A ghost with a beard was standing in the room. I took a swipe at him. That is all I recall of the dream. Everything was hazy and the dream was very short anyway.
He wanted to dismiss the dream as of no consequence, but we still had 15 minutes of the session left, and with nothing else pressing to deal with, we embarked upon its analysis.
"Why the ghost has a beard?"
"The beard actually belongs to Rob. He is my boss at the bookstore. In fact, he is second in command there."
"And why his beard comes in to the picture? What comes to your mind regarding Rob?"
"Rob is nice to us [by the plural, he was referring to his brother Michael, who works with him at the same store]. You know how much problems I have had with whoever has been in charge at that bookstore, since the old boss retired.
" But for a change in Rob we finally have somebody who is protective of us."
"Why then would you take a swipe at him?"
"Not at him! I took a swipe at the ghost."
"Well if the ghost had Rob's beard then he had something in common with Rob. So at least some aspect of Rob was being attacked, even if the ghost represented more persons (and/or concepts) than Rob."
This led to his recalling that within a day or two prior to the dream he had seen the movie Avenger. There was plenty of swiping there. Aliens and strange metallic characters, which made him think of ghosts, fought and took swipes at each other in it.
He added "I believe in ghosts and spirits. When I had my nervous breakdown, I thought my house was full of them. I could hear the campus security guards, dressed in black, talking about me outside my window, while inside the house the spirits were sitting in my attic with a voice recorder. They could see, hear and record my thoughts.
"So yes, the dream is a direct response to seeing the movie. There was so much violence in it, with dust and debris flying all over [the haziness of the dream?]. My brother and I love action films, especially the ones which have Marvel Comic heroes - Superman, Batman, Spiderman."
Now the two brothers are the poster children of meekness and timidity. Christians to the bone, they will not dream of taking a swipe at anybody or more correctly only in the dreams they will dare to do so. And yes they will do it in waking life too, but only in proxy; through watching the actions of the ultimate good guys - the Marvel Comic superheroes.
For when they were boys - they are just a year apart - they were relentlessly teased, bullied and beaten by their schoolmates. Every attempt on their part to resist was dealt with even more bullying. Why they became the target of bullying was partly due to their frail frames, but also because of emotional problems in the parents, and disturbed family dynamics, which had greatly exaggerated their sense of guilt, their need for punishment and their fear of everything unfamiliar, traits which were genetically strong in them to begin with. And the bullies picking upon these traits found them easy prey. They had adjusted to these adverse circumstances by turning into pious Christians. It was not difficult for them to do so because their parents were devout Catholics. The buck of the vengeance was then easy for them to pass on to the Lord [and the action heroes], and all the energies were henceforth diverted to becoming extraordinarily considerate towards their ill wishers [and then to everybody], always ready to turn the other cheek when slapped.
"Are you taking a swipe at Rob because it is safe to do so? With others in that bookstore you are always on the run, fearing for your life at any prospect of confrontation, and naturally the co-workers take advantage of your timidity, knowing that more they will push you around, the more you will bend over backwards to accommodate them, and as icing on the cake hold no grudges. But while you think that you forgive and forget their transgressions, the revenge feelings continue to exist in your subterranean mind, and finally seek discharge when you fall asleep, in your dreams. But the fear of retaliation comes to haunt you there too, and though you are a little bolder in dreams, and do strike back, the fear forces you to swipe only at those with whom it is safe to do so - like Rob."
"That is very interesting and perhaps true."
Then the patient proceeded on his own accord. "A day or two before the dream there was an interaction in the bookstore between Rob and a businessman which may explain why I took a swipe at him. You know our bookstore is for college students. And currently the trend is for renting the books instead of selling them. But there is a big penalty if the books are not returned on time, even by a day or two. Now this guy cones in and on learning he was slightly late and will have to pay a hefty fine for it, got real nasty. It looked like he was going to take a swipe at Rob. But Rob was as patient and as unruffled as his trimmed beard, and without giving an inch, listened to the man's boast as to how he is owner of two businesses and how he will get Rob in to trouble. I was impressed by Rob who did not react or retaliate. He behaved just the opposite of Tracy, who is a new girl at the store, very kind and nice to everybody, and who broke in to tears and ran to the back room when somebody called her names on the phone, so sensitive she is to anybody being nasty to her."
After listening to some other related thought chains, I intervened, and asked him if there were any other associations to the ghost independent of the beard.
Hesitatingly he volunteered that the ghost was a Filipino.
"A Filipino? Why in the world a Filipino's ghost will come to haunt you?"
The patient replied that he is really in to ghosts and spirits. And tried to convince me that ghosts exist for real, and that there was a Montel Williams show which conclusively proved the existence of a parallel spirit world from which spirits crossover to this side every now and then.
But when it came to psychoanalyzing why a Filipino's ghost was making his way into this side and specially in to his dream, he was as puzzled as me. Then the session's theme shifted to ghosts and spirits in general, and I learnt that the patient had started hearing voices not with his first nervous breakdown, 6 months after his father's death, but even before while his father was alive but dying.
His father had died of liver failure. Patient stated that it was caused by his TB test - which really measures any exposure to TB, not actual infection - coming positive which led to the overzealous public heath officials putting him on a highly toxic TB drug. The drug was subsequently withdrawn from the market because of its liver damaging property. Patient bitterly stated that his father did not have TB, and they just pushed him in to that unnecessary treatment to abuse their power.
