Researchers studying the relationship between dream content and the onset of disease have discovered a particular type of recurring dream that often comes long before cancer becomes apparent. Their research suggests that:
"Cancer can be seen as a 'growth' process that lives wholly in the body; the impetus for growth has existed in the psyche but has been impeded, or deflected . . . taking place incorrectly in the body rather than in the whole being. There is evidence that prior to the onset of cancer, development has been hindered for some time...
"There is, for example, . . . the frequency of recurrent dreams among cancer patients. . . . Such dreams mean that a core issue has needed attention for some time. The recurrent dreams we have heard of are of one particular type: they allude to the dreamer's being stuck in his or her 'journey of life,' for example, being on a train and not getting anywhere, or having their motor car go continually off the road: in sum, being stuck in a hopeless and helpless position."
Using Dreams to Prevent Cancer?
In one instance, a cancer patient reported having this recurrent dream for up to ten years prior to finding out he had cancer:
I am trying to arrive at a destination — usually a city — to keep an appointment. I never get there and I agonize over long periods of time. The modes of conveyance — usually trains like the New York City subway — turn out to be going in the wrong direction, or I have taken the wrong train, or connections are missed, or mysteriously I am not on the train on which I started, etc. The dream exhausts me!
He understood the dream to mean that he was unable to get his life moving in the right direction — an extreme example but one that illustrates the potential consequences of not following our own path in life.
Cancer & The Dream's Underlying Intent
In another example, Robin Royston, M.D., a doctor in East Sussex, England, reported a patient who told him about a terrifying dream of a black panther attacking him, sinking its claws into his back "between my shoulder blades just to the left of my spine." Royston's patient eventually developed cancer, a melanoma (melanos means "black") in the exact place on his back where the panther had attacked him.
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The obvious connection to his actual cancer does not diminish the dream's underlying intent. We can imagine that black panther representing wild, natural, instinctive energy that was after the dreamer. And what if the dreamer had ignored that wild, natural side for many years? Maybe his cancer was the end result of repressing an important part of his natural instincts.
Curiously, a black panther is a leopard born in an ordinary litter but without spots. When it happens that they are completely black they are known as black panthers. Perhaps the dreamer was born different, not like his siblings or his parents. Perhaps he tried to fit in to the family, adapt and change his behavior so that he would be accepted. The "black panther" would have to live in exile, banished into the unconscious, into the night shadows — growing angrier, more hostile, finally attacking the ego-self that had turned its back to a valuable part of the dreamer's real identity.
Disarming or Killing Our Dreams
"How do I disarm, kill my dreams?" Vera asked, after realizing the meaning of a recent nightmare:
I was holding a newborn baby and I'm supposed to cut it up. I proceed to cut its arms off. I wake up, horrified!
Vera had spent a lifetime killing her dreams and suffocating new ideas — her babies. She did it with poisonous, negative self-judgments that efficiently dispatched each and every attempt to live her own authentic life.
Vera had been struggling for years to escape her mother's stinging, negative comments about her intelligence and abilities. A failed marriage and divorce from an equally judgmental partner poured salt in these old wounds, adding to her already in-the-pit self-esteem. Finally, society had thrown a dark burka of conformity over her life, selling her on the necessity to be subservient to men, to be a "good housewife".
Vera's dream intended to shock her into self-transformation—a wake-up scream. Such dreams, while terrifying and disturbing, come to save us, to extricate us from some collective swamp we have wandered into.
Exploring the Dream for its Messages
• Many apparent nightmares are saviors in disguise.
• Dreams of mutilation can be blood-stained metaphors urging us to look at how we are crippling our potential and our ability to live a meaningful, authentic life.
• In such dreams, be sure to explore any weapons by becoming the weapon and asking:
– In Vera's dream, for example, ask: "How do I (as this knife) do what I do, cut off the baby's arms?" The knife might answer: "I can do this easily because of my sharpened edge, my hardness; I'm metal, cold, very strong. The baby doesn't have a chance."
– The knife depends on the dreaming ego's participation, it needs the dreamer to hold the knife, to accept the idea, the thought. Without the ego's participation, the knife is powerless. And you recall that the dreaming ego and the waking ego are two sides of the same coin.
• In Vera's dream, the knife is not a part of her authentic nature. Instead the knife represents a cluster of potent, implanted, outside influences she has internalized to keep her separated from her Self.
• The symbolism of the knife fits: the blade like a sharp mental "tongue lashing," each critical thought like a deadly thrust slashing a creative, new idea (the baby) to pieces.
• We need to pay close attention to what happens to a baby or infant in a dream, as it often represents vital new life, creative inspiration, a vulnerable beginning, a fresh start — something brand new, just born.
Vera began working to eliminate these outside influences; she observed and recorded her repetitive mental self-criticisms and began to snap these "implanted" poison arrows in two, replacing them with her own ideas and her innate knowing of her own real identity and value.
Don't Dream or Remember Dreams?
For individuals who turn their backs on their inner life, dreams seem to fade out, to withdraw. Such individuals rarely remember dreams other than anxiety-filled or nightmarish, monster-filled ones. The soul seems to retreat from one's conscious life, leaving one under the tyranny of the waking ego structure, which then becomes our teacher. Poet Langston Hughes asks,
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore --
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over --
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes
It is never too late to begin the quest for our authentic life. In each of us there resides a golden treasure, a secret garden, a special world. We can always choose to turn around and face the rising sun of our essential spirit — a spirit that wants to sing its song, write its story on the landscape of our life. For we are indeed, as Shakespeare observed, "such stuff as dreams are made on".
©2003. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Citadel Press Books. www.kensingtonbooks.com
Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life
by John D. Goldhammer, Ph.D.
In a stunning departure from cookie-cutter dream dictionaries, psychotherapist Dr. John D. Goldhammer introduces his powerful new approach to unlocking the hidden meanings of your dreams. By learning to navigate your dreams' multiple layers of meaning, you can use them to reveal your authentic self and begin a gratifying lifelong process of self-discovery.
Using case studies, exercises, and research based on over 20,000 dreams, Dr. Goldhammer's program will help you pull the sword from the stone of your life and make the most of the strength, power, and insight you never knew you had. The result will be a life dramatically richer in spirit, creativity, soulfulness, and passion.
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About the Author
JOHN GOLDHAMMER, Ph.D. (JANUARY 1, 1941 – SEPTEMBER 4, 2010) was a published author, psychotherapist, and adjunct professor of psychology. He has over 25 years of experience in dreamwork, psychology, comparative religion, sociology, and philosophy. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs around the country.
Visit his website at JohnGoldhammer.com