“Are We There Yet?” This age-old lament of children in cars could be one of the siren-calls for these times of the Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest. Sometimes a parent or driver can respond, “In one hour”, or the famous, “Go to sleep and I will take a short cut”. In my experience only rarely does the parent have to say, “I have no idea, I had to take an unexpected detour” or even, “We are lost, so I don’t know.”
These days however, those last answers are the ones we are stuck with. The best we can do when our children or friends or loved ones ask, “Are we there yet?” is to say, “Not really. But we will get there.” We are tired, we are worried, we are grieving, we are so done with quarantine. Yet we know that social distancing and mask wearing and really being careful is still the best we’ve got until we are “There.” “There” being that we have a well-tested working vaccine widely available. Being stuck in uncertainty is one of the more profoundly disquieting and uncomfortable emotional states to be in. We crave the certainty of knowing, we are wired for it. We even see some of our leaders acting as if they know things for sure, since they can’t tolerate both the not knowing themselves, or looking like they don’t know.
Can Dark Times Bring Gifts? Both good self-care and good parenting means enhancing our ability to live with uncertainty, and yet carry on in our lives with more equanimity, more compassion for ourselves and others, and an enhanced ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotional states without unraveling. Poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me many years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”Spiritual teachers across time and cultures tell us to look for illumination paradoxically within the heart of darkness. When we reach deep inside ourselves, the darkness contained both within us and without can be illuminated.
How can we find the hidden gifts in the times of darkness? As hard as it is, without the darkness we cannot fully appreciate the light. The role of the unknown and of the mystery is an integrel part of the creative process, so perhaps we can tap into our own creative spaces at this time to learn things that have been waiting in the depths of our souls for enough space and quiet to be discovered. Fear can hijack our imaginations and create even more frightening scenarios. Fear and worry wear us out and use up our precious inner strength that we could be putting to better uses. Faith and courage are about going forward even without all the paths being clear. They are not about the absence of fear, but rather moving forward with your highest values and your life purpose in spite of the fear.
Our “Window of Tolerance” There is a psychological concept in trauma treatment called the Window of Tolerance. This concept implies is that we all have a certain threshold or window of our emotional states within which we can still function well. However, if our personal window is too narrow, then when our reactions and responses get outside of that window we go to the unhealthy extremes of “too much” or “too little”: Too much or too high outside our window and we get anxious, angry, act out, addicted, harmful to self or others. Too little or too low outside that window and we are prone to depression, sadness, isolating, numbness or dissociation. Healing and living with uncertainty require us to learn better skills to tolerate these common yet uncomfortable emotional states, and/or to learn to expand our window. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulties, and the more skills we have to ride out the uncomfortable emotions, the better our resilience. Tuning to our values and to our life purpose help us to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and to expand our windows.
Mindfulness Skills and Resilience Some of the skills of mindfulness help us with resilience. Learning to bring our focus on our breathe, to notice the in-breathe, the out-breathe, and the pause that naturally happens between the two is one form of slowing down and calming down. “Externalizing” or putting your internal thoughts and obsessions and ruminations outside of yourself, instead of inside of your head also help us get some healthy distance from them. For example, when you notice yourself in a worry cycle, name it, “Ah, worry”, and then have an image of putting the worry outside yourself, perhaps in one of those thought bubbles we see in cartoons, to clear the space in your head. You can then float that bubble away, or at very least, examine it more dispassionately as you now have some distance from it. It is outside of you now, rather than inside of you.
Shifting your focus and attention to the sound of the birds, or the smell of our coffee or the beauty of the sunset or flower allows us to find a haven of peace, a home base of comfort and calm within turbulent times. For example, I was on a zoom call with a client last week. She was sitting on her porch at home and I was in my home office with the windows open. In the midst of discussing her insomnia and the stress it was causing, a cardinal broke into song outside her porch. And as if hearing it in response, an answering trill of cardinal notes sounded outside my office window. We could both hear the birds at each other’s respective homes – and were able to pause in that momentary synchronicity and enjoyment before going back to problem solving about her sleep and processing her nightmares.
Dream Sharing to Find Home Again: Expanding Our Window As well as an epidemic of Covid-19, we have been experiencing an epidemic of upsetting dreams and nightmares. Rather than ignoring them, we can “lean in”, as Cheryl Sandberg would tell us, and find the hidden gifts and knowledge that they are bringing. This is another way of expanding our window.
Tuning in to our intuitions and synchronicities; both forms of waking dream states, as well as our nighttime dreams, allows us to process and thus metabolize the worries and fears rather than simply be overwhelmed by them. And when you share your dreams with others, you have the benefits of two or three or five ideas being better than one. We can all resonate with each other’s dream and learn something for ourselves from the dreams of another. This is one of the powers of working in a dream group or dream circle. And since dreams are such a ubiquitous topic these days, you have even more permission and social acceptance than usual for discussing your dreams with both friends and professionals.
