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Bruce Cockburn: How The End Of A Relationship Led To Dream Work

Bruce: It goes back to the early 90s. I fell in love with someone who was married. I was with a partner at the time. It was very inconvenient but deeply passionate. And shockingly so in a way. I was approaching 50 and somewhere around that point in your life the stuff you haven't dealt with tends to surface and there's a sense of a need to settle accounts with yourself, with your past.
NEW YORK - MAY 03: Musician Bruce Cockburn attends the Clearwater Benefit Concert Celebrating Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
Neilson Barnard via Getty Images
NEW YORK - MAY 03: Musician Bruce Cockburn attends the Clearwater Benefit Concert Celebrating Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Bruce wanted to include "Leaving My Father's House : A Journey to Conscious Femininity" by Marion Woodman in our conversation. Just for some background, Marion Woodman is a Jungian analyst and her book reflects on the process required to bring "feminine wisdom to consciousness in a patriarchal culture" as told through the personal journeys of three women.

Howard: This book had a great impact on you. How did you come to find it?

Bruce: It goes back to the early 90s. I fell in love with someone who was married. I was with a partner at the time. It was very inconvenient but deeply passionate. And shockingly so in a way. I was approaching 50 and somewhere around that point in your life the stuff you haven't dealt with tends to surface and there's a sense of a need to settle accounts with yourself, with your past.

We had reciprocal feelings, although she not as deeply as I, and in the end we decided we wanted to stay with the people we were with so we parted company. But I found this whole process very de-stabilizing. It caused a major shakeup in many of my assumptions.

I never saw myself as a guy that would be involved in this type of thing. I had certainly been in love with and loved by a few different women over the years but always thought of myself as monogamous. This went beyond all of that in terms of the need that I felt for this person.

I felt that she was the missing twin with the other half of the ring.

She recognized that I was projecting all the stuff that I wanted to be true about myself onto her. She suggested I take a look at "Leaving My Father's House."

Howard: You mentioned she recognized you were projecting onto her what you wanted to be true about yourself. Did this start you on a path of working through those things?

Bruce: Well made everything a question. I thought I was who I was and clearly there was so much going on under the surface that I hadn't taken account of. It was the beginning of a long process that is still going on. I coincidentally started having dreams that reflected some of this stuff -- I mean they were nightmares. The archetypes that appeared in my dreams appeared in a kind of demonic form because I wasn't ready for their guidance or for them to be present in my life -- so I was running from them all the time.

Later in the 90s, I started working with a Jungian-based therapist named Marc Bregman, using the language of archetypes to help me understand what was going on. It profoundly shaped the last couple of decades.

Howard: Did you dream vividly prior to working with your therapist and recognize these archetypes before this situation? Or was this the trigger point for that?

Bruce: A little of both. I have always been interested in the various attempts by humans to interface with the Divine. Shamanism for instance relies a lot on dreams. I never had shamanic dreams that I was aware of except for one or two where the symbolism was really blatant.

I remember vaguely a dream from sometime in the 70s. I was in one of my early childhood homes as an adult and there was an enormous crimson bull and a golden lion. The bull gored me and the lion ate me. You wake up from a dream like that and think,

"Ok, well if I never read anything about comparative religion or Shamanism or anything like that I wouldn't know what to make of this but it was clearly symbolic of something."

I just didn't know what.

I have had other kinds of disturbing dreams -- all sorts. I've had dreams where I was killing people. As a kid I had dreams about monsters and dinosaurs all the time, scary things. After reading Marion Woodman I started having a context to put them in.

I had another dream where I was in a rickety old house that was invaded by demons from the basement and I was hiding in the attic walls. It's almost textbook -- out of that line of psychological thinking where the house is you and your personality and all this suppressed stuff is coming up from the basement. I started to understand the dreams but it wasn't until I began doing the actual dream work and consciously pursuing that with a guide that it really fell into place.

The dream that prompted me to go into the dream work was one I had in which I was kidnapped by this gang and sequestered in an apartment. They weren't threatening me but I was a prisoner and at one point the ringleader came into the room and said:

"I'd advise you not to drink so much."

And I woke up thinking -- that is so weird -- here's this guy telling me not to drink so much and he's right, I shouldn't drink so much. Am I being told by my subconscious I'm going to hurt myself? I guess that's the obvious conclusion but ...that guy was obviously an animus figure and it was typical of all of the dreams I had in the beginning of this process.

Anytime the animus appeared he was scary. The anima, not so.

I mean the anima was getting more loving and encouraging and occasionally outright sexy but the animus was always scary.

Howard: Looking back now on when you met this woman in the early 90's, have you been able to better understand what was driving you to behave in a manner far different than who you believed yourself to be?

Bruce: It was a multi-layered thing. On the one hand she was very attractive and nice so there was an immediate affection that developed and an attraction that was of the normal kind. But when I found out it was sort of reciprocated-we were in a situation where we had time to spend together-it just sort of snowballed. Her relationship was a bit on the rocks and she was looking for something -- really I have no idea what it was that she needed or thought she might find with me, but there was that side of it.

Howard: So almost like a mutual need?

Bruce: Yes and I didn't understand how to deal with the intensity of the feelings. I know I was now ready to experience this stuff. Though there was love in our household growing up, it was a culture where feelings were never mentioned and so I didn't have any model for expressing love. I was learning by trial and error through the various partners I had.

But I guess when I met her I was just ready to be kicked open.

Howard: I think what you just discussed are actually feelings that many people have. The way you are raised, the ways parents encourage (or don't) expression. In many cases, where the home doesn't provide a foundation to express, the feelings become muted and secondary. And then transitioning into adulthood, there is the struggle of how to experience and share them. I think it is quite common. That's interesting.

