Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Category: Just About Dreams (Page 2 of 2)

Miscellaneous dream-related material

Halfway Down The Stairs: What Makes A Dream Worth Dreaming?

Some dreamworkers claim that it’s necessary to distinguish between dreams that are worthy of our attention and dreams that are not. I keep on disputing that claim (see “Housekeeping Dreams” and “Dream Composting”), but it must be admitted that although every dream, like every day of our lives, can be valuable and meaningful, some certainly do seem to be more valuable and meaningful than others.

In one exciting dream, for example, I had the opportunity to assist the Dalai Lama:

Dalai Lama Dream: First, he is an 80 year old man, then he is a little boy, then an infant, then a corpse, then a young man—and I am responsible for escorting (and sometimes carrying) him through all these transformations… Later, one of his attendants gives me a carafe full of thick liquid. But when I ask if it is mine, she says no. I hand it back and she gives it to me again, saying it is for me. I ask if I am supposed to keep it, and again she says no, so again I give it back. She returns it to me once more and tells me that it is for me to keep alive. After she has gone, I understand: the liquid is like a sourdough starter—I’ll set some aside, add to it, let it grow, keep it alive, until there is more than enough to give back…

This is indisputably important stuff! A meaningful role in the reincarnation of life itself! And what a great metaphor! It was satisfying to bring this dream to my peer dream group (along with a lot more detail that I don’t have room to include here)—and they added their own insights until, like a good yeasty dough, the dream’s already-evident potential was expanded further still…

Of course, some dreams demonstrate their qualities and get our attention right away. Sometimes, we know a dream is significant because (as with the “Dalai Lama Dream”) it has a big theme, or a clever twist. Sometimes, its emotional impact makes it stand out. Maybe it’s a frightening nightmare, or maybe it’s a transcendent revelation, or maybe it’s just stunningly beautiful, but whatever it is, we know we’re onto something.

Halfway Down 01And then, there are all of the other dreams. The ones where the bathroom is filthy, or I can’t remember the telephone number, or my hair is green and sticky, or I’m arguing furiously with someone very stubborn, or there’s no cake left at the buffet… These dreams have emotional content, but it’s ordinary emotion—nothing special. Like the familiar diversions and distractions of a typical day, the dream events don’t impress.

A typical recent dream of mine reflected this kind of ordinary emotion, in an ordinary way. I’m still grieving over the death of my mother, but the feelings are mostly just a part of me now, a part of my life. I’m reminded of her, remember that she is gone and, for a while, I feel lost and sad. This feeling presented itself quietly in my dream:

Halfway down the stairs: I stop halfway down a flight of dusty wooden stairs, and I just sit. I am sad, and I need to stop here and rest and feel the loneliness of my losses. I sit quietly, by myself.

This uneventful dream doesn’t make a statement or bring a message. It’s just a feeling, just an experience. Most of our days are filled with experiences like this—our doing and our being, our ups and our downs, our neither-here-nor-there happenings. Looking back over the years, we’ll remember the big events, or the things that led up to the big events, or the things that followed the big events… But whether we remember them or not, there have been a lot of other things going on besides crises. Between the big events and beyond the big events, there were those halfway-down-the-stairs experiences. Continue reading

Don’t Miss A Post! Subscribing is Free and Easy…

rainbow 03

The Compass Dreamwork Blog:
Expanding the Imagination, Following the Dream!

When you subscribe to the Compass Dreamwork blog, you’ll receive the latest article, hot off the presses, on the third Tuesday of each month.

All you need to do is look in the sidebar to your right and find the “Subcribe to Compass Dreamwork” box. Then type your e-mail address, push the button, and voila! You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail, and once you confirm, you’ll be a subscriber. Your e-mail address will be private, and won’t be used for any purpose other than sending you the blog posts.

(If you’re already a subscriber—thank you! Scroll on for recent blog posts… And please recommend us to your friends!)

Slowing Down the Blog

snail 01The digital world can be a whirlwind, and I think it’s time to slow things down a bit! For a year now, I’ve been posting articles to the Compass Dreamwork blog at least once a week. Whew! That’s a lot for me to write, while I’m also doing individual and group dreamwork and spiritual direction, teaching programs on dreams, and just trying to have a reasonably peaceful life. And it’s a lot for you to read in the midst of your other activities as well. I definitely want you to keep reading and keep coming back to the website, but, really,  there’s no big rush. Let’s take our time and really pay attention to what we write and read.

