“Intuition is a leap toward wholeness from fragmentation.”
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to speak of “preparing” for intuition, we actually can enhance our intuitive abilities. A good intuitive is someone 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 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” as they feel information coming into their awareness, or “I’m sensing that …” One of my therapeutic clients calls these moments “downloads,” and will ask me, “Are you getting a download now?”
Although it may seem almost “automatic,” getting a good intuitive hit is the accumulation 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 once 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’s 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.
“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
“The animals which are our totems are mirrors to us. They reflect lessons we need to learn and abilities we can most easily develop…(they are) a medicine for healing your self and your life, and a power that can be accessed to help manifest your dreams”.
Animals are one of the most common dream images. They can delight, scare, intrigue, or puzzle us when they show up in our dreams. Animals contain some of the most complex layers of universal and personal symbolism. Our “animal selves” contain our purest expressions of our emotions and psyches. When we react to sudden danger, our instinctive reptilian brains go into flight or fight mode, and if we are lucky and /or skilled, our animal instincts keep us safe. When there is a saber toothed tiger or marauder approaching, we don’t want to take the time to reason something out- we need to act fast.
So, one layer of meaning or symbolism of animals in a dream can be about our primitive instincts. Are we listening to or ignoring them? As always, we need to contextualize the meaning of the animals that visit us in the context of the dream itself, the feelings and emotions we have in the dream, and about that animal. When Fluffy shows up in our dream, is she is our beloved cat or the “cat from hell” in our lives. Are we allergic? Does she make a mess around her litter box? Is anyone making a mess like that in your life right now (or are you)? Do you need more time to sleep 18 hours a day in a warm sunny spot? Then there is the broader layer of cats in general- both the pets and the wild kind. Whether we dream of a generic or a specific animal, we also want to ask ourselves about the other category to get at the fullest meaning. Curiosity, cleverness, and independence are a few of the qualities of a cat, but your cat may also be cuddly or aloof.
Native and indigenous people put great stock in animal visitations. They believe that the spirit of the animal has great meaning or a message for our lives. In fact, if we frequently dream of the same animal, they may be our “totem” animal-a sort of guide or guardian whose qualities we should learn about and perhaps embody. As spirit-animal helper, the root of the word totem is from the native Ojibway, meaning “brother/sister kin”.
My favorite go-to guy on the meaning of animal symbols in dreams is Ted Andrews. In his classic book “Animal Speak”, Andrews teaches that our relationship with animals is not only in the physical world, but in the spiritual or mystical on as well. He combines myth and factual information to let us learn about and tune into the essence of the animal who showed up in our lives or our dreams. My universal caution regarding “other people’s ideas” about what your dream or symbol means holds here as well – it’s only true for you if it resonates with you. Andrews does a nice job giving us a bunch of options to choose from, including mythological references, behaviors of animals in the wild, prey and predator relationships, the season they represent, and the “keynote” or core message of each animal.
Snake, for example, has been the subject of great controversy and paradox. It is seen as both the highest and the lowest of symbols- blamed for the downfall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and a symbol of death and rebirth as it renews itself time after time as it sheds it’s old outgrown skins. The snake is seen eating it’s own tail in the symbol of the ouroborus; endlessly re-incarnating and symbolizing eternity, and as the symbol of healing powers in the entwined caduseus of medicine. Sometimes, as Freud would say, a cigar is just a cigar; but the snake can also be a phallic symbol of sexuality or fertility; and is the symbol of creative kundlini energy in Eastern traditions. When snake shows up in your dreams, it often means that some kind of death and rebirth may be happening or needed in some area of your life; usually not an actual death, but a transitional time of change.
Our friend the owl is known as a symbol of the feminine, of the night, of magic, of the secrets the darkness has to offer. Andrews calls them the “eyes of the night”. It has both keen vision and keen hearing, and has been purported to be able to see into the soul of a person.
Finally, don’t forget about the mythological and fairy tale associations with the animals of your dreams- the “big bad wolf”, the “ugly duckling”, the centaur, the unicorn, the Owl of Athena; goddess of wisdom. These deep archetypes can take us even farther along the road to our truest selves, as our dream exploration then includes following the story or myth in which they occured.
