Shamans and Sages: The Why, the Who, and the How of Dreamwork

I do not know whether I was then

 a man dreaming I was a butterfly,

 or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

Zhuangzi

 

Welcom dreamers!

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 Sigmund Freud, 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 dilemmasLet’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!

Sweet dreams,

Linda Yael (www.lindayaelschiller.com)