“Though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the truth of who we are.”
J. Rumi (translated by C. Barks)
We all dream every night as we pass in and out of our REM cycles, but usually remember only the one or two dreams that we have just before waking. (Animals dream too, by the way – just watch your cat or dog at sleep, chasing those dream birds or bunnies as they twitch and make sounds). Recently at a dream workshop I was conducting, a participant complained that her problem was that she was flooded by dreams; commonly remembering four to six dreams every night: she couldn’t keep up with the volume. They weren’t necessarily nightmares, just dream overdrive, but leaving her exhausted when she woke up. Other members responded, “I wish I had your problem- I can barely remember any”.
The latter seems to be the more common complaint — the poverty of dream recall; but the converse — the plague of too much recall — is also a dilemma. The rest of this post will look at ways to either enhance recall or to contain the deluge when the problem is dream overdrive.
Better dream recall
Dream drought? Can’t remember a dream to save your life? Try these suggestions:
First and foremost don’t expect that you will be able to recall a dream if you haven’t written it down or recorded it some way. Dreams have the substance of mist or wisps of smoke: they need to be solidified in writing or recorded orally to gain enough substance in the waking world. So get a journal and keep it by your bedside. It could be a beautiful fanciful one, or a simple spiral notebook – your choice. Be sure to have a pen on hand as well.
Learn to recognize a dream when you have one! This may sound obvious, but many dreams are not long narratives with a clear story line. One line rememberedfrom sleep is a dream. One phrase counts. So does a single word. Don’t dismiss these dream fragments – often they contain the essence of the message your dream mind is sending you in a crisp “readers digest” format. In addition, the productions of our mind from the in between zones of waking and sleeping- the hypnopompic and the hypnogogic zones, where we are not quite awake nor quite asleep – these are dreams too.
Dreams do not come only in words. If you wake with a feeling state that is not explained by your immediate environment – that is what you are recalling from your dream. Wake inexplicably happy? That is your dream. Wake feeling anxious for no apparent reason? That too is your dream. Have an image or a picture? – that is your dream too. Record these.
Your body may remember your dream even if your mind doesn’t. This is called positional memory. Put your body back in the position it was in when you dreamt- that is, if you sleep lying on your left side with your knees tucked up, do that now. Often the dream will float right back into your brain as your body accesses this body memory of it.
Imagine wrapping yourself up in your dream. Reach your arms out, grab the ends of your imaginary dream shawl or dream tallit, and wrap them around you as you close your eyes. Your dream may be close at hand.
Before going to sleep at night, set your intention to have a dream, and to remember it and to be able to write it down. Write that sentence in your dream journal just before going to sleep. This is called dream incubation. Once you have primed the pump and have started remembering, you can also use this technique to ask for help and guidance on specific issues or dilemmas.
Dream deluge? Feeling flooded by too many dreams? Try these:
Use your dream journal to set an intention to only allow the dreams of highest priority into your conscious mind, and to filter out anything else. Incubate something like “I will remember only the essence of the dream that is in my highest good and best interest.”
Hang a Native American dream catcher near your bed. The blessing story that goes with these is that the dream catcher snares any upsetting dreams or nightmares in it’s threads, and the narrow hole in the center allows only positive dreams to come through. You can also infuse it to snare an over-abundance of dreams.
Surround yourself and/or your bed and/or your room with a bubble of light for protection, safety, and good boundaries. Find the color(s) that are just right for your purpose.
Imagine closing a door in your mind before going to sleep; this door is to the portal between the waking world and the dreaming world. You can also add a phrase such as “I close the door to unwanted intrusions in the night”.
Say the word “No” strongly, perhaps even out loud, to your dream muse. Be firm and clear that you are setting a limit and boundary.
Before going to sleep, decide if you would like a dream to come through. Then write a sentence or two about the issue or topic you would like guidance on; and end the writing with a seal (“chatimah” in Hebrew) such as “may it be so”, or “just this and no more”
At the end of the movie, when Dorothy returns from her sojourn in Oz, her aunt and uncle and their 3 farmhands are there to greet her at her bedside. On waking, she is told by her Auntie Em and the kindly doctor (who looks remarkably like the Wizard) that she had been hit on the head during the twister and passed out for a time. When Dorothy insists that she has actually been off traveling in a “strange and wonderful land… that was sometimes scary, but mostly very beautiful,” she is assured by all present that it was “just a dream”.