So, beginning now, full articles will only appear here twice a month, instead of every week. You’ll see a new post on the first and third Tuesdays of each month… and maybe occasional extras in between.

(If you want to read more, all the posts from the past year are still available here on the website. Just take a look at “categories” or “archives” in the sidebar to the right, and choose what you’d like to read from the drop-down menus. There’s quite a collection!)

Are there other ways to keep in touch with Compass Dreamwork? Absolutely. The newsletter will come out around the second week of each month (contact me to get on the newsletter mailing list, if you’re not already there), and I’ll also be posting quotes and thoughts and information about dreams on the Compass Dreamwork Facebook page.

Please stay tuned, and dream on!

Illness Dreaming

flame 01When we get sick, what happens to our dreams? Like most questions about dreams, there is no simple answer. Sometimes, illness or medication disrupts sleep patterns and makes dreams more fragmentary and difficult to remember. Sometimes (especially with fever), it’s just the opposite: dreams become abundant and detailed, almost hallucinatory in their vividness. Often, dreams during an illness give information about the condition of the body, and may support healing processes. All of this varies from individual to individual, and from illness to illness.

As I write this, I’m feeling pretty crummy. I’ve got a typical mid-winter virus: my nose is stuffed, my lungs feel heavy, my whole body aches. I’m weak and shaky, and I keep spacing out—just staring at the computer screen in long, empty fugues, forgetting what I’m supposed to be doing. Oh yes. Here I am. These were my dreams last night:

Trouble With Fire: I’m staying in a remote cabin with a friend, and I keep thinking we should build a fire in the woodstove. It’s getting cold, but I’m moving very slowly and sleepily, and my friend’s eating breakfast, and neither of us manage to get the fire going. My friend has a standing lamp, but instead of bulbs it has lit candle stubs, burning low. I’m impatient with my friend, telling her we need to blow the candles out before we leave, because it would be dangerous to leave them burning like this. The flames are apparently caused by some kind of short circuit. Turning off the lamp or blowing out the candles doesn’t work—they keep burning. We’re wasting fuel, and it’s not safe, and doesn’t give enough light or warmth…  

The Broken Bridge: I’m supposed to be getting ready to go to the airport and go home, but just keep lying down, with no motivation to move. I’m in an empty, high-ceilinged, blue room, like a movie theater without seats, lying on a small raised platform. Where the screen would be, there’s a beautiful, detailed blue mural on the wall, several stories tall—a scene like a Chinese painting. There’s a village in a narrow river valley between steep, craggy mountains. A bridge—maybe a railroad bridge—runs between the peaks above the village, but it is broken right down the middle. Both the bridge itself and the trestles that support it are broken, so that there’s a wide gap between the two halves. It looks like it’s been this way for a long time.

If someone had told me these dreams, even without any context at all, I might have guessed that some of the images could refer to physical illness. Fire can often have something to do with the body’s vital energies, and anything broken or damaged can potentially refer to a physical condition. Such images have a lot of other meanings and implications as well, of course. But, the fact that the dream-self (the “I” character in the dream) is consistently lethargic also points in the direction of physical illness. So, if someone brought me this dream, I’d probably ask about the dreamer’s general health. Continue reading

Opening to Dreams

[This post is somewhat longer than usual, since it’s a whole “sermon” that I presented at Eastrose Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s about the value of paying attention to dreams and other life experiences, about “dreamwork as spiritual practice,” about what “bad” dreams have to offer, and about the transformative gifts that special, numinous dreams bring—to our lives, and to the world.]

What is useful or meaningful about paying attention to dreams? The same question might be applied to waking experiences, and it really comes down to the larger question: What is useful or meaningful about paying attention to anything? The world’s spiritual traditions agree that paying attention to our lives—being mindful, aware, present—is essential to living fully. Life itself becomes meaningful only when we pay attention to our experience.

Dreams are experiences, in every sense. When we pay attention to dreams, we open ourselves to a fuller life—more meaning, more options, more learnings, more openings, more genuine connection. We spend a third of our lives in sleep and dreams, and during that time, we are having experiences, whether we remember them or not. In dreams, we can experience perceptions in all five senses; we can experience emotions; we can experience states of being that enlarge our understanding of ourselves, others, and the nature of reality: states of being such as love, awe, compassion, grief, gratitude, wonder, humor, joy.