So, even if we are not “there” yet, we can continue to dream it forward, to practice mindfulness skills, to tune in to our intuitions and to expand our windows of tolerance. In doing so, we can also expand our tolerance for others and ourselves with greater and greater compassion.
Hello all, We didn’t ask for this, but here we are: In dark times. Times that include suffering, fear, and grief. It has been said that we cannot appreciate the light until we have journeyed in the dark. Few take this journey voluntarily however; we are thrust into it. So in the midst of “I didn’t ask for this”, how then do we maintain hope, connection, faith and vision? How do we recognize the validity and reality of our fears, but not be led by our fears? How do we honor them, acknowledge them, but not let them be in charge of us. Or, as we used to say as kids say, “You’re not the boss of me” to our fears.
2 Sides of the Coin: Open Your Heart and Gladden Your Mind Tara Brach tells us that there are two paths to equanimity and balance. One path is to touch into the fear and suffering with an open heart of compassion. The other path is to “Gladden your mind”. Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to feel our own pain, and to feel the pain of the world community as well. Sometimes we have to do just the opposite.
Yesterday I sat (virtually) with a client who sobbed as she told me that while she was grateful for her own health and relative well-being, she was also overwhelmed with the sadness and pain of how many she knew were suffering. Her heart was so open and her boundaries so porous that she was simply flooded. We sat together in the companionship of shared sorrow for a few moments. I put a hand on my own heart and invited her to do the same. After we sat together for a time with the fullness of our hearts, we then moved on with a softening and a lightening of the pain. I invite you to take a moment now if you would like. Put your hand on your own heart and breath into it. Feel it soften as you stay with whatever is there. Be gentle with yourself. Be soft with yourself. Bring your compassion not only to the world outside of you but to the world inside yourself as well.
On the other side of the fear/joy street, Tara Brach reminded us to “gladden our hearts”. Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan advised us today to give ourselves permission to rejoice. The psalmist tells us that there is a time to grieve and a time to rejoice. Sometimes even on the same day. Even now, maybe even especially now. We have been using the word “contagious” to talk about the virus and the fears we feel. When we read the news, hear someone else’s fears and anxieties, they can become catchy. We pick up on that energy.
The Up-Side of “Contagion” We can also use this word though when we talk about contagious laughter, or contagious joy, or contagious hope. When we look for the pain and suffering, surely we can see it. But when we look for the bright spots, the joy, the beauty, we can see those too. I see and hear the cardinals every time I take a walk on a sunny day. And to be honest, I scan the trees and the skies for them now, so it is not simply a coincidence. We see what we are looking for, and sometimes we can call to ourselves what we want or need. So remember to look for the things you want to see: The smile of the supermarket worker (you can tell by the eyes even if their mouth is covered by a mask), the orange tulip that makes you catch your breath for the beauty, the old friend who just showed up on Facebook after a long absence, because they have the time and space – and the need now – to connect more in any way they can. Delight in these things. Let your heart gladden and fill with delight. This is grace, we can have moments of being touched by grace as we let our hearts open to joy and beauty and love. Let yourself be surprised by the coincidences, by your dreams, by the synchronicity you encounter. Be curious rather than afraid.
Use all of your senses – see, hear, taste, touch, smell the spring unfolding around us. My friend Julie taught me today to touch the newly unfolding spring leaves, they are softer and more delicate than later in the summer. Whisper “Grow” to each green thing as it pushes up from under the ground and know that spring always emerges from winter eventually, and that each of us has a role to play in that. Here is hope, faith, and joy. Go ahead and laugh out loud, gladden your heart and rejoice. With hope and joy,
Linda Yael Schiller, MSW, LICSW, is an international speaker, psychotherapist, author, and dreamworker. Her book “Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom”, 2019, Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing, is available in both e-book and print. Learn more at www.moderndreamwork.com or https://www.amazon.com/Modern-Dreamwork-Tools-Decoding-Wisdom/dp/0738761826/
Linda regularly teaches dreamwork skills to helping professionals, clergy and medical professionals; and at agency and corporate events and retreats both on-line and in person. You can contact her at http://www.lindayaelschiller.com http://www.awaketoyourdreams.com
In these turbulent times, we have been asked to place ourselves in voluntary quarantine for our own safety and the safety of our loved and vulnerable ones. The concept of “quarantine” can conjure up images and feelings of isolation, of loneliness and of fragility. What if we re-think this message as one of Retreat instead? New Hampshire Lama Willa Miller writes,
“In a pandemic, self-isolation is called quarantine.
