(travelblog.org: vulcan osorno at dawn)
Hello fellow dreamers,
At the end of the movie, when Dorothy returns from her sojourn in Oz, her aunt and uncle and their 3 farmhands are there to greet her at her bedside. On waking, she is told by her Auntie Em and the kindly doctor (who looks remarkably like the Wizard) that she had been hit on the head during the twister and passed out for a time. When Dorothy insists that she has actually been off traveling in a “strange and wonderful land… that was sometimes scary, but mostly very beautiful,” she is assured by all present that it was “just a dream”.
In another famous story, Alice of Wonderland is described as getting very sleepy while reading a book “without pictures,” and nodding off either just before -or just after- she spies the white rabbit and goes down the rabbit hole after him. Was that a dream too? Or “just a dream”? Curious and curiouser…
Which brings us to our questions, what are dreams and where do they come from? Shamans and mystics from cultures throughout the world speak to us of the dream world as a very real place, a parallel universe if you will. Judeo-Christian mystic tradition tells us that our soul can leave our bodies at night and travel in astral realms. (Which is the reason you are not supposed to wake a sleeper up too suddenly: the dreaming soul is connected to the body by a thin silver thread, and awakening too suddenly can snap the thread and the soul would not be able to find its way home back to the body.)
Lynn McTaggert, in her landmark book on non-local consciousness The Field, writes: “Deep in the rain forests of the Amazon, the Achur and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual…at dawn… as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams…. The dreamer is the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe.”
The dream is not an individual possession, it is owned collectively by the whole tribe. I love that – “the dreamer is the vessel that the dream decided to borrow”. Doesn’t it feel like that at times?: That we are but a vessel when we wake with the sense that something came through us, rather than from us.
Michael Harner, anthropologist and shamanic practitioner writes that one of the core principles of shamanism is that spirits are real, and that spirits produce dreams. Shamanic theory states that the human soul and other spirits that have an attachment to the person can produce their dreams. This is a way of understanding those vivid visitation dreams we sometimes get of departed loved ones — that their spirits still have an attachment to us. That is an infinitely comforting thought to me. After my mom passed away, she came to me in dreams and helped to heal the grief.
More sources of our dreams
Our bodies talk to us in our dreams. Patrick McNamara, a neuroscientist at Boston University School of Medicine, encourages doctors to routinely ask patients about their dreams as a way of assessing mental status (Boston Globe, 2/3/14). “Dreams are faithful reports of a patient’s emotional life,” he states. We also know that unresolved emotional baggage from days or years before can show up in our dreams, trying desperately to get our attention by keeping memories of events or the feelings about the events alive until we resolve them. This is the essence of PTSD dreaming. We can also get medic alerts through our dreams, long before a symptom sends us to the doctor.
Kat Kanavos is case in point. A breast cancer survivor, Kat’s dream told her that her breast cancer had returned and even pointed to exactly where it was so her doctor could find it. She is co-author of the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life.
Philo, an ancient philosopher says that there are three kinds of dreams: 1.) Those that originate within us, 2.) Those that originate in the angelic or spirit realm, and 3.) Those that originate from God. Our prophets and holy men and women are often cited as having conversations with God either in a dream, or as a waking dream day-vision.
In a modern sleep lab, scientists can now chart the exact portions of the brain that are involved in dreaming and chart the REM cycles on a graph. There are those in the scientific community who maintain that dreams are merely random neuron firings of the brain (I report this in the spirit of inclusiveness, however as a spiritually-oriented therapist dreamworker, I would not put myself in that camp.)
Whether our dreams come from within our brains, our bodies, the spirit realm, or the Divine, the worlds we visit in our night journeys have gifts and messages for ourselves, our communities, and perhaps for the world. Awake to your dreams! Use their messages to heal, to grow, to explore, to journey, to connect with all manner of strange and wondrous beings. Go down the rabbit hole and over the rainbow to see what you may find. Then come back and tell about it. (tip of the hat to Mary Oliver)
(photo credit to http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm)
“…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…”.
