Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: the natural world

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.

Seasonal Dreaming

columbine 01Do your dreams reflect the seasons? I’ve talked about some concepts shared by haiku and dreams in the last couple of posts [“Haiku Dreams,” and “Nature Dreams”], and one more of these shared concepts is the way that references to a specific season somehow increase the sense  of universality and timelessness in both haiku and dreams.

In haiku, the season is always included, either directly or indirectly—and this provides orientation in the natural world, as well as setting a tone and implying certain common associations understood between writer and reader. Is something similar going on in dreams?

Of course, not all dreams include seasonal references. Last night, for example, my dream fragments all seemed to be set indoors, and I can’t remember anything that would suggest what time of year it might have been. But when there are outdoor settings and a more continuous flow of dreaming, I can usually get at least some impression of a season. More often than not, it’s the same season that is currently happening around me in the waking world—but fairly frequently, there are interesting seasonal shifts or variations.

In early May, in Portland Oregon where I live, dogwoods and lilacs were in bloom, but my dream took place in New England (where I grew up) and reflected the season there at the tail end of winter:

I’m visiting my mother and look out the window to see that the trees are still bare and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground. I want to take a walk, but don’t know if I have my boots, or warm clothes with me. As I watch, it begins to rain, making the snow soggy. I open the door and take a deep breath of the fragrance of mud and melting snow—which evokes a strong sense of childhood springtime. I remember the relief of spring coming after a long, long winter.

This dream brought up associations with the grudging first glimpses of spring in my childhood—a time when I would dig down through the old snow in April just to see and touch some matted green grass. When spring finally did come, it came slowly, with many setbacks, and by the time the season hit its stride, summer was ready to take over. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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