Electric Dreams

Stepping Out of Time

 Victoria Gamber

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Gamber, Victoria (2003). Stepping Out of Time.  Electric Dreams 10(11).


A dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness...

Carl Jung

The dream found me in all my distraction and worry; it found me in the quiet night. I didn't know that I was being penetrated by an unseen, unwanted partner. I was in charge of my life, and I was doing a damn good job of it! So what if there were moments of longing, feelings of emptiness, and almost memories, of some other time or place. I must have been happy and at peace once, in a very different way, otherwise, why did I feel something missing? Why did I sometimes look out at my face and not recognize me? Why did I gaze through foreign crowds, looking for someone? Foolish thought, no one is looking for me.

The dream came in the middle of the night, invading my being and it kept coming.


The ocean beat a rhythm on the distant shore, the breeze danced softly on the open lanai. As I stirred I noticed a form huddled near the screen door. From my view in bed it seemed a male figure, all stooped over and clothed in brown and black tones. I felt a cold sweat on my upper lip, knowing I was alone in the house. An intruder had entered my quiet. My heart beat harshly against my breast, help me, help me, help me.

Sitting up in bed I'm aware that no one is there. A dream, only a dream yet I felt the presence, my heart still beating, my palms still sweating. I toss and turn in the large king-size bed, feeling so abandoned and vulnerable and knowing its four hours till dawn. Only a dream and yet I fear returning to the same dreamscape should I fall asleep again. I wonder what my colleague, a very intellectual psychiatrist will say about this in the morning. I try on several of his interpretations, a shadow figure, my animus, definitely a fear of my masculine nature. I'm awakened by the garbage truck clanging in the street below, relieved that it's time to shower and dress. Unaware that I've been invited to commune with another self, I interpret that dream at breakfast and dismiss it, but the experience of it can't be dismissed. This is the beginning of my journey to uncover the secrets of this night intruder, and the beginning of my stepping out of time.

I had this dream in the 80s and I still remember the cold sweat, the heart palpitations, and the extreme anxiety; the anxiety feelings permeated the next day and the next. This was not an ordinary nightmare!

At the time of the dream, I was very involved in private practice and training in Psychosynthesis, a transpersonal approach to psychology, and Focusing, with an excellent therapist in Los Angeles. Concurrently, I was discovering integral psychology. My professional life was advancing and I had been invited to Europe to introduce other professionals to these processes. My personal life was very gratifying: a new marriage with a husband who understood me on a soul level, and a beautiful new home, high on a mountaintop overlooking Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. To top it off, I could walk to work to a new office within one mile of my home.

From my perspective, it seemed that the trying times of graduate training and a very painful divorce were in the near past. I felt launched in my new life, able to confront any difficulties, and secure in my personal self. Moreover, my beloved daughter was a student at a local college and every morning we'd walk on Kailua Beach and commune with nature and one another, an intensely satisfying experience for both of us. We'd always been close and now we could share our innermost thoughts and feelings in that magical setting. Neither of us understood why my dreams appeared to be ominous threats from a hostile intruder.

The Intruder Came Back!

The intruder came back! We had moved from our townhouse to our new home recently. It doesn't matter. He found me! He's outside on the bedroom deck. The black sky is studded with bright stars behind him as he crouches beneath the screen door. Still, very still. He's not moving. I'm having difficulty breathing. How did he get here? How did he find me? My confusion is intensifying my fear. I'm helpless! God! How can I protect myself?

The morning after this dream I felt so vulnerable and frightened that I sheepishly asked my husband how to use his handgun. He's a pilot, often gone on long trips, and I was feeling almost paranoid, about being alone at night. Delighted with the opportunity to teach me something, my husband procured the gun from his drawer and proceeded to give me a long lecture on its care and maintenance. Because I had not recovered from my evening visitation, I wasn't paying much attention.

Am I awake or dreaming? How can I seek to protect myself from a nightmare by learning to use a gun? Am I losing my grip on reality? Thank God Marlan never asked me why I wanted to know how to use a gun. Nonetheless, I put that handgun in the dresser next to my bed and I did feel a little comforted about my ability to protect myself.
I certainly didn't discuss how my dream life was interfering with my daily life. I was embarrassed about the gun and concerned about the interface that dream reality was having with waking reality. When I hesitantly tried to mention this dream to my colleagues, their interpretations seemed to reveal more about how they viewed reality than about my nightmare. I had Jungian interpretations, Freudian interpretations, biblical comparisons, primal approaches, and philosophical discussions, but I could not dismiss that haunting dream. Something unusual was happening. What?

