Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Keep Dreaming

Lately, I’m hearing (and sometimes feeling) a lot of discouragement, anxiety, and even cynicism about the prospects for our future survival on this earth. People are saying that it’s too late—climate change will destroy the home we share with so many other precious beings, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This seems to be true, and yet…

There’s always something we can do. Maybe we don’t have the super-powers that would be required to turn the world around, but we can create positive change, and positive change spreads just as powerfully as negative change. It’s hard to remember this when I’m feeling scared and sad, however. What I can remember much more easily is what I’m still able to experience right here and now, on this magnificently beautiful planet filled with abundant life and possibility.

When I look around me, I appreciate that, although there’s plenty to be concerned about, the earth is still a wonderland. On my daily walks in city parks or neighborhoods, I can see healthy beeches, oaks, cedars and  sequoias; wrens and herons and sapsuckers; turtles, squirrels and owls; grapevines and marigolds and crabapples. I can see water flowing over stones, autumn leaves blowing along the path, sunlight and shadow shifting as the day progresses. I breathe it all in, and remember that most of the glorious life we’re afraid of losing is actually still here, right now, all around us. Appreciating the natural world, recognizing how blessed we are to be a part of it… This is what we can do.

Savoring abundant and glorious life may be more vital than anything else we can do, and it’s certainly more important than reminding ourselves of all the things we can’t do. If people had been appreciating this earth all along, we wouldn’t have done all the terrible damage we’ve done. If every living person appreciated the earth fully right now, positive change would happen naturally and inevitably. There would be solutions. But, even if it wouldn’t change the future at all, it would be still be meaningful to savor what’s here in the present. Breathe it in. Love it. Don’t waste this gift!

My personal, physical resources have been at low ebb since my spinal surgery last May, but as the tide slowly begins to turn and my strength slowly begins to return, I don’t want to lose the increased appreciation I’ve gained during these months of healing struggle. Not knowing whether or not I will ever heal fully has made me pay attention to every small delight that I might otherwise take for granted. I recognize now that walking outdoors—feeling my own body alive in the open air, surrounded by other living beings—is sheer bliss, even when I can only walk for a few exhausting blocks. I want to remember that every moment can be filled with sensations, with connections, with surprises, with spaciousness. When I’ve been most afraid of pain or loss, I’ve also been most aware of how much I have to lose, how much there is to love about this life. I believe this is the kind of caring attention we must bring to our planet, and to all of our relationships with others. It is also the fundamental approach we should take to our dreaming lives as well as our waking lives.

Before we start worrying about what a dream means, or what we should be doing about it, we need to ask ourselves how it feels. We need to appreciate the undiluted experience of the dream, just as we need to appreciate the experience of the world around us. If we appreciate fully, we will naturally respond, naturally learn and grow in relation to the dream or to the world, and we will naturally see and feel what the dream has to offer and the possibilities that are open to us. On the other hand, if we sum up the dream with definitive interpretations or quick fixes, the dream will lose all real meaning. We’ll end up feeling helpless, or doing harm inadvertently, if we don’t first connect with that which is already meaningful in its very essence. 

The dream world, like the waking world, is not always easy to savor, of course. There are industrial wastelands—brutal, empty, ugly places in dreams or nightmares, just as in “real life.” As I work toward healing, my own dreams often feel desolate, even horrifying. But, the desolation, too, must be fully experienced, even savored, before meaning can be made of it. Such a poignant contrast between the grim “reality” of an ugly dream and the glimmers of beauty I can still remember, and still sense just beneath the surface! Feeling the intensity of the contrast compels me toward the light. If I dig deep in the dark, I find the splitting seed of a sunflower, a pale green sprout spiraling upward. If I allow myself to feel the sadness, the suffering, the uselessness and helplessness of a harsh dream, I discover the vitality of my own urgent longing and love for life itself—the longing that Dylan Thomas described as “the spark that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

I dream of a world that is made up of everything—an utterly wild, yet strangely familiar place where I am not in charge of what happens, yet not entirely helpless either. My best response to this chaotic and contradictory dreamworld (which we all inhabit, awake or asleep) is to surrender my plans and my explanations and just listen, appreciate, savor the exquisite uncertainty, and keep dreaming.

6 Comments

  1. Kirsten, As always, you are inspiring, loving, bright, moving, touching, and more!!! I love you so much and appreciate your life and that I have known you and that you help me appreciate my life as well.
    xxxxxoooo

    • Thank you, dear Nancy! What a boost I get from your kind words! The shell you gave me before my Camino walk is still on my altar, and reminds me of you—I find you inspiring, too. With much love…

  2. Thank you, Kirsten. I needed to read these words today. This post reminds me of the Buddhist practice of Tonglen: breathing in despair about the earth, breathing out deep peace and reverence for all the ways She continues to nurture and bring joy to our senses. Breathing in helplessness, breathing out intention to share love.

    I love every word you’ve written here.

    Blessings to you as you gain strength and recover,

    Jenna

    • Thank you, Jenna! Tonglen is a practice I need to remind myself to apply every day (every minute!) in all kinds of contexts. Why do I keep forgetting? I suspect it’s because painful situations tend to cause a flinch response of turning inward/away, closing down—just when Tonglen is most necessary, it’s farthest from my mind because I’m preoccupied with protecting myself. I really appreciate your mentioning this practice to expand on what I wrote in the post, because it really does follow directly from, and lead to, appreciation. I appreciate you and your gifts, my friend. Blessings!

  3. Thank you for putting the spotlight on appreciation as a portal to meaning. I’m also so thankful to know that your healing is progressing. I think of you often with great appreciation.

    • Thank you, Tallulah! You are often in my thoughts—also with great appreciation. I was just recently referring someone to your work. I hope you are well and thriving. Sending love and good wishes your way…

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