Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

What Is the Motivation for Dreamwork?

This morning, I read something about the Buddhist perspective on “intention”—the importance of being clear about our motivations. Ideally, all our actions should be motivated by the desire to benefit others, rather than the desire to benefit only ourselves. Putting others first leads to happiness, not only for those who benefit directly from our altruism. Selfish motivations tend to lead to unhappiness all around. In my experience with hospice work, I have found this to be true. Instead of being caught up in my own problems, I get to experience the deep joy of really paying attention to other human beings, and focusing all of my energies on their needs, their concerns. In practice, however, our motivations are always mixed, and our intentions are often unclear.

What are my intentions and my motivations with Compass Dreamwork? I started this organization because I feel that dreams represent a tremendous untapped potential in our lives, and I have repeatedly expressed the conviction that working with dreams can have a positive impact on the ways we relate to others, and ultimately on the well-being of our communities and our world. But, on a day-to-day basis, dreamwork is also my livelihood, and I look for opportunities to work with dreams because I want to use my skills and experience in dreamwork to make a living. It’s important for me to acknowledge this, yet if I ask myself about my real intentions, I can honestly say that I believe dreamwork can be beneficial in a far-reaching, mind-boggling, open-ended way.

I trust the experiences I have had with my own dreams, and with the dreams of others. Here are some of the reasons why I believe dreams can benefit all of us:

  • Dreams present problems and questions in new ways, allowing for unexpected resolutions in otherwise intractable situations.
  • Dreams get us in touch with our creativity, playfulness, and spontaneity, which helps us to contribute meaningfully to our communities.
  • Dreamwork allows us to examine the ways that we project unwanted aspects of ourselves onto others, thus giving us the opportunity to take responsibility for those projections rather than demonizing “the other.”
  • Dreamwork helps us bring more awareness to our experiences, so that we can be more present in our lives, and relate directly with the things that frighten or repel us.
  • Dreams show us that things are not black-and-white, but paradoxical: every emotion, idea, image or interaction contains contradictions—and these contradictions generate life energy.
  • The dreams of all people everywhere contain significant shared elements, which can help us to recognize what we have in common.
  • Dreams can give us glimpses of transcendent experiences, which allow us to face the challenges in our lives with a sense that there is some larger meaning underlying events.
  • Dreamwork in groups allows us to benefit from the dreams of others, and promotes sharing that goes beyond “small talk,” emotional issues, and habitual modes of communication.

Some of the most powerful experiences I have had in my life occurred in dreams. And some of the deepest learnings I have witnessed in others came through working with them on their dreams.

I could go on and on, but that’s enough for now. I’m motivated enough for the moment! How about you?



  1. kirstenbackstrom

    Yes! That is so well said, Travis. I’ve found the same in my own work. Dreams are an open doorway into the deepest places, within us and between us.

  2. Travis Wernet

    Fantastic Kirsten! I also have benefitted greatly from several of the items you mention on your list here and I am especially reminded of the thought that the space within a contradiction is a holy ground… I would also add that, as I too work primarily with dreams as a means of livelihood, that a big portion of what motivates and inspires me is the rich “pleroma”, plentitude of ways that working with dreams in service to others also shows me my own deep potentials for growth and invites me to ever-new layers of surprising paths towards awareness and totality.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful and rich site, the intriguing topics and your deep offerings!

    Travis Wernet 😉

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