We are multi-faceted beings: logical and imaginative, made of clay and made of stardust. Warning: I am a little bit of a neuroscience geek, so the first part is a bit scientific; but I think very cool. Apparently, science has figured out why our eyes move (REM) while we are dreaming: Our brains do not discriminate between waking and sleeping realities: they think that the dream imagery is real!
A very short tour of the relevant brain structures: The left side of our brain helps us out with logic, linear thinking, and sequencing; while the right side of our brain supports our creativity, imagination, and poetry. Our dreams are most likely generated from deep within our limbic system (our emotional and non-rational brain) which straddles both halves deep inside the brain. We then remember and work on our dreams from our prefrontal cortex (our thinking and declarative memory brains): the surface area under our foreheads and right behind our eyes. In between the night dream and the day remembering, the medial temporal lobe, the part that serves as a bridge between memories and visual recognition, helps us process things that we saw and that happened to us in life. And, of course, as we dream we also create or remember worlds apart, embarking on mythic and soul-stirring journeys, make meaning out of metaphor, and weave gossamer strands of silk and stars in our nightly sojourns. This post gives equal time to both sides of our brain: a fascinating study on why our eyes move when we dream, and then a poem on the nature of a dreaming.
For your left brain’s pleasure, an article published in Nature Communications (8/15) by Peter Dockrill describes a new study by Tel Aviv University researchers Yuval Nir and Itzhak Fried. It seems that each flicker of our eyes is accompanying a new image in our dream, with the eye movement “essentially acting like a reset function between individual dream image “snapshots”. Using electrodes planted deep in patients’ brains as they were prepared for brain surgery to alleviate epileptic seizures, they found that the neural brain activity while seeing new images in a dream (or in our imaginations when awake) was essentially the same as when actually seeing new images in waking life. In other words, the brain does not distinguish between the “real” images we see and dreaming ones. No wonder they seem so real – to our dreaming brains, they are.
And now, for your right brain’s pleasure (and as a reward for getting through the neuro-science lesson): A poem by Antonio Machado (with thanks to Belle for reciting it and then sending it to me).
Last Night As I Was Sleeping,
By Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly)
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Or possibly- not an error? That word struck me as not exactly fitting in with the poem, or my sense of a dream, so I looked up the poem in the original Spanish. The word actually used for “error” is “ilusion”! Robert Bly seems to color his translation through his own psyche (as, I suppose all translators do to some extent). But “illusion” is illusion- not a mistake or error. This fits in more with the sweetness of the dream. For me, illusion gives options, choices, and does not negate, as the word “error” can do. In addition, as we learned early, the brain does not distinguish between dream images and seen waking images; so it may also be that this “illusion” Machado dreamt and wrote about is as real as the words you are reading now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this dream!
In any case, as Machado suggests: may you find in your dreams a source of refreshment and sweetness and warmth for your heart. May we live into our best dreams and have the luminous reality that our dreaming brains can hold as truth be true on both sides of the threshhold.
“Though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the truth of who we are.”
J. Rumi (translated by C. Barks)
We all dream every night as we pass in and out of our REM cycles, but usually remember only the one or two dreams that we have just before waking. (Animals dream too, by the way – just watch your cat or dog at sleep, chasing those dream birds or bunnies as they twitch and make sounds). Recently at a dream workshop I was conducting, a participant complained that her problem was that she was flooded by dreams; commonly remembering four to six dreams every night: she couldn’t keep up with the volume. They weren’t necessarily nightmares, just dream overdrive, but leaving her exhausted when she woke up. Other members responded, “I wish I had your problem- I can barely remember any”.
The latter seems to be the more common complaint — the poverty of dream recall; but the converse — the plague of too much recall — is also a dilemma. The rest of this post will look at ways to either enhance recall or to contain the deluge when the problem is dream overdrive.
Better dream recall
Dream drought? Can’t remember a dream to save your life? Try these suggestions:
First and foremost don’t expect that you will be able to recall a dream if you haven’t written it down or recorded it some way. Dreams have the substance of mist or wisps of smoke: they need to be solidified in writing or recorded orally to gain enough substance in the waking world. So get a journal and keep it by your bedside. It could be a beautiful fanciful one, or a simple spiral notebook – your choice. Be sure to have a pen on hand as well.
Learn to recognize a dream when you have one! This may sound obvious, but many dreams are not long narratives with a clear story line. One line rememberedfrom sleep is a dream. One phrase counts. So does a single word. Don’t dismiss these dream fragments – often they contain the essence of the message your dream mind is sending you in a crisp “readers digest” format. In addition, the productions of our mind from the in between zones of waking and sleeping- the hypnopompic and the hypnogogic zones, where we are not quite awake nor quite asleep – these are dreams too.
