Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: meaning in dreams (page 1 of 3)

Appreciating Incoherence

Dreams are often incoherent: the images shape-shift, the timelines tangle, the events overlap, and the whole dreamy experience itself can get lost in a haze at the edge of awakening. We count on coherence in our waking lives, expecting the narrative to make sense with a reasonable cause-and-effect predictability. We generally think that things should hold together—they should cohere—and when things fall apart incoherently, it’s bad news. But we all know that the dream world is different, and we’re willing to accept a certain amount of disorder there. Still, our waking minds have to do some reconstructive work before they can get a grip on those slippery dream experiences, and some dreams just won’t cooperate. We know we have dreamed; the dream is a palpable presence with a distinct sensory intensity… but we just can’t get hold of anything solid enough to make a memory. So, the incoherent dream gets forgotten.

Lately, my waking life has been almost as incoherent as my dreaming life, and accepting this much incomprehensibility has been a challenge. I have an illness that is unpredictable and rare, so I don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. My symptoms shift like loose sand  underfoot; my daily routine is a steep dune I’m climbing, and the routine itself disintegrates as I struggle up its sandy slope. I can’t get on top of it, can’t see what’s on the other side. Is there an open ocean somewhere out there? Or just an endless sea of similar sand dunes? I’m discovering how much our lives usually depend upon our plans for the future, and my plans have been suspended in this slippery limbo, since my prognosis is uncertain.

Ordinarily, our experiences have some coherence. The sand has been moistened and packed down, so we can walk without wallowing. Even our dreams can usually be shaped into sand castles. But, sometimes the sand is so dry and fine, or so wet and slack, that we can’t hold onto a handful without its slipping away, and it’s not possible to shape a story or a structure with such material. The sandman has come to sprinkle our sleep with dreams, and has delivered a sweeping desert landscape that changes with the wind.

Dream meanings are not usually direct messages, they are more intricate, richer, and sometimes disturbingly weirder than any direct communication could be. Yet even the most incoherent dream can feelmeaningful, can bemeaningful, if we care about the dreaming experience, allow it to touch us and allow ourselves to respond. I’m trying to see the incoherence of my waking life in the same way. Meanings do not necessarily make sense. Life can be meaningful whether it makes sense or not.

I can’t give a good example of an incoherent dream, because, well, those dreams are really incoherent—they don’t hold together. But there’s been a sort of theme to my recent incoherent dreams. They start with a chaos that I’m trying to control:

I’m packing, but there’s nothing to contain all the stuff I need to carry with me… I’m cleaning, but the messes keep multiplying… People or animals are in trouble, but there’s no way to tell where the trouble is coming from and no way to help… Something or someone is lost—maybe it’s me… Then, in the dream, I remember that the ocean is not far from here. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it’s nearby. I know I just need to get to the ocean. If I could only set all the impossible problems aside and get out in the fresh air, I’d be able to get there…

But usually the problems remain unresolved. Things get more and more confusing. Often, the ocean seems impossible to reach, even though I realize it’s just outside, just beyond the edge of this chaos.

Actually, the ocean itself is chaotic, too, but in a different way. The ocean is infinitely wild, vast, incoherent because it can’t be contained. The chaos indoors (or inside myself) seems disturbing because I’m trying to control it; the chaos of the open ocean, by contrast, is glorious, unrestrained and impossibly deep. The ocean has its own rhythms and patterns, which defy my sense of coherence. There’s something liberating in this. Somehow, I recognize those inconsistent and incomprehensible rhythms and patterns—I knowthe ocean with my own deep sense of wonder, not with my grasping mind.

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free…”
-Elizabeth Bishop, from “At the Fishhouses”

There’s an authentic relationship between the oceanic unknown (or deep knowledge) and the shifting sands of my everyday experience. The depths of the infinite lap at the shores of the ordinary, so sometimes the sand gets just damp enough to shape sand castles at the water’s edge: coherent dreams, insights, projects, possibilities… and then, predictably, the tides recede leaving those castles to dry and slump, or the tides rise to wash them away completely.

