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Dream Shifts after Impact

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) and the Nabokov Blues

Waynelle Wilder

When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!

Vladimer Nabokov, Transparent Things

“Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh,” I’m whispering, patting his head. It’s not really his head, it’s a hat on his head, although I’m sure I feel his hair under the hat. He’s crying and cooing, “Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no,” and with a call-andresponse mantra, I echo back, “shhhh, shhhh, shhhh.” We are caught in a strange embrace: He’s squatting outside my car window as I pat his head/hat; I’m still trapped inside the car. I realize I’ve never felt such compelling compassion until now. Each tear he sheds catches my eye and feels like my own. I know he’s crying and moaning in pain, but I’m the one bleeding. Somehow the incongruity doesn’t register; our connection seems natural. I don’t feel physical pain, only anguish about the pain I’m seeing and hearing from a man on my left side, squatted outside what used to be my driver’s side window.

His skin glistens like black diamonds. I’m clueless why he’s upset, but I know I need to comfort him, “shhh, shhh, shhh.” His tears are mine, a strange ecstasy. “Shhhh, it will be all right; I know it will.” He argues back, “Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no—it will nevah beeee.” For the first time I question my perception. But the compulsion to comfort him temporarily over-rides my doubts. Then I realize that the young man may know more than I do. Something about his accent startles me. Later, he admits that he’s from the Island of Trinidad. He’s working at an auto repair shop a few blocks away from my home. I’ve driven by it dozens of times, a repair bay converted from an old gas station, its heaps of old parts and partiallyreconstructed bodies offering a plethora of automotive histories, colors and hues. The 7-11 next door has an inordinate number of robberies and shootings—a friend has warned us never to go there after dark. I question this, but consent to put his mind at ease. I’m not one easily given over to fear, or at least I wasn’t until November 4, l996.

En route to the gym that particular Monday, the beautiful, sunny, golden-leaved Colorado fall day felt lazy and warm. Literally one block from my home, I glance left and see an old pickup driving west headed for a stop sign. I have the right of way; the pickup is on a dead end onto my street; i.e., even if he didn’t have a stop sign—his road runs out! I suddenly realize that the driver is looking at the car in front of me, rather than at his stop sign. A gold Mercedes Benz has caught his eye—he sees it, not any stop sign. He runs the sign, turns right going too fast to turn sharply. On impact he “takes out” the left side of my compact car. Alone in the car, everything feels like slow motion to me. The impact has a strange effect. I can still clearly see the gold Mercedes driving in front of me. The driver turns his head out and looks back at us, slows down but then speeds up, as if in a getaway car. I focus on my side mirror as it tears, folds and hangs by a strange thread of metal. The look of the pickup driver, the black stocking hat he’s wearing, the beauty of his skin all juxtapose against the shattered glass of my windshield. For a second, I don’t notice my blood, cuts, bruises, glass imbedded in my skin, hair, nose, mouth; instead, I’m caught in a mother-child reunion trying to comfort a crying stranger—one who has been caught in a fantasy of driving a Mercedes Benz rather than a beat-up International Harvester pickup, 30-some years old.

I don’t know I’m in shock, only that everything is suddenly bathed in golden, beautiful sunlight that shines as if the gold Mercedes reflects everything I’m seeing. The glow amazes me, the young man amazes me, his tears shine and intermingle with the broken glass shards as my eyes move back and forth between the windshield and his face. We’re both bathed in a world of color and diamonds and ecstasy. I keep stroking his head with my “shhh, shhh, shhh” mantra. I have no fear.

My neighbor rushes out to help. Police, tow truck and ambulance all arrive simultaneously. I insist I’m fine, but no one will allow me to get out of the car. I think this precaution silly, but then realize that the top of my head must be bleeding because I’m sure it’s cut. I suddenly realize that it hurts. I tell the paramedics to stop the bleeding from my head wound. The top of the roof must have come down and hit my head; how else would my head hurt so badly?