In Buddhism, it is called retreat.
From the cave of our home, like the meditators of ancient times,
we can consciously kindle the lamp of compassion and connection.”
Let us make this a time of retreat into the warm cocooned caves of our homes, into the quiet of slowing down, into a Shabbat from the business of the world. And if we take apart the word, we see that it says “Re-Treat”, or to treat ourselves again. Can we find some delight here too?
We can use this time away from the busyness of rushing around to “treat” ourselves to pay attention to who and what really matters to us. Our health, our loved ones, our communities, and the health of the planet. The silver linings that have already begun to appear in the news include clearer air and cleaner water in many polluted parts of our world, and the delight of seeing more and more people out and about walking, biking, and talking with each other instead of having their heads down buried in the cell phones! At least, this is what I am seeing in my neighborhood, and when I go out to walk along the river and through the woods. Both I and others are taking a moment to smile and say “Hello” as we practice our social distancing on these walks, which is not the same as social isolating! Even if I can’t go “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” right now, (because my daughter’s grandmother is 90, and we are staying touch virtually) we can still get out into nature to soothe our souls.
The Body/Mind Connection:
What happens to the body effects the mind, and vice versa. The body/mind/spirit connection is the wholeness of who we are. When we meditate, not only do our minds slow down, but our breathing and our body does too. When we walk outside, not only do our legs get exercise, but our spirits are enlivened when we remember to pause and notice the bright red cardinal singing his heart out, and the forsythia bursting into bloom along the path. When we offer up a prayer to whoever and whatever we believe may be listening, we also create an energetic field of love and hope and resilience for all who are around us.
Begin and End Your Day With Gratitude and Blessing
If you haven’t already been doing so, now would be a wonderful time to practice soothing and grounding rituals at the start and end of your day. Maybe a moment of gratitude in the morning, to wake up each day and say thank you for having lived through the night, through your dreams and even your nightmares, to open our eyes to be able to say, “Thank you for this new day”.
And before you go to sleep at night, “…perchance to dream…”, take a moment to surround yourself and your loved ones with healing, with a bubble of protective light, and invite your dreaming guides to share with you the wisdom of the night and the deep learnings you can get from this time of re-treat.
5 Simple Practices to Sooth Your Soul
Practice reframing the idea of “quarantine” to one of “retreat” and see how that effects your mood.
See if you can find the “treat” and delight in this time of fewer choices, and more time to focus on what matters most to you.
Get outside very day and notice beauty around you. Find one small thing to say “Oh- how lovely!” about.
Start and end your day with what you are grateful for. Let it be a blessing.
Attend to your dreams, for the night wisdom of your soul can give you insights and guidance during difficult times.
My book, “Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom”, Llewellyn Publishing, 2019 is full of practical and simple methods for enhancing your dreaming life and finding the deep hidden source of inner wisdom on this journey to our depths called life. Please read more about it here: www.moderndreamwork.com
What is emerging in your dreams during this pandemic? For many of us, our dreams have become more vivid, more complex, and often fraught with images, stories and emotions that are not part of our usual dream repertoire. The fact that many of us are off our usual routines, changing our sleeping and waking habits to correspond with now working from home, also means that we may be remembering our dreams more often. Some folks may be sleep deprived as they struggle to balance work and child-care, but many are catching up on much needed sleep in our chronically sleep deprived culture. This means more hours of REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep; the part of the sleep cycle in which we have our dreams.
More Nightmares Now? The corona virus has changed not only our outside world, but our inner landscapes and dreamscapes as well. Our dreams are darker, scarier, and sometimes more memorable than we would wish them to be. For example, for the first time in my life I screamed out loud in my sleep. When my husband asked me what happened, I responded simply, “I had a nightmare”. I didn’t remember the content, but the emotion sure came through loud and clear. By paying attention to and working to understand our dreams, we have a window in what our minds, bodies, and souls are telling us, and what they need right now. If we process our emotions and our dream stories, we can bring renewal and healing and more peace to our own waking lives, and potentially the lives of others around us. Our dreams provide us with a processing option. Working through a fear in our dreams, or after we wake and realize it was a dream, helps to desensitize us to some extent; and to rehearse or practice if you will, what we need to do in our waking lives.
