“And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” Kahlil Gibran
It has been some time since I last posted here. But last night “I had a dream” – maybe not as powerful as that of Dr. King, but one I wanted to share here; a journey dream that helped to point the way to traveling without fear.
Dreams often take us on journeys. We dream travel in usual or unusual modes, to known or unknown locations. We travel in our dream vehicles of cars or planes or flying carpets or flying horses to New York City or down the street, to our childhood homes or our office building, to Mars or to Narnia. We journey in time and space, to both the outer and inner worlds that we inhabit nightly. Sometimes these journeys are pleasant, sometimes they an be terrifying,
This early fall time of year is a time of transition and journeying in non-dream time as well. We had 2 dark (new) moons this month; an unusual occurrence that points us toward the gifts of the night and the dark places. The leaves have begun their journey as they turn from summer greens (and the browns of this drought year) to the reds and golds of autumn. The kids have gone back to school, the college students are back in force, and it feels like the New Year, whether or not you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah now. Rosh Hashanah is a holy window in time and space. Similar to the January New Year transition, it can be a time of personal reflection and transformation as we look back on the year that passed and make resolutions for the year to come. One of the key concepts at Rosh Hashana is “t’shuvah”, which means return, and also to make amends. We sing a song with the lyrics “…Return again…return to the land of your soul…” Another song tells us that the main point of the journey is not to be afraid: That “All the world is just a narrow bridge” that we must cross without being immobilized by fear.
Journeying. Returning. Without fear. Fear is part of the human condition. How do we journey without it? If we pay attention to our dreams, they may provide resources and guidance for us to address this dilemma and help us on our way over these narrow bridges.
I had a dream a few nights ago that I knew was important, but didn’t realize it’s potential until sharing it with my dream circle. The process of talking about it out loud, with a few well-placed questions from my friends helped me to recognize what had been in my blind spot before. Here’s a part of the dream:
I am driving my car on my way to meet my husband somewhere, when all of a sudden there is no light- it has become pitch dark. My car lights are gone, and there are no streetlights or stars-nothing but blackness. I am surprisingly not as frightened as I could be, just a bit anxious. I grip the steering wheel and just keep driving up and down ramps and over passes and underpasses. Suddenly there is light again, it is daylight, and I am in a warm southern place.
The dream continues a bit, but this is the journey part of the dream. The initial title I come up with is “Driving Blind”. As I talked my way through it, I realize that it is kind of like life itself – sometimes we are “driving blind”, we don’t really know where we are going, but we just know that we have to keep on going through whatever this difficult time is. If we stop, if we get paralyzed by fear, we get stuck in the dark. In my dream I come out into the light – if that’s not a metaphor, I don’t know what is. As I kept talking, I realized that the reason that I wasn’t as afraid as I might have been about driving in the dark had to do with faith – I must have trusted even while driving with no lights that is would turn out ok. I then was able to re-name the dream “Blind Faith” and bring that trust into some of the ups and downs of my life right now.
On this journey of life, we just keep going, even during times when we are driving in the dark.
My you be blessed with the gift of faith, and with peace, abundance and sweetness in this New Year.
We are multi-faceted beings: logical and imaginative, made of clay and made of stardust. Warning: I am a little bit of a neuroscience geek, so the first part is a bit scientific; but I think very cool. Apparently, science has figured out why our eyes move (REM) while we are dreaming: Our brains do not discriminate between waking and sleeping realities: they think that the dream imagery is real!
A very short tour of the relevant brain structures: The left side of our brain helps us out with logic, linear thinking, and sequencing; while the right side of our brain supports our creativity, imagination, and poetry. Our dreams are most likely generated from deep within our limbic system (our emotional and non-rational brain) which straddles both halves deep inside the brain. We then remember and work on our dreams from our prefrontal cortex (our thinking and declarative memory brains): the surface area under our foreheads and right behind our eyes. In between the night dream and the day remembering, the medial temporal lobe, the part that serves as a bridge between memories and visual recognition, helps us process things that we saw and that happened to us in life. And, of course, as we dream we also create or remember worlds apart, embarking on mythic and soul-stirring journeys, make meaning out of metaphor, and weave gossamer strands of silk and stars in our nightly sojourns. This post gives equal time to both sides of our brain: a fascinating study on why our eyes move when we dream, and then a poem on the nature of a dreaming.