Paramedics place me on a stretcher board, secure my neck in a brace, but they can’t get the driver’s side door open, so remove me out the passenger side. I feel ripped from both the womb of my car and my newfound-connection with the man from Trinidad. I’m starting to panic about my head wound; I’m starting to freak out about not being able to breathe; I’m starting to pass out and I’m afraid that if I do, I might not wake up for a long, long time. As they place me in the ambulance, I begin to black out and ask for oxygen and an I.V. “Please stop my head from bleeding,” I’m crying as the paramedic searches my hair for a wound. All he can find is blood from imbedded glass in my forehead and left arm—he insists my head is fine. I don’t believe him. I know he’s lying. I know when I get to the hospital, of course, the doctors will sew up my wound, then my head will be fine. The pain will go away, no doubt about it.

How naïve! Little did I know that six years later I would continue to experience periodic pain in the same spot. The pain is not from an external wound that can heal with a bit of Mercurochrome, a few stitches and a bandage, but it’s a clear signal that lets me know when my brain is fatigued. When I feel it, I need to refocus my attention inwardly; otherwise, I go into an altered state of consciousness, one that makes no rational sense, one that I have no control over, one that I must welcome rather than refuse. The effect feels like a drug experience. Like Nabokov’s novice, I find myself caught in some external “material object” that starts my journey into its history, its reality. I might suddenly find that whatever I see in front of me, whether it’s a reflection from a swimming pool or the blue of someone’s eye, puts me into a bizarre dreaming state. I’m caught like a novice in a strange world:

…novices fall through the surface, humming happily to themselves, and are soon reveling with childish abandon in the story of this stone, or that heath… A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced… will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish. (Nabokov, 1972: 2)

When I try to make sense of my experience of being caught in an external, material object, Nabokov’s words make sense to me. I also turn to Arnold Mindell and C. G. Jung to help put a frame around my unusual perceptions. I’m reminded of Mindell’s “flash-flirt” as he describes it in The Dreammaker’s Apprentice:

I use the notion of a flirt to convey how the flash “tempts” you; it is as if it tries to catch your attention… For example, an Aboriginal Australian living in her native setting might experience a tree as having the power to catch her attention, as “flirting” with her, so that she is drawn to look at the tree. The tree sort of winks at you, and then, because of that flirt, you find yourself drawn to look at it. In Aboriginal thinking, objects have power to catch our attention by (my word) flirting with us before we look at them. (2001: 116)

Mindell encourages following a flirt to uncover what he calls, “Dreaming, the sentient essence behind it” (Mindell, 2001: 122; see also Mecouch, 2001: 59). He gives an example of a car alarm that “flirts” with him early one day and later he realizes the earlier disturbance “flirting” with him brought a new level of awareness:

I felt my way into the state of that Dreaming, the state of that sensitivity behind the flashflirt—not the [car] alarm itself, but the sensitivity at its essence. This gave me the experience of being very centered and sensitive. This experience changed my mind-set, and instead of just seeing things from the viewpoint of consensus reality, as I had been doing, I now had a new and more detached perspective. (2001: 122)

Like Mindell’s encounter with the “flirting” car alarm, I find myself surrounded by objects that “flirt” with me. The difference in my perception now compared to before the auto accident is that I don’t have a choice whether or not to follow flirts from the environment. To use Nabokov’s metaphor once more, the “thin veneer of immediate reality” breaks for me, and I’m no longer “walking on water but descending upright among staring fish” (1972: 2). In other words, I no longer follow the flirts, as Mindell suggests; instead, the flirts encompass me. The experiences I have feel like what C.

