06. The Healing Cocktail (Adaptation)

Article adapted from She Who DreamsBy Wanda Easter BurchPO Box 308; Fultonville, NY 12072Published by New World Library
Illness, particularly cancer, on the surface does not appear to be a spiritual exercise. It has the ability to paralyze, to cause the suspension of good judgement, to create an environment where options seem to no longer exist. When the body is dealt a serious physical blow, doctors often take advantage of the situation, providing healing “options”that define healing within the most narrow of definitions. It is up to the individual to turn illness into a spiritual exercise and to bring dreams—and other alternative healing methods of choice—into the healing process.
I was given that opportunity of healing choices –unsolicited –thirteen years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My dreams prepared me, twenty years in advance, for the challenge of a life-threatening illness, in a haunting recurring dream in which I danced down a hallway peopled with the dead to my own death which lay just beyond a small wooden door. One of those dance hall dreams detailed my age: 43 years old, the year of my diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. Dream visitors warned me of impending illness and finally pushed me to go to doctors before I developed physical symptoms. Specific dreams guided me in my choice of treatment and enabled me to support the medical treatments I chose and enabled me to develop a healing and creative relationship with my physicians. In the wake of surgery, my dreams offered powerful imagery for self-healing and recovery. My adventures in dreaming took me to places of healing and transformation in a deeper reality and introduced me to spiritual guides and helpers who opened a path beyond fear and pain, into transformation. My dreams gave me back my life. In dreaming, I found I was able, quite literally, to renegotiate my soul’s contract. My dreams also opened me to a deeper life, and gave me gifts I could bring to others in everyday life.
As I tell the story of my dreams in She Who Dreams and how they figure in the diagnosis of my illness and in the story of my journey through surgery, chemotherapy and depression back to healing and health, I also tell the story of my family, of my grandmother, of my father’s death, of a journey to Africa, and of my dreams in the year before my diagnosis and surgery. They are all part of the history of my dreaming and of the history of my life.
Dreams of my father and grandmother provided me with the guidance and support only those who have passed to the other side can offer. My father sometimes interfered with my journey. His fears for me and his concern for me as his child came through in my dreaming, perhaps also his hesitancy in wondering if I had the strength to fight this battle. However, in the end, his presence in my first big warning dream in which he appeared with a doctor demanding that I seek help foreshadowed his presence in subsequent dreams in which he performed the role of guardian and guide. My grandmother played roles as guide and teacher. She defined spirit and soul for me; she brought me healing plants and provided memory so that I could reach back into my Southern past and pull forward the best of my heritage. That heritage, my roots—a line of strong Irish-American women in the Alabama hills that began with my great grandmother—encouraged the importance of dreaming when I was a child.
Warning Dreams
Long before I walked into a doctor’s office my dreams –murky and disturbing –predicted a health problem; but my understanding of those dreams was not yet in sync with my dreaming until a big dream in which my father and a doctor shouted at me that I had breast cancer and was in serious trouble. That dream sent me to doctors’offices where I battled for tests that would prove my dreaming and intuition accurate. A mammogram was negative; an ultrasound, at first cautiously interpreted, defined a possible problem. An astute doctor, willing to acknowledge my intuitive source, allowed me to use a dream to show him the exact location of the malignancy for a biopsy. The dream presented me with an image I could use in meditation between that day and the first visit with my surgeon:

The Cone Breast

I was standing over a bowl of water, holding a sponge shaped like a wide flat cone, like a breast. There were two voices in the room, but I could not identify them. They were men. I paid no attention to them. I held the breast-shaped cone under the water, convex side up, and I could see a dark spot. I squeezed the water from the cone, and the voices of the men became more pronounced, saying to one another that I had the cone upside down. I looked up and then back down at the cone. I turned the cone over with the flat side facing me, and I squeezed the water from it once again. This time a small cylinder filled with dark material flushed into the water, leaving the cone clear. Then the cylinder disappeared, and the material closed over itself.
I had never experimented with actively using my dreams for healing. I had never considered, until that moment, how useful and important a dream could be in one’s own healing process. I sat down and considered all of the possibilities for using the image of the cone breast, which accurately pictured the problem and the beginning of a solution. The most obvious use was meditation, but I decided to use the dream as often as possible. I wrote a simple meditation, in which I took the content of the dream and wrote it out as a simple paragraph, almost an exact repeating of the dream. The simplicity of the dream of squeezing a cone and clearing it of the dark liquid provided an easy meditation for the evening. I played simple background music and recited the dream both aloud and in my mind. I recited it before I went to bed, and then I began to recite the dream during the day, a simple recall mechanism, which turned the dream into active imagery and would bring it to mind instantly throughout the day. This last exercise gave the dream a different kind of energy, an active Intent in which the dream played again and again in my mind. I imagined myself pulling the radiating cells back toward the mass and then taking the cone breast, cells now contained within a single mass, and squeezing the dark fluid into a bowl. I saw the actual dream as a prescription; the use of the content of the dream as medicine for healing.