Dreams do not come only in words. If you wake with a feeling state that is not explained by your immediate environment – that is what you are recalling from your dream. Wake inexplicably happy? That is your dream. Wake feeling anxious for no apparent reason? That too is your dream. Have an image or a picture? – that is your dream too. Record these.
Your body may remember your dream even if your mind doesn’t. This is called positional memory. Put your body back in the position it was in when you dreamt- that is, if you sleep lying on your left side with your knees tucked up, do that now. Often the dream will float right back into your brain as your body accesses this body memory of it.
Imagine wrapping yourself up in your dream. Reach your arms out, grab the ends of your imaginary dream shawl or dream tallit, and wrap them around you as you close your eyes. Your dream may be close at hand.
Before going to sleep at night, set your intention to have a dream, and to remember it and to be able to write it down. Write that sentence in your dream journal just before going to sleep. This is called dream incubation. Once you have primed the pump and have started remembering, you can also use this technique to ask for help and guidance on specific issues or dilemmas.
Dream deluge? Feeling flooded by too many dreams? Try these:
Use your dream journal to set an intention to only allow the dreams of highest priority into your conscious mind, and to filter out anything else. Incubate something like “I will remember only the essence of the dream that is in my highest good and best interest.”
Hang a Native American dream catcher near your bed. The blessing story that goes with these is that the dream catcher snares any upsetting dreams or nightmares in it’s threads, and the narrow hole in the center allows only positive dreams to come through. You can also infuse it to snare an over-abundance of dreams.
Surround yourself and/or your bed and/or your room with a bubble of light for protection, safety, and good boundaries. Find the color(s) that are just right for your purpose.
Imagine closing a door in your mind before going to sleep; this door is to the portal between the waking world and the dreaming world. You can also add a phrase such as “I close the door to unwanted intrusions in the night”.
Say the word “No” strongly, perhaps even out loud, to your dream muse. Be firm and clear that you are setting a limit and boundary.
Before going to sleep, decide if you would like a dream to come through. Then write a sentence or two about the issue or topic you would like guidance on; and end the writing with a seal (“chatimah” in Hebrew) such as “may it be so”, or “just this and no more”
“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions”
When we dream, we are in a place, a world that is just as real to us while we dream it as the one we inhabit while we are awake. In this dreaming place we talk, walk, run, play, interact with others and have whole adventures without needing to adhere to many of the rules we are subject to in our waking lives: rules such as the earth’s gravity, or social proprieties, or linear time, or three-dimensional space. As such, we are fully embodied beings living inside the dream. The images that make up our dream are quite alive as we are experiencing them, such as the following:
“I dream I am a circus performer, balancing on the back of a horse.”
When we come out of the dream to tell about it we often find that language is inadequate to the experience. We are translating a lived, moving experience into the two-dimensional limits of language, often losing some of the richness and texture of the images and the experience in the process. Like the old story of trying to describe an elephant to a blind man, we can only capture part of the experience with words alone: just the trunk, or just the legs, or just the hide. The artwork brings it much more alive; now imagine yourself enacting that scene: You are kneeling on one knee on your white horse as it trots around the ring. What does that feel like in your body? What if you put your body into that position and tried it?
“Embodied imagination” by Robbie Bosnak, and Jung’s method of “active imagination” carry the stance that the dreamed images belong to this real and embodied world; it is our job is to develop a relationship with them in order to understand why they have come to visit us and what they might want from us. Bosnak says, “Images belong to the involuntary imagination and embody their own intelligence.”
Jean Houston talks about an intelligence beyond our own called the “Entelechy”, from the Greek, that contains wisdom from our highest selves in contact with the collective unconscious. We can access this self while in altered states such as trance, meditation, dreams and the in-between edges of dreams and wakefulness. Flashback memories, déjà vu experiences, and being in the “zone” or “flow state” in art, athletics or any creative endeavor can also allow us to access this realm.
When we practice dreamwork with our bodies as well as with our words, we can get closer to the reality of the living images. By letting the images enliven our body and using our felt sense, we can create dream theater or dream movements or dream sculpture that allow our bodies and those of our dream circle to get into the act and re-create the aliveness that we felt in the dream itself.
“I dream of a field mouse being stalked by a panther. The grasses are high and the sun is beating down on the field. It feels so immediate in the dream.”
