Talmud: An unexamined dream is like an unopened letter.

I returned from Cape Town this last Monday evening after attending the Franschoek Literary Festival for 3 nights and days. Franschoek is one of the most beautiful places on  earth nestled as it is amongst imposing mountain ranges. It is about an hour drive from the Cape Town city centre. It is part of the garden route of the Cape and is famous for its wine-lands inter alia.

Before setting off for Franschoek on Thursday midday, I spent Wednesday night at my sister’s home in a suburb of Cape Town. I had taken down a pile of letters from our parents to me from a long time ago that I came across in tidying things up in preparation for our imminent move from our home to a new one here in Johannesburg. Included in this pile were a few letters from my sister to me. We each read them as if anew – they were from about 30 years ago. It was an extraordinary ‘something’ re-reading this old correspondence, hearing our long dead parents’ voices.

I spent Sunday night at her home before leaving Cape Town this last Monday to return to Johannesburg. On Monday morning, my sister told me of a dream that she had had the night before or in the early hours of the present day. It was the first dream that she recalled in a long, long time.

In her dream was a huge black dog terrorising her now dead (about a year ago) small black poodle, Pepi. The big black dog repeatedly flung Pepi into the air who would circumscribe a circle in the air, then when it got to the ground, the big black dog would catch it by its scruff and swing fling it into the air again and again and again. The big black dog was extremely cruel to the small black dog.

That Monday morning we walked for about an hour at a small dam nearby, picking up trash as is our wont in service to Mother Earth. I asked my sister if she recalled that Churchill was affected by the ‘black dog’ of depression. She did. We wondered about the dogs and about Cerebrus who in Greek and Roman mythology guarded the gates of the underworld, Hades. Sis wondered if the dog was two headed – I had forgotten this. It is often depicted as 3 headed, each head seeing the past, present and future. Other sources say the 3 headed Cerebrus represents birth, youth and old age. We talked about dogs and their domestication.

She would wander off to a part of the park where we were walking picking up trash and I would wander in another direction. We commented when we came together again, on how it is that when we traversed the same ground we had been on, coming back, we saw more trash that we hadn’t seen before. I saw the metaphor in this and said that this is how it often is in our psyches; we think that we have sorted all the trash but to our amazement there was more that we hadn’t noted before that needed attention.

The circle circumscribed by the small dog was interesting. Pepi, much loved by my sister, went round and round in never-ending circles. Round and round in circles … on top and then flung down to the bottom, again and again … the big black dog exhibiting cruelty in extremis, and enjoying it.

We came to a piece of plastic sacking, part of it sticking out of the ground. Sis said she had tried earlier to remove it but it was immovable. I yanked hard and out it came showering us with dust. She said she had stood at a particular angle when she tried. I stood in front of it and yanked. I said how interesting that was, that it is like that sometimes in real life. Sometimes we have to try different angles to get at the wound, or dig deeper and try harder.

I have no intention of joining any dots to make an analysis of my sister’s dream in this post and I did not do so with her. I am fairly certain that the re-reading of our parents’ letters and her own to me pricked something in her. I urged her to write down the dream and continue to ponder on it as an archeologist might, digging ever deeper in her search for more clues. I did say to her that she might consider what qualities of these dogs in her dream that she herself owns. And to consider the circle. And dog on top and other on bottom. One big, one small, black …to see beyond and to try to relate to the image that was speaking to her ….etc etc.  I have her permission to relate this dream.

45 Comments on a dream considered

  1. I love your trash pick-up tradition. It’s one I incorporate on runs, both solo and with like-minded friends. I hadn’t thought of it metaphorically but I see it as I look back at past running conversations, both with friends and through inner dialogue.

    • Thanks so much Mary Lou! Great that you do the inner dialogue as you run. An inner dialogue of value as well as for Mother Earth.
      All best to you.

  2. Dear Susan,

    As always, you have provoked many thoughts in my mind with your beautifully written “a dream considered.” Circles, and the three-headed dog, the black, the dark: Now in the third and final act of my life, I find myself engaged in repeating situations I thought I had resolved and washed my hands of long ago. So, why are they up close, staring me in the face again now? There’s always more, it seems, in reaching this phenomenon called perfection — layers, and when viewed from a fresh angle yield new enlightenment.