Common Covid-19 Nightmare Themes: There are some common pandemic themes that seem to be emerging. One of the main emotions is anxiety. Some are having terrifying nightmares about the end of the world in some form, others are dreaming of metaphoric images of bugs, of swarms of locusts, of termites eating away at the wood and the house coming down. There are other dreams where the main theme is vulnerability or exposure. One woman dreams, “I am getting dressed to go out, but all of my clothes, even the soles of my shoes have holes in them”. Another dreams, “I have a dangerous secret, and I am afraid that any minute I will be found out and exposed”. The virus brings us face to face with loss and death, literally and figuratively. Grief is a little death, and we are all grieving the lost parts of our lives right now, whether or not we personally have loved ones who have died. One dreamer reported crying “buckets of tears” in his dreams and filling his living room with a small lake. It reminded him of the scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice had cried when she was her normal size, but then drinks the potion that makes her small and ends up swimming in a pool of her own tears. Some dreams have biblical proportions of the Passover plagues, Jesus crucified, or the Tower of Babel.
Balancing Nightmares with Dreams of Hope and Reclaiming Life And to balance these out there are also dreams of faith and hope for the future. Last night, 3 days before Passover and 1 week before Easter, I had this dream: “A young man lost his necklace of the Hebrew letter Chai, which means Life, and has the numerical value of 18. I found his necklace and returned it to him and he was very appreciative”. What does it mean to dream of “Life”, or losing Life and having it found and returned to you? Or to dream of returning to someone a part of a life he had lost? I hope that in some small part my work contributes to helping people connect to their life force, which is never really lost. I view this dream positively, that there is hope and faith that we will prevail, that we will heal, that our world will recover. What can we all do to preserve our life force, and help others to do so as well? A necklace rests on our chest. In this dream, the Chai, or Life, was on the chest of the young man. A great symbol for intentional deep breathing, clearing our lungs, or healing from pneumonia-related illnesses.
The Power of the Numbers: 19-1=18 I was also struck by the numerical sequencing of “Covid 19”, and Chai, or Life, (L’Chaim, means “to life”) which has a numerical value of 18. So, what one thing do we need to release, or let go of, or transform so that we move from virus and illness back into Chai or life? Ask yourself that question for yourself, your family, and our world. Is it greed? Or self-centeredness? Or fear? Or; more prosaically social gatherings right now? Take my dream, and your dreams into your own life, listen to their messages, and use them for healing our lives and our planet. With great blessings, Linda
Linda Yael Schiller, MSW, LICSW, is an international speaker, psychotherapist, author, and dreamworker. Her book “Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom”, 2019, Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing, is available in both e-book and print. Learn more at www.moderndreamwork.com or https://www.amazon.com/Modern-Dreamwork-Tools-Decoding-Wisdom/dp/0738761826/
Linda regularly teaches dreamwork skills to helping professionals, clergy, at corporate events and for the interested lay person both on-line and in person. Contact her at http://www.lindayaelschiller.com http://www.awaketoyourdreams.com
“I’ve had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because my dreams”. Jonas Salk
Nightmares are frequently one of the aftershocks that follow traumatic events. They reflect the trauma in one of three ways: Either an “instant replay” of the events that occurred, a close replaying with some features changed a bit, or as symbols and metaphors that capture the felt sense or emotional resonance of the trauma. These nightmares can occur immediately following the event, or many many years later as our system is still trying to process and heal from it. We will meet Jackie at the end of this post, and follow her dream saga over the next several posts as she heals from childhood trauma as an adult in her 50’s.
Tara Brach says, “Trauma is when we have encountered an out of control frightening experience that has disconnected us from all sense of resourcefulness or safety or coping or love.” Therefor, these resources of self-agency, ability to cope, safety and love are what we need to reconnect with in order to resolve the trauma. There are two aspects to any trauma: What happened, and how the person reacted and responded to what happened.
Buddhist philosophy teaches that life can give us two darts: The first dart is what happens to us; that causes the pain. The second dart is the story we tell ourselves about the pain and our reactions to it, that causes the suffering. The first dart is an inevitable part of life, the second one, the suffering, is optional. With compassionate dreamwork we can address both of these darts in different ways. There is a book by Daniel Amen about ADHD titled, “Change your Brain, Change Your Life.” We can’t actually change what has already happened in our waking world of life events; that first dart, but we can change it inside of our dreams and thus reduce the second dart – our suffering.
Our sleep and dream world is just as real as our waking one. Because of the nature of dream time and space, we have much more control over this dreamscape than we do in the waking world of linear time and space. Dreamtime is non-linear, it loops and turns inside out like a Mobius strip. It is always “now” in our dreams: We never dream of the past or the future. This is one of the beauties of dreamwork: When we practice active dreamwork and change things up inside of our dreams, we can also reap the benefits in our daily lives. We will learn several methods to do this over the next few posts. And, of course, we can change our reactions and responses to the things that happen in our dreams as well as the dream narratives. These chosen changes and adjustments can also seep through the porous barrier between our sleeping and waking selves to give us gifts of insight, healing, and transformation while awake.
