At this time of year, we celebrate Easter, Passover, the equinox, and the coming of spring. Themes of renewal, resurrection, and freedom abound as we mark this season, and remember that the healing potential lays under the darkest of places. Although here in New England we are still dealing with a layer of snow, the buds are pushing through the ground and out the ends of the tree branches, reminding us that what has been buried underground all winter has not died, just has been waiting for enough light and warmth to come forth. Our darkest dreams, our nightmares even, contain the roots and sources of our freedom and liberation. As we struggle up through the layers of sleep to our dream-saturated waking consciousness, retaining what we can of the messages that came through to us in the night, we can find the hints of our healing, and as Mary Oliver suggests, we get that “click” of an “Aha!” and the taste of sweet blossoms in our mouths.
Dreams(by Mary Oliver)
the dark buds of dreams
In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine
if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,
and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,
the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.
Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots
and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense
of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels
when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.
May your dreamings bring you insights and blossoms
When we recognize the patterns in our dreams and in our lives, then we have the power to shift and transform them.
Amanda, age 8, developed a fear of intruders breaking into her house. She dreams that some one will break in and kidnap or hurt her or her family members or her pets.
Jen, age 27, consistently has dreams of violence: of being chased, some one being murdered, small animals being hurt. Her current life is pretty stable and happy, so she can’t figure out what these dreams are about.
What both of these dreamers have in common is the repetitive and intrusive nature of their dreams. Sometimes bad dreams and nightmares resolve on their own, and sometimes they seems to get “stuck”. Paying attention to and keeping track of dreams, especially when they are repetitive dreams, is crucial in order to be able to see and to heal the patterns. We can’t recognize patterns if we aren’t keeping track over time.
Healing is about becoming aware of the healthy and unhealthy patterns in our lives – once we recognize a pattern, then we can get on with healing from the events that created and perpetuated it. Framing the dreams and the patterns of the dreams in the life of the dreamer can give us guidance towards understanding and then resolving these scary themes and images.
Alan Seigal, president of IASD (the International Assoc. for the Study of Dreams) outlines 3 stages in the resolution of recurrent nightmares:
Stage One: The Threat:The dreamer or the main character in the dream is being threatened in some way and can’t get away or defend themself.
Stage Two: The Struggle: The dreamer or main character is still being attacked or chased or imprisoned, but they are attempting to break free, to run or to get away. (For example, the dreamer is being chased by a bear and successfully climbs a tree to safety, but the bear is still lurking underneath the tree and they are trapped in the tree).
Stage Three: Resolution: A workable solution has been found, and the threat no longer exists- it has been transformed, overcome, vanquished, extinguished.
I really like this organization of stages in working through nightmares because it honors the steps along the road to progress. Looking at it in this way, we can see more clearly that even though the struggle phase is still difficult, it does represent progress. It is important to recognize the small steps along the healing path as well as the big leaps.
Alan also does a lovely job with a pneumonic for the work of healing from nightmares. The “3 R’s” of our childhood were reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. The “4 R’s” of dream healing can be thought of as Reassurance, Re-scripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution.
Reassurance: Whether we are with children, loved ones, or clients, the first step to providing some comfort and relief to nightmare sufferers is Reassurance. Not reassurance that it’s “just a dream”, since that would negate their experience, but reassurance that you respect the feelings of the dream, that you recognize (another “R”) that it feels really real. Having their dream taken seriously is a source of comfort for both children and adults. Then leaning into the dream with better resources, rather than leaning away from it in avoidance or fear, is a good next step.
Re-scripting allows you re-write the dream and to build in resources for the dreamer to use in working with the dream and in ending the dream on a more positive note. We should encourage the dreamer to approach scary dreams slowly and carefully, and to add in resources for safety and protection even before working with the dream material itself. For example, use your imagination to provide magical tools, cultural symbols or icons, non- lethal protection such as shields, light or force fields, or a posse of people/animals/guides to protect the dreamer. Anne Wiseman, author of the book “Nightmare Help”, encourages us not to use violent means as protection, as this can encourage using violent means to solve life problems, especially with children. Even with adults, we don’t want to annihilate a dream figure that we may later discover can be a hidden resource for us.
Rehearsal: Remember the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? – Practice, practice, practice.” That’s what Rehearsal is all about- practice using the methods you came up with in re-scripting to work out a safer and more satisfying dream scene and dream ending over and over again. Keep going over those resources, changing the dream ending, getting the characters to talk to each other, etc. until the dreamer can “do it in their sleep”. When working with Amanda (age 8), we practiced standing up tall and building a magic fence around her house, and as we acted that out she also talked back to the intruders out loud, saying “Go away, You can’t get me!” and “Get out of here” and “I’m safe”.
