Mother Manole

The pressure is unbearable. I howl. The argument is heated up to the point when I hit her. I slap her twice. I feel the touch of her skin and this wakes me up. I am horrified. How could I do that to my own mother? I remember my late father who was a violent psychopath when he was drunk. I cannot bear the pressure so I begin to hit myself as a form of self-punishment. I slap myself many times, ashamed and angry at myself.

There is a round table between us. I hit the table with the edge of my hand, almost splitting it in two halves. But the table doesn’t break. I can’t feel pain. I yell like a madman:

“You can’t keep me in this country against my will! I don’t want to remain here anymore! I am stuck here, I can’t grow anymore! I don’t care what you want or what you think it’s right! I just want to go and I will go! It’s your problem if you love this country despite its corruption and misery! I don’t care anymore!”

I wake up directly in a panic attack, with shortness of breath, palpitations and fear of dyeing. The only thing I can think of is that I got Covid and I have respiratory failure. I know that I am dead if I get sick, as I simply can’t trust the hospitals in Romania. It’s up to me and my immune system. If I fail, there is no help; I am on my own. It’s 3 o’clock in the night and I struggle to breathe. I expand my lungs and I simply can’t get enough air in them. I am scared of death beyond any reason; it is one thing to “think” that you’re dyeing and a completely different thing to “feel” that you are dying. You are no longer “the brave one”.

I open the window despite the freezing temperature outside. I struggle as the dream is dissipating gradually. Only many minutes afterwards I remember that breathing problems appear some days “after” high fever (and I didn’t have any fever). In about a quarter of hour of struggling to breathe I remember that people sometimes have panic attacks and this is frequent during a pandemic. At some point during the morning, a number of hours after this episode, I (ironically) remember that I am a psychiatrist and I always have a Xanax (a tranquilizer) with me, in case of emergencies such as… panic attacks. And at that point I finally comprehend that, perhaps, I had some sort of panic attack. Diagnosing and managing others is far easier than managing oneself…

This pandemic has accentuated what was only superficially shielded, namely conflicts that people have but struggle to keep under control. Anxiety-related disorders are on the rise and it is normal. With all the advertising the Covid pandemic receives, with all the severe cases described on TV and Internet, with all the huge numbers of infections and deaths, it is to be expected that a large part of the population will become fearful. Covid in itself is a separate discussion. The ability of the hospitals to respond to emergencies is also a separate discussion. But I want to focus on something else: the dream itself.

Dreams have no defensive mechanisms. The emotions are raw. Anger versus one’s mother is not surprising in a dream. In my real life the anger is barely noticed, if not (perceived as) absent, but the dream sets the stage for full-blown physical violence (slapping, something I never did to anyone ever in my real life). This was surprising even to me as the main character of the dream, since I immediately judged myself and punished myself (by low-degree self-harm, yet self-harm nevertheless). One can say I was scared of myself. I was moral (what?), I showed restraint even in the dream, and this says something about my (tight) education but also about my (low) degree of inner freedom. Anyway, the dream displays here one of its main functions, that is, showing a different or new perspective that completes the whole. Concretely, the dream shows that there is a higher (than expected) degree of anger versus my mother and that this anger has reached huge enough proportions so that it can become at some point aggression. In a way, it’s a warning.

The dream is also subtle. I remember my father and the fact that he still lives in me, as I inherit his impulsive nature. I react rapidly and I punish myself, but is it really fair to punish myself for something that I actually am? This is a question the dream asks me. Suggestively, the dream creates a round table between me and my mother. Symbolically speaking, “there is an entire world between me and her” or “she is at the other end of the world, opposite me or opposing me”. I try to cut the table in two with the edge of my hand but I can’t split it, since one can’t be divided between his two sides, his mother and his father. We remain whole no matter what, and this is something to be accepted rather than changed.

The words I say in the dream, even if not transcribed exactly, are words of revolt. Seeing the dream from the perspective of the mother as a secondary character, I blame her for something that was in my power, and I refuse to accept responsibility (I was always free to go abroad and to stay there, so why blame her for my weakness?). In my day to day life I am quite responsible, compared to pretty much anyone else around me. In my dreams however, I am exposed more than I’d like to. And being responsible for others as a physician is one thing and being responsible for myself is a different thing.

