“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.
“I told my therapist I was having nightmares about nuclear explosions. He said don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world” Jay London
Understanding the meaning of our dreams can move us in surprising directions. The art of interpreting or understanding a dream has been referred to in several ways: working on the dream, dream tending, dream exploration, dream journeying, and unpacking the dream. All imply mining the dream for treasures from our emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and/or neuro-anatomical selves (yes, I just made up that last phrase in order to differentiate our innate biology from the particular neurological wiring that is part of REM sleep.) I like all the phrasings at different times and for different purposes. I am particularly fond of the term “unpacking” (from Jung) however, because I like the metaphor of unpacking a tightly packed suitcase, one piece at a time; examining each item as we unpack it until we have emptied the suitcase of our dream of all of the baggage that was in it.
That reminds me of a therapist cartoon (my favorite kind- you gotta be able to laugh at yourself in this biz) in which an airline counter attendant is presiding over a counter labeled “emotional baggage check-in”. He asks the prospective traveler “Has your baggage been with you at all times?” to which she replies “Unfortunately, yes.” He then asks, “Has anyone asked you to carry anything?” To which she responds, “You have no idea how many times!”
Having referenced the process of unpacking a dream many times over the last few years of this blog, I though it might be fun and perhaps enlightening to see how this process unfolded for one of my dreams. So to begin with, my disclaimer: I don’t usually have toilet dreams. Some people do, and when that symbol re-emerges for them, it’s “OK, here it is again!” So I laughed as I recorded this one, and wondered right away about the significance, since it was unusual for my dream lexicon.
The dream: “I have to use the bathroom and the toilet is dirty. I gingerly clean it up as best I can, and use it. It still overflows a bit. My colleague M is waiting for me.” I title the dream “Dirty Toilet”. At this point I just let the title emerge, I don’t really know what it means yet.
Before working on the dream with my dream circle, I listed my own initial association: my colleague “M”, who I hadn’t seen in quite a while had recently participated in a dream retreat day I held. That was all I got at first, since my alarm rang and I had to rush off to my day. A few days later my dream circle began asking me questions: “Any practical plumbing problems?” (No) “Any health related ‘plumbing’ issues?” (No). Since my initial association was to my work life, one friend asked, “Are you feeling overwhelmed or over-flowing in any way at work?” This one hit for me – “Yes”- here’s my first “aha”. (Significantly, this friend frequently has dreams related to her own work – and I usually don’t -, so her resonance with my dream followed her own associations).
My first association to that question was to the larger than usual number of workshops I had been preparing for recently – although I love to teach, I am feeling a bit “over-flowing” with all the preparation. The next association I have is to doing some dream work with a particular person, let’s call her Polly, – something resonates here too.
I then ask myself – OK, what is the central image (thanks to Ernest Hartman of blessed memory for this concept) in this dream? – The toilet.
So using the Gestalt method, I asked myself, “If I am the toilet, what do I need?” Speaking as the toilet itself (yes, we do that in dreamwork!), the answer was “I need to enlarge my bowl, to enlarge the container to be able to hold everything that gets dumped in here without overflowing and making a mess on your shoes”. Now we’re getting somewhere. I could feel the rightness of that answer in my bones. Becoming the object in my dream allowed me to have a perspective about my work with Polly that I hadn’t had before. Another “aha”, 2 fold this time: 1.) Part of my work was to help Polly to enlarge her own Self capacity to be able to hold the pain in her life without overflowing, and 2.) I also needed to enlarge my own Presence and capacity as I sit with her to safely contain her and her work.
Now I associate to a Buddhist teaching tale- (stick with it, the connection will emerge): A woman who had lost her child was in deep despair, and after months of wandering she approached the Buddha and asked for help. “Oh Enlightened One, I am suffering so much with the loss of my son- can you help me?” He replies, “Of course, my dear. But first, you must walk throughout the land and bring me word of at least one being that has not experienced suffering in their life; that is the first step. Now go, and come back to me with that information.”
So the woman goes back and walks for days and weeks and months, and everywhere she goes, she finds one who has lost a child, or a parent, or their leg, or their crops, or their home – on and on. Finally she returns to the Buddha and says “Oh Enlightened One, I have searched and searched, and I cannot find anyone who has not had some suffering in his or her life.” The Buddha responds “Exactly right. Every being at birth is given 10,00 measures of joy, and 10,000 measures of sorrow. The difference between a life of joy and a life of suffering is the size of the container we hold them in.” He went on to offer the woman a cup of water into which he put a large spoonful of salt. “Taste it”, he said. “It is salty” she replied. Then they went down to the lake. The Buddha put the same large spoonful of salt into the lake, the scooped up a cup of the lake water for the woman to taste. “It tastes sweet and fresh”, she said. Same salt, same water. Difference is the size of the container.