In my incoherent dreams, I flounder in confusion, trying to accomplish something, remember something, catch hold of something, anything… But, still, I know that the ocean is out there. The ocean does not concern itself with my accomplishments, my concerns, my comprehension. It gives me nothing to hold onto, and yet it shapes my experience. I trust the tides; I trust the depths. Occasionally, my incoherent dreams complete themselves: I leave the frustrating incoherence of my problems and worries behind, and find the more profoundly incoherent openness of the ocean. It’s right here, all around me: the infinite. I immerse myself in that dark, clear water. And I find myself fully awake.

Three-Part Dreams: Discovering the Rogue

Many dreams have distinct scenes, and it’s surprising how often those scenes come in threes. It’s also common to have multiple dreams in the same night, and those frequently come in threes as well. Maybe it’s just that our memories tend to organize themselves in sets of three—perhaps there was a fourth scene, or a fourth dream, that we don’t remember. Nevertheless, whether it’s a function of memory or a function of the dreams themselves, the pattern is significant, and can be useful when we are trying to relate to the dream world.

One way of looking at a three-part dream is to think of the parts as past, present and future. Something happened in the first dream, which leads to what happens in the second dream, which leads to what will happen in the third dream. Or, there’s a problem in the first dream (where the problem started), which becomes better or worse in the second dream (what is going on now), and could reach its best or worst potential in the third dream (what will happen if the trend continues). If you look at a three-part dream this way, you’ll see a development from one situation to the next, and that can certainly be meaningful in many cases.

However, time may not really be relevant to the unfolding of dream meanings. Modern physics suggests that our sense of past-present-future does not reflect the way things actually are. Time is not linear, and we can sometimes experience this in the dream world. Often, it’s not entirely clear which dream-part came first, second or third. Dreams can transcend clock time—with precognitive elements (showing future events in the waking world), or dream events that occur simultaneously, or with cause-and-effect dream elements that work both forward and backward.

For example, recently I dreamed:

I’m buying some food at a deli counter for tomorrow’s journey: a packet containing an egg-and-potato pancake. I walk past the produce display just as the mist-spray comes on—but it malfunctions and is more like a gushing sprinkler, which soaks my clothes…

When I tried to record this dream (which had many other details not included here), I realized that I couldn’t figure out which part happened first. It seemed impossible, but in the part where I was buying the packet of food, my clothes were definitely wet. And in the part where my clothes got sprinkled, I was definitely carrying the packet of food. So, somehow, each scene had to have been preceded by the other scene. Hm.

Because of such incongruities, I’ve been exploring other ways of looking at three-part dreams—where the three parts are interdependent in a more cyclical or multi-dimensional model that doesn’t rely on sequence.

Threes are dynamic. When you have two things, there’s balance or contrast. When you have four things, there’s stability. But three means that something is happening. Whenever two things interact, a third thing comes into being that is more than the sum of its parts. My own way of describing the “third thing” is to call it the “rogue.”*

In couple relationships, the two partners as individuals combine their energies, but the rogue of that relationship is a third individual in itself—often having characteristics possessed by neither of the two partners. A child is a rogue, because she or he comes from two parents and has an individuality that can resemble both parents, but is also unique and distinct. The rogue is not just a synthesis, but a leap into new possibilities. Continue reading

Easy Does It: The Path of Least Resistance, In Dreamwork and In Life

Dreamwork doesn’t have to be difficult. We don’t need to come up with a “solution” to the dream, because the dream is not a problem or a puzzle—it’s an experience, and, like any other experience, is filled with rich potential, some baffling details, and a variety of emotions and perceptions. I’m learning not to view my waking life experiences as problems to be solved, but as offerings to be appreciated. Dreams, too.

What does it look like to do dreamwork the easy way? Well, in dreamwork, as in life, following “the path of least resistance” can be a meaningful practice. When I encounter a dream—either remembering one of my own or hearing someone else’s—the first step on the path of least resistance is simply accepting the dream without judgement or analysis. I might notice that the dream images bring up feelings of confusion, anxiety, impatience, amazement, boredom, revulsion, comfort, excitement, restlessness, distress, delight… maybe one strong feeling, maybe a jumble of different feelings, maybe just a bewildered uncertainty about how to respond. I don’t work too hard to catch every detail, but let the dream present itself in its own way, and let myself be drawn into the dream’s images, events, and emotions as they come along.