In my works the group collectively becomes the field mouse, the blade of grass, the stalking panther, the hot sun, and thus feel into the dream through the different characters and parts of the landscape and experience a whole which is then greater than the sum of its parts. Now we can see where is it going. By enacting the dream-drama, we get a greater sense of how it has meaning for our lives, and perhaps the lives of others.
It’s an interactive experience with participants that can lead to unexpected results and insights, and can provide a very different approach to working with dreams than the time-worn road of analysis. Contact Linda Schiller () to discuss scheduling her for your next event to teach a Dreams Alive! embodied dreamwork workshop. See Linda’s trainings page for more information.
At the end of the movie, when Dorothy returns from her sojourn in Oz, her aunt and uncle and their 3 farmhands are there to greet her at her bedside. On waking, she is told by her Auntie Em and the kindly doctor (who looks remarkably like the Wizard) that she had been hit on the head during the twister and passed out for a time. When Dorothy insists that she has actually been off traveling in a “strange and wonderful land… that was sometimes scary, but mostly very beautiful,” she is assured by all present that it was “just a dream”.
In another famous story, Alice of Wonderland is described as getting very sleepy while reading a book “without pictures,” and nodding off either just before -or just after- she spies the white rabbit and goes down the rabbit hole after him. Was that a dream too? Or “just a dream”? Curious and curiouser…
Which brings us to our questions, what are dreams and where do they come from? Shamans and mystics from cultures throughout the world speak to us of the dream world as a very real place, a parallel universe if you will. Judeo-Christian mystic tradition tells us that our soul can leave our bodies at night and travel in astral realms. (Which is the reason you are not supposed to wake a sleeper up too suddenly: the dreaming soul is connected to the body by a thin silver thread, and awakening too suddenly can snap the thread and the soul would not be able to find its way home back to the body.)
Lynn McTaggert, in her landmark book on non-local consciousness The Field, writes: “Deep in the rain forests of the Amazon, the Achur and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual…at dawn… as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams…. The dreamer is the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe.”
The dream is not an individual possession, it is owned collectively by the whole tribe. I love that – “the dreamer is the vessel that the dream decided to borrow”. Doesn’t it feel like that at times?: That we are but a vessel when we wake with the sense that something came through us, rather than from us.
Michael Harner, anthropologist and shamanic practitioner writes that one of the core principles of shamanism is that spirits are real, and that spirits produce dreams. Shamanic theory states that the human soul and other spirits that have an attachment to the person can produce their dreams. This is a way of understanding those vivid visitation dreams we sometimes get of departed loved ones — that their spirits still have an attachment to us. That is an infinitely comforting thought to me. After my mom passed away, she came to me in dreams and helped to heal the grief.
More sources of our dreams
Our bodies talk to us in our dreams. Patrick McNamara, a neuroscientist at Boston University School of Medicine, encourages doctors to routinely ask patients about their dreams as a way of assessing mental status (Boston Globe, 2/3/14). “Dreams are faithful reports of a patient’s emotional life,” he states. We also know that unresolved emotional baggage from days or years before can show up in our dreams, trying desperately to get our attention by keeping memories of events or the feelings about the events alive until we resolve them. This is the essence of PTSD dreaming. We can also get medic alerts through our dreams, long before a symptom sends us to the doctor.
Kat Kanavos is case in point. A breast cancer survivor, Kat’s dream told her that her breast cancer had returned and even pointed to exactly where it was so her doctor could find it. She is co-author of the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life.
Philo, an ancient philosopher says that there are three kinds of dreams: 1.) Those that originate within us, 2.) Those that originate in the angelic or spirit realm, and 3.) Those that originate from God. Our prophets and holy men and women are often cited as having conversations with God either in a dream, or as a waking dream day-vision.
In a modern sleep lab, scientists can now chart the exact portions of the brain that are involved in dreaming and chart the REM cycles on a graph. There are those in the scientific community who maintain that dreams are merely random neuron firings of the brain (I report this in the spirit of inclusiveness, however as a spiritually-oriented therapist dreamworker, I would not put myself in that camp.)
