Healing is a hard word to define! I don’t think of healing as fixing or curing or solving, but as a process of moving toward wholeness. Healing experiences can include maturing or ripening—coming to fullness and realizing potential—but they may also include dissolution and death, which are essential to completion and new birth.

So, when I talk about healing dreams (as I have been in the last couple of posts), I don’t usually focus on those exceptional dreams that actually seem to initiate a miraculous cure to an intractable illness, or a perfect solution to an impossible dilemma. Such dreams do occur, and entire cultural/religious practices (like the ancient healing rites at temples dedicated to Asclepius) have been devoted to the incubation of dreams that will bring health, wealth, and happiness to the desperate.

There are stories of people afflicted by poverty who dream of a buried treasure in the backyard, and then find the treasure just where the dream said it would be. There are stories of people with terminal illnesses dreaming of a healing herb that ultimately cures them, or experiencing a healing within the dream itself (an infusion of light, a cleansing, or a surgical intervention) and awakening disease-free. You can find books full of these stories—and there’s little doubt that dreams can bring about healing that involves a total reversal of fortunes, a “cure.”

However, if we are looking for special “healing” dreams to solve our problems, we are likely to be disappointed. I believe the reason some rare dreams actually “fix” things is that in those particular situations true healing happens to coincide with fixing, curing, solving. Most of the time, healing is a more subtle process, and healing dreams work their “miracles” by moving toward balance within the intricate network of other factors in a dreamer’s life experience.

Any dream (just like any waking experience), has the potential to be healing. The energies that shape the patterns of our lives offer opportunities for wholeness through balance, growth, connection, renewal—even (and perhaps especially) when those energies seem unpleasant or disruptive. The more attention we give to the energy patterns of our dreams, the more likely we are to realize their potential.

Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron’s words about waking experiences apply equally to dreams:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” –Pema Chodron

The other morning, I woke up feeling overwhelmed by all the worries, all the troubles, all the chaos, tragedy, injustice, and pain in the world. It was hard to face the day, with its myriad tasks and decisions. In the midst of my inadequacy and exhaustion, I remembered a fragment of a dream:

Ascending a steep hill on a path through the cemetery, anxious about escaping a pursuer. But there are so many children with their parents, all running up this same path, carrying kites and shouting in excitement to one another. They want to catch the wind! At the top, some fly kites and we all share our troubles…

As Pema Chodron says, the key is “letting there be room”—a sense of spaciousness in each moment that allows the whole of life to unfold. This is healing.

I followed up on my dream by engaging my own sense of spaciousness as I went about the day’s tasks—seeking to balance my desire to get difficult things done with a deeper desire to be fully present and aware of my own freedom to choose how I would approach each open-ended moment.

Even though my dreams (and waking experiences) include struggles, losses, fears and loneliness, they also remind me that I might “catch the wind,” and let myself be carried on its healing breath. The in-breath balances the out-breath. And here we are together: sharing our troubles on a hilltop in a cemetery, with the wind all around us. Healing can take many forms. There are so many colorful kites!