I've been working with Rodger about a year now, both in person and by phone, so I can offer a perspective from the first stage of this work. I began the dreamwork after reading Rodger's masterful and deeply felt book, The History of Last Night's Dream. Long fascinated with dreams, I had a stack of books on the subject, but none electrified me like his. I read about Archetypal Dreamwork with growing excitement and the sense it was what I'd been missing but had no name for.
Still, I hesitated. My pathology kept me vicarious, observer rather than participant. I don't like to "put skin in the game," as Rodger comments about some of my dreams. It was clear that in this work, skin would be required, maybe all of it. Instead of composing my own elaborate interpretations, I would have to change. I don't like to think how close I came to doing nothing. But some buried desire, fed up with being ignored, wouldn't pipe down.
Having read the account of Rodger's first session, I should have been more prepared for my own, but I wasn't. A few dreams emailed ahead of time, my name and birth date – that's all he had. We met, and I provided a few sentences about myself, what I thought my "problems" were, why I was here. We began to discuss the dreams.
From this small offering Rodger distilled an essence, some themes at my core, buried deep below my surface issues. Rodger listened to me, but he was hearing my dreams, and they had something else to say. He was outing my pathology this very first session, centered around pride and shame. This shook me up and frightened me, but I also felt a strange excitement. For what I was hearing was the truth, as no one had ever had the perception or the nerve to tell me.
A year later my amazement at this first meeting has not lessened. Rodger's dead-on accuracy that day, the pathology and numbed feelings he discerned, remain the foundation of the work we do every week. This perception of his can seem acute to the point of clairvoyance, because dreams are exactly that.
I'd read about "blind spots," but in my pride figured I didn't have as many of those as other people. Wasn't I already attuned to my dreams, aware of my problems? The joke was on me, of course, because by definition blind spots can't be seen. It hurt to learn mine seemed big and dark enough to eclipse the sun. I learned that dreams are the opposite of blind. If my therapy follows only what I can see, what I think I need, it misses the heart of what my soul requires. This seems obvious now, but I was feeling it for the first time. I love that each week the dreams set the agenda, not I, and not even Rodger, though he shapes the session around them. The direction lies outside my control, a different way to live, and I feel different now. When my feet hit the floor in the morning, this feels better than it used to. I feel excited to remember my dreams, to see what chapter we're on now. Everything seems to matter more. Life may appear outwardly much as before, but nothing is the same. I look forward to the dream sessions, no matter how I feel that week. The hour has an intensity and a presentness, and often seems only minutes long. Yet it reaches forward and expands into the week ahead and becomes in that way much longer than one hour.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Much of the first year, I didn't feel excited. I felt bewildered, afraid, disoriented, and sad. It helped to know that that this first stage can feel painful and slow, so I could try to be patient and hold on. Getting to know my pathology hurt, and I denied it for a long time. I can't imagine the patience it must take for the therapist to chip away at such defenses.
Pathology fights for control during this first stage, and mine often won. Pride and shame slowed down the dreamwork for me. I would cringe when writing down many of my dreams. In my confusion, I didn't want Rodger to see me in such an unflattering light. I wanted him to like me, and I wanted to be a "good" client, but I didn't know what that was. Because I didn't like myself, I assumed he would judge me. I was terrified he'd realize what an awful person I was, and kept expecting him to tell me the next session that he could no longer work with me. I would have flunked dream therapy.
Thus I felt tempted to leave little things out, the things that embarrassed me most, wounded my pride or shamed me. Early on I realized to do this would make the whole thing collapse. I learned to avoid the delete button. I'd grit my teeth and press "send" each week.
And a funny thing began to happen. Often what I considered so shameful might be the very thread Rodger would tease out to lead me further along. Often my "homework" emerged from the very things I wanted to leave out. I was learning firsthand what Rodger had written about first stage clients: that we often get it exactly backwards and have to reverse what we perceive to be "good" and "bad." I seek safety in propriety and restraint, but my Girl is the opposite, and my dreams can be graphic. To see these not as indictments but gifts is seismic for me.
