Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: Camino de Santiago

Just Walk

A big dream of mine has become a reality. The book that I’ve been dreaming and writing for the past couple of years is now a living being, made of actual paper and ink: Just Walk: Following the Camino All the Way Home. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2016, this book was stirring deep underground, breathing beneath my feet at every step. And when I returned home and found myself grappling with some serious health issues, the pilgrimage continued in my everyday life and the dream of telling its story began to emerge—first in fragmentary whispers on the edge of sleep, then flowing slowly into wholeness.

For me, the Camino pilgrimage was an experience of immediacy. I couldn’t reflect on the changes as they were happening; it was all I could do to “just walk.” The process of integration happened gradually, as I stepped through the mirror to follow the Camino again in reflection, discovering dynamic soul connections between that journey and my life’s journey, between past and present, grief and love, stillness and movement, courage and vulnerability, solitude and community, wellness and illness. Although those connections were intimate, they were not merely personal—they were beyond me. I needed to make something out of them that could be shared. Thus, the book.

Because of my work with the world of dreams, where the dynamics of the imagination are truly real, I know that this book is not only a real physical object, but actually alive: it is tender, funny, contrary, painful, joyous. And right now, as I’m recovering from a life-changing surgery (multi-level spinal fusion) that literally took me apart and put me back together again differently, I’m also watching how this book, this reflection of my lived experience, has fundamentally changed me, and how it has the potential to change others who may read it. The book itself will change, too, becoming richer as it is read.

If you read it, the book will be yours, and it will whisper to you like a walking-prayer, accompanying you on your path. I hope you will read it.

[to find the book, click on the photo]

The Challenge of Real Change

This article, “The Challenge of Real Change” was published in the spiritual direction magazine, Presence last year.  I wrote about pilgrimage, dreams, and change in my own life, and in my work with clients. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. Please consider sharing your thoughts with me: I’d love to hear how you have changed, what experiences have changed you. We can all encourage each other, and walk together, even when we are venturing into unfamiliar territory.

To read the article, click here.

What makes real change possible? My work as a spiritual director gives me many opportunities to explore dreams in the context of our spiritual lives—and, of course, our spiritual lives are always a work in process. We aren’t looking for a final, ideal state of perfection and certainty, but for ongoing flexibility, and fundamental openness to experiences of deep change. Life itself is defined by change, and  if we can’t really change, we can’t live fully.

Dreams—with their untamed (and often uncomfortable) changeability—help us to practice being flexible, but if we want to embrace change at the deepest level, we have to invite the weirdness and wildness of dreams into our waking lives as well. Sometimes, we have to step out of the “comfort zone” and into the unknown.

A Dream of Surrender and Hope: DreamTime Article

Click on the photo to read the article, and enter the woods…

For the Spring 2017 issue of DreamTime Magazine (a wonderful publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreams), I wrote a short article that really expresses the depths of my heart in these troubled times. My own dreams often invite surrender and offer hope—and I believe that such dreams can change our lives and our world in essential ways.

Please take a few minutes to read the article (by clicking on the photo)… And let’s talk about dreaming our way forward. How do your  dreams guide you? How might you choose to surrender old ways to follow a different path? And where do you find courage and hope?

The Dream’s Way

What is truly meaningful in our dreams and in our waking lives? How do we find resonance in dreams that seem vague, disturbing, incoherent or unpleasant? We all experience a range of frequencies of dreams and dream-like states every day and night. Some of these experiences are beautiful and breathtaking, but some are difficult to appreciate, and many are not particularly moving or memorable. How do we “tune in” to the ground of our collective being that is perfectly and uniquely expressed in each moment of dream experience?
-Kirsten Backstrom (from “The Dream’s Way”)

Pilgrimage can open the way to the dream world, and dreams can open the way to a spiritual path, but walking and dreaming must both unfold on their own terms.  When I walked the Camino de Santiago last year, I knew I was in for an adventure, and that I would be well outside my comfort zone—but I didn’t know how I would handle the experience, and what my dreams had in store for me…

At the recent 2016 Psiber-Dreaming Conference (an exciting international on-line event that explores the outer reaches of dreamwork and dream studies), I offered a presentation called  “The Dream’s Way: Resonance in Dream Experiences on the Camino de Santiago .”  

Please Click on the Photo, to read this presentation:

 

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part 3: Metaphor & Imagery

path & wallI’m pretty sure it’s true that “no dreams come just to tell you what you already know” [from Jeremy Taylor’s “Dream Work Tool Kit”]. There’s always value in looking further, letting the dream take us into unknown territory. My recent dream about a homeless man being separated from his dog troubled me, and dreams that trouble me suggest that it’s particularly important to expand the bounds of “what I already know.” Can I see beyond the troubling first impression? Can I find more meaning here than meets the eye?