“The animals which are our totems are mirrors to us. They reflect lessons we need to learn and abilities we can most easily develop…(they are) a medicine for healing your self and your life, and a power that can be accessed to help manifest your dreams”.
Animals are one of the most common dream images. They can delight, scare, intrigue, or puzzle us when they show up in our dreams. Animals contain some of the most complex layers of universal and personal symbolism. Our “animal selves” contain our purest expressions of our emotions and psyches. When we react to sudden danger, our instinctive reptilian brains go into flight or fight mode, and if we are lucky and /or skilled, our animal instincts keep us safe. When there is a saber toothed tiger or marauder approaching, we don’t want to take the time to reason something out- we need to act fast.
So, one layer of meaning or symbolism of animals in a dream can be about our primitive instincts. Are we listening to or ignoring them? As always, we need to contextualize the meaning of the animals that visit us in the context of the dream itself, the feelings and emotions we have in the dream, and about that animal. When Fluffy shows up in our dream, is she is our beloved cat or the “cat from hell” in our lives. Are we allergic? Does she make a mess around her litter box? Is anyone making a mess like that in your life right now (or are you)? Do you need more time to sleep 18 hours a day in a warm sunny spot? Then there is the broader layer of cats in general- both the pets and the wild kind. Whether we dream of a generic or a specific animal, we also want to ask ourselves about the other category to get at the fullest meaning. Curiosity, cleverness, and independence are a few of the qualities of a cat, but your cat may also be cuddly or aloof.
Native and indigenous people put great stock in animal visitations. They believe that the spirit of the animal has great meaning or a message for our lives. In fact, if we frequently dream of the same animal, they may be our “totem” animal-a sort of guide or guardian whose qualities we should learn about and perhaps embody. As spirit-animal helper, the root of the word totem is from the native Ojibway, meaning “brother/sister kin”.
My favorite go-to guy on the meaning of animal symbols in dreams is Ted Andrews. In his classic book “Animal Speak”, Andrews teaches that our relationship with animals is not only in the physical world, but in the spiritual or mystical on as well. He combines myth and factual information to let us learn about and tune into the essence of the animal who showed up in our lives or our dreams. My universal caution regarding “other people’s ideas” about what your dream or symbol means holds here as well – it’s only true for you if it resonates with you. Andrews does a nice job giving us a bunch of options to choose from, including mythological references, behaviors of animals in the wild, prey and predator relationships, the season they represent, and the “keynote” or core message of each animal.
Snake, for example, has been the subject of great controversy and paradox. It is seen as both the highest and the lowest of symbols- blamed for the downfall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and a symbol of death and rebirth as it renews itself time after time as it sheds it’s old outgrown skins. The snake is seen eating it’s own tail in the symbol of the ouroborus; endlessly re-incarnating and symbolizing eternity, and as the symbol of healing powers in the entwined caduseus of medicine. Sometimes, as Freud would say, a cigar is just a cigar; but the snake can also be a phallic symbol of sexuality or fertility; and is the symbol of creative kundlini energy in Eastern traditions. When snake shows up in your dreams, it often means that some kind of death and rebirth may be happening or needed in some area of your life; usually not an actual death, but a transitional time of change.
Our friend the owl is known as a symbol of the feminine, of the night, of magic, of the secrets the darkness has to offer. Andrews calls them the “eyes of the night”. It has both keen vision and keen hearing, and has been purported to be able to see into the soul of a person.
Finally, don’t forget about the mythological and fairy tale associations with the animals of your dreams- the “big bad wolf”, the “ugly duckling”, the centaur, the unicorn, the Owl of Athena; goddess of wisdom. These deep archetypes can take us even farther along the road to our truest selves, as our dream exploration then includes following the story or myth in which they occured.
“Dreams transport us each and every night into that strange and radiant world inside ourselves wherein, for better or worse, we come face to face with powers greater than ourselves.”