We can also experience unpleasantness, confusion, fear, shame, revulsion, and rage. Events occurring in a dream have almost exactly the same effect on the brain as events occurring while awake; to the brain, dream events are real events. By paying attention to what goes on in our dreams, we give ourselves the opportunity to live that third of our lives as fully as we might live our waking lives. Continue reading

Dreaming Deep

roots 03When I decided to focus my life’s work primarily on dreams, I was following a deep sense of trust that dreamwork can include everything I care about, everything I believe is truly meaningful—from my concern for the well-being of the natural world (including the human world), to my sense of the power of death/renewal cycles and “threshold” places in our lives, to my commitment to the transformative power of authentic listening and presence, to the essential wonder of the multi-faceted, interdependent, ever-changing patterns of relationship among all beings on earth.

In the beginning, I couldn’t express, to myself or others, exactly how dreams could be so significant in so many different ways. But the process of actually engaging more actively with my own dreams and the dreams of others has increasingly affirmed my initial intuitive sense that dreams are pathways to depth experiences. In these blog posts, I’ve been learning as I write, and exploring new ways of articulating what I am learning.

I keep coming back to the word deep. I’m not so much concerned with going (or getting) high on the spiritual journey—“going high” tends to mean having peak experiences, which can be wonderful (and dreams can give us such experiences at times), but can also be ungrounded and hierarchical in relation to other people and the natural world. Striving to attain spiritual heights can lead to inflated attitudes (“my epiphany is bigger than your epiphany”), excessive emphasis on light without respect for the dark, and a lack of compassion or commitment to the “real world” challenges of our shared existence.

By contrast, going deep means including everything, finding the heart core and living it fully. When we spiral upward and outward, we expand but get further apart; when we spiral downward and inward, we come together in the deep places, finding the ground from which all life grows. The two directions balance each other, but depth must be the place where we begin, and the place where we return, before beginning again.

“The problem of our time is that we are like uprooted trees. Our roots no longer extend down into the inner depths to nourish us, so our growth cannot reach upward into the realm of the spirit. Our task will be to see how dreams are like roots that reach far down into the nourishing depths of the earth of our souls, and help energy flow upward so our growth and development are possible.”  -John Sanford

When Holly and I first moved into our tiny house with its scruffy little lot, we planted forsythia and dogwood, raspberries, a Japanese maple, lots of daffodil and crocus bulbs, rock rose, daphne,  fennel, thyme and sage. We weren’t “gardening” in any organized way, just digging down and getting into relationship with this place we were calling home.

It wasn’t a one-way relationship. The earth responded. In the middle of our vegetable patch, an oak tree sprouted. Because we didn’t think it belonged there (at first) we both tried to pull it out. But although it was only a slender stem with two or three leaves, it already had deep roots and wouldn’t be pulled. We soon recognized that this tree was at home as much as we were. The vegetable garden could be moved, but the oak tree was staying right here. Continue reading

What Is the Motivation for Dreamwork?

This morning, I read something about the Buddhist perspective on “intention”—the importance of being clear about our motivations. Ideally, all our actions should be motivated by the desire to benefit others, rather than the desire to benefit only ourselves. Putting others first leads to happiness, not only for those who benefit directly from our altruism. Selfish motivations tend to lead to unhappiness all around. In my experience with hospice work, I have found this to be true. Instead of being caught up in my own problems, I get to experience the deep joy of really paying attention to other human beings, and focusing all of my energies on their needs, their concerns. In practice, however, our motivations are always mixed, and our intentions are often unclear.

What are my intentions and my motivations with Compass Dreamwork? I started this organization because I feel that dreams represent a tremendous untapped potential in our lives, and I have repeatedly expressed the conviction that working with dreams can have a positive impact on the ways we relate to others, and ultimately on the well-being of our communities and our world. But, on a day-to-day basis, dreamwork is also my livelihood, and I look for opportunities to work with dreams because I want to use my skills and experience in dreamwork to make a living. It’s important for me to acknowledge this, yet if I ask myself about my real intentions, I can honestly say that I believe dreamwork can be beneficial in a far-reaching, mind-boggling, open-ended way. Continue reading

Newer posts »

© 2021 Compass Dreamwork

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