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)
“Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”
Mythologist Joseph Campbell
At the core of our dreams are The Images. Beautiful, frightening, sensual, intriguing, they usually represent the heart of our dreaming landscapes. Lately I’ve been learning to pay more attention to the living nature of these images. Last summer at the Dream Conference (http://www.IASD.org) I was introduced to the work of Stephen Aizenstat. I had been familiar with his book “Dream Tending” for some time, but had never read it. After hearing him speak, I got it.
Aizenstat opens up the concept of imagery to what he calls the “Living Image”. Drawing from the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and others, he shares his perception that the dream images are not static. They have a life of their own and exist in this world as well as the one we dreamed them in. The images may start out in our dreamscape, but Aizenstat teaches that they have a life of their own in our awake walk-around world. We already know that they feel real to us when we are dreaming them. Vividly alive in our night journeys, the image can enrich our lives as we allow it to become animate in our daytime world by engaging with it. His basic premise is that “dreams are alive”.
When we engage with the images from our dreams, and give them their due outside of their lives inside our dream, we are engaging in a process called “Amplification,” or making larger. When we expand the image to be as large as it can be we enter the realm of myth and archetype– the great grand stories that have engaged humankind for millennium.
Aisenstat tells us “…a myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to social interactions”. We dream in our own personal mythologies; our waking task is to then connect our dreams with the mythologies of the larger world. Doing so, we may not only gain insight into ourselves and make broader meaning of our small self-stories, but we can also connect with the larger world dreams, and thus see ourselves and our issues and problems as part of the human condition. Mindfulness practice might call this “right-sizing” the problem.
Aizenstat teaches that there are three steps to the process: Association, Amplification, and Animation. First, allow your mind freeAssociate to the image, that is, to allow your mind to spontaneously wander about and connect to whatever comes up for you from your own life, feelings, and memories. Then we Amplify, or enlarge these associations to find the bigger stories: these new directions may not have been part of the original dream, but the dream helped to point you in this direction. Finally, we Animate; embody, bring the image to life in some way.
I’ll illustrate a bit of the process with a recent dream image I had. In my dream, a large bright blue-green bird with a very long tail flew into my room. It was beautiful but a little scary, since it was fluttering around the room and it was big. I wondered if I should let it out or try to catch it first. Then I realized that it was a Quetzal.
My first associations were to my father-in-law’s parrot, to the mythical Phoenix, and to my cats liking the “catch and release” program they have devised when a bird accidentally gets into our house (they catch but don’t kill, I capture and release). I didn’t really know what a Quetzal was, just that it had to do with Central America. My dream circle helped me then to amplify: We Googled up “Quetzal” and found references to a divine bird associated with the Mayan or Aztec religions in Mexico. It is officially called a “Resplendent Quetzal”, was associated with Divinity, Love, and Air, and its plumage was valued for headdresses of royalty.
Wow! Who knew? I loved that it was called “resplendent”. My body began to fill up with the feeling of the Quetzal as I spontaneously began to animate it by kind of spreading my arms wide and flapping/waving them at shoulder level, what I call “embodying the dream.” Now I could feel this quetzal energy in my body, especially around my heart and the place on my back where my wings would attach.
Back in the dream, I decided to leave the window open so that the Quetzal could come and go freely.
By using this method of association, (seeing what first caught my attention), then amplifying (enlarging the story, broadening it to include world wide mythic associations, this time with the help of the magic scryer Google,) and then embodying and animating the image, I felt my interaction with it as a real being in ways that I didn’t begin to touch before doing so: I felt exhilarated, a little frightened, and a bit awed by it’s size and beauty. Not bad for a night’s work. It has joined my pantheon of animal guides along with puma and jaguar, and I’ll continue to watch out for it’s messages and meanings in dreams and while awake.
Next time we’ll look at using this process with the scarier images as well, to seek out their healing essence.
“Intuition is a leap toward wholeness from fragmentation.”
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to speak of “preparing” for intuition, we actually can enhance our intuitive abilities. A good intuitive is someone 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 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” as they feel information coming into their awareness, or “I’m sensing that …” One of my therapeutic clients calls these moments “downloads,” and will ask me, “Are you getting a download now?”
Although it may seem almost “automatic,” getting a good intuitive hit is the accumulation 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 once 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’s 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.