In another famous story, Alice of Wonderland is described as getting very sleepy while reading a book “without pictures,” and nodding off either just before -or just after- she spies the white rabbit and goes down the rabbit hole after him. Was that a dream too? Or “just a dream”? Curious and curiouser…
Which brings us to our questions, what are dreams and where do they come from? Shamans and mystics from cultures throughout the world speak to us of the dream world as a very real place, a parallel universe if you will. Judeo-Christian mystic tradition tells us that our soul can leave our bodies at night and travel in astral realms. (Which is the reason you are not supposed to wake a sleeper up too suddenly: the dreaming soul is connected to the body by a thin silver thread, and awakening too suddenly can snap the thread and the soul would not be able to find its way home back to the body.)
Lynn McTaggert, in her landmark book on non-local consciousness The Field, writes: “Deep in the rain forests of the Amazon, the Achur and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual…at dawn… as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams…. The dreamer is the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe.”
The dream is not an individual possession, it is owned collectively by the whole tribe. I love that – “the dreamer is the vessel that the dream decided to borrow”. Doesn’t it feel like that at times?: That we are but a vessel when we wake with the sense that something came through us, rather than from us.
Michael Harner, anthropologist and shamanic practitioner writes that one of the core principles of shamanism is that spirits are real, and that spirits produce dreams. Shamanic theory states that the human soul and other spirits that have an attachment to the person can produce their dreams. This is a way of understanding those vivid visitation dreams we sometimes get of departed loved ones — that their spirits still have an attachment to us. That is an infinitely comforting thought to me. After my mom passed away, she came to me in dreams and helped to heal the grief.
More sources of our dreams
Our bodies talk to us in our dreams. Patrick McNamara, a neuroscientist at Boston University School of Medicine, encourages doctors to routinely ask patients about their dreams as a way of assessing mental status (Boston Globe, 2/3/14). “Dreams are faithful reports of a patient’s emotional life,” he states. We also know that unresolved emotional baggage from days or years before can show up in our dreams, trying desperately to get our attention by keeping memories of events or the feelings about the events alive until we resolve them. This is the essence of PTSD dreaming. We can also get medic alerts through our dreams, long before a symptom sends us to the doctor.
Kat Kanavos is case in point. A breast cancer survivor, Kat’s dream told her that her breast cancer had returned and even pointed to exactly where it was so her doctor could find it. She is co-author of the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life.
Philo, an ancient philosopher says that there are three kinds of dreams: 1.) Those that originate within us, 2.) Those that originate in the angelic or spirit realm, and 3.) Those that originate from God. Our prophets and holy men and women are often cited as having conversations with God either in a dream, or as a waking dream day-vision.
In a modern sleep lab, scientists can now chart the exact portions of the brain that are involved in dreaming and chart the REM cycles on a graph. There are those in the scientific community who maintain that dreams are merely random neuron firings of the brain (I report this in the spirit of inclusiveness, however as a spiritually-oriented therapist dreamworker, I would not put myself in that camp.)
Whether our dreams come from within our brains, our bodies, the spirit realm, or the Divine, the worlds we visit in our night journeys have gifts and messages for ourselves, our communities, and perhaps for the world. Awake to your dreams! Use their messages to heal, to grow, to explore, to journey, to connect with all manner of strange and wondrous beings. Go down the rabbit hole and over the rainbow to see what you may find. Then come back and tell about it. (tip of the hat to Mary Oliver)
“…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.”
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 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.
“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.
“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…
“Dreams transport us each and every night into that strange and radiant world inside ourselves wherein… we come face to face with powers greater than ourselves.”
~ James Hagan
We had such an interesting discussion about Joseph’s dreams in Torah study with Rabbi Allan Ulman. I’ve been in a study class with him for many years; we use a psycho–spiritual many layered look at Torah (the first 5 books of the bible) and other spiritual teachings. We usually think of Joseph as a somewhat arrogant youth, who is favored by his father (remember the fancy coat!) and lords it over his brothers. His first reported dream is about the bowing sheaves of wheat (Genesis 37) while he is young and living at home with his father and 11 brothers. Rather than his own hubris however, it is actually his brothers who interpret from Joseph’s dream that they are the sheaves of wheat that bow down to his sheave, and infer that Joseph is planning to rule over them. As Allan pointed out, the brothers are not actually dream interpreters– but Joseph is. So when his brothers try to interpret his dream and accuse him of planning to subjugate them, it is their overlay on it that we read.
It would seem that the skinny on biblical dream interpretation is that it corresponds with our modern view that the dreamer is the final expert–others cannot assume to know the true meaning of the dream unless the dreamer concurs. It is the brother’s projections of what they fear this dream means that we read about, not what Joseph is actually saying at this time. We find at the end of the Joseph saga however, that without knowing his identity, the brothers do in fact bow down to him as they ask for relief from the famine in their land, as he is Pharaoh’s right hand man. The future was contained in this dream, although they did not know it at the time. While that was not Joseph’s intention, it was what their future unfolded.
