“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.
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 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.
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 todays answers to tomorrows questions”Edgar Cayce
When we dream, we are in a place. We are in 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.
“I dream I am a circus performer, balancing on the back of a horse.”
However, 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?
The work on “embodied imagination” by Robbie Bosnak, and Jung’s concept 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 or 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.”
We collectively become 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 a whole which is then greater than the sum of it’s 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.
Join us on Friday 11/20/15, 9:00-4:00 in Newton, MA. for the “Dreams Alive” workshop to play with these ideas. No dream or dance experience necessary. Contact Linda Yael Schiller () or Julie Leavitt () for more information/registration.
At the end of the movie, when Dorothy returned from her sojourn in Oz, her aunt and uncle and their 3 farmhands were there to greet her at her bedside. On waking, she was told by her Auntie Em and the kindly doctor (who looked remarkably like the Wizard) that she had been hit on the head during the twister and had passed out for a time. When Dorothy insisted that she had actually been off traveling in a strange and wonderful land “…that was sometimes scary, but mostly very beautiful”, she was assured by all present that it was “just a dream”.
Alice, of Wonderland, and later Looking Glass fame, 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…
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 astro-realms. (Which is, by the way, the reason you are not supposed to wake a sleeper up too suddenly: Because the dreaming soul is connected to the body by a thin silver thread, and too sudden a wakening can snap the thread and the soul would not be able to find it’s way home back into the body.)
Lynn McTaggert, in her landmark book on non-local consciousness “The Field”, writes: “Deep in the rainforests 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.
So, what is a dream actually? And where do dreams come from? 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.
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.
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)