Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: dream images (Page 2 of 3)

Dream Identity and the Independence of Images

shore 04One way of looking at a dream is to say that the whole dream comes from the mind of the dreamer, so all of the images in the dream are aspects of the dreamer. But that is just one way of looking at the dream.

If I look at waking life in that same way, I can also say that whoever or whatever I encounter in waking life is a projection of myself. Since I see each person through my own particular lens, the person I see is at least partially my own creation, and the way I see that person reflects certain attitudes and qualities of my own character. In one sense, it is true that everyone and everything I can perceive represents an aspect of myself; yet, of course, it’s also true that these people and things exist independently, beyond my projections, as well.

So everything in the dream world has something to do with the dreamer, but this doesn’t mean that the dream is the exclusive creation of the dreamer. The dream can also be understood as a world in itself, where beings with independent existence (the dream “characters” or “images”) come visiting.

Who creates this dream world? Who is the dream-maker? And who is the dreamer relative to the dream? The dream can go beyond the dreamer’s waking identity, can be larger than the dreamer’s imagination and ideas about reality—so clearly the dream-maker must be larger than the dreamer. The images within the dream may also have a life beyond the dream. Continue reading

A Place at the Table: Dreams of Scarcity & Abundance

plates 01You know those dreams where you just can’t get what you want? Maybe there’s this buffet—you see all kinds of great treats when you walk by, but then when you get in line and it’s finally your turn to serve yourself, there’s nothing left…?

Variations on this dream are pretty common in general, but I suspect they’re especially likely to show up at this time of year. Why? Because, in the northern hemisphere at least, it’s the season when we start worrying about having enough to go around. The abundance of the harvest-time is well past, and spring still seems far away; humans and other animals begin to take a good look at the supplies, and wonder how long they will last. Sometimes we take a peek at others’ supplies, too, suspecting that they’ve got more than we’ve got.

To combat the dread, and subsequent hostility, that can come along with this kind of scarcity-mentality, many ancient (and modern) midwinter traditions include a celebration of abundance and generosity. It’s the “season of giving” for very good reasons. We need each other at this time of year. Stinginess can lead to disaster.

I find that whenever money gets tight and I become fearful about whether we’ll have enough, I need to literally give something away in order to remind myself that I am part of a larger whole, part of a community of living beings who can support each other through good times and hard times. Instead of noticing what I don’t have, I try to be grateful for all that I do have—and share it with those around me, without counting and comparing.

But my dreams sometimes suggest that I’m still anxious about getting enough for myself:

A Place at the Table: I arrive at the feast that I have helped to prepare, but find that there is no chair for me. Someone has taken my seat, and there are not enough chairs to go around. Then I notice that there is no plate at my place, though everyone else has theirs. Also, there is not enough food. The last helpings have gone to others, and all of the serving dishes are empty. I stand alone, and feel sorry for myself.

Dreams like this one simply seem to be commenting on a state of mind that is present. Yes, the cold and dark at this time of year do bring up feelings of fearfulness, resentment, the instinctive desire to hoard and hide what I have. What is the point of being reminded that I feel this way, when I am really trying hard to remind myself that I can also feel generous and abundant?

I think the usefulness of such dreams lies in the vividness of the imagery, and the potential of that imagery to make an impression on the psyche at a deep level. When I have dreams that just seem to be telling me unpleasant truths about myself and my situation, I look at the images that the dream chooses to express those truths. Continue reading

Shamanic Ancestral Dreams

roots 02For the final post in my series on shamanic dreaming, I’d like to consider the role of ancestors in the shamanic tradition, and in dreams.

Holly, a woman in her fifties who has been exploring shamanism, shared the following dream:

Relatives: At my grocery store, in my home town [Note: In waking life, Holly works for a grocery co-op, though it’s not located in her home town.] My relatives have arrived and are at the front end, near the checkstands, waiting for me. My aunt Catherine [who is deceased] with other aunts, uncles, cousins. I look down the aisle and see tall Catherine, and I walk up to her and shake her hand, greeting, welcoming. I shake hands with the others… As I greet everyone, I’m thinking, “I didn’t expect to be the last one, never imagined I’d be the last one of my family.” It is a solemn time. They are my relatives, but I am the last of my family. Sun shining through the window.

In her notes about the dream, Holly said that she was “the last, but not alone… my ancestors come to initiate, acknowledge me… Catherine is the matriarch, person of power… It is up to me, I need to step up, carry the torch forward… this takes place in my store, my community, in public, up front… somber, not sad, I feel the weight of responsibility…”

I believe that this dream reflects not only a profound personal journey, an “initiation,” but also a larger communal need for connection with those who have gone before us, and the experience—so prevalent in the modern world—of facing our responsibility alone. Here, the dreamer transcends the separateness of being “the last” by recognizing that she is supported by a lineage, and a part of something larger than herself. Such recognition of connection and acknowledgement of responsibility represent the kind of healing process that could be essential to our very survival as a species. Continue reading

Review: “Art From Dreams”

[Regular blog posts now appear only on the first and third Tuesdays of each month–but I’ll be adding “extras” from time to time, including reviews like this one…]

artfromdreams_coverArt From Dreams: My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage, and Poetry by Susan Levin. Levinarts. Paperback. 48 pages. $22.50.

