Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Category: Pilgrimage Dreams (page 1 of 2)

A Dream of Surrender and Hope: DreamTime Article

Click on the photo to read the article, and enter the woods…

For the Spring 2017 issue of DreamTime Magazine (a wonderful publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreams), I wrote a short article that really expresses the depths of my heart in these troubled times. My own dreams often invite surrender and offer hope—and I believe that such dreams can change our lives and our world in essential ways.

Please take a few minutes to read the article (by clicking on the photo)… And let’s talk about dreaming our way forward. How do your  dreams guide you? How might you choose to surrender old ways to follow a different path? And where do you find courage and hope?

The Dream’s Way

What is truly meaningful in our dreams and in our waking lives? How do we find resonance in dreams that seem vague, disturbing, incoherent or unpleasant? We all experience a range of frequencies of dreams and dream-like states every day and night. Some of these experiences are beautiful and breathtaking, but some are difficult to appreciate, and many are not particularly moving or memorable. How do we “tune in” to the ground of our collective being that is perfectly and uniquely expressed in each moment of dream experience?
-Kirsten Backstrom (from “The Dream’s Way”)

Pilgrimage can open the way to the dream world, and dreams can open the way to a spiritual path, but walking and dreaming must both unfold on their own terms.  When I walked the Camino de Santiago last year, I knew I was in for an adventure, and that I would be well outside my comfort zone—but I didn’t know how I would handle the experience, and what my dreams had in store for me…

At the recent 2016 Psiber-Dreaming Conference (an exciting international on-line event that explores the outer reaches of dreamwork and dream studies), I offered a presentation called  “The Dream’s Way: Resonance in Dream Experiences on the Camino de Santiago .”  

Please Click on the Photo, to read this presentation:

 

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part 4: A Larger Perspective

homeless-4-pilgrimThere are so many ways to look at a dream, so many possible meanings. The “truth” about the dream is finally up to the dreamer—if a particular approach resonates for the dreamer, then that approach is meaningful and valuable. However, some approaches to dreams, and some kinds of meanings, have a value that transcends the dreamer as an individual. Some dream images and stories can be universally recognized, and some ways of looking at a dream invite us all to participate in the dream’s wisdom, creativity, and abundance.

In the last three posts, I’ve been exploring my own recent dream about homelessness in ways that give me new insights into myself and my life. I hope that those insights may also speak to others, but the dreamwork approaches I applied were derived from my own feelings about the dream’s story and my own associations with its images. In this final post of the series, I’ll be listening for the voices within the dream that need to be heard, not only by me, but by all of us.

In the waking world and in the dream world, some voices come through loud and clear (especially those that align with our personal agendas), while those that disagree with us, or mumble in the background, or speak in whispers or foreign languages, or through silence or “nonsense”—are likely to be ignored. In my dream, there’s a homeless man whose point of view is hard to hear—which makes sense since most of us aren’t in the habit of listening to people like him. He doesn’t say much out loud, but his actions and attitudes can tell us a lot.

Here’s the dream one more time—and let’s pay attention to the perspective of “the homeless man” (for the full dream, see “Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”):

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: A homeless man who is our friend comes to our door for shelter on a cold, wet night, and we offer him food, a warm bath, and a sleeping bag on the couch. He has a little dog—a female papillon named “Pierrot.” While he sleeps, we realize that he can no longer take care of himself and his dog. It seems like a  betrayal to suggest this, but the only solution is for the dog to be adopted by someone else. Unwilling to give up his papillon, the man leaves—but soon returns, because he is too sick to survive out there. He seems to agree, reluctantly, to let Pierrot go, though for now he withdraws again to the sleeping bag, saying nothing.

I’m leaving out the final scene about the dog’s potential future, since I’ve explored that pretty thoroughly in previous posts. It seems that the dog will find a home, but what will happen to the man? Will he return to the streets alone? Or will the separation allow him a new freedom, and perhaps even a chance to have a home of his own?

When I took the dream literally [in Part One], the focus was on my shame and guilt over how painfully unsatisfactory the “only solution” is for the homeless man. Separating him from his dog may relieve him of the burden of taking care of her, but it also leaves him without a companion to share his hard life. This certainly reflects a real-world problem, but doesn’t really give the dream figure of the homeless man room to be more than an unresolved case for social services.