“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.
“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.
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…
“I don’t use drugs: my dreams are frightening enough”. M. C. Esher
Nightmares. We’ve all had some version of them, from a single mild disturbance to all out panic and repetitive horror shows. This next series of blogs will begin to address the “full catastrophe” of this ubiqitous phenomenon. (to quote one of my favorite characters Zorba, who is in turn quoted by John Cabot Zinn).
What causes nightmares? The whole range of things that influence our dreams (remember those layers from the last blog?) contribute to nightmares as well. Yes, that spicy pizza we ate last night can be an influence. More to the point though, they are usually generated by upsetting encounters or life circumstances that we’ve had over the last few days, stuck emotions or unsatisfied places in our life that we haven’t figured out what to do about yet, or long term unfinished business from our childhood or beyond. That “beyond” includes sensory and image memories that have not been encoded into language, or scenes from other lifetimes that seep through the thinned veil of our consciousness when we are asleep. Repetitive nightmares are an SOS from our unconscious- something is not right in Mudville, and our dreaming self is trying it’s darndest to get us to sit up and figure out what it is, and what we need to do about it.
First, a few words about kids and nightmares. Kids dreams are also affected by what is going on in their lives, but it is also important to know that having nightmares is a normal developmental stage for many children. From about 4 or 5 until about 8 or 9, many kids are just beginning to recognize that their previously “infallible and all protecting parents” are not perfect protectors, and that the world can be a scary place. This comes as a shock! “What do you mean that you can’t make Joey my hamster alive again?!”
It seems that this dawning consciousness that parents can’t do it all, and that they (the kids) will have to leave the nest for increasing periods of time, make this age span a common time of nightmares. They have to come to terms with how to negotiate and stay safe in the world, and anxieties can seep into sleep. For many kids, the nightmares resolve by themselves, with just a little TLC and good parenting techniques. For others, some of these tried and true methods may help restore them to feeling competence and power in their worlds.
Here are a few techniques that are helpful for kids to gain some power over their night monsters: (ps- they can work for adults too!)
Vanquishing the Nightmare
1. Never underestimate the power of a good nightlight to chase away the scary dark.
2. In addition to an actual nightlight, some kids love to have a “monster vaporizer” in the form of a flashlight, that when pointed into all the dark corners and under the bed, will automatically vaporize any lurking dangers.
3. Have them tell the story of the dream out loud, and join them in deciding what objects, other people, or magical/spiritual beings they want to bring with them into the dream or into the room to keep them safe.
4. Draw a picture of the nightmare, and then change the picture around by making it humorous (i.e., put a funny hat on the monster), or adding the magical safety items from #3 to the picture.
5. Talk back to the monster, once it is safely contained (i.e. put it in jail, or a cage, or behind a fence or a force field). Even “Na na na na na – you can’t get me!” can be very powerful for a certain age set.
6. My daughter’s personal favorite when she was that age: Draw the dream monster or bad guy, then scribble over it with a heavy black magic marker until it is completely obliterated. Then, if that is not yet enough, rip the paper into tiny shreds. Then, if that is not yet enough, burn the shreds of paper safely in a big pot or container. Then, if that is not yet enough, flush the ashes down the toilet! (part of this method is adapted from “Gentle Reprocessing”, developed by Diane Spindler as a variation on EMDR using imagery.) Keep going until you get to until you get to “Dayenu!” (from the Passover Haggadah, meaning “It would be enough!”
7. Have a conversation with the dream monster or bad guy: Find out why it is there, what it wants, and how to appease or befriend it. Feed it a cookie. See what gift it has brought for the young dreamer. (A great book you can read to young readers, and older ones can read to themselves is “The Wizard of EarthSea”, the first book of “The EarthSea Trilogy” by Ursula Leguin. This great allegory/story closes with the young wizard Ged learning how to face his monsters.)
8. Don’t forget about Native American dreamcatchers: hung over the bed, they “catch” the bad dreams, and the hole in the middle lets the good ones come through.
9. And, of course, hugs, and lullabies, and cuddling, and the power of true and loving presence.
Next time- adults and nightmares: the long and the short of it: methods, techniques, ways to empower yourself, when to seek professional help.