“Dreams transport us each and every night into that strange and radiant world inside ourselves wherein, for better or worse, we come face to face with powers greater than ourselves.”
(James Hagan, “Diamonds of the Night: The Search for Spirit in Your Dreams”)
Dreamworker Robert Moss tells us “ A dream is a place; you don’t have a dream, you have an experience in a place”.
That fits with my sense of dream – that sense that we have really been traveling somewhere else for a few hours during the night while our bodies seem to lie in our beds. When Dorothy awoke, she insisted on this. Auntie Em tried to tell her that it was “…Just a dream, dear”, but Dorothy declaimed “Oh no- it was real-and you were there, and you, and you, sometimes it was scary, but mostly it was very beautiful…” Who among us doubts that Dorothy really was in Oz! Remember how the movie suddenly switches from black and white to Technicolor when she steps out of her traveling house into Oz? Even after seeing it over and over again for more than 50 years, I still get a thrill every time she opens that door and steps out (a dream? or alternate reality?) in vivid color.
The landscapes in our dream are important. Sometimes we recognize the place- we’ve been there, lived there, seen it in a movie. Sometimes it is nowhere that we recognize, but a curious or fantastic environment. Sometimes the very stones speak to us, and the trees are dream characters in their own right. The setting is where we are in the dream, and we have to start with where we are to be able to orient ourselves to where we are going.
We know that reoccurring dreams or dream themes at the very least are giving us a heads up that something is important. They will frequently return in one form or another until we “get” the message they are trying to convey to us and do something about it. Dreaming of the same place, or a similar landscape can have the same function- we are meant to pay attention; there is something to be learned here. The dream landscape is a portal into a time and place that has meaning for us.
For example, if we have a dream set in our childhood home, you can bet that there is something about that time in our life that is relevant for us today. When you lived in that blue house with the black shutters, how old were you? And how old are you in the dream? What about that time in your life is relevant in your life today? Kevin kept dreaming about the town he grew up in when he was 6 years old. In working back and forth between the dream and life, he realized that he had lived in that house during a time of great turmoil when his parents were divorcing and he didn’t know where he would be living next; and currently he was between jobs and experiencing many of the same feelings of being uprooted, out of control, and not knowing where he would be working next. Once this dream-to-life landscape connection was identified, he could see the differences between changes over which he had no control at age six (parents divorcing, possible move), and one now (job search) that could make choices about. Recognizing this let Kevin recapture some of the excitement and possibility that accompanied looking for more meaningful work.
A re-occurring dreamscape can also be a kind of code for “Hello-this is a dream”. For close to 20 years many of my dreams begin “I am in Israel and…” then some story would unfold. My dream circle helped me recognize this first layer of my “Israel dreams” as such a code. In my case, I had actually lived there for five years in my 20’s, big formative years for my adult self. It seemed that my unconscious had decided to announce “Heads up – different reality here!” by setting my dreams in that other place that I had previously inhabited. In one desert dream I am dancing in a line of robed and veiled Bedouin women towards a large tent where powerful drumming seems to be calling us in, in another I am standing on a sea of sand, seeing the shimmering heat waves rise up. in another I am promoted to a new job there. I actually began my professional career in Israel, going to graduate school and working with teen girls in a development town. The land itself was both foreground and background to all the rest.
Shamanic practice teaches that we can inadvertently leave a part of ourselves in a place, and if we do, then we have to go back and retrieve that part in order to be fully whole again. These places may show themselves to us in our dream worlds, to let us know that we have to make the journey back, either literally or figuratively to complete some part of our personal mythic journey. Think about it- have you ever experienced a sense of yearning or longing, passion or curiosity, homesickness or a bittersweet tug associated with some place or setting or landscape in your life or dream? It may be that a part of you has been left there, needing to be retrieved.