Resolution:Once we’ve reassured, re-scripted, and rehearsed we are much more likely to come to a good resolution that will either make the nightmares go away, or will transform them into something much less stressful, or benign, or even helpful, or provide some insight or direction for the dreamer to take in their waking life.
For those who are interested in learning more about using these methods, I will be leading a workshop titled “ Using Dream, Imagery and Metaphor in Clinical Practice: Taming Demons and Transforming Nightmares” which will be held at the Therapy Training Boston Center in Watertown, MA. on Friday May 1st. While geared for health and mental health professionals (6 CEU’s are available!), the interested dream enthusiast is also welcome, and the material and experiential exercises will be useful for all. Click here for the link, http://www.therapytrainingboston.com, and scroll to workshops. Early bird registration gets you a discount till April 1st! Hope to see you there.
“In most of our dreams, our inner eye of reflection is shut and we sleep within our sleep. The exception takes place when we seem to awake within our dreams, without disturbing or ending the dream state, and learn to recognize that we are dreaming while the dream is still happening”. Stephen LaBerge
Most of us have heard of the phrase “lucid dreaming” but have not been aware of the intricacies of it. It has become an increasingly popular concept however, and Wikipedia told me that a smartphone app for it was downloaded half a million times within six weeks in 2012. A lucid dream has been defined as any dream within which we are aware that we are dreaming. To be lucid while dreaming implies being “awake” or conscious while asleep (sort of an oxymoron), and then to be able to control or direct what happens inside the dream. (While my blog title is “Awake To Your Dreams”, lucid dreaming can be thought of as being awake in your dreams).
Until recently I was somewhat prejudiced against this as a worthwhile goal, given that I believe that it makes more sense to dream all the way through a dream that we are given, and then to work with it. In other words, not to interfere with our wise unconscious dreaming self from doing the work that it does best: Taking our unarticulated dilemmas, longings, desires, wishes, issues, pains, and struggles and then present them to us in dreamtime with as much metaphor and symbol as it thinks we need in order to be able to begin processing them. Pictures, images, emotions, storylines, fragments, a single word or a whole epic- let ‘em role – and then go back and find the layers of meanings. But as I have been giving the concept more thought, I have been coming to see other options available in lucid dreaming that do not necessarily hijack our innate processing systems.
So as a modern adult with a teenager to learn from, I Googled “lucid”. It was defined as “articulate, rational, or luminous”, with additional synonyms of thought through, clear, eloquent, and silver tongued (the later being my personal favorite). Not what I actually had expected, given how it is commonly used in the dreaming world. And yet, it makes sense. I especially liked the use of the word “luminous”: implying otherworldly, shining and glowing, and yet clear and eloquent- all hallmarks of a dream well dreamt from our souls’ warehouse of dreams.
There seem to be two kinds of lucid dreams: 1.) “Dream initiated lucid dreams” that begin as a regular dream, and then turn lucid, and 2.) “Wake initiated lucid dreams (or “W.I.L.D.”). These can occur a.) while we are drifting off to sleep but are still technically awake and we are aware immediately that we ‘re dreaming, or b.) when we incubate a dream before going to sleep. To incubate a dream, we purposely journal, think, or pray to journey into a dream on some issue or dilemma while we are awake, and then dream on it in the subsequent dream. This later method is a form of lucid dreaming that combines inside and outside worlds- focusing our attention on what we hope to have a dream about while awake, and then having the dream on that topic while asleep. This seems to be one way not to interfere with the wisdom of our dreaming mind- we kind of point our radio frequency dial in the direction we want, and then our dream mind picks up on the right signal and we make contact.
Both kinds of lucidity can be useful for nightmare sufferers. The ability to point our dreams in the direction of healing while awake, and the ability to purposefully change course in the middle of a distressing dream to avoid a pitfall or disaster can greatly alleviate the distress of chronic nightmares. If we don’t misuse the method to bypass the inner work we need to get through, this skill can be a gift and a short cut to relief. No one gets extra points for prolonged suffering! I once had a dream in which I was being assaulted. I somehow knew it was a dream and that I didn’t want the assault to continue, so I remember deciding to get out of there. I knew I had to swim upwards to get out. Then I had the sensation of straining my way up and out of the dream like swimming through sticky molasses, aiming for the light at the top. I could feel the pulling and kicking feelings in my arms and legs, and when I got to the top I was awake. I still recall the feeling of relief and self power that I got myself out of there.
The ability to lucid dream is both innate and can get better by practice, much as exercising any other kind of muscle gets stronger with practice.
Here are a few popular methods of getting more lucid:
1. “Am I Dreaming?”
Ask yourself periodically during the day “Am I dreaming?” and perform some kind of reality check. If you do it often enough you will remember to do in in your dream as well. For example, if you lean against a wall and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and you don’t fall through the wall you are awake; since in a dream you are more likely to fall through. Jump up in the air: if you land you are awake; you are more likely to be able to hover or fly if you are dreaming. Clap your hands together or snap your fingers- if you can hear, see and feel it, you are awake. If you are missing any of those sense awarenesses, you are asleep.