    I love how you weave your and your sister’s walk picking up trash metaphorically into the story thought.

    Thanks, as always, for your gift of a fresh perspective.

    Love, Carol

    • Thank you so much Carol. I remember your dream of your mother’s dog from a longish while back –

      Extraordinarily interesting isn’t it, how material from way back still presents itself … it seems as if we still have to keep on at it, like a dog who won’t let go of the bone, or chasing its own tail … the dream wants attention and will keep on and on because it wants to be known.

      Thank you again Carol,



  3. Dreams can often be very upsetting. I’ve been dreaming about my cat that’s gone missing almost two months ago. Keep dreaming she comes back. Sigh.

    Anyway, although dreams come from the subconscious, I’ve found that they can’t often be explained.

    • Great to hear from you Misha thank you.

      I am so sorry to hear that your cat is still missing and wish also that s/he safely returns.

      The dreams from the treasure house of the unconscious – distinct from the subconscious – are not meant to be ‘up’ for explanation; they serve rather as soul food and as pointers as to what actually is going on – in and out – with you. Even as you dream of your cat –

  4. Thank you so much Sharon! What a lovely surprise to see your comment!
    Here’s hoping that you’re having a great weekend – cold here in Johannesburg at 10 p.m. this night. Sweet dreams to you – your attitude towards them is just perfect!

    • Hi Susan, for some reason I haven’t been receiving notification of your posts which I enjoy following. I’ve just tried again to set it up as a feed, fingers crossed it works this time! I’ve been spending the days writing the novel, dodging the showers here in the UK and posting again on my blog. I’m hoping the sun will come out soon, so I can carry on writing in the garden. Have a great day. Sharon x

      • Hi Sharon, I wish I knew how to advise on this … will be spending a short while with my son just now who leaves to go back to Cape Town today. Mike hopefully will sort out a few gremlins. I want to know how to ensure I receive blogs from others as and when they post. Beautiful autumn day here in Johannesburg! Have a great day!

  5. Thank you for sharing this, Susan, and to your sister for her dream. I do think dreams are important and often give clues about life if we can interpret them in the right way, although that’s not always so easy. Old letters are wonderful too as they are the doorway to memory, and more. I loved the quote from Rumi, he’s one of my favourite poets. Have a great weekend.

  6. A cache of correspondence such as you found can be so fascinating. One can tap into so many emotions, memories, and information retrievals by reading old letters. I’m sure that probably had some influence on your sister’s dream. The connections you made after hearing the dream were interesting.

    I think you are giving good advice on discovering the dream interpretation.

    Wrote By Rote

    • Thank you so much Lee, I really appreciate your stopping by. Uncovering leads to discovering… so long as one does not jump into an immediate interpretation, as this could lead to barking up the wrong tree… Just hold the dream in tension, and try to relate to the images presented… and pay attention to the next and the next and so on.

    • Wow Felicity thank you! I am smiling! I so appreciate that you appreciate my blogs thank you. It makes it all so worthwhile, thank you again! 🙂

  7. Dear Patricia – No I don’t mind at all you speaking directly to me – on the contrary, I appreciate it very much. Your words are thoughtful and considered and extremely meaningful. You are spot on, I think, about being at a crossroad in my life, and whatever road I choose to walk will need a strong heart. I am thinking that the letters Sis and I read from my parents to Sis all those years ago, precipitated this dream,. Thank you.
    All of this discussion on the dream, and dreams in general, have given me the impetus to take more note of this dream in particular, and it is rather scary for me to try and unravel…… and to have the courage to dig …… I do not tend to examine my dreams as Susan does, although Sis does encourage me to write them down. I am not as conscious about dreams, nor do I dig and ponder.

    To take the dream further: after picking up Pepe who was unskinned, torn tail and legs, ears missing, organs visible, I turned my attention to the smaller dog, who I think was Pixie – also a poodle. She was being confronted by a small, lighter coloured dog, who was sort of rounded, and had small, sharp, inturned teeth. And this dog had Pixie by the neck. I was able to resuce Pixie easily, and she wasn’t badly damaged.