For your left brain’s pleasure, an article published in Nature Communications (8/15) by Peter Dockrill describes a new study by Tel Aviv University researchers Yuval Nir and Itzhak Fried. It seems that each flicker of our eyes is accompanying a new image in our dream, with the eye movement “essentially acting like a reset function between individual dream image “snapshots”. Using electrodes planted deep in patients’ brains as they were prepared for brain surgery to alleviate epileptic seizures, they found that the neural brain activity while seeing new images in a dream (or in our imaginations when awake) was essentially the same as when actually seeing new images in waking life. In other words, the brain does not distinguish between the “real” images we see and dreaming ones. No wonder they seem so real – to our dreaming brains, they are.
And now, for your right brain’s pleasure (and as a reward for getting through the neuro-science lesson): A poem by Antonio Machado (with thanks to Belle for reciting it and then sending it to me).
Last Night As I Was Sleeping,
By Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly)
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Or possibly- not an error? That word struck me as not exactly fitting in with the poem, or my sense of a dream, so I looked up the poem in the original Spanish. The word actually used for “error” is “ilusion”! Robert Bly seems to color his translation through his own psyche (as, I suppose all translators do to some extent). But “illusion” is illusion- not a mistake or error. This fits in more with the sweetness of the dream. For me, illusion gives options, choices, and does not negate, as the word “error” can do. In addition, as we learned early, the brain does not distinguish between dream images and seen waking images; so it may also be that this “illusion” Machado dreamt and wrote about is as real as the words you are reading now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this dream!
In any case, as Machado suggests: may you find in your dreams a source of refreshment and sweetness and warmth for your heart. May we live into our best dreams and have the luminous reality that our dreaming brains can hold as truth be true on both sides of the threshhold.
“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions”
When we dream, we are in a place, a world that is just as real to us while we dream it as the one we inhabit while we are awake. In this dreaming place we talk, walk, run, play, interact with others and have whole adventures without needing to adhere to many of the rules we are subject to in our waking lives: rules such as the earth’s gravity, or social proprieties, or linear time, or three-dimensional space. As such, we are fully embodied beings living inside the dream. The images that make up our dream are quite alive as we are experiencing them, such as the following:
“I dream I am a circus performer, balancing on the back of a horse.”
When we come out of the dream to tell about it we often find that language is inadequate to the experience. We are translating a lived, moving experience into the two-dimensional limits of language, often losing some of the richness and texture of the images and the experience in the process. Like the old story of trying to describe an elephant to a blind man, we can only capture part of the experience with words alone: just the trunk, or just the legs, or just the hide. The artwork brings it much more alive; now imagine yourself enacting that scene: You are kneeling on one knee on your white horse as it trots around the ring. What does that feel like in your body? What if you put your body into that position and tried it?
“Embodied imagination” by Robbie Bosnak, and Jung’s method of “active imagination” carry the stance that the dreamed images belong to this real and embodied world; it is our job is to develop a relationship with them in order to understand why they have come to visit us and what they might want from us. Bosnak says, “Images belong to the involuntary imagination and embody their own intelligence.”
Jean Houston talks about an intelligence beyond our own called the “Entelechy”, from the Greek, that contains wisdom from our highest selves in contact with the collective unconscious. We can access this self while in altered states such as trance, meditation, dreams and the in-between edges of dreams and wakefulness. Flashback memories, déjà vu experiences, and being in the “zone” or “flow state” in art, athletics or any creative endeavor can also allow us to access this realm.
When we practice dreamwork with our bodies as well as with our words, we can get closer to the reality of the living images. By letting the images enliven our body and using our felt sense, we can create dream theater or dream movements or dream sculpture that allow our bodies and those of our dream circle to get into the act and re-create the aliveness that we felt in the dream itself.
“I dream of a field mouse being stalked by a panther. The grasses are high and the sun is beating down on the field. It feels so immediate in the dream.”
In my works the group collectively becomes the field mouse, the blade of grass, the stalking panther, the hot sun, and thus feel into the dream through the different characters and parts of the landscape and experience a whole which is then greater than the sum of its parts. Now we can see where is it going. By enacting the dream-drama, we get a greater sense of how it has meaning for our lives, and perhaps the lives of others.
