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Like a compass, a dream shows us where we are, relative to the world around us. It doesn’t point to a specific path, but provides orientation. Just as a compass draws upon the invisible but real magnetic field of the planet as a whole, a dream draws upon the universal “field of experience,” which can help us, individually and collectively, to find and follow our own deepest sense of direction.
Our lives provide plenty of potential for spiritual practice: opportunities to make choices, connections, and openings, to learn, grow, and develop, to explore new territory, change harmful patterns, and know that we are part of something larger than ourselves. It makes sense to assume that this potential exists not only during our waking hours, but also during the third of our lives we spend in sleep. When we are dreaming, we have many of the same opportunities for exploration and development as in our waking lives, but the fluid, vivid, and transpersonal nature of dreams can offer unique ways of approaching spiritual work .
Dreaming experiences and waking experiences both become richer, fuller, and more “awakened” when we relate to them with gentle curiosity and openness, when we notice what happens and how things change as we respond to each situation. By broadening the range of possible experiences, dreams can give us a wider frame of reference for understanding the nature of reality itself, and the nature of our identity within that reality.
Where do dreams come from?
The simple fact that dreams have the capacity to surprise us suggests that the dream world is more than a creation of the conscious mind. Dreams often include images, ideas, and experiences outside the realm of our everyday imaginations. While the sleeping brain may generate the raw materials of a dream from random scraps of memory and firings from the nervous system to serve some strictly physiological purpose, the scenes and stories created from these raw materials are anything but random. Virtually all cultural and spiritual traditions have taken it for granted that dreams encompass more than the individual identity, and most have assumed that at least some dreams come from a source greater than ourselves, communicating essential wisdom in the language of metaphor and imagery. Some believe that dreams come from a “dream-maker” (a deeper, wiser aspect of the dreamer), or from the “unconscious mind,” or from the ancestors, or from the living earth, or from God, or from the intricately interwoven awareness of all beings.Ultimately, dreams must come from the same source as life itself, and the meaning of dreams is as mysterious as the meaning of life.
What approach does dreamwork take to dreams and dreaming?
Just as spiritual practice focuses on experiential and developmental concerns rather than on cosmology, dreamwork does not primarily concern itself with the origin of dreams, but with the living experience of dreaming. Dreamwork asks: “What is the dream doing? Where is it going? How does it relate to me, my work, my family, my community, the community of the planet, the universe? How do I live this dream wholeheartedly?”
How are dream experiences similar to, and different from, waking experiences?
In dreams, things happen to us; we perceive with our senses; we inhabit environments and participate in events; we relate to other people and circumstances; we have feelings, reactions, intentions; we make choices and can learn new things. In short, we “live and move and have our being.” Just like waking experiences, dreaming experiences can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Just like waking experiences, they may be remembered for a lifetime, or forgotten almost immediately. Just like waking experiences, dreams can be mundane or transformative; they can reinforce stuck patterns and limiting ideas, or they can open us to a broader and deeper understanding of ourselves and our reality. Dream experiences contribute to the unique life’s work of the dreamer. By reflecting on our dreams, we find a vastly increased range of possible responses and extraordinary perspectives available to us.
How are dream experiences useful for spiritual practice?
Dreams also give us a wider field for practice, for experimentation. In dreams, we are not constrained by the usual social norms, by ordinary logic, proportion, or temporal and spatial structuring. In dreams, we can have experiences and responses that would not be possible in our waking lives. Through dreamwork, we might become more aware of things that can help us to better understand ourselves and our world. We can notice that emotions are often exaggerated, that it is possible to perceive from multiple points-of-view, and with varying degrees of subjectivity and objectivity, that events can occur simultaneously or synchronistically, that even inanimate objects are somehow alive, that beings and their environments are interdependent, that the storyline may be less important than the spontaneity of momentary experiences, that nothing is absolutely certain. All of these insights are, according to many spiritual traditions, also true of our waking reality, but in dreams it is much easier to experience such insights directly, since in waking life we have become habituated to a limited range of thought and perception.Compass Dreamwork is dedicated to expanding the range of our imaginations (and thus our options) through dreaming and dreamwork.