My reality started to crumble. Without noticing the connection, I registered for Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's seminar, "Life, Death and Transition."1 Elizabeth suggested that I begin working with A Course In Miracles, and I bought a copy at the seminar and promptly placed it in the same nightstand with that gun.2 (I'm amused now by the juxtaposition of those two symbols of protection.) A Course in Miracles philosophy speaks to the illusion of this dimension and the awakening process, giving up protection of the personal self to awaken to the reality of a greater Self. The gun was the greatest protection that the personal self could find. My Higher Self must have a sense of humor. Of course, at the time I had no inkling that something was getting out of focus.

Intruder, Again!

All I could feel was the tightness in my throat and pounding heartbeat. The more my heart pounded, the more frightened I became. Couldn't he hear my heart pounding, crouched out there on the deck? Am I dreaming or am I awake? Beads of sweat build up along my breasts and back. Fear fills the air around me. And then I remembered the hand gun. Relief floods me as I quickly reach for it in the drawer beneath me. Cold steel clutched in my hands. Oh, no! I don't know how to take the safety off the gun. I can't move; I try and find I can't move. I'm paralyzed with fear now. No one's here to protect me and that strange ominous figure on the deck wants to murder me. I try to shout! My mouth is too dry and the words don't come out.

I waken trying to speak, staring at the empty screen door and the black night beyond. A dog is barking in the distant rain forest, the sound echoes in my room. The night-time intruder again! Checking to see if my gun is still in the drawer, I find it hard to believe that the drawer is closed, and I begin to weep. Still tremulous with fear, I'm weeping with relief. I feel so vulnerable and exposed. Someone has penetrated the boundaries of my psyche. Sitting up in the tangled mess of sheets and pillows, I feel heavy with defeat as I turn on the light. There will be no more sleep for me.

It didn't matter to me that others had gone through this, that there was a tradition that could have helped me. I wanted this nightmare to stop. This was the third visitation from the night intruder. I was beginning to feel like I might snap.3

Through that day's work, seeing clients from 8 A.M. till 6 P.M., the dream came back in flashes. The night ahead, loomed ominously before me. Because my husband was on another trip, there would be no protection and probably no sleep. I felt a deep sense of fatigue as I drove home with other nightmares from childhood and early adulthood intruding on my thoughts. By the time I arrived home it was dark, and I was feeling a degree of discomfort. The house looked dark and foreboding. Even the twinkling stars and the last pink and purple streaks of sunset did not comfort me. Dawn was an eternity away.

As I reflected it seemed that survival had always been the focus of my awareness, with the greater part of my consciousness protecting me, but I knew that buried deep within me was another self, a precious person that I occasionally glimpsed. I remember the day when I lost her at a garden party on a bright summer afternoon. She stooped down to observe a tiny creature in the grass in a sparkling world that reflected the light in her soul. Her heart felt near bursting with the color and the sound of life. "Vicki," her aunt called out angrily and slapped her, "get out of that mud this instant! You're getting filthy." This wasn't mud. This was an unfolding mystery. While she had been awed by the world, her aunt had been angry. What did her aunt see? What happened? Fear! Fear entered her life. How had it happened? There was no sudden storm, no flash of lightning. There were only the sounds of people, her aunt, and a crowd of family members milling about, but suddenly she felt different, different in a way impossible to understand and difficult to share. They must never find out or she would be in grave danger. How to keep the secret? How could she protect herself? The fear grew into a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. Perhaps by sharing nothing of herself, nothing of how she loved the world and what she saw there, she could be safe. If she only focused on the others and didn't ever, ever again say anything she felt or thought, especially anything that touched her deeply, she'd be safe. So the little one buried her connection within herself, she only remembered that something had been lost. Soon she lost that memory as well.