"Did you sue them for causing his liver failure and death?"
"No. We are Christians, and we don't believe in suing. Also it would have been hard to prove. He was in WWII and stationed in Philippines and perhaps got his liver problems from there. They use so much agent orange and other chemicals during wars. Maybe it was not the TB drug but the chemicals he was exposed to in the Philippines."
"So along with those public health doctors you may be holding a grudge against Philippines for giving him the fatal liver disease and by association with Filipinos?"
"I don't know about that but when my father was very sick and dying I was in throes of some weird emotions which ended with my hearing voices."
"What were you hearing?"
"They were more orders than anything. Ordering me to do pushups etc."
"Yes, they would not let me alone, demanding I exercise all the time. Some days they would not let up till I did 250 to 300 pushups."
A number of associations at this point, which will be too tedious to describe here, led to the following conclusion. The motive behind the command to do the pushups was for him to become so strong that if he took revenge upon the TB doctors and the World War II Filipinos, both of whom he held responsible for his father's death, and as a consequence they came after him, he will be able to protect himself.
But there was an additional motive for him to become highly muscular. It was to protect himself from his father as well, who was now terminally ill and helpless and hence at his mercy. In his unconscious he harbored extensive death wishes towards his father. He was not a kind father. He was distant, looked down upon them, and had failed protect them from the bullies. And to make matters worse, he was a barber, who when his business took a nosedive in the Sixties with everybody growing their hair long, had punished his sons severely when they tried to do the same and had given them the most short hair cuts imaginable, worsening their fate in hands of the bullies. In his unconscious his father was just another bully. It is interesting that once they reached adulthood they started sporting Beatles' style hair cut, and to this day they do so even though with extreme thinning, it borders on the bizarre.
Was the ghost then his father's? But if so why did he come in to his dream on that particular night or more accurately why he entered in to patients thoughts that night - for dreams are nothing but our regular thoughts just clothed in the language of sleep/dream.
And then patient was not even sure if the ghost was a return of his father. Why would somebody as standard American as his father, return back from the spirit wold as a Filipino?
With no associations forthcoming, the session drifted to other topics. And the patient talked about how once as a teenager he had idolized Rocky Balboa and had learnt to do pushups in an attempt to become like him. He had even memorized the movie's theme song, and when playing baseball would sing it to himself hoping it will enable him to hit home runs. But the breaking of his spirit by the bullies easily overrode the courage-boosting properties of the song and he remained a dud as a hitter.
And that reminded him of his brother playing baseball with two other kids, Jerry and Joe, both of whom went on to become doctors. "My brother was as good as them in studies, but I guess my brother became too afraid to do anything as high class as a doctor"
"I guess my brother and I are not meant to rise above our humble station." Behind this bitter complaint of course was lamentation that if only they had had more support from their father and if they had not been bullied, his brother would have become a doctor.
"Though I guess in a way it was good. For Jerry got killed the other day in Afghanistan. He was such a nice man. Just like Michael. I don't understand why they would kill him. He was running a children's hospital there.
"And now I know why the ghost was Filipino. It was Jerry's ghost. Jerry is Filipino-American. And the dream occurred I think on the night when I first learnt of his fate on the news."
While the patient was not aware of any of it, it was my analytic deduction that Jerry's ghost came to haunt him as a revenge for taking satisfaction at his death out of loyalty to his brother. This satisfaction took place completely out of his consciousness, and of course it does not mean that he did not feel sorrow for Jerry's death. But there was also there anger and jealousy of those who he knew were equal of him and his brother, but had succeeded in life more than them.
The psychological processes were similar to what happened when his father was terminally ill. At an unconscious level there was some satisfaction that finally my father will be dead and I will be free to do as I please. But there was also sorrow at the thought of losing him. And it was the guilt over the satisfaction that was making him do 250 to 300 pushups. The guilt was also peopling his house and his yard with malevolent spirits and security guards respectively who could keep an eye on him and prevent him from hastening his father's death. The pushups were punishment, but also the means to make him strong so he would be able to fight the doctors and the Filipinos who were responsible for causing his father's liver disease. Taking the swipe at the ghost was similar to doing pushups - defending oneself from the punishment which he anticipated from those whose death (in father's case his impending death) had given him satisfaction.
It may not be out of the way to make a few comments upon why people see ghosts or believe in ghosts as our patient did. In his case he had lot of reasons to hope that after we die we continue to live as ghosts. His childhood had been marked by abuse and bullying. If we continue to exist beyond our death then the possibility of getting even with the bullies also existed. If you have an ax to grind, if you feel that the fate has not dealt you the right cards, and people have harmed you and escaped getting punishment for it, then there is powerful motive to believe in the world of spirits, in hell and heaven, divine justice and for those hailing from the East in reincarnation.
Ghosts ultimately are nothing but resurrection of demons from our past. Conjuring up the dream images/illusions/hallucinations of those with whom we still have unfinished business but who have passed away. We can still deal with them but only by conjuring up their spirits.
It is interesting that in Hindi the word for ghost and past is exactly the same: "bhoot".