So yesterday, I posted about the recollection of dreams, and how keeping a dream journal is a recommended move if boosting said dream-recall is something you’d like to achieve. I have to admit that I’m not currently being especially disciplined about keeping up an ongoing dream journal, myself…but no sooner had I cranked out a column on dream retention, than I had a pretty vivid dream that I did manage to remember upon awakening! Interesting to note that talking about dreams may indeed bolster one’s ability to subsequently keep some kind of a grasp on them. This one was fairly intriguing, too. It involved the Incredible Hulk…
You very likely know the Marvel Comics character of whom I speak? In addition to his appearances in about a million comic books, his warmly remembered ’70s TV show, and an even older cartoon, he’s also been the featured subject in several major motion pictures at this point, including a few solo turns and a slot as one of the mighty Avengers in last year’s mega-blockbuster film, which has earned more than $1 billion. That’s one billion dollars!!
This is the Incredible Hulk:
And my dream last night wasn’t just about the Hulk — in this dream, I was the Hulk! That is, I was me, but I was also the person who could turn into the raging green behemoth.
Maybe a quick Hulk history lesson will help here… In classic Marvel lore, a brilliant scientist named Dr. Robert Bruce Banner delves deeply into research involving gamma radiation. An accidental (and massive) overexposure to gamma rays has a startling effect on Banner: in the aftermath of the mishap, Banner finds that in times of significant anger (or sometimes pain, or other stress), he transforms physically into a huge, madly furious humanoid with green skin, hair, and eyes, and more pure muscle strength than anything that’s ever been spawned on Earth. Dubbed “The Incredible Hulk” by the media, Banner’s new alter-ego is bulletproof (and then some), he can leap miles in a single bound, he can create shockwaves strong enough to scatter automobiles simply by clapping his hands together really hard…the Hulk is a force of nature fueled by, defined by…rage. Later adventures got into the notion that Banner might have Multiple Personality Disorder, and different variants of Banner-Hulks appeared, such as a gray-skinned Hulk that was smarter but nastier than the original green incarnation (which original Hulk had boasted very little in the way of actual IQ points, aside from a certain survivalist cunning, and seemed very childlike in rare moments of downtime…after which moments, the Hulk would generally revert to the default Banner-form, who, like a werewolf awakening at dawn after a full Moon, would have close to zero recollection of all he’d gotten up to as the Hulk…or viewed another way, Banner remembered his Hulk activities the way many of us remember our dreams after we awaken: which is to say, poorly to not at all!).
So back to my dream… In last night’s feature, I was not actually Bruce Banner — I was still me. It’s just that in the universe of my dream, I was the person who could turn into the Hulk. This all made perfect sense in the context of that dream-world, as weird things often do in dreams, and I accepted it utterly. Also in the dream, I had a friend or ally of sorts, a martial artist type, who was about to go into some horrible combat-type situation with some third person as his only back-up. The martial artist was a skilled fighter in this dream, but still basically just your standard human, and his friend was even less capable than him, and easily as vulnerable to physical harm (as compared to the Incredible Hulk, I mean). So in the dream, I realized that it was kind of incumbent upon me to offer to help in my guise as the Jade Giant (Marvel’s longtime nickname for the Hulk, not mine…). The martial artist’s fight was not my own — that was something all parties in this dream knew — and I wasn’t strictly obligated to pitch in, but the guy was my friend or ally, and in the dream, I clearly felt that it would be wrong and cowardly of me to refuse to call forth my raging alter-ego to help the guy, simply because becoming the Hulk was a rather difficult experience.
I had this vivid moment of weighing the two choices — to Hulk out or not to Hulk out — and then realizing it wasn’t much of a choice, and I had to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences for me (it’s never easy to let loose our inner demons, and then have to call them back, re-cage them, deal with the fallout of whatever they might have accomplished during their intervals of rampage, etc.)…
I remember making the offer to help to my martial artist pal just as he was gearing up to exit the building we were in, and face his enemies outside. I remember him stating plainly that I didn’t have to do this, as he was well aware of the toll that becoming the Hulk could take on me. And I remember telling him that, hey, whatever, I’d deal with that later, but I couldn’t let him step outside with just a sword and a non-combatant homie to help him stand up to a frenzy of singing firearms — I would Hulk out, and we’d take care of his situation, and I’d worry about my own internal fallout later.
