“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
So, my mom died recently. It has been a sad period of time, up and down, days of being “fine” interspersed with days with tears. The whole process however, has been punctuated with waking and sleeping dreams that have brought me comfort, clarity, and no small bit of awe and trepidation.
When a loved one dies it is often the case that the bereaved report various dreams and/or visits from the departed. Sometimes these are incredibly comforting. Sometimes they are frightening. Sometimes they contain unfinished business. These dreams come in the service of peering between the veils that separate the worlds for connection, information, or a way to make peace that was not available during life.
I thought to share some of my process with you, to illuminate some of the ways in which waking and sleeping dreams can come through when we stand on the edges of life, and then when we mourn those who have passed over.
My mom got sick suddenly: the day before she went to the hospital she was teaching her “Yoga for Seniors” class. After a week of hospitalization, she was discharged to a rehab facility. I got down to visit her; and spent the weekend giving her reiki and massages and buying her some favorite foods (like vanilla yogurt, health conscious to the end!) that the rehab didn’t provide. When I left, she seemed tired but stable.
But as I drove back to the airport, I had a waking dream: I heard a voice, clear as day, saying, “Mom has died”. I so didn’t want that to be true. I argued with myself, saying, “That’s just your fear”; and while that was also true, the voice in no uncertain terms repeated itself again.
Two days later I got a call from the hospital saying that she was in multiple organ failure, and asking if she had a living will. We were lucky that my mom had been both organized and very clear: My siblings and I all knew that she definitely did not want any extreme measures. She died while I was on the phone with the doctor. So while I was not “there”, I was there.
About an hour or two later, I had another waking dream. This time I saw a swirl of smoke and mist rise up and spiral out of her body straight up to join my stepfather, her beloved Bud, who had died eight years before. I saw and felt their embrace — it was clear he had been waiting for her. Some souls hang out in the Bardo (that place between worlds where souls can rest and regroup while they get oriented to having released their bodies before moving on to the next stage.) No waiting room for my mom though – she had a concierge already waiting to welcome and orient her. I felt a great peace come over me with this.
Visitation dreams: mom comes knocking
I didn’t expect to have her visit in my dreams for a while, because concierge or no, this was still a big journey. About 3 weeks later, I had my first night dream. Mom visited me, and in the dream we were in a house and there seemed to be some confusion about whose bedroom was whose. I thanked her for her visit, and told her that it was perfectly OK for her to get really settled first before visiting again. I had a sense that she appreciated this, and that next time she visits, she will be more settled in her new place. When I had my next dream about being lost and disoriented, she was not in it. This was my journey, my work to come to terms with this new phase of my life.
Jeremy Taylor tells us that all dreams, even nightmares, come bearing gifts. They are not always the gifts we are seeking, so we have to find a way to integrate them into our lives when they show up. It would seem that this is one of my unasked for gifts: a dream that can presage a death, and then more comforting gift of being able to entertain visits afterwards.
A few days before my stepdad died (he had had a stroke), I had a dream of an owl. I knew that owls were often harbingers of death in shamanic tradition, but I remember telling myself that there could be many other associations as well. As with my mom, I knew deep down that my self-talk was just wishful thinking. He died a few days later. I then had a dream of a small wooden hut overlooking a frozen river. There was a guard in the house. My dream circle helped me to know that this was Charon, boatman of the River Styx; over which he ferried the souls of the dead in Greek myth. As I watched, the sun came out and the ice began to break up.
The icy grip of grief slowly melted as time passed, and Bud has come to visit me regularly and even on request since that time. I am immensely comforted at this time of loss to know that I can expect to continue my relationship with both of them, and will no doubt hear my mom telling me to take my vitamins, to live fully, and to always take a direct flight whenever possible in the future.
With blessings and sweet dreams,
(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)
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.