Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Dreams Of New Beginnings

Seeing The Children: I am in a busy airport, in a waiting area near the top of an escalator, when I suddenly realize that it’s possible to see everything around me as beautiful. The shabby utilitarian carpeting, the fabric of the chairs, the molded plastic surrounding a plexiglass window—all seem richly textured, subtly tinted, almost luminous. And the people! Each one radiates a life force so complex and intricately individual—made up of interwoven patterns of mood and character and presence. The small children are almost too beautiful. Their skin translucent and soft, their hair shining, their glorious eyes… It is indescribable. There are lots of children now. I could just sit here forever and watch the children. I am a child myself, in this new moment, simply perceiving the life all around me.

I wrote recently about all of the problematic and tiresome dreams I was having (“Ugly Duckling Dreams”)—but since then, things have been changing. More and more, the dreams present openings and new energies. My dream-self (the “I” character in the dreams) becomes engaged in the process of authentically experiencing events and interactions. Lots of animals have been turning up, especially elephants. And then, I dreamed of “Seeing the Children”—the business of the dream (getting somewhere in an airport) is suddenly suspended. All at once, I find myself surrounded by children, by new life.

It is only natural that such luminous dreams come in their time, just as it is only natural that discouraging and difficult dreams come, too. Let’s not worry about “interpreting” dreams. They are what they are. Dreams are, first and foremost, to be experienced. The more fully we experience them, the more meaningful they will be. Even my unpleasant dreams are meaningful, and they cry out to be noticed, respected, attended with patience and curiosity. But especially with sweet dreams, like “Seeing The Children,” it’s essential just to savor the experience.

Dreams (pleasant or unpleasant) offer such concentrated moments of life—the intensity of emotions, the vitality of perceptions, the potential for total surprise—and they remind me to encounter my waking life with that same vividness. So, the first question to be asked of a dream is not “What does this mean?” but “How does this feel—what is this experience?” I encourage myself and others to take time with the dream itself, to appreciate its richness, before beginning to unfold its images or reflect on its implications.

Nevertheless, the images and implications are meaningful as well—just as in waking life. For me, the theme of change, specifically the cycle of death and new life, has been especially significant lately. This is on my mind because I’ve recently been working on two presentations about death dreams, which directly address the way that death is a prerequisite for spiritual transformation and renewal. This process occurs throughout our lives, with particular intensity during times of deep change, and is reflected in dreams as well as in the world’s mythological traditions.

Personally, I’ve been going through the “death/ loss” part of the cycle for a couple of years now. The cycle almost invariably includes a process of “things falling apart” culminating in a crisis where the losses seem overwhelming, followed by a period of “threshold experience”—where the old has died but the new has not yet been born. This threshold time can be a time of lostness, grief, and frightening disorientation, but also, potentially, of openness, freedom, and peace. We tend to respond to such times with great resistance, but also with an instinctive longing to let go and embrace the unknown. Eventually, a whole new world is born out of the abyss of this unknown.

My dreams have been reflecting the struggle aspect of threshold experiences for some time—and they’ve now begun to reflect new beginnings. The children are beautiful. The world around me is glowing with life. Yet, as always, I will move in and out of awareness of this process. Some nights, I’ll dream of beautiful children and elephants rising out of the sea… other nights, or even the same night, I’ll dream that the airport lost my luggage and I don’t have my ticket for the next leg of the journey.

So, the important thing for me to remember is to participate in the dream, participate in the cycles of my life. The whole wonderful, terrible, awe-inspiring and ridiculous adventure is continually unfolding.



  1. Laura Engle

    Thank you for sharing your dream of new beginnings with us Kirsten. I felt new energy just reading it. I would post a dream here if I could remember them at all. I am taking your advice and bringing a book to write in to put beside the bed. Maybe that will jog something. The little bits I can remember are almost always work related. Not too exciting. But here’s to a new year and new explorations!

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Thank you, Laura. I’m sure your dreams are working below the surface–like those crocus bulbs we know will eventually be blooming! You are probably being guided by deep dreams, even when you can’t remember them–you certainly seem to live as a person who has deep guidance of all kinds at work within you.

  2. Tina

    I love the vividness of your dream and the glimpse of the beauty in everything–the scruffy carpet and especially the people–the children! Thank you for the reminder to be present with it all.

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Yes, I’m reminding myself as well! Thanks and blessings to you, Tina.

  3. Karen Deora

    That last sentence says it all! Have a happy entry into a new year.

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Thank you, Karen! May your entry into the new year be happy, too!

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