G. Jung referred to as participation mystique:

A psychological condition in which various inanimate objects and people participate with each other in a mystical manner, are connected with each other beneath the surface of consciousness. The French philosopher and sociologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl coined this expression for the characteristic of a possible identification of all things with each other…. (Von Franz, 1991: 196)

Four months later consensus reality confirmed my perceptual changes in medical terms. I took my first neuropsychological test and was diagnosed with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI). According to Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Survivor’s Handbook

…MTBI is the name given to those head injuries where there is no open wound [emphasis added], but enough force to shake the brain inside the skull. These head injuries are sometimes called mild brain injury, closed head injury, or post-concussive syndrome. (Bowman, et al., 1995: 2)

I prefer to say that I’ve had a concussion; the term is more acceptable and less stigmatizing; after all, many athletes have concussions and are respected and rewarded for their occupational hazards. Many children tumble from their bikes, bump their heads, are diagnosed with concussion and are fine after a short time. But I’m not a child or a young athlete, and a head injury is like many injuries: the younger one is, the more rapidly one heals.

The emergency doctors found no external head wound. The pain I suffered was caused by my closed head injury: “The methods used by your brain to process information and communicate with your body, prior to the accident, have been interrupted” (Bowen, et al., 1995: 2). Interrupted feels like a gross understatement: My perceptual field suddenly took on strange and outlandish proportions, due to the injury: To emotionally bond with a man who had driven a several thousand pound vehicle into my small 1987 Chevrolet Nova seems preposterous. To believe, without a doubt, that my head was bleeding when a medical professional had assured me that I had no visible wound, defies rational explanation. My brain suffered a wound that caused unusual perceptions, and I had to learn to live in a world that constantly questioned my previous understanding.

My nighttime dream state changed radically, as well; in fact, the change became an indicator of the injury. Because I have tracked my dreams most of my life, and in specific detail since the early 1980s, I have a thorough dream journal. In one session with Arnold Mindell, he stated that he knew my brain had been injured because of the change in my dreams (Mindell, 1997: personal communication). Of course, this makes perfect sense in Process Work theory; i.e., dreams reflect body symptoms and vice versa.

Process-oriented dream and body work shows that dream images and symptoms are the beginning of tendencies towards particular psycho-physical processes. One can outline these tendencies by using entire dreams or body experiences mirroring these dreams. In Process Work one sees these tendencies amplify and actualize themselves, creating body expressions, fantasies, understanding and synchronicities. (Mindell, 1985: 61)

However, the change in my dreams was as extreme as the auto collision itself. Also, my waking state encompassed an altered-state quality that most readily could be equated to the medical term “shock.” Since I could not shake the feeling of “shock,” my first neuropsychological test was ordered in March 1997. Three separate neuro-psych examinations and testing over a three-year period confirmed my injury.

Because of the merging effect of this altered state, I lose my sense of time and space. I find myself wondering if other concepts can help me understand it. I remember how Mindell explains nonlocal and nontemporal and how these qualities are inherent in sentient awareness:

Because you cannot see sentient experience—except when it finally manifests as signals—you do not know where or when in space and time sentient experience originates. Sentient experience is nonlocal and nontemporal. Nontemporal means that everyday time cannot be associated with Dreaming. Nonlocal simply means there is no single locality for sentient experience. Space and time are no longer firm concepts in nonconsensus reality. (Mindell, 2000: 72)

Can the concepts of nonlocal and nontemporal explain how precognitive night dreams (i.e., dreams that foreshadow an event in daily life) can happen as well? In fact, I had a precognitive dream on Saturday, November 2, 1996, that foreshadowed my auto collision. It occurred the evening after a meditation group in which one of my colleagues became frightened for me because of a dark, looming figure that came to me in a meditative state. The figure was humanoid, although much larger than a man and had huge wings. I was fascinated by his appearance and curious, as I always am, when involved in Active Imagination. I didn’t feel the least threatened, but realized that my colleague’s reaction might be important information. He seemed genuinely concerned for my safety after I described the figure to the group; he felt it could be a harbinger of something ominous about to happen to me. His reaction puzzled me, but I’d known him for years and trusted his perceptions. That evening I dreamed the following:

I’m driving to a meeting with my colleagues, when I’m suddenly pursued by a car on my left. The car tries to run me off the road, as the road heads under an overhead bridge. I feel that I’m going to be “side-swiped” by the car on my left, and I awaken with fear—an unusual feeling for me in a dream state.