When I looked at the dream symbolically [in Parts Two and Three], I focused on the way that the dog, and the dreamer (me), were transformed by finding a new way of relating to home, and began to consider what the “homeless man” might represent. I wrote:

“From this perspective, the man represents an identity that has become exhausted, worn down, unsustainable. This ‘homeless’ identity has been ‘out in the cold’ and is finally being acknowledged, invited inside, and given care and attention. Along with the care and attention comes a realization that the soul (the papillon) cannot survive if she remains connected to this identity. The soul needs a new home, which her companion (the homeless figure) is no longer able to provide.”

What does the homeless figure himself have to say about this? Well, in the dream, he doesn’t speak, but still communicates eloquently. It is significant that the dream opens with his willingness to reach out for help. His vulnerability is dignified, as he appears “at the door,” in need, and turns himself over to his friends (my partner and I) in the expectation that his needs will be met. If I see the dream from his perspective, I can see that he has made a choice to step forward and put himself and his dog in our care—and, in dream terms, this choice could be considered a “willing sacrifice.” He is giving up his life as he has known it, at least for one night, and doing this for the sake of other, more important, concerns: immediate comfort and safety, and perhaps a new life. Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part 3: Metaphor & Imagery

path & wallI’m pretty sure it’s true that “no dreams come just to tell you what you already know” [from Jeremy Taylor’s “Dream Work Tool Kit”]. There’s always value in looking further, letting the dream take us into unknown territory. My recent dream about a homeless man being separated from his dog troubled me, and dreams that trouble me suggest that it’s particularly important to expand the bounds of “what I already know.” Can I see beyond the troubling first impression? Can I find more meaning here than meets the eye?

I started with what I could easily see by taking the dream literally [“Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”], and then listened for resonance between the dream and my own recent experiences walking the Camino de Santiago [“Dreaming of Homelessness, Part Two”]. But both of these approaches kept well within the realm of what I already know—about the dream and about myself. Now, I’d like to tap into the dream’s core imagery, its metaphoric energy source. This is still a somewhat personal, psychological approach, but the dream gives me a boost so I can peek over the wall at the edge of my conscious imagination.

When we pick up the symbols that generate the dynamic life force in a dream and hold them to the light, rainbow patterns flash from every facet. Through metaphor and imagery, personal projections glitter and unfold into multiple dimensions that reflect universal meanings.

Here’s a short version of the dream, emphasizing some key images (for the full dream, see Part One):

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: A homeless man comes to my partner and me for shelter on a cold, wet night, and we offer him food, a warm bath, and a sleeping bag on the couch. He has a little dog—a female papillon named “Pierrot.” While he sleeps, We realize that he can no longer take care of himself and his dog. It seems like a betrayal to suggest this, but the only solution is for the dog to be adopted by someone else. Unwilling to give up his papillon, the man leaves—but soon returns, because he is too sick to survive out there. He seems to agree, reluctantly, to let Pierrot go, though for now he withdraws again to the sleeping bag, saying nothing. I remove my valuables—passport and cash—from the room where he is sleeping, so he will not be tempted to steal.  

Now, we witness a different scene: another dog—a retriever—is in a crate. Her owner is giving her up for adoption, and says good-bye through the cage door. Then, her new owner, apparently the same kind woman who will adopt Pierrot, comes and opens the cage door and lets the dog out. They get to know each other, gently. I think that it could be like this for the papillon, too—a sad separation, but the chance to go to a warm and loving home.

My peer dream group helped me to hold “The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon” up to the light, to see through the dream’s words and into the dream’s world. Ordinarily, I know how to play creatively with images and metaphors, to uncover the paradoxical intricacies of a dream—but this dream had hit my blind spots. I couldn’t see past the homeless man’s needs, my own fears, and my shameful failure to trust him or find a compassionate solution that would allow him to keep his dog.

There were some obvious symbols that I recognized right away, but they seemed opaque, dulled by my literalism. I needed the help of my fellow dreamworkers to open up some space in my thinking and give this dead-end story a new life. They heard the dream in a fresh way, and echoed its metaphors back to me, with their own associations and emotional responses—and in those echoes I could hear the dream’s voice speaking more clearly to me, singing to me.