Bruce: I think it is very interesting. Certainly for us Anglo-Saxons anyway...and you grow up as a male trying to be socialized with whatever values are attached to the cultural concept of masculinity.

In my case it resulted in an inability to express myself and I was mostly unaware of my own feelings. I was carrying all kinds of baggage that I had no idea was there because if it's constantly devalued, if you're constantly prevented from acknowledging or expressing it, then after a while you just go numb and there's all that stuff happening underneath the floor down in that basement that you have no idea about.

Howard: Was the art of writing and making music a way for you to express your feelings in a different way -- to be more involved with them?

Bruce: Yes but I don't think I was very conscious of that. Obviously you could express anger for one thing. But also just love and a sense of beauty -- which is a kind of one-step-removed manifestation of some of the feelings we carry around.

Howard: How have you been able to apply what you've learned in raising your own kids?

Bruce: When my first daughter was young, the understanding I had of things was simplistic. What I knew was I didn't want to inflict the kind of rule-based worldview that I had been given on her. Her spirit should be allowed to be free. I didn't really understand how much or what that meant because I didn't really understand how much mine wasn't free.

But this was a very common sentiment at the time in the 70s. We didn't want to bring our kids up with all the crap our parents had handed us so we tried to avoid that by imposing fewer rules. I think even if you don't believe in them it's a good idea to impose some rules that you are willing to have broken.

I hope to be able to apply all of these principles with my new baby and I think to a greater extent I have a much larger ability to express love than I had in the 70s.

Howard: Based on what you have been able to bring into your life in terms of a focus on learning and evolving, and all the dream work, are you able to take things as they come or are you always trying to put them into a package or a construct to gain an understanding?

Bruce: That's an interesting question because I'm not sure that those are opposites. By nature I have a tendency to want to understand and file things away but my experience has told me that something one does with a degree of nonchalance reappears later on and needs to be reexamined. And often the things you think you understand you find out you don't at all.

I think I see somebody being a certain way and once I get past whatever emotional reaction that produces, I start thinking about what might be prompting them to be doing the things they are doing and I come up with an answer. But it's good not to be attached too closely to that answer.

Howard: Yeah I love what you just said. The fact that you still have to react as a human being to what you are witnessing emotionally and then take it to the next level and try to figure out what it all means. That is interesting because judgment is sometimes such an easy trap to fall into.

Bruce: It's not something I imposed on myself - it's something that just grew out of a deepening understanding of my own processes and the degree to which those processes are similar to other peoples. I have become more tolerant of a lot of stuff I suppose, but I still get mad about things and offended and hurt by certain kinds of behaviour.

Howard: It's a discipline not to live your life making assumptions. I fall down all the time. I walk away and say "Why did I just do that? I shouldn't have been that reactionary."

Bruce: It's kind of Jungian-based and quite Shamanistic -- I mean not in a new age sense at all but it's all about God and not everyone wants to go there.

Howard: God in what way?

Bruce: I don't mean in the religious sense but the God that we're meant to have a relationship with who is much more of a father figure than I was willing to allow for.

Howard: Can you tell me more about that?

Bruce: When I first started doing the dream work I said "No, don't give me that crap about God as a father -- I'm not interested." The first time I went to my therapist he heard what I had to say about what's going on in my life and he said: "Well, it sounds like you have father issues," and I said, "Come on -- is that the best you can do? Father issues? Everyone has father issues. That's not it!"

But it was.

I mean in the deepest sense because there's God the father -- I mean my father's a good guy but he laid some stuff on me I didn't need and as a result I have trouble relating to God as a father figure but when you go through the dreams it is.

It's not a goddess. It's a guy.

Maybe for women it's not, I don't know. I can't speak to that because I don't know how this works but I am told for women it is different. But anyway, it's all based on our own electrochemical processes. With respect to the Divine, I think there is a cosmic presence that can only reach us through the electrochemical workings of our brain.

Howard: I can't remember most of my dreams. I know they are there but I keep thinking there's something blocking them. They don't happen in any meaningful way that allows me to be circumspect around them and I can't figure it out.

And that frustrates me because they are supposed to be the windows to our souls!

Bruce: We each have our own issues with that stuff. I only remembered the most horrendous nightmares of all the dreams I had for a while. I've been doing dream work for a long time now, since the latter part of the 90's and I go through periods of months sometimes where I have very few dreams that tell me anything. But other times, and especially when I first got into it, I was shocked how fast it started to work.

I think it really makes a difference to have a guide with this because I'm not sure you can just start interpreting your dreams. I mean, maybe you can - I couldn't because I had no basis for assessing anything that had happened.

Howard: I am fascinated by the dream work. I am sure it involves all kinds of analysis. What type of work is involved?

Bruce: My dream work involves a lot of homework which consists of taking a theme from the dream and its attendant feelings and just going there for ten seconds three or four times an hour each week until the next session.

And the dreams change. And it's this process that changes the dreams. It invites more.

I mean I have had dry spells and stumbling blocks but eventually it all clears and flows again. It was an amazing discovery in the beginning to encounter that!

Howard: Thank you for the introduction to Marion's book. I learned a lot. And you have given me lot to think about. I had not been exposed to the ideas of dream work and knowing my struggles to remember mine, never mind interpreting them, it might make for an interesting next step for me.

Bruce. I enjoyed talking with you as well.

For more about Bruce and his new memoire "Rumours Of Glory" and it's companion Box Set please go to Bruce's Facebook page at


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