Medical Choices

After a biopsy revealed an aggressive fast-moving breast cancer tumor with cells radiating in a non-massing manner, my dreams changed. They presented choices, a further exploration of alternative and natural methods –a healing cocktail - that would allow me to safely proceed both with the “slash and burn”brutal surgical removal of the cancer and the subsequent attack on the remaining cancer cells with chemotherapy.
In one dream I worked with a friend in a sophisticated classroom. We built together an elaborate energy plant that produced both chemical and natural energy, a complimentary blend that worked in complete harmony one with the other. This dream gave me the option of combining dreaming energy with surgery and chemotherapy.
Another dream I titled “Killing the Bats.”In the dream I walked into a large room, a bedroom, except the bed had sides like a crib [or a hospital bed]. A friend, along with my family, entered the room with me. Under the bed lay a large bat. I rushed for the bat, picked it up by the head and broke the head in my hands, then I threw the bat down a flight of stairs where it was impaled on a knife-like tool protruding from the wall. I looked up. The ceiling was covered with smaller bats. I asked for help. All of us working together –my friend, my husband and my son - began exterminating the bats with poison until the room was clear. Then I curled up peacefully in the bed and went to sleep.
When I dreamed “Killing the Bats,”I had been wrestling with a course of therapy suggested by my oncologist and surgeon. Both doctors felt that the best way to approach my unusually aggressive cancer was surgery, a modified radical mastectomy, followed by aggressive chemotherapy. I wanted to be able to use every resource available to me and firmly believed I could combine my dreams with the harsh treatment suggested and possibly even eliminate some of the worst of the side effects. The dream of “Killing the Bats”provided me the guidance I needed and convinced my friends and family that I was on the right course. In the dream the destruction of the first large bat, the parent tumor, had been accomplished through surgery (the knife-like tool). The destruction of the smaller bats, the radiating cells that escaped the surgery, was accomplished with chemotherapy or “poison.”My peaceful response after the destruction of the remaining bats with “poison”answered the question of whether or not to rely on my physician’s suggestion of aggressive chemotherapy.
The choices—surgery and chemotherapy, stirred in a heavy syrup of dreaming, a recipe for healing –stilled slightly my fear, presented me with some unexpected calm and a strong desire to simply have it over.

Cocktail Ingredients: Music

Many favorite things in my life conspired in my healing. Music was one of the more pervasive. Music filled my dream journals and accompanied every important change in my life. But the most powerful music was the music played within my home.
Dreaming with the Organist
After my surgery and as my chemotherapy treatments intensified, music appeared frequently in my dreams, soothing me when I was anxious, offering voices of celebration in predictions of wellness, offering tools for healing when I felt most wounded. During the harshest days of chemotherapy treatments I took the gift of music outside the dream. With the active support of Ron, my life partner, I discovered remarkable healing within music.
Ron played the organ for the local church, which was located within walking distance from our home. He often practiced at the church in the evenings. I walked with him to the church. He would turn on a foyer light and lights around the organ, leaving the main body of the church in soft darkness, lit only by the glow of the organ box lighting. In the dark aisle of the church below the organ box, I would lie down, my eyes closed, all of my body—arms, legs, back, head—touching the floor. Ron played; the organ chords vibrated the music from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, allowing current dreams to flow through my body, washing over and through every “organ”of my body, through my blood, bone, tendons, muscles, nerves, lymph system, fibers, through every part of my body, washing and cleansing with the deep vibrating music tones serving as an active dream.
Then in the dark nights of depression when Ron would play the piano in our parlor I would wrap my body in my grandmother’s hand-made quilt and snuggle into the sofa, further embracing music in my healing. My mind and my body breathed in the healing chords of Ron’s beautiful nocturnes drifting softly from the parlor or up through the heating vents to our bedroom. There organ chords played by Ron in the old church and the piano music from the parlor surged through every fiber of my being and drifted into my night dreams, a musical pharmacy of therapeutic healing, a conspiracy of “favorite things”in my recovery.
On one of those evenings, drifting in and out of sleep, I thought about a friend, Millie Coutant, a popular psychic in Lake George, New York, who had died several years before. She often visited me before she died and sometimes, not often, talked about me. Once she told me that something would happen to me, that I would become very ill, and in recovering from that illness would learn valuable lessons about healing and about myself. In the process of illness and recovery, I would learn how to teach others to heal using the gift of healing that we all have within ourselves. She told me we create our own miracles. She also told me I would not die from that illness. I was comforted now by that memory. I drifted asleep, lost in the music and in the warmth of the quilt and thinking about Millie:
Dream: Walking the Plank
I am looking everywhere for Millie. I want to tell her that I have had my illness. I want to ask her if she knows I will live. There are dark colors in the sky, and I try to use an enormous eraser to wash them away. I am walking on a narrow plank, and several times
I almost slip into soft sand. A person comes up beside me and places wider boards on either side of the narrow boards until I have a safe place for walking. As I reach out I realize I have tubes attached to my arms and energy food is being fed into my body through the tubes.
My new dream offered guidance in my journey, a presence who would continue to make sure I would have safe passage across the shifting uncertain sand plus I was again assured that my healing cocktail of spiritual and medical resources would not only be acceptable but would provide healing energy. The dream tubes looked remarkably similar to the chemotherapy tubes in the chemotherapy treatment facility, but the contents, the chemicals, also referred to as a “cocktail”by the oncology nurses, would be conduits for healing energy , not toxins that would make me even more ill.

