Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Category: Dreaming and Waking Reality (Page 2 of 2)

The continuum of dreaming and waking experiences.

Haiku Dreams

drivers seatIn haiku, a glimpse of an immediate experience becomes an opening into the spaciousness of the infinite present. Natural images evoke paradoxical emotions and sensations, conveying meaning without creating meaning. The meaning is the moment itself. There’s something dream-like about the images in haiku, and also something haiku-like in the images of dreams.

while I’m gone
my dog
takes the driver’s seat
-Christopher Herold

This haiku by Christopher Herold really says it all! As with most haiku, it’s easy to take it quite literally. Perhaps I’ve gone into the grocery store, leaving my dog in the car—while I’m gone, the dog takes the driver’s seat. I can picture this scene with delightful clarity: the dog (a setter?) sitting earnestly upright , looking straight ahead over the steering wheel, waiting. Maybe the dog considers beeping the horn (or driving off without me?), but shows restraint and patience instead. If I dreamed this scene, it would make me smile. The situation just is what it is. The nature of the relationship between dog and human being, in a nutshell (or in a small car). Continue reading

Thinking, Dreaming, Thinking

strange rock 02

The thing looks like a giant brain, cracked up from too much thinking…

I’ve been thinking about thinking. (And now, as I write this, I guess I’m thinking about thinking about thinking—as well as thinking about dreaming!)

A central aspect of my own spiritual practice is my effort to become aware of what brings me more into alignment with the intricate patterns of all life, and what tends to knock me out of alignment. Even though I’m in awe of the amazing powers of the thinking mind—it’s clearer and clearer the older I get that most of my thinking knocks me out of sync. My everyday habits of thought regularly waste energy, contribute to suffering (for me, and sometimes others), and can definitely prevent me from being fully present and in tune with the world around me.

Some basic planning, organizing, remembering, rehearsing, reflecting, creative cognitive processing, etc. is useful, of course. But really, an awful lot of the stuff that’s going through my head is repetitive, self-perpetuating worries or complaints. I tell myself stories that define me, so that I can keep thinking I know who I am. Maybe your thoughts are more elevated than this? More meaningful? Just listen to yourself for a while and see what you think…

The bottom line is that most (if not all) thinking—even the loftiest, most enjoyable, or most necessary thinking—takes us out of the present moment. The vast majority of thought refers to something either in the past or in the future, something not here and not now.

How does the world look, sound, feel, smell, taste—right now? What is this experience? Yes, some thought responses arise almost instantly even in the moment of experiencing… Yet, if I’m not swept away by my thoughts, not entirely persuaded by the story I’m telling myself about something that happened or didn’t happen or may happen or should happen—well, then I can be just where I am.

Personally, I know that too much thinking makes me pretty unhappy. Each thought has a very convincing argument for its own importance, but collectively they wear me down and make my world seem suffocatingly small. Continue reading

Green Sloths and Synchronicities

One morning, while trying to learn to read Russian, I was puzzling my way through a silly Russian kids’ science fiction story and ran across an expression that seemed rather odd. I was sure I recognized the word “green”—but when I looked up the unfamiliar other word, it was “sloth.” “Green sloth?” This turned out to be the correct translation, since, on the next page, there was a picture of the boy astronaut encountering a green sloth on an alien planet. Okay.

Later that same day, I was reading a completely unrelated book about Teddy Roosevelt’s travels in the Amazon, and the words “green sloth” jumped out at me again. Yes, Teddy had seen green sloths on his journey—and it was explained that they are green because of an algae that thrives in their fur.

And then (no, really)—turning on the television that evening, I caught a glimpse of a documentary… about sloths. They were, indeed, a bit green. The narrator talked about the algae on the fur, while I called Holly at work, wild with excitement, to tell her that I’d actually seen three green sloths in a single day!

This exceptional set of coincidences is really only a bit beyond what seems to be happening on a regular basis all the time, though we only occasionally notice. For obvious reasons, Holly and I now refer to such events as “green sloths.” Jung called them synchronicities.

A synchronicity is generally defined as a “meaningful coincidence.” Maybe you’re not sure why seeing three green sloths is meaningful? Well, I’m not entirely sure myself! But I think that when unlikely events coincide, they might best be understood as if they were dream images: the nature of the image (or the green sloth) may have metaphorical significance. And the more startling and unlikely it is, the more it gets our attention—which may imply that it contains something worth attending to! Continue reading

Smoothing The Transitions

pillows 01After a long phase of insomnia, I’m finally sleeping very well. The trouble isn’t with sleeping, it’s with getting up in the morning! I wake slowly, still melted by sleepiness, still brimming with dreams. As the cold realization that it is time to get up begins to creep over me, I resist mightily.

First there’s denial: “Maybe I’ll check the clock and it will really be 2:00 AM….” Then anger: “Why should I have to get up? I don’t want to get up! I won’t get up!” Then bargaining: “Maybe I can sleep late this morning, then get up a couple hours earlier tomorrow?” Then depression: “What if I never get up? What if I just stay here until I die?” Then, finally, reluctant acceptance: “Okay, here we go. Push back the covers. Feet on the floor. Up, up, up!”