The little girl within me began living for others, never feeling quite at home in the world. There was always some whisper of danger but no indication of the nature of the danger. She tried to become whatever she believed that others wanted, and that left her at great risk. She attempted to use her mental faculties to understand them and so she developed powers of discrimination and analysis. Of course, she became a psychologist so she could understand others and better protect herself, but the price she paid was the loss of some part of her essential nature.4

Top-notch student, helpful sister, co-operative daughter, good wife, nurturing mother, therapist, educator, and healer, only my audience shifted the performance remained the same-Protector-Helper. As I reflected that evening I realized that I only appeared to be protecting and helping the significant others in my life, what I was really doing was protecting the lonely, frightened child within me.

Now at forty-two my dreams were bringing me pictures that exposed my wounding and betrayals, dreams that revealed that a frightened child still lived within me. This child, in an effort at self-protection had erected a force field around herself but the dream was penetrating that field.

My personal self's myth of Helper, Healer, Nurturer, had forced me to value self-protection above all other states. Protection of myself and others had become my ritual existence, forcing me to live the shadow side of protection as well, and the shadow side of protection is destruction. I was betrayed into harming myself and others. Protection had built an energy field about me so powerful that only a great nightmare could penetrate it. As a psychotherapist I was well aware that life events could cause a crisis that precipitated a significant transformation--a devastating divorce, the loss of a career, and a death of a loved-one often led to growth and expansion of the psyche. Even a positive life experience could throw one out of balance and foster change but, I didn't realize that a dream, a nightmare, could have that same transformative power.
Alerted by the crisis in dreamtime that something in my psyche was unbalanced, this dream exposed wounding that had been storied from primitive times.

The Beloved
In the cool breeze of early morning trade winds, I'm tossing amidst the pillows and sheets. Beneath closed lids, I feel an uneasy presence in the room. Looking up I see the Intruder again at the door. Always stooped over, always painted in browns and blacks, face hidden in the crouching posture. My pulse quickens my breathing coming in gasps, as I reach toward the gun, moaning softly, "My God!" Sweating, shaking and shivering, I grasp it in damp fingers, fumbling for the safety. I'm reassured because I've been practicing with my husband. I've actually fired the damn thing. With a violent movement I turn toward the screen door and then I'm stopped. I don't want to harm him, merely to frighten him badly and banish him entirely. Is this another dream or is this mythic visitor from the dead actually here? Has he come to invite me to join that ancestral collectivity?

Looking about for a target, I think, "No not the window." That'll smash and make a mess I'll have to attend to. What about the carpet? Not that, it'll have to be replaced. The dresser! I don't want to destroy the dresser. There's nothing in the room that I'm willing to destroy through my violence.

My destiny had caught up with me, all the unanswered, unresolved questions of my life, now confronted me from my inner world. "Oh my God I am heartily sorry for all my sins..." As I continued my act of contrition, the gun dropped from my paralyzed hand...suddenly that cosmic stillness was broken by the strains of music.
Stars are streaming by in the blackest sky I have ever seen. They are rivers of stars and they disappear and reappear as though volumes of galaxies are being opened before me. Flick, the pages of stars flick over in an ancient text. This is "all that is!" The melody of the dream penetrates the space of it. There are strings plucking at my soul, the color of the ancient harp painting a nebula as it looms before me. I'm Home! I'm Home! This harp struck by a celestial guardian will ever guide me home. My sound, my space, this is my being! Another sensation is pervading the sound and the sight and space of all that I am. Gazing to my left is the most beauteous of faces gazing back at me, holding my hands the entire time. Our faces, our hands, our bodies are a symmetry. A double, a double me, fashioned in masculine form, no larger, no smaller than me. We are the same! My love, loving me. My being, being me. The same indescribable oneness, one with the sound and the light and the vision of me.

Weeping, weeping for the joy of it, tears spilling off my cheeks and onto the bedclothes beneath, ordinary light streaming in the windows, ordinary colors fading the light of...I've been dreaming! The sound of it is still playing me. This is the sound of home, and I'm weeping and desperately trying to clutch that fading strain. I'm losing it.

I encountered death that dream night in 80s, and some part of my consciousness never returned. Another aspect of my being was incarnated in the same physical body. The emergence of the Higher Self in the dream had flooded my being with love. I was straining with the tension of eternity and resisted returning to the absurd, lackluster passivity of my daily abandonment.

While I celebrated this dream for its deeply personal and emotionally potent force, I could not conceive how I could again connect. My double existed in mystery, while my mortal self appeared condemned to the mundane. However, that brief communion with the dream was urging me to partnership with my greater nature. I was feeling and listening for the images of that dream, yearning to catch that strain in contemporary music. Seeking that loving energy I followed more closely, a sweep of color or a cascade of emotions. My training in the depths of the psyche had not prepared me to understand the heights, and it was years before I could speak about this experience. I held it close to my breast, tried to penetrate its mystery and awaken to its presence.

