Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Dream of the Colored Underpants

In which I report on my second venture into my Shamanic education. Working with dreams.

Shamanic Dreamwork

In preparation for the second day of the two day dream workshop at Still Meadows Retreat Center near Portland, I went to sleep intent on remembering a dream. I had learned about Big Dreams and Little Dreams and how dreams were used in Shamanic practice. Big Dreams came to the dreamer much like a vision and imbued the dreamer with power. Often the dream was a turning point and changed the dreamer's life as it did for one workshop attendee. Little Dreams were of no consequence; the processing of day to day flotsam and jetsam including sexual desire. I didn't ask for a Big Dream, just a coherent dream. I did have a fleeting request that perhaps I would have one that would confirm something of what I was doing on this path and what direction my career would take.

No dream woke me so I slept on, surfacing to consciousness then sleeping again, dreaming that I was typing up my dream. When I finally did wake I feared that I had only these fragments, but then boom, there it was, an entire dream full of symbols and undercurrents of meaning. I didn't know if it was a Big Dream or a Little Dream, but it was revealing and somewhat embarrassing. I nearly laughed out loud. Clearly this provocative dream was meant to be told to the workshop.

I imagined that some of the participants must have psychic powers or guides from childhood or been struck by a shamanic vision late in life. For to be called to this work, in this decidedly non-animistic Western culture, one might have to have something that inexplicable happen. To hold my own during the brief introductions, I told the group I was raised in South East Asia in an animistic culture. This gave me credibility, but also made me an enigma, an invitation for people's projections. I had a hard time integrating enough of myself to feel at home. I feared that my first workshop had been a fluke, beginner's luck and that the visions had flowed too easily.

On this second day I had my dream to offer and felt justified putting on my latest magical shirt. This one had eggplant colored sleeves and a bright turquoise body covered in neon peace symbols. (I had played it safe the first day with a preppie pastel stripped shirt from L.L. Bean and beige pants.) I tucked the turquoise peace shirt into black denim jeans and slipped on my Doc Martins. As soon as I got in the door of the retreat center, the shirt prompted admiring remarks from several of the women. Usually my magical shirts struck people as somewhat of an embarrassment and not appropriate to comment on, so closely did it remind them of children's sleepwear. This was obviously my crowd. And I was ready to tell them my dream of the colored underpants.

But first we would dance our power animals. We had not done this on the first day and my power animals had been rather anemic the whole day, so I welcomed the drumming and dancing. It always put a silly, happy smile on my face to dance one of my animals in particular and I was pleased to have both back supporting me.

We had learned, on the first day, that we could dance a dream (in order to discover its power), but if we didn't have a big dream we could dance a significant past event, since the past was a dream anyway and so was the future. Only the present was not a dream. (This was very Buddhist of these animists our teacher noted.) So I danced my power animal's Big Life Event. The one where he saves his people from death by Cobra. (With the help of youtube I had seen how this was done.)

My drum was too big to shlep all the way to Portland on the train, so I had made myself rattles from two plastic boxes, the kind knee high stockings are packaged in at Walgreens. I had two lying around from a project. Slightly egg shaped, they fit nicely in each hand. I had filled one with lentils and the other with black beans. I liked that people could see through them. I had too many layers of identity already. I needed a little transparency.

After we danced, we sat in the circle of the lovely meditation room, waking up together; Leslie, our teacher asked if we had had any dreams the night before and if anyone would like to share. A handful volunteered. I told mine last.

The Dream Of The Colored Underpants

In the dream I am in my house, but it isn't really my house. It is a show house, modern with very high ceilings, vast white walls and long open hallways. It was filled with activity; people moving purposefully about concentrating on jobs they had to do in the house. I knew they were working for me and not for someone else (as in last week's dream when I visited my childhood house in Menlo Park).

I was expecting a colleague to come and help me organize so I headed down the long hallway to the closet. I opened the door into a brightly lit white closet. It was virtually empty save for three low shelves stocked with neatly folded clothes. (The shelves I noticed were my signature thick white shelves made from salvaged doors). On the top shelf, at waist height, were piles of colored underpants in a perfect row. Enough colors for every day of the week. All the same style—men's jockey briefs. On the waistband I could see my name printed in black—my full name.

The only time I ever see my entire name on display by itself and not on an address label or something, is at at the top of my blog. I felt apprehensive. Was the underwear a symbol of the intimate things I chose to reveal on my blog or would reveal? Then again maybe they weren't my underpants at all, but something I should throw out like so much unsolicited junk mail. Before I decided to throw them out I thought I should try them on first and I pulled a pair off the top of a pile. The underpants had cargo pockets. When I put them on I saw that the pockets were padded and stuck out from my body. These pockets were so bulky I wondered how I was supposed to pull my pants on over them. Maybe I could just wear them by themselves. I checked in the mirror to see how they looked. Though they fit me snugly, they still looked like underpants from the back.

