Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: relationships

Dream-Winching

By Tina Tau, Guest Blogger

This post is third in a series of four that I’m doing while Kirsten is walking the Camino. They’re all connected with a dream-infused trip I took to Tuscany in the fall of 2006, when my marriage was on its last miserable legs.

In the beautiful hill-town of Pari I had my own little apartment. I spent the sunny, brilliant days picking olives on a farm in the valley. But on November 1st, I stayed in my apartment to do dreamwork. It was cold and foggy, the great views over the countryside gone, swaddled in silence.

I had four dreams from four consecutive nights to look at. I hoped they’d help me with my big questions: Should I leave my husband? What will that do to our daughters? If I leave him, what will I do, where will I go? Will I be okay? 

I trusted (and still trust) the wise people inside me who write my dreams to have a better grip on what is happening than I consciously did. I’m such a master of denial and so attached to getting things “right” that I am often blind to what is true. My conscious inclinations have led me down many dead end roads into the mud; my dreams somehow haul me out. I wanted that kind of heavy dream-winching to come into play on that foggy Day of the Dead.

The first of the four dreams, as I reported in my last post, was oddly short and neutral, just a short conversation with a woman who was looking for work on my behalf. That dream bore fruit a few months later in a strange turn of events that landed me a good job.

The other three dreams were longer, richer, metaphorical and emotional. These are short summaries:

About to Die

I arrive at a doctor’s office/clinic. Things are strangely quiet, inside and out of the clinic; there is a sense of impending but unknown crisis. On a TV screen I see an announcer reading from a press release. The crisis is worldwide, originating in the Nile delta. Someone herds all of us down the street and into a school auditorium for shelter. The general atmosphere is calm, but it’s clear we’re all going to die. A man is very distressed, and I explain to him that death is safe.

Continue reading

Interview with a Dream Figure

outside stairs 01If you want to meet a dream on its own terms, to enter the unmapped territory and find paths and passages you never knew were there, you have to go outside your comfort zone. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do, isn’t it? Even in our waking lives, we want to get beyond routine and have new experiences (up to a point). We aren’t just looking for reinforcement of our expectations. Jeremy Taylor reminds us that “no dreams come just to tell you what you already know.” But it’s certainly tricky to recognize a new thing when we see it, because our frame of reference sets us up to see what we expect to see.

I’ve written a couple of articles about different ways of looking at dreams that can help us get around our personal blind spots: by questioning the dream-ego’s point-of-view (“The Unreliable Narrator in Dreams”), and by exploring the inconspicuous details of the dream scene (“Turning the Dream Upside Down”). Now I’d like to consider another mind-bending approach that is deceptively simple, but tremendously powerful: asking dream figures or images about themselves.

There are many ways to communicate directly with the images in a dream. Fritz Perls set up conversations between dream images (as aspects of the dreamer’s psyche) in his Gestalt Therapy; lucid dreaming practices invite us to ask dream figures for guidance or gifts, etc. These and other practices can be transformative on many levels, but sometimes the concentrated effort required to transcend your own limitations can seem about as easy as jumping higher than your own head. Continue reading

Dreams of Helping and Being Helped

helping 01In my recent dreams, I’ve been aware of giving and receiving, helping and being helped:

Fragments: I receive three gifts: sagebrush, a meerschaum pipe, and an iphone—and must learn how to use them… Someone lends me a bicycle, and then seems more confident and capable herself when she experiences my gratitude… I’m in prison for life, and a fellow prisoner relieves my fear by asking me to help her solve some math problems… We distract the dragon, so the young girl can complete her initiation safely… A white bull calf comes to me for comfort, but when I am threatened he places himself between me and the danger…

We all have a need for our strengths and gifts to be recognized and received by others—and sometimes the best thing we can do to support others is to receive what they have to give, whether it is by listening to their stories and learning from their example, or allowing them to assist us on our own path—physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’ve been noticing this process in my dreams, at the same time that I’ve been noticing it in my waking life.

As my friend Kay is now on hospice, I’m recalling the many ways she has been a mentor to me. Kay and I worked together on the pastoral care team for a continuing care retirement community. She was an experienced pastoral counselor and spiritual director (volunteering with the team, since she was technically retired); and I was a relative beginner in this work. With warmth and grace, she gave me exactly the encouragement I needed, by allowing me to take the lead. She attended my workshops and groups as a participant; she brought me her dreams, and she invited me to act as her spiritual counselor as she got older and faced health challenges. It wasn’t like an adult letting a child win at checkers—she authentically found things that I could give her, that she could learn from me. While she also helped and mentored me in more traditional ways, she always allowed me to bring my best self to our relationship, and to experience my own gifts with her.