    Thank you Sis for using my dream for this discussion, and thank you to your friends who have followed up on it.

    Peace to you all.

    • More to the dream – power to the dream – wisdom of the dream – keep a note book especially for your dreams Sis and write them down even if it is at 3.41 a.m. Perhaps a theme will emerge in time. Even sketch them; give the dream a title … take note of the verbs …

      All this is just to encourage you dear Sis in your own journey. You are of such value as a person and as my sister.

  8. Dreams as you describe them are so essential to give us the energy to look further, be it inner or outer. Would we do this unless they disturbed us or shook us up in some way. And, one person’s dreams apply to others as you so aptly demonstrate. Thank you for sharing the wisdom of the dream.

    • Thank you so much Susan. That’s what the unconscious does – the energy is there – to be used consciously innerly and outerly …

  9. Just a good blog, and reinforces the importance of being “aware” of dreams and the layers that unfold. I am constantly cob-smacked by the intricacy of the messages conveyed.
    Very, very important to the health of the soul,
    Thank you.

    • Thank you so much Didi. ‘Very, very important to the health of the soul’. Indeed – exactly so. Layers and layers and layers, like peeling an onion to get to the core. (While your eyes smart).

      Just this day while rushing about, I was thinking about dreams and about some of my terrifying ones. A murder and a cover up – done by me. Another was when a HUGE bookcase on the tennis court fell on me and knocked me out unconscious. (I wondered about that one – a way of ‘saying’ enough with the books already and the head and intellect. Time to move on into the heart – always hard for one such as I). Some dreams have woken me up with a cry … or had me in shock.

      If you care to, google Churchill and the black dog – there was such an informative article that went in to the history of this saying. Churchill was by no means the first. Goes back to the 1700’s. I will go back to that article – it was seriously interesting.

      Thank you again.

  10. Morning my dear Sis,

    It is not a ‘bad’ dream. No dreams are ‘bad’. They are meant to disturb and make one wonder about them. Already you thought about the bits maybe being thrown away/discarded during one’s life …. (Sorry I spelt Pepe’s name incorrectly). The circle is interesting. Pepe was loving when you picked him up – even though he was dying. And you were no doubt loving to him …

    The ear – what does the ear represent? Listening? To one’s self?

    Thank you for allowing me to present the dream.

  11. Morning Sis.
    It was interesting to read comments about my dream, and Patricia’s comments are particularly interesting. Regarding the circle of life, and poor old Pepe circumscribing perfect circles as the cruel and large black dog repeatedly threw him up, with bits of his flesh, or an ear, being flung up and away – makes me think – do we throw away “bits” during our life? The poor doggie, when I managed to get him and pick him up – perhaps the large dog became bored with him? – was mostly skinless and dying, but happy to see me.
    Thanks Sis, and everyone else for noting my bad dream

    • Hi,
      I would like to add positive affirmation to Susan’s statement that there are no bad dreams. I didn’t consider your dream to be bad at all. I saw in your dream, an opportunity knocking at your door, to discover yourself more intensely.

      My own dream world and my efforts to discover myself have led me to an awareness of who I am and has made me more compassionate understanding, forgiving, and patient towards others.

      I so truly believe that with time and patience your dream and its meaning will reveal itself. Maybe you are at a crossroad; maybe you are at this moment in the process of examining yourself, looking at life and asking yourself what values to you. I don’t know you and this is the first time that I have had an encounter with you, so I, as well as no one else, can point out the significance of your dream. But I do believe it is extremely significant.

      I also believe you are on the right track with your questioning. Your question of “do we throw away bits and pieces?” and “Perhaps the large dog became bored with him?” are speaking from your unconsciousness and these are only questions that can be answered within you.

      Take your time. As with the majority of my dreams, they take time to mature. By the time they have matured, I have the strength to bear and accept them successfully.

      I hope you don’t mind me jumping in on you and Susan’s conversation but these thoughts were bubbling to be released as I read your responses to each other.

      May peace come upon as you learn to walk in the ongoing process of discovering yourself.

      • Patricia, this is so beautiful and affirming thank you. You say the essential, encouragingly and loving.