The dream startled me for several reasons: I am a person rarely plagued by nightmares. It felt like a synchronicity of my colleague’s words the day before warning me about the figure in my meditation, a figure reminiscent of one known in Carlos Castaneda’s sorcery tradition as an entity that consumes awareness. According to the sorcerers, these entities feed on human energy for nourishment in the same way humans consume food for energy. The caveat for these entities is that the more confused a person is, the more “edible” that person’s energy. In other words, they feed on confusion and a lack of awareness and clarity. I wondered, as I analyzed the dream, how my awareness might be altered and how the “car” pursuing me was the harbinger of that change. I was curious about the overhead bridge, a symbol of transition or change. After my head injury was diagnosed, I became struck by the symbol of an overhead bridge—absolutely, my head had been altered, my cognitive perception drastically changed.

When I recall the precognitive dream of two days before the accident, it shows that I’m on the brink of a life-changing experience: I awaken with fear after another car tries to run me off the road, as the road heads under an overhead bridge. As I look at the dream I wonder about my car; the way I maneuver about in my daily world is about to be impacted. This potential impact takes place as I approach a bridge far, far above me. The bridge looms one hundred or more feet overhead; not a cozy little bridge. My fear produces an anxiety state that I’m unaccustomed to—my usual pleasant dream life takes a turn. I think about the meditation group and my colleague’s fear: Am I merely reacting to someone else’s panic? I’m fairly comfortable with the contents of my meditative life, all the figures that come up. But during the aftermath of the collision I find it uncanny that the figure my colleague reacts to is like the one Castaneda’s sorcerers describe as one who eats awareness. It’s true; my usual awareness has disappeared; my short-term memory’s impaired; part of my brain/energy system feels gone, gone, gone.

I’m in the emergency room for several hours after the accident. When my best friend comes to pick me up, she finds me wandering the halls, completely disoriented. She says I look dead; she’s never seen anyone so white, bloodless. Her description matches a zombie, one without shadow or color, “The biblical death curse ‘their shadow is departed from them’ (Numbers 14:9) was intended to make enemies into helpless, soulless zombies” (Walker, 1988: 353). On one level, I felt like what Walker describes as a revenant: “Literally, ‘one who returns,’ a revenant was envisioned as a person having come back from death to some sort of earthly existence, whether a ghost, a vampire, or a walking corpse like the West Indian zombie” (Walker, 1988: 271). The next few months I wandered in a zombie state without knowing what was the matter.

In August 1996, three months before my accident, I began teaching three courses at Metro State College of Denver and saw between 20-30 clients a week. Although I’d not taught academically for over ten years, I’d returned to the classroom because I missed it; there’s nothing quite like a room full of hungry minds! A campus population of approximately 18,000 students teems with energy and excitement. I was having a blast! Textbooks arrived late, so I initially created all my own materials for 75 students. My schedule was tight, but I loved every moment; it felt like vibrancy surrounded me. Wham! The day after the accident, the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t remember my office phone number. “Hmm,” I thought, “this feels a bit odd; maybe I’m more banged up than I thought.” It’s true that my left arm was covered with cuts and the color of plums, but what’s that got to do with my phone number? The second odd occurrence was that the man who’d hit me the day before came to my door. Whereas yesterday I’d been involved in some strange altered state experience with him, a strange ecstatic union, today I was paranoid. He rang the buzzer; I opened the door and became completely filled with terror. He said he was checking to see if I was all right; he felt terrible about the accident and just wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help. I almost slammed the door in his face. It took me an hour to gather my thoughts because I was so afraid. The entire time I experienced these feelings, I was simultaneously aware that they were highly unusual for me. I realized that I was terrified because the young man knew where I lived. I started plotting an escape—how could I vacate my premises and not have him track me down? I suddenly felt like two different personalities: one was completely paranoid, shaking and planning an escape, and another was wondering how in the world I could be so frightened about a young man who had merely dropped by to see if I was okay.