Sound familiar? Well, eventually, it dawned on me that I could make things a lot easier on myself. I realized that although I do need to get up, I don’t necessarily have to leave my delicious dreamy drowsiness behind. I can move slowly, savoring the sleep sensations and dream impressions as I begin my day. This is a revelation! Even if I have to get busy immediately, I can still smooth the transition by imagining this is all part of a dream…

I greet our three cats sleepily in the hall, and feel that they are strange, soft creatures of the night, coming to bring me gifts or messages. When Toby hollers a loud hello, it’s a wild cry of joy that makes my nerves tingle. When Fern nudges my ankle with her wet nose, and Annie bustles past me into the bedroom, I feel myself surrounded by impulsive, encouraging energies. Sounds and smells of alchemical experiments emanate from the kitchen, where Holly is making coffee. In the bathroom mirror, I look like someone else. Washing my hair, I feel the slippery suds and it seems that my mind is being soaped and rinsed along with my oddly heavy head.

The minutes go by, I go from room to room, and each time I turn on a light, the scene changes. For a little while, things are wonderfully strange, and then, gradually, I’m awake and it’s just the usual morning routine. Continue reading

The Moment Of Openness After The Dream

I find that the moments immediately after I wake up from a dream can be as vital and meaningful as the dream itself. This is especially true for me when my dreams seem to be stuck in an unpleasant pattern. Sometimes, something opens up in that first moment of waking that didn’t seem possible in the context of the complicated dream story. That waking-up moment represents stepping back from the dream, seeing it from the outside, so the dream story may be experienced in a larger context.

The things that happen in my recurring dreams can seem frustrating, mundane, discouraging, and all-too-familiar, but I notice that the way I feel and think immediately upon awakening from such dreams can be my “growing edge”—the awkward place where I am verging on new territory. The old stuff (which is perhaps what the dream has been showing me) is fading away—I am recognizing that it is a dream—and the liminal space between sleeping and waking is pure potential for as-yet-unknown possibilities that will ultimately be realized in my waking and dreaming life. Continue reading

Dream Fragments Squeezed Between Waking And Sleeping

Dreaming and waking are on a continuum, and often the distinction between them is not entirely clear. The vivid images or sounds that we sometimes experience as we are going to sleep (hypnagogic “hallucinations”), or as we are emerging from sleep (hypnopompic “hallucinations”) can be just as bizarre as any dream, but can also seem very much like random waking thoughts or sensations. Often, they are extremely fleeting and easily forgotten—so we might not even notice that we are dozing and our thoughts have become dreamy.

egg 01This often happens to me when I am meditating. I am trying (often trying too hard) to keep my mind alert and open, and to be aware of thoughts as they arise and pass. But fairly frequently the thoughts carry me off into elaborate planning or worry, and it takes a while for me to remember that I’m meditating and return to the breath. Then, just when I feel that  my mind is growing more steady, and the thoughts are coming and going without my getting too attached to them… Oops! My head drops heavily forward and I jerk awake. Sometimes, I can sense the sleepiness coming even before I begin to feel drowsy, because I notice that the passing thoughts are getting more peculiar... Oops, again! I startle awake, and feel embarrassed even though no one is here but me. Was I drooling? A deep breath, and try again. I can feel myself trying, trying, trying... And the fragmentary thoughts and images stream by…

There’s a duck trying to lay an egg that is much too big for her. She is straining hard, squeezing her eyes tight with the effort, grimacing…

I snap back to alertness, just as I’m asking myself whether ducks can grimace. It’s easy enough to take these brief images, or dream fragments, and unfold them just like any other dreams. Continue reading

A Bird-Watching Dream Walk

Dreamwork includes practice in looking at waking life as if it were a dream—where the ordinary may become extraordinary, experiences have multiple layers of metaphorical meaning, and anything is possible. This is a useful spiritual practice, because, really, the world we see when we look at things with the freshness of a dream-perspective is more “true to life”—and certainly more interesting—than the habitual, predictable world we think we inhabit as we go about our business in the usual way.

Here’s a creative approach (particularly recommended by Robert Moss) to getting in touch with the dream-like nature of waking life, and the responsive relationship between ourselves and our world. Suppose you have a problem or concern, or you just want to better understand your current situation: Formulate a question, and just as you might hold this question in mind before sleep and hope to dream some kind of answer, you can treat your day (or a part of your day) as if it were a dream. Pay attention to what happens, and trust that information pertinent to your question will emerge. Any unusual event, or pattern of events, will contain a message. Continue reading

Dreaming and Daydreaming to the Sound of the Ocean

desk and oceanI’ve got the window open to catch the breeze, but I’m easily distracted by sounds outside—tinny jangle of radio plus the occasional weed whacker—so I’m listening to some white noise of ocean waves to muffle the noise of the neighborhood. What kind of dream might this be, if this were a dream? I hear the shush and rush of ocean, and imagine waves lapping at my back door. There’s a print of the ocean hanging above my desk, facing me—so I can easily imagine the waves sweeping in from all directions. This is okay, because it’s warm and sunny. The breeze is easy, and the waves are gentle. My desk is a dinghy, riding in and out with each sliding swell. This is great. But it’s a daydream, not a dream.

What’s the difference between a daydream and a dream? Here’s one way of making the distinction: a daydream is an imaginative diversion, while a dream is an actual event. I make up the scenes of a daydream, and they tend to make sense, because my conscious mind tends to make sense of things. But with a dream, my conscious mind is present more as observer (the one who may or may not remember the dream) than as creator. The dream occurs in the same way that daily life occurs—I can assent to it and participate wholeheartedly, or I can dissent, and wrestle with it until I wake up, but it doesn’t require my consent in order to continue. Continue reading

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