“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.
(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.
A few weeks ago we spoke (read?) about using the resource of our dreams to enhance our creative process. In this post, I’d like to expand on some of the ideas from last time, and provide some “how-to’s” to work with several methods.
Let’s start with story. Our dreams usually come though with some kind of story line. It may be a very short story of a sentence or two, or at times a full-length narrative. We can examine our dream story both for it’s personal meaning (for healing, problem solving, spiritual questing, etc.) but also as a story in and of it’s own right. What is the major plot? The dynamic tensions between the characters? The sources of conflict, and how/if they are resolved? Is there an inner or outer journey involved? These types of questions and use of other literary devices can both provide the basis to turn our dream story into art, and to re-create the story of our own lives as metaphor or road map.
By re-writing our dream story: re-structuring dialogues between characters, resolving tensions in the dream, adding in resources our dream characters need right within the dream story itself, we can create new and more satisfying endings. Instead of turning left at the crossroads in the dream, what would happen if we turned right instead? Instead of drowning when the ship capsized, what would happen if we were able to call our dolphin allies at that moment to carry us to safety? These new journeys can then become part of our new life story, and/or the basis for our art forms. We remember that the Gestalt perspective on dreams tells us that everything in the dream is an aspect of ourselves, so when we make shifts in our dream story, we are making shifts in our self-story simultaneously.
Rabinowe states (in IASD’s Dreamtime, Winter 2006), that“Each dream is a microcosm, a living network of interacting images. Each dream holds a simultaneous reflection of the body, the soul, the waking life and the unconscious that can be understood on multiple levels. Out of this realm of mystery and paradox, a wellspring of inspiration (can) open up…”
The most important indicator of the meaning of our dreams are the emotions felt within and just following the dream. The emotional resonance of the dream within the context of our own life provide the core of meaning that makes this “My Dream”, as opposed to “Anyone’s Dream” (i.e. Green St. is the street I grew up on, Mary Smith was my college roommate, Snowball is the name of my cat who died last week). You may have associations to the word Snowball such as cold, wet, fun, messy, etc., but if my strongest association is to my beloved cat and loss, that is the core of meaning for my dream. And if people dream about a ship going out to sea, one may feel hopeful and excited, another may feel anxious and distress, and a third may feel seasick- each of which provide a different meaning to the core image.
What happens then when we work with the core emotional dream state- can we play with shifting or changing or enhancing it? What if we re-write our dream changing the core emotion from anxious to anticipatory – that slight shift can open up whole new worlds for us. What then happens to our musical composition, or our dance piece- or our lives- if we play out a different emotional tone? What if we changed the setting; and instead of having the ship go out to sea from Boston harbor, it left from Hawaii? Or we replayed the dream scene as if we were feeling hopeful, instead of despairing- what would happen then?
We feel emotions in our body- that is why they are called “feelings”- because we feel them. What happens when we tune in to our physical response to the dream- what do we notice? Where in our body to we have the sensation, and what does it feel like? (i.e. jumpy, peaceful, tight, hard, soft, warm, tingly?) How does tuning in to our emotions and sensations in the dreams inform our poetry, our dance, the characters lives in our novel, the decision we have to make about that project at work? Dance these emotions in your body, act out these sensations; let them move through you physically; when you embody the emotion you discover new dimensions of it. Engage your friends, your family, your dream circle to act out a scene from your dream.
We had great fun one time with one of my members ubiquitous toilet dreams, as she gave us roles of being the toilet bowl itself, the pipes, the water flushing, the sticky handle…and then we added some WD40 to make the handle flush more smoothly and invited a plumber into the dream to clean the pipes out. Each person then spoke from the perspective of what they were representing- the voice of the toilet bowl, the voice of the handle, the voice of the new plumber, etc. The dream flowed much more smoothly after we acted it out and added in things that the dream seemed to need! (Those who are interested in this kind of body/mind work can look up related links on Focusing, Somatic Experiencing, Sensory-motor Psychotherapy, and psychodrama).
