Let’s examine another dream, using the same method: looking at the elements that are present and seeing what holds them together. That last one was just a warm-up: this time, we’re going to be going deeper—probably deeper than anybody wants to go, but it’s worth doing every now and then, if only for the reminder that it’s possible.
I had a friend who had a huge, insect-like creature as a pet. I went over one day to have him help me with something mechanical. He didn’t end up helping, though. It was around that time that the creature began to act strangely. It soon died—there was a special term for how it happened that literally translated as ‘self-devouring’. Then it was as if that friend was Katya, and we were communicating by mail—we were both concerned over what had happened. I was sitting at the kitchen table at my K— house, looking at a package I had received from her. It had gone far out of the way—a label on it showed it had been routed through Königsberg…. (March, 2010)
Looking at the dream broadly, it seems to have two distinct parts: the first with the unidentified friend and the insect, and the second with Katya and the package. There isn’t much to connect the first with my waking life, but the second part comes fairly close: my friend Katya and I did communicate mostly by mail or over the internet at that time, ever since I had moved away, and I really was living in the house that part of the dream is set in when the dream took place.
But I’ll start with the first part of the dream. Let’s see… a huge insect…something mechanical… devouring… hang on, I think I’ve got something.
No, wait a second. Let me try again.
Okay, that’s better. This, my friends, is the Chronophage. It sits atop the Corpus Clock in Cambridge—a special clock designed to be slightly irregular. Every so often, the grasshopper-like Chronophage–actually a grasshopper escapement, and so a functional part of the clock as well as something decorative—blinks, and the blue lights that count the seconds off spin all around the clock’s dial. This illustrates the relativity of time, in which every second is not exactly like the next.
So three separate elements in the dream—a big insect, a mechanically inclined friend, and devouring—all lead back to a single thing: a giant, mechanical, time-devouring insect.
But the creature in the dream isn’t devouring time, is it? It’s devouring itself. And yes, there is actually a word for it: autophagy. It’s a process of cellular destruction and renewal. As a former biology student, I may have known the word—but I certainly knew enough Greek to reconstruct it. Is it a coincidence that the word turned up in connection with a creature called a Chronophage, even though neither term appears in the dream-report itself? I doubt it.
So how does that fit in? A self-devouring creature that is also a time-devouring creature—does that remind you of anything? It sure reminds me of something.
Time, destruction, renewal, reflexivity—we’re getting into some pretty deep stuff, now. Why on earth did my dream lead me to this? What has Ouroboros got to do with me and my life?
At the time, I would have probably been at least a little familiar with this guy and what he signifies—just how much, I can’t say. I was still a few months away from reading Jung, and though I had read books and articles with at least one foot in analytic psychology, they didn’t tend to emphasize the mythy side of his work. At any rate, I wasn’t primed to make this particular connection back then – that was another one of those things that became clear only in retrospect.
What was going on at the time, then? Not much. I had ceased to be a student several months ago, I had recently been a volunteer in Greece for a while, and I was currently seeking out other opportunities, several of which had already fallen through. It was around that time that I decided I’d just go back to Greece in July and stay for a while longer this time—but I’d visit Katya in June. In the meantime, though, I was waiting—and there’s nothing quite like waiting to make you aware of the passage of time.
And if there were any doubt remaining, I could point to any number of dreams from around the same time that explicitly show a concern with time.
I was at the wildlife hospital, in bed, and there was something I was terribly upset about. I didn’t want anyone else coming near me. It seemed like a pattern on the blankets was like the face of a clock, repeated over and over. The minute hands were spinning rapidly, but the hour hands were stuck on 3.00. Suddenly, they stopped at 3.24. (January, 2010)
…I went out to the hallway, looking for my locker…. I couldn’t remember the combination—I had been away for a long time. While searching in my bag for it, Saimi and Ona approached me. We talked. I didn’t want to let them know that I was there for the last time, so I had to lie about some things. After they left, I found my combination and opened the locker. There was more stuff in there than I thought I had left there, and an hourglass was hanging, attached to something. After taking some of my stuff out, I noticed the hourglass was sitting broken on the bottom. I thought it was pretty and would have taken a picture if I had my camera with me— but I also wondered how I was going to clean up the broken glass…. (February, 2010)
I was sitting on the floor of a bathroom—it was beautifully decorated in dark blue and patterned with stars and other celestial bodies— reading something of Pascal’s. I was very tired and was half-asleep, but hearing a noise woke me up. At some point my father was there, asking me about my present life, whether I enjoyed it. I said that I thought of it more as a transitional phase than anything. He said that he could see the advantages, that it would be much easier. I was annoyed since he had missed the whole point—freedom…. (February, 2010)
I was at an airport with a lot of time to spare. I was going to visit Katya and Nina. I was annoyed because I had forgotten some things that I had meant to bring with me, but looking through my bag, I saw that I had brought some of them after all…. (February, 2010)
And then, finally….
