To conclude this series of articles on the theme of death dreams and Mystery, I want to emphasize the most significant thing about dreams associated with death: death dreams are healing dreams.
In a sense, all dreams are healing dreams—as Jeremy Taylor writes, they “come in the service of health and wholeness” (see Taylor’s “Dream Work Tool Kit,” #1). All dreams come from the perspective of our wholeness—sometimes referred to as the “Higher Self,” the Psyche, the Soul, the Atman, the “Inward Teacher,” the “Spirit Guide,” the Source, etc.—and show us both the struggles and fears that challenge us, and the larger potential for insight, openness, transcendence, and interconnectedness. In fact, dreams are not just showing us these things, but giving us a direct experience of them.
When a person is seriously ill, or facing a life-threatening crisis of some kind, he or she may have death dreams similar to the ones I’ve described in the previous posts (see “Walking In The Dark,” “Death Dreams And Open Fields,” “Not Knowing,” and “Journeys Into The Unknown”). Such dreams should not be viewed as warnings or predictions of death, or as messages with suggestions about how to avoid death, or as simple reflections of the body’s dying process—even though they may serve these purposes.
Dreams go beyond the meanings that our conscious minds ascribe to them. Death dreams, in particular, do not align themselves with our conscious agendas—they give us experiences that point beyond those agendas.
The healing that comes through dreams is a healing that includes both the life and the death of the physical body. When the survival of the physical body is threatened, death dreams often reflect the struggle of the identity to survive this loss, but they do so from the perspective of a Self that is larger than that struggle. Death dreams may actually support a physical cure, but whether a physical cure is possible or not, these dreams always support the wholeness of the person who is facing the possibility of death.
These dreams wrestle with the problems of life, and point beyond those problems, to the potential for transformation and renewal. These dreams bring up the pain and grief of losing “everything,” while at the same time opening the way to a sense of ultimate connection, where nothing is lost, no one is lost.
Talking with people about their death dreams, I’ve found that they are often trying to get a handle on what the dreams “mean.” I try to encourage them to listen to the experience of the dream itself, and trust it without working too hard to figure out “what it is saying.”
When you are going through deep changes, like the changes brought about by life-threatening illness or crisis, you are in a threshold place, an in-between place. Such places are traditionally associated with the power and wonder, as well as the grief and fear, of unknown possibilities and profound transformations. Dreams will reflect this experience fully and truthfully. It is healing to lie down in the midst of your dreams—as you are living in this moment, as you are dying in this moment—and let these dreams show you your wholeness.
THE SOUTHERN ROOM OVER THE RIVER
The room is prepared, the incense burned.
I close the shutters before I close my eyelids.
The patterns of the quilt repeat the waves of the river.
The gauze curtain is like a mist.
Then a dream comes to me and when I awake
I no longer know where I am.
I open the western window and watch the waves
Stretching on and on to the horizon.
-Su Dongpo (trans. Kenneth Rexroth)