The images of our dreams provide perhaps the richest source of visual arts. Draw the images; paint them, collect found objects that call to you while focusing on your dream, and then make a collage or shadow box of them. Go out to find found objects to create a scene from your dream; find different objects to represent different characters, locations, emotions. (a yellow or crumbling fall leave to represent the passage of time, a stick stuck in the ground to represent feeling stuck, a smooth stone to represent calm peaceful feelings, a spray of bittersweet to represent your parents, shells, tree bark, flowers, feathers, twine, bottle caps, whatever your neighborhood provides) …let yourself be surprised. Rabinowe reminds us that the most important aspect of translating a dream with found objects is the serendipity of what you find. Sit and contemplate what you have created. Then feel free to write, draw, create a dialogue between the objects representing the characters, or emotions, or landscapes in the dream; speak with the voice of one of the objects you have chosen. Let the images you have chosen speak to you from this visual form to provide a new dimension to your dream and your creative process. And most of all- enjoy the process and the delight of the dream and creation.
“There is much to be learned at both sides of the threshold.”
Creativity. First of all, we need to have enough of our own juice in supply to be able to create something else. If our well is dry, we can’t get water from it. It took me several vacation weeks and enough solitude this summer to resupply my well. Our wellspring can dry out for many reasons: overwork, stress, worry, illness, lack of sleep, lack of meaningful deep sleep, and simply the too much-ness of our plugged in everyday lives. It is a chronic modern problem. In the “old days”, before electricity (to say nothing of computers) we would naturally wind down as darkness fell and settle into our first sleep . Our “first sleep” of the night lasted for a few hours, followed by a normal nocturnal wakeful period. Here inside the deep early morning silence we could think, muse, easily remember our dreams. We would rest in this soft fertile space until we naturally nodded off again in our second sleep till morning light: this was the norm for pre-industrial society.
I must admit, I was relieved when I learned this, and don’t reach for the Tylenol p.m. so quickly now when I wake at 3:00 a.m. I highly recommend the book “World Enough and Time: On Slowing Down and Creativity” by Christina McEwen where I discovered this tidbit. It is so beautifully written that I devoured it quickly on the first read; and then followed the directive of the title for a second slow and savory read.
What resources do our dreams have for us in our creative lives? Countless authors, musicians, scientists etc. have credited their dreams with providing the answers to previously unsolved questions about the project they were working on. The phrase “let me sleep on it” has real value. While we are asleep, our brain function is different than when we are awake: during sleep our left analytical brain goes off-line, and our right brain imaging and creative centers go more on-line. We thus have more access to thinking outside the box while asleep, and can dream up options that we would not have considered while awake. In addition, as I am sure every dreamer knows, we frequently do outrageous things in our dreams that we would not “dream of” doing in our waking lives. Thankfully, our internal censor is asleep as well, so we can try out things that our waking superego may have not allowed.
To use our dreams as a creative resource, we first have to remember them. I encourage readers to review my blogs of April and May 2012 for several chapters on remembering, recording, and incubating dreams with a purpose in mind.
The clearer the question we ask and write down as we prepare to sleep and dream, the greater the likelihood that we will receive a reply from the dream universe that is clear to us and needs less decoding to understand. If, for example you are stuck on writing that next chapter in you book, don’t simply ask to “get unstuck”. Be specific: i.e., ask for inspiration on “what do the characters of Jamie and Claire need next for the part of the story about passing through the Standing Stones, in order to make sense of time travel in the context of their relationship through time and space”? (fans of the Outlander series will know who I am referring to!) That clear. Or “What shades of blue do I need next for my palate to make the water shimmer in my painting?”
We can tap into our creative source from at least three primary aspects of the actual dream material: the narrative story line of the dream itself, the emotions and sensations we experience in the dream, and the images and pictures it brings to us. These three elements can include both what happened in the dream as well as what you thought/experienced/saw in the pre-dream preparation and the post-dream continuation of the dream journey.
Other sources of creativity from dreams may come from:
1.) Associations to place; the topography or landscape or a feature the landscape of the dream
2.) A particular character or the interactions between characters
3.) A color or colors that catch your attention
4.) What you title the dream
5.) What happens when you re-enter and move around inside the dream
6.) The aha’s or insights you get from the work on it
7.) Perhaps most importantly for the creative aspect of our dreams, the action plan you use to move your answers out into the world based on that dream work.
Victoria Rabinow, artist and dreamworker in Santa Fe says“…dreams have a voice and presence of their own…my role is to create a space in which (we) can enter the living experience of (our) own dreams.” In addition to writing them down, we can embody our dreams, draw or paint them, act them out, dialogue with them, dance them…More on these ways of dream working next time…
“Dreams are todays’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.”
