Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: choices

Dream Thoughts

How does your mind work in a dream? It’s generally assumed that we think differently (or not at all) when we’re dreaming—but, if you’re anything like me, your dream-thoughts are actually not that different from your waking thoughts. It’s just that, in dreams, there are different things to think about, and different assumptions about what’s important. My recent dreams have included a lot of thinking. Maybe it’s because my “inner work” right now is not particularly sensational or dramatic—my concerns are subtle and reflective rather than active.

When we are learning to recognize our challenges and limitations, we may need to confront them  directly through powerfully instructive events in our dreaming and waking lives that either exaggerate or expose our habit patterns. As we get to know ourselves better, we may be able to see the problem played out over and over again, without being able to do much about it—but gradually, as the same scenes are repeatedly reenacted, we bring more awareness to our experiences. We begin to have time to pause and consider what is going on, how it works, and whether it’s consistent with our personal integrity and values. Eventually, we’ve had enough, and it becomes possible to interrupt the predictable process and make a change.

So, all my “thinking” dreams suggest that I’m working toward an understanding that will facilitate real transformation. I don’t need to participate in the drama, I need to comprehend it. Dreams where thinking predominates can be very creative—offering new perspectives on old problems, new insights into our own and others’ behavior. Often, they present questions without answers, and ask us to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing what to do.

Here’s a recent example from my own dreamworld:

Catching Shoplifters: I catch two blond girls (about ten and eight years old) shoplifting in a store owned by a friend of mine. The older one has tucked a pair of gloves up her sleeve. I confront them and take the gloves back. The girls are defiant at first, but then seem very frightened and I soften my tone, realizing that their mother has forced them to steal, and will hurt them if they go home empty-handed. I start to give the gloves back to them, and even consider giving them some plastic toy telescopes that are hanging on a rack nearby. But then I remember that it wouldn’t be fair to the business-owner to let this stealing continue. What if I go with the girls and confront their mother? But, no—if I confront her, then as soon as I leave she will punish them for getting caught. Whatever I do to her will be taken out on them. So, I can’t change this situation. For now, there are no good alternatives. I decide to step back and wait until I understand things better before I act. I’ll buy the girls some lunch, and let them go without my interference. But I am committed to finding a way to help these children and prevent further harm.

Helplessness is a big theme in our country right now. There’s injustice on a grand scale, theft, coercion, unkindness, and shameful conduct in our government that reflects similar patterns and problems we can also see in our immediate environment. We may be able to control our own behavior, but we are presented with situations outside of ourselves that we cannot control. What do we do about that? Well, impulsive reactions are not helpful. Suppressing our awareness and looking the other way is not helpful, either. We need to pause, care about what is happening, and give ourselves time to think. I’m trying to do this in my dreams and in my waking life.

Connecting with My First Lover: I’m angry about some careless and inconsiderate people. My first lover [a woman I haven’t seen in almost forty years] gently points out that I’m being critical before I know the whole story. Those people didn’t actually forget to pick up after themselves, and they didn’t mean to take something that wasn’t theirs. I think about this. I might have misread the situation. I apologize. She is very kind. We hug, and she smiles at me, saying, “We have a deep connection, don’t we?”

As a teenager and young adult, I began to question my own self-righteousness about politics and personal relationships. I was trying to stand up for something important, but I was beginning to recognize that life is complicated and paradoxical. I was beginning to imagine different points of view, check my assumptions, and think deeply about my concerns and the ramifications of my actions. Thirty or more years later, these questions and concerns have not been resolved, but I can connect with the earnest effort I made (and still make) to see beyond my own prejudices. I can trust kindness, gentle correction, and the courage to acknowledge mistakes. I can connect with the wisdom to wait and think about my own agenda. A relationship that introduced me to intimacy becomes a metaphor for learning to take a risk and open up to other perspectives. Continue reading

Quality Over Quantity: Slowing Down the Blog Again

snail-at-dawnWe all have limited time and energy for reading (and everything else!) these days—so, when a new blog post shows up in email or on Facebook, we have to decide, usually in the midst of a busy moment, whether or not to click that link and invest our precious time in something that someone else has written.

The Compass Dreamwork blog has been coming out at least twice a month for four years now, and because I’m writing about complex ideas and putting my heart and soul into finding creative ways to express those ideas… Well, those articles have been getting deeper and longer, and, I hope richer, all the time. Personally, I think they are well worth reading—but a longer article can be a bit daunting to read, and even more daunting to write!

When you see one of my blogs, I hope you will slow down, take your time, and keep reading—because reading a good, longish article about something meaningful is really and truly worthwhile.  But perhaps it’s more reasonable of me to ask this of you if I only ask it once a month.

I also want to remember, in the midst of my own busy life, to take my time with the writing—to slow myself down and give myself room to write something you will want to read.

So, let’s start each day like the snail in this picture—breathing the morning air, enjoying the open spaces, remembering our dreams… And, once a month (on 3rd Tuesdays), perhaps you will visit Compass Dreamwork and me for a nice, slow ten-minutes-or-so of reading—gazing and grazing like snails in the good green fields of words.

 

Lucid Dreaming: Control and Choice

Lucid dreaming is paradoxical by definition: in a lucid dream, I am asleep and dreaming, but also fully aware that this is a dream and capable of making choices and taking action as if awake.

I wrestle with another paradox that goes along with lucid dreaming, and relates to waking life as well: how to find a balance between “free will,” and letting go into the unknown. To what extent should I try to take control of events in a lucid dream (or in my waking life), and to what extent should I allow the dream (or my life) to unfold around me and invite my participation? This is really a very big question.

I feel strongly that the kind of control advocated by some popular books on lucid dreaming is misguided. Such books suggest that as soon as we realize we are dreaming (which can happen spontaneously, or as a result of practices like the one described in “Threshold Experiences: Dreaming and Waking”), we should start doing the things we’ve always wanted to do: go to Paris, have sex with someone famous, swim with dolphins, etc. Although I think it’s not a bad idea to try new things when lucid dreaming—such as flying, moving through walls, asking questions of other dream figures—I think it would be a waste of a good dream to actually decide what the dream reality is going to look like. I also think it’s not really possible. I suspect that those who do this kind of “lucid dreaming” are probably at least partially daydreaming or fantasizing rather than fully immersed in the dream state.

“The multitude of lucid-dream stories that come from the Tibetan and other Asian traditions suggest that no matter how dedicated and skilled the lucid dreamer, the dream remains autonomous and defies counterproductive manipulation and control.”   -Jeremy Taylor

Dreams go beyond our conscious minds, beyond our wishes and desires—and thus have the capacity to expand those minds and show us more possibilities, more choices, than we could ever consciously invent. Continue reading

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