After accepting and experiencing the dream uncritically, my natural curiosity leads me to ask questions that will increase my awareness and participation in the dreaming. I’ll open my senses, and wonder about everything. If some aspect of the dream seems especially incomprehensible or uncomfortable, I just notice my discomfort and let it be. Like a kid playing in a muddy stream, I take a long twig and fish up weeds and rotting leaves from the bottom, build little dams and watch the water spread behind them, float bits of bark to see which ones are fastest, look for jewelweed (the leaves turn silver underwater) and touch-me-nots (the pods burst and scatter tiny seeds). I take off my shoes and socks and wade right into the dream. This is all-absorbing, even when I encounter slimy or spiny creatures, even when I dredge up old beer bottles, even when I step in a deep spot and get wetter than I intended. I don’t need a plan: one question or experiment naturally leads to the next, and learning happens easily in the process.

Recently, I had an opportunity to take a ten-day personal retreat—staying in a little cottage alone, surrounded by rolling gardens and brambly woods. A couple of times a day, I walked over to a nearby house to feed and visit with two nice cats while their family was on vacation, otherwise I had no responsibilities. I really, really needed this time away. I’d been coping with a glut of health issues, medical appointments, work and existential crises for several months without a chance to reflect, so I was overdue for a break.

I started out thinking I might get a lot of writing done. I could set up a routine of meaningful practices—meditation, haiku, journaling, T’ai Chi, listening to sacred music, studying, exploring nearby parks, working on my book… I’d come home with a better grasp of my life situation, and a solid sense of spiritual accomplishment.

But that wasn’t what I needed, and that wasn’t what I did. Instead, I took it easy. I sat outside or inside, reading for hours on end. I watched the doe and fawn who came by almost every morning and evening to eat the garden. I listened to the birds (finches, chickadees, woodpeckers… ostriches? pterodactyls?). I dodged the yellow jackets that plagued me while I ate lunch. When I felt like moving, I walked up and down the level, quarter-mile gravel drive—up and down, up and down, up and down… walking along the magnificent row of sequoias that line the drive, past a few small pastures where there were occasionally rabbits or coyotes.

No productive planning. No long, steep, bushwhacking hikes. No writing. No schedule. No spiritual practices other than presence and participation. Nothing significant happened. I didn’t work at it, but I learned what I needed to learn from the experience itself—just as I might learn from the experience of a dream.

During this lovely, easy retreat, I couldn’t remember many dreams (and I didn’t make much of an effort to remember them), but one just came along, like the deer, to graze around in my mind:

Treasures Keep Coming My Way: I have a sense that many precious things are to be found here, so I look carefully. There are a couple of shiny quarters on the sidewalk! A homeless man claims one of them (apparently, he can’t pick up both, since his hands are full) and I pocket the other. Then, I realize he needs it more than I do, so I give it to him. He grumbles, not at all grateful, but accepts the coin—and I feel that I did the right thing. I go on, keeping my eyes open… and there are more treasures! Around a gift-shop counter where a woman is buying some fancy crystal ornaments, I see many oval glass discs scattered on the floor. Some are coin-sized, some as big as my hand; some are clear glass, some amber or pale blue. They’re incredibly beautiful, though very simple. Each disc has a tiny animal (one is a fox) etched into its center. I gather them all up, feeling rich. But then I realize they must belong to the gift-shop, so I bring them to the counter and give them to the sales clerk. She thanks me warmly, and finds my name on her customer list (she knows my name?)—telling me she’ll check the discs against their inventory, and then contact me to give them back if any do not belong to the shop. They are apparently very valuable. But I feel no sense of loss as I return them. I anticipate more and more treasures waiting for me.

 The more we give away, the more we have. Yes, of course, this is a cliché, but a very true one.

Ordinarily, I’m stingy with my energies, fearing I won’t live long enough to live fully, believing that I need to hoard my resources and my time, insisting that I must work very hard so that I don’t waste my precious life. But my retreat (and my dream) remind me that this isn’t true. Life can be easy—we can squander it, share it, give ourselves away and set ourselves free to follow an apparently random path that goes nowhere in particular… and the world will offer itself to us, willingly, again and again.

Dreamwork is easy when we drop our resistance and our itineraries and follow that plain path, appreciating whatever we find. Look at those sequoias—each one is different! Look, what a huge, scary spider (and don’t walk into that web)! Listen, I think I hear a Swainson’s thrush! Ah, let’s sit and rest for a bit… there’s no hurry. Another day, another dream, another treasure. Easy enough.