2. Journal It
Keep a dream journal. As you build up a dream lexicon of re-occuring images and themes, they will become easier to recognize in your dreams. Make a list of your common images and themes and review them before going to sleep.
3. Set Your Clocks
Try a variation on Stephen LeBerge’s method. Set an alarm clock to wake you up at periodic intervals of several hours duration during the night, and record the dreams you have then. We are most likely to have lucid dreams during our deepest REM sleep. So after recording as much as you can remember, lie back down to the position you were just in, and tell yourself “I am aware that I was dreaming”, and you will be more likely to know that inside of your next sleep/dream phase. (Personally I can’t imagine wanting this badly enough to wake myself up for it on purpose, but that’s just me- there are those who do it.)
4. “Look At Your Hands”
a.) As you get into bed, look at your hands, and say to yourself over and over “I will dream and I will see my hands” until you are tired and go to sleep.
b.) If you wake in the night, look at your hands and repeat the phrase.
c.) With practice, you will see your hands in the dream and can say in the dream “Wow- here are my hands- I am dreaming!”
5. The Diamond Method
While you meditate, try to visual your whole life, both waking and sleeping as facets of a diamond: All is one, just different aspects of the same whole, a synthesis of the spiritual and the psychological. (A. H. Almaas). Our dreams and our waking selves are thus just two facets of the same human consciousness. Almaas calls this diamond the Universe, or God, or the Soul. The key is to recognize that all of life is happening at once, and it is only our limitations and perceptions that separate it out into its different facets or dimensions. Once we recognize this, it then becomes easy to see dreams and waking as simply different facets of the diamond, and therefor easier to be “awake in your dreams” with little effort.
Of course, as Robert Waggoner points out in his book on lucid dreaming, we can’t control everything in a dream, or in life – not the color of the sea, or the height of the waves. But when we develop a relationship with our Inner Guide, our inner Wise Woman or Wise Man, our clear cut Diamond Self, then we can direct the ship of our life more confidently and with more resources.
“Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”
At the core of our dreams are The Images. Beautiful, frightening, sensual, intriguing, they usually represent the heart of our dreaming landscapes. Lately I ‘ve been learning to pay more attention to the living nature of these images. Last summer at the Dream Conference (http://www.IASD.org) I was introduced to the work of Stephen Aizenstat. I had been familiar with his book “Dream Tending” for some time, but had never read it. After hearing him speak, I got it.
Aizenstat opens up the concept of imagery to what he calls the “Living Image”. Drawing on the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and others, he shares his perception that the dream images are not static. They have a life of their own and exist in this world as well as the one we dreamed them in. The images may start out in our dreamscape, but Aizenstat teaches that they have a life of their own in our awake walk-around world. We already know that they feel real to us when we are dreaming them. Vividly alive in our night journeys, the image can enrich our lives as we allow it to become animate in our daytime world by engaging with it. His basic premise is that “dreams are alive”.
When we engage with the images from our dreams, and give them their due outside of their lives inside our dream, we are engaging in a process called “Amplification”, or making larger. When we expand the image to be as large as it can be we enter the realm of myth and archetype– the great grand stories that have engaged humankind for millennium. Aisenstat tells us “…a myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to…social interactions”. We dream in our own personal mythologies; our waking task is to then connect our dreams with the mythologies of the larger world. Doing so, we may not only gain insight into ourselves and make broader meaning of our small self-stories, but we can also connect with the larger world dreams, and thus see ourselves and our issues and problems as part of the human condition. Mindfulness practice might call this “right-sizing” the problem.
Aizenstat teaches that there are three steps to the process: Association, Amplification, and Animation. First, allow your mind free Associate to the image, that is, to allow your mind to spontaneously wander about and connect to whatever comes up for you from your own life, feelings, and memories. Then we Amplify, or enlarge these associations to find the bigger stories: these new directions may not have been part of the original dream, but the dream helped to point you in this direction. Finally, we Animate; embody, bring the image to life in some way.
I’ll illustrate a bit of the process with a recent dream image I had. In my dream, a large bright blue-green bird with a very long tail that flew into my room. It was beautiful but a little scary, since it was fluttering around the room and it was big. I wondered if I should let it out or try to catch it first. Then I realized that it was a Quetzal.