Now, the dream has an archetypal aspect. And this has something to do with one of the fundamental myths of the Romanian space: the Master Manole myth (actually it’s one of the four main Romanian myths). It’s a story that can be found everywhere from Hungary to Bulgaria, Serbia and up to Greece. It belongs to the archetypal spiritual layer of the Balkans. As Carl Jung and others described, the human mind is made of several layers, starting from the individual or personal layer and going down to the depths with the family layer, county or provincial layer, national layer, regional or continental layer, and finally with the layer of the human race in general (it’s a simplified description). When a story or a myth is found in several places on Earth, it is rather a part of the human experience in general, but when it is specific to a certain country or group of countries, we look at a myth that makes that region unique in the world. The simplified story of Manole goes like this:

Once upon a time, a master mason/builder wanted to create a beautiful and unique monument (the Romanian story is about a monastery that actually exists and can be visited in real life). He tried many times to build that work of art, but what he was building during the day collapsed during the night, so he was bound to resume his work the next day (similar to Sisyphus who was carrying his boulder up to the top of the mountain only to see it rolling back). In a word, his work was in vain, until one night he dreamed that he will succeed in building his masterpiece only if he sacrifices something that is of greatest value for him. In other words, a sacrifice – “the” supreme sacrifice – was needed. Master Manole loved his wife a lot, but following a promise he made, he ended up building his wife in the walls of the monastery, walls that, miraculously, never collapsed again. The story is rather tough to convey (although it is studied in school), especially because the master builds his wife in the wall with his own hands, while she screams in horror and pain, after he initially deceits her to enter in the wall by herself, supposedly in order to verify if the wall is ok or not. Eventually the masterpiece is built, it is astonishingly beautiful, but the master loses his mind and commits suicide jumping from the roof of the monastery. The story – seen with non-Balkan eyes – is shockingly immoral and ends very bad. The only thing that lasts is the masterwork, built on the sacrifice of life and love.

Actually, the Balkans are just like that: people (in power) are obsessed with buildings (or material goods, such as money) and sacrifice other people (most of them emigrate abroad); people love their work more than their families (at least Romania is internationally well-known for its orphans (works of creation, symbolically) abandoned by their mothers or families); sacrifice is obtained mostly by treachery and delusion (or corruption) and never assumed (like a honorable gentlemen or samurai); huge passions are involved – the inner conflict of Manole, between the love for his artwork and his love for his wife (we should not forget that the Balkans were a warzone throughout history); the supreme sacrifice is typically needed so that something can last in time (otherwise it typically doesn’t last); in the end everybody loses – both husband and wife are dead (can you name a successful Balkan state today or a successful business?).

Now, returning to the dream, one could ask: Why would a mother stop his child from going abroad where he could have a better life? Why would she insists that he should remain in a worse place? I mean, why would she prefer to sacrifice her child for the benefit of the country?

Can you see the parallel?

People possessed by the archetype of Master Manole will always sacrifice someone. In real life, my mother is Manole. I am Manole’s wife (I can’t doubt my mother’s love) and the masterpiece is Romania (who is lacking doctors and about 5 million other people who emigrated everywhere they could see with their eyes, ‘cause it’s so fun to be in Romania!). Obviously, when you say to your child that he should stay in a worse place, you love more that place (Romania/the masterpiece) and less that person (your child/Manole’s wife). You trick the victim into sacrificing itself through manipulation (I lived in France three times and I returned back to Romania every single time, and I can’t really say why, since I was completely blind and… who wouldn’t trust his loving mother/husband?!). Then, we can now infer the rest of the story: I am built into the body of Romania (no wonder I woke up from the dream with shortness of breath and with death anxiety, since it is really hard to breathe when you are built in a wall) and I am supposed to die here, probably of a premature death (in the Romanian myth, Manole’s wife is pregnant (sweet, isn’t it?), so obviously they aren’t old at all – and this adds to the overt cruelty of the otherwise “nice” school-studied story).

Not all dreams are archetypal. But some are, at a closer look. They are shocking, almost bizarre. Unexpected. Just like the conclusions you get after pondering on them.