My Childhood Dream is My SUPERPOWER
These are my Life-Myth Superpowers… what are yours?
by Matt Stella
I am laying curled up on the back porch. Brown painted floor and railing. Crying.
About five years old. A little boy alone, upset, in the fetal position. The porch is
raised up from the yard like a stage, yet I must be outside of the house trying to hide
and be alone. The little backyard is nicely manicured: flowerbeds with a nice stone
border, and a perfectly green lawn that extends to the back fence. Closer to the
fence it’s darker in the shade of a big maple tree. The grass there is not as lush,
with some bare spots and patches of dirt. The back fence is a wooden wall about 6
feet high, like a stockade you would see in old forts.
Then, just like every time, an old woman in a dingy white dress comes out of the
back door of the house across the fence. She steps out onto her back porch, which
is raised from her yard at the same level of my porch, so she can see across the
fence to where I am. Her house is white but in disrepair, with peeling paint,
unkempt. Her yard has no grass. It’s wild and untended, the dirt packed down from
a sad, mean dog that’s chained to a stake in the middle of the lot, pacing and digging
wherever it can reach.
Crying harder now, I feel her looking over the border fence at me. It’s uncomfortable
to feel that she is watching me. And suddenly it’s unbearable and terrifying. The old
woman in the white dress is not fully human. Even though I’m trying not to look at
her, I realize she has the terrible head of a chicken, with her haunting, piercing,
yellow chicken eyes locked straight on me, no eyelids, a relentless steady gaze. The
longer she stares, the more unbearable it feels. My sobbing and panic heightens by
the second. I know that if she keeps looking I will die.
Carl Jung and the Life Myth
I always wake up just before dying. This is the dream I had in the night, many nights
in a row, in different phases of childhood, starting about 5 or 6 years old. Over time I
‘outgrew it’, and I did not think much of it. Then in my 30’s when first studying
Processwork, I was asked to remember the first dream, nightmare, or recurring
dream of childhood — what Carl Jung would call the Life Myth Dream.
My Processwork therapist,was brilliant and wise. She helped me approach this
nightmare with curiosity, then compassion, then awe. I could see that for much of
my childhood, teens and early adulthood, my inner life was most like the child in that
dream. Everything looked quite fine on the outside, like the house, nice, privileged,
put-together… but in the back, behind the scenes, I was depressed, afraid, insecure,
small and hurting.
Over the Edge – the Chicken Head Lady
But what about CHL – the Chicken Head Lady? She was definitely not me. I was
definitely not her. The edge between my world and hers was a tall stockade barrier.
And the awareness in the dream, the looking, was coming from the wild, scary land
across the edge. Not from me. In the dream, as in my life, I was most aware of
trying to look manicured like the lawn and flowers, but secretly feeling hurt, weak or
If you are familiar with Processwork, you may be anticipating the good part… How
am I the Chicken Head Lady!? It was a deeply healing and empowering process
to shapeshift into her — to practice standing straight up, with the relaxed but fierce
awakeness of pre-human eyes staring straight across the edge to the source of the
suffering. From her perspective, she was not trying to harm or kill the boy. She was
just witnessing, unflinchingly. Over many years, my healing and growth have been a
practice of living that dream. It starts with noticing that in the ‘back porch’ hidden
areas of my mind, I am feeling hurt and alone, desperate not to be seen. Any
attempt to look at it feels terrifying like it might be the end of the world. But then to
adjust my gaze, open eyes fierce and wide, and look dispassionately straight at it,
opens me to an ancient power with no fear. The ‘boy’ starts to disappear. He is
‘killed’ in the sense that the longer I look, the closer it is to being gone. Even if I only
remember to do this inner work once in a while, it’s a great relief and a return to
Central Polarity – Opposite Allies To Help My Clients
It has been 20 years since I was taught to view the unique, mythic themes of my life
through the lens of this dream. As a therapist and Processworker, there is no skill
or metaskill I am more grateful for than this Life Myth Dream to guide me. When I
have a client exposing a hidden hurt, and the shame of it being seen, I can access
true compassion. The ‘boy’ is my ally, reminding me what it’s like to feel that
desperate panic, suffering and shame. And the Chicken Head Lady is my ally,
showing me the impersonal paradox of detachment, awareness, and fierce
connection. When I remember to look through her eyes, I can see straight through a
person to the seed of their suffering, and not turn away.
Over the years I’ve done more and more work with survivors of trauma and
childhood sexual abuse. Even with a facilitator-superpower like CHL it was very
difficult at first to look straight at the heart of stories of violation and damage to
children. But the more I could believe in both sides of the edge of my dream, and
slowly integrate the polarity as a whole, the more able I have been to work with
greater and greater suffering. Thank you Chicken Head Lady! Thank you scared
little boy! Thank you cultivated land, wild land and the big edge between!
by Matt Stella, LICSW, Dipl.PW
Matt is a therapist in Boston, USA. His work with depression, anxiety, addictive behaviors
and relationship challenges has focused on the dynamics of shame, inner authority, and
transformation. He leads men’s groups and specializes in men’s issues, including the effects
of sexual abuse and trauma on men.
Lynne Baker is a dream therapist and psychologist available for appointments at Essentially Aromatherapy Wednesdays. Book Now