Here’s another dream layer: the potential that our dreams contain our future. How might our lives be different if we could recognize when we were “seeing around the corner of time”, if you will; and thus plan accordingly?
If you recall, earlier in the story, Joseph’s brothers are envious of their favored younger brother and conspire to kill him. The text actually says that they want to kill him because “he is a dreamer” (Gen. 37). The brothers are threatened by his dreams/visions, and it is his future that they want to kill off. This theme unfortunately continues to be true in our lives today- how many have been killed over the millenniums because their dreams or visions did not match up with their neighbor’s?
Joseph’s first dream, the sheaves, is about earthly matters: food, wheat, sustenance. It is the prequel to the dream of Pharaoh that is brought to Joseph many years later while he is imprisoned in jail. Word got out about his skills in interpreting the cupbearer’s and the baker’s dreams while he was imprisoned, and so he is brought to interpret Pharaohs dreams of the 7 fat and 7 lean sheep. In fact, the importance of that dream is doubled since Pharaoh also dreamed a similar dream about 7 healthy ears of corn and 7 shriveled ears. (We know that when a symbol or event is doubled or repeated in a dream, the message is of particular significance.) Once again, these dreams are concerned with food, sustenance, and the earth: By interpreting this dream correctly, Joseph averts a famine and saves the people.
Joseph’s second dream is about heavenly or spiritual matters. In this one, the sun, the moon and the stars were bowing down to him. His brothers freak out again when they hear this second dream, and they accuse him of thinking that they and his parents represent the sun, the moon and the stars who are to bow down to him. Joseph actually never makes that interpretation though. Though seem obvious, it is the others who again superimpose their own projections of envy and anger onto him. We’ve all had dreams where we had the position of “observer” as a dream story unfolds, this is the perspective that Joseph had in this dream. It is like watching a movie, instead of starring in it, and provides a different perspective.
I learned that the key to understanding this second dream is that Joseph accepts the mantle of divine will, and recognizes that he has a sacred life purpose. This mantle of divine purpose isin contrast to his youthful first “coat of many colors”. Joseph’s “hero’s journey”, as Joseph Campbell writes, is about relationship repair and reconciliation of brethren, carrying on the thread of the theme “am I my brother’s keeper?” that we were introduced to early on in Genesis in the story of Cain and Able. Joseph is able to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery at the end of Exodus. He accepts the mantle of being his brother’s keeper in a way that Cain could not, as Joseph provisions his brothers against the famine in their own land. Joseph answers this question by saying, in effect, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am my brother’s keeper”. How do we answer that question in our own lives today?
In this story woven around Joseph’s dreams and his skill as an interpreter of dreams, we see the progression of the core theological concepts of family and community interdependence and caring for each other. We humans don’t start off very successfully in this department, (Cain killing Able is the template for the relationship of first set of siblings). As we follow our own deep stories and archetypes and pay attention to the dreams and visions of the men and women who precede us, hopefully we learn that we do need to take care of each other and honor our own and others dreams until we reach our promised land.
“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” -Vaclev Havel
We are getting close to the night we will plan to dream together to end gun violence, improve mental health care, and work together to dream the world we want into being. If you haven’t bookmarked your calendar yet, please do so for the night of January 20, the eve of Martin Luther King day, (not co-incidentally the day of our next presidential inauguration!) If you haven’t read the call to action from the previous blog post of 12/31/12, please read it to review the dream action plan. So simple, you can do it in your sleep! Remember to incubate the dreams by setting your intention. For a more complete discussion of incubating dreams, see the blog post of May 14, 2012, entitled “The Ancient Practice of Dream Incubation”. The posts of April 29 and May 8 will give you more tips for remembering your dreams. And if you want to continue to receive posts, sign up on the blog page on the right margin under the archives and categories sections where it says “subscribe to this blog” (and you can also send me your email address to be added to a mailing list).
For those of you who would like to read more about this idea dreaming the world we want into being, here is an excerpt from Alberto Villodo’s book “Courageous Dreaming: How Shaman’s Dream the World Into Being” (Hay House, 2008): (heads up that it is a bit long, but in re-reading it several times, I didn’t see how I could shorten it any more and keep the poetry intact. So, skim quickly, or read slowly, or save for later, depending on your energy right now)
“…Whether you realize it or not, we are all dreaming the world into being…. As soon as you awaken to your power to dream, you begin to flex the muscles of your courage. Then you can dream bravely: letting go of your limiting beliefs and pushing past your fears. You can begin to create truly original dreams that germinate in your soul and bear fruit in your life.