In two days I am off to the annual conference of the International Association for The Study of Dreams (www.IASD.org) in Berkeley, CA. I will be presenting about the GAIA method of dreamwork (Guided Active Imagination Approach*) that I developed to use with scary dreams, nightmeres, and trauma. I’ll post more details about this method later this summer. If you are interested before that, I have wrtiten an article published in January 2012 by “Dreamtime Magazine”, the journal of the IASD. I’m sure to come back from the conference with lots of excting new dream ideas from my colleagues! This post though, offers several ways of working with dreams, appropo of the concept of change in our psyches after doing “dreamwork”, discussed last time in the post on dreams being like EMDR.
Dreams come to us in the service of health and healing, says Dr. Jeremy Taylor. Depending on your source, there are two essential questions dreams ask of us. According to SigmundFreud, the main question is “What are your dreams about?” According to the other granddaddy of dreams, Carl Jung, the main question is “Why? Why is this dream message here?—and why now?” Freud and Jung are two of our sages of dream life–they originally recognized the importance of paying attention to our unconscious. Freud, the founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.” Jung was a student of his, and further developed analytic psychology. Their rift occurred as Jung moved more and more into the psycho-spiritual and mystical realms. The recent film “A Dangerous Method” compares and contrasts their works and looks at the importance of one of their most famous patients, Sabina Spielrein, who was a gifted analyst in her own right. Although the film is pretty sensationalized and sexualized (from my point of view, anyhow), it still provides an interesting and entertaining look at the difference between their two styles.
Both Freud and Jung, practicing in the 1900’s, followed the historical precedence of the shaman or analyst as the expert. Since ancient times, shamans in indigenous cultures were revered for their ability to interpret dreams. Much of their power lay in their skills of dreamwork and their ability to read the signs to foretell the future. (In Judeo-Christian tradition, Joseph was a kind of shaman: His skills at interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams of the seven fat and seven lean sheep lead to stockpiling grain so as to prevent famine during the “lean sheep” years). Connection with the spiritual realm, whether you call it God, Nature, Gaia, The Universe, Higher Power or The Force is one powerful aspect of dreamwork.
Some call dreams the night language of the soul.
Inside or Out?
Shamans practiced dream re-entry (journeying into the dreamworld itself to gain information or effect change) and what is called soul retrieval (entering into the spirit or dream worlds to retrieve lost parts of the soul of their patient.) Their interpretations carried the weight of religious canon, and the supplicants were expected to follow their advice without argument. Some dream practitioners today, particularly those who have a Jungian bent, use the techniques of dream re-entry to help the dreamer to work inside the dream, to make more sense of it, or even to make changes in the dream and bring the dream to a better resolution. Since we are the authors of our dreams, at least on some level of our psyche, we all have the ability and the right to “go back inside” to figure things out or make changes to secure a more fortuitous outcome. Often this is best accomplished with the assistance an experienced dream worker who can function as a guide. But even on your own, if a dream ended on a distressing or unsatisfying note, you can ask yourself “What other ending can I create to better resolve this dream issue or dilemma? Who or what can I introduce into my dreamscape to change the outcome”—and then do it as a conscious exercise.
Fritz Perls originated a system of work called “Gestalt”. In this experiential way of working with dream material, every person, and even every object in the dream is representative of a part of yourself. To use this style of dreamwork, you start by telling the dream in the first person. You notice what stands out, then “become” that part of the dream and speak from the first person as if you were that person or object. You can then have a dialogue between the parts, or between yourself and the parts, and go back and forth between the part and your waking realities and dilemmas. Let’s say, for example, you had a dream about a leprechaun who stole a pot of gold and secreted it away in a cave. The gestalt perspective would invite you to ask, “What is the leprechaun part of me? What is the gold part of me? And what is the hidden cave part of me?”
Your responses may vary, but perhaps they may be: the trickster part of yourself, or the Irish heritage part, or the entertaining part, depending on your view of leprechauns. The pot of gold may be your inner gifts, your own inner value, something shiny and precious, or trouble with finances or lack of abundance, since the dream goes on to say it was stolen and secreted in a cave. What then would be the cave part of you? Is there a part of you that feels it needs to be hidden? Or protected? What are you keeping hidden? What precious part of you feels stolen or hidden away? And, how can you reclaim this treasure? What are the conditions needed in your life in order to safely retrieve it from the cave? Obviously, this line of questioning can go on for quite some time– until you can actually answer the questions you or your dream buddy are raising, and feel that “aha” of “I’ve got it” in your bones. This can bring a whole additional perspective to that “butterfly dreaming” quote at the beginning of today’s blog!