May all your containers be large enough to hold all they need.
“The animals which are our totems are mirrors to us. They reflect lessons we need to learn and abilities we can most easily develop…(they are) a medicine for healing your self and your life, and a power that can be accessed to help manifest your dreams”.
Animals are one of the most common dream images. They can delight, scare, intrigue, or puzzle us when they show up in our dreams. Animals contain some of the most complex layers of universal and personal symbolism. Our “animal selves” contain our purest expressions of our emotions and psyches. When we react to sudden danger, our instinctive reptilian brains go into flight or fight mode, and if we are lucky and /or skilled, our animal instincts keep us safe. When there is a saber toothed tiger or marauder approaching, we don’t want to take the time to reason something out- we need to act fast.
So, one layer of meaning or symbolism of animals in a dream can be about our primitive instincts. Are we listening to or ignoring them? As always, we need to contextualize the meaning of the animals that visit us in the context of the dream itself, the feelings and emotions we have in the dream, and about that animal. When Fluffy shows up in our dream, is she is our beloved cat or the “cat from hell” in our lives. Are we allergic? Does she make a mess around her litter box? Is anyone making a mess like that in your life right now (or are you)? Do you need more time to sleep 18 hours a day in a warm sunny spot? Then there is the broader layer of cats in general- both the pets and the wild kind. Whether we dream of a generic or a specific animal, we also want to ask ourselves about the other category to get at the fullest meaning. Curiosity, cleverness, and independence are a few of the qualities of a cat, but your cat may also be cuddly or aloof.
Native and indigenous people put great stock in animal visitations. They believe that the spirit of the animal has great meaning or a message for our lives. In fact, if we frequently dream of the same animal, they may be our “totem” animal-a sort of guide or guardian whose qualities we should learn about and perhaps embody. As spirit-animal helper, the root of the word totem is from the native Ojibway, meaning “brother/sister kin”.
My favorite go-to guy on the meaning of animal symbols in dreams is Ted Andrews. In his classic book “Animal Speak”, Andrews teaches that our relationship with animals is not only in the physical world, but in the spiritual or mystical on as well. He combines myth and factual information to let us learn about and tune into the essence of the animal who showed up in our lives or our dreams. My universal caution regarding “other people’s ideas” about what your dream or symbol means holds here as well – it’s only true for you if it resonates with you. Andrews does a nice job giving us a bunch of options to choose from, including mythological references, behaviors of animals in the wild, prey and predator relationships, the season they represent, and the “keynote” or core message of each animal.
Snake, for example, has been the subject of great controversy and paradox. It is seen as both the highest and the lowest of symbols- blamed for the downfall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and a symbol of death and rebirth as it renews itself time after time as it sheds it’s old outgrown skins. The snake is seen eating it’s own tail in the symbol of the ouroborus; endlessly re-incarnating and symbolizing eternity, and as the symbol of healing powers in the entwined caduseus of medicine. Sometimes, as Freud would say, a cigar is just a cigar; but the snake can also be a phallic symbol of sexuality or fertility; and is the symbol of creative kundlini energy in Eastern traditions. When snake shows up in your dreams, it often means that some kind of death and rebirth may be happening or needed in some area of your life; usually not an actual death, but a transitional time of change.
Our friend the owl is known as a symbol of the feminine, of the night, of magic, of the secrets the darkness has to offer. Andrews calls them the “eyes of the night”. It has both keen vision and keen hearing, and has been purported to be able to see into the soul of a person.
Finally, don’t forget about the mythological and fairy tale associations with the animals of your dreams- the “big bad wolf”, the “ugly duckling”, the centaur, the unicorn, the Owl of Athena; goddess of wisdom. These deep archetypes can take us even farther along the road to our truest selves, as our dream exploration then includes following the story or myth in which they occured.
treehouse at moonlight by poetico
(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.
“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 is in 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.
“I dream my paintings, and then I paint my dreams.”
Vincent Van Gogh
I had been thinking about the importance of color in dreams for a while. However, when every dream that I recalled for the last two weeks had a significant spot of color, I knew that was a sign- fingers to the keyboard! We don’t always notice whether or not we dream in color, unless something jumps out at us as we are writing or remembering the dream. As we recall the dream, we may suddenly be struck by, (as I was last night) a very bright blue necklace. This symbol has been gracing my dreams off and on for years, and I am still discovering it’s many layers of meaning. Uncovering the significance of the colors in your dreams can add an important layer of emotional resonance that may otherwise be missed, or misinterpreted.
