Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Category: Threshold Work (page 2 of 2)

When the Dream-Ego is Slippery or Sleepy

sky 02Many of my dreams lack focus. The dream-ego (the “I” in the dream) can’t seem to accomplish what she intends, or is the victim of something or someone, or doesn’t participate in the main action. Sometimes these dreams are frustrating, and at other times, the “I” just seems to be slipping away. For me, a common dream metaphor for this slipperiness is when the dream-ego has to cope with actual sleepiness within the dream. Here are two examples:

Gathering for Ceremonies: I’m with a large group of people gathered halfway up a mountain, for some spiritual ceremonies. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with lots going on. I’m responsible for a toddler named “Sleepy,” and much of the time, I carry Sleepy around as s/he sleeps heavily in my arms. When s/he’s not asleep, s/he’s running around wildly, very distracting. The more I try to keep up with Sleepy, the drowsier I get…

Sleepy Attender: I’m attending an important workshop, sitting right up front, but I can’t stay awake. I sit up straight and pretend to be listening/meditating with my eyes closed, so the presenter won’t realize I’m asleep. After a while, I know I need to open my eyes at least briefly, to maintain the illusion of attentiveness, but I’m too groggy and can’t get myself to come out of it. [Finally I literally wake myself up by trying to open my eyes.]

Another expression of this same lack of dream-ego focus is when the dream itself just seems hazy, as if the dreamer is not able to generate vivid images. The environment around “me” in the dream is vague—maybe indoors, maybe outdoors, but with no noticeable features. Events in the dream, and body awareness for the dream-ego and dream characters, can also be hazy. In lucid dreams, where “I” realize that this is a dream, the experience is not sustainable, because the dream-ego and the dream environment are not distinct enough—either I wake up, or fall back into non-lucid, unremembered dreams. Continue reading

Threshold Experiences: Dreaming and Waking

crater wallIn the previous post (“Threshold Work As Spiritual Practice”), I was thinking about how an everyday familiarity with “small” threshold experiences can help us when we are thrown into more intense and overwhelming threshold experiences such as a life-threatening illness, or the death or loss of someone or something significant in our lives.

Now I’d like to consider some examples of those “small” thresholds. On a daily and nightly basis, we encounter in-between places—where the ordinary suddenly seems strange and surprising, or oddly off-key, or wonderfully new, or just uncomfortably indescribable.

Dreams are definitely thresholds like this. In the midst of a dream, I find myself thinking: “Wait, this can’t be happening!”

Someone gives me a paper bag with a fish in it, and, after carrying it around for hours, I suddenly  realize that the beautiful, silver creature is still alive and flexing… The fireplace is the size of the whole room, and we are walking around inside it, tiptoeing gingerly among the coals… Two rhinoceroses come out of the woods and walk down the path toward the lake… I am about three years old, riding a bus alone, and I am also my middle-aged self, sitting across the aisle and worrying about that child… We’re exploring a perfectly-preserved shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean, and have no difficulty breathing underwater…

In Tibetan dream yoga, a central practice is to learn to ask oneself repeatedly during the day, “Is this a dream?” By doing this on a regular basis, especially when something unusual occurs, we learn to ask the same question when we realize that something peculiar is happening in a dream—and so, “wake up” to the fact that we are dreaming (lucid dreaming). The deeper aspect of this practice, however, is to learn to question our waking state as well… Until we discover that our waking “reality” (the world we think we know) is also, in a sense, a dream—a tenuous, transitory condition, a threshold experience. Continue reading

Threshold Work As Spiritual Practice

What does my work with dreams have to do with my “other” work supporting people who are facing death, loss, illness, or difficult life changes? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, as I’ve been preparing to lead a retreat on “Walking in the Dark: The Spiritual Path Through Illness, Loss, and Limitation”—a retreat based on both professional and personal experiences close to my heart.threshold 01

I’ve offered “Walking in the Dark” many times, and although it is not directly related to dreamwork, dreams frequently come up in relation to difficult, disorienting, and deeply transformative life challenges. I recognize both dreams and painful, life-changing events as threshold experiences—liminal, paradoxical, in-between places where certainties dissolve and possibilities multiply. Such threshold experiences are always spiritual opportunities, even when they seem chaotic or empty.

Following my cancer (which was, indeed, a threshold experience), I began to volunteer, and later to work professionally, in hospice, bereavement care, chaplaincy, spiritual direction, and pastoral services with people who were dying, grieving, elderly, seriously ill, or experiencing other significant life changes. Because dreaming had been meaningful in my own life, I naturally incorporated dreamwork into my practice of spiritual care—exploring dreams with individuals and groups in various contexts. Continue reading

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