Dreaming Beyond Poe
A path of reconciliation with life
For the last couple of years, I have been undergoing a significant personal mental health transformation. It wasn’t pretty — still isn’t. Trauma built on previous years of unresolved depression and a huge amount of social anxiety and voila, you have melting pot of non-digestible soup.
I lost faith in hope and I had no hope in faith. Even my natural inclination to work hard as though it would solve everything had lost it’s power. There was one final blow which threw me into the quicksand.
After that, I had nothing left (or at least that is what it felt like). I cloistered myself into a hermetically sealed home-zone. The only others, both allowed and willing to be in my company, were my doctors, dentist and therapists. Even my mechanic didn’t get to see my car. If it wouldn’t operate properly, it remained parked in the driveway and I walked.
My days were filled with writing, art, running, writing, art, running — pattern of existence that matched my repressed self-image and general existential angst. I can honestly say, that despite my natural orientation towards creativity in the form of painting, it was writing that saved my life.
Writing and art allowed me the space to explore my extraordinary amount of cognitive dissonance I was trying to reconcile. I learned to actually see my soul — a realm beyond my mind that I had never really acknowledged. My rational mind superseded everything. I thought that I could and would reduce all scenarios into superficially neat little packages of logic.
But, this really complicated my recovery. My degrees in psychology, science and education meant that I felt I should be able to just snap out of it. There was no self-compassion in this scenario. Why couldn’t I just think my way out of depression and make mental well-being happen?
The point here (hindsight it twenty-twenty) is that I couldn’t get better until I accepted and integrated all parts of who I am — body, mind, heart, soul and spirit — not just the mind and body. In depression, as with any mental state, philosophy, creativity and health are all tinted by the same brush. That is how depression works. It infiltrates like a really bad virus. But, then again, so does joy and compassion, when you reach that point.
And, most telling, are my dreams. My dreams, for a very long time, were equally filled with angst — more along the lines of Poe than Rumi, that is for sure.
A Dream within a Dream, by Edgar Allen Poe, brings the essence of how existential angst and depression can feel. The following is a version of that poem, with some of my personalized poetic adaptation.
I [stood] amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I [held my life] within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how [it crept]
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I [wept] — while I [wept]
O God! [I asked why I could] not grasp
[it] with a tighter clasp
O God! [I asked] can I not [save]
[what is], from the pitiless waves
I asked: Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
— E. Poe, adapted by Leah J.
Holding tight, that dream within the dream
It was not hope but a very determined intentional attitude to stay the course, in baby steps, that is nurturing me into more meaningful ‘life’. As in AA recovery, I imagine, my depression wasn’t going to be fixed by someone else. It is my acceptance, determination, strong voice and willingness to be vulnerable that are essential attributes.
The dream is within the dream. It is the soul reaching out to talk to you. To embrace the intangible with the tangible.
Finally, last night, the dreaming was different — more Rumi than Poe. Instead of the angsty flight from some evil mass of one sort or another, this narrative from my unconscious, suggested an inner strength. In my dreams of late, the archetype of a unified, cohesive self seemed more prominent.
an evolving course
through this migration of intelligences
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
I sail with you…
on the ocean of my dreams
to a far away distant
place of great beauty and tranquility
where suffering and pain do not exist
where we give praise for our joy and happiness, where our love intertwines
with our love for all things…
I take comfort, definitely, that I have turned a definitive corner. It is a distinctive series of watershed moments, building, exponentially upon the one before. By paying attention to those ‘awakenings’ they become a series of enlightened real-life moments — my dreams within a dream coming true.