I started with what I could easily see by taking the dream literally [“Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”], and then listened for resonance between the dream and my own recent experiences walking the Camino de Santiago [“Dreaming of Homelessness, Part Two”]. But both of these approaches kept well within the realm of what I already know—about the dream and about myself. Now, I’d like to tap into the dream’s core imagery, its metaphoric energy source. This is still a somewhat personal, psychological approach, but the dream gives me a boost so I can peek over the wall at the edge of my conscious imagination.

When we pick up the symbols that generate the dynamic life force in a dream and hold them to the light, rainbow patterns flash from every facet. Through metaphor and imagery, personal projections glitter and unfold into multiple dimensions that reflect universal meanings.

Here’s a short version of the dream, emphasizing some key images (for the full dream, see Part One):

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: A homeless man comes to my partner and me 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 remove my valuables—passport and cash—from the room where he is sleeping, so he will not be tempted to steal.  

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 through the cage door. Then, her new owner, apparently the same kind 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 it could be like this for the papillon, too—a sad separation, but the chance to go to a warm and loving home.

My peer dream group helped me to hold “The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon” up to the light, to see through the dream’s words and into the dream’s world. Ordinarily, I know how to play creatively with images and metaphors, to uncover the paradoxical intricacies of a dream—but this dream had hit my blind spots. I couldn’t see past the homeless man’s needs, my own fears, and my shameful failure to trust him or find a compassionate solution that would allow him to keep his dog.

There were some obvious symbols that I recognized right away, but they seemed opaque, dulled by my literalism. I needed the help of my fellow dreamworkers to open up some space in my thinking and give this dead-end story a new life. They heard the dream in a fresh way, and echoed its metaphors back to me, with their own associations and emotional responses—and in those echoes I could hear the dream’s voice speaking more clearly to me, singing to me.

A homeless dream figure is not the same thing as a homeless human being, and a dream papillon named Pierrot is more than a man’s canine companion. Separating them from each other, even though it feels painful and sad, is not necessarily a tragedy since the dream itself suggests in the final scene that, after the good-byes are over, the cage door will be opened and a new relationship and home may be gently introduced.

My friend Pearl as “Pierrot"

Pearl Luick standing in for “Pierrot”

The dream figure of the homeless man will have his turn in the final post of this series, but here I’d like to concentrate on the little dog. She is a papillon—a breed of toy spaniel known for big, perky, silky ears that look like butterfly wings. The name does, in fact, mean “butterfly” in French. In many traditions, butterflies are associated with the soul, because of their beauty, lightness, and the way that they emerge from a process of metamorphosis. The papillon is the soul of this dream. I don’t even actually “see” that little dog—I know she’s there, but have no visual impression of her presence—and yet the whole dream is her story.

The separation of the homeless man from his papillon could be considered a process of “soul loss.” [For more about soul loss, see: “Soul Retrieval and Shamanic Dreaming.”] It seems that the primal connection between body and soul (man and dog) is going to be severed. Viewing the homeless man as analogous to the physical body makes some sense, since his needs are immediately physical—he needs food, warmth, rest. And, when the man sleeps, or when the body goes through trauma or radical transformation, the soul may take flight. Maybe the papillon is a lost soul.

But, another way of looking at this situation is that the soul is just leaving one kind of relationship with the primary identity and going on to a new kind of relationship. Both the old “owner” (the homeless man) and the new one (the kind woman) are aspects of the dreamer’s whole self, and the papillon/soul is simply shifting allegiance from one aspect to another. This movement of the soul suggests that the dreamer (myself) may be shifting away from her own identification with homelessness and toward a new understanding of home. 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

The Necessity of Dreaming

bridge 02After two months away (walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and participating in the IASD conference in the Netherlands), I’ve been home now for a couple of weeks. I was exhausted by my travels, physically and emotionally stretched to my limit, so simply resting and recovering has been my top priority. During those months of strenuous effort and unfamiliar conditions, I slept very badly and remembered few dreams. In fact, because of disrupted sleep patterns, there were probably some nights without any dreams at all, remembered or not. This gave me a direct experience of how vital dreaming is for my sense of well-being, and even my capacity to function.

I know of well-documented experiments that demonstrate the necessity of dreaming—but these last two months have given me first-hand, personal evidence of the consequences of dream-deprivation. I’m sure that if I had been deprived of dreams for much longer, my physical and mental health would have begun to deteriorate as a result. Even though I only had diminished dreaming rather than a total dream-drought, there was a noticeable decline in my energy, memory, cognition and emotional balance, which seemed related to my sleep and dream patterns. The boundaries between waking and dreaming got a bit fuzzier, too. Of course, other health factors were in play as well, since I was exerting myself strenuously (walking 10-15 miles a day), while coping with stress and a respiratory infection… However, as the experimental subject of my own unscientific research, I can attest that my body, mind and spirit seemed desperate not only for rest, but for dreams!

bridge 01When I finally returned home and began to sleep normal hours, I felt the healing influence of dreaming almost immediately. For the first few nights, the dreams came rushing in, often nightmarish and always intense, repeating and exaggerating the stresses of my journey. I’d wake up shaken—yet with a sense of releasing pent-up pressure, allowing something within me to relax. Soon, I was dreaming more naturally, with periods of transitional sleep, sound sleep, and REM sleep working together. I could lie in bed in the morning, feeling drowsy and refreshed, with a sense of perspective on my experiences that had been lacking before.