When I was asked by Susan Levin’s publicist to review Art From Dreams, my first thought was to take a look at the sample images and the text description posted with the promotional materials, to be sure that this was work I could appreciate.

I am not a visual artist or art critic, and so my review is based on my personal taste and intuitive grasp of the artwork, and my experience with dreams and creative dreamwork. According to my personal taste, the mixed media collage/assemblages are appealing and intriguing. And because of my background in dreamwork and creativity, I am always interested in the relationship between dream imagery and artistic expression. The book, when I received it, was not a disappointment. Art From Dreams is beautifully made and invites lingering—with little text other than a brief introduction and foreword, followed by page after page of art pieces, some accompanied by corresponding poems.

Much of the artwork is reminiscent of Joseph Cornell: many pieces use found objects and/or collage; some pieces are framed within compartmented boxes of rough wood, some are free-standing or wall-mounted assemblages. Most of the materials appear aged, weathered, rusted, or worn. Darker colors predominate, with subtle shades of brown or gray providing the tone so the occasional lighter or brighter colors stand out sharply.

Dream ideas can be powerfully expressed through such forms, and the echo of these ideas in poetry can be hauntingly lovely. The poems are like lyrics to accompany dream music: sometimes telling a story, sometimes evoking only impressions. For the most part, Levin steers clear of sentimentality and sensationalism in both words and visual images. Although I liked some pieces better than others, I found the whole process of paging through this book to be dream-like in the best sense: aesthetically satisfying, and imaginatively engaging. Continue reading

Seasonal Dreaming

columbine 01Do your dreams reflect the seasons? I’ve talked about some concepts shared by haiku and dreams in the last couple of posts [“Haiku Dreams,” and “Nature Dreams”], and one more of these shared concepts is the way that references to a specific season somehow increase the sense  of universality and timelessness in both haiku and dreams.

In haiku, the season is always included, either directly or indirectly—and this provides orientation in the natural world, as well as setting a tone and implying certain common associations understood between writer and reader. Is something similar going on in dreams?

Of course, not all dreams include seasonal references. Last night, for example, my dream fragments all seemed to be set indoors, and I can’t remember anything that would suggest what time of year it might have been. But when there are outdoor settings and a more continuous flow of dreaming, I can usually get at least some impression of a season. More often than not, it’s the same season that is currently happening around me in the waking world—but fairly frequently, there are interesting seasonal shifts or variations.

In early May, in Portland Oregon where I live, dogwoods and lilacs were in bloom, but my dream took place in New England (where I grew up) and reflected the season there at the tail end of winter:

I’m visiting my mother and look out the window to see that the trees are still bare and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground. I want to take a walk, but don’t know if I have my boots, or warm clothes with me. As I watch, it begins to rain, making the snow soggy. I open the door and take a deep breath of the fragrance of mud and melting snow—which evokes a strong sense of childhood springtime. I remember the relief of spring coming after a long, long winter.

This dream brought up associations with the grudging first glimpses of spring in my childhood—a time when I would dig down through the old snow in April just to see and touch some matted green grass. When spring finally did come, it came slowly, with many setbacks, and by the time the season hit its stride, summer was ready to take over. Continue reading

Walking Around Wondering: The Wide-Angle Approach to Long, Detailed Dreams

beach in fog 01Although it’s common to remember dreams in a fairly fragmentary way—with more impressions than exact details, and with few extended storylines—most dreamers will periodically experience long, vivid dreams with elaborate plots, a full cast of characters, and nuanced, detailed scenery. Especially for young people, or those who are going through major life changes, such dreams may come in abundance.

When I’m working with long dreams (my own and others’) that contain a wealth of images, interactions, emotions and events, it is easy to get overwhelmed. So, I’ve been considering different ways of approaching such dreams. In the last post, I described the close focus approach (“Holographic Webs”) and today I’d like to talk about the wide angle approach.

In the wide angle approach, if someone is sharing a long, complex, richly detailed dream, I listen to the whole thing with an openness to the big story, as if I were dreaming it, and really experiencing it, myself. But I don’t expect to remember every exact detail. Maybe I try to organize the whole dream into some shape that seems natural: What is the beginning, the middle, the end? Does the dream have “acts” or “scenes” like a play—and is there a progression, a “plot development”? Continue reading

Holographic Webs: The Close-Focus Approach to Long, Detailed Dreams

web 03When I am fortunate enough to remember long, detailed, vivid dreams—or when I get to listen to others as they tell such dreams—it’s only natural to feel a bit overwhelmed at first.

