Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Give Up

By Tina Tau, Guest Blogger

“Do yourself the world’s biggest favor, and resign as general manager of the universe.”  Pema Chödrön

One more anecdote from my dream-haunted trip to Tuscany in 2006. This little story is one of the most beautiful in my life of doing dreamwork.

I’m sitting at a kitchen table, alone in my little apartment in the hill-town of Pari, in a seeming cave of silence. It is November 1, the Day of the Dead. Outside it is cold and foggy. I can’t even see the bell-tower, right outside my window. I feel outside of time and far away from my life. I’m so grateful for this silence, this chance to zoom out from my marriage and all the hopeless, flooded confusion of my days at home in Oregon.

I write in my journal, with a cup of tea to hand. For four nights in a row I’ve had interesting dreams, and I want so much to read them for clues about what I should do. They do seem to suggest that I leave my husband—as I reported in the last post, the term “press release” keeps reappearing. But there is plenty of other information in them that I mine for.

All morning and early afternoon I spend at the table, madly writing. I follow puns and associations, feel for the emotional center of each dream, and finally try to boil each dream down to a single sentence. Though I know this doesn’t do justice to all the fancy layers of a dream, it’s still helpful. After a lot of work, I do manage to get a resonant single-sentence summary of each of the four dreams. (Those sentences are more or less the summaries that appear in my last post.)

And then. . .

I want to condense it even further—combine the messages of all four into one essential message.

This is tough. I can’t get it.

My best attempt (and it isn’t remotely boiled down to a single sentence):

Something is pending: about to happen. I get help from unexpected sources, much behind-the-scenes help. I am worried about getting back to the girls on time and angry at my husband. The school where we are assembling and waiting is the girls’ new school that I am trying to find.

It is the middle of the afternoon and I’ve been writing and thinking too long. My brain is tired. I lie down on the bed and fall asleep. Right away, as if the dream-writers have just been waiting for me to go to sleep, the summary I’ve been struggling to find appears on a banner across my sleeping mind.

Give up. It’s all being taken care of.

To underline it further, in the dream I go on to explain the whole process to a guy standing nearby:

“I was doing dreamwork on four dreams,” I tell him. “I tried to get to a single sentence summary of all four, but I couldn’t do it, so I took a nap. And as soon as I went to sleep, the answer appeared: Give up. It’s all being taken care of.” The guy is amazed.

One thing I take from this story is respect for the creative power of focus-followed-by-letting-go. If I hadn’t tried so hard to come up with the answer with my conscious mind, the question would not have been so alive in me, and there would have been no need for someone to write the answer on a banner. Those hours of intense focus were key. But the magic of this experience depended as much on the nap, on the letting-go, as on the conscious work I’d been doing.

The best thing about this dream, of course, is the message itself.

Give up. It’s all being taken care of.

Don’t you love the imperative, almost bossy tone? I feel the presence of some lightning-focused intelligence.

It’s the most important bit of wisdom I’ve ever received from the invisible realm—and a big corrective to my normal mode of operation, which runs right along the lines of general manager of the universe.

There is such sweetness in this prospect: Surrendering, giving up, stopping, because I trust that it’s all being taken care of. But there is such terror, too. Allowing myself to be lived, accepting that I’m not in charge, means being so vulnerable, allowing grief and loss to pour in. It goes against a lifetime of effortful habits, and those habits were all in place to help me feel safe, to help me imagine some measure of control. Which I do not, ultimately, have.

Looking back, I see that it was all taken care of. I was worried about finding a job, what might happen to the girls, what crazy things my husband might do, where I would live—and all of that turned out okay. I got a job, the girls have been fine, my husband controlled himself, I have a sweet place to live. I felt like I couldn’t make it out of there, but I did.

I’m practicing it still. I toggle back and forth between acting as general manager of the universe, and giving that job back to some power more capable of doing it. It’s such hard work. I feel sometimes my chest is actively being carved out with a pickaxe, as I minute-by-minute surrender.

But at least I know what I’m being asked to do, since I got the words written on a banner across my sleeping mind. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

“God is alive, and magic is afoot.”  Leonard Cohen


  1. dreamelady

    Thanks, Tina. At this solstice time the illumination of your night time dream light is very helpful. I appreciate the ‘Give up’ message being framed as a positive. It seems to be part of the message I have been getting lately, but my own manager ego has been taking it as a failure rather than a command to give up the unproductive control mode! I love the sense that you report of all being taken care of. Jeremy Taylor’s recent mail out refers to his September 14 workshop on decision making and dreams and he suggests: Whenever we’re faced with hard decisions in our waking life, we often find there are compelling arguments and motivations for all the possible choices before us. In the face of that dilemma, many of us decide to ask our dreams “what should I do?” Most often, the best way dreams can help us is to draw our attention to previously unconscious factors and influences on that process of deciding. For that reason, a much better question to ask our dreams is “what am I overlooking as I make this decision?” So, Jeremy’s suggestion combined with your dream wisdom sharing is helping me see that there are characters in my dreams that are going about their business with confidence and getting things done while I am scattered and doubting and somewhat lost. So, perhaps I am overlooking the fact that things are getting done, if only I would give up the doubting! Really enjoying the ‘guest sharing’ you are doing.

    • Tina

      Thank you, Dreamelady. I was interested in that bit of Jeremy’s post as well. A good question for me to learn to ask: what am I overlooking? And I love your comment “there are characters in my dreams that are going about their business with confidence and getting things done while I am scattered and doubting and somewhat lost.” Beautifully put. And that is totally my experience. This trip to Italy really woke that up for me. I hope you find ways to let the doubting fall away. Thanks for writing!

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