Jackie reported to our dream circle that she had a long history of repetitive dreams where she couldn’t speak: She either had a mouth full of sticky taffy and couldn’t talk or even open her mouth all the way, or else her tongue was literally tied up in knots, or when she tried to talk to advocate for herself in some dream confrontation she could only peep like a little bird. She had shared with us that she had grown up with a mom who was chronically depressed and was in and out of hospitals most of her childhood. Jackie spent much of her childhood trying to be good and quiet and not to upset her mother, while inside she often seethed with anger, fear and grief. As an adult, Jackie was kind, polite, and fairly soft spoken and admitted to being “conflict avoidant”. She still kept her thoughts and feelings inside, not wanting to stir up potential trouble. In dream group, we explored with her possible connections between her tongue-tied dreams to both to her current communication style and to this history with her mother. Both resonated with her as connected. Here is one form of dream intervention: The creation of insight and connections between the dreams and life, both past and present. So her “aha” was to understand the symbolic content of her repeating dream themes as connected to both past and current life.
We also worked with Jackie within the dreams themselves. At one point she was encouraged to pull the taffy out of her mouth (literally, we had her mime this in group), and to use her hands to untie her knotted up tongue. At another point we asked her what she wanted to say in the dream conflict. Her first thought was that she wanted to say “F…-You” to her overbearing boss in the dream. Jackie shocked herself but enjoyed her out of character response. We then asked if there was something less inflammatory she might like to say in waking life the next time he made unreasonable demands on her beside a “little peep”. After several weeks of working on this dream theme, Jackie reported two things: One, that she felt more empowered and safer to speak up at work, and two, that recently her husband told her that she has been waking him up at night screaming and swearing in her dreams! From no voice to a big angry one, announcing in no uncertain terms another part of her processing. Here was the next layer to address. Stay tuned as these dreams unfold.
After a long break from posting here (in order to get my book out!) I’d like to invite you to focus on the interface between nightmares and trauma. Nightmares that relive or that symbolically recreate traumatic events in our lives are one of the most upsetting and intractable types of dreams. The next series of blog posts will help you learn how to recognize these dreams, offer you tools to resolve the nightmares themselves, and advance your healing from the traumatic events that generate them.
Not every traumatic event that we experience causes PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or results in nightmares that revive it. Oftimes our system is able to shake it off, and resolve the upset without it becoming embedded in our body or mind. We are all wired for growth, so when this does not occur on our own, we may need extra help.
Animals in the wild live a life of constant predator and prey, as Peter Levine writes about in his book on somatic experiencing, Waking the Tiger. Why don’t animals then seem to develop PTSD? Among other things, from video footage taken in the bush, we see animals that have had a near miss with death literally shake themselves off and then go hopping or running away. After the fight, flight, freeze or play dead response, they seem to return to their baseline animal habits and lives with no lingering after-affects. Active dreamwork can help us to learn these skills as well.
There are, however, some circumstances for humans that seem to increase the likelihood that we will not so easily shake it off, but will go on to develop lasting trauma responses such as persistent nightmares. These circumstances include, but are not limited to, ongoing chronic trauma, multiple traumas, trauma that occurs at vulnerable developmental life stages, entrapment, and very powerfully, the response of the family or community post-trauma. The ability or lack thereof to talk about what happened and receive appropriate support makes a big difference not only in the short, but also the long run.
Sometimes the dreams that appear following traumatic or upsetting events seem like instant replay: looping over and over with the same scene, the same outcome, and the same intense emotional upset. When our systems are able to tap into our innate wiring for healing and growth, the dreams begin to resolve on their own: They get less frequent, less intense, more vague and distant, and eventually disappear. This is best-case scenario – when our innate wisdom and our body’s capacity for healing can be accessed. This is one of our versions of “shaking it off”, and what we are aiming for when we work with the nightmares. If they have been persistent for a while, they may not disappear all at once, but if the pattern is that of less: Less intense, less frequent, less upsetting, then we know we are moving in the right direction.
The series of posts that will follow give you more direction on methods and strategies to do this. A first step is to do some pre-dream incubation and energetic protection if you know that you tend to have nightmares. Before going to sleep, surround yourself or your bed or your bedroom with a protective barrier of some kind: White light is often a good choice, but use any colors that feel protective to you, or an energy shield to keep you safe in the night. This can help, by the way, whether or not you “believe in it”: Like penicillin, sometimes medicine works even if we don’t exactly understand how. “Incubating” a dream means to spend a few minutes before going to sleep asking for what you want; writing it down makes it stronger and more likely to succeed. So write down that you want relief from nightmares, or a barrier between you and nightmares, or spiritual beings to protect you in the night – whatever works for you and your belief system. Then practice saying these statements out loud or at least reading them over several times just before you go to sleep. Our first goal in working with nightmares is to reduce the distress, so let’s start there.
