Compass Dreamwork

Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: sleeping

The Necessity of Dreaming

bridge 02After two months away (walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and participating in the IASD conference in the Netherlands), I’ve been home now for a couple of weeks. I was exhausted by my travels, physically and emotionally stretched to my limit, so simply resting and recovering has been my top priority. During those months of strenuous effort and unfamiliar conditions, I slept very badly and remembered few dreams. In fact, because of disrupted sleep patterns, there were probably some nights without any dreams at all, remembered or not. This gave me a direct experience of how vital dreaming is for my sense of well-being, and even my capacity to function.

I know of well-documented experiments that demonstrate the necessity of dreaming—but these last two months have given me first-hand, personal evidence of the consequences of dream-deprivation. I’m sure that if I had been deprived of dreams for much longer, my physical and mental health would have begun to deteriorate as a result. Even though I only had diminished dreaming rather than a total dream-drought, there was a noticeable decline in my energy, memory, cognition and emotional balance, which seemed related to my sleep and dream patterns. The boundaries between waking and dreaming got a bit fuzzier, too. Of course, other health factors were in play as well, since I was exerting myself strenuously (walking 10-15 miles a day), while coping with stress and a respiratory infection… However, as the experimental subject of my own unscientific research, I can attest that my body, mind and spirit seemed desperate not only for rest, but for dreams!

bridge 01When I finally returned home and began to sleep normal hours, I felt the healing influence of dreaming almost immediately. For the first few nights, the dreams came rushing in, often nightmarish and always intense, repeating and exaggerating the stresses of my journey. I’d wake up shaken—yet with a sense of releasing pent-up pressure, allowing something within me to relax. Soon, I was dreaming more naturally, with periods of transitional sleep, sound sleep, and REM sleep working together. I could lie in bed in the morning, feeling drowsy and refreshed, with a sense of perspective on my experiences that had been lacking before.

Dreaming seems to nourish me at the deepest level, regardless of the content of the dreams. Whether the dreams themselves are pleasant or unpleasant, the restoration I feel from dreaming makes it possible to shake off the hazy, surreal trance of travel and feel fully awake to my life again.

In the next couple of articles, I’ll describe dreams that relate directly to my pilgrimage experiences, and explore some of the meanings that these experience have for me—but right now, I just want to express my gratitude for dreaming itself. Continue reading

When the Dream-Ego is Slippery or Sleepy

sky 02Many of my dreams lack focus. The dream-ego (the “I” in the dream) can’t seem to accomplish what she intends, or is the victim of something or someone, or doesn’t participate in the main action. Sometimes these dreams are frustrating, and at other times, the “I” just seems to be slipping away. For me, a common dream metaphor for this slipperiness is when the dream-ego has to cope with actual sleepiness within the dream. Here are two examples:

Gathering for Ceremonies: I’m with a large group of people gathered halfway up a mountain, for some spiritual ceremonies. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with lots going on. I’m responsible for a toddler named “Sleepy,” and much of the time, I carry Sleepy around as s/he sleeps heavily in my arms. When s/he’s not asleep, s/he’s running around wildly, very distracting. The more I try to keep up with Sleepy, the drowsier I get…

Sleepy Attender: I’m attending an important workshop, sitting right up front, but I can’t stay awake. I sit up straight and pretend to be listening/meditating with my eyes closed, so the presenter won’t realize I’m asleep. After a while, I know I need to open my eyes at least briefly, to maintain the illusion of attentiveness, but I’m too groggy and can’t get myself to come out of it. [Finally I literally wake myself up by trying to open my eyes.]

Another expression of this same lack of dream-ego focus is when the dream itself just seems hazy, as if the dreamer is not able to generate vivid images. The environment around “me” in the dream is vague—maybe indoors, maybe outdoors, but with no noticeable features. Events in the dream, and body awareness for the dream-ego and dream characters, can also be hazy. In lucid dreams, where “I” realize that this is a dream, the experience is not sustainable, because the dream-ego and the dream environment are not distinct enough—either I wake up, or fall back into non-lucid, unremembered dreams. Continue reading

Smoothing The Transitions

pillows 01After a long phase of insomnia, I’m finally sleeping very well. The trouble isn’t with sleeping, it’s with getting up in the morning! I wake slowly, still melted by sleepiness, still brimming with dreams. As the cold realization that it is time to get up begins to creep over me, I resist mightily.

First there’s denial: “Maybe I’ll check the clock and it will really be 2:00 AM….” Then anger: “Why should I have to get up? I don’t want to get up! I won’t get up!” Then bargaining: “Maybe I can sleep late this morning, then get up a couple hours earlier tomorrow?” Then depression: “What if I never get up? What if I just stay here until I die?” Then, finally, reluctant acceptance: “Okay, here we go. Push back the covers. Feet on the floor. Up, up, up!”

Sound familiar? Well, eventually, it dawned on me that I could make things a lot easier on myself. I realized that although I do need to get up, I don’t necessarily have to leave my delicious dreamy drowsiness behind. I can move slowly, savoring the sleep sensations and dream impressions as I begin my day. This is a revelation! Even if I have to get busy immediately, I can still smooth the transition by imagining this is all part of a dream…

I greet our three cats sleepily in the hall, and feel that they are strange, soft creatures of the night, coming to bring me gifts or messages. When Toby hollers a loud hello, it’s a wild cry of joy that makes my nerves tingle. When Fern nudges my ankle with her wet nose, and Annie bustles past me into the bedroom, I feel myself surrounded by impulsive, encouraging energies. Sounds and smells of alchemical experiments emanate from the kitchen, where Holly is making coffee. In the bathroom mirror, I look like someone else. Washing my hair, I feel the slippery suds and it seems that my mind is being soaped and rinsed along with my oddly heavy head.

The minutes go by, I go from room to room, and each time I turn on a light, the scene changes. For a little while, things are wonderfully strange, and then, gradually, I’m awake and it’s just the usual morning routine. Continue reading

Tuning In To Dreams

My work revolves around dreams, so—wouldn’t you know it?—I’ve been having insomnia. Sleep deprivation is not good for dreaming. The sleep I’m getting is fragmented and shallow, tinged with fatigue, and really, really frustrating because just when I’m slipping into a snooze, one of the cats lets out a friendly little noise, or a neighbor’s car door slams, or I sneeze… and I’m wide awake for another couple of hours.

Squirrely bits of dreams keep squabbling for space on the telephones lines of this tenuous sleep pattern. Okay, I’m overdoing it a bit here, but have you seen what happens when two squirrels meet on a tightrope like that? Crazy acrobatics—and somebody usually ends up dangling. Anyway, with this thin, disrupted sleep, the dream stories never get going, and I can’t catch many of the images, even though they leave me with emotional fall-out and a speeding heart. Continue reading

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