Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Category: Pilgrimage Dreams (Page 2 of 2)

New Facebook Page: Camino Dreaming

Please join me on my pilgrimage, by following “Camino Dreaming” on Facebook!

Camino Dreaming 01Pilgrimage and dreamwork have a lot in common. When I work with dreams, I’m aware of how dreams open our minds and hearts, increase our flexibility, and teach us to be wanderers in a strange land—accepting, appreciating, and adapting to whatever we encounter, giving and receiving as we go. And so, naturally, I’ve also been drawn to pilgrimage, which is about many of these same aspects of the spiritual journey.

As I prepare to walk the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances route—about 500 miles), my pilgrimage has already begun, and my dreams are guiding me. I walk every day, and appreciate the world around me in Portland, Oregon. Soon, in early May, I hope to “walk” into the next phase of the journey, crossing a continent and an ocean, and stepping onto the Camino itself…

[Click on the picture to visit the Facebook page]

Gentle Adventures: Dreaming Courageously, Without Catastrophe

dark road 01Adventures don’t need to be awful. I need not be awe-struck, but perhaps can be awe-stroked instead. In my dreams, I’ve been taking challenges in stride, bringing trust to bear on new experiences, finding courage in going forward slowly, feeling my way, with humility and willingness.

Dream of Walking Into The Dark: The car has broken down, and my companions are gone. I’m stranded at a desolate gas station with two men who are up to no good. I’m their prisoner, but we keep up a friendly pretense that we are just fellow travelers, while I try to figure out how to get away, and they try to decide what to do with me. We wait while the car is being repaired. It is dusk; we’ve been waiting for hours. Perhaps I could walk ahead? I know there’s a country store at the other side of the dense forest; from there, I could get help. The men pretend to go along with this, but in fact intend me harm. Either they’ll come after me and eliminate me where no one else can see, or I’ll be waylaid by bandits in the woods. I know they’re plotting, but also know that if I don’t let fear take over, I can outwit them and reach safety.

I believe it is less than a mile to the store. As I set out, darkness sets in. There is no moon. The road curves, and I run my hand along a bamboo fence as a guide into the total darkness of the forest. Then, the fence ends, the black woods close in on on both sides. I hold back my fear as I go, feeling the road with my feet. Bright eyes can be glimpsed in the deepest darkness, but they don’t look fierce and I don’t need to fear them. I’m following the road’s edge closely, so I won’t stray and wander off into the depths of the forest. I keep walking… Now, I realize it’s actually seven miles through this forest, and I prepare myself to accept a much longer journey than I had anticipated. I expect real danger ahead, but I know I can face it when it comes.

This dream reminds me of an all-night hike I took in my late teens, when I lived on an island off the coast of Maine. On my way home after midnight, I followed an unlit road that spiraled down a mountain, in total darkness, alone. The rhythm of my slapping footsteps on the sloping pavement was soothing and hypnotic. The downward road seemed to go on and on for hours, until I forgot myself. I was inseparable from the sounds and sensations of walking, from the clouded night sky, from the spiraling road.

These days, life seems a lot more complicated. As I prepare for the pilgrimage I’m planning to take, on the Camino de Santiago, in a couple of months [see “Pilgrimage: Walking the Way of the Dream” and “Surrender, Dreamer!“]—I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of my preparations, and regularly wrestle with the wish to control the process, to make everything manageable. There’s the challenge of getting physically strong enough. There’s the challenge of coping with my anxieties and habit patterns. And there’s the plain ridiculous effort of organizing transportation, communication, insurance, finances, supplies and logistics.

The goal is to place myself on an unfamiliar path, adapt to the circumstances I encounter, and just keep walking. So how come the preliminaries require so much planning? Well, we live in a complicated world. I long to let go, and step into the darkness without decisions or drama, feeling my way along, trusting something other than my own plans.

In the midst of all this, my dreams remind me that the important thing about any journey is to step forward—to let it carry me where I need to go. These months of preparation for the Camino are part of the camino, part of the journey, part of the way. And, as in the dream, I’m afraid but I just need to begin and go on. Continue reading

Surrender, Dreamer!

backpack 02You know those times in the middle of the night when you wake up and start worrying, and every challenge you anticipate becomes an impossible obstacle, or a catastrophe waiting to pounce? Late night anxieties are notoriously difficult, perhaps because on the edge of the dreamworld we are especially vulnerable to our strongest emotions, and prone to experiencing every passing thought or impression as portentous. But these very characteristics of dreaminess (increased emotional tone, powerful sense of significance) can also be openings to inspiration, or invitations to creatively explore our fears.

So, the other night, half-awake, I found myself imagining the realities of a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (a journey I plan to take next spring). First, there’s just the panicky certainty that I’m not up to it, and then, gradually, a weird mix of anxiety and anticipation. I imagine myself arriving alone in some large city in Europe, jet-lagged and disoriented, making my way by train or bus to a small village in France or Spain (still haven’t settled on the exact starting point), finding food and shelter for the night, then setting out to walk 10-15 miles a day, carrying an awkward backpack, for almost two months. I imagine sleeping in crowded hostels, coping with mountains, rain, cold, heat, exhaustion, injuries, illness, loneliness, food and bathroom issues, and utterly unfamiliar people and surroundings…

The prospect is, to say the least—daunting. The middle-of-the-night effect amplifies the out-of-control feeling of my imaginings, but I hold myself poised on that edge, balancing, leaning forward, allowing the fears to rise and flow and pass. I surrender to the experience, as if I will be leaving for the airport in the morning (no turning back!), or as if in a dream where everything that happens has an all-or-nothing spontaneity. Continue reading

Pilgrimage: Walking the Way of the Dream

backpack 01In both my dreaming and my waking life, I’ve been going through a lot of dramatic changes very quickly since my mother’s death last April. After three difficult years when change came only slowly and laboriously, I found myself broken open by grief and loss, so that I could be finally, fully available for transformation. My family, my work, my friendships, my health, my identity and my understanding—everything has been swept into this cascade of change.

When such spiritual opportunities arise, however painful, the one vital life task is to keep on opening up to whatever comes next. What comes next will necessarily be unexpected—because all ordinary expectations have been overturned in the surging events.

What came to me was pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a way that this wide open, empty, swirling space of transition becomes a movement, a journey, a compelling process rather than an end in itself. A pilgrimage is an inward and outward journey shared with strangers, shared with Spirit, shared with the landscape of our larger lives. It is a passage through and beyond the fears and obstacles that seemed to define us, a passage through and beyond ego and ignorance, through and beyond the separate struggles of our personal history… and into our interconnectedness, our interdependence. It’s a long, humbling walk through the wilderness—a wilderness made up of familiar features seen in strange new ways, familiar patterns shattered and reshaped.

In short, a pilgrimage is a lot like a dream. As we go to sleep each night, we empty ourselves, willingly, of our identities. We put on our pilgrim’s robes (or pajamas), and we lie down and let go. Then, we walk into other worlds where we encounter the impossible as possible.

We walk toward the light of the coming morning, but, on the way, we find our whole lives scrambled and spread before us in a different light: the light of possibility. Our embarrassing secrets are revealed; our true hearts are touched; our pet peeves come out to play; and the overwhelming, creative abundance of the universe becomes inescapable. The dream is inexhaustible, and it utterly exhausts our efforts to grasp the gist of it. Later, we may unfold the dream story—but in the midst of the dream itself, we simply meet each moment of experience as a step that carries us forward, followed by another step, another moment, and another. Continue reading

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