Any account of this work will tell you that feeling lies at its heart, and at the heart of the truth the dreams reveal. As most beginners must, I struggled with feeling and still do. I thought I could "get" the dreamwork from reading about it. Slowly I've learned that if I haven't felt it, I don't know it. I still fall prey to thinking, ruminating, storytelling, interpreting. I'm an extremely slow unlearner.
Slowly, drop by drop, I let in pain, hurt, fear. Easy to write, hard to do. The homework helped, and I could tell a difference when I did it often, in my feelings and my dreams. Rodger provided support and encouragement, reminded me I was becoming vulnerable, and this was a good thing, the way to connect to the Archetypes. I listened and held on. I still forget to feel, but now these feelings are more readily accessible. I've learned to know when I'm not feeling, a dead numbness.
One day we discussed a boy in my dream, riding pell-mell on a bike. My homework was to be that boy. Many feelings came up: excitement, fear, joy. Rodger showed me how these were about soul and sensuality, the erotic and the divine. He said this work doesn't compartmentalize these, that they're all connected. I was still trying to take this in when he asked: What if I could feel this all the time? Then he said something startling. He said this was my "birthright." My birthright? It had never occurred to me I had a birthright, let alone this one. This was mind-blowing for me, and still is. The glimmer of a hint of a possibility took hold, that someone unknown to me might love me and wish me well.
One of the most painful parts of the work has been the regret I feel at the life I missed and the people I could have loved better. The more alive I feel, the more I regret sleepwalking through much of my life. Sometimes my heart just feels broken with knowing this. Though he doesn't minimize these feelings, Rodger has tried to show me how I can't change the past and how lucky I am to get to do this work before I'm on my deathbed. I know he's right, but these feelings haven't yet changed much for me.
One might ask: why put yourself through this? That question has been answered fully in the writings about this work, but I now understand the answer better. People who knew early on about my dreamwork would sometimes ask if I felt better, more empowered, or more peaceful. Not exactly, I'd reply, not sure how to tell them how off-balance I often felt, how disturbed and disoriented. I was learning this work does not affirm your usual way of seeing or acting, does not show you how to cope or fit in, is not a quick fix but a slow revolution.
I felt hints of relief and excitement in the pain. At least I was alive. Rodger showed me how feelings "cut through" the confusions and endless loops of my pathological thinking. I learned to respect that sword. He kept showing me feeling wasn't complicated, as I liked to make everything. It was just hard. Finally I know from a deep place that feeling is better than not feeling. Even pain is better than numbness. Alive is better than dead. A year ago, I might have nodded my head in agreement, but I hadn't tasted the truth of this. Rodger mentioned early on that I might at times feel "attacked" by him, that this wasn't his intention, and that I should tell him so if it happened. He said he wasn't attacking me but exposing the pathology. I tried to remember this. But one day he showed me my prideful behavior in a dream in a way that was a shock, a knife in my heart. I couldn't dispute the truth of it; it was right there in the dream, but did he have to tell me now, today, so bluntly? This seemed mean.
So it was true: I was a bad person, and he couldn't stand me. Who could blame him? I cried most of the week, and by the next session I could talk about it. Rodger didn't try to soften the message, and I don't recall exactly what he said. I think it was more the way he said it, the feeling behind the words. Something started to shift for me.
I wouldn't be surprised if some clients decide around this time they've had enough, and I can understand that. But looking back, I know this moment became a major turning point in my work. As I never could otherwise, I felt the destructive inner forces I was up against. This pathology wasn't just unpleasant and shameful, it wanted to harm me. I felt renewed energy to continue.