Over the next several posts I will share a number of approaches to healing and resolving your nightmares before, during, and after the night.
“There are many who don’t wish to sleep for fear of nightmares. Sadly, there are many who don’t wish to wake for the same fear.”
(Dandelions, The Disappearance of Annabelle Fletcher, Rochelle F. Goodrich)
Have you noticed lately that your dreams are more permeated than usual with a vague or not-so-vague sense of anxiety, dread, or foreboding? What we might call “free floating anxiety”, to use a professional term. Many of us can easily name our waking angst as related to the current political scene in our country, but more and more it is apparent that PTSD (Post Trump-atic Stress Disorder) has infiltrated our dream lives as well. Reports from countless dreamers since the election have been replete with themes of invaders, intruders, floods, danger, running for safety or the need to protect, including for people who do not usually report dreams of this nature. I’ve been seeing this with my clients, my dream groups, all my colleagues are reporting this, and my own dreams bear it out. Our collective psyches that come together at night seem to breach the boundaries of our very bedrooms. Dreams can contain not only the personal layer of “my dream”; but as we pick up in our unconscious the energies of others, another layer becomes reflective of “our dreams” too. Jung named this phenomenon the collective unconscious, and our collective unconscious is having a field day lately.
Both anecdotal stories and actual polls taken among therapists and mental health professionals indicate a noticeable rise in anxiety, depression, and people seeking treatment either for the first time ever, or coming back after a significant time out of treatment. They all say some variation of “I don’t feel safe any more” or “I am getting triggered by old stuff I thought I had resolved”. They want to talk about current events in a way that is unusual for personal therapy to lead with. It is clear that we are troubled in this post election season by not only our own personal histories, but also the state of the world we are living in and how it affects our psyches and our being.
In one of my dream circles a member had a dream that she titled “The Secular Behemoth”. In the dream some one spotted a large behemoth monster (which is what a behemoth is) on the ground, perhaps just the head, with the rest of it buried, and instructed everyone to run for safety. Then young people chased them who were apparently working for the monster. The feeling of the dream was one of fear and trepidation. The dreamer was very clear that this was not a personal dream, but a collective dream, and that the behemoth represented the “monstrous new world order” under the current administration, and the young people had been brainwashed to work for him in the dream. She attributes it’s arrival to having returned to watching the news after a period of a news fast. The secular part of her title referred perhaps to this new order feeling unholy -who is caring for the needy among us? Her waking world dream tasks after sharing it included to gather up protection, and then to look at and face the monster with collective support.
Another dreamer had a dream of an enormous tinker toy structure in her children’s room where 2 teens had “invaded” her space and had set up camp there. She yelled to them “Get Out!”, feeling invaded, terrified and full of rage. Her associations when we worked on the dream were of feeling invaded as some one large and powerful was “tinkering” with her private world, and worry for the future of the children. One of the ways we worked on this dream from the inside was by dismantling the tinker toy structure and boxing it up.
We can work right inside the dream images to change them up, change the ending, or gather up supports if we are getting overwhelmed or anxious or outright terrified. It is, after all, our own dream – even though we might not be able to change the world quite so quickly, we do have the ultimate power to change our own stories, whether in our waking or our dreaming life. So, if you have an anxiety dream, ask yourself “What can I do to feel more empowered, to get to safety, to help myself and others inside this dream?” when you wake. Then, re-write that dream, adding in any resources you want: in dreams you are not limited by the laws of physics or gravity or logic. The more we can feel safe and empowered, even in our dreams, the more we can bring that forward into our waking lives as well.
In addition, here are a few more dream ideas to try before going to sleep at night to help contain the flood of feelings and the deluge of upsetting images.
1. Use your dream journal to set an intention the night before to write something like “I will allow in and recall only the dreams that are in my highest purpose and best interest”. Or “I will be safe and protected in my sleep and dreams”.
2. Hang a dream catcher near your bed with the same intentions (that is what Native tradition tells us they are designed to do – allow the good dreams to filter through the hole in the center, and snare the upsetting dreams in their webbing.)
3. Surround yourself and your bed/bedroom with a bubble of light for safety, protection, and good boundaries. Pick your favorite most healing and protective color.
4. Imagine closing a door in your mind before going to sleep, like a portal between worlds. You can also add a phrase such as “I close the door to unwanted intrusions in the night”.
5. Say the words “No”, or “No more” or “Enough”, (Dayenu, in the spirit of Passover) strongly, perhaps even out loud to your dream muse to give you a break!