Once I discovered this aspect of reclamation of parts, the dreams began transforming as I tried to pay attention to their message in waking life. Over the next several years, I found some friends to speak Hebrew with again, became an adult bat mitzvah, studied shamanism from a Kabbalistic perspective, and rejoiced at my daughter’ bat mitzvah. These actions began to fill in a part I hadn’t realized had been missing since I left the actual place that later became the portal to my dreams. Then I revisited Israel itself after a twenty-five year hiatus and reconnected with old friends and places. That seemed to be the final piece-I rarely start off my dreams in Israel now.
I think that when we recognize the spirit of place in dreams, we get to renew our place of spirit.
(In our dreams) “We encounter a whole family of aspects of ourselves, and as we recognize them and bring them together, we become much more than we were”
In the last post we talked about visits from the other side; when our loved ones cross the threshold of worlds and grace us with a visit via our waking or sleeping dreams. We also have people that we know show up in our dreams who are quite fully alive however, whether or not we have seen them recently.
There seem to be four main categories of the non-visitation type of dream about people we know:
They may come as themselves,
They may come as a symbolic stand-in for some one else,
They may appear as an archetype (a Jungian term for an embodiment of a primordial image or character that reoccurs in thought and dream; Jung believed these are universal and reside in the collective unconscious that we share as a species),
They may represent an aspect of ourselves (a self part that we need to befriend, or heal, or reclaim) that is highlighted by our dreaming mind as a separate character.
We also know that dreams can have several layers of simultaneous meaning (see post of 8/12), so your dad, or your boss, or your friend Nancy may be in your dream for more than one reason. This is why doing dreamwork with others is so crucial; we can’t see all our own layers at once, and could miss something important without the extra set or sets of eyes and ears.
Before getting into the above four categories, I want to be sure to also alert us to the very fun/punny word play aspect of people in our dreams. Sometimes it is the characters name, or a play-on-words of their name that is the significance, rather than the person themselves. For example, a colleague dreamt of a set of luggage that was called Mr. Hartman luggage. After some discussion of who Mr. Hartman was, some one noticed that it could also be heard as “heart man”; and then we moved into a useful conversation about the man of her heart and how that was related to her dream. Dreaming of Aunt Missy may have several layers of meaning; one of which may be are you “missing” something, or is something “missing” in your life?
So, let’s take Aunt Missy as the character who showed up in your dream to explore these potential layers. Here are some questions you can ask to see how many of the four categories she falls into; not excluding that she may have been visiting if she had passed over to give you a message of some time, or just to say “Hi sweetie!”
If she has come as herself, we might be wondering:
•Who is Aunt Missy to you?
•What is your relationship with her like? Is she a confidant, your second mother, a source of tension on holidays?
•Do you have any unfinished business with her?
•What was your last encounter with her like?
If she has come as a symbolic stand-in, we might be wondering:
•Is she from your mother or father’s side of the family, and what does that say about why she is there in your dream?
•What are the qualities or characteristics of Aunt Missy; and do any of these resonate for you about yourself or some one important in your life?
•What does she look like? Does she remind you of anyone?
•What was she doing in the dream? How do you connect with that?
If she is an archetype, or larger than life symbol, we might notice:
•Does she have any numinous or spiritual quality about her in the dream?
•Is she dressed in an unusual way that connects you to thought of something sacred (i.e. in a white dress, or a long hooded cape)
•What is the quality of your interaction with her in the dream? Does she seem to have a message for you?
• Does she seem to embody one of the primal archetypes, such as the Wise Woman, The Mother, The Witch, The Shadow??
As an aspect or part of your self that you may recognize:
• Is Aunt Missy controlling?
• Struggling with a family member?
• Too passive?
• High -spirited?
• The center of her home?
With all of these potential layers, take a look at what the character is doing in the dream, and how you are interacting with her. What is the emotional resonance as well?
This is really fun to do with famous people as well! If Madona showed up in your dream- you can have a field day! Is it about sexuality? Or holiness? (in relation to Jesus) Or purity? Or strong powerful women? Or judgement of any of these parts? Of yourself? Of others? Of a tension between your inner Goddess, your sexual self, and your early religious training? A part of you that wants expression? Are you “mad”-(ona)? Is there a “don” in your life? Have fun with it.