My first associations were to my father-in-law’s parrot, to the mythical Phoenix, and to my cats liking the “catch and release” program they have devised when a bird accidentally gets into our house (they catch but don’t kill, I capture and release). I didn’t really know what a Quetzal was, just that it had to do with Central America. My dream circle helped me then to amplify: We Googled up “Quetzal “, and found references to a divine bird associated with the Mayan or Aztec religions in Mexico. It is officially called a “Resplendent Quetzal”, was associated with Divinity, Love, and Air, and its plumage was valued for headdresses of royalty. Wow! Who knew? I loved that it was called “resplendent”. My body began to fill up with the feeling of the Quetzal as I spontaneously began to animate it by kind of spreading my arms wide and flapping/waving them at shoulder level. Now I could feel this quetzal energy in my body, especially around my heart and the place on my back where my wings would attach.
Back in the dream, I decided to leave the window open so that the Quetzal could come and go freely.
By using this method of association, (seeing what first caught my attention), then amplifying (enlarging the story, broadening it to include world wide mythic associations, this time with the help of the magic scryer Google,) and then embodying and animating the image, I felt my interaction with it as a real being in ways that I didn’t begin to touch before doing so: I felt exhilarated, a little frightened, and a bit awed by it’s size and beauty. Not bad for a night’s work. It has joined my pantheon of animal guides along with puma and jaguar, and I’ll continue to watch out for it’s messages and meanings in dreams and while awake.
Next time we’ll look at using this process with the scarier images as well, to seek out their healing essence.
Did you ever have a dream that was so vivid, so sensual that you could practically taste it? That’s what Laurie’s dream of honey was like – filled with drippy sweetness, full of the senses, like in the e.e. cummings poem “…tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, breathing…” And the fact that she is a consummate storyteller, and acted it out spontaneously while telling made it that much more delicious.
Fall always feels like the real New Year to me, rather than January 1st: we go back to school, back to work from our summer vacations. The air subtly shifts its smell and texture from salty and hot to leafy and crisp, and many celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It is called a time of “tsuvah”- of turning, or returning (“tshuv” means turn or return). It is about renewal, reconciliation, re-commitment, and embracing the sweetness of life. Traditionally, apple slices dipped in honey are eaten at the New Year so that we may embody the sweetness of our hopes and dreams for the coming year.
There’s an old saying: Once is an accident, twice is a co-incidence, and three times is a pattern we should be paying attention to. I’ve been gifted with honey 3 times recently, and wanted to re-gift you with the sweetness. 1. A week ago I fell in love with a new kind of honey paste- a thick slightly gritty semi-solid form that tastes and feels like it is still part of a hive. I’m sure it’s been around for a long time, but it was new to me. 2. A colleague in my study group in Newton owns hives (is that the proper term- is “a beekeeper” more correct?) and showed up 2 days ago with a gift jar of her hives honey for each of us. 3. My friend shared the following dream with us the next night.
Laurie’s dream: I am rushing around doing very busy things, teaching my class, preparing notes. Then over there is this very large clear glass jar, like the kind used at banquets containing slices of orange or lemon and water, that is filled with honey. The spigot seems to be open, so it is dripping the thick golden honey. I don’t see a container, so I rush over and put my hand under the jar to catch the honey. Rushing back to my busyness over here, rushing to catch honey over there. Rushing back again to busyness over here, then rushing back again to catch the sweet sticky honey in my hands over there. Finally I stop and just catch the honey.
Listening to this dream I was so excited that I could barely restrain myself from making comments or asking questions. Luckily, Laurie was both entertaining enough, and insightful enough, that I managed to just say something simple, like “How wonderful- you were catching sweetness with both hands”. She told us that the messages she had already received from the dream were about the importance of slowing down the busyness, even stopping what we are doing, in order to catch the sweetness of life, and that her students bring such sweetness to her class that part of her job was to catch and appreciate it. As Freud says about dream symbols, sometimes a cigar is “just a cigar”.
A message in mindfulness for us all. May you all be blessed with a double handful of sweetness in your new year.
“…and we are strong at the broken places”, Ernest Hemingway
The previous post looked at synchronicities and opening channels to receive knowledge in uncanny, intuitive or non-linear ways. We continue here with a history of dream incubation and how to use this method now to ask for and receive wisdom from the universal Source. In addition to being open, we can also play a role in priming the intuitive pump.
Dream incubation; the first step in asking for guidance in this way; comes with preparation as well as intention. Kimberly Patton speaks of 3 elements common to the topography of incubation in ancestral times:
For our ancestors, having a proper frame of mind and making the proper Sacrifices were necessary components of asking for help from the Dream Source. The sacrifices often included burnt offerings, usually of a sheep or goat; and the supplicant would then sleep on the skin of the sacrificed animal. According to Patton, the burning of the animal transformed the material earthly world into the world of vapor and air, thus allowing the gods to smell the pleasing odor as the burnt offering went up in the smoke. If we recall that the Four Worlds in many mystic, pagan, indigenous (and Jungian) traditions are Earth, Air, Fire and Water; then having a ritual that connect us with each of these worlds in some way makes intuitive and as well as logical sense.