Courageous dreaming allows you to create from the source, the quantum soup of the universe where everything exists in a latent or potential state. Physicists understand that in the quantum world of the universe’s smallest elemental parts, nothing is “real” until it is observed. But quantum events do not occur in the laboratory only. They also happen inside our brain, on this page, and everywhere around us. When you observe any part of this dream, the great matrix of energy, you can change reality and alter the entire dream.
Modern physics is describing what the ancient wisdom keepers of the Americas have long known. These shamans, known as the Earthkeepers, say that we are dreaming the world into being through the very act of witnessing it. Scientists believe that we are only able to do this in the very small, subatomic world. Shamans understand that we also dream the larger world that we experience with our senses…
…The dreamtime, the creative matrix, does not exist in a place outside of us. Rather, it infuses all matter and energy, connecting every creature, every rock, every star, and every ray of light or bit of cosmic dust. The power to dream is the power to participate in creation itself…
…Shamans of the Andes and the Amazon believe that we can only access the power of this force by raising our level of consciousness. When we do so, we become aware that we’re like a drop of water in a vast, divine ocean, distinct yet immersed in something much larger than ourselves. It’s only when we experience our connection to infinity that we’re able to dream powerfully. In fact, it’s our sense of separation from infinity that makes us become trapped in a nightmare in the first place. To end the nightmare, to reclaim our power of dreaming reality and craft a better reality, we need to have a visceral understanding of our dreaming power in every cell of our body and stop feeling disassociated and disconnected…It takes courage to taste infinity.
The Earthkeepers believe that the world is real, but only because we are dreaming it into being. When we lack courage, we have to settle for the world that is being dreamed by our culture or by our genes — the nightmare. To dream courageously and be empowered, you must be willing to use your heart and make a conscious decision to dream a sacred dream of joy, peace, glory and having the life you want…”
Our hearts go out to the victims at Newtown, and all the other victims of gun violence. In addition to signing petitions, showing up, and contributing funds, we as dreamers can contribute in a special way. We can work to dream the world we want to see into being by actively incubating dreams. There is a long history and precedence for this: the aboriginals of Australia believe that this is how the world came into being in the first place- the ancestors dreamed it into being, and by following the ancestral song lines in the desert each clan can follow their particular totem animal’s dream. Shamans and healers from all cultures believe in the generative and creative power of dreams. Group dreams are all the more powerful.
My Thursday Dream Circle (thank you Starr, Mia, Joy, Joyce, Barbara, Ruth) suggested that we could together send our collective dream energies toward ending gun violence, establishing better gun control, getting better mental health services; in short, whatever it takes to avoid the senseless tragedies we have been pummeled with in the last several decades. As many of you saw in the Boston Globe, these random shootings seemed to happen once every few years during the 60’s and 70’s, and more and more frequently through the 80’s and 90’s, several times a year in the early part of this 21st century, and already 3 times just since this summer in 2012!
Tzivia Glover manages a blog called 350 dreamers, which practices synchronized global dreaming for the purpose of healing the planet. She writes that the goal of her blog is:
1. A belief in the power of dreams
2. Belief in the beauty of community and communal action and
3. A commitment to healing on all levels from personal to planetary.
It occurs to me that we too could dream a version of this, and dedicate one night to specifically incubate dreams toward the healing of gun violence in our culture. A timely and reasonable date seemed to be in honor of Martin Luther King Day: January 21, 2013. After all, he said, “I have a dream…” that we will all be able to live together in peace and harmony; without violence.
John Lennon said it “…Imagine all the people, living for today…nothing to kill or die for…imagine all the people living in peace…You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”
Theodore Herzl said it: “If you will it, it is no dream”.
And finally, Rodgers and Hammerstein said it in South Pacific:
“You’ve got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you goin’ to make a dream come true?”
(From “Happy Talk”, South Pacific).
So: A call to dream action for all dreamers: It’s easy to do. Incubate a dream on the night of January 20 in which you ask your dream guide to send you a dream for healing from gun violence. Write this intention (your kavanah, in Hebrew) as clearly and succinctly as you would like. Spend anywhere from just one or several minutes on your statement of intention. You can be specific if you like: i.e. dreaming to have President Obama and Congress pass assault ban rifle laws, or doubling the funding for mental heath services, or passing stringent background ckecks; or even to have the NRA see the light and forbid anything but carefully supervsied hunting rifles! Or be general, or creative, or spritiual- whatever suits your style the best. Keep your dream journal close at hand to jot down the dream(s) you receive that night or on the morning of the 21st. Post any dreams here on this blog site in the reply section (along with what you incubated if you want); and we can see together the energy we create. Please pass this on to anyone who you think would like to join us.
May we live together in peace.
P.S. And who remembers this! :
Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
words and music by Ed McCurdy (often sung by Simon and Garfunkal)