Sunday, February 5, 2012

Empathy in an Artifact

The Dream: I’m in a foreign country. A woman is digging in a sandy spot, with water puddling in the hole as she digs. The location is a city square. It isn’t green, with trees and grass, but more like a European town square with packed sandy earth.  At one point I hear that we are in Mesopotamia, and at another that we are in a Mediterranean country.

I watch the woman dig; her action seems inappropriate, considering how she is dressed and her age: she’s middle class and middle aged. I become excited and say, “When I lived in England I wrote a novel, and I got the idea for it doing what you’re doing: I was digging with my children.” 

Clark says, “You can often find artifacts.” He begins to dig in or near the woman’s spot and in short order extracts a circular clay piece with what appears to be a primitive god in the center. I wonder if we can keep this interesting object or whether we are legally required to turn it in. I want it.

Later we are sitting at a table, the three of us. Clark is to my right; the woman to my left. When Clark passes the artifact to me I plan to slip it into my carrier bag. He hands it to me, but rather than the clay sculpture it is a picture of the artifact on shiny photographic paper, with a list of the god’s attributes to the right. There are four, and the 3rd one is “empathy.”

 “Empathy?” I think. “That’s an odd trait for a primitive god.”

Interpretation: Something is coming up from underneath. The puddling water tells me that unconscious material is coming to the surface. To start, let’s take a look at the geometric symbols in this dream: there’s the city “square,” the round clay artifact and the square table where we later sit. The square and the circle are both symbols of what Jung calls the Self, in other words, the combination my consciousness (what I’m aware of) and my unconscious (what I’m unaware of thinking or feeling). Dream are road maps, telling us where we are on the path to individuation, another Jungian term for the process of incorporating our unconscious material into our conscious awareness. 

The middle aged woman is me, digging into my dreams and bringing unconscious material to the surface. When I am joined by my husband Clark (my other half) and my children (the curious, experimental, engaged parts of myself) an artifact (a long-buried, but new to me, part of myself) quickly appears. This is something I want, even though I have some qualms about my right to have it.

Later, at the table (have the gifts from the unconscious been tabled?), I plot to steal the artifact. But I can’t do it. It turns into a representation of itself, becoming as ephemeral as the dream that engendered it.  But it does have a message for me, “Empathy.”

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