(James Hagan, “Diamonds of the Night: The Search for Spirit in Your Dreams”)
Dreamworker Robert Moss tells us “ A dream is a place; you don’t have a dream, you have an experience in a place”.
That fits with my sense of dream – that sense that we have really been traveling somewhere else for a few hours during the night while our bodies seem to lie in our beds. When Dorothy awoke, she insisted on this. Auntie Em tried to tell her that it was “…Just a dream, dear”, but Dorothy declaimed “Oh no- it was real-and you were there, and you, and you, sometimes it was scary, but mostly it was very beautiful…” Who among us doubts that Dorothy really was in Oz! Remember how the movie suddenly switches from black and white to Technicolor when she steps out of her traveling house into Oz? Even after seeing it over and over again for more than 50 years, I still get a thrill every time she opens that door and steps out (a dream? or alternate reality?) in vivid color.
The landscapes in our dream are important. Sometimes we recognize the place- we’ve been there, lived there, seen it in a movie. Sometimes it is nowhere that we recognize, but a curious or fantastic environment. Sometimes the very stones speak to us, and the trees are dream characters in their own right. The setting is where we are in the dream, and we have to start with where we are to be able to orient ourselves to where we are going.
We know that reoccurring dreams or dream themes at the very least are giving us a heads up that something is important. They will frequently return in one form or another until we “get” the message they are trying to convey to us and do something about it. Dreaming of the same place, or a similar landscape can have the same function- we are meant to pay attention; there is something to be learned here. The dream landscape is a portal into a time and place that has meaning for us.
For example, if we have a dream set in our childhood home, you can bet that there is something about that time in our life that is relevant for us today. When you lived in that blue house with the black shutters, how old were you? And how old are you in the dream? What about that time in your life is relevant in your life today? Kevin kept dreaming about the town he grew up in when he was 6 years old. In working back and forth between the dream and life, he realized that he had lived in that house during a time of great turmoil when his parents were divorcing and he didn’t know where he would be living next; and currently he was between jobs and experiencing many of the same feelings of being uprooted, out of control, and not knowing where he would be working next. Once this dream-to-life landscape connection was identified, he could see the differences between changes over which he had no control at age six (parents divorcing, possible move), and one now (job search) that could make choices about. Recognizing this let Kevin recapture some of the excitement and possibility that accompanied looking for more meaningful work.
A re-occurring dreamscape can also be a kind of code for “Hello-this is a dream”. For close to 20 years many of my dreams begin “I am in Israel and…” then some story would unfold. My dream circle helped me recognize this first layer of my “Israel dreams” as such a code. In my case, I had actually lived there for five years in my 20’s, big formative years for my adult self. It seemed that my unconscious had decided to announce “Heads up – different reality here!” by setting my dreams in that other place that I had previously inhabited. In one desert dream I am dancing in a line of robed and veiled Bedouin women towards a large tent where powerful drumming seems to be calling us in, in another I am standing on a sea of sand, seeing the shimmering heat waves rise up. in another I am promoted to a new job there. I actually began my professional career in Israel, going to graduate school and working with teen girls in a development town. The land itself was both foreground and background to all the rest.
Shamanic practice teaches that we can inadvertently leave a part of ourselves in a place, and if we do, then we have to go back and retrieve that part in order to be fully whole again. These places may show themselves to us in our dream worlds, to let us know that we have to make the journey back, either literally or figuratively to complete some part of our personal mythic journey. Think about it- have you ever experienced a sense of yearning or longing, passion or curiosity, homesickness or a bittersweet tug associated with some place or setting or landscape in your life or dream? It may be that a part of you has been left there, needing to be retrieved.
Once I discovered this aspect of reclamation of parts, the dreams began transforming as I tried to pay attention to their message in waking life. Over the next several years, I found some friends to speak Hebrew with again, became an adult bat mitzvah, studied shamanism from a Kabbalistic perspective, and rejoiced at my daughter’ bat mitzvah. These actions began to fill in a part I hadn’t realized had been missing since I left the actual place that later became the portal to my dreams. Then I revisited Israel itself after a twenty-five year hiatus and reconnected with old friends and places. That seemed to be the final piece-I rarely start off my dreams in Israel now.