Second, some form of Purification was also part of the ritual: a sacred bath in clear or flowing waters was a common element. Interestingly, according to Patton, tears or weeping were also frequently part of the purification process: perhaps this invoked our own internal salt water cleansing; a way of making ourselves vulnerable and thus open to receiving (l’kabel). Teachers in both Sufi (Hefetz) and Kabbalist (Reb Nachman) traditions teach that when our hearts are broken open, there God is able to enter.
(Connected to this concept, the Japanese art of Kintsugi consists of repairing a cracked piece of pottery with gold or silver filling in the cracks; thus the repaired piece is actually more valuable than the original un-cracked piece. What a wonderful metaphor for healing- that we are more valuable for having repaired the places where we have been cracked open than for never having been cracked at all. )
The third step in ancient times is that of Pilgrimage– this is about locality, “location, location, location.” An outward journey was taken to imitate the inward journey one hoped would happen. Anthropologist James Frazer (his classic text is “The Golden Bough”) spoke of several kinds of magical practices he found in his studies, and one of the most common was imitative magic. The pilgrimage is part of the external manifestation we hope our dream journey will imitate. Where one sleeps for this kind of journey was in a sacred place set apart. Our ancestors traveled in order to incubate their dreams on holy ground. Alternately, the ground on which the ritual is created becomes holy by virtue of having accessed the Divine in that place. Frequently, though not always, it was a high place- on a hill, or a mound: where the membrane between worlds perhaps is thinner, just as the air is thinner atop high mountains. (i.e. tall standing stones of Druidic or Celtic lore, Mt. Sinai, Mecca, any “castle on a hill” seen so often in fairy tales).
How then are we to translate this for our times, since most of us aren’t about to kill a sheep or goat or spent the night alone on a mountain top. To receive this kind of knowledge, we may ask ourselves what kind of Sacrifice we are prepared to make: is it the sacrifice of some kind of comfortable place, or belief, or lifestyle? Are we willing to sacrifice the easy way of something for the higher way? Are we willing to walk our walk, as well as talk our talk? Get clear- what are you willing to give up for this portion of wisdom?
Purification: Will we cleanse ourselves with sage or incense? Will we take a long shower or a salt bath with intention to prepare ourselves to dream deeply and purely? Will we drink a bit or wash with salt water as our ancestors did?
And finally, Pilgramage: Where are we headed? Can we set a compass, or an orientation through our dream preparation for what we are seeking? Do we take a large or small retreat space from our daily life in which to open to this work? Is there an elevated space we can go to? Can we take ourselves out of ordinary time and/or space for a little while for this pilgrimage?
I’ll share with you an example of a small modern pilgrimage. A few years ago I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life; family illnesses, too much work; and I didn’t have the time to go off on retreat, even though I was craving some alone renewal time. I asked a friend if I could use her meditiation room for a day. I drove just 20 minutes away to spend seven hours in solitude resting, reading, writing, and had a dreaming nap in “designated” holy space that contained the energies of the people who had done yoga and meditated there over the years. And just now, as I am writing this, it occurs to me that this space was actually a high place- up the crawl ladder to the finished attic space! “…And I, I did not know…”.
“Intuition is a leap toward wholeness from fragmentation” (Anodea Judith)
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to speak of “preparing” for intuition, we actually can enhance our intuitive abilities in a variety of ways. Some one who is a good intuitive is some one who pays close attention to their inner voices and visions and to their outer surroundings. After we tune in and set our intentions, we need to ask the right questions, and then to listen up and watch out for the answers. This second step is often missed once the question is asked! We can learn how to listen from the inside and from the outside: to ask, to pay attention to both what we are asking for and also to what we are getting in response to our questions. An intuitive will often say something like “I’m getting something here”, or “I’m sensing that …” One of my clients calls these moments my “downloads”, and will sometimes ask me “Are you getting a download now?” Although it may seem almost “automatic”, getting a good hit on something is the cumulation of years of different kinds of work and preparation in dreamwork, meditation, mindfulness practices, book learning, and body based experiences.
Great Teachers tell us that whatever we are on the lookout for, we will be more likely to see. So by purposefully sending out a message to the universe that we are open and available to receive this form of knowledge, we increase the likelihood that we will. That is what the word “Kabbalah” means- received knowledge, from the root l’kabel, to receive. Our first step towards accessing our intuition is our willingness to be open to receiving knowledge from uncanny sources. In the still of the night, when much of the noise of the world is hushed , we are often better able to hear that “still small voice” that Elijah heard if, as we wake from our own dream states, we embrace rather than dismiss our dream messages. There is no dream too small, no fragment too meaningless, that we aren’t able to find some gold within.