A homeless dream figure is not the same thing as a homeless human being, and a dream papillon named Pierrot is more than a man’s canine companion. Separating them from each other, even though it feels painful and sad, is not necessarily a tragedy since the dream itself suggests in the final scene that, after the good-byes are over, the cage door will be opened and a new relationship and home may be gently introduced.

My friend Pearl as “Pierrot"

Pearl Luick standing in for “Pierrot”

The dream figure of the homeless man will have his turn in the final post of this series, but here I’d like to concentrate on the little dog. She is a papillon—a breed of toy spaniel known for big, perky, silky ears that look like butterfly wings. The name does, in fact, mean “butterfly” in French. In many traditions, butterflies are associated with the soul, because of their beauty, lightness, and the way that they emerge from a process of metamorphosis. The papillon is the soul of this dream. I don’t even actually “see” that little dog—I know she’s there, but have no visual impression of her presence—and yet the whole dream is her story.

The separation of the homeless man from his papillon could be considered a process of “soul loss.” [For more about soul loss, see: “Soul Retrieval and Shamanic Dreaming.”] It seems that the primal connection between body and soul (man and dog) is going to be severed. Viewing the homeless man as analogous to the physical body makes some sense, since his needs are immediately physical—he needs food, warmth, rest. And, when the man sleeps, or when the body goes through trauma or radical transformation, the soul may take flight. Maybe the papillon is a lost soul.

But, another way of looking at this situation is that the soul is just leaving one kind of relationship with the primary identity and going on to a new kind of relationship. Both the old “owner” (the homeless man) and the new one (the kind woman) are aspects of the dreamer’s whole self, and the papillon/soul is simply shifting allegiance from one aspect to another. This movement of the soul suggests that the dreamer (myself) may be shifting away from her own identification with homelessness and toward a new understanding of home. Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part Two: Personal Associations

homeless 02I’ve been looking at one of my recent dreams from different angles, and writing about that process here, exploring the theme of homelessness. In the last post, I considered this dream as a literal description of the suffering involved when a homeless man must be separated from his beloved dog. Now, I’d like to take another approach, and try to understand the dream story in relation to my own life.

In the dream, a cold and ill homeless friend comes to our door, and we offer him food and shelter for the night. He is no longer capable of caring for his little papillon dog, and we must find a new home for her in spite of his unwillingness to lose her. The dream left me with many painful ethical questions about homelessness, autonomy, and responsibility, and I considered some of those questions in the last post [see “Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One”].

But the dream was especially poignant for me not only because it brought up literal concerns about other people who are homeless, but also because it evoked my own relationship to home, personal losses, and helplessness. Situations from the dream directly reflect the fact that I was far from home when I dreamed it (at the IASD conference in the Netherlands), and had just completed a difficult two-month pilgrimage, walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago.

During that journey I came to appreciate the intensity of the challenges that homeless people must face. At times, the relentless days and restless nights brought me to my physical and emotional limits, and exhausted my inner resources so that I felt profoundly vulnerable. When I finally came to the end of the long walk, I still felt dislocated and unclear about what I had learned, and so I dreamed of homelessness and helplessness represented by a dream figure with whom I could empathize. The painfully unresolved nature of the dream reflected many of my own unresolved feelings about my pilgrimage, and about other experiences from my past.

For me, “home” is a safe place—within myself and outside myself—where I can truly rest. It is a place where I am recognized and understood, a place where I trust my sense of self and my relationships with others. It is a place that offers physical and emotional security, and a certain amount of predictability. Archimedes said that with a long enough lever, he could move the earth—if only he had a place to stand. For me, home is a place to stand—and when I have that place to stand, I can live with strength, wisdom, kindness and courage. Without a home, I don’t know who I am or what I can do.

Actually, however, this definition of home sounds skewed. It’s certainly possible to feel insecure even in the happiest home. And how important is security anyway? What does it mean to be understood or safe?—I barely understand myself (thank goodness there’s more to me than I can rationally understand), and “safety” is conditional when we’re all mortal. Besides, needing to be understood and safe creates limitation rather than a true home. The kind of home that supports strength, wisdom, kindness, and courage actually arises more from shared acceptance of uncertainty than from having a solid place to stand.