I think that when we recognize the spirit of place in dreams, we get to renew our place of spirit.
(trey radcliff image)
“The clearest way into a Universe is through a forest wilderness” John Muir
There are dreams, and there are dreams. We can traverse the thresholds between worlds by paying attention to synchronicities in our lives (see blog of 7/28/12 for more on synchronicities); or this liminal space can also show up unasked. This post is about the second kind- we were gifted in the woods on this one. The Druids knew this: the spirits of the woods and of nature were literally housed in the trees themselves in the forms of Nymphs and Dryads and other “tree people”. Ritual can sometimes bring down this place of eyes-open wonder.
Carol Dearborn says about in-between spaces: “It appears that there is a “place” …in the intersection of the perceptual/cognitive process (a “place” or type of brain-wave) between waking and sleep where the metaphysical intersects the physical. This intersection…becomes a kind of portal through which energy can be conveyed…Opening this portal requires a receptive and reverential state of being, like falling in love.” (www.caroldearborn.com, the spirit of place). Jung wrote of this too, calling this space between sleep and waking the hypnopompic or hypnogogic zones.
One of the words for God in Hebrew is “Makom”, which translates most simply as “Place”, but contains both a temporal (time based) as well as physical implication. It appears in the story of Jacob, when he has his famous dream of the ladder with angels going up and down it. When he awakes from this dream, he says, “God was in this place (Makom), and I, I did not know.” The word “Makom” also appears in the creation story, when Moses encountered the burning bush, and at Mt. Sinai (among others). When we are at “Makom” we are for a moment outside of the rules of time and space; and for that moment on holy ground.
“Minyan” is the Hebrew word for the group of ten people that are needed to be able to recite Kaddish; the traditional prayer for the dead. In Jewish tradition, community is a big part of the healing process; I learned that the original requisite of gathering a minimum of ten was in order to compel the mourner to gather in community at a time of grief rather than to isolate him/herself. Traditionally only men were counted; in most modern practice women are too. We found that acknowledging our animal, vegetable, and mineral brethren as part of a minyan worked as well.
So, I was walking in the woods with my friend Sara, about a month after her beloved grandfather had died. She had been to services earlier that day, and had declined an offer to say Kaddish, partially because it is traditionally said only for parents, spouses, or children. I asked her if she regretted passing up the opportunity her community had offered. Without hesitation, she said, “Yes – and I rarely regret anything!” We walked a little more, and then I asked if she wanted to say Kaddish right now; for since we were breaking one rule (not for a parent, spouse or child) and reconfiguring the ritual we might as well break with the rule of ten people. Sara agreed and said “Yes- let’s find a tree to say it near”.
So we bush-wacked through a clump of weeds, and snuggled up to a beautiful three-trunked tree: one of those triple goddess trees. We decided that “She (the Tree) can be part of our minyan” along with Bodisavta the dog (and yes, that is her actual doggy name). We got into the spirit of minyan, and began counting: ” Me, you, Bodi, the triple tree counts as three, that’s six, the earth, the sky, the bush, and the rish-roosh sound of the wind-spirit in the trees- there’s ten.” We had our minyan. Ten Beings. We said Kaddish.
The dreaming spirits of the Place came in, and we crossed the threshold in the woods. Her grandfather showed up, as did my dad who had died 6 years, and we had a lovely gathering with them in this in-between Place.
Perhaps the ancient Druidic spirits of the trees also joined us in the minyan. As e.e.cummings says: “…thank you God for this most amazing day,
for the leaping greenly Spirit of the trees…”
I am grateful for this type of dreaming as well.
Next time I’ll talk more about encountering our relatives in dreams- dead or alive, for better or worse, and how do we know if we have had a “visit” from the other side, or a dream encounter of a different kind. Stay tuned…
“A 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.