“In most of our dreams, our inner eye of reflection is shut and we sleep within our sleep. The exception takes place when we seem to awake within our dreams, without disturbing or ending the dream state, and learn to recognize that we are dreaming while the dream is still happening”. Stephen LaBerge
Most of us have heard of the phrase “lucid dreaming” but have not been aware of the intricacies of it. It has become an increasingly popular concept however, and Wikipedia told me that a smartphone app for it was downloaded half a million times within six weeks in 2012. A lucid dream has been defined as any dream within which we are aware that we are dreaming. To be lucid while dreaming implies being “awake” or conscious while asleep (sort of an oxymoron), and then to be able to control or direct what happens inside the dream. (While my blog title is “Awake To Your Dreams”, lucid dreaming can be thought of as being awake in your dreams).
Until recently I was somewhat prejudiced against this as a worthwhile goal, given that I believe that it makes more sense to dream all the way through a dream that we are given, and then to work with it. In other words, not to interfere with our wise unconscious dreaming self from doing the work that it does best: Taking our unarticulated dilemmas, longings, desires, wishes, issues, pains, and struggles and then present them to us in dreamtime with as much metaphor and symbol as it thinks we need in order to be able to begin processing them. Pictures, images, emotions, storylines, fragments, a single word or a whole epic- let ‘em role – and then go back and find the layers of meanings. But as I have been giving the concept more thought, I have been coming to see other options available in lucid dreaming that do not necessarily hijack our innate processing systems.
So as a modern adult with a teenager to learn from, I Googled “lucid”. It was defined as “articulate, rational, or luminous”, with additional synonyms of thought through, clear, eloquent, and silver tongued (the later being my personal favorite). Not what I actually had expected, given how it is commonly used in the dreaming world. And yet, it makes sense. I especially liked the use of the word “luminous”: implying otherworldly, shining and glowing, and yet clear and eloquent- all hallmarks of a dream well dreamt from our souls’ warehouse of dreams.
There seem to be two kinds of lucid dreams: 1.) “Dream initiated lucid dreams” that begin as a regular dream, and then turn lucid, and 2.) “Wake initiated lucid dreams (or “W.I.L.D.”). These can occur a.) while we are drifting off to sleep but are still technically awake and we are aware immediately that we ‘re dreaming, or b.) when we incubate a dream before going to sleep. To incubate a dream, we purposely journal, think, or pray to journey into a dream on some issue or dilemma while we are awake, and then dream on it in the subsequent dream. This later method is a form of lucid dreaming that combines inside and outside worlds- focusing our attention on what we hope to have a dream about while awake, and then having the dream on that topic while asleep. This seems to be one way not to interfere with the wisdom of our dreaming mind- we kind of point our radio frequency dial in the direction we want, and then our dream mind picks up on the right signal and we make contact.
Both kinds of lucidity can be useful for nightmare sufferers. The ability to point our dreams in the direction of healing while awake, and the ability to purposefully change course in the middle of a distressing dream to avoid a pitfall or disaster can greatly alleviate the distress of chronic nightmares. If we don’t misuse the method to bypass the inner work we need to get through, this skill can be a gift and a short cut to relief. No one gets extra points for prolonged suffering! I once had a dream in which I was being assaulted. I somehow knew it was a dream and that I didn’t want the assault to continue, so I remember deciding to get out of there. I knew I had to swim upwards to get out. Then I had the sensation of straining my way up and out of the dream like swimming through sticky molasses, aiming for the light at the top. I could feel the pulling and kicking feelings in my arms and legs, and when I got to the top I was awake. I still recall the feeling of relief and self power that I got myself out of there.
The ability to lucid dream is both innate and can get better by practice, much as exercising any other kind of muscle gets stronger with practice.
Here are a few popular methods of getting more lucid:
1. “Am I Dreaming?”
Ask yourself periodically during the day “Am I dreaming?” and perform some kind of reality check. If you do it often enough you will remember to do in in your dream as well. For example, if you lean against a wall and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and you don’t fall through the wall you are awake; since in a dream you are more likely to fall through. Jump up in the air: if you land you are awake; you are more likely to be able to hover or fly if you are dreaming. Clap your hands together or snap your fingers- if you can hear, see and feel it, you are awake. If you are missing any of those sense awarenesses, you are asleep.
2. Journal It
Keep a dream journal. As you build up a dream lexicon of re-occuring images and themes, they will become easier to recognize in your dreams. Make a list of your common images and themes and review them before going to sleep.