Stay connected with your supports and your tribe as well, so we can face the Behemoth together. Join groups, gather with friends and fellow dreamers, feel the power of the collective spirit. Brene Brown recently said that collective courage is an antidote to collective trauma. She quoted Howard Thurman saying “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go out and do that. The world needs more people who are fully alive.”
Awake to your dreams, and then take them with you out into the world.
Sleeping and dreaming are generally quite solitary acts. Even though we may share a bed or a room with others, when we dip below the horizon of wakefulness into our dreams, that journey is taken alone. We then have whatever adventures our dreamtime soliloquies take us on, often with others playing their roles as part of the dream journey. But when we waken it is our dream alone; just us, with the lingering fingers of memory tickling our senses as we desperately try to remember as much as we can in order to write it down or record it.
Then what? Even Jung himself is famous for saying that he could not squeeze all the information out of his dream by himself, as we all have those famous blind spots. As I’ve said before, we can’t see the back of our own heads without two mirrors. And not only that, we usually dream in symbols and metaphors to boot! So we ponder and analyze as far as we can under our own steam, and then if we want to really mine the treasures of our dreams, it is time to turn them over to be considered by others as well. Some one else, or several others, can be that mirror for us so that we can see beyond the limitations that our own psyche is constrained by.
Whether you are working with just one other or in a dream group, the consultants need to respect the “rules” of considering some one else’s dream. First off, the dreamer is the final expert in whether an analysis is correct or not: without that inner tingle or what Eugene Gendlin calls our “felt sense”, the insight may be true for the consultant, but not necessarily for the dreamer. So as a group we have learned to try to use the wording taught to us by dreamworker Jeremy Taylor “If this were my dream…” and respect that it may take several rounds of ideas before one of them is a hit for the dreamer. One client of mine always tears up when there is an on–target dream hit. I can relate – that is always a true barometer for me as well: if I get tears in my eyes, then we must be at pay dirt.
Sometimes the listeners may get so excited or energized by the dream content the dreamer is presenting that they rush to jump into the fray before knowing what the dreamer wants to focus on. This happens fairly regularly in dream groups, we all get so excited as we resonate with the material. Last week I invited the members to try to slow it down a bit. Before we listened to the dreamer share her dream, I suggested that we first cast a large energy net around the circle, and then gradually draw it in to find the fish that is the right catch for the dreamer. This image seemed to help us slowly focus and let the dreamer’s intention guide our work. As we slowly circled the dream, we could feel some of the suggestions slip through the net, while others stayed inside until the final “aha” for the dreamer – “That’s it! There my fish!”
I invite you to try it with you own dreaming friends.
“And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” Kahlil Gibran
It has been some time since I last posted here. But last night “I had a dream” – maybe not as powerful as that of Dr. King, but one I wanted to share here; a journey dream that helped to point the way to traveling without fear.
Dreams often take us on journeys. We dream travel in usual or unusual modes, to known or unknown locations. We travel in our dream vehicles of cars or planes or flying carpets or flying horses to New York City or down the street, to our childhood homes or our office building, to Mars or to Narnia. We journey in time and space, to both the outer and inner worlds that we inhabit nightly. Sometimes these journeys are pleasant, sometimes they an be terrifying,
This early fall time of year is a time of transition and journeying in non-dream time as well. We had 2 dark (new) moons this month; an unusual occurrence that points us toward the gifts of the night and the dark places. The leaves have begun their journey as they turn from summer greens (and the browns of this drought year) to the reds and golds of autumn. The kids have gone back to school, the college students are back in force, and it feels like the New Year, whether or not you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah now. Rosh Hashanah is a holy window in time and space. Similar to the January New Year transition, it can be a time of personal reflection and transformation as we look back on the year that passed and make resolutions for the year to come. One of the key concepts at Rosh Hashana is “t’shuvah”, which means return, and also to make amends. We sing a song with the lyrics “…Return again…return to the land of your soul…” Another song tells us that the main point of the journey is not to be afraid: That “All the world is just a narrow bridge” that we must cross without being immobilized by fear.
Journeying. Returning. Without fear. Fear is part of the human condition. How do we journey without it? If we pay attention to our dreams, they may provide resources and guidance for us to address this dilemma and help us on our way over these narrow bridges.
I had a dream a few nights ago that I knew was important, but didn’t realize it’s potential until sharing it with my dream circle. The process of talking about it out loud, with a few well-placed questions from my friends helped me to recognize what had been in my blind spot before. Here’s a part of the dream:
I am driving my car on my way to meet my husband somewhere, when all of a sudden there is no light- it has become pitch dark. My car lights are gone, and there are no streetlights or stars-nothing but blackness. I am surprisingly not as frightened as I could be, just a bit anxious. I grip the steering wheel and just keep driving up and down ramps and over passes and underpasses. Suddenly there is light again, it is daylight, and I am in a warm southern place.