To increase our access to intuition or intuitive knowledge, we can utilize resources available in both our waking and sleeping dreams. What seem to be accidental coincidences, also known as synchronicities, may be signals from the universe that we have found that for which we had been seeking, or; that something is seeking us. There are patterns in the universe if we are paying attention. Anodea Judith states that intuition is the unconscious recognition of patterns. Our ancestors were very clear that this was a valid form of acquiring information. We are starting to do a little better at paying attention to this form of paying attention. Even in our pop culture, Jennifer Laurence, in the movie “Silver Lining Playbook” repeatedly said to her boyfriend “If I’m reading the signs right…you should be …”. And she won an Academy Award for it. (It was good enough that I didn’t even mind seeing it twice in as many weeks- once with my husband, and the second time with my teenage daughter).
Satprem, in his book Sri Aurobido, or the Adventure of Consciousness, described intuition as the flash of a match in the darkness. Judith expands on this, saying that for a brief moment, the whole room comes to light. We can suddenly see the furniture, the wallpaper, the people in the room, and maybe even what is going on outside the window. And then it is gone. The match burns out. Do we remember what we have seen?
Solomon receives his portion of Wisdom and earns his right to be known as “Solomon the Wise” by hearing God ask him in a dream what he most desires to receive. He responds to that question by replying “a Lev Shomea”- “a Listening Heart”. What a nice definition of the ability to receive wisdom from many sources- to have a Listening Heart. Perhaps that is the core of the intuitive process-to have a listening mind, a listening body, and a listening heart. Then we too may receive an additional portion of wisdom.
Coming up soon: Part 2 of Preparing for Intuition: Priming the Pump: Preparing the Way for Intuitive “Downloads” Then and Now
“I told my therapist I was having nightmares about nuclear explosions. He said don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world” Jay London
Understanding the meaning of our dreams can move us in surprising directions. The art of interpreting or understanding a dream has been referred to in several ways: working on the dream, dream tending, dream exploration, dream journeying, and unpacking the dream. All imply mining the dream for treasures from our emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and/or neuro-anatomical selves (yes, I just made up that last phrase in order to differentiate our innate biology from the particular neurological wiring that is part of REM sleep.) I like all the phrasings at different times and for different purposes. I am particularly fond of the term “unpacking” (from Jung) however, because I like the metaphor of unpacking a tightly packed suitcase, one piece at a time; examining each item as we unpack it until we have emptied the suitcase of our dream of all of the baggage that was in it.
That reminds me of a therapist cartoon (my favorite kind- you gotta be able to laugh at yourself in this biz) in which an airline counter attendant is presiding over a counter labeled “emotional baggage check-in”. He asks the prospective traveler “Has your baggage been with you at all times?” to which she replies “Unfortunately, yes.” He then asks, “Has anyone asked you to carry anything?” To which she responds, “You have no idea how many times!”
Having referenced the process of unpacking a dream many times over the last few years of this blog, I though it might be fun and perhaps enlightening to see how this process unfolded for one of my dreams. So to begin with, my disclaimer: I don’t usually have toilet dreams. Some people do, and when that symbol re-emerges for them, it’s “OK, here it is again!” So I laughed as I recorded this one, and wondered right away about the significance, since it was unusual for my dream lexicon.
The dream: “I have to use the bathroom and the toilet is dirty. I gingerly clean it up as best I can, and use it. It still overflows a bit. My colleague M is waiting for me.” I title the dream “Dirty Toilet”. At this point I just let the title emerge, I don’t really know what it means yet.
Before working on the dream with my dream circle, I listed my own initial association: my colleague “M”, who I hadn’t seen in quite a while had recently participated in a dream retreat day I held. That was all I got at first, since my alarm rang and I had to rush off to my day. A few days later my dream circle began asking me questions: “Any practical plumbing problems?” (No) “Any health related ‘plumbing’ issues?” (No). Since my initial association was to my work life, one friend asked, “Are you feeling overwhelmed or over-flowing in any way at work?” This one hit for me – “Yes”- here’s my first “aha”. (Significantly, this friend frequently has dreams related to her own work – and I usually don’t -, so her resonance with my dream followed her own associations).
My first association to that question was to the larger than usual number of workshops I had been preparing for recently – although I love to teach, I am feeling a bit “over-flowing” with all the preparation. The next association I have is to doing some dream work with a particular person, let’s call her Polly, – something resonates here too.
I then ask myself – OK, what is the central image (thanks to Ernest Hartman of blessed memory for this concept) in this dream? – The toilet.
So using the Gestalt method, I asked myself, “If I am the toilet, what do I need?” Speaking as the toilet itself (yes, we do that in dreamwork!), the answer was “I need to enlarge my bowl, to enlarge the container to be able to hold everything that gets dumped in here without overflowing and making a mess on your shoes”. Now we’re getting somewhere. I could feel the rightness of that answer in my bones. Becoming the object in my dream allowed me to have a perspective about my work with Polly that I hadn’t had before. Another “aha”, 2 fold this time: 1.) Part of my work was to help Polly to enlarge her own Self capacity to be able to hold the pain in her life without overflowing, and 2.) I also needed to enlarge my own Presence and capacity as I sit with her to safely contain her and her work.