3. Set Your Clocks
Try a variation on Stephen LeBerge’s method. Set an alarm clock to wake you up at periodic intervals of several hours duration during the night, and record the dreams you have then. We are most likely to have lucid dreams during our deepest REM sleep. So after recording as much as you can remember, lie back down to the position you were just in, and tell yourself “I am aware that I was dreaming”, and you will be more likely to know that inside of your next sleep/dream phase. (Personally I can’t imagine wanting this badly enough to wake myself up for it on purpose, but that’s just me- there are those who do it.)
4. “Look At Your Hands”
a.) As you get into bed, look at your hands, and say to yourself over and over “I will dream and I will see my hands” until you are tired and go to sleep.
b.) If you wake in the night, look at your hands and repeat the phrase.
c.) With practice, you will see your hands in the dream and can say in the dream “Wow- here are my hands- I am dreaming!”
5. The Diamond Method
While you meditate, try to visual your whole life, both waking and sleeping as facets of a diamond: All is one, just different aspects of the same whole, a synthesis of the spiritual and the psychological. (A. H. Almaas). Our dreams and our waking selves are thus just two facets of the same human consciousness. Almaas calls this diamond the Universe, or God, or the Soul. The key is to recognize that all of life is happening at once, and it is only our limitations and perceptions that separate it out into its different facets or dimensions. Once we recognize this, it then becomes easy to see dreams and waking as simply different facets of the diamond, and therefor easier to be “awake in your dreams” with little effort.
Of course, as Robert Waggoner points out in his book on lucid dreaming, we can’t control everything in a dream, or in life – not the color of the sea, or the height of the waves. But when we develop a relationship with our Inner Guide, our inner Wise Woman or Wise Man, our clear cut Diamond Self, then we can direct the ship of our life more confidently and with more resources.
“Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”
At the core of our dreams are The Images. Beautiful, frightening, sensual, intriguing, they usually represent the heart of our dreaming landscapes. Lately I ‘ve been learning to pay more attention to the living nature of these images. Last summer at the Dream Conference (http://www.IASD.org) I was introduced to the work of Stephen Aizenstat. I had been familiar with his book “Dream Tending” for some time, but had never read it. After hearing him speak, I got it.
Aizenstat opens up the concept of imagery to what he calls the “Living Image”. Drawing on the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and others, he shares his perception that the dream images are not static. They have a life of their own and exist in this world as well as the one we dreamed them in. The images may start out in our dreamscape, but Aizenstat teaches that they have a life of their own in our awake walk-around world. We already know that they feel real to us when we are dreaming them. Vividly alive in our night journeys, the image can enrich our lives as we allow it to become animate in our daytime world by engaging with it. His basic premise is that “dreams are alive”.
When we engage with the images from our dreams, and give them their due outside of their lives inside our dream, we are engaging in a process called “Amplification”, or making larger. When we expand the image to be as large as it can be we enter the realm of myth and archetype– the great grand stories that have engaged humankind for millennium. Aisenstat tells us “…a myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to…social interactions”. We dream in our own personal mythologies; our waking task is to then connect our dreams with the mythologies of the larger world. Doing so, we may not only gain insight into ourselves and make broader meaning of our small self-stories, but we can also connect with the larger world dreams, and thus see ourselves and our issues and problems as part of the human condition. Mindfulness practice might call this “right-sizing” the problem.
Aizenstat teaches that there are three steps to the process: Association, Amplification, and Animation. First, allow your mind free Associate to the image, that is, to allow your mind to spontaneously wander about and connect to whatever comes up for you from your own life, feelings, and memories. Then we Amplify, or enlarge these associations to find the bigger stories: these new directions may not have been part of the original dream, but the dream helped to point you in this direction. Finally, we Animate; embody, bring the image to life in some way.
I’ll illustrate a bit of the process with a recent dream image I had. In my dream, a large bright blue-green bird with a very long tail that flew into my room. It was beautiful but a little scary, since it was fluttering around the room and it was big. I wondered if I should let it out or try to catch it first. Then I realized that it was a Quetzal.
