I awake, carrying the hysteria from my dream into the shattered silence of my bedroom. My pendulum clock sounds the hour of three A.M. I'm deeply shocked by this experience which feels much more potent than a dream. I struggle to recognize the overwhelming feelings coursing through my body. For years I have awakened from nightmares hearing the sound of my own cries, but awake or asleep I've never felt anything like this.
I'm terrified of this unfamiliar out-of-control feeling. I tell myself to snap out of it: It's only a dream, for heaven's sake. Get a grip! As if in counter-response, my wailing increases, further confounding my desperate need to understand.
Finally, physical exhaustion returns silence to my usually peaceful home. By five o'clock the anguish in my heart is replaced by a hard, numbing freeze. I think if I were pinned under the rubble of an earthquake or had just watched a murder I might be able to cope much better than this. What the hell has happened here? What does this mean? Can I get out of this lifeless, frigid place to teach school in a few hours? Do I even want to try? Eventually the part of myself in charge of habit gains control. I get up at the usual time and soak in a hot tub to thaw my frozen feelings and relieve my swollen face.
I walk into the staff room that Friday morning hiding my inner darkness behind sunglasses. I pretend that nothing unusual has happened since I last saw my associates and students. The mundane act of pouring hot water for tea reassures me. I chat casually with a friend, believing I can put my shattered Humpty Dumpty together again.
In the classroom, I pretend to be the same teacher I was the day before, capable of helping a small group of reading students grapple with silent consonants. WHAM! The eagle flashes behind my eyes. Choking back tears, I flee from the room, leaving an aide in charge.
I hide in the women's lounge feeling shameful, weak and stupid. Convinced I am going crazy, I am afraid to approach friends and talk about the dream. Though trembling, dizzy and nauseous, I tell myself that everything will return to normal within the hour, allowing me to enjoy my weekend as planned. Clearly, psyche has other plans.
Breaking the First Strand: Denial
How grateful I am today that the power of that dream was far stronger than my denial. It pulled me, kicking and screaming, past the resistance of my intellect. I had to resolve the horror of this single dream image which slammed into me with wordless force. Three days after the dream, continuing despair forced me to a therapist. This loving and talented teacher was not well-trained in dreamwork. He suggested that we replay the dream, hoping that I might see another ending, which would relieve the intense pain that enshrouded me.
After a minor relaxation procedure I recalled the dream and once again felt the physical and emotional trauma originally experienced within the dream. As I focused on the agony of the eagle, she transformed into a blue collie dog, jumped out of the web and ran toward me, wagging her tail. "NO!" I screamed. "NO! Get back in the web until you can get out on your own power!" The image shifted immediately to the eagle back in the web. She suddenly exuded a sense of powerful determination. She no longer seemed pitiful.
I was as flabbergasted by this experience as I was convinced of its validity. Grief and remorse were replaced by feelings of absolute rightness and acceptance. As I sat quietly watching my therapist watch me, I was aware that I had made a profound decision. I knew that I would devote my life to the extrication of that eagle. I had no idea what that meant in practical terms, but I was completely committed to whatever the process might be. I also knew that nothing in my life would remain untouched by this decision.
And so, I had heard psyche scream and had taken the first step toward breaking the strands of the web that threatened my very being. I didn't know what road lay ahead, nor even the nature of the next step; I did know that maintaining the integrity of the eagle was more important than escaping through the adaptation of the dog. Though still physically shaken, I no longer felt conflicted. Despite my lack of intellectual comprehension, I knew I had heard and heeded the demands of the dream. A sense of courage and support enveloped me as I relaxed for the first time since the dream.
As I left my therapist's office, calm replaced panic, balance relieved the severe loss of equilibrium. For the first time in my life I was able to simultaneously access two diametrically opposite types of knowing. I had no doubt about the decision I had made. And, I recognized that the part of me that based decisions on rational thinking could make no sense of this at any level.
I walked home along the Pacific Grove ocean path, watching seagulls swoop into the surf. Reviewing my feelings since the Eagle dream, I realized I felt like Alice when she fell down the hole. Later I learned to deeply appreciate that analogy; but then, on a warm day in May, I had no cognitive awareness of my descent into the unconscious.
My need to make sense of the Eagle dream took over my life. I felt as if an alien had invaded my house during the dark of night, removed my head very painfully from my shoulders, screwed it on backwards, and told me to carry on. The impact of those three days*the never-before-experienced emotional power, the amazing unfolding of the active imagination with my therapist, and the astonishing peaceful determination*demanded intellectual integration. I had no idea at that time that I would devote the rest of my life to understanding and teaching about that remarkable alien force, the dream.
My need to understand the phenomenon of the Eagle experience led me repeatedly to Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast. This center for human development offers some of the world's most renowned teachers in all fields. Each teacher added a useful perspective and dimension to my understanding. I was heartened to discover that everyone with whom I worked valued the dream and the significance of the Eagle experience.
One morning at Esalen a pleasant-looking man sat next to me during breakfast. As we chatted I told him my dream of that morning. His enthusiastic response led me to tell him the Eagle dream. This was always a risk, for I usually cried during the telling and feared my confidantes would question my stability. However, this gentleman was so deeply moved that tears came to his eyes. He encouraged me to continue on the path that the dream was leading me. Hugging me warmly, he left with a final admonition to follow the dream, for it would surely guide me well. At dinner that night someone pointed to my breakfast companion, identifying him as Joseph Campbell, a teacher who would eventually have great impact on my life, but who, on that foggy day in Big Sur, was totally unknown to me.
Each of my teachers provided different maps for the inner journey. Whichever route I followed I became more comfortable with my newly-evolving awareness. As I wandered through the dense wilderness of my inner process, my memory retrieved a dream series that had been attempting to guide me for nearly twenty years before the Eagle dream. Had I known then the power of dreams to identify the direction we need to go and supply guidance along the route; had I been able to comprehend these dreams and the type of energy they wished me to contact; had I been able to consciously participate in the dreams as they unfolded, I strongly suspect the eagle would not have become ensnared.