Some of our most creative work comes to us in the still of the night and the depths of our dreams; that quiet place at 3:00 a.m. when the rest of the world seems to be asleep and we can feel the quality of hushed holiness permeate our being. Mozart did it, Gaughan did it, Kurtzweil does it- that is, create some of their most profound works from this generative spot. We can tap into our creative source from at least three aspects of the dream: the narrative story of the dream itself, the emotions of the dream, and the images and pictures it brings to us. I don’t know if Bob Franke created this song while he was dreaming, but the words reflect the possibility that dreams were his inspiration. Given the pain and grieving we are living through these days, I offer to you this song of his for a healing:
by Bob Franke
It’s so easy to dream of days gone by
It’s a hard thing to think of times to come
But the grace to accept ev’ry moment as a gift
Is a gift that is given to some.
What can you do with your days but work and hope
Let your dreams bind your work to your play
What can you do with each moment of your life
But love til you’ve loved it away
Love til you’ve loved it away.
There are sorrows enough for the whole world’s end
There are no guarantees but the grave
And the life that I live and the time I have spent
“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.
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.
“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” -Vaclev Havel
We are getting close to the night we will plan to dream together to end gun violence, improve mental health care, and work together to dream the world we want into being. If you haven’t bookmarked your calendar yet, please do so for the night of January 20, the eve of Martin Luther King day, (not co-incidentally the day of our next presidential inauguration!) If you haven’t read the call to action from the previous blog post of 12/31/12, please read it to review the dream action plan. So simple, you can do it in your sleep! Remember to incubate the dreams by setting your intention. For a more complete discussion of incubating dreams, see the blog post of May 14, 2012, entitled “The Ancient Practice of Dream Incubation”. The posts of April 29 and May 8 will give you more tips for remembering your dreams. And if you want to continue to receive posts, sign up on the blog page on the right margin under the archives and categories sections where it says “subscribe to this blog” (and you can also send me your email address to be added to a mailing list).
For those of you who would like to read more about this idea dreaming the world we want into being, here is an excerpt from Alberto Villodo’s book “Courageous Dreaming: How Shaman’s Dream the World Into Being” (Hay House, 2008): (heads up that it is a bit long, but in re-reading it several times, I didn’t see how I could shorten it any more and keep the poetry intact. So, skim quickly, or read slowly, or save for later, depending on your energy right now)
“…Whether you realize it or not, we are all dreaming the world into being…. As soon as you awaken to your power to dream, you begin to flex the muscles of your courage. Then you can dream bravely: letting go of your limiting beliefs and pushing past your fears. You can begin to create truly original dreams that germinate in your soul and bear fruit in your life.
Courageous dreaming allows you to create from the source, the quantum soup of the universe where everything exists in a latent or potential state. Physicists understand that in the quantum world of the universe’s smallest elemental parts, nothing is “real” until it is observed. But quantum events do not occur in the laboratory only. They also happen inside our brain, on this page, and everywhere around us. When you observe any part of this dream, the great matrix of energy, you can change reality and alter the entire dream.
Modern physics is describing what the ancient wisdom keepers of the Americas have long known. These shamans, known as the Earthkeepers, say that we are dreaming the world into being through the very act of witnessing it. Scientists believe that we are only able to do this in the very small, subatomic world. Shamans understand that we also dream the larger world that we experience with our senses…
…The dreamtime, the creative matrix, does not exist in a place outside of us. Rather, it infuses all matter and energy, connecting every creature, every rock, every star, and every ray of light or bit of cosmic dust. The power to dream is the power to participate in creation itself…
…Shamans of the Andes and the Amazon believe that we can only access the power of this force by raising our level of consciousness. When we do so, we become aware that we’re like a drop of water in a vast, divine ocean, distinct yet immersed in something much larger than ourselves. It’s only when we experience our connection to infinity that we’re able to dream powerfully. In fact, it’s our sense of separation from infinity that makes us become trapped in a nightmare in the first place. To end the nightmare, to reclaim our power of dreaming reality and craft a better reality, we need to have a visceral understanding of our dreaming power in every cell of our body and stop feeling disassociated and disconnected…It takes courage to taste infinity.