        It is as you say an ongoing process – may we never lose our wonder at the treasure house within.

        Shalom and thank you again.

  12. Patricia, thank you so much. I will email my sis to encourage her to read your comment as it really speaks to what dreams are about. Hopefully, her hearing what you say may broaden her view and encourage her to pay attention.

    Your comment also strikes a positive note in that dreams are not to be immediately ‘interpreted’ which does the dream a grave injustice. They can be retrospectively looked at, as you say many years later, and the meaning gleaned. They point to wholeness … retrieving bits and pieces from the unconscious that put one in touch with one’s self “….overcome those fears that would hold me back if I let them”. Your words and wise indeed and extremely hopeful.

    Thank you Patricia, very much indeed.


  13. Hi,

    I believe dreams are the release valve that broadens our lives and make us stretch to resolve those hidden desires and fears in us. In my own experience, I have had dreams that I recorded and the working through of that dream has happened at a later time. I used to try to understand the dream and its meaning at the moment I had them, but I don’t do that anymore. After recording it, I leave myself open to receive the wisdom and it never fails to appear, but it can take months or even years..

    I also think that our dreams point us to issues that are buried deep in our unconscious. They indicate change and the fact that there is no such thing as once and for all in life. Change and improvement accompany us. Therefore, I’ve found out mostly through my dreams that life is circular and not a straight pass. When I have successfully mastered one internal issue, I can be sure that after a short pause, the next hurdle will appear. It is an ongoing cycle of elevation that puts me in touch with myself and helps me combat and overcome those fears that would hold me back if I let them.

    Thank you for this article on dreams. I enjoyed reading what you shared.


  14. Lovely post, Susan. I agree that Franschoek is a magical corner of this beautiful country of ours. How lucky you are to have spent time there.

    Your sister’s dream/nightmare is truly fascinating. I’m very grateful that I don’t remember ever having anything like that.

    • Felicity, thank you so much! My first blog post after the A-Z. I had to write about it while it was still present. I so look forward to getting into blogging again when time permits, following others etc and doing some of my own writing.

  15. I really enjoyed reading this post – it was fascinating! To still have those letters after so much time has passed and then read through them – that’s bound to stir up one’s psyche.

  16. I love the 30 year old letters. I wish we weren’t such a quick fix nation these days, (instant message, emails, instant oatmeal).. I think you get the point.
    Whatever happens to the heart to,paper conversations… beautiful.
    My grandmother wrote me letters…I wish I had saved them.
    Susan..I loved this story…as usual…5 STARS*****

    • Thank you so much Linda! It was quite something sorting the letters here at home into piles – the ones from my husband when he was in London for a year doing his fellowship (we weren’t married at this stage); some from my good pal Lyndy when she was training in Oxford (still to give them to her); from my bridesmaid; some very valuable other ones ….all in a box muddled up. The ones from my parents were carefully sorted to take down to my sister. I’m so glad I kept them. Sis has them now and no doubt she will re-read them and keep them verrrry safe until I get them back from her …

  17. Oh Susan, again you hit the nail squarely on the head for me. But for me, events not dreams seem to be circling through my head. I recently learned that our DSHS has done a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences and how the trauma that the mother experiences goes into the unborn child’s DNA leaving the child to work out these issues over their life time. To me the dream depicts why I write my stories… to sort them out of my mind and understand my past. It sounds as if your sister may be doing somewhat the same thing.

    Interesting story… THANKS!

    • Gwynn, lovely to hear from you thank you! Writing is an excellent way of exploration, not knowing where it may take you. Virginia Woolf famously said: ‘Nothing is real until it is written’.
      Hopefully my sister will pay attention to her vivid dream … and all encouragement from me to you to keep on writing Gwynn.

      • Samantha, I know your comment was addressed to Gwynn. I had no idea that this was your experience … a huge huge one. Life and death and its struggles in one fell swoop. Words fail me at this moment ..

        • Well, my mother lived to be 97, as we know, Susan. As for my birth trauma, I wonder now at the effects; I was also born blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. I am claustrophobic and don’t like things around my neck. But, that life and death thing — words and thoughts fail me. Intriguing.

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