The Heart Dreams What the Heart Knows: Prodromic Dreams

As a professional dreamworker, I regularly find support and guidance in my own dreams—so it’s challenging to find myself with a serious illness, but not getting a lot of dream-feedback.

In waking life, I’m learning more and more about the physical impact that radiation poisoning is having on my body. I had intensive radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over twenty years ago, and knew at the time that these treatments had caused damage—loss of thyroid function, circulatory and metabolic problems, impaired heart and lung efficiency—but didn’t realize until recently that this damage was progressive, and would get much worse as I got older. In the past year, the bones, muscles and nerves in my upper spine and chest have begun deteriorating due to Radiation Fibrosis Syndrome, so it is becoming increasingly difficult to support the weight of my head. Then, an echocardiogram revealed that my heart muscle is also damaged, and my heart function will be declining. My life expectancy is now shorter, and my present strength and health will probably not be sustainable in the long-term. So why haven’t my dreams been more helpful? Why aren’t they advising me in this critical situation?

When I had cancer in my thirties, there were plenty of dreams. I was very sick for several years before my cancer diagnosis, with flu-like upper respiratory symptoms, and during this time my dreams became increasingly urgent, intense, and spiritual. Dreams gave me news of what was going on in my body, and prepared me for the possibility of death. Fortunately, I got the treatments that saved my life (for which I’m grateful, though the debt if now falling due)—and my dreaming settled down.

The fact that my dreams aren’t particularly powerful or revelatory right now should, perhaps, be reassuring. I trust that if I were going to die soon my dreams would let me know. On the other hand, the vague dream fragments I’ve been having could be considered rather worrisome. I keep dreaming that I’m packing up my stuff, to go and stay at my mom’s house. My mom died two years ago. This seems a bit suggestive. I’ve worked extensively with people in hospice, and dreams about “packing for journeys to join deceased loved ones” are certainly common when death is near.

But, my instincts are not alerted by these dreams in the way they were when I had cancer. I’ve been dreaming about going to see my mother ever since she died, and although it probably has implications for my own eventual death, right now it seems to have more to do with my relationship to her, our family history, and my experience of her loss. When I first found out that my heart was damaged, I thought of my mom, who died of heart failure—and when I learned that I might die of heart failure myself, I felt her with me, and her presence has been a comfort.

Even when dreams seem to be referring directly to dying, they don’t necessarily suggest that the dreamer is about to die. Dreams don’t measure time like we do. My prognosis of “five or ten years” seems shockingly short to me, but for dreams, it could be tomorrow or decades away—the important part is that death (and grief) is on my mind, and in my heart, and the dreams reflect that. Not particularly helpful if I’m looking for practical suggestions or a clear timeline. And, the dreams seem offhand rather than emphatic, so there’s none of the urgency I felt when I had cancer.

After the echocardiogram indicated that my heart is unable to pump properly, I looked back at some recent dreams to see if there were any communications that made sense in retrospect, or perhaps predicted what I might be facing next.

I found many more dreams than I’d expected:

  • A dream of medical students practicing heart transplants on patients without anesthetic.
  • A dream of adults who volunteer to donate parts of their hearts to a baby who is dying of heart failure.
  • A dream of bringing tea—made from heart-shaped tea-bags—to a sick girl.
  • A dream of going inside a giant, pink (heart-like) jellyfish.
  • A dream of a man collapsing with a heart attack.

And this one (two months before my heart diagnosis):

The Paper Wasp Nest Breaks Open: In an unfinished, semi-dark basement with several other friends or friendly strangers. I’m tapping things with my hiking poles, as if feeling my way, testing various possibilities. Under the stairs, there’s a paper wasp nest [heart-shaped] that has been growing slowly larger over the past few months. I’m careful not to touch the nest with my sticks, and I tell the others not to bump this nest as we make our way to the stairs. Then, I look again and see that the nest has grown to the size of a bushel basket. We don’t touch it, but its own weight is too much, and it tears away from the eaves and falls to the floor, where it breaks open. A few wasps begin to fly from the wrecked nest, and I know that in a moment there will be a furious swarm. I shout, “Run!” and make sure everyone gets out. Terrified of being stung to death, I rush up the stairs after the others, with wasps buzzing angrily around me. Finally, at the top of the stairs and out of the basement, I slam the door—safe. Everyone else is okay. But I’ve gotten at least one sting, on my chest, near the left breast.

Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part 4: A Larger Perspective

homeless-4-pilgrimThere are so many ways to look at a dream, so many possible meanings. The “truth” about the dream is finally up to the dreamer—if a particular approach resonates for the dreamer, then that approach is meaningful and valuable. However, some approaches to dreams, and some kinds of meanings, have a value that transcends the dreamer as an individual. Some dream images and stories can be universally recognized, and some ways of looking at a dream invite us all to participate in the dream’s wisdom, creativity, and abundance.

In the last three posts, I’ve been exploring my own recent dream about homelessness in ways that give me new insights into myself and my life. I hope that those insights may also speak to others, but the dreamwork approaches I applied were derived from my own feelings about the dream’s story and my own associations with its images. In this final post of the series, I’ll be listening for the voices within the dream that need to be heard, not only by me, but by all of us.

In the waking world and in the dream world, some voices come through loud and clear (especially those that align with our personal agendas), while those that disagree with us, or mumble in the background, or speak in whispers or foreign languages, or through silence or “nonsense”—are likely to be ignored. In my dream, there’s a homeless man whose point of view is hard to hear—which makes sense since most of us aren’t in the habit of listening to people like him. He doesn’t say much out loud, but his actions and attitudes can tell us a lot.

Here’s the dream one more time—and let’s pay attention to the perspective of “the homeless man” (for the full dream, see “Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”):

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: A homeless man who is our friend comes to our door for shelter on a cold, wet night, and we offer him food, a warm bath, and a sleeping bag on the couch. He has a little dog—a female papillon named “Pierrot.” While he sleeps, we realize that he can no longer take care of himself and his dog. It seems like a  betrayal to suggest this, but the only solution is for the dog to be adopted by someone else. Unwilling to give up his papillon, the man leaves—but soon returns, because he is too sick to survive out there. He seems to agree, reluctantly, to let Pierrot go, though for now he withdraws again to the sleeping bag, saying nothing.

I’m leaving out the final scene about the dog’s potential future, since I’ve explored that pretty thoroughly in previous posts. It seems that the dog will find a home, but what will happen to the man? Will he return to the streets alone? Or will the separation allow him a new freedom, and perhaps even a chance to have a home of his own?

When I took the dream literally [in Part One], the focus was on my shame and guilt over how painfully unsatisfactory the “only solution” is for the homeless man. Separating him from his dog may relieve him of the burden of taking care of her, but it also leaves him without a companion to share his hard life. This certainly reflects a real-world problem, but doesn’t really give the dream figure of the homeless man room to be more than an unresolved case for social services.

When I looked at the dream symbolically [in Parts Two and Three], I focused on the way that the dog, and the dreamer (me), were transformed by finding a new way of relating to home, and began to consider what the “homeless man” might represent. I wrote:

“From this perspective, the man represents an identity that has become exhausted, worn down, unsustainable. This ‘homeless’ identity has been ‘out in the cold’ and is finally being acknowledged, invited inside, and given care and attention. Along with the care and attention comes a realization that the soul (the papillon) cannot survive if she remains connected to this identity. The soul needs a new home, which her companion (the homeless figure) is no longer able to provide.”

What does the homeless figure himself have to say about this? Well, in the dream, he doesn’t speak, but still communicates eloquently. It is significant that the dream opens with his willingness to reach out for help. His vulnerability is dignified, as he appears “at the door,” in need, and turns himself over to his friends (my partner and I) in the expectation that his needs will be met. If I see the dream from his perspective, I can see that he has made a choice to step forward and put himself and his dog in our care—and, in dream terms, this choice could be considered a “willing sacrifice.” He is giving up his life as he has known it, at least for one night, and doing this for the sake of other, more important, concerns: immediate comfort and safety, and perhaps a new life. Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part Two: Personal Associations

homeless 02I’ve been looking at one of my recent dreams from different angles, and writing about that process here, exploring the theme of homelessness. In the last post, I considered this dream as a literal description of the suffering involved when a homeless man must be separated from his beloved dog. Now, I’d like to take another approach, and try to understand the dream story in relation to my own life.

