Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

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. For example, if I play with the duck/egg image: The duck’s effort is just like the effort I’ve been making to stay awake. Also, just before I sat down to meditate, I’d been working on a blog post (like this one)—becoming aware as I wrote that it was getting too long, too big. Am I trying too hard to say too much? Are my eggs just too big to be laid, or for anyone to swallow? Also: Why a duck and not a chicken? Perhaps because ducks are water birds, and water has to do with depth, emotion, the unconscious mind. Plus, ducks have bigger mouths than chickens—prone to talking too much, like Daffy. Ducks are divided into skimmers (who feed on the surface), dippers (who duck below the surface and bob right up again), and divers (who plunge to the bottom and can stay under for quite a while). I suspect that this duck is a dipper—just like my blogging: dipping into the topic, splashing about a bit, not really expecting to get to the bottom of it. But the egg is just as important as the duck. An egg is all about potential, new beginnings. You can’t know what’s inside until it hatches. When you “lay an egg,” it means your performance is a flop. But, the duck hasn’t even managed to lay an egg, yet.

It’s remarkable how much can be found in an image that lasted only a few seconds! And I’m just getting started! As I toss around associations to duck eggs, I feel myself getting drowsy again, my thoughts becoming stranger, my images more vivid…

This seems like a good time to stop writing, while my “egg” blog is still a bit smaller than my other recent efforts. Please take this small egg, and make a snack of it. Or share your own eggs: Have any dream images, or other experiences, floated through your half-awake, half-asleep mind lately?



  1. kirstenbackstrom

    Thank you for your kind words, Jackie. It’s great to “hear your voice” (and I can picture you as I think of you). Actually, I am prone to taking myself too seriously all too often! I try to take a daily dose of “lightening up”–and dreams are sure good at making me laugh at myself. I appreciated what you wrote about not being able to read the font, and taking it (lightheartedly) as if it were a dream image maybe meaning “look closely.” It’s so useful to look at everything that happens as meaningful. So, aside from duck eggs, I need to pay attention to things like why I always let the beans sit on the burner too long and get scorched, and what it’s all about when I try to talk while brushing my teeth so the toothpaste foam spills down my chin and onto my clean shirt. Sounds like I’m either too slow to react, or too impatient and careless–or both. Either way, my timing is off.

  2. jlyaeger@gundersen.lutheran.org

    Kirsten, I love seeing your smiling face on the website. Thanks for the Egg! This font is nearly invisible as I type. I wonder what it this is trying to teach me….look closely maybe? I love your style.you are a deep thinker but you also have such a good sense of humor and never seem to take yourself too seriously.

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