Cleaning Up My Act


Of the many forms of mind-training that bring more self-knowledge, my favorites are writing and dreamwork. When I combine the two, as I usually do, I never fail to gain a valuable insight. For example, the following dream from a few weeks ago dramatizes my ego’s growing awareness of its attitude toward an unlikeable shadow.
Dream #4329: “Cleaning Up My Act.” I enter the basement laundry room of a hotel with five soiled items of clothing. I see the clothes of a traveling companion soaking in a big tub of hot, sudsy water. Their owner, a rather withdrawn, grumpy woman who doesn’t seem to like me, is nowhere in sight. Since there’s plenty of room in the tub I add my clothes to hers and leave.
When I return the only item of mine still in the water is a white blouse. I take it out wondering where everything else is. I see the woman’s suitcase sitting open on a counter. I move her clothes around to see if she might accidentally have put mine in with hers.
Just then she walks in the door and says, “What are you doing with my clothes?” in a suspicious, accusatory way. I feel confused and guilty. As I try to explain my innocence I start to wonder why I put my clothes in with hers. That was her laundry, not mine. Did I overstep her boundaries? Did I do it again just now by going through her suitcase? I realize with a bit of a shock that my behavior was not as justified as I originally thought it was. This unlikeable woman is the victim here, not me.
At first my dream ego sees little wrong in what I did. But once I see the woman and am seen by her I begin to question my assumptions. I realize my behavior was not exemplary, and I see that to dismiss her significance because she doesn’t like me is not in accord with my preferred image of myself as a kind and accepting person. In fact, I was feeling a bit self-righteous and critical of her, and it is a shock to realize she sees me the same way.
I’ve been aware of traveling through life with this shadow for a while now, but so far my tendency has been to ignore her. The theme of wanting to wash my dirty clothes says I want to clean up my persona, or public personality. But the dream says my efforts are being stymied by my ego’s ignorance about this shadow — where she lives and how she influences my personality — and by my reluctance to take care of this unfinished business.
This dream reminds me to pay closer attention to the feelings and behaviors this shadow represents until she and my ego ease up on their judgments of each other. I need to be less critical of her, and she needs more acceptance from me to feel safe enough to express her feelings honestly and appropriately.
Every soul is different and the direction our inner work takes varies from one individual to another. Most people probably don’t have as strong a need as I do to improve their personas, and not everyone with an inner curmudgeon wants to stifle it. But whatever our issues, the same rule applies: Until we can see and come to terms with the shadows our dreams show us, they will continue to disturb our inner peace.

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0 Responses

  1. Another wonderful piece, Jeanie! I can feel the flow of emotions back and forth as you paint the picture-dream…..
    This grumpy traveling companion who doesn’t seem to like you much is a very interesting figure—was there a sense of where you were traveling to? or from, for that matter? you’d been on the road perhaps, since you both had clothes to wash….and further to go, since it was important to you both to have clean clothes for the journey ahead…..
    The feeling-tones sometimes hold a sense of such things in my dreams, even if i hadn’t named the places in the dream…..
    Anyway, it’s a fascinating vignette, full of symbolism and power. The numbers are interesting too, 5 soiled articles of clothing, 1 white blouse. And the mixing of clothes! I almost missed that entirely! Could it be that you are closer to integrating the shadow that you might dare hope?

    1. Bless your sweet heart, William. Your questions are marvelous. The feeling was that where we’d been or were going was unimportant. It was about the journey and the temporary place in which I found myself and the task at hand. My association with 5 is that it’s the number of physical humanity: humans have a core body with 5 appendages, 5 senses, 5 fingers on each hand and 5 toes on each foot, etc. My association with white is purity. I hadn’t thought of the symbolism of deliberately mixing my clothes (persona) with my shadow’s but love your suggestion as to what it could mean. I do feel more integration between my ego and this shadow in waking life. The benevolent intentions of dreams to affirm and validate never fail to fill me with gratitude, as do your helpful comments.
      My very best to you,

  2. My son is going through a difficult period, filled with vivid dreams. Yesterday he asked me what I know about dream interpretation–not much–and then you posted this story. Timing is everything, as they say, Jeanie. Your posts are always enlightening.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      Yes, timing is everything, and I would also say that everything has meaning. This is especially true of dreams. If we take them as metaphorical commentaries on what’s really going on in our inner lives, with our own inner characters, something almost always comes of it. Perhaps your son would like my book, dream Theatres of the Soul. It’s sort of a basic primer on this way of working with dreams.
      With many thanks for stopping by, Jeanie

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