In the dream, a cold and ill homeless friend comes to our door, and we offer him food and shelter for the night. He is no longer capable of caring for his little papillon dog, and we must find a new home for her in spite of his unwillingness to lose her. The dream left me with many painful ethical questions about homelessness, autonomy, and responsibility, and I considered some of those questions in the last post [see “Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”].

But the dream was especially poignant for me not only because it brought up literal concerns about other people who are homeless, but also because it evoked my own relationship to home, personal losses, and helplessness. Situations from the dream directly reflect the fact that I was far from home when I dreamed it (at the IASD conference in the Netherlands), and had just completed a difficult two-month pilgrimage, walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago.

During that journey I came to appreciate the intensity of the challenges that homeless people must face. At times, the relentless days and restless nights brought me to my physical and emotional limits, and exhausted my inner resources so that I felt profoundly vulnerable. When I finally came to the end of the long walk, I still felt dislocated and unclear about what I had learned, and so I dreamed of homelessness and helplessness represented by a dream figure with whom I could empathize. The painfully unresolved nature of the dream reflected many of my own unresolved feelings about my pilgrimage, and about other experiences from my past.

For me, “home” is a safe place—within myself and outside myself—where I can truly rest. It is a place where I am recognized and understood, a place where I trust my sense of self and my relationships with others. It is a place that offers physical and emotional security, and a certain amount of predictability. Archimedes said that with a long enough lever, he could move the earth—if only he had a place to stand. For me, home is a place to stand—and when I have that place to stand, I can live with strength, wisdom, kindness and courage. Without a home, I don’t know who I am or what I can do.

Actually, however, this definition of home sounds skewed. It’s certainly possible to feel insecure even in the happiest home. And how important is security anyway? What does it mean to be understood or safe?—I barely understand myself (thank goodness there’s more to me than I can rationally understand), and “safety” is conditional when we’re all mortal. Besides, needing to be understood and safe creates limitation rather than a true home. The kind of home that supports strength, wisdom, kindness, and courage actually arises more from shared acceptance of uncertainty than from having a solid place to stand.

Nevertheless, although I acknowledge the importance of vulnerability and openness, of having a home that’s more like a good pair of shoes than like a castle… well, this is my “growing edge,” which sometimes feels like the crumbling edge of a precipitous cliff. I’m not yet comfortable standing there!

“Home” is a big deal in my life. In my late teens, my family fell apart and I was homeless (in a way) for some time—never to the point of living on the streets, but dependent upon friends and strangers for temporary places to stay. I had few possessions (without a home, you can’t keep much), unstable health, little control over my circumstances, no luck getting work, constant uncertainty about finding food and shelter from one week to the next, and plenty of shame because others had to help me. So, even forty years later, it makes sense that when I undertook an extended pilgrimage in a foreign land my fears of homelessness surfaced right away—in my dreams and in my waking life. Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One: A Literal Perspective

OpeningWalking the Camino de Santiago over the course of two months, I found that an extended pilgrimage is nothing like a vacation. I couldn’t treat that long journey as an adventure separate from my regular life: it was my life. And it was a way of living that required versatile survival skills and relentless stamina.

Each day had to be lived on its own terms. Some days were filled with blessings, and many days, blessed or not, were terribly difficult. The difficult days gave me a tiny glimpse of what homelessness might feel like. Food, water, shelter, health, safety, communication, hygiene—the basics could never be taken for granted. Meeting my own essential needs was a constant energy drain, sometimes demanding more strength than I had.

Even on a well-traveled path, surrounded by good people, with many inner and outer resources available to me, I felt intense vulnerability, physical pain and fatigue, loneliness, and homesickness at times—especially when I was ill, or coping with rain or heat, or when I couldn’t make myself understood, or couldn’t be sure of my next meal, or bed, or shower, or toilet. I chose this path for myself on purpose, with the explicit intention of learning to adapt to whatever experiences I encountered, so it is overwhelming to imagine how much harder true homelessness would be: unchosen, with far fewer resources, and without a safety net of any kind.

