When I decided to focus my life’s work primarily on dreams, I was following a deep sense of trust that dreamwork can include everything I care about, everything I believe is truly meaningful—from my concern for the well-being of the natural world (including the human world), to my sense of the power of death/renewal cycles and “threshold” places in our lives, to my commitment to the transformative power of authentic listening and presence, to the essential wonder of the multi-faceted, interdependent, ever-changing patterns of relationship among all beings on earth.
In the beginning, I couldn’t express, to myself or others, exactly how dreams could be so significant in so many different ways. But the process of actually engaging more actively with my own dreams and the dreams of others has increasingly affirmed my initial intuitive sense that dreams are pathways to depth experiences. In these blog posts, I’ve been learning as I write, and exploring new ways of articulating what I am learning.
I keep coming back to the word deep. I’m not so much concerned with going (or getting) high on the spiritual journey—“going high” tends to mean having peak experiences, which can be wonderful (and dreams can give us such experiences at times), but can also be ungrounded and hierarchical in relation to other people and the natural world. Striving to attain spiritual heights can lead to inflated attitudes (“my epiphany is bigger than your epiphany”), excessive emphasis on light without respect for the dark, and a lack of compassion or commitment to the “real world” challenges of our shared existence.
By contrast, going deep means including everything, finding the heart core and living it fully. When we spiral upward and outward, we expand but get further apart; when we spiral downward and inward, we come together in the deep places, finding the ground from which all life grows. The two directions balance each other, but depth must be the place where we begin, and the place where we return, before beginning again.
“The problem of our time is that we are like uprooted trees. Our roots no longer extend down into the inner depths to nourish us, so our growth cannot reach upward into the realm of the spirit. Our task will be to see how dreams are like roots that reach far down into the nourishing depths of the earth of our souls, and help energy flow upward so our growth and development are possible.” -John Sanford
When Holly and I first moved into our tiny house with its scruffy little lot, we planted forsythia and dogwood, raspberries, a Japanese maple, lots of daffodil and crocus bulbs, rock rose, daphne, fennel, thyme and sage. We weren’t “gardening” in any organized way, just digging down and getting into relationship with this place we were calling home.
It wasn’t a one-way relationship. The earth responded. In the middle of our vegetable patch, an oak tree sprouted. Because we didn’t think it belonged there (at first) we both tried to pull it out. But although it was only a slender stem with two or three leaves, it already had deep roots and wouldn’t be pulled. We soon recognized that this tree was at home as much as we were. The vegetable garden could be moved, but the oak tree was staying right here.
Now, twenty years later, this oak is thirty feet tall. When I open the curtains in the morning, I see the tree rising with the sunrise, or in the pre-dawn darkness. Often, I bow. Often, I’m not yet fully awake, and the oak tree seems like an extension of my dream—or perhaps the tree is dreaming me, and our home, and the place where we stand.
Dreams, like oak trees, reach down into the depths, and can rise up to show themselves among us and remind us of the ground of our being. Dreams don’t mind going down into the darkness, so they’re not easily uprooted. Like the great axis of the world in so many mythological traditions, a dream can stand simply for itself. Dreams don’t require our interpretation any more than the oak tree requires our cultivation—yet both trees and dreams seem to appreciate our presence, our participation, our care.
Even when dreams seem skimpy on the surface—like a sprout with just a few leaves—they run deep. In dream-sharing groups, someone shares an apparently trivial dream fragment, and before we know it, we are talking about our deep losses, longings, and imaginings. When I’m listening to a dream in an individual session, I experience a root connection between the dream, the dreamer, myself, and the world we share. We are rooted in one another’s dreams, and the dreams of the earth.
My enthusiasm for dreamwork is growing all the time. I’ll keep on writing here, trying to articulate what I learn as I learn. May big dreams sprout in your vegetable gardens, too!