The concluding dream, not only introduced the guide but it charted a direction. It pictured an exhilarating opportunity to develop the potential described in the dream, but that potential was both startling and terrifying. How could I give up protection? Because I was such a sensitive little being growing up, I had sought a way to protect myself without harming others. Being a nurturer seemed perfect. I could hide behind the armor of protecting others and I would be well protected myself. Of course, it didn't work. Childhood solutions and interpretations for survival seldom succeed. They are buried with old toys and outgrown clothes and we forget that we once chose this rusty armor.

Seeking to be protective, I was forced into strained situations and artificial relations. It certainly didn't work well in my clinical training. When I'd open my mouth, fellow students would make sounds like an ambulance arriving on the scene. "Here comes Victoria to protect the client." "Good therapist" was not going to fit the lineage of good girl, good student, good wife, and good mother. I finally had to pretend to give up the supportive role to get through the practicum course in counseling. The aggressor role was a very uncomfortable suit of clothing for me. I never saw the path that the dream intruder had illuminated in the final dream, the path between the way of the protector--and the course of the aggressor--the way of the harmless. Because the harmless have totally given up control, they are protected. Had I seen the middle path earlier, I would not have recognized it in any case.

Concurrently, I explored the dream images. I asked my secretary, a practicing Catholic, to write out the Act of Contrition for me. My daytime memory could not produce the entire form of it even though I had recited it prayerfully in my dream. The images of my early childhood training in the rights of "The Church," had been painfully repressed. But, I loved the ritual of that early experience and wanted more ritual in my life. Not knowing how I could move in the direction that the dream outlined, which seemed improbable for most and impossible for me, I began to direct my attention more to my protective hard-shell. My daily prayer became, "Above all else let me do no harm."

It was years before I identified the dream guide as an element of my Higher Self.

In Psychosynthesis, a form of psychotherapy that I had been studying, the personal self can be contacted by the Higher Self. Not looking for that kind of devoted guardianship, I had to be hit over the head to awaken to the guidance, care and loving direction from dream guidance. The dream process introduced me to a spiritual connection that illustrates how we in ordinary reality can be penetrated by the divine. The dream was the vehicle. Actually there are many vehicles and the communication goes both ways.

We can ascend to the greater nature or it can descend into our life and even our dreams Roberto Assagioli suggested many ways to approach the "Self" but he hadn't discussed that the Self would descend from the dream world.

Roberto described the Higher Self as a center of unconditional love and a distinct part of the personal self. The greater nature includes the qualities of intuition, inspiration, creativity, ethical impulses and heroism. As the personal self "quiets down" the Higher Self can emerge. It my case, the emergence required a nightmare. It appears that I seldom quieted down. It only required my surrender to emerge in conscious life but the dream guide had to cause a crisis, to interface with ordinary reality. The final dream became a vehicle for awareness of the superconscious state and an introduction to synthesis.

Assagioli calls this process identification. When we identify with the consciousness already within but resonating at a higher frequency, we are one with it. The resonance between self and Self causes the emergence of a new pattern, a template of greater consciousness, similar to the manner in which a laser of a certain frequency causes an image to emerge from a multiple image hologram. This dimension of being was revealed in my dream series because it was always part of my existence, but a part that I dismissed in my early days. But it remained, contained within my inner being as Assagioli suggested. The alignment with the Self can bring breakthroughs into personal life, mystic connections, and holistic experience. We can climb the ladder to the farthest reaches of human nature by journeying within.

My fascination with the world of sleep had led me to question the world of awakening. Which experience was more real? Certainly the phenomenal dreamscape was more real than my ordinary life. The mystery that seemed essential to this process was forcing me to grapple with daily life and struggle to find meaning in my total life experience. I discovered that my dreams were intricate and complex works of beauty, much like works of art and drama. They had meaning on many levels simultaneously. As I played in dreamtime, I recognized that my creativity expanded. I was stepping out of time.

Apparently, by being willing to enter the doorway to death in dream state, my focus was being shifted from protection in ordinary reality. Those who report near-death phenomenon state that experience of death alters consciousness.

