Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice


By Tina Tau, Guest Blogger

This post is third in a series of four that I’m doing while Kirsten is walking the Camino. They’re all connected with a dream-infused trip I took to Tuscany in the fall of 2006, when my marriage was on its last miserable legs.

In the beautiful hill-town of Pari I had my own little apartment. I spent the sunny, brilliant days picking olives on a farm in the valley. But on November 1st, I stayed in my apartment to do dreamwork. It was cold and foggy, the great views over the countryside gone, swaddled in silence.

I had four dreams from four consecutive nights to look at. I hoped they’d help me with my big questions: Should I leave my husband? What will that do to our daughters? If I leave him, what will I do, where will I go? Will I be okay? 

I trusted (and still trust) the wise people inside me who write my dreams to have a better grip on what is happening than I consciously did. I’m such a master of denial and so attached to getting things “right” that I am often blind to what is true. My conscious inclinations have led me down many dead end roads into the mud; my dreams somehow haul me out. I wanted that kind of heavy dream-winching to come into play on that foggy Day of the Dead.

The first of the four dreams, as I reported in my last post, was oddly short and neutral, just a short conversation with a woman who was looking for work on my behalf. That dream bore fruit a few months later in a strange turn of events that landed me a good job.

The other three dreams were longer, richer, metaphorical and emotional. These are short summaries:

About to Die

I arrive at a doctor’s office/clinic. Things are strangely quiet, inside and out of the clinic; there is a sense of impending but unknown crisis. On a TV screen I see an announcer reading from a press release. The crisis is worldwide, originating in the Nile delta. Someone herds all of us down the street and into a school auditorium for shelter. The general atmosphere is calm, but it’s clear we’re all going to die. A man is very distressed, and I explain to him that death is safe.

The Blue Girl and the Kitten

A Quaker judge and I are trying to rescue a kitten that has been stuck in an attic for years. We learn about this from a press release in the newspaper. As we climb the ladder we get some strange and unexpected assistance from a blue girl, a 3’ tall wooden doll who seems dead but isn’t. She opens her eyes and is vividly alive.

Looking for the Girls’ New School

I’m looking for my children, who are going to a new school. I’m also angry with my husband for making a terrible mess with the water heater project.

I scribbled in my journal while the fog swirled outside. A few clues about my predicament began to emerge—subtle and not-so-subtle answers to my questions.

Should I leave my husband?

The dream-writers apparently thought so. For instance, two of the dreams featured a press release. I don’t see how the instructions could be much clearer than that.

They also confirmed that the root of my problem originated in the Nile delta—in denial.

The Nile dream affirmed that the world as I knew it was about to end. The crisis was global—all-encompassing. In a metaphorical sense my family and I were going to die: it was an absolute change we were facing. This was similar to the message of the Dark River dream (first post in this series) where I realized, as icy water swirled around my neck, that I had to let everything go.

In the Nile dream, though, the big warning about impending loss was partnered with a message of reassurance. This message came through the dream in two forms: my own words, as I explained to the frightened man that death was safe, and the tone of the dream, which was calm and steady. Unlike the Dark River dream, which was bitter cold, scary and dark, there was a flavor of support, of care, of being watched-over, to the Nile dream.

What will this do to our daughters?

This of course was a big fear for me in waking life. But I trusted them to be all right, if I thought that I was doing the right thing. So the dream-writers, as I see it, focused their energy on telling me to press the release button, already! Still, one of these four dreams specifically seemed to reassure about the girls. Their new school, the one I was looking for in the last dream, was the same big brick school where we had all gathered in the Nile dream. If that school was an image of safety and shelter, they were going to be sheltered through this change.

Where will I go, what will I do? Will I be okay?

While I arrived in Italy confused about whether to leave my husband, I knew I needed a job. The woman-looking-for-work-on-my-behalf dream confirmed my seriousness. I told her I was willing to work as a full-time teacher. I had not, in waking life, known this. So I felt a deeper breath, an increased commitment, as a result of that little dream. (And the job turned out to be the key to my problem. The day I accepted a position as a full-time teacher, four months after my trip to Italy, was the day I told my husband I was leaving.)


How about the kitten and the blue doll? This dream was about my frozen and hiding sexuality. It was still alive, against all evidence. A wooden, dead girl came to life in that dream and helped to rescue a soft, tender playful quality, long frightened and hidden away. And so it came to pass. As I went on to live my new life, I did open my eyes and I did gather that lovely little creature back into safety. This dream, along with the others, told me I’d be restored.

“You do not have to be good./ . . You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.” Mary Oliver

This was an important day of dreamwork. But the best bit of it was yet to come, a story I’ll tell in the last post.


  1. Kiera O'Hara

    This is SO rich, Tina, and very helpful to me to read. Thank you!

    • Tina

      Oh my goodness, Kiera, I’m so glad to know it is helpful. What a joy! Thank you–

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