More Ingredients: Using Dream Imagery

I noticed that each time I progressed to a new point in my recovery, my dreams changed themes. The themes would manifest themselves in different but similar images in dream groups that drifted into patterns night after night, bombarding me with the part of my recovery I needed at that particular moment, providing me with a goal until I had passed successfully to the next stage of my recovery. Then my dreams would change “themes”again. This was probably not unusual; but I had read no other dream journeys of diagnosis and recovery for comparison.
Following the dream of the unseen hand placing planks for my safe passage, I dreamed of a broken bridge that repaired itself before I crossed, a ladder with broken rungs mended by an invisible hand so that I could safely climb upward, and a swinging bridge over a gorge, broken and once again repaired by an invisible hand. Guidance and safe passage for the coming journey gleaned from simple short dreams provided imagery easy to use in my meditation exercises and easy to recall as healing prescriptions.
In dreams I also explored the use of “imagery,”not of specific images, but of the actual process. In one dream -“The Dream Library”-I asked Ron to help me with my research. We were on the upper floor of the library, looking through texts on how to use imagery and also looking for images that might assist me in my recovery. I did not see any of the ones in the dream; the focus of the dream was the definition of the word imagery as the ability of the mind to see its path to healing the body. That path was different for everyone, but one needed a clear picture combined with a clear healing goal or intent. Seeing the body as well and whole was a viable Intent if none other presented itself in a dream. I also saw in the dream myself viewing my own body as a separate object: a small version of my body separated itself and turned in a spiral so that I could view it both inside and out. This became a useful technique for checking the health of my body when a new pain or area of discomfort presented itself. It also became a useful technique for checking on the progress of my healing during the chemotherapy and beyond. If a new symptom frightened me—or if a dream frightened me—I could take my body, place it somewhere where I could view it in its entirety and mentally spin it around. I would be calmed immediately if I saw nothing disturbing.
I created my own dictionary of images, which I had taken from my dreams and could consciously and actively use for my personal healing. Often, if I presented my dreaming self with a problem before I fell asleep, the working-out process would take place during the dreaming and diminish or even solve the problem. This working-out process within the dream was very effective with anxiety and depression. The solutions were always there in my dreams. Sometimes I experienced difficulty in bringing the dream forward into the day; nonetheless, the healing created in my dreams was translating into healing in my body in spite of me. The night dreams were taking care of the day’s depression, doubt, and anxiety in such subtle ways that I was often unaware of the extent of the healing process in waking reality.
During the last months of that long summer of chemotherapy all of my dreams were dreams of final, active healing. Many were small and simple. These small dreams came in the night as multiple dreams, piling one on top of the other. It was impossible to determine if one might be more important than another. They all bore messages, and the messages were that I was healing, slowly in spirit, somewhat faster in body. In the physical healing I suffered radical mood swings; but, through them all, my dreams presented positive images and predicted in sleep a more hopeful outcome than I allowed in waking. They foretold a time when I would feel healed and whole again. In fact, they went beyond the feeling of wellness to a time in which I would use my own experience to help other people work with their own health problems.

Re-negotiating a Soul Contract

As my healing progressed, albeit slowly, I still bore the haunting dream of the Dancehall which led to a door with a passage to my death. Dreams of healing countered that dream, but a dark dream of a messenger of death came near the anniversary of my diagnosis and held me in its grip until I received an awesome dream of re-negotiating my life contract. In that dream –received on the eve of my 43rd birthday - I moved up a mountain on waves of vibrating light and stood before a presence where I begged for a life extension. I was granted that life extension and woke trembling and sobbing. I will never know if that dream saved me from death or if I needed that dream to confront a powerful presence in order to remember my soul’s contract. That contract included responsibility to others and responsibility to tell my story of intuition and dreaming, combined with the careful and caring use of all the medical technology available –my healing cocktail.
Adapted from “She Who Dreams”by Wanda Burch, Trade Paper, $14.95,
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