I go to work, see a few clients, wondering why I’m so foggy. I drive to campus in a rental car and assume I’m disoriented because I’m not used to the car. My Tuesday evening students look strange to me. What’s going on? They don’t look familiar. In fact, I start to wonder if they’ve brought a few friends with them that I’ve never seen before. The sensation is bizarre. I pull out the textbook and feel like I’ve never seen it before. I take the syllabus out to track the evening’s assignment. I know I’d prepared it over the weekend, but when I look at it, it’s as if I’ve never seen it before. I start to panic. I begin to think that it’s been a mistake to come to class when I was in a car accident only yesterday. I excuse the class early. Two young women come up to see what’s wrong; I confide in them, and when I show them my arm, they are appalled that I’ve come to class. I begin to relax, thinking that my problem is some strange shock and that I’ll soon be fine. They leave the classroom; I trot behind. As I head for the parking lot, like Alice in Wonderland, things get stranger and stranger. I can’t find my car! I begin my zombie wandering trying not to panic. Where’s my car? Where’s my car? Someone must have stolen it! My God, it’s 9:15 p.m., I’m on an inner-city campus, alone, and my car is gone! I look up and suddenly I see the rental car. It all comes flooding back: My car’s back home in front of my house with its side caved in, totaled, kaput! I feel foolish that I’ve gotten panicked and confused, shake my head and head home.

I pull out of the parking lot, look over my left shoulder to pull onto the highway, but see a car coming. I have no way to know which lane the car is in. It’s my first awareness that there’s something the matter with my vision. I’m terrified to pull out on the highway. The light’s overwhelming me as a car’s headlights come toward me. Finally, daring to move, I weave my way home. It’s the first of many, many nights

that I actually get lost trying to find my way home; a fitting metaphor for my zombie self. My spatial orientation ceases to exist in its old form. The first dream I remember after the accident mirrors my spatial confusion as well as a deeper spiritual journey.

November 17, l996: I’m in my car going to school, but can’t find a parking place—I’m completely lost and keep turning the wrong way—the scene is maze-like. I keep losing track of time, as the clock jumbles. I throw a temper tantrum; I get out of the car, notice that it’s wrecked. In my classroom, I realize that I’m the teacher/student, simultaneously. A couple appears on a magazine cover. They are wearing different clothes, but should be wearing matching clothes—there’s been a mistake, therefore this edition is a collector’s item. Later I look; part of my collection (my old identity) is missing—it’s been stolen. I look around the classroom, spot a Shaman and suspect him of the theft. He’s towed away my car when I wasn’t looking; I’m very upset by his actions. He says he’s done it because he wasn’t going to leave the car outside as an “eyesore”—I’m shocked that my car is gone. I walk from the classroom; he’s behind me. I look up at the sky and see a small hole (at this time I had no idea that I actually did have a hole in my brain)— I’m frightened that it’s the holocaust, but then small bright-colored stars start to come flowing out like glitter, but in star shape! The Shaman’s showing me this sight when a white bird that I’m afraid of swoops down and then circles back up into the sky hole—I think it’s coming as punishment for us. But then a two-ton tow truck comes pulling the base of my car—I see the Shaman has had it repaired.

Had I been able to comprehend the significance of this dream at the time, I might have saved myself considerable heartache. But alas, my brain was scrambled and my thinking function had gone south, far out of reach. I look at it now and see the dream’s amazing, magical qualities. It highlights the loss of my spatial capacities (“completely lost and keep turning the wrong way”) and my usual identity (“A couple appears… they are wearing different clothes”), but the deeper significance of the encounter with the Shaman signals the car repair! The Shaman may have stolen my collector’s magazine, but the star shower and dove reap bountiful treasures. Fear of holocaust and punishment are only temporary. In Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, birds are both “helpers” and “soul-images” (Jung, 1956: 215; 248n). Walker details many sources for “Dove,” from the “Great Goddess” to the Alchemists’ use of it as soul or spirit; but for me, since my early years were spent as a Christian (Episcopalian), the Dove and Holy Ghost are synonyms (Walker, 1988: 399-400). Suddenly, I cry when I read Jung’s words of the “mystic identification with the stars” (Jung, 1956: 87, 402), and of Hiawatha’s (a favorite childhood story of mine) grandmother, Nokomis, as “the body of the grandmother who had been thrown up [to the moon] by one of her warlike grandchildren in a fit of rage” but as she falls back to earth, “The people who saw her fall thought she was a shooting-star” (Jung, l956: 317). The fall of Nokomis resonates in my heart, as I feel like a fallen grandmother myself. Jung uses a poetic comparison to salute Nokomis:

