STELLA! STELLA!! For most of us, the repeated scream of STELLA! brings to mind Marlon Brando’s iconic portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in the marvelous film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. For me, Stella was my first guitar with whom I parted over 50 years ago. Yet, a few nights ago, my Stella appeared in one of my dreams.
Dreams are an often-overlooked element in today’s psychotherapy. Yet, an analysis of our dreams can often provide us a window into looking at otherwise unknown sources of anxiety and discomfort that reside in our unconscious mind. So, what was my dream about Stella trying to tell me?
By way of background, my love of music began in February 1964. My father and one of his close friends decided to take up the guitar, and they arranged for joint lessons. They both went out and purchased identical Stella guitars. I remember thinking that their guitars were the most beautiful instruments I had ever seen. A deep red base with black trim. Magnificent. Regardless, my father’s foray into guitar playing was short-lived, and I seized the opportunity to get that guitar into my hands. I began guitar lessons at 8 or 9 years old and have played ever since.
I discarded the Stella guitar decades ago. If you were to see my guitar collection today, you would see names like Taylor (I have 5 of them!), Martin, Ibanez, Peerless, and Gibson. These are considered to be real “players” guitars and are quite expensive. Given that the Stella was long gone, and I had so many truly fine guitars, why did Stella infiltrate my dream?
Instinct leads me toward a deep understanding of my Stella’s significance. As the years pass, I am becoming increasingly aware of my age. Now in my mid-sixties (interestingly, Stella was purchased the mid-1960’s), I can’t help but be mindful that there is less time in front of me than there is behind me. I have an increasing palpable awareness that my life will not go on forever, and someday I will die. Coming to terms with one’s mortality is one of life’s most significant challenges and one of the most often presented concerns in psychotherapy.
Given our personal and societal discomfort with death, many of us try to deny the reality of mortality, repressing those fears and anxieties. Just because we can suppress our concerns about aging from our conscious mind, the genuineness of the inevitable still lurks within the dark recesses of our unconscious. When we least expect it will make its presence known, often via our dreams.
Fortunately, being aware of one’s mortality is not all bad. Indeed, it can be incredibly life-affirming. The psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom, M.D., prods us to understand that while the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us. With one powerful sentence, Yalom sums up the essence of the healthy management of death anxiety. Suppose we allow ourselves to acknowledge and be aware of death’s inevitability. In that case, we are then much better able to live well with the time we have in front of us—no more denying that time is limited. Instead, recognizing that time is not infinite for any of us may propel us to move forward and live a life of few regrets. I certainly try to live this way. It is not often easy (as my dreams indicate), but the older I become, the more focused I am on living a life I can be proud of.
Don’t be shy about bringing up your dreams to your therapist. As bizarre as some of them may seem, they are often attempts by our unconscious mind to communicate with us. Try to understand what your dreams are suggesting. Dreams are often illuminating and astute.
Though the physicality of death may destroy us, the idea of death may save us. Indeed, words to LIVE by!