The Earthkeepers believe that the world is real, but only because we are dreaming it into being. When we lack courage, we have to settle for the world that is being dreamed by our culture or by our genes — the nightmare. To dream courageously and be empowered, you must be willing to use your heart and make a conscious decision to dream a sacred dream of joy, peace, glory and having the life you want…”
“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.
Summer time- this one’s just for fun. I started thinking about how many different ways we use the word “dream” in our language. This little word can have so many different meanings—so versatile! It seems that we are fascinated with this whole concept of “dream states”, and use the concept for a variety of feelings and ideas. The most common meaning for the word “dream” is of course the kind we have at night, but the word is used to refer to so many things I thought it might be fun just to look at them. I invite you to add to the list.
The origin of the word “dream”in the English language is from the Middle English “dreem” (1050) and originally meant joy, mirth, and gladness. In Hebrew the word for dream is “chalom” (rhymes with shalom), and it means both dream and vision depending on how it is used, and the context of the usage. The bible has translated the same word differently according to who was speaking. Joseph and Solomon were said to have “dreams”, while Elijah and Moses were said to have “visions”. Martin Luther King had a dream “…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed…that all men are created equal.” This was his vision for the future; we can hope that he was prophetic in this.
So, we have night dreams, we have visionary dreams, and we have “day dreams”. We have day-dreams while we are awake, and our mind is taking a little trip on it’s own away from wherever we actually are. Daydreaming has been used to refer to simply looking out the window and “spacing out”, and also to “wool gathering” or musing on our own more interesting thoughts or fantasies instead of paying attention to whatever is happening in the room right now.
Then there is the concept of dreams as “wishful thinking”- as in, “I’ve been dreaming of going to Greece for over 20 years.” Related, but slightly different, is dream as what you aspire to; a strongly desired goal or cherished ambition as in “I’ve always dreamed of touring with a rock band” as you practice your guitar riffs. Realizing these ambitions and satisfying a wish are also referred to as a “dream come true”. And what is “the American dream” anyway? Westward expansion? a house in the suburbs?, making it big? What is your dream–do you have a dream garden, or a dream vacation, or a dream date?
My daughter was given an assignment in her English class to write about what is meant by the idea of “dreams deferred” while studying the book “A Raison in the Sun”. Mama’s dream in the book is to have a nice house with a garden; Walter wants to be the man of the house, and Bethena dreams of becoming a doctor- something which a black southern girl of that era could “only dream of”.
On the other side of the spectrum, the word dream is also used to refer to bunk, garbage, a waste of time, as in “Stop dreaming- that will never happen”, “It’s just a pipe dream” or “Stop dreaming and do your homework.” In this category may also be the concept of being unrealistic, or suffering delusions “You’re just dreaming- snap out of it”. It is interesting to me that the same word is used to refer to very opposite concepts and ideas- why do you think this is so? If some one is “living in a dream world” is that a positive or negative thing? “Dreams” and “hallucinations” are sometimes used interchangeably.
Then we have perfection, or “It’s too good to be true” (as in “This is my dream job)”, a beautiful love object (“He‘s so dreamy”) and something that works very well and smoothly (as in “It runs like a dream). When we imagine something that may be beyond our present reach, we are said to be dreaming about it (“You’re just dreaming”). On the contrary, when there is something we would never do, we say “I wouldn’t dream of it.” “Dreamy images” are usually vague or blurry.
And just think of the songs with dream in their title, or part of the words!: “Daydream Believer” (The Monkeys), “…Whenever I want you all I have to do, is dream a little dream-of you…” (Everly Brothers), “Last night I had the strangest dream, I ever had before, I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war…” (I think maybe by Arlo Guthrie), “California Dreaming” (The Mamas and the Papas) “Oh What a Day for a Daydream” (The Lovin Spoonful), “Day Dreaming “ (Aretha Franklin), “Dream Lover” (Bobby Darin), “Dream On” (Aerosmith), “In Your Wildest Dreams” (Tina Turner w/ Barry White), “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” (Stevie Wonder), ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (Eurythmics), “Sweet Dreams’ (Beyonce), “Teenage Dream” (Katy Perry), “Dreamlover” (Mariah Carey), “Dreams” (van Halen) and so on and on and on…
I bet you can you add to the list.
And sometimes we are able to succeed “beyond our wildest dreams”.