Modern medicine rescues increasingly large numbers of individuals from the throes of death. Frequently they recall the experience as they are resuscitated. Intrigued by the near-death descriptions, several psychologists and physicians, most notably Raymond Moody and Kenneth Ring, published the results of these studies. Moody's popular books, Life after Life and Reflections of Life after Life, detailed the same phenomenon that had been described almost 100 years before in Richard Bucke's classic Cosmic Consciousness. The near death experience, described in length in both the 8th century Tibetan Book of the Dead and the 2500 year-old Egyptian Book of the Dead, is a universal experience, and one that is becoming increasingly widespread. Compelling evidence from nearly 8 million adult Americans who have experienced an NDE, confirms the ancient descriptions. The territory of the Otherworld is suffused with light more brilliant than any incarnated on earth, celestial music emanates from welcoming spirits, whose mellifluous tones harmonize with the prismatic light, and love reaches out to embrace everyone in serenity and peace.

The crises of life when we are threatened with great loss, especially the loss of life or the loss of loved ones bring us to the brink of the Otherworld. That world, which had once seemed so nebulous, suddenly becomes more vivid.

It now appeared that the Otherworld could descend on us in ordinary consciousness and transform us through transpersonal dreams or cosmic consciousness, or we could rise to meet it in near-death experiences and altered states. The traffic went both ways. These transformative dreams can often come after periods of crisis, cycles of confusion or extreme physical pain. Apparently, the shift from the habitual causes the personal self to relinquish its hold to some extent. Then the Higher Self can come knocking at the door.

The surrender to death in that twilight state of consciousness, the dream state had much the same effect. Survival was no longer the force of my awareness, the large part of consciousness that had protected my survival was released to experience other states of being. I had been initiated into a dream process as ancient as man, and I was carried beyond, into realms of consciousness that were familiar to early man. He storied these realms. He painted them on cave walls and animal skins. He preserved these descriptions for eternity. Many of these gifts from antiquity are still with us.

The death that I feared from the intruder had only brought me face-to-face with the transcendent, the symbolic; the sacred had become undeniable. Many Eastern religions believe that the world is illusory and only the spiritual planes exist, 5 I had been bred on materialism and nursed on objectivity. My paternal grandmother, fingering her rosary before the virgin shrine, lived in the illusion of the ethereal. Perhaps she was in resonance with infinity, while I was only on the playground with impersonal forces. There I had been found, trapped in the dogma of science and there I had been introduced to the numinous.

Eventually, I discovered that unique dreams like mine continue a dialogue across the centuries and over great distances. The tradition penetrated the depths of the ice flows and the deepest jungles of a primitive planet. It spoke from every major religious document and spiritual tradition and it permeated the myths of every major civilization.
Those who lived within this tradition befriended a powerful unconscious force and became partners with the transcendent, with the Higher Self. Those who denied the tradition felt themselves victims or martyrs, abandoned on the edge of the universe and controlled by forces they neither understood nor supported. Their story is told and retold through the centuries and conveys the alienation of the human separated from the sacred. Each of us journeys with the night-time Shaman to encounter archetypal themes, consciously or unconsciously. Should we leave the engagement out there in the twilight zone, or should we begin to live out these themes consciously, bring them to the surface and step out of time.

1. Peck, M. S. (1978). The road less traveled. New York: Simon & Shuster.

2. Phillips. A. (1981). Transformational psychotherapy. New York: Elsevier

3. Keen, S. & Valley-Fox, A. (1989) Your mythic journey. Los Angeles: Tarcher.

4. Kubler-Ross, E. (1980) Hawaii Seminar.

5. Anonymous. (1975) A course in miracles. Tiburon: Foundation for Inner Peace.

Victoria A. Gamber, Ph.D., is a transpersonal psychologist, Associate Professor of Psychology at Ottawa University. She maintained a private practice in Colorado and Hawaii where she was the Director of the Focusing Network of Hawaii, and former Director of the Transformational School of Hawaii. In addition to supervising degree candidates in psychology, serving as a consultant to the medical and business community, she facilitates of a variety of seminars and workshops on transpersonal psychology.

She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in counseling and pursued graduate work at the University of California (Berkeley) in philosophy, and at Duquesne University in phenomenological psychology.
Victoria Gamber [vgamber@cox.net]