Dreaming seems to nourish me at the deepest level, regardless of the content of the dreams. Whether the dreams themselves are pleasant or unpleasant, the restoration I feel from dreaming makes it possible to shake off the hazy, surreal trance of travel and feel fully awake to my life again.

In the next couple of articles, I’ll describe dreams that relate directly to my pilgrimage experiences, and explore some of the meanings that these experience have for me—but right now, I just want to express my gratitude for dreaming itself. Continue reading

New Facebook Page: Camino Dreaming

Please join me on my pilgrimage, by following “Camino Dreaming” on Facebook!

Camino Dreaming 01Pilgrimage and dreamwork have a lot in common. When I work with dreams, I’m aware of how dreams open our minds and hearts, increase our flexibility, and teach us to be wanderers in a strange land—accepting, appreciating, and adapting to whatever we encounter, giving and receiving as we go. And so, naturally, I’ve also been drawn to pilgrimage, which is about many of these same aspects of the spiritual journey.

As I prepare to walk the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances route—about 500 miles), my pilgrimage has already begun, and my dreams are guiding me. I walk every day, and appreciate the world around me in Portland, Oregon. Soon, in early May, I hope to “walk” into the next phase of the journey, crossing a continent and an ocean, and stepping onto the Camino itself…

[Click on the picture to visit the Facebook page]

Surrender, Dreamer!

backpack 02You know those times in the middle of the night when you wake up and start worrying, and every challenge you anticipate becomes an impossible obstacle, or a catastrophe waiting to pounce? Late night anxieties are notoriously difficult, perhaps because on the edge of the dreamworld we are especially vulnerable to our strongest emotions, and prone to experiencing every passing thought or impression as portentous. But these very characteristics of dreaminess (increased emotional tone, powerful sense of significance) can also be openings to inspiration, or invitations to creatively explore our fears.

So, the other night, half-awake, I found myself imagining the realities of a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (a journey I plan to take next spring). First, there’s just the panicky certainty that I’m not up to it, and then, gradually, a weird mix of anxiety and anticipation. I imagine myself arriving alone in some large city in Europe, jet-lagged and disoriented, making my way by train or bus to a small village in France or Spain (still haven’t settled on the exact starting point), finding food and shelter for the night, then setting out to walk 10-15 miles a day, carrying an awkward backpack, for almost two months. I imagine sleeping in crowded hostels, coping with mountains, rain, cold, heat, exhaustion, injuries, illness, loneliness, food and bathroom issues, and utterly unfamiliar people and surroundings…

The prospect is, to say the least—daunting. The middle-of-the-night effect amplifies the out-of-control feeling of my imaginings, but I hold myself poised on that edge, balancing, leaning forward, allowing the fears to rise and flow and pass. I surrender to the experience, as if I will be leaving for the airport in the morning (no turning back!), or as if in a dream where everything that happens has an all-or-nothing spontaneity. Continue reading

Pilgrimage: Walking the Way of the Dream

backpack 01In both my dreaming and my waking life, I’ve been going through a lot of dramatic changes very quickly since my mother’s death last April. After three difficult years when change came only slowly and laboriously, I found myself broken open by grief and loss, so that I could be finally, fully available for transformation. My family, my work, my friendships, my health, my identity and my understanding—everything has been swept into this cascade of change.

When such spiritual opportunities arise, however painful, the one vital life task is to keep on opening up to whatever comes next. What comes next will necessarily be unexpected—because all ordinary expectations have been overturned in the surging events.

What came to me was pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a way that this wide open, empty, swirling space of transition becomes a movement, a journey, a compelling process rather than an end in itself. A pilgrimage is an inward and outward journey shared with strangers, shared with Spirit, shared with the landscape of our larger lives. It is a passage through and beyond the fears and obstacles that seemed to define us, a passage through and beyond ego and ignorance, through and beyond the separate struggles of our personal history… and into our interconnectedness, our interdependence. It’s a long, humbling walk through the wilderness—a wilderness made up of familiar features seen in strange new ways, familiar patterns shattered and reshaped.

In short, a pilgrimage is a lot like a dream. As we go to sleep each night, we empty ourselves, willingly, of our identities. We put on our pilgrim’s robes (or pajamas), and we lie down and let go. Then, we walk into other worlds where we encounter the impossible as possible.

We walk toward the light of the coming morning, but, on the way, we find our whole lives scrambled and spread before us in a different light: the light of possibility. Our embarrassing secrets are revealed; our true hearts are touched; our pet peeves come out to play; and the overwhelming, creative abundance of the universe becomes inescapable. The dream is inexhaustible, and it utterly exhausts our efforts to grasp the gist of it. Later, we may unfold the dream story—but in the midst of the dream itself, we simply meet each moment of experience as a step that carries us forward, followed by another step, another moment, and another. Continue reading

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