A star, a star is falling Out of the glittering sky!

The star of Love! I watch it

Sink in the depths and die. (Jung, 1956: 319)

I now see the significance of Nokomis’ journey as it resonates with my own. I, too, have experienced a kind of death, a death of my thinking function, on my journey into the stars and back again. I laugh as I think of how enraged I was about my loss, and how, now, I can see the “death” as part of my own rebirth into a different dimension of awareness.

I was devastated when the tests confirmed my MTBI. For a long while I wondered if I could have “prevented” my accident had I paid more attention to my colleague’s warnings and my dream. I finally decided that that type of thinking was too linear and implied a causality that I really didn’t believe; i.e., that my dream “caused” the accident, that my colleague’s nervousness around the figure in my meditation equaled a portent of danger! After encouragement from Arny Mindell and other Process Work friends and colleagues, I decided to view the path of my injury as information that signaled a shift in my perceptions rather than an end to my cognitive functioning. My awareness, my cognitive thinking function, my perceptual field changed, but that didn’t mean that I was damaged goods.

From a Consensus Reality1 point-of-view, I am injured. From a legal point-of-view, I’m actually considered permanently injured; from a Dreamtime and Dreamland point-of-view, I now have an added capacity to enter into deeper states of Dreaming; in fact, I don’t have a choice about it! In Dreaming While Awake, Mindell defines Dreamtime and Dreamland as follows:

Dreamtime or Sentient Reality: Here you notice deep experiences, normally disregarded feelings and sensations that have not yet expressed themselves in terms of meaningful images, sounds, and sensations. These disregarded or marginalized feelings are sentient, that is, preverbal, feelings and sensations.

Dreamland: In dreamland you notice dreams, fantasies, figures, and objects while awake or asleep. You can formulate these experiences more readily in words, in contrast to the experiences of Dreaming, which can barely be grasped in everyday terms. (2000: 34-35)

To satisfy my Consensus Reality needs, I followed a regime that included several years of cognitive therapy, bodywork, acupuncture, and eye therapy, all supervised by a Harvardeducated medical doctor, whose emphasis is internal medicine with a specialty in brain trauma. In addition, I sought extra help from many Process Work colleagues and friends who supported me during the long-term untangling of my altered states and nightly dreams. Without their help, I’m sure I would have had to resort to more conventional methods of psychopharmacologic medication to cope with my shift in consciousness; unfortunately, many MTBI patients have no other choice than a traditional medical route.

It’s been six years since my auto collision. I’m winding down my cognitive therapy; I’ve learned coping skills and created new neural pathways, thanks to the resiliency of my brain and the rehab process. I learned that brains don’t heal the way a broken bone does; once a hole is torn in a brain, that part’s dead, but new neural pathways can be formed over time; healing time can be hastened with certain rehab techniques, even for old brains like mine (the younger one is when sustaining MTBI, the quicker the resiliency of the brain to create new neural pathways). However, my night dreams and my Dreaming process, in the way Mindell describes Dreaming (see above) continue to be my central focus. My dream journal and the work I’ve done with cognitive rehab do mirror one another. The night dreams not only reflect the brain injury, but also mirror my healing.