The dream continues a bit, but this is the journey part of the dream. The initial title I come up with is “Driving Blind”. As I talked my way through it, I realize that it is kind of like life itself – sometimes we are “driving blind”, we don’t really know where we are going, but we just know that we have to keep on going through whatever this difficult time is. If we stop, if we get paralyzed by fear, we get stuck in the dark. In my dream I come out into the light – if that’s not a metaphor, I don’t know what is. As I kept talking, I realized that the reason that I wasn’t as afraid as I might have been about driving in the dark had to do with faith – I must have trusted even while driving with no lights that is would turn out ok. I then was able to re-name the dream “Blind Faith” and bring that trust into some of the ups and downs of my life right now.
On this journey of life, we just keep going, even during times when we are driving in the dark.
My you be blessed with the gift of faith, and with peace, abundance and sweetness in this New Year.
“And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” Kahlil Gibran
So, my mom died recently. It has been a sad period of time, up and down, days of being “fine” interspersed with days with tears. The whole process however, has been punctuated with waking and sleeping dreams that have brought me comfort, clarity, and no small bit of awe and trepidation.
When a loved one dies it is often the case that that the bereaved report various dreams and/or visits from the departed. Sometimes these are incredibly comforting. Sometimes they are frightening. Sometimes they contain unfinished business. These dreams come in the service of peering between the veils that separate the worlds for connection, information, or a way to make peace that was not available during life.
I thought to share some of my process with you, to illuminate some of the ways in which waking and sleeping dreams can come through when we stand on the edges of life, and then when we mourn those who have passed over.
My mom got sick suddenly: the day before she went to the hospital she was teaching her “Yoga for Seniors” class. After a week of hospitalization, she was discharged to a rehab facility. I got down to visit her; and spent the weekend giving her reiki and massages and buying her some favorite foods (like vanilla yogurt, health conscious to the end!) that the rehab didn’t provide. When I left, she seemed tired but stable. But as I drove back to the airport, I had a waking dream: I heard a voice, clear as day, saying, “Mom has died”. I so didn’t want that to be true. I argued with myself, saying, “That’s just your fear”; and while that was also true, the voice in no uncertain terms repeated itself again. Two days later I got a call from the hospital saying that she was in multiple organ failure, and asking if she had a living will. We were lucky that my mom had been both organized and very clear: My siblings and I all knew that she definitely did not want any extreme measures. She died while I was on the phone with the doctor. So while I was not “there”, I was there.
About an hour or two later, I had another waking dream. This time I saw a swirl of smoke and mist rise up and spiral out of her body straight up to join my stepfather, her beloved Bud, who had died eight years before. I saw and felt their embrace- it was clear he had been waiting for her. Some souls hang out in the Bardo (that place between worlds where souls can rest and regroup while they get oriented to having released their bodies before moving on to the next stage.) No waiting room for my mom though – she had a concierge already waiting to welcome and orient her. I felt a great peace come over me with this.
I didn’t expect to have her visit in my dreams for a while, because concierge or no, this was still a big journey. About 3 weeks later, I had my first night dream. Mom visited me, and in the dream we were in a house and there seemed to be some confusion about whose bedroom was whose. I thanked her for her visit, and told her that it was perfectly ok for her to get really settled first before visiting again. I had a sense that she appreciated this, and that next time she visits, she will be more settled in her new place. When I had my next dream about being lost and disoriented, she was not in it. This was my journey, my work to come to terms with this new phase of my life.
Jeremy Taylor tells us that all dreams, even nightmares, come bearing gifts. They are not always the gifts we are seeking, so we have to find a way to integrate them into our lives when they show up. It would seem that this is one of my unasked for gifts: a dream that can presage a death, and then more comforting gift of being able to entertain visits afterwards. A few days before my stepdad died (he had had a stroke), I had a dream of an owl. I knew that owls were often harbingers of death in shamanic tradition, but I remember telling myself that there could be many other associations as well. As with my mom, I knew deep down that my self -talk was just wishful thinking. He died a few days later. I then had a dream of a small wooden hut overlooking a frozen river. There was a guard in the house. My dream circle helped me to know that this was Charon, boatman of the River Styx; over which he ferried the souls of the dead in Greek myth. As I watched, the sun came out and the ice began to break up. My grief slowly melted as time passed, and Bud has come to visit me regularly and even on request since that time. I am immensely comforted at this time of loss to know that I can expect to continue my relationship with both of them, and will no doubt hear my mom telling me to take my vitamins, to live fully, and to always take a direct flight whenever possible in the future.