Some of the people I work with individually are great dreamers, and each dream they bring contains so much rich imagery, such incredible events, such real and meaningful interactions and settings… How do I begin to respond to these wonderful dreams?

And if I go through a phase in my own life when the dreams are abundant, elaborate and profound… How do I find time even to write them down? Never mind trying to unfold their stories and significance! To explore the many and varied possible approaches to every aspect of these dreams, I would have to spend my entire waking life working with my dreaming life!

Obviously, when faced with such an “embarrassment of riches” (too much of a good thing), it’s not feasible, useful, or necessary to make each amazing dream into a PhD dissertation (or even a term paper). There are two ways that I tend to approach these dreams: First, there’s the close focus approach, and then there’s the wide angle approach. I’ll talk about the first approach here, and then follow up with the second in the next post.

The close focus approach begins with the holographic concept that any part of the dream will contain the whole of the dream in microcosm. In other words, when I dream an elaborate story containing multiple scenes, I can focus in on one scene, explore the themes, feelings and associations I find there—and then step back to see how those same themes, feelings and associations may be manifested in other ways in other scenes and in the arc of the dream story as a whole. Or, with an even closer focus, I can choose a single image or event in the dream, unfold some of its personal, cultural and archetypal meanings (see “Two Basic Dreamwork Skills”) and then reflect on the ways that other images and events may echo these meanings throughout the dream. Continue reading

Kites in the Wind: Defining a Healing Dream

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. Continue reading

Dreams Of New Beginnings

Seeing The Children: I am in a busy airport, in a waiting area near the top of an escalator, when I suddenly realize that it’s possible to see everything around me as beautiful. The shabby utilitarian carpeting, the fabric of the chairs, the molded plastic surrounding a plexiglass window—all seem richly textured, subtly tinted, almost luminous. And the people! Each one radiates a life force so complex and intricately individual—made up of interwoven patterns of mood and character and presence. The small children are almost too beautiful. Their skin translucent and soft, their hair shining, their glorious eyes… It is indescribable. There are lots of children now. I could just sit here forever and watch the children. I am a child myself, in this new moment, simply perceiving the life all around me.

I wrote recently about all of the problematic and tiresome dreams I was having (“Ugly Duckling Dreams”)—but since then, things have been changing. More and more, the dreams present openings and new energies. My dream-self (the “I” character in the dreams) becomes engaged in the process of authentically experiencing events and interactions. Lots of animals have been turning up, especially elephants. And then, I dreamed of “Seeing the Children”—the business of the dream (getting somewhere in an airport) is suddenly suspended. All at once, I find myself surrounded by children, by new life.

It is only natural that such luminous dreams come in their time, just as it is only natural that discouraging and difficult dreams come, too. Let’s not worry about “interpreting” dreams. They are what they are. Dreams are, first and foremost, to be experienced. The more fully we experience them, the more meaningful they will be. Even my unpleasant dreams are meaningful, and they cry out to be noticed, respected, attended with patience and curiosity. But especially with sweet dreams, like “Seeing The Children,” it’s essential just to savor the experience.

Dreams (pleasant or unpleasant) offer such concentrated moments of life—the intensity of emotions, the vitality of perceptions, the potential for total surprise—and they remind me to encounter my waking life with that same vividness. So, the first question to be asked of a dream is not “What does this mean?” but “How does this feel—what is this experience?” I encourage myself and others to take time with the dream itself, to appreciate its richness, before beginning to unfold its images or reflect on its implications. Continue reading

Dream Nemesis or Dream Teacher?

Toby 01Last night, my cat, Toby, woke me up with his hollering. He is deaf, and so can be oblivious to the noise he is making—reporting on his night-time activities in a very loud voice: “I’m on the bookcase, way up high! I’m pushing this heavy thing over the edge! [Crash!— the bowl of small change hits the floor.] Wow! Jumping down now! Hey, look, at all these shiny things! There’s some under the chair! Oh boy, I found my ball! [Whack! Scamper! Bang!] I ran into the door but I’m okay! Are you in there? Will you come out and throw my ball?” This goes on and on.

Just as I’m slipping back into sleep, Toby lets out another happy bellow or hunting cry. After being shocked awake three or four times, my adrenaline is pumping and it’s almost impossible to relax and ignore him. On nights like this, Toby is my Nemesis. My adorable little friend is taking the form of an awful, disruptive force, preventing me from doing what I want to do: Get some sleep! I can shout at him all I want (he’s deaf, remember?)—and it doesn’t do any good. It feels like a bad dream. Do you ever have dreams like this?

In dreams, the Nemesis character can be as innocent as Toby, or as demonic as a nightmare murderer. The Nemesis can be an annoyance, or a challenge, or a major threat. But, overall, when your Nemesis appears in a dream, like when Toby has a busy, noisy night, you are bound to be bothered. This is the character that “pushes your buttons”—making you feel things you don’t want to feel and do things you don’t want to do. Continue reading

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