When Arnold Mindell said that he knew my brain was injured because of the change in my dreams (Mindell, 1997: personal communication), I was in the midst of recurring dreams that were mirror-images spatially; i.e., south was north, east was west, right was left, etc. I also began dreaming in black and white— dreams that were colorless unsettled me, since my dream world had always been vibrantly colorful. The dreams were full of shifting roles; for example, my identification as teacher/ student in the November 17, 1996 dream. Many dreams after the accident had themes of being lost, trying to find parking spaces, cracks, holes, falling, trying to fix machines—these colorless images parallel the cognitive tests.

On March 17, l997, I took my first extensive neuropsychological test. I knew immediately there was something wrong. I was handed puzzle pieces; in my mind I knew how to put them together, BUT I COULDN’T DO IT!!! The connection between what my brain knew and what I could do with my hands would not compute. I panicked. The neuropsychologist looked shocked as well. He told me later that I looked so intact that he had a difficult time believing what the tests proved. I didn’t; I knew from this one particular test that I wasn’t functioning like I’d been able to before the accident. I began to wonder how I was going to keep teaching college and maintain my therapeutic practice if my brain was damaged. On March 20, I dream:

I’m driving around trying to go home. I find myself next to David Duchovny, a popular TV personality from the sci-fi/FBI drama “The XFiles” (association: English Literature scholar [also my field of expertise], brilliant, successful; his TV character, FBI Agent Fox Mulder’s mantra is “the truth is out there”; he pursues extra-terrestrials in search of “the truth”). We go up a hill, enter a house with large floor-toceiling windows that form its walls. He asks if I suffer like he does; he misses his lost love (English literature); I can relate. He’s crying; I confess, “I think of him every day and it never gets better.” He says he does, too; we are friends based on this mutual “secret.” Later in the dream, I’m trying to fix a pen (my writing ability). I also lose David and wonder if I’ll ever find him again.

I’m disturbed by the dream. I fear that I’ll never be able to reconnect with my scholar. Even though I haven’t received the results of the cognitive tests, I can’t deny that my brain isn’t functioning the way it used to. I’m more identified with my loss of brain function than the potential “alien truth” that I may find; regardless, my journey into the unknown looms full-tilt ahead!

In Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak’s A Little Course in Dreams, he describes night dreaming as “space” exploration:

A dream is not a story, not a movie or text or a theatre play. A dream is a happening in space, an articulation of space [emphasis added]… The dream itself is a texture woven of space and time inside which we find ourselves. During the dream we believe we are awake, in the same way that we believe we are awake when we truly are. (Bosnak, 1993: 10)

His recommendation for dream work hinges on the idea of using memory exercises to help image recall, “The creation of an imaginary space helps spatial recall” (Bosnak, 1993: 12). He also encourages the practice of slowing down images in order to re-enter the dream state: “Slowing down is one of the most difficult exercises in the volatile world of images.” (Bosnak, 1993: 18). And yet, that’s precisely what my injury did for me. I’m forced to slow down; I’m forced to be caught in images that beckon to me; I’m forced to explore an alternate time/space continuum; I’m in “alien territory.”

It took several years for my dream imagery to change. I remember the first time I started believing that there might be a chance for me to regain stamina around my cognitive struggle. My cognitive therapist insisted that if I kept working, I could create new neural pathways to regain brain function; a dream in December, l999, offered confirmation:

I’ve been invited to a workshop with Arny and Amy Mindell. I’m excited to go, but when I get there, Arny calls me into his office, which is in the attic of a barn (association: the birthplace of Christ). He sits at a writing desk; I’m across from him, but face him directly. He says, “You can’t participate because you can’t make the mountain climbing day—this is like Outward Bound, and you must be able to pass that part as well.” He’s adamant! I’m so disappointed, especially since I’ve come such a long way.

But when Arny and I work on the dream, what unfolds is the fact that I can be a mountain climber; my brain can make the mountain climb (writing) because there is nothing the matter with my brain. On one level this is true: with MTBI one doesn’t lose IQ, only what’s called “speed of processing.” In the dream the mountain climbing day happens Wednesday, mid-week. Now when I look at the time-line, I realize this dream took place at the mid-point in my recovery; i.e., accident, November, 1996; it’s now October, 2002. It amazes me how accurate the dream is.

