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Alice's Letters

Dreamed late 1960s? by "Alice"; see source note.

Alice's lifelong passion was helping others. When she was young, she had brought home strays, both animal and human, giving away money to anyone who tugged persistently enough at her sleeve or her heartstrings. Predictably, her saintly attitude had its shadow side: she was compulsively drawn to "desperate, needy men." She chose a career in human services and set out "ferociously trying to learn every skill thoroughly, to be the best quality helper I could be."

But as she was completing her training, she had a stunning, pivotal dream:

It is a foggy night. I am standing near an old post office. I am driven by a great urgency to mail a package of letters which contain crucial information. These letters, intact, are going to save the entire world of all the unnecessary pain and suffering that people endure. I am terrified that this most important mission on earth will be intercepted.

At last I mail them. Then I anxiously run down an alley looking for a safe place to hide. I see a man walking slowly toward me. I am terrified he will find out about the letters. He calmly approaches me and tells me that he thinks what I had been contemplating has been very brash.

Now I get up my bravado, cockily informing him that it was too late--I had already mailed the letters. But in a very nonpunitive tone, he suggests that I don't understand the consequences of my actions. With mounting defensiveness, I maintain that I certainly do--I am saving the world. The man challenges me, protesting that it is just for the purpose of growth that we go through pain. Reflecting on this, I suddenly get what he is trying to say. I go through a complete about-face. I am convinced that it is essential to our evolution that we live through our suffering. I am struck by the realization I have been totally wrong to try to short-circuit that process for people. Now I am desperate to get those letters back into my possession. As I run up the alley to the post office, I experience myself surrealistically rise off the ground, as if I am running on air.

Alice awoke in a panic. "As I lay in my bed, my body still felt very light, as if I were still running on air. I tried to catch myself from falling! I had to defy a compulsion to run out the door and find that post office."

Alice's dream stayed with her for months afterward, "as graphically vivid as when I first dreamed it."... People in her life began to notice a change. A teacher praised her shift from mere sympathy toward her clients to real empathy. Relatives noted she wasn't bringing home any more social strays. She began dating an older man who was emotionally and financially self-sufficient. Alice began to question if she hadn't been harming people by her overbearing need to rescue them. She was starting to respect, as she put it, "the power people have to play out what they need to grow."

Whenever she feels the temptation to "take over" someone's life, the intense anxiety she felt in the dream returns. The sensation has become a red flag. She says she feels more grounded in her work with felons in an alternative-sentencing program. "I tell them that if things don't work out, I will write up revocation papers for them to return to prison. That attitude is effective. Because I don't have to have the program work for these people, I actually have the highest success rate in the state."

Alice's dream remains vivid to her two decades later. "I still remember precise details--color, clothing, architecture. I can still feel the wet mist on my face, remember the worry that my makeup would run. I have never had such a powerfully clear or detailed dream before or since."

SOURCE: The Phenomenology of the Transformative Dream, Stephanie Citron-Baggett, Georgia State University doctoral dissertation, 1988, p.110, as summarized in Marc Ian Barasch's Healing Dreams, 2000, p. 112. I added the title. Date uncertain, as it is unclear if Barasch or Citron-Baggett wrote "two decades later"; if the former, the dream would be around 1968; if the latter, around 1980.

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