Take a moment; close your eyes, and see this: The feathery chartreuse yellow/green of new meadow grass tinged with whispy pink blossoms; like an Ansel Adams photograph, in soft focus.
See this: The brilliant blue stone about two inches long; a cross between a lapis and a turquoise, shimmering with the colors of both the Caribbean and the cobalt blue Adriatic seas, set in finely wrought silver filigree.
See this: The silver bullet of a plane, hard and metallic, leaving a trail of white herringbone streaks across the sky.
See this: The peering yellow eyes that pop out of the darkness; just the eyes, just the yellow, surrounding you, as you sit at your campfire in the dark forest.
The colors in our dreams add a dimension of emotional resonance, a layer of the creative muse, a focal point calling our attention: “Look at this! Don’t miss this!” When an otherwise nondescript color scheme in a dream suddenly pops with a notable splash of color, this splash is often pointing our attention to a central image in the dream.
Our brains are hard-wired to resonate emotionally with different colors. The color red, which excites our autonomic nervous system, can fire us up with associations to danger, excitement, and/or passion. The color blue calms the autonomic nervous system, and is associated with serenity, calm, peacefulness. Robert Hoss, in his book Dream Language, points out that this all happens below the threshold of our awareness, yet has a profound affect on our emotional state. In addition to some universal or instinctive responses to colors, we also have ingrained in our subconscious a whole set of cultural and personal associations to colors. These come from our myths, our literature, our families, our language, our personal histories, our cultures.
Therefore, paying attention to the colors in our dreams can not only add emotional richness to our understanding, but also significantly alter the meaning we make out of the dream.
It can be fun and informative to make a color wheel of your personal color connections when you have color in your dream. Write the color in the middle of a page, draw a circle around it, and then make spokes out from it like a child’s drawing of a sun. Then, without censoring, or even thinking about your actual dream image, just write down your associations to the color itself. For example, when I think of yellow, I make my circle and write the words canary, yellow-bellied (cowardice), cheerful, sunshine, the yellow brick road, bright, jaundiced. I then go back to the image in the dream, and circle the ones that somehow seem related to this dream. You can see how dreaming of a yellow sweater would have a very different significance if my associations were cheerful and bright, as opposed to cowardly or sickly.
What follows is an abridged version of the Luscher Color Association chart (a psychological profiling tool) and some common emotional responses (thanks again to Bob Hoss). This is not meant to be a complete list; you can add your own associations.
Red: active, aggressive, joy, passion, danger, power, hot, “stop”
Orange: friendly, warm, active, enthusiastic, autumn, harvest
Yellow: cheerful, spontaneous, alert, positive, prosperity, “caution”
Green: nature, youthfulness, spring, growth, money, safety, “go”
Blue: calm, serenity, fulfillment, tranquility, unity, tenderness
Violet: mystic union, sensitivity, high class, sensuality, luxury, magic
Brown: earth, comfort, warmth, roots
Grey: uncommitted, uninvolved, shielding of self
Black: evil, nothingness, extinction, our shadow side, formal, unknown
White: purity, innocence, peace, light, goodness, holiness
Pink: romantic, love, soft, gentleness
Gold/Silver: the sun and the moon, value, psychological integration, wealth
Back to that blue stone: That stone has been following me around in my dreams for years, and it has become a touchstone (yes, pun intended); a mythic sorcerers stone; a connection to the breastplate of Aaron the high priest (Moses’ brother), with it’s 12 gemstones, that could be used to foretell the signs, and finally; to deep seas and deep emotions. My “dream action” (from the blog of 10/1/12, the final step in Robert Moss’s Lighting Dream Work) lead me on a search for this stone. I finally found it years after the original dream in the shuk in Jerusalem. This was my first trip back in 27 years, after having lived there for 5 years in the late 70’s. With both the visit and finding the stone, I reclaimed a missing piece of myself. So, color me blue: the “true blue” of unification of pieces of my life that had become separated.
“A dream un-interpreted is like a letter unopened”- The Talmud
As we shift in the seasons, and get ready to enter the New Year , (or back to school, as the case may be) I thought it might be a good time to look through this dream lens. (as an aside, did you know that Chinese medicine has a fifth season – that “not-really-still-summer-but-not-quite-yet-fall” season that most of us recognize in our gut).