And then I began to transform… If you’ve ever seen any Hulk production, you’re probably aware that whenever skinny Bruce Banner transforms into the gargantuan Hulk, his clothing suffers monstrously for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time: it basically gets burst apart into shreds as Banner’s frame swells explosively outward in all directions to assume the vastly greater dimensions of the green mountain of muscle that he becomes. In my dream, I was for some reason trying to save my shoes and socks from this terminal treatment…but the transformation had already begun and moved along too far: my feet, my legs, my hands and arms, every one of my own body parts that was in my field of vision was beginning to grow and turn green, and my clothing was already too tight for me to remove it. It started to split apart as I watched, and while I didn’t actually feel any real anger, myself, which you’d think is about all the Hulk would feel, I could tell that my conscious grasp on the world and on my regular ego-self was fading…
And then I woke up from the dream.
So what did that all mean…??
I think the first thing that comes to mind is the part about anger: Banner/Hulk is all about rage (or…he was at the beginning of his saga, anyway, and that’s how I — the dreamer in question here — still think of him). So was this dream about my own anger? Do I have a lot of anger?
Tough question. Some, sure. I’ve been trying to deal with it better over the last few years, to acknowledge it, to recognize it, to sort out when it’s valid versus when it’s a holdover effect from the kinds of less mature processes we all cart around through life from childhood. But I don’t really feel that anger issues have been at the core of any of the major development I’ve either been doing, or have been unable to do, in recent times. So what, then…?
I actually think that the key to this dream was that choice I described: to lean toward selfish concerns (“Becoming the Hulk will be a huge inconvenience for me at best, and possibly traumatic and devastating at worst, so I won’t help my friend.”), or to lean toward more altruistic pathways (“I should help my friend, even though it might cost me significantly to do so.”). I had a very, very clear moment in the dream in which I deliberated, knowing I could technically claim that my friend’s fight was not my fight, and that I did stand to lose something if I pitched in anyway. But in the end, I chose the course of friendship, loyalty, allegiance, self-sacrifice…
I wrote an article a while back about the Norse God, Tyr, who knowingly sacrificed his right hand so that his kinfolk could stave off a certain disaster for untold ages to come… I have a tremendous amount of fondness and admiration for Tyr, and I kind of feel that the dream was a test for me of my own ability to not just talk the Tyr talk, but to see if I can actually walk the Tyr walk. Can I put my metaphoric money where my actual, literal mouth is, and sacrifice for the greater good when I’m asked by fate to do so…?
Another icon or symbol I like to invoke is that of the Hanged Man in the Tarot. If the Hanged Man calls to mind any of the Norse Deities, it’s actually probably the great God, Odin, leader of the Norse Pantheon, who has the most direct ties to the Hanged Man, but the card does also count among its primary meanings, the concept of sacrifice (this can be sacrifice made either directly toward the greater good, as Tyr’s sacrifice was, or indirectly, in that the sacrifice in question first yields some gain to the one making the sacrifice, and that gain can then be put into service toward forwarding the interests of the collective — Odin actually made several sacrifices of this latter nature). Anyway, the point is that I very much identify with virtually everything about the Hanged Man, including the idea that occasional sacrifice for the good of all is a noble thing…so I’m kind of happy that my dream-self made the Hulk-positive choice that he made!
Of course, dreams are open to many interpretations — what seems to me to revolve around this testing of a willingness to sacrifice, might to somebody else look like a clear-cut indicator that the dream is flagging anger issues…or it could mean something else entirely to yet another observer. If nothing else, even if we have to agree to disagree on what this particular dream might have meant, I believe it’s pretty instructive to note that immediately after I wrote about dreams and how better to retain them, I then had a very vivid dream that provoked a lot of thought for me. So today’s message reinforces some of yesterday’s: working with our dreams in the waking world — recording them, discussing them, actively pondering them — can lead to more vivid and meaningful dreams that we recall more clearly and more fully. Maybe give some of this kind of dream-work a try, and see if you start to enhance your own dream experiences!