Some dreams are very good at keeping me humble. They remind me that I’m not the center of the universe, while simultaneously engaging my attention in everything that is going on around “me,” everything other than myself that is ultimately essential to who and what I really am.

A humbling dream:

Connecting the Student with her True Teacher: I have a student who has been working with me for a long time. But I realize that there is another teacher she really needs to meet. I go to great lengths to create an opportunity for my student and this teacher to come together, and then I get out of the way and watch how they connect. They have great chemistry and understand each other in a way that is beyond me. For the remainder of the dream, their dynamic learning/teaching relationship plays out, and I’m not actually even present as a character. Yet there’s a pervasive sense of joy at the “rightness” of this unfolding process. I am just a witness, but feel fortunate to have been a part of it.

One excellent way of looking at dreams [“Two Basic Dreamwork Skills”] is to see everything in the dream as an aspect of the dreamer’s whole Self. In other words, when I connect the student with her true teacher in my own dream, I am also connecting the student aspect of myself with a particular teacher aspect of myself. The dream self (the “I” character in the dream) is a teacher, too—but she is a kind of teacher that is closer to my waking identity, closer to my ego. The other teacher is deeper, less familiar. The relationship between the student and that deep teacher (the “Inward Teacher,” as Quakers call “that of God” within each of us) is beyond “me,” beyond my ego, beyond what I know of myself.

Dreams tend to humble the ego with subtlety and sometimes humor. Often, the central “I” character in a dream fades into the background, or becomes embarrassed, inhibited or diminished, while other characters seem increasingly significant. The narrator is forgotten as we get caught up in the story. In this way, a larger awareness, a larger sense of “Self” that we don’t ordinarily recognize, has an opportunity to emerge.

What if we looked at our waking lives the same way? What if we recognized that whenever we are humbled by our circumstances, required to adjust and adapt to others and our environment, we are actually giving way to more potentialities within and beyond ourselves? What if the ego is stepping aside so that a larger sense of being, which we share with others and the world around us, can be expressed in a more balanced way? What if we all recognized that we are participating in a great unfolding process, rather than running our own separate shows?

Since I’ve been in my fifties, most of my lessons seem to be about humility, in one form or another. Even as I am maturing into my full role as a teacher and leader in some ways, I am learning that this role is a humble one—knowing when to step aside and encourage others to step forward is at the heart of it. At first, humility can be a tough lesson. My ego takes some big hits and goes down fighting, making the whole process harder than it needs to be. But lately, I’ve been experiencing the joy of it, too.

Another humbling dream:

The Museum is Still Wonderful, In Spite of Restrictions: I’m visiting a special place [that has appeared in previous dreams]—a science and art museum that also includes an aquarium and wilderness park. But the administration has set up new restrictive policies. Now we all have to go in one direction through the exhibits rather than exploring on our own, and we have to attend an amateur presentation by the museum’s sponsors first—like a talent show or TV commercial. I feel disappointed at all this, and some people just leave, but I decide to make the best of it and enjoy the experience anyway. The presentation turns out to be fun and silly, and as I enter the museum itself, I realize that I’ll get to see the exhibits in a new way by going along with the crowd this time. It’s a wonderful place, and I get particular pleasure from watching other people appreciate the things I’ve appreciated by myself for so long…

Not needing to get what I want. Not needing to be right. Not needing to win. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to rest in this place and let go of “my” needs long enough to take pleasure in things as they are?

Easier said than done, but still. All through my chores the other day, I was looking forward to getting outside, to sit in the shade and enjoy the warm, sweet afternoon… But, when I finally got there, I was just setting up my lawn chair when my neighbor turned on his radio outside: blasting static and shouting music. My first response was to have a tantrum. I was about to storm back into the house and spend the rest of the day sulking with the windows shut. That would show him! But then I let it go, and accepted a humbler option. I put on earphones and listened to the recorded sounds of a bubbling brook. Sure, I would have preferred plain quiet and birdsong—but I still had a fine afternoon. I got to look at the open sky, enjoy the fragrance of the grass and the feel of the breeze… and when the radio noise broke through, I reminded myself that having neighbors is what makes it a neighborhood.

A lot of my dreams are kind of like that. I take what I get, and I learn from it (often whether I like it or not). I realize there’s more to the story than just me. Guess what? I’m not in charge. It keeps me humble.