Anyhow, a few years ago I put together a system of looking at the layers of a dream as one would examine the four layers of Kabbalistic mystic thought (and represent the four levels at which the Torah may be read) called the Pardes (the Orchard). We had just received our referral from China that we would be able to go and receive our daughter in the next few months. As I got ready to become a first time mom, I started going to the gym and working out, to get some more physical strength on board, as well as emotional preparation. As I walked on the treadmill, I often listened to CD’s to help pass the time. I alternated between listening to a set by David Cooper on Kabbalah, and one by Robert Moss on dreamwork. I think that the alternating learnings, as well as the bilateral movements of walking on a treadmill (left, right, left, right, which mimicked the method of EMDR– Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) created this cross-fertilization in my brain, and thus this system of understanding dreams. I criss-crossed my neural networks between Cooper and Moss, and came up with this synthesis.
The word Pardes is both an acronym and a word meaning “Orchard”. The letters (P, R, D, S) spell out the word “PaRDeS”, which means orchard in Hebrew; and is an allegory for the Garden of Eden. Additionally, in the acronym each letter stands for a word: P’shat, Remez, Drash, and Sod. While each level may be understood and appreciated on it’s own, when explored all together, the dreamer has the potential of receiving insight or advice about daily life and about how the recent and/or distant past may still be affecting them, as well as spiritual connections and directions for themselves, for others, for their community, and to a larger life purpose.
Here are the four levels and what they mean:
1. P’SHAT (SIMPLE)
This is the baseline or literal level, the story that is spelled out by the dream narrative itself. It contains the dream landscape and characters, as they appear in the dream. “What you see is what you get” here. The dream story can be explored completely on the level of the dream narrative itself, without interpretive or associative elements. The content at this level can be looked at from outside or inside the dream, but it is not added to or changed, simply journeyed through and appreciated for what it is. Here is the dream’s story to enjoy on it’s own merit. (One member of my dream group who is an author of children’s books frequently finds her themes and opening story lines directly from the dreams she has, sometimes full blown and ready for print.)
2.REMEZ (HINTED AT)
This level contains our first mind and body associations to the dream material. This material is not contained directly in the dream itself, but as we ponder the meaning of the dream, these associations begin to jump out at us; they have been “hinted at” by the dream material. This is the “Oh, I know what that means/symbolizes” layer. It may contain influences from things that happened in our lives yesterday or recently, and the events in our lives that show up only slightly disguised or encoded in symbolism. We see beneath this veil rather quickly, the meaning for us is embedded just below the surface of the words and dreamscape itself. Our response may be cognitive (“oh, I get it”), or may be an emotional or physical reaction as we address this layer (i.e. we get cold, angry, a stomach ache, giddy, tingling in our fingers, etc.) but may not yet know why.
3. DRASH (REVEALED
This layer is from the word Lidrosh, which means to chase after or pursue. This is the layer that is “revealed” to us when we work on the dream material through a variety of techniques that allow us to go beyond what we know consciously, or even beyond what we think we know when we begin to work with the material. We often must “pursue” this deeper meaning to get to the gifts of the dream. This is the symbolized layer, the layer of insight, of correlation, of deeper associations. It is the “unraveling” of the dream, and we pursue here associations that may take us past the material actually contained in the dream itself, but that the dream material pointed us towards. Here we may use a variety of techniques including active imagination, re-entry into the dream landscape, using energy techniques with the dream content, use of the Gestalt, and use of a variety of expressive modalities to reach the deeper layer.
4. SOD (SECRET)
This is the deepest layer; it may contain mystical or spiritual guidance. It may be analogous to what Jung called “Big” dreams, the understanding of which may have profound significance for our lives, and possibly the lives of others around us. It can often be accessed through dream re-entry, and may provide us with passageway to other realms and alternate ways of knowing. This is the transpersonal, the mystical, the “secret”, our connection with other worlds, other time, other space, and our connection with the divine. It can be a remembering of ancient wisdom from our spiritual ancestors that can show us a path, a vision, a hope. Sometimes this layer is in the manifest content of the dream; and of those dreams, we may just want to “sit” with them, rather than work with them further, and bask in the glow that is already manifest. (For example, a friend dreamed that she was wearing a white flowing robe, and was surrounded by heavenly beings similarly garbed, and felt a sense of peacefulness.) The initial work we did on this dream was to say—enjoy—just bask in it! Only later on did we work with the layers of meanings.
Von Franz reminds us that when Jung spoke of the transforming nature of dream work he said, “It is not understanding the dream that brings about transformation, but the intensity with which we engage the images.”