Shortly after completing my long walk, while I was still far from home (at the international dream conference in the Netherlands), I had a dream that raised questions about homelessness, and what home really means. It was an important dream for me to have, and perhaps could be meaningful to others as well. So, in the next few blog posts, I’m going to explore this dream from three different angles: the literal, the personal, and the communal or universal.

Just about any dream or life issue can be seen literally, personally, or universally. First, we experience everything just as it happens, and respond to it immediately, with emotions, questions, concerns and insights about the situation as it appears to us. Then, we might take it to the next level, and see how it fits with other dreams or events in our lives, what patterns, paradoxes and metaphors are evident, and what it teaches us about ourselves. Finally, it can be meaningful to try to understand how these things apply not only to ourselves but to others, to communities and systems, to our natural environment, to our collective past, present and future.

Let’s look at the dream literally first…

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: My partner and I have befriended a homeless man who has a little dog—a female papillon named “Pierrot.” The man comes to our door on a cold, rainy night. He is chilled, soaked, and sick; he needs our help. We offer him a hot bath, dry clothes, soup, and a sleeping bag on the couch. We feed and tend his dog.

While he sleeps, we talk about his situation. He is unable to keep himself or Pierrot safe any longer. They are both going to die unless something is done. We call someone we know who works in social services. His wife (a kind, motherly person) is willing to adopt the dog. This is the only solution, but it means separating the homeless man from his beloved companion permanently. When he wakes up, he angrily refuses to discuss this, and leaves—but soon returns, because he is too sick to survive out there. He seems to agree, reluctantly, to give up Pierrot, though for now he will barely look at us and returns to the sleeping bag to rest.

Although I’m ashamed to do it, I remove my valuables—passport and cash—from the room where he is sleeping. Despite our friendship, I’m afraid that while in his current mood, upset and distrustful, he might be tempted to steal things.

Now, we witness a different scene: another dog—a retriever—is in a crate. Her owner is giving her up for adoption, and says good-bye to her, briefly, through the cage door. Then, her new owner, apparently the motherly woman who will adopt Pierrot, comes and opens the cage door and lets the dog out. They get to know each other gently. I think that this is how it could be for the little papillon, too—a sad separation, but the chance to go to a warm and loving home.

My first response to this dream, taking it literally, is anguish at the impossible decision to separate our homeless friend from his dog. I know that, in my waking life, I would not invite a homeless man into our home for the night—and I feel shame just as I felt in the dream when I distrusted my friend and kept my valuables out of his reach. Ignoring the last part of the dream, which suggests a more positive outcome, I can only think that taking away a man’s beloved dog is wrong, no matter what the justification. I do not accept the dream’s premise that this is the only option. It is too tragic and unfair. So, I am left with a painful predicament: How do I relate to a dream that pushes my buttons, and presents me with an apparently stuck situation? Continue reading

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.

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Dream-Winching

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.

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Looking for Work on My Behalf

By Tina Tau, Guest Blogger

In my last post, I started to tell the story of some dreams that belong to a trip I took to Italy in the fall of 2006, when my marriage was crumbling.

In Pari, an old Tuscan hill-town with winding climbing streets and ancient stone houses connected like beehives, I had a tiny studio for ten days. I started my days in the empty plaza a few steps up from my apartment, listening to roosters and the occasional bang of a hunter’s gun, looking out over the golden sweep of clouds and fields. Then I strode a mile downhill to the farm where my friend Rosie was staying with her boyfriend Carlos.

She and I helped his two farmhands with the olive harvest. It was happy, hard work. Olive trees are beautiful, with their twisty trunks and slender silvery leaves. We laughed, ate cold frittata for lunch on the rough-tilled ground, shook big nets of olives into blue plastic bins. Carlos put the bins in the back of his car and drove them to the presser, where they turned into silky, neon-green olive oil. We all ate dinner together and then I’d walk back up the hill in the dark, past the olive groves and lavender fields.

But I’d come on this adventure not just to pick olives and eat home-cured prosciutto; I’d come to interrupt my life, to see it from the outside instead of the painful, constricted inside. Should I leave my husband? Could I? What about our daughters? I had no money, and all I knew at this point was that I had to get a job. Without any money, I had no choices. Beyond that, I couldn’t see. I was starving for some perspective, for the long view. I wanted to be so far out at sea that I could steer my ship to end up on an entirely different coastline than the one I was headed for. Continue reading

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