These questions are just meant to start you off, please add your own as well to get acquainted with the people in your dreams! As always, let me know how this goes for you.
Life is a dream walking, death is a going home. (Chinese proverb)
First, I have to tell you about the painting. My friend Carla is an artist; when her beloved cat Zippy died, she promised him that she would paint him. Here he is, visiting her in her dreamtime, as well as getting top billing in this post. The title of this painting is “Forever Friends”.
I just realized that my first dream visitation came from my cat. I wonder if it is easier for animals to cross over these thresholds, since they do not seem limited by our view of what is “real” or not. My cat Aeshie (whose name came to me in a dream) often acted as my co-therapist, a grey Buddha in a fur suit. She would come down to my office and do therapy with me (when she felt like it- she was still a cat, after all). She seemed to have an innate knowing of just who needed their leg rubbed, or to have a cat in their lap, at just the right moment.
If we allow ourselves to suspend our own disbelief in the possibility of multiple realities, we can experience great comfort and connection when our departed human beloveds visit us in our dreamworlds. Many people I know who have lost a loved one say that they have had a sense that their dad or grandma visited them in a dream, but they weren’t sure if they could believe it. Or else they say that they wish they could have a visit, and wonder why mom hasn’t shown up yet. (My first suggestion is to offer the beloved an invitation, as part of the incubation process before going to sleep (see post of 5/14/12 for more on incubating)). Spiritual energy beings seem to be like cats though- they have their own lives (pun intended) and may not come right when we call. Some traditions speak of a time after death when the spirit of the departed needs to get used to the afterlife for a while before being ready to visit back on the earth plane.
Having departed friends or family show up in a dream can have several different meanings, ranging from a message, to a symbol, to a visitation. Their appearance can certainly have more than one meaning simultaneously (see post of 8/28/12 for more on the layers of meaning in a dream).
So how do we tell the difference? Many people say that there is a visceral element in a visit that is not present when the person showing up in the dream is there as a symbol or metaphor. My friend Joyce says that she could feel her mother touch her cheek. Others say that they can feel a sense of being hugged. Nancy had a dream within a dream: she dreamed her beloved husband Peter was kissing her, and that she then woke up (inside the dream) to tell everyone that she had been dreaming of him, and what he said to her. When she actually awakened, she wrote in her journal “I woke feeling so happy, like he had really come to be with me.” There is often a felt sense of presence. When my dad shows up in dreams, I hear his live voice, with the tones and timbre of his speech. My colleague Fran says that she can sometimes feel the soft weight of her cat sleeping on her chest years after his passing.
There seems to be a consensus that an intuitive sense of deep connection is present. There is a sense that the energy of the dreamed loved one is true to the energy of the person who passed. Many people also say that quite often very little else happens in the dream besides the visit. That is, there is not a lot of narrative or story; the visit is the main event.
Finally, my dream circle talked about feelings of awe or joy in these dreams. They almost always feel like what Jung calls “Big Dreams”, often in H. D. – High Def., or Technicolor. Shamanic practice teaches us that sometimes the visit comes in the dream or in waking life in animal form. Whenever my mom or I see a hawk, we always say “Hi Bud”. Often no dream interpretation feels necessary, except to say, “Hi, I love you, nice to see you again” to the visitor and enjoy.
Next time, we’ll look at when Nana or Uncle Joe are there in symbolic form; or have come with a message for our lives.
May you be blessed by enduring connections.
Ps A few of you asked who Bodhisattva was, the dog’s name from the last blog. Merriam-Webster says it is “a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshipped as a deity in Mayahanya Buddhism.” Now go back and think about that doggie…
“The clearest way into a Universe is through a forest wilderness” John Muir
There are dreams, and there are dreams. We can traverse the thresholds between worlds by paying attention to synchronicities in our lives (see blog of 7/28/12 for more on synchronicities); or this liminal space can also show up unasked. This post is about the second kind- we were gifted in the woods on this one. The Druids knew this: the spirits of the woods and of nature were literally housed in the trees themselves in the forms of Nymphs and Dryads and other “tree people”. Ritual can sometimes bring down this place of eyes-open wonder.
