I will not begin with the actual dream which I fear would be tone deaf: it conjures memories of a colleague who might sit a little too close at break time and recounts in dull, claustrophobic detail their whole dream sequence from the night before. Or maybe I feel that breathlessly arriving and opening my mouth to let a vivid, recurring dream or nightmare tumble out belongs in the realm of the psychoanalytic couch. It would be bad form elsewhere, and it belongs in a room where the rules of listening and being-with and reciprocity are different.
I value dreams. I don’t know if all dreamers interpret their dreams as emotional codes that need thinking about and puzzling and mulling over, but I do. It is good leisure time sport, like knitting or cooking. I think of dreams as little arrows to the heart, pricking me. They urge me, telling me something I half know or need to know on a deeper, more gut-and-bone know.
I flew to Canada to spend Christmas with my sisters and I quit my job in education at roughly the same time. Both were exciting moves and I feel I relearn this paradoxical truth often: with every birth of something new, a loss looms on the horizon and gestures to a death that must be grieved at the same time. My son is old enough to leave for a week now, which is a momentous milestone. He can bear my absence and enjoy spending time and bonding with other significant attachment figures. Although I am so grateful that I am not-needed enough to spend a significant amount of time away from him, to claim a little more of ‘a self to return to,’ a task Adrienne Rich says all mothers must do, I am saddned by this shift in our dynamic. He is my baby and he fits differently in my arms year after year. He does not nap on my chest anymore and I am not the only person he runs to now when he hurts himself or wants to be soothed. We do not spend the majority of our days together, now that he is in school. I loved seeing my sisters but by the end of the week I felt a hunger to smell his head and hold him. The ocean between us frightened me. And I love my new job, it was time to grow and spread my wings in a different sector, but I also miss my former staffroom, my former colleagues, many of whom I knew before my son was born. I miss their banter and comraderie and stolen minutes of quick coffee breaks and raucus lunchtimes in the staff room.
In my Yin yoga practice, a question the mat has taught me to ask is, ‘when?’ The mat is where I meet myself, and it is the place where shame and anxiety and fear and sadness pool inside me. When I am twisted up and still, I might become aware of a feeling welling up inside me. Does it belong to the past, the present or the future? Is it an old wound from childhood I need to bear witness to, or is it something that is bugging me about my current circumstances, or something I am dreading or wanting for the future? It sounds like an obvious question, ‘when is this feeling happening?’ but it is not always easy for me to discern when a feelings belongs to: emotional truth is written in our limbic systems and coded in our heartbeat and adrenal glands and they don’t bear time stamps. An airplane journey across the Atalntic when I am thirty six can transport me back into the psyche of fourteen year old me, trapped on a plane, leaving her home and friends, helpless, tearful and very, very young. The question of when is multi-layered, associative, flat, collapsing. It takes time and intentionality to parse and fashion into an artifact.
I dreamt of holding a baby. I woke up, every time, pinched with longing. The dream stung me. It recurred for weeks. The baby suckled and cooed and nuzzled into my neck. When? Is this a future baby, one that I long for but do not yet have- maybe I want another kid? Is this a present baby, symbolising the growth that traveling to my sisters and my new job and identity-outside-of-mother and professional life that I have recently claimed? When I realised it was a past baby, a baby I was missing, it was not a new baby, it was a familiar body, I body I had cared for, a particular relationship. The sound of him latching on when he nursed. Maybe I didn’t need to dream it again, once I realised I was missing my infant son: at any rate the recurring dream stopped. And grief flooded me. The weird thing about dreams is they are pure metaphor: one symbol gestures to the next, which then gestures to the next association like reading a poem and the image unfolds a little more and takes up a little more space in my soul, echoing a little more, reverberating off the sides with each emotional resonance I bring to it. And suddenly, I was not just missing my infant son, I was missing the smell of my therapist’s old consulting room and the way my spine felt on the couch when I lay on it. And bearing witness to the teenage girl who was forced onto a plane to go live an ocean away from everything she knew. And reckoning with the loss of my colleagues I had only said goodbye to a few weeks ago. And I keep thinking of Thomas Lux’s beautful poem ‘A Little Tooth,’ about parental letting go and the lines from Louise Macniece’s poem, ‘Prayer before birth.’ Babies.They get born and grow and change and get bigger and it is a relief and joy and also incredibly sad; new flourishing and passing away are always intimately connected to one another. I grieve while I grow.
Copyright Diana Smith 2020
I learned allot about the poetry of Free Association by reading psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas ‘The Evocative Object World,’ and ‘The Infinite Question.’
Adrienne Rich’s book on motherhood, ‘Of Woman Born,’ continues to inspire me.
You can find ‘Prayer Before Birth,’ here https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/prayer-before-birth/
And ‘A Little Tooth’ here https://poetrysociety.org/poetry-in-motion/a-little-tooth-1
📸 My sisters joining me for some morning Yin in Canada this Christmas