After the mid-point, the imagery changed in my dream state from the mirror reflection spatial condition to geometric shapes, which seemed to signal restructuring. Triangles, squares, circles, long zig-zags with precise form and brightly colored energy patterns. Dream, April 9, 2000:

I’m at a workshop and there is a birthday cake for me. It’s cut precisely into shapes, a circle, a large keyhole, rectangles.

Dream, July 15, 2000:

I’m examining something that looks like a domino or dice or puzzle piece that’s square or rectangular, it’s white with black figures on it. The figures can change based on how one looks at it. I’m fascinated at its precision… I then look at a suspended piece of art that looks like a mobile or a miniature place where Lao Tse hangs out. It’s definitely a rectangle that has a fine chain on each corner. It’s decorated with pearls and other precious objects, quite exquisite.

My dreams begin to show my identity as a writer coming back, as well as the dead coming back to life: Dream, July 29, 2000:

I’m with Sam Shepherd (one of my favorite authors). I kiss his finger; I think it’s his wedding finger. I’m ecstatic.

Dream, December 5, 2000:

I’m living on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t really realize it’s a ranch until I see a Steve-like dog (my dog who died in 1998) bounding across the field; I start calling to him. The closer he gets, the more I see he looks identical; he’s come back from the dead or he’s been missing a while.

And, finally, I know that I’m going to be all right when later in the same dream an exciting event happens:

I’m driving around the periphery of a parking lot; I see a huge hole from excavation going on—I’m afraid of falling. I walk around the periphery; it gets narrower and narrower until I finally do fall, but when I hit bottom, it doesn’t hurt at all; in fact, it’s soft. My daughter, Mara, laughs at my fear.

I realize that my injury, although considered permanent from a legal standpoint, in the overall picture, is “soft.”

In Vladimer Nabokov’s novel Transparent Things, the main character, Hugh Person, dreams that he tries to save a woman who’s jumping from a burning building out an upstairs window. Hugh, in his dream state tries to save Juliet; unfortunately, in consensus reality he lies sleeping next to his flesh and blood wife, Armande. As he clutches the dream-Juliet’s neck to save her, he simultaneously strangles Armande. After all, Nabokov claims, “…all dreams are anagrams of diurnal reality” (1972: 80). Hugh, hero to Juliet, murderer of Armande, seems a strange mirror image of my man from Trinidad. He kills part of my body, but frees my dreaming state.

At the novel’s end, Hugh’s recollection of a childhood memory, the overwhelming vision of his first picture book, suddenly transforms and makes sense to him:

Human life can be compared to a person dancing in a variety of forms around his own self: thus the vegetables of our first picture book encircled a boy in his dream—green cucumber, blue eggplant, red beet, Potato pere, Potate fils, a girly asparagus, and, oh, many more, their spinning ronde going faster and faster and gradually forming a transparent ring of banded colors… (Nabokov, 1972: 92-93)

I find myself, like Hugh, making the final jump (connection): I’m no longer lost in overwhelming images; instead I, too, understand my final ronde: as Hugh jumps to escape his own burning hotel room, he understands all levels of Dreaming:

Rings of blurred colors circled around him reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. Its ultimate vision was the incandescence of a book or a box grown completely transparent and hollow. This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it… (Nabokov, 1979: 104)


  1. Consensus Reality: “The definitions of reality [and therefore of all communication methods] that are implicitly agreed upon by a given culture” (Mindell, Amy, 1999: 278).



Waynelle M. Wilder, M.A., is a certified Process Worker in private practice in Denver, Colorado, where she also helps others develop process skills because Dreams, Dreaming and Process Work resonate passionately in her life. She’s currently in love with Vladimir Nabokov and Salman Rushdie and has been known to be in love with many artists, both living and dead, from novelists to jazz musicians. She formerly taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Metropolitan State College of Denver, but now struggles to reclaim her own identity as an artist/writer.