Carol Dearborn says about in-between spaces: “It appears that there is a “place” …in the intersection of the perceptual/cognitive process (a “place” or type of brain-wave) between waking and sleep where the metaphysical intersects the physical. This intersection…becomes a kind of portal through which energy can be conveyed…Opening this portal requires a receptive and reverential state of being, like falling in love.” (www.caroldearborn.com, the spirit of place). Jung wrote of this too, calling this space between sleep and waking the hypnopompic or hypnogogic zones.
One of the words for God in Hebrew is “Makom”, which translates most simply as “Place”, but contains both a temporal (time based) as well as physical implication. It appears in the story of Jacob, when he has his famous dream of the ladder with angels going up and down it. When he awakes from this dream, he says, “God was in this place (Makom), and I, I did not know.” The word “Makom” also appears in the creation story, when Moses encountered the burning bush, and at Mt. Sinai (among others). When we are at “Makom” we are for a moment outside of the rules of time and space; and for that moment on holy ground.
“Minyan” is the Hebrew word for the group of ten people that are needed to be able to recite Kaddish; the traditional prayer for the dead. In Jewish tradition, community is a big part of the healing process; I learned that the original requisite of gathering a minimum of ten was in order to compel the mourner to gather in community at a time of grief rather than to isolate him/herself. Traditionally only men were counted; in most modern practice women are too. We found that acknowledging our animal, vegetable, and mineral brethren as part of a minyan worked as well.
So, I was walking in the woods with my friend Sara, about a month after her beloved grandfather had died. She had been to services earlier that day, and had declined an offer to say Kaddish, partially because it is traditionally said only for parents, spouses, or children. I asked her if she regretted passing up the opportunity her community had offered. Without hesitation, she said, “Yes – and I rarely regret anything!” We walked a little more, and then I asked if she wanted to say Kaddish right now; for since we were breaking one rule (not for a parent, spouse or child) and reconfiguring the ritual we might as well break with the rule of ten people. Sara agreed and said “Yes- let’s find a tree to say it near”.
So we bush-wacked through a clump of weeds, and snuggled up to a beautiful three-trunked tree: one of those triple goddess trees. We decided that “She (the Tree) can be part of our minyan” along with Bodisavta the dog (and yes, that is her actual doggy name). We got into the spirit of minyan, and began counting: ” Me, you, Bodi, the triple tree counts as three, that’s six, the earth, the sky, the bush, and the rish-roosh sound of the wind-spirit in the trees- there’s ten.” We had our minyan. Ten Beings. We said Kaddish.
The dreaming spirits of the Place came in, and we crossed the threshold in the woods. Her grandfather showed up, as did my dad who had died 6 years, and we had a lovely gathering with them in this in-between Place.
Perhaps the ancient Druidic spirits of the trees also joined us in the minyan. As e.e.cummings says: “…thank you God for this most amazing day,
for the leaping greenly Spirit of the trees…”
I am grateful for this type of dreaming as well.
Next time I’ll talk more about encountering our relatives in dreams- dead or alive, for better or worse, and how do we know if we have had a “visit” from the other side, or a dream encounter of a different kind. Stay tuned…
A few weeks ago we spoke (read?) about using the resource of our dreams to enhance our creative process. In this post, I’d like to expand on some of the ideas from last time, and provide some “how-to’s” to work with several methods.
Let’s start with story. Our dreams usually come though with some kind of story line. It may be a very short story of a sentence or two, or at times a full-length narrative. We can examine our dream story both for it’s personal meaning (for healing, problem solving, spiritual questing, etc.) but also as a story in and of it’s own right. What is the major plot? The dynamic tensions between the characters? The sources of conflict, and how/if they are resolved? Is there an inner or outer journey involved? These types of questions and use of other literary devices can both provide the basis to turn our dream story into art, and to re-create the story of our own lives as metaphor or road map.