Kay is an especially wise and kind person. But, actually, similar giving/receiving relationships are happening all the time. If I pay attention, I notice that the true gifts and blessings in waking or dreaming life are always somehow reciprocal.

The other day, I was climbing a long, long, long set of steps (18 flights, I think) to the top of a hill in a nearby park. As I was going up very, very slowly, two brisk women and a healthy young dog passed me going down, with an older dog following stiffly behind them. The older dog—a sweet-faced, short-haired terrier—gave me a commiserating look as she went by. Continue reading

The Healing Experience of the Dream Itself

One evening recently, a dear friend was coping with a crisis—and I could think of nothing else. My heart and mind were completely with the pain that she was going through, and the unresolved situation that she faced. There was nothing to be done to help, nothing to be done but wait and pray. As I waited to learn what the outcome might be, I couldn’t imagine working, writing, or even distracting myself with books or television. How could anything to do with dreams or dreamwork possibly make any difference here?

Nevertheless, since it was all I could do, I went to bed and to sleep—holding in mind the wish that all would be well. During the night, each time I woke, I did the Buddhist practice of Tonglen—which involves opening up (rather than shutting down) to the experience of suffering, letting myself feel this suffering on behalf of all those who suffer, breathing it in, and then sending love, relief and peace on the out-breath.

I breathed in the pain of helplessness that I was feeling along with my friend and so many beings all over the world who have suffered similar pain. I breathed out the warmth and safety of my own bed, the dearness of my loved ones, the easing of pain that comes from feeling connected and cared for—wishing that all beings could share this easing of pain. The Tonglen practice pervaded my sleep and my dreams.

In the morning, I felt rested and peaceful, even though my concern for my friend was still with me every moment. My dreams had been deep, and left a clear experiential memory of emotions, interactions, questions—though they seemed to have no direct relationship to the situation at hand. In my dreams, I wandered around schools, airports, familiar places—having sympathetic conversations with strangers. What did this have to do with my friend? Still, it was as if the dreaming (and the Tonglen) had healed my sense of being lost in my own uselessness.

The struggle to find solutions where there are no immediate solutions is both exhausting and isolating. But in the ordinary interactions of my dreams, I felt the simple connection of compassion and empathy—which is ultimately the only “solution” we really have to offer one another. In my dreams, I was just present with the feeling of being human and in relationship with others whose experiences I recognized and shared. This was enough. This was helpful.

Within a few more hours, I heard from my friend that the crisis had been resolved. The relief and love that I felt in response seemed to flow directly from the sense of connection in the dream experience. In fact, we are never “helpless” as long as we are connected in this way—our willingness to be fully present to one another’s lives (and our own) makes a tremendous difference in the way we all cope with crises.

Dreams don’t generally bring healing by offering immediate solutions. If I incubate a dream with a particular problem in mind, asking for an answer, I believe I will always get a response, but usually it is a response that asks me to open myself to the whole experience, rather than giving me a specific key to unlocking the problem. Continue reading

“Significant Others” in Dreams

I often dream about my partner, Holly. Sometimes, she is very much like herself in my dreams, and sometimes she is not at all like herself. I suppose that you’ve had similar dreams about those closest to you.

two cupsWe all tend to project key aspects of ourselves onto our “significant others.” For instance, I see Holly as an extremely capable person—and she is extremely capable—so she tends to end up coping with a lot of the practical matters that I find difficult. As long as she is capable, I don’t have to be! I often see myself as lacking some of the practical skills necessary for survival in the world. But in fact, when Holly’s out-of-town (as she was recently), I have to step up and be capable. And I really do manage just fine. So, I’ve been projecting my own capability (or copability—the ability to cope) onto Holly, rather than “owning” it in myself.

Typically, in dreams, our significant others end up carrying certain qualities we don’t identify with in ourselves. Just as in waking life, Holly in my dream is usually a capable person, but sometimes in an exaggerated way that forces me to take some sort of action (either to be capable myself, or resist her with my stubborn incompetence). Dreams can exaggerate the qualities of our partners and spouses, maybe just so we get a good look at our own projections. Often, the dream context forces us to own up to those projections one way or another. Continue reading

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