Nevertheless, although I acknowledge the importance of vulnerability and openness, of having a home that’s more like a good pair of shoes than like a castle… well, this is my “growing edge,” which sometimes feels like the crumbling edge of a precipitous cliff. I’m not yet comfortable standing there!

“Home” is a big deal in my life. In my late teens, my family fell apart and I was homeless (in a way) for some time—never to the point of living on the streets, but dependent upon friends and strangers for temporary places to stay. I had few possessions (without a home, you can’t keep much), unstable health, little control over my circumstances, no luck getting work, constant uncertainty about finding food and shelter from one week to the next, and plenty of shame because others had to help me. So, even forty years later, it makes sense that when I undertook an extended pilgrimage in a foreign land my fears of homelessness surfaced right away—in my dreams and in my waking life. Continue reading

Dreaming of Homelessness, Part One: A Literal Perspective

OpeningWalking the Camino de Santiago over the course of two months, I found that an extended pilgrimage is nothing like a vacation. I couldn’t treat that long journey as an adventure separate from my regular life: it was my life. And it was a way of living that required versatile survival skills and relentless stamina.

Each day had to be lived on its own terms. Some days were filled with blessings, and many days, blessed or not, were terribly difficult. The difficult days gave me a tiny glimpse of what homelessness might feel like. Food, water, shelter, health, safety, communication, hygiene—the basics could never be taken for granted. Meeting my own essential needs was a constant energy drain, sometimes demanding more strength than I had.

Even on a well-traveled path, surrounded by good people, with many inner and outer resources available to me, I felt intense vulnerability, physical pain and fatigue, loneliness, and homesickness at times—especially when I was ill, or coping with rain or heat, or when I couldn’t make myself understood, or couldn’t be sure of my next meal, or bed, or shower, or toilet. I chose this path for myself on purpose, with the explicit intention of learning to adapt to whatever experiences I encountered, so it is overwhelming to imagine how much harder true homelessness would be: unchosen, with far fewer resources, and without a safety net of any kind.

Shortly after completing my long walk, while I was still far from home (at the international dream conference in the Netherlands), I had a dream that raised questions about homelessness, and what home really means. It was an important dream for me to have, and perhaps could be meaningful to others as well. So, in the next few blog posts, I’m going to explore this dream from three different angles: the literal, the personal, and the communal or universal.

Just about any dream or life issue can be seen literally, personally, or universally. First, we experience everything just as it happens, and respond to it immediately, with emotions, questions, concerns and insights about the situation as it appears to us. Then, we might take it to the next level, and see how it fits with other dreams or events in our lives, what patterns, paradoxes and metaphors are evident, and what it teaches us about ourselves. Finally, it can be meaningful to try to understand how these things apply not only to ourselves but to others, to communities and systems, to our natural environment, to our collective past, present and future.

Let’s look at the dream literally first…

The Homeless Man Will Lose His Papillon: My partner and I have befriended a homeless man who has a little dog—a female papillon named “Pierrot.” The man comes to our door on a cold, rainy night. He is chilled, soaked, and sick; he needs our help. We offer him a hot bath, dry clothes, soup, and a sleeping bag on the couch. We feed and tend his dog.

While he sleeps, we talk about his situation. He is unable to keep himself or Pierrot safe any longer. They are both going to die unless something is done. We call someone we know who works in social services. His wife (a kind, motherly person) is willing to adopt the dog. This is the only solution, but it means separating the homeless man from his beloved companion permanently. When he wakes up, he angrily refuses to discuss this, and leaves—but soon returns, because he is too sick to survive out there. He seems to agree, reluctantly, to give up Pierrot, though for now he will barely look at us and returns to the sleeping bag to rest.

Although I’m ashamed to do it, I remove my valuables—passport and cash—from the room where he is sleeping. Despite our friendship, I’m afraid that while in his current mood, upset and distrustful, he might be tempted to steal things.

Now, we witness a different scene: another dog—a retriever—is in a crate. Her owner is giving her up for adoption, and says good-bye to her, briefly, through the cage door. Then, her new owner, apparently the motherly woman who will adopt Pierrot, comes and opens the cage door and lets the dog out. They get to know each other gently. I think that this is how it could be for the little papillon, too—a sad separation, but the chance to go to a warm and loving home.

