The other night, I had a truly horrible nightmare. In the dream, I was a factory night guard. A cat or some small animal was causing a disturbance, and without thinking, I shot at it with something like a proton pack from Ghost Busters. The charge on the device was insufficient and I knew instantly that its sputtering stream had left the poor creature suffering. I ran towards it to help, and as I did my horror deepened as I realized that what lay before me was no cat. It was a young girl. My blast had encased her in a plastic shell shaped like a Russian nesting doll. As I held her in my arms, her eyes flitted back and forth, looking at me in terror from inside that terrible cocoon.
I woke up, feeling sick; I had a deep pain in my heart and knew I had been cursed by this unspeakable act. Dreams this powerful are always here to teach us something, so allow me to share my terrible, terrible lesson.
The Fragmented Consciousness of Medusa
One of the greatest of all Western myths is the story of Perseus and Medusa. The mystery of myth lies in its multiple interpretations, and so while there are many lessons to be drawn from this tale, one of the most intriguing relates to human consciousness.
In the Indian tradition, one of the most powerful images of rising, transforming human consciousness is the Kundalini serpent. There are many striking aspects of this energy, including its role as a symbol of concentration. For Kundalini to rise up through the central nervous system of the human body, an enormous concentration of energy is required. When the serpent reaches the top of the head, our consciousness changes. The serpent’s single-headedness breaks through to single-mindedness: a new clarity of consciousness.
Compare the Kundalini image to that of Medusa, one of three terrifying Gorgon sisters from Greek myth, who rather than having regular hair, had writhing, hissing serpents protruding from their heads. If the Kundalini serpent represents a unity of consciousness, the tangled mess of the snake-headed Gorgons represents a fragmentation of consciousness.
Anyone who has tried to quiet his or her mind through meditation or other contemplative practices knows just how noisy things are inside our heads. In fact, it wasn’t until I started meditating regularly that I actually even noticed just how powerful was the steady stream of thoughts, images and perceptions that constantly intrude upon my experience.
We are the Gorgon’s head: each little distraction, a snake’s head wiggling and squirming for a fragment of our attention.
The Object of Medusa’s Stare
The most dreadful aspect of Medusa, however, is that her stare turned living beings to stone, and this brings me back to my dream.
Modern physics tells us that the underlying reality of our universe is not what the human mind tells us that it is. Our mind is constantly creating objects out of thin air, separating this from that and regularly transforming the unity of experience into individual objects. Through this process of objectification, our gaze doesn’t just turn things into objects. It initiates a cascade of never-ending mental process, bent on calculating how best to use those objects to our advantage.
That’s not a problem if the object before us is a pencil or a chair, but when our gaze turns living beings into objects to be manipulated, we are enacting the role of Medusa: we are turning others to stone. This was my nightmare. In it, I quite literally turned someone into an object, and that horror is not something that will quickly fade from my memory.
Like myth, dreams hold the teaching power of story, for they hold the power to transform us through experience.
In order to slay Medusa, Perseus uses the shiny surface of a shield given to him by Athena, the goddess of Wisdom. The shield’s reflection allows Perseus to see Medusa without becoming petrified by her gaze. So it is through reflection given to us by wisdom that our hero sees the nature of the problem.
With a swoosh of his sword, Perseus lops off the fragmented consciousness of Medusa, and from the blood that gushes forth from her neck emerges a beautiful, winged horse. This horse is the Pegasus: the transcendent wonder of the human soul, released from the fragmented, object-emeshed consciousness of the human ego and free to fly into the heavens above.
Jean Delville’s Medusa
John Singer Sargent’s Perseus on Pegasus Slaying Medusa