Dreaming Myself into Old Age
At the beginning of 2012, in my seventy-second year, I decided to return to analysis so I could explore my concerns about aging and dying. Fortunately, I found Dr. Y, a Jungian analyst who takes Medicare, freeing me to explore my new terrain—old age—without depleting our savings. Dr. Y is a psychiatrist who merges the rational world of science with C. G. Jung’s more esoteric ideas about the psyche. I have feasted on Jung from the time I first discovered his writing in my late twenties. For me, his more mystical aspect overshadowed the scientist. I love how he evokes the multiplicity of things—the magic, the mystery, the many levels to reality including the mythic part. Of course, dreams inhabit the mythic dimension, and I view them as communications from a part of myself that knows more about me than my conscious ego does.
They also appear connected to magical realism. As a poet and fiction writer, magical realism travels naturally from my brain onto the page, allowing me to blend these different elements, the real and the surreal, each having an important role. But at the time I started this late-life analysis, I felt somewhat alienated from the mythic worldview, one consequence of living in modern times in a culture where the rational scientific stance dominates. I needed someone who could help me return to my core self.
In 1973, I went to Tahoe on a camping trip with my husband at that time, my young son from an earlier brief marriage, and another couple we were friends with as well as their three kids. In the evening, while the others sat around a campfire, drinking, chatting, and laughing, I stole away to our tent and read Jung’s Man and His Symbols (1964) by flashlight.
The world I fell into then thoroughly engrossed me, especially where Jung talks about the importance of dreams and how symbols convey knowledge that often can’t be accessed in our usual discursive way of thinking. After reading Jung’s ideas about symbols, I was seeing multiple meanings in almost everything around me, from baseball games I attended when my son was pitching to wandering through a mall. These pages introduced me to the unconscious. Behind everyday reality, there are layers to investigate.
Jung’s comments about dreams also had a strong impact on me. I was fascinated by his idea that dreams are a way forgotten or unacknowledged aspects of consciousness reach awareness. A prolific dreamer, I was eager to know what I could learn from them.
Like Alice in Wonderland, I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and would be forever changed from this encounter. I learned that individuals have not only the personality they present to the outer world, but also other personalities loitering beneath consciousness. As Jung points out, it isn’t just the neurotic whose right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. It’s a problem for most modern men and women.
Since my late twenties, then, dreams have reminded me of funhouse mirrors that reflect multiple images of ourselves, capturing how multifaceted we are. It’s as if I have this inner being who knows me intimately and, through dream images and stories, broadens (and deepens) my self-understanding.
Each morning, I capture in my journal as many dream fragments as I can remember. I actually feel the daily dialogue with them has a prayerful aspect. I’m communing with something deeper. I also believe that I don’t have to consciously understand dreams to benefit from the potent imagery and symbols they convey. They affect me whether I “get them” or not, becoming part of my memory bank, energy deposits that I can draw on for a lifetime.
No wonder that in my late twenties, like Odysseus, I began my own inner journey, seeking the parts of myself I didn’t know yet. And no wonder that at seventy-two I once again chose to work with a Jungian and began writing about aging. Shanti Arts Press has just published the results, my hybrid memoir, Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning, I believe that aging offers its own questions and mysteries for us to uncover, and that is part of my quest. There isn’t just one way to age well. Nor is there a formula to fit everyone. We all must find the path that works for us. So, in writing about this time in my life, I was not just interested in how I encountered each day. I hoped to dig deeper into this perplexing journey toward death that we’re all involved in from birth.
Who am I within this diminished house I’m walking around in? One aspect of aging’s mystery is the new identity many of us must create for ourselves out of the fragments we’re left with. It’s like making a collage from the remaining workable aspects of our beings. And that requires that we first acknowledge what’s going on and use our imaginations as the glue to hold our older selves together.
Imagination is key here. It’s never too late to make overdue modifications in our lives, awakening to ways in which we delude ourselves, as King Lear realizes. Imagination has been central to my quest for knowledge. When I lose this capacity to imagine other worlds or other ways of being, then I also lose something important about myself. I become static rather than dynamic and stop the life force from invigorating me. I hope I don’t reach that point. If I do, I trust my imagination won’t be squelched entirely but will help me resume what for me is the essence of life, my ability to enter the unknown.
A poet, essayist, and novelist, my work has appeared in over 170 venues. I’ve published four novels (Fling!, Curva Peligrosa, Freefall: A Divine Comedy, and The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up, a sequel to Freefall). My poetry collection All This and chapbook No More Kings are also published. Shanti Arts Publishing just released my hybrid memoir Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning in 2023, and my latest poetry collection: California Dreaming. I teach creative writing at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning and blog about reading and writing at http://lilyionamackenzie.com.
DREAMING MYSELF INTO OLD AGE
Lily Iona MacKenzie’s memoir invites readers to join her quest for self-discovery. Since her twenties, she has forged a relationship with her nightly dreams by recording them daily in journals and reflecting on them. At times, she’s also worked with Jungian analysts who have helped her go deeper into her dreams. As a result, she’s found that the dream world often sheds light on daily events and concerns, leading to insights that we otherwise might not discover. This daily ritual continues, the basis for her writing Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning.
In her early eighties, she remains determined to age gracefully and thoughtfully. Her memoir not only shows how night dreams have influenced her, but also how all the arts have fed her waking and dreaming self. She’s learned that attending to her inner world can help her to meet the changes that aging brings. She also brings readers into the spiritual explorations that answer her hunger for deeper esoteric knowledge.