compostIn my waking life, I am very happy in my work: I love teaching about dreams, facilitating dreamwork with individuals and groups, writing and exploring dreams in general… But a big part of my job is just the business of tracking a million details—and this can make me feel a bit crazy, even though I’m pretty good at it. I guess this sort of thing is part of most people’s lives these days: responding to e-mails, updating schedules and mailing lists, checking facts, creating new documents, planning and promoting events, social networking communication, troubleshooting website problems, etc. In the midst of the lists and reminders, it’s hard to find breathing space, and easy to lose touch with the meaning behind all this activity.

While all this is going on, I keep remembering why dreamwork is worthwhile—trying to let it help me stay grounded in my connection to the natural world, my desire to serve others, to learn and grow. Maybe I have another twenty years or so in this life, maybe less, maybe more—Am I experiencing this time fully, and giving myself to each moment? Where is this journey taking me, and how can I better participate in the unfolding process? I hope these are questions that we all take time to ask ourselves. We can also ask our dreams…

However, dreams are tricky—or perhaps “trickster-y.” They rarely give straightforward answers, and most dream-answers compound my questions with more questions. In fact, dreams respond to inquiries in the same way that waking life responds to dilemmas: through experiences that illustrate the nature and potential of the current situation. If my situation is complicated and entangled with my ideas about how things should be, then the experiences that come in response to my big questions will be similarly complicated and entangled.

Last night, I asked for dreams that would give me a sense of my direction in the midst of all these scattered activities. I wanted meaning, purpose, enlightenment. Of course, once in a while, dreams will actually come through with an elegant revelation that makes everything fall into place. But mostly not. Anyway, not last night.

My dreams were vivid, and I sensed that there was something profound that I could almost glimpse in the kaleidoscopic fragments as they turned and tumbled through my mind, forming patterns that fell apart as quickly as they came together.

I’m going through an initiation ceremony on the shrubby banks of a small lake in the town where I grew up, and my teacher is a toy plastic figurine about three inches tall… There’s a spacious room with many windows near the ocean, where I feel inspired but isolated… A chocolate shop has lots of delicious cakes and candies, but when I try to choose something, there really isn’t anything I want… I’m wandering the streets of a small town, with nowhere to go, and I notice from my reflection in a window that my hair has gotten very long…

The dreams felt a lot like my waking life—charged with resonant intensity, but going in too many directions at once and getting lost in the process. Does this actually constitute a response to my request for meaningful support from my dreams? Is it helpful in some way, or does it just perpetuate the feeling I was having already?

Lots of dreams do seem to reinforce the themes of daily life. If I’m feeling a lot of frustration in my waking life, I’ll probably have some frustration dreams. If I’m in a conflict with someone, I may have angry or resentful experiences in my dreams. If I’m simply over-tired, many of my dreams are likely to be lackluster and low-energy. What’s useful about this, anyway?

I’ve mentioned before (“Housekeeping Dreams”) that I don’t believe any dreams are just “garbage.” But maybe these fragmentary bits and pieces that seem barely memorable could be called compost dreams. When I asked for dreams that would help me to grow in my understanding of my situation, they didn’t give me the growth itself, but the stuff that will ultimately nourish that growth. And the stuff that will nourish that growth, is the same stuff that makes up the rest of my life, only in dreams it is broken up and scattered about, so it can then be broken down and reconstituted into something useful.

The jumble of dream emotions, images, ideas and energies leftover from waking life might seem like a pile of wasted garbage when I first wake up in the morning with the smell of it all still lingering. However, if I put my boots on and get out there with my pitchfork and turn the pile over a bit—if I let in some air and light, and give it some attention—well, then it starts to turn into the black gold that makes my garden grow. Right?

Honestly, the best thing about dreams is that they keep us guessing. They attract paradoxes and puzzles like a healthy compost heap attracts earthworms. The inconsistencies and uncertainties of dreams take our daily lives in one end, digest them, and deliver them out the other end (to put it delicately) as castings that make good crumbly soil. If we think we’re in charge of this process and try to keep those ambiguities away, then our leftovers are just going to pile up and get heavy and slimy and spoiled. So, I’ll keep turning over my compost dreams, and enjoy whatever odd critters I find in there, while giving the whole pile time to season and become something workable.