Whether our dreams come from within our brains, our bodies, the spirit realm, or the Divine, the worlds we visit in our night journeys have gifts and messages for ourselves, our communities, and perhaps for the world. Awake to your dreams! Use their messages to heal, to grow, to explore, to journey, to connect with all manner of strange and wondrous beings. Go down the rabbit hole and over the rainbow to see what you may find. Then come back and tell about it. (tip of the hat to Mary Oliver)
At this time of year, we celebrate Easter, Passover, the equinox, and the coming of spring. Themes of renewal, resurrection, and freedom abound as we mark this season, and remember that the healing potential lays under the darkest of places. Although here in New England we are still dealing with a layer of snow, the buds are pushing through the ground and out the ends of the tree branches, reminding us that what has been buried underground all winter has not died, just has been waiting for enough light and warmth to come forth. Our darkest dreams, our nightmares even, contain the roots and sources of our freedom and liberation. As we struggle up through the layers of sleep to our dream-saturated waking consciousness, retaining what we can of the messages that came through to us in the night, we can find the hints of our healing, and as Mary Oliver suggests, we get that “click” of an “Aha!” and the taste of sweet blossoms in our mouths.
Dreams(by Mary Oliver)
the dark buds of dreams
In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine
if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,
and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,
the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.
Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots
and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense
of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels
when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.
May your dreamings bring you insights and blossoms
When we recognize the patterns in our dreams and in our lives, then we have the power to shift and transform them.
Amanda, age 8, developed a fear of intruders breaking into her house. She dreams that some one will break in and kidnap or hurt her or her family members or her pets.
Jen, age 27, consistently has dreams of violence: of being chased, some one being murdered, small animals being hurt. Her current life is pretty stable and happy, so she can’t figure out what these dreams are about.
What both of these dreamers have in common is the repetitive and intrusive nature of their dreams. Sometimes bad dreams and nightmares resolve on their own, and sometimes they seems to get “stuck”. Paying attention to and keeping track of dreams, especially when they are repetitive dreams, is crucial in order to be able to see and to heal the patterns. We can’t recognize patterns if we aren’t keeping track over time.
Healing is about becoming aware of the healthy and unhealthy patterns in our lives – once we recognize a pattern, then we can get on with healing from the events that created and perpetuated it. Framing the dreams and the patterns of the dreams in the life of the dreamer can give us guidance towards understanding and then resolving these scary themes and images.
Alan Seigal, president of IASD (the International Assoc. for the Study of Dreams) outlines 3 stages in the resolution of recurrent nightmares:
Stage One: The Threat:The dreamer or the main character in the dream is being threatened in some way and can’t get away or defend themself.
Stage Two: The Struggle: The dreamer or main character is still being attacked or chased or imprisoned, but they are attempting to break free, to run or to get away. (For example, the dreamer is being chased by a bear and successfully climbs a tree to safety, but the bear is still lurking underneath the tree and they are trapped in the tree).
Stage Three: Resolution: A workable solution has been found, and the threat no longer exists- it has been transformed, overcome, vanquished, extinguished.
I really like this organization of stages in working through nightmares because it honors the steps along the road to progress. Looking at it in this way, we can see more clearly that even though the struggle phase is still difficult, it does represent progress. It is important to recognize the small steps along the healing path as well as the big leaps.
Alan also does a lovely job with a pneumonic for the work of healing from nightmares. The “3 R’s” of our childhood were reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. The “4 R’s” of dream healing can be thought of as Reassurance, Re-scripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution.
Reassurance: Whether we are with children, loved ones, or clients, the first step to providing some comfort and relief to nightmare sufferers is Reassurance. Not reassurance that it’s “just a dream”, since that would negate their experience, but reassurance that you respect the feelings of the dream, that you recognize (another “R”) that it feels really real. Having their dream taken seriously is a source of comfort for both children and adults. Then leaning into the dream with better resources, rather than leaning away from it in avoidance or fear, is a good next step.
Re-scripting allows you re-write the dream and to build in resources for the dreamer to use in working with the dream and in ending the dream on a more positive note. We should encourage the dreamer to approach scary dreams slowly and carefully, and to add in resources for safety and protection even before working with the dream material itself. For example, use your imagination to provide magical tools, cultural symbols or icons, non- lethal protection such as shields, light or force fields, or a posse of people/animals/guides to protect the dreamer. Anne Wiseman, author of the book “Nightmare Help”, encourages us not to use violent means as protection, as this can encourage using violent means to solve life problems, especially with children. Even with adults, we don’t want to annihilate a dream figure that we may later discover can be a hidden resource for us.
Rehearsal: Remember the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? – Practice, practice, practice.” That’s what Rehearsal is all about- practice using the methods you came up with in re-scripting to work out a safer and more satisfying dream scene and dream ending over and over again. Keep going over those resources, changing the dream ending, getting the characters to talk to each other, etc. until the dreamer can “do it in their sleep”. When working with Amanda (age 8), we practiced standing up tall and building a magic fence around her house, and as we acted that out she also talked back to the intruders out loud, saying “Go away, You can’t get me!” and “Get out of here” and “I’m safe”.