My first response to this dream, taking it literally, is anguish at the impossible decision to separate our homeless friend from his dog. I know that, in my waking life, I would not invite a homeless man into our home for the night—and I feel shame just as I felt in the dream when I distrusted my friend and kept my valuables out of his reach. Ignoring the last part of the dream, which suggests a more positive outcome, I can only think that taking away a man’s beloved dog is wrong, no matter what the justification. I do not accept the dream’s premise that this is the only option. It is too tragic and unfair. So, I am left with a painful predicament: How do I relate to a dream that pushes my buttons, and presents me with an apparently stuck situation? Continue reading

The Uncertainty Principle: in Pilgrimage and Lucid Dreaming

my friend Woody Brinati, posing as “the Westie boy"

My friend Woody Brinati, as “the Westie boy”

By the time you read this, I hope to be on the brink of departure—completing final preparations for a life-changing two-month pilgrimage. The plan is to leave May 1st, to walk across Spain, and then go on to the Netherlands to attend (and present a workshop) at the International Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference.

Maybe many of you are world travelers or athletic hikers, but, for me, this is the most challenging experience I’ve ever voluntarily undertaken. I’ve never been to Europe, and the complexities of modern travel intimidate me. This expedition is on a frugal budget, without much of a safety net. I’m a skinny 55-year-old with some of the disabilities of a 75-year-old, and, in spite of lots of training, walking 12 miles a day with a pack and staying in hostels will test my physical limits. On the way to the airport, I’ll certainly be wondering what I’ve gotten myself into!

However, as I’m writing this, the journey is still almost two months away (I usually write and schedule blog posts ahead)—and I don’t yet know whether any of my plans and dreams will actually come to pass.

At this moment, I’m up in the air. I had a surgical procedure two days ago, and will wait another week to get test results. It’s probably not cancer, but I won’t know for sure—and can’t buy my tickets and make a full commitment—until those results come back. So, there’s a chance that when you read this I’ll actually be in the midst of a completely different kind of journey, no longer preparing for the Camino after all. Right now, I’m still recovering from surgery and walking slowly around the block is enough to tire me out. It’s difficult even to imagine being ready for the Camino by late April. For a little while at least, everything is uncertain.

This is a strange place to be. I think I know how Schrödinger’s cat must have felt. I’m in that dark box, waiting patiently (!) to find out whether my pilgrimage plans are “alive” or “dead.” For now, both possibilities exist. I am both a pilgrim on a path, and a patient facing whatever has to be faced. When the box is opened, I will be one or the other… Right?

But, really, no matter how solid my plans may be, I’m always both a pilgrim and a patient. The path that I’m following is only revealed a few steps ahead (if that), and, ultimately, there’s no doubt I’ll encounter various critical turning points and detours along the way—places where the path may be swept away entirely by events beyond my control. That’s life.

“Two basic innate kinds of energy seem to operate during our lives. One may be called the energy of the journey; it is an energy that keeps us moving forward on our path with little radical change. Those who value life when it is a steady movement toward the future, comprised of a series of predictable choices and decisions, are most in tune with journey-energy. Such people are usually surprised and upset by the presence of the second kind of life-energy called death-rebirth. This is the energy that carries us into and through crisis, illness, loss, separation, major life changes, and radical transitions. Persons who have a crisis-personality—who seem at their peak when under pressure—usually operate well with death-rebirth energy.”
-Savary, Berne & Williams (from “Dreams and Spiritual Growth”)

While the authors of “Dreams and Spiritual Growth” describe “journey” and “death-rebirth” energy in terms of how certain personalities emphasize one or the other, I find that both are meaningful as a way of understanding my present (and perpetual) situation in life. In one sense, I’m always journeying, always going forward into the next possibility. In another sense, I’m always waiting at the edge of the unknown, surrendering to whatever transformative process comes next. Of course, both of these processes are also reflected in dreams.

