Monday, December 3, 2012

Dream Trains, With Horses

I had a very striking dream a few nights ago, one that seems worth recording. In the dream, I had somehow walked into an area between two separate train tracks. I was standing near the track on my right when a loud train approached, moving very fast. The noise and power of the train were almost overwhelming, not to mention the fact that the train itself was outsized (as were all the other objects in the dream). In fact, the entire feeling of this dream was a lot like stepping into the pages of a book by Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, say, or The Mysteries of Harris Burdick), in which objects out of context behave peculiarly and take on a charged but veiled significance.

One train was bad enough, but there were two. Right after the first train, another came blasting toward me on the other track; they were almost simultaneous. The second one, too, was enormous, loud, and aggressively fast. Right after that, an oversize cart drawn by horses came bearing down on me between the tracks, but the cart was so large that it went right over me. I was shaken by the speed and the size of these moving objects, but I was not hurt.

The feeling of overstimulation due to noise and motion reminds me of the time I went to see Escape From L.A. with a friend at the midnight movie. This wasn't something I would have picked on my own, since action movies aren't my forte (or didn't used to be); my friend picked it out. Imagine someone accustomed to sedate Merchant Ivory productions and quiet character-driven dramas sitting in a big-screen cinema, way past her bedtime, being pounded by Dolby sound at a teeth-jarring level and assaulted by image after image of mayhem and doom, all conducted at warp speed. I don't remember the plot, just the nauseating feeling of sensory overload and a wish to bolt from the theater.

My dream was a little like that, except that it was in my head, so bolting wasn't an option.

For a Jungian, a situation like this calls for explication, amplification, and active imagination. I will assume, first off, that the two trains and the horse-driven cart are what they seem to be, objects of transportation. From my point of view, everything else was in motion, and I was stuck in a dangerous spot. I wanted to be moving, but no opportunity presented itself. On closer inspection, I saw a chasm in front of me, over which the trains were jumping without benefit of tracks. They continued to repeat this maneuver, and as much as I wanted to be on one of them and on my way, I couldn't help noticing how dangerous it was for the trains to keep making this leap. Disaster seemed to be in the offing.

When I think about trains, many things come to mind. I've traveled by train several times and often found myself driving alongside trains on my recent trip out west. I live not far from a railroad track and was nearly stopped by a train the other night after running an errand. I recently told someone about a memory or dream I have of traveling in a Pullman car once when I was very young. These associations are both positive and negative.

On an archetypal level, trains are synonymous with power, with the ambitions of the Industrial Age, and with the expansion, in our country, to the west. Trains traveling from two directions met to celebrate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Interesting that the term "Iron Horse" was once applied to locomotives, since oversized horses dragging a giant cart also appeared in my dream.

Power. Ambition. Industry. Expansion. Transportation. Speed. And also, perhaps, from a certain point of view, a kind of ruthlessness or unheeding momentum.

In active imagination, you try to start a conversation with the people or objects in your dream. When I think about trying to talk to either the trains or the horse and cart, I feel at a bit of a loss. The very speed and force of their motion almost seems designed to preclude speech. And yet, standing still, in a seemingly precarious spot, I saw something that none of them seemed to notice: the width of the chasm and the danger it represented. Though eager to be on my way, I still saw that getting on one of the trains (never mind the cart) was not a safe proposition. Other than the discomfort of being where I was, I was safer on the ground.

At the end of my dream, the chasm loomed as the most important image. I started to think of how to get across it but wasn't able to figure it out. If I now address the chasm, and say, "Hello, what are you doing in my dream? And how do I get across?" The chasm might say, "You're right not to trust these lunatics." And, "Are you sure you need to cross? If you're meant to be on the other side, there's bound to be a bridge somewhere. Think about where you want to be. In the meantime, get away from these idiot trains . . . you've had enough drama. Go get a cup of tea or something. And those horses? And that stupid cart? Don't even get me started . . . "

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