I don't want to give the impression that the sessions are a series of one painful statement after the other, because that's not so. Often Rodger introduces new ideas in the form of gentle suggestions or questions I can't answer but which haunt me in the days to come. We may not discuss this again until the dreams decide to bring it up again. The dreams themselves choose the moment I'm ready to hear something, even if I don't think so, and Rodger takes their cue.
This brings me to something I began to realize about the way Rodger conveys the truths in the dreams, a way that allows me to hear him, though I didn't feel this at first. It took me a long time and many small moments to understand what was happening, and how unique it is.
Imagine someone telling you a truth about yourself that you've hidden from the world for a lifetime, maybe even from yourself. You feel exposed, found out, stunned. Wouldn't you resent the messenger, even if (or especially if) "compassionate"? So often, what we like to call our compassion contains pride and condescension, and who wants that? I know this because Rodger showed it to me in my own dream behavior, which stung.
But the compassion I feel from Rodger now is genuine, the kind that comes from his own suffering. This is extremely rare, especially when combined with blunt honesty, and I can tell the difference now. Thus over time a deep level of trust has developed for me.
When Rodger reminds me it's my pathology at work and not my soul self, I feel not blamed or judged but the opposite. It's as though he's done a DNA test revealing my pathology is the real criminal, while affirming my soul self and opening my prison door. That's not letting me off the hook for my behavior, but exposing the pathology and inviting me to stand up to it.
My profound sense of relief at not having to hide or pretend any longer about my most painful and shameful self, and to be told at the same time I'm not the bad person I've spent a lifetime concealing -- it's hard to put this experience into words. And to have this occur not just once, but week after week, is radically transformative, my own inner Big Bang and expanding universe.
Along with this goes Rodger's intense engagement in each session, his excitement, and encouragement. Towards the beginning of the dreamwork Rodger would often say about a dream which seemed fairly humdrum to me that it was "an extraordinary dream." Now, that took me aback. As I began to learn more about my lost Boy and Girl, I could feel Rodger's Boy, and he was actually excited about my dream. This helped me feel firsthand how the therapist views this work not as a job but a calling. The work of each client matters, and the client feels and absorbs this profoundly. The trust, encouragement, and support a client feels in this work over time is beyond description and feels beyond words of gratitude.
So, where am I in the work? Pathology still shows up regularly in my dreams and my life, and too often I still listen. Lately Rodger has pointed out where I'm starting to feel the "allergy" to it that's an important step, and he's helping me stand up to it more in the homework, a big shift for me. He's shown me how certain feelings are starting to change, to undergo Alchemy, and that's exciting. I tend to see the Child still more as observer. Dying I see only from the outside as well, and I watch others swimming in water. I have a long way to go. I used to worry more about where I was in the work, if I was going too slowly. Now instead I try to be fully committed wherever I am, and know dreams don't use calendars, clocks, and to-do lists.
In recent weeks I've felt excited to experience a stronger connection to the Archetypes, still tenuous, yet changing the way I feel and the way I see the world as much as anything that's happened. Many times Rodger has shown me where the Archetypes want to love me in the dreams, and that feels hardest of all to accept, but more and more what I long for. Even tiny wisps of that love help heal the gnawing loneliness I've felt all my life, which seems to have nothing to do with the people in my life, but which can make me ask too much of them. Happily married, with children and other loved ones, I still felt it and couldn't understand why. An experience of the Divine, not part of my upbringing, is something I've hungered for.
Improved relationships and less isolation are outward benefits I'm beginning to enjoy, along with a greater sense of aliveness and energy, less avoidance and endless rumination. And of course, underlying all are the feelings, both painful and joyful, that I feel more deeply as I go. I still have my stuck days, backward steps, confusions, but not hopelessness and despair, not like before. The work seems to make a spiral, always moving deeper but looping back as it does.