I had a Eureka moment a few weeks ago. We’ve long known that working on our dreams can be therapeutic; we can get insights into our world and ourselves when we grapple with the images that we channel at night. What I recently discovered, however, is that the process of engaging with the dreams can actually be similar to the type of reprocessing work that is done in the body/mind modality of EMDR. EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing; a body/ mind therapy that helps people reprocess upsetting and traumatic events. What follows is how this works with dreams. I call the dream process “Title and Re-Title”- you will see why.
Titling the Dream
One of the best ways to capture what Ernest Hartman calls the Central Image (C.I.) of the dream is to give it a title. The C.I. usually contains the core of the dream: the center of the dream’s energy or power, or the main theme is held here. I advise dreamers to let the title emerge spontaneously, not to think about it too hard. Just let the title rise up from your unconscious as you put your attention on the dream as a whole. If the title surprises you; even better- that means you’ve tapped into something your deepest self knows, that is about to emerge into your consciousness as well. The title usually reflects this Central Image. Sometimes the place in the dream with the most energy is clear to us; sometimes less so. We often start our dreamwork by asking for the title; it then serves as a signpost pointing the way to something that we want to be sure not to miss in the dream.
While working on dreams in my own dream circle a few weeks ago, one member titled her dream “Things Are Unclear”. After we worked on it for a while, my friend Marcia asked “So, would you give it a different the title it now?” Sure enough- the title had changed from “Things Are Unclear” to “Diving”. The feelings in and about the dream changed too- from “I feel foggy, this doesn’t feel so good and I don’t understand what it means”, to “Oh, now I have a new perspective; I can dive down into that water and discover what is there for me”
Suddenly I had a Eureka moment: “OMG-This is like EMDR! The negative cognition in the first title got transformed to a positive cognition in the second title, and the negative charge is off the emotions.” So- what does that mean, for those not familiar with EMDR? The standard EMDR protocol has people identify the problem they want to work on along with the concurrent negative belief or cognition they developed about themselves. They then identify the positive belief about themselves that they would rather have be true, in light of the problem they are grappling with, but usually isn’t yet. The protocol continues with identifying the emotions, locating where in the body they are held, and what the level of distress is on a scale of 0-10. This discussion begins the desensitization process; taking the edge off the material by discussing and sharing it. Once this set-up is completed, a series of bilateral stimulation sets that activate the two sides of the brain are done: this adds the reprocessing part. The bilateral stimulation to the brain is usually done using eye movements, following some one’s hand or a light on a bar with the eyes from one side of the field of vision to the other (bilateral auditory tones or tapping can also be used as an alternative).
This accelerated form of therapy can often allow people to reprocess traumatic memories in a much shorter time than they otherwise would have needed to get the same insights, shifts in perspective, and relief from strong upsetting feelings. It is important to state that only professionals who have received specialized training can responsibly practice EMDR. (For more information on EMDR, see www.EMDRIA.org, or Francine Shapiro, the founder of the method.)
The Re-processing Re-titling in the Dream
Back to the dreamwork. We “reprocessed” her dream as we discussed it, offered ideas, and made suggestions, “aired it out” by using a number of different methods of dreamwork. (some I have already blogged about, like Gesault, associations, symbol meanings; others I will talk more about in upcoming posts) The energy of the dream shifted from a negative to a more positive stance. In EMDR speak, she had reduced her distress level in the dream, and felt more strongly about the new positive beliefs and options the dream work uncovered.. It is worth noting, I think, that REM sleep has been compared to EMDR in several scholarly articles, since both involve eye movements and unconscious processing. (if you are interested, you can read the research by Robert Stickgold in Nature Neuroscience, 2007 and in Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2008). Brain scans have shown that the same parts of the brain are used in both REM sleep and in EMDR.
I tried out this method of “Title and Re-Title” several more times in the dream circle I facilitate. Here are some of the “titling” shifts that occurred after the dreamwork (by “dreamwork”, i mean that the “aha” moments occurred, the connections with life were made, and the plans to address the issue raised in the dream somehow in waking life had been articulated). Watch what happens to each dream after only about 15-30 minutes of work on it.
Original title: “Broken Glass”
New title after dreamwork: “Picking Up the Pieces”
Original title: “Earthquake”
New title after dreamwork: “Rebirth”
Original title: “Dark Energies”
New Title after dreamwork: “Claiming My Power”
The original titles all contain the “Central Image” of dreams that were associated with distress for the dreamer, as obvious by the titles, while the new titles all reflect hope, opportunity, or some kind of growth. It seems that something powerful is at work here.
Try out “Title and Re-title” with your dream buddy or dream circle or therapist!
May your dreams bring you healing,