Once upon a time there was a lady at a retreat with her husband. They were sitting having dinner on the last evening, reflecting on their journey. A male colleague who desired the lady came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. He was encroaching, disrespecting the husband and the sacred space of the couples bond.
He told her that he was commissioning a painting of her, to commemorate this amazing journey and it was almost completed- would she like to see it and to take it as a gift from him? The man was handsome and charming and had been doing his best to ease himself into the space between her and her husband. Now he was crowning this with his final stroke of genius- appealing to her ego.
The lady was charmed, delighted, even while squirming a little because she was conscious of her husbands tense silence beside her. She smiled and blushed and gushed enthusiastically about how she would really love to see and have the painting. She thanks him.
“It’s my pleasure he says” kissing her a little too intimately on the neck, in two places, before making a hasty exit.
“Come and see it now!” he calls, over his shoulder, a twinkle in his eyes. He knows he has caught her now.
She is tingling with excitement from the attention and daring of this man, but she is barely conscious of this; all her attention is fixated on the painting she yearns to see, that she must have, as a momento to remind her of the journey she has just been on. She feels the painting will have captured her newly emerging, still fragile self and she is convinced she must have it.
The painting will be evidence of the changes in her, captured, like a photograph freezing time. She feels almost as though the painting will reflect her new self back to her and consolidate it, almost as though without the painting she is afraid she will just slip back into her old ways. And she feels so beautiful at the moment. It will be wonderful to hang her current beauty on the wall for all to see.
Excited, she pushes up out of her chair, only vaguely aware of a mild nagging feeling that she is being disrespectful and inconsiderate of her husbands feelings. She rushes off to find the painting, but the pathways in this place have changed, or perhaps they were never firmly etched in her memory. She can see the building she must get to from here. The shortest pathway is down these stairs.
She starts the decent down long winding stairs. For some reason she keeps hearing a song in her mind about golden slippers and starts thinking about Cinderella at the ball. She knows she must hurry. She has left her husband behind her and he will be waiting and he won’t be happy. And the man with the painting is waiting too! Hurrying down the stairs she notices that the bottom steps are crumbling and falling away. It takes all her care and concentration to navigate the treacherous path. The last thing she wants now is to fall and break her ankle.
At the bottom of the flight of stairs, she is dismayed to find something that looks like a lagoon filled with slippery rocks. She must cross this to get to the building she needs to reach. There are people in the water and they tell her to be careful, it is easy to slip and cut yourself on the rocks. She considers going back and finding another way but there is no time and she doesn’t know another way. Rather than ruin her beautiful dress, she strips it off and climbs in, risking her safety by holding the dress above her head with one hand. Somehow, with the help of the couple in the water, she finds her way to the safety of dry land.
The water crossing cost valuable time and she is feeling stressed, worried that her husband is worried, worried that the man with the painting thinks she is not coming after all. There are hotel toilets here, not far from the bar, where she can redress and check her hair. She asks for directions from a seedy looking man at the bar and then has to search in dim light for the women’s toilet. It finally occurs to her that rushing off like this might not have been a good idea. What if she isn’t safe. Here she is, half-dressed, wandering about in dimly lit corridors. What if something bad happens? What if her husband is worried about her?
At this point I woke up from the dream. I couldn’t understand this lady in the dream. Why did she think it was okay to treat her husband this way? Couldn’t she see how much she was hurting him and how disrespectful she was being? Why was her ego more important than his feelings and their marriage?
To me it felt like a warning: never let your ego and flattery stop you from listening to your integrity.
It made me realise how many people do this; how often people betray their deeper values because they like the feeling of being admired, even if this admiration is coming from someone they barely know. In the dream, I felt enchanted and even when I woke up I could feel how delicious it was to have been ‘romanced’ in this way. But however delicious it felt, it couldn’t compare with the awful feeling of having let down my best friend and the shame of behaving in a shallow manner.
Did I prefer the delicious feeling, or the cold hard light of day? The sobriety of being awake and knowing my true values was so rewardingly grounding and nourishing that I shook off the delicious feeling quite happily. Sometimes delicious feelings are empty fairy-tales. Sometimes the true Prince is the one we have at home. Sometimes the ball is a farce and the fancy shoes are just empty ego.
How does this reflect on my own relationship? It’s a warning sign. Just the other day I realised I wanted my husband to start buying me flowers again. How strange! Gifts and romantic gestures don’t usually mean much to me. I’ve asked him to buy me flowers and he has agreed. And I will keep asking until this need gets met because I can see from this dream that my romantic inner child who believes in fairy tales and prince charming and all that crap, needs some romancing. She needs attention. If she doesn’t get it, she might create unnecessary dramas for me, or become prey to the ego-flattery of others.
To my adult rational self, flowers seem silly. I know my husband loves me and I don’t need flowers to prove that, but the romantic inner child is never sensible and if managing her means having ask for flowers, then I am happy to do just that.
I called this story Cinderella Grey because it reminds me of Cinderella rushing from the ball and loosing her slipper, and it also reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’.