Resolution:Once we’ve reassured, re-scripted, and rehearsed we are much more likely to come to a good resolution that will either make the nightmares go away, or will transform them into something much less stressful, or benign, or even helpful, or provide some insight or direction for the dreamer to take in their waking life.
For those who are interested in learning more about using these methods, I will be leading a workshop titled “ Using Dream, Imagery and Metaphor in Clinical Practice: Taming Demons and Transforming Nightmares” which will be held at the Therapy Training Boston Center in Watertown, MA. on Friday May 1st. While geared for health and mental health professionals (6 CEU’s are available!), the interested dream enthusiast is also welcome, and the material and experiential exercises will be useful for all. Click here for the link, http://www.therapytrainingboston.com, and scroll to workshops. Early bird registration gets you a discount till April 1st! Hope to see you there.
In most of our dreams, our inner eye of reflection is shut and we sleep within our sleep. The exception takes place when we seem to awake within our dreams, without disturbing or ending the dream state, and learn to recognize that we are dreaming while the dream is still happening.
Most of us have heard of the phrase “lucid dreaming” but are not aware of the intricacies of it. It has become an increasingly popular concept however. A lucid dream has been defined as any dream within which we are aware that we are dreaming. To be lucid while dreaming implies being “awake” or conscious while asleep (sort of an oxymoron), and then to be able to control or direct what happens inside the dream. (While my blog title is “Awake To Your Dreams,” lucid dreaming can be thought of as being awake in your dreams).
Until recently I was somewhat prejudiced against this as a worthwhile goal, given that I believe that it makes more sense to dream all the way through a dream that we are given, and then to work with it. In other words, not to interfere with our wise unconscious dreaming self from doing the work that it does best: Taking our unarticulated dilemmas, longings, desires, wishes, issues, pains, and struggles and then present them to us in dreamtime with as much metaphor and symbol as it thinks we need in order to be able to begin processing them. Pictures, images, emotions, story lines, fragments, a single word or a whole epic- let ‘em role – and then go back and find the layers of meanings. But as I have been giving the concept more thought, I have been coming to see other options available in lucid dreaming that do not necessarily hijack our innate processing systems.
[See my guest article in the June 2020 edition of Lucid Dreaming Experience magazine, page 12, for my latest thoughts on lucid dreaming.]
What is the “lucid” in lucid dreaming
So as a modern adult with a teenager to learn from, I Googled “lucid”. It was defined as “articulate, rational, or luminous”, with additional synonyms of thought-through, clear, eloquent, and silver-tongued (the later being my personal favorite). Not what I had expected, given how the term is commonly used in the dreaming world. And yet, it makes sense. I especially liked the use of the word “luminous”: implying otherworldly, shining and glowing and yet clear and eloquent — all hallmarks of a dream well-dreamt from our soul’s warehouse of dreams.
There seem to be two kinds of lucid dreams: 1.) “Dream initiated lucid dreams” that begin as a regular dream, and then turn lucid, and 2.) “Wake initiated lucid dreams (or “W.I.L.D.”). These can occur a.) while we are drifting off to sleep but are still technically awake and we are aware immediately that we’re dreaming, or b.) when we incubate a dream before going to sleep.
To incubate a dream, we purposely journal, think, or pray to journey into a dream on some issue or dilemma while we are awake, and then dream on it in the subsequent dream. This latter method is a form of lucid dreaming that combines inside and outside worlds — focusing our attention on what we hope to have a dream about while awake, and then having the dream on that topic while asleep. This seems to be one way not to interfere with the wisdom of our dreaming mind — we kind of point our radio frequency dial in the direction we want, and then our dream mind picks up on the right signal and we make contact.
Both kinds of lucidity can be useful for nightmare sufferers. The ability to point our dreams in the direction of healing while awake, and the ability to purposefully change course in the middle of a distressing dream to avoid a pitfall or disaster can greatly alleviate the distress of chronic nightmares. If we don’t misuse the method to bypass the inner work we need to get through, this skill can be a gift and a shortcut to relief. No one gets extra points for prolonged suffering!
