushed it so far down the well of my unconscious, that I had a terrible time learning how to drive, can’t line edit to save my life, and have to pinch myself sometimes during sex to remember that yes, this act is indeed a sensory, not intellectual experience.

So in the dream, I am standing before the entrance to an attic, and I cannot remember how I got there. I recall nothing before the creaking sounds my boots make as they press into the loose planks of the wooden staircase that is leading me to this place.

It feels like it might be my grandmother’s house, though it can’t be really, because Bubby never had a house – only a series of drafty apartments in sub-divided brownstones where she lived alone except for when she rented out a room or two to borders – strange lonely men from Russia or Poland with no children and no place to go on the Jewish holidays.

I’d had nightmares about Bubby’s apartment before, decades ago, when my mother had left me there from time to time to spend the night.

“The man upstairs is going to get you,” Bubby would snap, whenever I’d misbehave, which usually meant I’d spoken too loud or scrunched up on my knees instead of sitting properly at the dining room table.

And just as Bubby would utter her warning, as if on cue, the building would start to creak or moan, and I was certain that as soon as I was alone in the dark, lying on the cold narrow cot that Bubby had unfolded in the back room, the man upstairs would come into my bed, smelling, as old men do, of stale smoke, onions, and tooth decay – and suffocate me.

Years later, I realized that perhaps Bubby was talking about God, which thinking about it now was just as, if not more, frightening than a smelly border living on the third floor, given the way God was known to write people’s names in the Book of Life or Book of Death.

God had come for Bubby almost forty years ago, but somehow, in my fifty plus years of life, I had eluded Him.

Or had HE eluded me?

The failure of God to appear in my life is as awe-full to me as the absence of light in my shadow.

But now, in this dream, as a fleeting wisp of darkness floats across the attic’s entrance way, I let my body enter.

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  1. I came to your blog via a recommendation on She Writes, and I'm delighted to visit. Dreams always fascinate me, and the attic, I've read, is a symbol of a higher self. Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space has a chapter on "The House. From Cellar to Garrett." It's a wonderful book. Just thought I'd share it.

  2. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

  3. Cool image at the end. I know about this living as a separated mind thing. It is my tendency, but the juice has come in making the trek to my heart. It has made my thinking have the third (and fourth) dimensions it was lacking before. But most of the time I am still there in my mind. Having a kid has helped to remind me that this human experience is about the body.

  4. Such a beautiful image, entering the attic sensually and intellectually! Bachelard (Deborah's reference)says: ". . . we always go UP the attic stairs which are steeper and more primitive. For they bear the mark of ascension to a more tranquil solitude. When I return to dream in the attics of yester-year, I never go down again"(p. 26). The stairs to my grandmother's attic were behind a locked door which was at the top of 5 steps placed only for that purpose. Each of those steps increased the fear which both hollowed my stomach and made me too heavy to move, to reach for the skeleton key always ready in the lock beneath the doorknob. The key has become a motif in my writing, but as yet, I haven't turned it.

  5. does it feel to you now, more than a year later, that there are others occupying the same dreamspace as you? i feel like the energy of my dreams is populated. i never felt that before. my dreams were always and only mine, or shared magically with a lover on some rare and exquisite night. now i feel like i go through a portal and arrive into space, heavy with stars. it's almost like a dream waiting-room. others are waiting for their dream to begin also. we all know we are going to dream. it feels so intimate to know this about invisible strangers we know are there because we can feel them. and then we go and we dream and even though the dream is still particular to me, with the exception of those rare nights when i am merged so completely with a lover that we magically share the same dream, there is a feeling that others touched it somehow. that it existed within company.

  6. yes, i am certain there are others in this dreamspace…. though i don't know i would have been able to articulate that last year… it seems that this dream is the beginning of my really entering that space….merging with the shadow… reading this… i think of that book about the afterlife… Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives….. we all dream, we all live, we all die… i used to be bothered when i would think my dreams, images, weren't unique… that others had dreamed them, seen them, heard them.. now it comforts me…. i say yes. yes. yes.

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