By re-writing our dream story: re-structuring dialogues between characters, resolving tensions in the dream, adding in resources our dream characters need right within the dream story itself, we can create new and more satisfying endings. Instead of turning left at the crossroads in the dream, what would happen if we turned right instead? Instead of drowning when the ship capsized, what would happen if we were able to call our dolphin allies at that moment to carry us to safety? These new journeys can then become part of our new life story, and/or the basis for our art forms. We remember that the Gestalt perspective on dreams tells us that everything in the dream is an aspect of ourselves, so when we make shifts in our dream story, we are making shifts in our self-story simultaneously.
Rabinowe states (in IASD’s Dreamtime, Winter 2006), that“Each dream is a microcosm, a living network of interacting images. Each dream holds a simultaneous reflection of the body, the soul, the waking life and the unconscious that can be understood on multiple levels. Out of this realm of mystery and paradox, a wellspring of inspiration (can) open up…”
The most important indicator of the meaning of our dreams are the emotions felt within and just following the dream. The emotional resonance of the dream within the context of our own life provide the core of meaning that makes this “My Dream”, as opposed to “Anyone’s Dream” (i.e. Green St. is the street I grew up on, Mary Smith was my college roommate, Snowball is the name of my cat who died last week). You may have associations to the word Snowball such as cold, wet, fun, messy, etc., but if my strongest association is to my beloved cat and loss, that is the core of meaning for my dream. And if people dream about a ship going out to sea, one may feel hopeful and excited, another may feel anxious and distress, and a third may feel seasick- each of which provide a different meaning to the core image.
What happens then when we work with the core emotional dream state- can we play with shifting or changing or enhancing it? What if we re-write our dream changing the core emotion from anxious to anticipatory – that slight shift can open up whole new worlds for us. What then happens to our musical composition, or our dance piece- or our lives- if we play out a different emotional tone? What if we changed the setting; and instead of having the ship go out to sea from Boston harbor, it left from Hawaii? Or we replayed the dream scene as if we were feeling hopeful, instead of despairing- what would happen then?
We feel emotions in our body- that is why they are called “feelings”- because we feel them. What happens when we tune in to our physical response to the dream- what do we notice? Where in our body to we have the sensation, and what does it feel like? (i.e. jumpy, peaceful, tight, hard, soft, warm, tingly?) How does tuning in to our emotions and sensations in the dreams inform our poetry, our dance, the characters lives in our novel, the decision we have to make about that project at work? Dance these emotions in your body, act out these sensations; let them move through you physically; when you embody the emotion you discover new dimensions of it. Engage your friends, your family, your dream circle to act out a scene from your dream.
We had great fun one time with one of my members ubiquitous toilet dreams, as she gave us roles of being the toilet bowl itself, the pipes, the water flushing, the sticky handle…and then we added some WD40 to make the handle flush more smoothly and invited a plumber into the dream to clean the pipes out. Each person then spoke from the perspective of what they were representing- the voice of the toilet bowl, the voice of the handle, the voice of the new plumber, etc. The dream flowed much more smoothly after we acted it out and added in things that the dream seemed to need! (Those who are interested in this kind of body/mind work can look up related links on Focusing, Somatic Experiencing, Sensory-motor Psychotherapy, and psychodrama).
The images of our dreams provide perhaps the richest source of visual arts. Draw the images; paint them, collect found objects that call to you while focusing on your dream, and then make a collage or shadow box of them. Go out to find found objects to create a scene from your dream; find different objects to represent different characters, locations, emotions. (a yellow or crumbling fall leave to represent the passage of time, a stick stuck in the ground to represent feeling stuck, a smooth stone to represent calm peaceful feelings, a spray of bittersweet to represent your parents, shells, tree bark, flowers, feathers, twine, bottle caps, whatever your neighborhood provides) …let yourself be surprised. Rabinowe reminds us that the most important aspect of translating a dream with found objects is the serendipity of what you find. Sit and contemplate what you have created. Then feel free to write, draw, create a dialogue between the objects representing the characters, or emotions, or landscapes in the dream; speak with the voice of one of the objects you have chosen. Let the images you have chosen speak to you from this visual form to provide a new dimension to your dream and your creative process. And most of all- enjoy the process and the delight of the dream and creation.