I once had a dream in which I was being assaulted. I somehow knew it was a dream and that I didn’t want the assault to continue, so I remember deciding to get out of there. I knew I had to swim upwards to get out. Then I had the sensation of straining my way up and out of the dream like swimming through sticky molasses, aiming for the light at the top. I could feel the pulling and kicking feelings in my arms and legs, and when I got to the top I was awake. I still recall the feeling of relief and self power that I got myself out of there.
The ability to lucid dream is both innate and can get better by practice, much as exercising any other kind of muscle gets stronger with practice.
Popular methods of getting more lucid
1. “Am I Dreaming?”
Ask yourself periodically during the day “Am I dreaming?” and perform some kind of reality check. If you do it often enough you will remember to do in in your dream as well. For example, if you lean against a wall and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and you don’t fall through the wall you are awake; since in a dream you are more likely to fall through. Jump up in the air: if you land, you are awake; you are more likely to be able to hover or fly if you are dreaming. Clap your hands together or snap your fingers — if you can hear, see and feel it, you are awake. If you are missing any of those sense awarenesses, you are asleep.
2. Journal It
Keep a dream journal. As you build up a dream lexicon of recurring images and themes, they will become easier to recognize in your dreams. Make a list of your common images and themes and review them before going to sleep.
3. Set Your Clocks
Try a variation on Stephen LeBerge’s method. Set an alarm clock to wake you up at periodic intervals of several hours duration during the night, and record the dreams you have then. We are most likely to have lucid dreams during our deepest REM sleep. So after recording as much as you can remember, lie back down to the position you were just in, and tell yourself “I am aware that I was dreaming”, and you will be more likely to know that inside of your next sleep/dream phase. (Personally I can’t imagine wanting this badly enough to wake myself up for it on purpose, but that’s just me. For some people it’s very effective.)
4. “Look At Your Hands”
a.) As you get into bed, look at your hands, and say to yourself over and over “I will dream and I will see my hands” until you are tired and go to sleep.
b.) If you wake in the night, look at your hands and repeat the phrase.
c.) With practice, you will see your hands in the dream and can say in the dream “Wow, here are my hands — I am dreaming!”
5. The Diamond Method
While you meditate, try to visual your whole life, both waking and sleeping as facets of a diamond: All is one, just different aspects of the same whole, a synthesis of the spiritual and the psychological. Our dreams and our waking selves are thus just two facets of the same human consciousness. A.H. Almaas calls this diamond the Universe, or God, or the Soul. The key is to recognize that all of life is happening at once, and it is only our limitations and perceptions that separate it out into its different facets or dimensions. Once we recognize this, it then becomes easy to see dreams and waking as simply different facets of the diamond, and therefor easier to be “awake in your dreams” with little effort.
Of course, as Robert Waggoner points out in his book on lucid dreaming, we can’t control everything in a dream, or in life – not the color of the sea, or the height of the waves. But when we develop a relationship with our Inner Guide, our inner Wise Woman or Wise Man, our clear cut Diamond Self, then we can direct the ship of our life more confidently and with more resources.
“Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”
Mythologist Joseph Campbell
At the core of our dreams are The Images. Beautiful, frightening, sensual, intriguing, they usually represent the heart of our dreaming landscapes. Lately I’ve been learning to pay more attention to the living nature of these images. Last summer at the Dream Conference (http://www.IASD.org) I was introduced to the work of Stephen Aizenstat. I had been familiar with his book “Dream Tending” for some time, but had never read it. After hearing him speak, I got it.
Aizenstat opens up the concept of imagery to what he calls the “Living Image”. Drawing from the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and others, he shares his perception that the dream images are not static. They have a life of their own and exist in this world as well as the one we dreamed them in. The images may start out in our dreamscape, but Aizenstat teaches that they have a life of their own in our awake walk-around world. We already know that they feel real to us when we are dreaming them. Vividly alive in our night journeys, the image can enrich our lives as we allow it to become animate in our daytime world by engaging with it. His basic premise is that “dreams are alive”.
When we engage with the images from our dreams, and give them their due outside of their lives inside our dream, we are engaging in a process called “Amplification,” or making larger. When we expand the image to be as large as it can be we enter the realm of myth and archetype– the great grand stories that have engaged humankind for millennium.
Aisenstat tells us “…a myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to social interactions”. We dream in our own personal mythologies; our waking task is to then connect our dreams with the mythologies of the larger world. Doing so, we may not only gain insight into ourselves and make broader meaning of our small self-stories, but we can also connect with the larger world dreams, and thus see ourselves and our issues and problems as part of the human condition. Mindfulness practice might call this “right-sizing” the problem.