Now I associate to a Buddhist teaching tale- (stick with it, the connection will emerge): A woman who had lost her child was in deep despair, and after months of wandering she approached the Buddha and asked for help. “Oh Enlightened One, I am suffering so much with the loss of my son- can you help me?” He replies, “Of course, my dear. But first, you must walk throughout the land and bring me word of at least one being that has not experienced suffering in their life; that is the first step. Now go, and come back to me with that information.”
So the woman goes back and walks for days and weeks and months, and everywhere she goes, she finds one who has lost a child, or a parent, or their leg, or their crops, or their home – on and on. Finally she returns to the Buddha and says “Oh Enlightened One, I have searched and searched, and I cannot find anyone who has not had some suffering in his or her life.” The Buddha responds “Exactly right. Every being at birth is given 10,00 measures of joy, and 10,000 measures of sorrow. The difference between a life of joy and a life of suffering is the size of the container we hold them in.” He went on to offer the woman a cup of water into which he put a large spoonful of salt. “Taste it”, he said. “It is salty” she replied. Then they went down to the lake. The Buddha put the same large spoonful of salt into the lake, the scooped up a cup of the lake water for the woman to taste. “It tastes sweet and fresh”, she said. Same salt, same water. Difference is the size of the container.
May all your containers be large enough to hold all they need.
“I do not generally associate technology and magic, but I see that spirits use any means necessary to communicate with us in ways we can accept. They use dreams and they use Google. The combination is breathtaking. And a little humorous”. Deena Metzger
In tending to our dreams we tap into a timeless and eternal threshold across time and space, across stars and worlds. Dream tending allows us an opportunity to have a direct encounter with things we do not understand. This might be the hallmark of what we call a spiritual experience: A direct encounter with something sacred and mysterious that we are moved, touched, awed, or tickled by. It could be a flower, a melody, a full bodied belly laugh, a dream. If we don’t completely pick it apart, but stay with the mystery and the beauty (even at times the horrible beauty) of it, it can become for us a sacred encounter.
When we read the sacred texts of most spiritual belief systems we find passages and stories describing sacred encounters with divine figures: angels and demons, gods and goddesses, devils and guides. Some of these encounters are described in the texts as dreams, others as visions, others as everyday encounters that our ancestors were not particularly surprised by, since they accepted these encounters more readily than we do as part of life. The places these encounters occur then are deemed Holy Places, as the place itself maintains the aura or resonance of this encounter. (for example Jerusalem, Stonehenge, Delphi, Sedona, the Bodhi tree in India- if you’ve been to any of these places, the “thin-boundaried” among us can tune in to a certain vibratory energy in the environs). These spots then may become a place of pilgrimage where others may encounter the un-namable Essence that remains in that place.
In our modern age, we are often sadly lacking in the thrill of the type of direct encounters our ancestors described with holy forces. In fact, when some one today tells us of encounters with angels or spirits, we may first wonder about their mental health, rather than assume that they have access to the sacred realms. For better or worse, we have become more linear, more “scientific”, less apt to trust in that which we cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. In doing so we lose an important avenue for the refreshment our own spirits and for sharing that refreshment with others. If we take advantage of one of the portals into mystery through tending our dreams, we can reconnect with the Source of Life and renewal that our ancestors took much more for granted.
Dreams offer us an opportunity to have a direct experience with the sacred: after all, when we dream, we are having a direct experience with whatever has come through during the night. How do we know this? Because we resonate physically and emotionally to our dreams- we wake anxious, or thrilled, or curious about what just happened. Our bodies act out the movements in our dream/sleep just as if we were awake (luckily we have bio-chemicals that keep us firmly in our beds most of the time though!) Our bodies knew that we were “there”, even if our minds are doubting Thomases when we awake. Even if our waking minds click in quickly to tell us that it was “just a dream”, our deeper self knows that we were having the encounters in another reality. You know that in- between place – the threshold space between sleep and waking. It seems to me that is the space that verifies the reality of both places before our left brain clicks in to tell us it cannot be so. We are in 2 places at once, remembering both.
We don’t need to understand something for it to work, or have meaning or influence on our lives. Penicillin for example. How many of us really- I mean really- know how it works?- yet it saves our lives over and over. One of my favorite examples of how unseen and unknown forces may work is the description of germs in the book “The Fiery Cross”, from the Outlander series by Diana Gabeldon. Clair, a 20th century doctor and healer who has traveled back in time through the standing stones to Scotland in the 17th century, explains to her partner Jamie, a Scottish Highlander about the “little beasties” she calls germs that cannot be seen, touched, or encountered in any way (in that era). Jamie, a true man of his time, is quite skeptical of this strange notion. However, after Clair is able to concoct a batch of penicillin from moldy bread and reverse the spreading septic infection in his leg, he is willing to accept the truth of her “magic” .