I might imagine that, as a pilgrim, I’m following “journey” energy, and, as a patient (waiting in limbo for test results), I’m dealing with “death/rebirth” energy. Yet it’s not so simple. As a pilgrim, I can make plans and choices—but, paradoxically, true pilgrimage means letting go of both. As a patient, I must have no expectations—but, paradoxically, a willingness to encounter the unknown on its own terms allows me to be at peace with the journey of each moment. Really, the two “life energies” are inseparable and interdependent.

When I was being prepped for surgery the other day, I was reminded of being a cancer patient in my thirties. Yes, there’s anxiety and frustration in the helplessness of this role. There’s physical discomfort, some real pain, and the utter vulnerability of leaving my body in the care of strangers. My personal plans and choices are simply not relevant for a while. It’s a kind of ego-death that is essential to pilgrimage. Maybe I’m going through this uncertain part of the pilgrimage now, so I can have less of it later on…? Hm. Nice try.

Our plans and choices ebb and flow throughout the journey—sometimes it’s all about what we want to do and can do, but at other times we must let go, trust others, accept what comes, and respond rather than initiating action. In fact, this is exactly what I hope to be doing on the Camino.

In lucid dreaming, this ebb and flow of willed action and surrender is especially evident (see “Lucid Dreaming: Control and Choice”). Once I become aware that I’m dreaming in the midst of a dream, I may be able to direct the experience without many of the limitations imposed by waking life. But the lucid dream, like the pilgrimage, is most valuable when I can willingly relinquish the idea of control, and experience the dream as it comes to me: as a gift, a surprise, a challenge, a learning experience. Lucid dreaming calls for a balance: we take action and make choices, but we also ask, receive, invite, and accept.

Here’s a lucid dream fragment from last night:

Westie Boy: …There are two rude small boys mocking me. Should I make them float up into the air? Or change them into something? No, I’ll ask permission. I ask one of the boys if he’d like me to turn him into a dog. He and his friend are both enthusiastic. I begin to shape him, gently, with my hands, not knowing whether I have enough lucidity to make the transformation work. Then, I notice that the boy has curly white-blond hair, and a terrier-like spark. It feels like he wants to become a Westie (West Highland Terrier). Following this intuition, and with his cooperation, I can easily transform him into a stocky little Westie, trembling and wriggling with excitement. His friend points out that he’s not wagging his tail, and he tries a few tentative wags—enjoying the awkward sweep of his hind end. I notice his tail is unusually long and fluffy, and offer to shorten it for him…? But he pulls it out of my hands indignantly. It’s his tail, and he likes it this way. We’re all delighted by his new body, and the three of us frolic together.

Waking life is not so different from a lucid dream. Most of the time, we actually have less control, but more choices, than we might think. In the dream, do I really have the option of imposing my will on those dream figures—or would attempting to do so have closed off my own options, and drained the dream of its energy? Choosing not to impose but to ask and attend opened up more opportunities. Continue reading

New Facebook Page: Camino Dreaming

Please join me on my pilgrimage, by following “Camino Dreaming” on Facebook!

Camino Dreaming 01Pilgrimage and dreamwork have a lot in common. When I work with dreams, I’m aware of how dreams open our minds and hearts, increase our flexibility, and teach us to be wanderers in a strange land—accepting, appreciating, and adapting to whatever we encounter, giving and receiving as we go. And so, naturally, I’ve also been drawn to pilgrimage, which is about many of these same aspects of the spiritual journey.

As I prepare to walk the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances route—about 500 miles), my pilgrimage has already begun, and my dreams are guiding me. I walk every day, and appreciate the world around me in Portland, Oregon. Soon, in early May, I hope to “walk” into the next phase of the journey, crossing a continent and an ocean, and stepping onto the Camino itself…

[Click on the picture to visit the Facebook page]

Gentle Adventures: Dreaming Courageously, Without Catastrophe

dark road 01Adventures don’t need to be awful. I need not be awe-struck, but perhaps can be awe-stroked instead. In my dreams, I’ve been taking challenges in stride, bringing trust to bear on new experiences, finding courage in going forward slowly, feeling my way, with humility and willingness.