Aizenstat teaches that there are three steps to the process: Association, Amplification, and Animation. First, allow your mind freeAssociate to the image, that is, to allow your mind to spontaneously wander about and connect to whatever comes up for you from your own life, feelings, and memories. Then we Amplify, or enlarge these associations to find the bigger stories: these new directions may not have been part of the original dream, but the dream helped to point you in this direction. Finally, we Animate; embody, bring the image to life in some way.
I’ll illustrate a bit of the process with a recent dream image I had. In my dream, a large bright blue-green bird with a very long tail flew into my room. It was beautiful but a little scary, since it was fluttering around the room and it was big. I wondered if I should let it out or try to catch it first. Then I realized that it was a Quetzal.
My first associations were to my father-in-law’s parrot, to the mythical Phoenix, and to my cats liking the “catch and release” program they have devised when a bird accidentally gets into our house (they catch but don’t kill, I capture and release). I didn’t really know what a Quetzal was, just that it had to do with Central America. My dream circle helped me then to amplify: We Googled up “Quetzal” and found references to a divine bird associated with the Mayan or Aztec religions in Mexico. It is officially called a “Resplendent Quetzal”, was associated with Divinity, Love, and Air, and its plumage was valued for headdresses of royalty.
Wow! Who knew? I loved that it was called “resplendent”. My body began to fill up with the feeling of the Quetzal as I spontaneously began to animate it by kind of spreading my arms wide and flapping/waving them at shoulder level, what I call “embodying the dream.” Now I could feel this quetzal energy in my body, especially around my heart and the place on my back where my wings would attach.
Back in the dream, I decided to leave the window open so that the Quetzal could come and go freely.
By using this method of association, (seeing what first caught my attention), then amplifying (enlarging the story, broadening it to include world wide mythic associations, this time with the help of the magic scryer Google,) and then embodying and animating the image, I felt my interaction with it as a real being in ways that I didn’t begin to touch before doing so: I felt exhilarated, a little frightened, and a bit awed by it’s size and beauty. Not bad for a night’s work. It has joined my pantheon of animal guides along with puma and jaguar, and I’ll continue to watch out for it’s messages and meanings in dreams and while awake.
Next time we’ll look at using this process with the scarier images as well, to seek out their healing essence.
Did you ever have a dream that was so vivid, so sensual that you could practically taste it? That’s what Laurie’s dream of honey was like – filled with drippy sweetness, full of the senses, like in the e.e. cummings poem “…tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, breathing…” And the fact that she is a consummate storyteller, and acted it out spontaneously while telling made it that much more delicious.
Fall always feels like the real New Year to me, rather than January 1st: we go back to school, back to work from our summer vacations. The air subtly shifts its smell and texture from salty and hot to leafy and crisp, and many celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It is called a time of “tsuvah”- of turning, or returning (“tshuv” means turn or return). It is about renewal, reconciliation, re-commitment, and embracing the sweetness of life. Traditionally, apple slices dipped in honey are eaten at the New Year so that we may embody the sweetness of our hopes and dreams for the coming year.
There’s an old saying: Once is an accident, twice is a co-incidence, and three times is a pattern we should be paying attention to. I’ve been gifted with honey 3 times recently, and wanted to re-gift you with the sweetness. 1. A week ago I fell in love with a new kind of honey paste- a thick slightly gritty semi-solid form that tastes and feels like it is still part of a hive. I’m sure it’s been around for a long time, but it was new to me. 2. A colleague in my study group in Newton owns hives (is that the proper term- is “a beekeeper” more correct?) and showed up 2 days ago with a gift jar of her hives honey for each of us. 3. My friend shared the following dream with us the next night.
Laurie’s dream: I am rushing around doing very busy things, teaching my class, preparing notes. Then over there is this very large clear glass jar, like the kind used at banquets containing slices of orange or lemon and water, that is filled with honey. The spigot seems to be open, so it is dripping the thick golden honey. I don’t see a container, so I rush over and put my hand under the jar to catch the honey. Rushing back to my busyness over here, rushing to catch honey over there. Rushing back again to busyness over here, then rushing back again to catch the sweet sticky honey in my hands over there. Finally I stop and just catch the honey.
Listening to this dream I was so excited that I could barely restrain myself from making comments or asking questions. Luckily, Laurie was both entertaining enough, and insightful enough, that I managed to just say something simple, like “How wonderful- you were catching sweetness with both hands”. She told us that the messages she had already received from the dream were about the importance of slowing down the busyness, even stopping what we are doing, in order to catch the sweetness of life, and that her students bring such sweetness to her class that part of her job was to catch and appreciate it. As Freud says about dream symbols, sometimes a cigar is “just a cigar”.
