Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

As The World Dreams

world 01Although dreamwork as spiritual practice can certainly support personal growth and development, it would ultimately mean nothing if it did not go beyond my own individual, psychological motivations. I try hard not to get preoccupied exclusively with the self-awareness level of dreamwork (which is significant, but not enough), and to maintain openness to the larger awareness available through our dreams—an awareness that goes beyond the personal, and has relevance for the world as a whole.

Last week, I participated in the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), where hundreds of people from all over the world came together to talk about (and experience!) dreams from every possible perspective. For me, the most meaningful aspect of the conference was the way it reminded me of the larger potential of dreams and dreamwork.

In many profound, one-on-one conversations, I encountered again and again the wisdom and compassion of individual dreamers whose dreaming and waking experiences have led them to deep concern for the healing of the earth and the community of all life. In workshops, I was inspired by the collective nature of our dreaming, the concerns we share, and the responses that can arise from our interconnectedness. Through presentations of all kinds, I learned different approaches to dreamwork that include our responsibility to one another and our planet.

In his keynote address, Stephen Aizenstat spoke of “The Global Dream Initiative,” which “creates new and more generative ways of responding to the trauma of the world, ways that are not trapped in the cultural, political, economic, and environmental approaches that now are failing us.” Asserting that “the world’s suffering appears in the living images of dreams and…we can creatively respond,” Aizenstat “advocates that we go to the very depths of experience and engage the voices of the world’s dreams.”

This reminds me of Albert Einstein’s insight: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Dreams offer us another kind of “thinking”—another way of experiencing our problems—and responding—both individually and collectively. Such a response acknowledges that there are no private interests: our needs are inseparable from the needs of all beings and the earth itself. And our dreams reflect this interrelatedness on many levels: through expressions of suffering, calls to action, experiences of wholeness, creative openings, and direct motivations for cooperative change.

Most of the presentations and workshops I attended had something to do with the larger meaning of dreaming. Meredith Sabini spoke of “cultural shamans” whose work is concerned not just with diagnosing and healing individuals, but with visions of cultural, social and environmental devastation, and the possibilities for healing our communities and restoring the balance of life and death. Jeremy Taylor expanded the definition of lucid dreaming, which is “associated with the development of collective human consciousness as a whole.” Travis Wernet brought us into connection with the physical environment and spirit of the land where the conference was situated, through a sound journey with flute, didgeridoo, and chimes. Daniel Deslauriers and Fariba Bogzaran described “Integral Dream Practice,”  which “is a contemporary response to our complex dream ecology: how to be with dreams in a way that best reflects the multifaceted nature of our being.” Tallulah Lyons and Wendy Pannier led a dream group focused on the healing power of our own dreams–and the dreams of others–in our lives.

Since I returned from the conference, I’ve been more aware of how my own dreams are filled with powerful (and sometimes disturbing) images that clearly arise from, and extend beyond, my own personal psyche.

Magnetic lodestones too strong to be carried in my pockets… Lonely boats without oars or sails or motors on a lagoon at night, lit by round paper lanterns… Too much blood being drawn, so I stagger… A tall dead tree with exposed roots, about to topple onto our house, and the neighbor’s house… A giant man or robot who keeps alternately attacking us and pleading for help…

Yes, these dreams are for me and about me on one level, but they are also for all of us, about all of us—for our immediate community, our society, our world, the earth, the ultimate balance of energies in the universe. Could this be true? Are my dreams—and yours—a part of some vast field of dreaming? Yes. And whether or not they guide us into direct acts of service, they become meaningful through us when we attend to them and stand in awe of what they are telling us about ourselves and our world.


  1. Tallulah

    Thank you for the beautiful summary of the conference. It was indeed an experience of our interconnectedness in a realm beyond the conscious ego. It was a shared experience of calling to allow the dreams of the world to come through us. May we grow in allowing and responding.

    • kirstenbackstrom

      I love the way that you express this, Tallulah! “…a shared experience of calling to allow the dreams of the world to come through us.” May the growth in “allowing and responding” continue to expand through, and beyond, those of us who attended the IASD conference!

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