I was listening to the grandfather clock in Katya’s house as it struck twelve-o-clock. (June, 2010)
By then, though, I was already there. So yes, there are a number of dreams dealing explicitly with time in some way—almost all before the date of the insect dream.
By now, I’ve connected many of the elements in the first part of the dream to one another and to my life—all except the mysterious friend himself, and what his helping or not helping me entails. In the process, I’ve also had to think about my friend Katya, who’s a character in the second part of the dream. That’s a good sign. It means I’m probably on the right tail – er, trail, that is.
But still—Ouroboros. He may not mean much to me in his own right—nothing like what a religious symbol means to someone practicing that religion— but when something like him shows up, even indirectly, as is the case here, it’s reason to take notice. I wasn’t practicing any religion at the time of this dream; someone in that situation can’t be too choosy about the language they speak to themselves with. It’s whatever gets the point across—and as a rule, once you get to the snake, you know you’re in pretty deep.
What does it mean for time to devour itself? Is it just as if it comes to a standstill—the minute hand moving while the hour hand stands still?— or does it lose its relevance in some deeper way? There are many ways to try to answer this question, most of them rather esoteric—but here, I’ll try to do it in practical terms.
In the first two of these dreams, the situation seems to be a matter for concern, perhaps connected with isolation or separation in some way: in the first, I’m intentionally keeping others away from me, and in the second, I’m keeping secrets from them, a more subtle kind of isolation. The third dream doesn’t seem to have anything to do with isolation or secrecy on the surface—but a bathroom is a place associated with both, so there is some connection. And then there’s the airport dream, where I’m separated but on my way. And separation is also an element in the dream I started off considering—the geographic separation between Katya and I.
The situation seems to be a matter of some concern—but in the dream with the hourglass, and perhaps the one with the book, there’s also something beautiful about it. And in a couple, it just seems matter-of-fact. A whole range of reactions—which makes sense, as I didn’t know exactly what it meant for me. But the one with the book suggests that I did have some insight into my situation, and that I’m not letting the time weigh heavily on my hands. I may wonder why I picked Pascal to read—as I recall, I was reading one of his geometrical works at the time, but it wasn’t the only book I was reading, and so the choice still stands in need of explanation. But I’ll set the question aside for now.
But let’s consider that idea– separation. I really was separated from my friends, including Katya, by distance—but while it was a real concern, it was an external one. It’s hard to see how anyone could get from there to contemplating the nature of time unless there was at least a hint of it there already. Better look deeper.
Taking a cue from the hourglass dream: at that time, I was also separated from just about everyone by secrets. That’s the price of developing an interest in dreaming if you don’t live in an environment where people are open to that sort of thing. Becoming interested in your inner life isolates you, and isolation brings you closer to your inner life—a circle. And whether it’s a vicious or a virtuous one is not an easy question to answer.
By then, I had been becoming steadily more interested in dreaming for the past three years—and many of the dreams from the preceding autumn left me with no doubt that something meaningful was happening. Many of these dreams were connected with leaving my university studies—the event that effectively ‘stopped time’ for me by disrupting what had been until that time a more-or-less typical progression from early schooling to higher education to work and all the rest of it. Time seems very straightforward when you think you know where you’re going. But when you don’t, then another picture starts to look more appropriate.
Not only that, but leaving my studies had left me with a secret. I couldn’t tell those close to me why I had left without admitting that it was the culmination of long-term problems and dissatisfactions rather than the sudden thing it probably seemed—an admission that, as far as I could tell, would only produce more unhappiness, both for them and for me. Yet another circle, and one I didn’t want any part of. It wasn’t that I thought that they were ill-intentioned, but that by then I had been the victim of too much well-intentioned bungling to trust anyone with my own problems but myself.
With that in mind, my behavior in the first dream—at the wildlife hospital—and in the second dream—at the lockers—resolve into same basic concern. I’m keeping others away to keep from hurting them. It sounds awful, I know—but looking back, I don’t see how I could have done any better, even knowing things I didn’t at the time. And now the whole thing is too closely bound up with so many wonderful, astonishing events that I can’t even say that things would have been better if they’d gone otherwise. If I did, everything I’m saying here about the interconnectedness of things would be pure hypocrisy.
And that about does it for the first part. I’ve got a good hold on the general tangle of concerns that are at play in this dream, and only a few generic, minor elements haven’t shown important connections to my waking life. It seems unlikely that the second part will bring any big surprises – but you never know.
-To be Continued-