A dream is a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul.
When we have a strange or wonderful dream, we want to know “what does it mean?” when we awaken. Sometimes our dreams are bizarre, “hallucinations without drugs” types, and sometimes they are full of everyday things put together in strange or unusual combinations. Many people have the urge to grab the nearest dream dictionary off the shelf and look up what it means to dream about horses, or lemons, or typhoons. This is perhaps the most frequently asked question–What are my dreams trying to tell me? This is a topic of almost endless inquiry.
Dreams are very personal—they are idiosyncratic to the dreamer. What does this statement mean? We all dream in our own lexicon of symbols and images. In other words, the meaning of each character, landscape, and object in our dreams has it’s own meaning to us, our own set of associations. An image that means one thing to me in a dream might mean something very different to you. For me; dreaming about a bird might have to do with flight, or soaring; but for you it might have to do with nesting, or even panic (think Hitchcock’s “The Birds”). That being said, there are some common associations that we may share, since we belong to the same culture and therefore have a similar cultural context. These over-arching images are part of our collective unconscious (a term coined by Carl Jung implying a universal “group mind”). We share in this dream-weave of thought and spirit, and so share in some of this universal symbolism.
However just because a dream dictionary may tell you that X means Y, that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily true for you. The most important indicator of the “right” meaning of a dream or symbol is the one that resonates as “right” with the dreamer. Only when you get the “aha” is the interpretation true for you. Pay attention to not only your thoughts, but to your body sensations as well. Did you get what can be called a “bone knowing”- a tingle; a pop; a shiver of recognition? Pay attention to these subtle signs that indicate that you are on the right track. Eugene Gendlin calls this uncanny bone knowing our “felt sense”. Dreamwork is not about a “top-down” expert telling you what it true; rather the friends, relatives, or therapists you work with on your dreams should serve as guides asking good questions, perhaps offering options or pointing things out that they may have noticed, but not telling what your own truth in dreaming is. That’s your job.
To help you find the meanings of your own dreams, pay attention to emotion and context. Ask yourself- “What was I feeling in this dream, or this part of the dream?” The emotional tone will give you the best clue as to the meaning of the symbol for you. Back to those birds, if I felt elated or light-hearted (pun intended) when I dreamed of them, that points me in one direction (where/how am I “soaring” in my life?). If I felt cozy, comforted, warm, that points me in another direction (am I “nesting”, settling into a home, caring for my young?) and if I felt scared, or a sense of impending doom; that points me in yet another (where am I overwhelmed, or feeling out of control, or feel like things are “flying at me”)? The type of bird may also have significance- here’s where you might want to look up the meaning of a gull, a puffin, a loon, an owl either in a dream dictionery, or a shamanic guide. My personal favorite is Ted Andrews text Animal Speaks.
Context refers to what was going on in the dream—and in your life when you had the dream. Those birds—were they in flight, pecking for worms, or huddled up with their heads under their wing asleep? All different potential meanings. Had you seen a particular bird, maybe a bright cardinal or a long legged blue heron that caught your attention recently in your waking life? Does your child have “Big Bird” on his bed sheets? Did one let loose on your car window yesterday? Again- all different contexts, this time in waking life, that may have infiltrated into your dreamtime. As you work with your dreams over time, you may develop a lexicon of familiar and common themes that can short cut some the process of decoding, your own personal Rosetta Stone.
So, my suggestion in regards to dream dictionaries is to proceed with caution. Don’t accept some one else’s idea of what your symbol may mean unless it really feels true to you as well. Take the dictionary suggestions with a grain of salt- and then see just what kind of salt is flavoring your dream: Is it just a pinch, or is it making you thirsty (too much), or tasteless (not enough)? Did you associate to Lot’s family who turned to pillars of salt when they looked back on Sodom? Or the Dead Sea (called in Hebrew Yam Ha-Melach; literally the Salt Sea), salty tears, salt of the earth, salt in your wounds, blessings to your home (bringing bread and salt), or that salt brings out the flavor?