Meanwhile someone was at the door, so I stopped thinking about the underpants and went to the door. My organizing colleague greeted me cheerfully and stepped over the threshold ready to begin work. We did not go to the closet, but went to a sitting room which also had very little in it to organize. This didn't seem to phase my colleague at all and she continued to chat on about the things we could do.

I didn't know her well enough to be a friend, but I had admired how devoted she was to building her business and perfecting her filing techniques. Still I was beginning to be annoyed that she was there when I had nothing for her to organize. I was mad at myself for trading my shelf building skills for organizing I didn't need. Then I realized that the purple daybed we were sitting on was at the edge of a platform and was a precipice with nothing to keep us from falling to the floor below. I warned her about it and she calmly moved to the other side of the room still talking, while I held onto the edge wondering if my entire career was at risk of falling over the precipice because I was rejecting her help as a model organizer and displaying my underpants on my blog. This was enough to wake me up.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

My fellow workshop dreamers were suitably amused by my dream, laughing at the funny parts. Although some parts were funnier to them than had been for me, especially the part about having my underpants labeled with my name, but I enjoyed their laughter and acceptance for I had milked it for entertainment value.

We spent the day learning various methods of dream interpretation and dream culture including the Australian Dreamtime. In our first exercise for dream interpretation, we were to merge with our power animal and journey back into our dream to see what we could learn from literally looking through their eyes. My power animals ran through the halls of my dream like rambunctious children; they wanted to show me what I could do in my dreamscape, changing the shape of the house and creating new rooms. They jumped over the balcony railing from the second story and floated down into the living room where we sat in three upholstered chairs surrounded by the tastefully decorated show house decor.

"You see," one said, "you can do anything you want with your dreamscape just as you can in your career or your life." I knew this, but it didn't really empower me.

I hadn't quite merged as instructed, but sat with them and discussed the dream, the symbolism of color. If there were enough colors of underpants for every day of the week, then they likely corresponded to the colors of the days of the week, I thought. This reference to Thai culture was a good sign for an animistic/shamanic path. It occurred to me to ask what color underpants I was wearing. Ochre colored almost orange. Yellow we decided—for Monday. Monday is the day I was born (though my grandmother said it was Tuesday since it was already Tuesday in Thailand). Monday had been what day it was in England, my actual birthplace. I took that as confirmation that I was to look to my English ancestors for guidance. This was a happy sign since I was already planning on taking a trip to England this summer for an ancient sites tour.

In the next exercise we partnered with another person and each told our dream in turn as we would if we lived in a Malaysian village where everyone shared their dreams at breakfast and asked guidance from each other. At this point the village shaman might be consulted for an interpretation. Thus we were to play the role of the village shaman for our partner each in turn and journey to ask our guides to help interpret our partner's dream. My animal came through as asked. I told my partner the details of how he ran about looking at the cabin in her dream and checking to make sure it was sound and well situated. It was a cabin she had owned in real life. Before I finished I remembered my animal showing me an enlargement of the cabin wall as in a science diagram. I could see the bark of a birch tree. When I told her this, she confirmed that much of the cabin was indeed made from birch trees.

"Good for you for catching that," she added for she had not mentioned that detail.

"Wow that's astonishing," I said.

We then moved to another partner and played the role of a professional shaman. This time the interpreter would not be told any details of the dream. In this role of the professional shaman we were to journey again, ask for an interpretation from our guides and deliver this interpretation in two or three sentences. I sat down on my partners rug alongside her altar. She was a playful young woman. At breakfast we had shared an interest in the movie Dr. Zhivago so felt comfortable with each other.

"Welcome to my house," she said, playing the role of client. In my journey my animal was spare in his communication, but did give me some good basic mime. At the end of it a crow flew in and I and my animal waited for it to speak, but it just sat on the fencepost grooming bits of white meat from its feathers.

"This dream is about your future," I told my partner client, "You will be taking a trip. There will be food there that is satisfying to digest. Be sure to leave plenty of air between meals." It sounded so ridiculous that I burst into laughter. I couldn't help myself. She stared at me bemused, then thankfully she burst into laughter too.

"Now did any of that have anything to do with your dream," I asked suppressing my mirth.

"It worked for me," she said though I was not to know why.

I was still laughing when we switched partners again. Had I been more experienced I might have worded my interpretation using the crow's meal to indicate a metaphor for a satisfying experience, but being still a Baby Mystic, I had been more literal than necessary.