Come to think of it, Rodger has "cured" me of at least some of the problems I came to him with, and without a single coping strategy. By all rights I could stop now and enjoy the fruits of this work. But in a way I never expected, these improvements in my waking life, while to be enjoyed and celebrated, no longer feel like the end. Instead, my soul self feels she's only beginning. If by some misfortune I had to stop now, I'd be upset, but still would feel this past year has been more transformative than any in my adult life. As many have, I'd begun to divide my life into Before and After Katrina. Now it's Before and After the Dreamwork.
Rodger helps me recognize a pathological dream figure who shows up in various guises, a critic and wet blanket who's smart and mean. She hates my writing this. She hates my feeling excitement, or feeling anything. I wish I didn't still hear her voice, but I do, and she's telling me I'm exaggerating, that no one will believe this, or should. This is a visceral and painful ongoing battle for me. I can feel her as I write this, warning me not to submit this, not to embarrass myself. She confuses me and makes me feel ashamed and afraid of doing anything at all. My old way was to become paralyzed and do nothing. My new way is unfolding.
Get lost, I'm telling her. I know I'm not exaggerating. If anything, I've fallen far short of conveying the power of this work, even in its first year. It's no exaggeration to say that Rodger's book changed my life, and that his dreamwork is saving it.
My pride tends to seize on foolish things that don't amount to much. But if there is a good kind of pride, I think I feel that about this work, a real sense of accomplishment that's unfamiliar to me. I feel proud of the work I've done and feel I'll stick with it in a way I haven't with other pursuits. Usually I have trouble knowing desire, let alone following it, so I'm grateful for this strong desire that doesn't seem to falter. When I was only a few years old I often dreamt of a fox floating beside me down a long tunnel from the dreamworld, who carried dream objects and people with us back to waking life. I had that dream so many times it's burned into my brain, and in a way feel I'm circling back to it now, some 50 years later. Though I've never been there, I often silently thank Marc Bregman and all those at North of Eden for making this possible.
Before the Saints finally won the Super Bowl this year, the local newspaper held a contest to choose a headline that could possibly express the joy of that moment. The winning choice greeted us in gargantuan letters the day after – a single word: Amen, showing us in the end the experience was beyond words.
That's how I feel now: By some miracle, it's not too late for me after all. I get to live before I die. Amen.
My dreams have been speaking to me for years. Finally I have found a way to listen. Working with Rodger has helped me to discover an inner life within me. A life that before now I barely knew existed. Until recently, I have been mostly acquainted with my outer life. I have an awesome family, home, job, good health etc. I have it all. Really, what more could I ask for? So I wondered why I kept having this nagging feeling that something was missing. For years, I've been seeking-- searching-- an uneasy anxiety always just beneath the surface. In one of my searching moments, I stumbled upon Oprah interviewing Rodger about his book, "The History of Last Night's Dream". It took a year and a shocking, middle of the night dream before I actually picked up the book to read it. The book immediately drew me in and before even finishing it; I made a decision to try the dreamwork. Although, initially I was hesitant to make any kind of commitment, I realize now that my decision to work with Rodger was a life changing one. I see it as teamwork. Rodger, the dreams, and I work together to open the door to my inner life. The dreams are part of that inner life but they also hold the key to it as well. They are so smart, so honest. They know more about me than I do - if that makes any sense. That is where Rodger's expertise comes in. Often, I think I have got the dreams figured out. Then I talk to Rodger and see that I have missed so much. All of us have blind spots that make it difficult to see ourselves. There is often much about ourselves that we don't really want to face, but that is exactly what we need to do in order to grow and become unstuck. Rodger has an ability to see further into the dream than I can. He hits on aspects of my life that I hadn't realized I needed to pay attention to. It is uncanny how "right on" he can be. He patiently works to tease out my feelings (or lack of feelings) associated with each dream. With every session, connection to my inner life, my inner world grows. With this connection, I continue to move toward a more fulfilled life with incredible depth and feeling. For a more detailed chronology of the work that I am doing with Rodger, visit my blog at www.dreamforyourlife.com.