A message in mindfulness for us all. May you all be blessed with a double handful of sweetness in your new year.
“…and we are strong at the broken places”, Ernest Hemingway
The previous post looked at synchronicities and opening channels to receive knowledge in uncanny, intuitive or non-linear ways. We continue here with a history of dream incubation and how to use this method now to ask for and receive wisdom from the universal Source. In addition to being open, we can also play a role in priming the intuitive pump.
Dream incubation; the first step in asking for guidance in this way; comes with preparation as well as intention. Kimberly Patton speaks of 3 elements common to the topography of incubation in ancestral times:
For our ancestors, having a proper frame of mind and making the proper Sacrifices were necessary components of asking for help from the Dream Source. The sacrifices often included burnt offerings, usually of a sheep or goat; and the supplicant would then sleep on the skin of the sacrificed animal. According to Patton, the burning of the animal transformed the material earthly world into the world of vapor and air, thus allowing the gods to smell the pleasing odor as the burnt offering went up in the smoke. If we recall that the Four Worlds in many mystic, pagan, indigenous (and Jungian) traditions are Earth, Air, Fire and Water; then having a ritual that connect us with each of these worlds in some way makes intuitive and as well as logical sense.
Second, some form of Purification was also part of the ritual: a sacred bath in clear or flowing waters was a common element. Interestingly, according to Patton, tears or weeping were also frequently part of the purification process: perhaps this invoked our own internal salt water cleansing; a way of making ourselves vulnerable and thus open to receiving (l’kabel). Teachers in both Sufi (Hefetz) and Kabbalist (Reb Nachman) traditions teach that when our hearts are broken open, there God is able to enter.
(Connected to this concept, the Japanese art of Kintsugi consists of repairing a cracked piece of pottery with gold or silver filling in the cracks; thus the repaired piece is actually more valuable than the original un-cracked piece. What a wonderful metaphor for healing- that we are more valuable for having repaired the places where we have been cracked open than for never having been cracked at all. )
The third step in ancient times is that of Pilgrimage– this is about locality, “location, location, location.” An outward journey was taken to imitate the inward journey one hoped would happen. Anthropologist James Frazer (his classic text is “The Golden Bough”) spoke of several kinds of magical practices he found in his studies, and one of the most common was imitative magic. The pilgrimage is part of the external manifestation we hope our dream journey will imitate. Where one sleeps for this kind of journey was in a sacred place set apart. Our ancestors traveled in order to incubate their dreams on holy ground. Alternately, the ground on which the ritual is created becomes holy by virtue of having accessed the Divine in that place. Frequently, though not always, it was a high place- on a hill, or a mound: where the membrane between worlds perhaps is thinner, just as the air is thinner atop high mountains. (i.e. tall standing stones of Druidic or Celtic lore, Mt. Sinai, Mecca, any “castle on a hill” seen so often in fairy tales).
How then are we to translate this for our times, since most of us aren’t about to kill a sheep or goat or spent the night alone on a mountain top. To receive this kind of knowledge, we may ask ourselves what kind of Sacrifice we are prepared to make: is it the sacrifice of some kind of comfortable place, or belief, or lifestyle? Are we willing to sacrifice the easy way of something for the higher way? Are we willing to walk our walk, as well as talk our talk? Get clear- what are you willing to give up for this portion of wisdom?
Purification: Will we cleanse ourselves with sage or incense? Will we take a long shower or a salt bath with intention to prepare ourselves to dream deeply and purely? Will we drink a bit or wash with salt water as our ancestors did?
And finally, Pilgramage: Where are we headed? Can we set a compass, or an orientation through our dream preparation for what we are seeking? Do we take a large or small retreat space from our daily life in which to open to this work? Is there an elevated space we can go to? Can we take ourselves out of ordinary time and/or space for a little while for this pilgrimage?
I’ll share with you an example of a small modern pilgrimage. A few years ago I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life; family illnesses, too much work; and I didn’t have the time to go off on retreat, even though I was craving some alone renewal time. I asked a friend if I could use her meditiation room for a day. I drove just 20 minutes away to spend seven hours in solitude resting, reading, writing, and had a dreaming nap in “designated” holy space that contained the energies of the people who had done yoga and meditated there over the years. And just now, as I am writing this, it occurs to me that this space was actually a high place- up the crawl ladder to the finished attic space! “…And I, I did not know…”.