James Dean’s Mother

I found a bio of James Dean at a garage sale for a quarter. When I travel I like to take incidental-looking little paperbacks, old or thin or otherwise disposable-looking; then I can discard them when I’m done, or, if they turn out to be good, give them away to friends I’m visiting. I took this one to Europe along with several others, and read it at night in my little room up under the eaves, after doing sessions and groups all day, at the KristalBoom in Holland. I found it unexpectedly engrossing…working as I was with people’s unconsciouses. (If there wasn’t such a word before, there is now.) What, I had wondered, would there be to fill a whole book with, on the life of someone who died when he was twenty-three?

Plenty, it turns out, if the writer knew the subject well and took care to describe, blow by blow as it were, every love/sex affair he ever had, every turn on his motorcycle, every TV show he did; and so on.

In the two years before he died J.D. saw psychiatrists because he had recurring, powerful dreams about his mother. This beloved, humble, plump, richly pretty, doting young woman died at twenty-nine of uterine cancer. There was a photo of her in the middle of the book, where all those satisfying photos usually are in biographies; and I was moved by her dark, zaftig loveliness. Her son of course never recovered from losing her. How could he? I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be a little boy – vulnerable while being told to be strong – and lose the very yolk of my sustenance. Ghastly. Horrible.

The shrinks were so busy protecting their shrinkly personas and collecting money and, too, protecting their own vulnerable emotional beings (since they were male and thus soft-wired to be positively abysmal in the original sense of the word – abyss-like – in their receptive second, emotional chakras) that they did not trouble to actually do him any good. And, of course, they didn’t know how – since the Great God Freud didn’t know how. So Jimmy went on dreaming, and was afraid to go to sleep, and when he did he dreamed some more.

Where is my mother? Where is the Goddess? Why did she leave me? Where is my own receptive abyss and what must I receive in it? Who is Woman? What am I? Who loves me? What is love? What is it to be a Man: in its male aspects, in its female aspects? Why did she leave me? Where did she go? Why me? Was it something I did or didn’t do? Am I born bad? Will I ever know? Is life worth living without being able to address these questions experientially, not intellectually?

J.D. was all about experiencing. He said so, he did so, he went fast and sexed often and drank deep and acted, I am told (I never saw a film of his) with astonishing brilliance. But those shrinks missed the mark completely and made no use of his gifts in trying to help him to plumb himself.

Here’s what I would have done:

First we would have sat in silence for some minutes, letting energy settle, tasting quiet, breathing. Letting things settle down. During these silent minutes I would have tuned into myself; noticed where I was at this moment…and enjoyed it, whatever it was. Then I would be ready for him.

We would open our eyes and I would invite him to speak, to tell me about the dreams, to tell me anything he wanted about his life and his quest and his angst. And I would just listen; just receive. Asking now and then a question to invite something more out into the open.

I would give him painting supplies and good thick paper and invite him to paint a dream he had had. I would leave him alone to do this.

Then I would ask him to explain the painting to me.

When he had shared about it, pointing out this and that bit, it would be time for the next step. I would guide him through becoming each character, symbol, part of the dream in turn. He would step out of James and into…the house in the dream. Become the house. Or if there was a horse, be the horse. If there was a mother…become the mother. And let go – experience – let the energy pour through the whole body, let it live, cry, shout, stomp, dance, shake – whatever was in it to be. The whole room is used for this; painting kept aside to be looked at between characters.

And I would ask questions of the house, the horse, the mother. “How long have you been with Jimmy? How does he treat you? How would you like him to treat you? How do you see the way he lives his life? Is there something you’d like to say to him?” and after each question, giving time and space for that part to respond. I would feel out each character, to go with the enquiry like a man walking in sock feet down a corridor in the dark – feeling the next step, knowing with my whole body the next inch to move forward; sensing my client and his veiled areas of the unconscious.

And Jimmy Dean would have the chance to take his daredevil aliveness into his own interior in a very lit-up, nonchaotic way – step by step, in a safe environment for feeling. His mother would have had the chance to come back to him and love him. He would have been able to tell her he wanted to go with her. He would have been able to know too that another part of him was dedicated to being here and living. That it was not necessary to leave her to do this – he can reclaim her too.

He would have unburdened, opened doors and windows, seen spaciousness. He was young, he had energy to bring to this. He wanted it badly!

Once on a photo shoot for Life Magazine he went into a furniture store and opened a coffin and got in. The photographer was not amused. But doesn’t it seem entirely normal that a child would want to go with his mother?

That world and this are not so far apart – though they seem separated by a gulf an eternity wide. That eternity is made of nothing…so visits are eminently possible. Jimmy could have jumped the divide and found his mother, both within and without his own body. I could have helped him. But I was two years old then, and had problems of my own. I had no degree, and my credibility was already being challenged by my know-everything-better big brothers! But I was already having dreams – mostly in my case about trains – and had many years to live before I knew myself how to parse them.

It’s not that I’m specially invested in Jimmy Dean, whom I never met; or even in young rebels in particular. It’s that dreams are a colorful rich lode of well-knit-up sweaters to be unpicked (to mix metaphors here); not with difficulty or gnarled brow, but with one simple tool – an objective leap into being utterly subjective. Thus the experience rolls, in the state of grace of clear intention; and unravels itself as it goes. – Leaving space for life.

I like the color, I like the tool, I like the deftness of employ which takes dark mystery and delivers out of it coherence, clarity, and visceral understanding.

But he had to crash his Porsche instead, back there in the 50’s, when women wore girdles and Wonderbread was considered delicious and sufficient, and sex was considered horribly unspeakable even though people did lots of it and especially, it seems, in Hollywood; and a rebel could find plenty to be against but not much to be for; and Rock ‘n’ Roll, with whatever temporary wild freedoms it might elicit, was only just about to be born. Could it be that, then, nobody had discovered such simple tools as I describe?