The woman who would interpret my dream as the professional Shaman was indeed very professional. I had learned at lunch that she was practiced in the realm of dream interpretation. After journeying, she spoke confidently of my dream, wrapping it up neatly. At first her words seemed to have nothing to do with the dream of the colored underpants, but when I thought about it, it did fall into place quite nicely with the interpretation I had discussed with my power animals.

"You are a woman of these times," she said, "but your roots are ancient. When you offer your gifts, these ancient teachings will be the source of your power."

I thanked her and offered her two imaginary chickens.

When we gathered together for our final circle, the Qi Gong practitioner told me my hands felt much softer now. At the beginning of the workshop she had commented that my hand had felt like steel, so rigid were they as we grasped hands in the circle. She had felt compelled to comment on it though I didn't know if being like steel was good or bad. I told her I was a long time martial artist.

"That's obvious," she said. I had just been reading about using chi and wanted to learn more so I asked her about it. "Kill or cure," she said explaining to me that chi could be used either way and gave me the name of her teacher who lived in Berkeley.

My partner who had received my dream interpretation when I burst out laughing gave me a warm goodbye hug.

"I sure am glad to have met YOU," she said.

Spirits are Real

I was happy, not only to have successfully followed through with the exercises and been able to participate so thoroughly, but to have a piece of myself restored that I didn't know was missing.

At the beginning of the workshop we had been handed a sheet of ten core principles of Shamanic Theory of Dreams. The first was "spirits are real". I never thought I'd hear that said in the West. As the implications dawned on me, my ten year old self wanted to run through the halls with my hands waving in the air shouting "spirits are real; spirits are real".

One of the greatest losses of my coming to this country was that it appeared to have no spirits; there were no signs of them. No cloths wrapped around trees where spirits had been sighted, no spirit houses or shrines unexpectedly popping up everywhere whether to honor the ocean or a mountain top. As I spoke of this over lunch a woman who worked with nature spirits assured me that there were indeed spirits on the American continent.

We were to learn that spirits have two ways to communicate with us. One was through dreams and the other was through the mini-miracles of synchronicity. This concept of synchronicity having significant meaning, in the sense that there are no accidents, is popularly embraced by those who believe the universe will send them whatever it is they are looking for. It is not, however, anything at all like having it stated that spirits are real and communicating to you through synchronicity. The concept of a responding universe as interpreted by a monotheistic culture is apt to default to a divine force or God, if you will. And when you do not get what you visualized in all your exacting details, the interpretation tends to be a slippery slope back to an angry, all-powerful, punishing god who has not seen fit to give you what you wanted because you didn't do it right.

The animistic view of a world inhabited by spirits is of a universe filled with relationships as unique as a relationship with a real person and possibly capricious and unexpected as well. Principle four on this handout stated that spirits have a variety of characteristics, along with different kinds of power, different degrees of power and differing preoccupations. They could be helping spirits or non-helping spirits much like people.

The "communication" of spirits through dreams and synchronicity delivered results that were tailor made to speak to you in metaphors only you would find significant. And, in the Shamanic journey, you could ask the spirit helpers directly for answers to your questions. These spirits were not wish granters in the manner of an omniscient god; they were helpers and emissaries. If things didn't turn out so well that was just stuff happening that had nothing to do with you and was possibly the work of non-helping spirits. Your personal helpers would guide you through events by showing you what was going to happen in dreams and visions so you could be prepared. They could also offer sustenance and creative workarounds. This was a reality that made sense to me and reflected what I knew from growing up. I was, now, ready to meet more inhabitants of non-ordinary reality. This could, however, get expensive with all the workshops I was signing up for.

I had already asked my pendulum, if I could afford this trip and all the workshops. I knew I would have to dip into dwindling savings to do it. It said yes. I had been taught to use a pendulum by a Fung Shui colleague at a workshop last fall and was just acquiring some confidence with it. It is similar to the muscle testing used by chiropractors, she told us, and could be thought of as a way to access our higher consciousness. I had asked the pendulum if I should take each of these workshops. I was afraid to ask it if it was any good at finances, but one should check these things too.

The day I got home from my dream workshop, I received a phone call from my good friend and organizing colleague, Kim, asking if I could work on a job with her the next day. It was a big job so would be good money, she said. By coincidence, a client I had scheduled that day had had other business that week which left me completely freed up. When Kim walked me through the house I was only mildly surprised and just a little disconcerted to see that it was an ultra modern house with very high ceilings and white gallery like walls. And that I would be working in the closets making sure that everything was perfectly laid out in chromatically ordered colors and nice straight rows. And though no colored underpants were involved, I did wear my painter's pants(men's pants) because of all the pockets since I wouldn't have a bag with me in the house. I was ecstatic to have the work.

By the end of the job all three Shamanic workshops to date were paid for including travel, parking and meals plus enough left over for a deposit on another one.


Earthworm. Get yours at