My first associations were to my father-in-law’s parrot, to the mythical Phoenix, and to my cats liking the “catch and release” program they have devised when a bird accidentally gets into our house (they catch but don’t kill, I capture and release). I didn’t really know what a Quetzal was, just that it had to do with Central America. My dream circle helped me then to amplify: We Googled up “Quetzal “, and found references to a divine bird associated with the Mayan or Aztec religions in Mexico. It is officially called a “Resplendent Quetzal”, was associated with Divinity, Love, and Air, and its plumage was valued for headdresses of royalty. Wow! Who knew? I loved that it was called “resplendent”. My body began to fill up with the feeling of the Quetzal as I spontaneously began to animate it by kind of spreading my arms wide and flapping/waving them at shoulder level. Now I could feel this quetzal energy in my body, especially around my heart and the place on my back where my wings would attach.
Back in the dream, I decided to leave the window open so that the Quetzal could come and go freely.
By using this method of association, (seeing what first caught my attention), then amplifying (enlarging the story, broadening it to include world wide mythic associations, this time with the help of the magic scryer Google,) and then embodying and animating the image, I felt my interaction with it as a real being in ways that I didn’t begin to touch before doing so: I felt exhilarated, a little frightened, and a bit awed by it’s size and beauty. Not bad for a night’s work. It has joined my pantheon of animal guides along with puma and jaguar, and I’ll continue to watch out for it’s messages and meanings in dreams and while awake.
Next time we’ll look at using this process with the scarier images as well, to seek out their healing essence.
“…and we are strong at the broken places”, Ernest Hemingway
The previous post looked at synchronicities and opening channels to receive knowledge in uncanny, intuitive or non-linear ways. We continue here with a history of dream incubation and how to use this method now to ask for and receive wisdom from the universal Source. In addition to being open, we can also play a role in priming the intuitive pump.
Dream incubation; the first step in asking for guidance in this way; comes with preparation as well as intention. Kimberly Patton speaks of 3 elements common to the topography of incubation in ancestral times:
For our ancestors, having a proper frame of mind and making the proper Sacrifices were necessary components of asking for help from the Dream Source. The sacrifices often included burnt offerings, usually of a sheep or goat; and the supplicant would then sleep on the skin of the sacrificed animal. According to Patton, the burning of the animal transformed the material earthly world into the world of vapor and air, thus allowing the gods to smell the pleasing odor as the burnt offering went up in the smoke. If we recall that the Four Worlds in many mystic, pagan, indigenous (and Jungian) traditions are Earth, Air, Fire and Water; then having a ritual that connect us with each of these worlds in some way makes intuitive and as well as logical sense.
Second, some form of Purification was also part of the ritual: a sacred bath in clear or flowing waters was a common element. Interestingly, according to Patton, tears or weeping were also frequently part of the purification process: perhaps this invoked our own internal salt water cleansing; a way of making ourselves vulnerable and thus open to receiving (l’kabel). Teachers in both Sufi (Hefetz) and Kabbalist (Reb Nachman) traditions teach that when our hearts are broken open, there God is able to enter.
(Connected to this concept, the Japanese art of Kintsugi consists of repairing a cracked piece of pottery with gold or silver filling in the cracks; thus the repaired piece is actually more valuable than the original un-cracked piece. What a wonderful metaphor for healing- that we are more valuable for having repaired the places where we have been cracked open than for never having been cracked at all. )
The third step in ancient times is that of Pilgrimage– this is about locality, “location, location, location.” An outward journey was taken to imitate the inward journey one hoped would happen. Anthropologist James Frazer (his classic text is “The Golden Bough”) spoke of several kinds of magical practices he found in his studies, and one of the most common was imitative magic. The pilgrimage is part of the external manifestation we hope our dream journey will imitate. Where one sleeps for this kind of journey was in a sacred place set apart. Our ancestors traveled in order to incubate their dreams on holy ground. Alternately, the ground on which the ritual is created becomes holy by virtue of having accessed the Divine in that place. Frequently, though not always, it was a high place- on a hill, or a mound: where the membrane between worlds perhaps is thinner, just as the air is thinner atop high mountains. (i.e. tall standing stones of Druidic or Celtic lore, Mt. Sinai, Mecca, any “castle on a hill” seen so often in fairy tales).
How then are we to translate this for our times, since most of us aren’t about to kill a sheep or goat or spent the night alone on a mountain top. To receive this kind of knowledge, we may ask ourselves what kind of Sacrifice we are prepared to make: is it the sacrifice of some kind of comfortable place, or belief, or lifestyle? Are we willing to sacrifice the easy way of something for the higher way? Are we willing to walk our walk, as well as talk our talk? Get clear- what are you willing to give up for this portion of wisdom?