It’s an interactive experience with participants that can lead to unexpected results and insights, and can provide a very different approach to working with dreams than the time-worn road of analysis. Contact Linda Schiller () to discuss scheduling her for your next event to teach a Dreams Alive! embodied dreamwork workshop. See Linda’s trainings page for more information.
“Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”
Mythologist Joseph Campbell
At the core of our dreams are The Images. Beautiful, frightening, sensual, intriguing, they usually represent the heart of our dreaming landscapes. Lately I’ve been learning to pay more attention to the living nature of these images. Last summer at the Dream Conference (http://www.IASD.org) I was introduced to the work of Stephen Aizenstat. I had been familiar with his book “Dream Tending” for some time, but had never read it. After hearing him speak, I got it.
Aizenstat opens up the concept of imagery to what he calls the “Living Image”. Drawing from the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and others, he shares his perception that the dream images are not static. They have a life of their own and exist in this world as well as the one we dreamed them in. The images may start out in our dreamscape, but Aizenstat teaches that they have a life of their own in our awake walk-around world. We already know that they feel real to us when we are dreaming them. Vividly alive in our night journeys, the image can enrich our lives as we allow it to become animate in our daytime world by engaging with it. His basic premise is that “dreams are alive”.
When we engage with the images from our dreams, and give them their due outside of their lives inside our dream, we are engaging in a process called “Amplification,” or making larger. When we expand the image to be as large as it can be we enter the realm of myth and archetype– the great grand stories that have engaged humankind for millennium.
Aisenstat tells us “…a myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to social interactions”. We dream in our own personal mythologies; our waking task is to then connect our dreams with the mythologies of the larger world. Doing so, we may not only gain insight into ourselves and make broader meaning of our small self-stories, but we can also connect with the larger world dreams, and thus see ourselves and our issues and problems as part of the human condition. Mindfulness practice might call this “right-sizing” the problem.
Aizenstat teaches that there are three steps to the process: Association, Amplification, and Animation. First, allow your mind freeAssociate to the image, that is, to allow your mind to spontaneously wander about and connect to whatever comes up for you from your own life, feelings, and memories. Then we Amplify, or enlarge these associations to find the bigger stories: these new directions may not have been part of the original dream, but the dream helped to point you in this direction. Finally, we Animate; embody, bring the image to life in some way.
I’ll illustrate a bit of the process with a recent dream image I had. In my dream, a large bright blue-green bird with a very long tail flew into my room. It was beautiful but a little scary, since it was fluttering around the room and it was big. I wondered if I should let it out or try to catch it first. Then I realized that it was a Quetzal.
My first associations were to my father-in-law’s parrot, to the mythical Phoenix, and to my cats liking the “catch and release” program they have devised when a bird accidentally gets into our house (they catch but don’t kill, I capture and release). I didn’t really know what a Quetzal was, just that it had to do with Central America. My dream circle helped me then to amplify: We Googled up “Quetzal” and found references to a divine bird associated with the Mayan or Aztec religions in Mexico. It is officially called a “Resplendent Quetzal”, was associated with Divinity, Love, and Air, and its plumage was valued for headdresses of royalty.
Wow! Who knew? I loved that it was called “resplendent”. My body began to fill up with the feeling of the Quetzal as I spontaneously began to animate it by kind of spreading my arms wide and flapping/waving them at shoulder level, what I call “embodying the dream.” Now I could feel this quetzal energy in my body, especially around my heart and the place on my back where my wings would attach.
Back in the dream, I decided to leave the window open so that the Quetzal could come and go freely.
By using this method of association, (seeing what first caught my attention), then amplifying (enlarging the story, broadening it to include world wide mythic associations, this time with the help of the magic scryer Google,) and then embodying and animating the image, I felt my interaction with it as a real being in ways that I didn’t begin to touch before doing so: I felt exhilarated, a little frightened, and a bit awed by it’s size and beauty. Not bad for a night’s work. It has joined my pantheon of animal guides along with puma and jaguar, and I’ll continue to watch out for it’s messages and meanings in dreams and while awake.
Next time we’ll look at using this process with the scarier images as well, to seek out their healing essence.
“…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…”.
“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.