In fact, the whole series is about the ability to move back and forth in the space/time continuum (as well as an adventure/romance), and what it means to have information from one world while living in another. In terms of dreaming, we move back and forth in much the same way. Remembering our dreams gives us that same opportunity to go back and forth across the threshold to bring gifts from other realms, and to remember that which was once known. “Re-member” means to re-connect, to re-join; to literally put the limbs (the members) of ourselves back together with the rest of our bodies, to remember the connections between our bodies and our souls. This then, is one the gifts of the dream.
Dreaming is a healing process…a vital means by which we bind up our wounded spirits and rekindle our hopes for the future.” (Kelly Buckeley)
Last year the Boston area held the world in horrified thrall during the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. Stories have appeared in the news media off and on all year about the healing and recovery of the survivors, and stories of courage and selflessness of responders. Many are planning to run or cheer on this year in honor of those who were killed or affected by the bombing and it’s aftermath. As a Watertown resident, I have walked the streets less than a mile from my home where the suspect was finally recovered. Scenes of the bombing on Boylston St., of the responders and victims that day, the lock down in many towns, the images of SWAT teams patrolling the quiet neighborhood and banging on doors, to the final recovery of the second bomber under the boat- these images have been engraved in many of our memories. For some, they have shown up as persisting nightmares in various literal or symbolic forms over the past year. While the distress has abated for most as the year unfolded and life returned to the new normal, as the first anniversary approaches the city and our psyches are revisiting that time, and we can hope to use the anniversary to mark healing and courage and our unwillingness to be bowed down to the false gods of violence and terror.
Kelley Buckeley (Dreams of Healing, 2003) tells us that we make meaning out of tragedies publicly when people build monuments (think 9/11 or the Vietnam Memorial) or set up spontaneous memorials (think piles of running shoes and flowers on Boylston Ave.). Inter-personally, we have conversations and prayer circles, and internally people dream dreams. Our dreams can guide us in the direction of hope and healing; our job becomes to pay attention to them, and to direct them toward resolution and wholeness of being.
Our dreams can be both landmarks of our internal process when “bad things happen to good people”, (to quote Kushner), and a source of healing and solace as we attend to them and use their generative powers to move forward: to creating meaning out of chaos, hope out of despair, and a forward-moving life force out of the depths of darkness and sorrow. A hallmark of a therapeutic modality called AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) has as some of its tenants that we are all wired for growth, that we all have the capacity to experience joy and delight, and that nothing that feels bad is ever the last step. I love these philosophies! It reminds me of what the proprietor of the hotel in the movie “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” also tells us (in his lovely Indian accent): “Everything will work out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end yet.”
Post-traumatic nightmares can actually be a sign of a vigorous life force that is pushing forward to bring in potential allies of deep powerful inner strength and resilience that need to be brought forward into consciousness. Dreaming in and of itself is a healing process- it is one of our system’s ways of digesting and processing information. (With the legacy of trauma, the body/mind adage “what isn’t sufficiently metabolized can become metastasized” can have great meaning).
Dreams that follow a crises do not aim to simply return the dreamer to the status quo, rather they aim to develop a whole new understanding of the self and the world that encompasses the trauma, and help the dreamer to rise out of the ashes of their broken self to find new hope, structure, and meaning for their world. (Buckeley) Dreams are one of our most powerful sources of meaning making.
Buckeley continues, “Nightmares are more like a vaccine than a poison.” This understanding follows the homeopathic principle of that a minute dose of a negative substance inoculates us to the disease or distress. Our dreaming selves are struggling to deal with the psychological distress and spirit anguish caused by traumatic events. “…Although dreamsharing by itself does not cure a disease, it does have the power of enhancing conscious awareness of both our deepest fears and our greatest strengths… At times of great suffering and vulnerability, this kind of enhanced self awareness can have a deeply re-vitalizing effect.”
We can assist our dreaming selves in this healing process, whether the nightmarish distress is from trauma, loss, illness or parts unknown. We can incubate dreams at night before going to sleep; spending a few moments quietly tuning in, then writing in our dream journal our desire for our dream guide to send us healing dreams in the service of our highest good and best interests. We can be general or specific, depending on what we already know about our nightmares or our day distress. We can orient ourselves, as recommended by the Talmud, to find the gift in every dream. We can hold the expectation that if it hasn’t worked out, that it is not the end yet. And you are all invited to participate in a day retreat workshop on Sunday May 4th on “Dreams of Healing: Dreamwork and Transformation” where we will learn dreamwork principles, journey together, and find our way in the nearby woods for a short waking dream journey. Click here to find the link to the flier for registration.
May we all dream together of inner and outer worlds of peace