Purification: Will we cleanse ourselves with sage or incense? Will we take a long shower or a salt bath with intention to prepare ourselves to dream deeply and purely? Will we drink a bit or wash with salt water as our ancestors did?
And finally, Pilgramage: Where are we headed? Can we set a compass, or an orientation through our dream preparation for what we are seeking? Do we take a large or small retreat space from our daily life in which to open to this work? Is there an elevated space we can go to? Can we take ourselves out of ordinary time and/or space for a little while for this pilgrimage?
I’ll share with you an example of a small modern pilgrimage. A few years ago I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life; family illnesses, too much work; and I didn’t have the time to go off on retreat, even though I was craving some alone renewal time. I asked a friend if I could use her meditiation room for a day. I drove just 20 minutes away to spend seven hours in solitude resting, reading, writing, and had a dreaming nap in “designated” holy space that contained the energies of the people who had done yoga and meditated there over the years. And just now, as I am writing this, it occurs to me that this space was actually a high place- up the crawl ladder to the finished attic space! “…And I, I did not know…”.
“Intuition is a leap toward wholeness from fragmentation” (Anodea Judith)
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to speak of “preparing” for intuition, we actually can enhance our intuitive abilities in a variety of ways. Some one who is a good intuitive is some one who pays close attention to their inner voices and visions and to their outer surroundings. After we tune in and set our intentions, we need to ask the right questions, and then to listen up and watch out for the answers. This second step is often missed once the question is asked! We can learn how to listen from the inside and from the outside: to ask, to pay attention to both what we are asking for and also to what we are getting in response to our questions. An intuitive will often say something like “I’m getting something here”, or “I’m sensing that …” One of my clients calls these moments my “downloads”, and will sometimes ask me “Are you getting a download now?” Although it may seem almost “automatic”, getting a good hit on something is the cumulation of years of different kinds of work and preparation in dreamwork, meditation, mindfulness practices, book learning, and body based experiences.
Great Teachers tell us that whatever we are on the lookout for, we will be more likely to see. So by purposefully sending out a message to the universe that we are open and available to receive this form of knowledge, we increase the likelihood that we will. That is what the word “Kabbalah” means- received knowledge, from the root l’kabel, to receive. Our first step towards accessing our intuition is our willingness to be open to receiving knowledge from uncanny sources. In the still of the night, when much of the noise of the world is hushed , we are often better able to hear that “still small voice” that Elijah heard if, as we wake from our own dream states, we embrace rather than dismiss our dream messages. There is no dream too small, no fragment too meaningless, that we aren’t able to find some gold within.
To increase our access to intuition or intuitive knowledge, we can utilize resources available in both our waking and sleeping dreams. What seem to be accidental coincidences, also known as synchronicities, may be signals from the universe that we have found that for which we had been seeking, or; that something is seeking us. There are patterns in the universe if we are paying attention. Anodea Judith states that intuition is the unconscious recognition of patterns. Our ancestors were very clear that this was a valid form of acquiring information. We are starting to do a little better at paying attention to this form of paying attention. Even in our pop culture, Jennifer Laurence, in the movie “Silver Lining Playbook” repeatedly said to her boyfriend “If I’m reading the signs right…you should be …”. And she won an Academy Award for it. (It was good enough that I didn’t even mind seeing it twice in as many weeks- once with my husband, and the second time with my teenage daughter).
Satprem, in his book Sri Aurobido, or the Adventure of Consciousness, described intuition as the flash of a match in the darkness. Judith expands on this, saying that for a brief moment, the whole room comes to light. We can suddenly see the furniture, the wallpaper, the people in the room, and maybe even what is going on outside the window. And then it is gone. The match burns out. Do we remember what we have seen?
Solomon receives his portion of Wisdom and earns his right to be known as “Solomon the Wise” by hearing God ask him in a dream what he most desires to receive. He responds to that question by replying “a Lev Shomea”- “a Listening Heart”. What a nice definition of the ability to receive wisdom from many sources- to have a Listening Heart. Perhaps that is the core of the intuitive process-to have a listening mind, a listening body, and a listening heart. Then we too may receive an additional portion of wisdom.
Coming up soon: Part 2 of Preparing for Intuition: Priming the Pump: Preparing the Way for Intuitive “Downloads” Then and Now
“I 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
“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…