Dream of Walking Into The Dark: The car has broken down, and my companions are gone. I’m stranded at a desolate gas station with two men who are up to no good. I’m their prisoner, but we keep up a friendly pretense that we are just fellow travelers, while I try to figure out how to get away, and they try to decide what to do with me. We wait while the car is being repaired. It is dusk; we’ve been waiting for hours. Perhaps I could walk ahead? I know there’s a country store at the other side of the dense forest; from there, I could get help. The men pretend to go along with this, but in fact intend me harm. Either they’ll come after me and eliminate me where no one else can see, or I’ll be waylaid by bandits in the woods. I know they’re plotting, but also know that if I don’t let fear take over, I can outwit them and reach safety.

I believe it is less than a mile to the store. As I set out, darkness sets in. There is no moon. The road curves, and I run my hand along a bamboo fence as a guide into the total darkness of the forest. Then, the fence ends, the black woods close in on on both sides. I hold back my fear as I go, feeling the road with my feet. Bright eyes can be glimpsed in the deepest darkness, but they don’t look fierce and I don’t need to fear them. I’m following the road’s edge closely, so I won’t stray and wander off into the depths of the forest. I keep walking… Now, I realize it’s actually seven miles through this forest, and I prepare myself to accept a much longer journey than I had anticipated. I expect real danger ahead, but I know I can face it when it comes.

This dream reminds me of an all-night hike I took in my late teens, when I lived on an island off the coast of Maine. On my way home after midnight, I followed an unlit road that spiraled down a mountain, in total darkness, alone. The rhythm of my slapping footsteps on the sloping pavement was soothing and hypnotic. The downward road seemed to go on and on for hours, until I forgot myself. I was inseparable from the sounds and sensations of walking, from the clouded night sky, from the spiraling road.

These days, life seems a lot more complicated. As I prepare for the pilgrimage I’m planning to take, on the Camino de Santiago, in a couple of months [see “Pilgrimage: Walking the Way of the Dream” and “Surrender, Dreamer!“]—I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of my preparations, and regularly wrestle with the wish to control the process, to make everything manageable. There’s the challenge of getting physically strong enough. There’s the challenge of coping with my anxieties and habit patterns. And there’s the plain ridiculous effort of organizing transportation, communication, insurance, finances, supplies and logistics.

The goal is to place myself on an unfamiliar path, adapt to the circumstances I encounter, and just keep walking. So how come the preliminaries require so much planning? Well, we live in a complicated world. I long to let go, and step into the darkness without decisions or drama, feeling my way along, trusting something other than my own plans.

In the midst of all this, my dreams remind me that the important thing about any journey is to step forward—to let it carry me where I need to go. These months of preparation for the Camino are part of the camino, part of the journey, part of the way. And, as in the dream, I’m afraid but I just need to begin and go on. Continue reading

Surrender, Dreamer!

backpack 02You know those times in the middle of the night when you wake up and start worrying, and every challenge you anticipate becomes an impossible obstacle, or a catastrophe waiting to pounce? Late night anxieties are notoriously difficult, perhaps because on the edge of the dreamworld we are especially vulnerable to our strongest emotions, and prone to experiencing every passing thought or impression as portentous. But these very characteristics of dreaminess (increased emotional tone, powerful sense of significance) can also be openings to inspiration, or invitations to creatively explore our fears.

So, the other night, half-awake, I found myself imagining the realities of a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (a journey I plan to take next spring). First, there’s just the panicky certainty that I’m not up to it, and then, gradually, a weird mix of anxiety and anticipation. I imagine myself arriving alone in some large city in Europe, jet-lagged and disoriented, making my way by train or bus to a small village in France or Spain (still haven’t settled on the exact starting point), finding food and shelter for the night, then setting out to walk 10-15 miles a day, carrying an awkward backpack, for almost two months. I imagine sleeping in crowded hostels, coping with mountains, rain, cold, heat, exhaustion, injuries, illness, loneliness, food and bathroom issues, and utterly unfamiliar people and surroundings…

The prospect is, to say the least—daunting. The middle-of-the-night effect amplifies the out-of-control feeling of my imaginings, but I hold myself poised on that edge, balancing, leaning forward, allowing the fears to rise and flow and pass. I surrender to the experience, as if I will be leaving for the airport in the morning (no turning back!), or as if in a dream where everything that happens has an all-or-nothing spontaneity. Continue reading

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