Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Holographic Webs: The Close-Focus Approach to Long, Detailed Dreams

web 03When I am fortunate enough to remember long, detailed, vivid dreams—or when I get to listen to others as they tell such dreams—it’s only natural to feel a bit overwhelmed at first.

Some of the people I work with individually are great dreamers, and each dream they bring contains so much rich imagery, such incredible events, such real and meaningful interactions and settings… How do I begin to respond to these wonderful dreams?

And if I go through a phase in my own life when the dreams are abundant, elaborate and profound… How do I find time even to write them down? Never mind trying to unfold their stories and significance! To explore the many and varied possible approaches to every aspect of these dreams, I would have to spend my entire waking life working with my dreaming life!

Obviously, when faced with such an “embarrassment of riches” (too much of a good thing), it’s not feasible, useful, or necessary to make each amazing dream into a PhD dissertation (or even a term paper). There are two ways that I tend to approach these dreams: First, there’s the close focus approach, and then there’s the wide angle approach. I’ll talk about the first approach here, and then follow up with the second in the next post.

The close focus approach begins with the holographic concept that any part of the dream will contain the whole of the dream in microcosm. In other words, when I dream an elaborate story containing multiple scenes, I can focus in on one scene, explore the themes, feelings and associations I find there—and then step back to see how those same themes, feelings and associations may be manifested in other ways in other scenes and in the arc of the dream story as a whole. Or, with an even closer focus, I can choose a single image or event in the dream, unfold some of its personal, cultural and archetypal meanings (see “Two Basic Dreamwork Skills”) and then reflect on the ways that other images and events may echo these meanings throughout the dream.

These long, complex dreams are like mountain ranges, and in the close focus approach we are choosing to climb one peak from which to view the whole range. All of our dreams are actually such ranges, but more commonly they seem to be a chain of islands instead, because only the peaks are visible above the waters of forgetfulness. So dreamwork is usually a process of working with the peaks (the islands of remembered, partial dreams—the parts that stand out) and trying to intuit the rest of the range from the high points. When we can see the entire range in a long dream, the sheer magnitude of all those mountains can be too much to take in. We can only climb one mountain at a time, but the view from any one of them makes us aware of all the others.

To switch metaphors, this approach views a long dream as if it were “Indra’s Net”—a vast representation of the entire universe as an interwoven network of threads, with a multi-faceted jewel at every point where the threads intersect. In each facet of each jewel, the entire network is reflected.

As I write down my long dream, I do not try to describe the entire living web of scenes, events, images, interactions. I simply choose one facet of one jewel and give it my full attention—describing the scene or image fully. Then, I might jot brief phrases that refer to other jewels—other scenes or images—and these brief references will reflect upon each other in the light of what I’ve learned from exploring one part of the whole.

When I’m working with someone else’s dream, I’ll ask the dreamer where we should focus: What part of the dream has the most energy? If more than one natural focus emerges, we might focus on a few different places, one at a time. We turn these single jewels in the light, watching the reflections change. Soon, we are reminded of similar patterns in other images, other scenes of the dream. It may all come together in a dazzling web—or it may seem like more of a patchwork where some things fit or overlap, and some apparently don’t.

When I look back at a dream journal containing such holographic notes on a long dream, I probably won’t be able to remember the details of every scene mentioned in those brief references. But I will have an overall impression of the dream and its significance. When someone shares a long dream with me, and we use the close focus approach to explore it further, we don’t get to look into every part of the dream—but we go into some parts in detail, and then have a sense of the dream as a whole from the perspective of that part.

This approach can remind me to have a “light touch” in relation to dreamwork and dreams in general—not to hold on too tightly to dreams, or to any life experiences. Indra’s net sparkles because it is infinite and filled with light. When I try to hold on too tightly to every aspect of my dreams, or my memories, or my personal stories, I burden myself and prevent myself from moving freely.

It’s important to treasure dreams as the jeweled webs that they are, recognizing that they are ephemeral, and ever-changing. Long, powerful dreams shower us with the infinite abundance and the intricate interconnectedness of our lives—but such abundance becomes too much, becomes lifeless, if it’s held too tightly and made too weighty.

A particular dream is significant in this moment of experiencing and exploring it. Any life experience expresses its fullness in the moment of living it. I may take a photo, or write down a dream, but I shouldn’t allow my photo albums to become a preoccupation that clutters up my life, or my dream journal to become a locked bank vault. The true wealth of dreams, or waking experiences, does not sit in storage, but sparkles in the light and reflects different meanings as it moves. Like dew on a spider web in sunlight, the jewels evaporate eventually. Then, another morning, there are more jewels, more droplets, more dreams reflecting new possibilities.



  1. jcowles2001

    I like it! So true that the long, winding dreams can get us bogged down in the multiple details. Good advice, Kirsten. Thanks, Jenna

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