Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Nature Dreams

nature dreamsIn the last post, I wrote about how dreams can be made up of “haiku moments”—rich images and direct experiences that speak for themselves and don’t require interpretation (“Haiku Dreams”). Another characteristic of haiku that I only mentioned briefly is the way they include the natural world; this, too, is a quality they share with dreams.

I just returned from a long walk. It’s really spring here now, and this has been an exquisite morning: warm sunshine, soft wind, smells of flowers (including the stinky Mountain Ash—not all flowers smell sweet!) and grasses, birdsong and windchimes and lawn mowers, swaying shadows and busy squirrels. As I am walking, I try not to separate myself from all this. Everything is alive, and includes me—even the things that make me uncomfortable.

At one point, going down a steep hill, my ankle rolled and I fell forward hard on one hand and knee, momentum carrying me down all the way so my shoulder and cheek hit the dirt. Ouch. Bruised and relieved not to be badly hurt (also glad no one was watching), I picked myself up. The ground is solid, and colliding with it was not pleasant, but there was an undeniable immediacy to the experience. I recognize myself as a creature with a body that’s made up of the same peculiar combination of solid stuff and pure energy as everything around me. The more waking time I spend outside in nature, the more my dreams become immersion experiences as well, with rich landscapes pervaded by the vitality of the natural world.

I hesitate to use the awkward word “nature,” because it has become a cliché that just evokes postcard images of “natural beauty” on a dramatic scale. Actually, nature includes the human world, as well as all of the interwoven dynamics of life itself, on a grand scale and also on a small scale. It includes pill bugs and hurricanes and the hard packed dirt that I hit so hard when I fell.

When I’m “in nature” I notice the trees, and I also notice differences in the quality of light at different times of the year and the day, the fragrance and texture of the air, the vibrations of sound or stillness in a wooded valley or open field—or inside the house. This is the natural world, all of this. Being “out in the fresh air” certainly helps me to be aware that this “nature” is much more than my own little controlled environment. Yet, even that little controlled environment belongs to the natural world, too.

The earth itself—“nature,” or the life force, or the landscape, or whatever you want to call it—is as essentially present in our dreams as it is in the waking world. Perhaps it is the source of  all dreaming, and we are all living this dreaming. When I try to write about this, or think about it in a way that can be expressed, I get into a muddle. But my dreams express it through direct experience as real as the walk I just took this morning.

In a dream:

Walking across a field, the knee-deep grass tangles and snags at my pants legs. Insects buzz. Smells like hay, and then also like mud, and I can hear a bullfrog, as I almost stumble into a slow, muddy creek. I try to jump across but land in the water, which is warmish and soaks through my shoes and cuffs. Then the water is to my waist, and I am wading upstream. Feel the intense tug of the strong, slow current. Now it’s up to my chin. Half-swimming, I can feel underwater weeds slippery against my bare arms. Even as I work my way forward, I’m aware that the creek is now a wide river stretching out before me—with a glorious sky full of cumulous clouds reflecting in its purling surface…

When I first wrote this dream down, I just wrote the events that occurred—and this river-walking was only a sentence or two about the progress I was making from one place to another. But as I remember the dream now, I find that it was overflowing with details of the natural world so complex and subtle that I could not possibly have described them all. There was an entire reality in the dream, and even the paragraph above is limited to a few glimpses of a much larger direct experience. For instance, there was a bridge upriver, with intricate stone architecture, a path on one bank of the river, some cottonwood trees on the other, and some wet stones with water swirling around them in the shallows.

Similarly, my walk this morning was one fascinating “haiku moment” after the next of exquisitely vivid natural sensations and discoveries—but I can only barely convey this with a few glimpses as I try to write it down.

Is the natural world present in your dreams? Try going back into one of your dreams—particularly one that takes place out-of-doors and has some sense of a setting. Do you know what time of day it is? Can you tell from the light or the shadows? Do you have any impressions of the ground you are standing on, the sky above you? Are there plants of any kind? Notice their shape, texture, growth patterns. Are there any human-made structures or art forms? Can you smell anything? Is it warm or cold? What will you hear if you listen?

When we fully experience the world around us, it becomes real to us and we belong here. In the same way, fully experiencing the natural world of the dream can give us a sense of the true nature of dreaming. We can feel ourselves participating in the dreaming.


  1. unicornkl7

    When I write my dreams and my experiences of walking in nature they seem so cold and lacking in feeling. My experience is full of many emotions and I see the indescribable beauty. You have captured what I have not been able to express! Thank you. I am ever in wonder, existing in our Eternity – but lack the words to express.

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Thank you for the wise words, Sharon. I think the experience of that wonder is more important than being able to describe it–ultimately, it’s beyond words, of course! But by trying to convey it (however impossible that may be), I find that I bring my own attention to the experience itself more closely… only then do I realize just how blessed I am to be in the midst of all this beauty, awake or in dreams.

© 2024 Compass Dreamwork

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