Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: dream images (Page 3 of 3)

Dream Messengers, Guides, and Guardians

cheetah 01I’m trying to write this post while watching the annual Oregon Humane Society telethon: a steady stream of incredible cats and dogs awaiting adoption—reminding me of the significant roles that animals can play in our lives and in our dreams. In the last post (“The True Nature of Dream Figures”), I introduced the idea of seeing dream figures—human or animal—as genuinely real and meaningful participants in the unfolding experience of life. Dream figures frequently have walk-on parts as Messengers, Guides, and Guardians—parts that are as often filled by animals as by humans.

In dreams, as in waking life, Messengers, Guides and Guardians tend to appear at turning points, or in transitional places, when we are most in need of their support.  Their messages, guidance, or protection can be obvious, or more subtle.

Regularly, when new ways of being are emerging in my life, I dream of shorelines, borderlands, or unfamiliar, dark places—with a tiger, lion, cheetah, or other big cat standing by. Twice, I’ve dreamed that a tiger actually comes up out of the water at the very place where I need to go into the water, and then seems to guard this place while I work up my courage to plunge in and do what I need to do. I have a sense, in these dreams, that the tiger will keep the way open while I explore the depths, and will be there waiting to acknowledge my return.

When people are near death, their waking or sleeping dreams tend to include Messengers, Guides and Guardians—often people or animals who have previously died. Several times, I’ve heard hospice patients say: “there’s a dog over there by the door, waiting for me.” In some cases, this is a beloved childhood pet—in others, the animal is unfamiliar, and the patient is not sure whether or not to trust this visitor. In the mythologies of many traditions, dogs carry messages between the land of the living and the land of the dead, or guard the gates of the underworld, or come to guide the recently deceased in crossing over. This is not unexpected, since dogs are commonly messengers, guides or guardians in waking life as well. Continue reading

Death Dreams And Open Fields

open fieldAt an in-patient hospice where I’ve volunteered for many years, I got to know a man named Jasper who was dying of lung cancer in his seventies. Over several weeks, he told me stories about growing up on a midwestern farm. He shared his memories of the endless acres of green-gold alfalfa fields shimmering in the wind—memories that were associated with a sense of spaciousness, but also with hard labor and long hours as he tried to follow his father’s example and expectations.

When Jasper could no longer get out of bed, and was sleeping more and more of the time, he began to share dreams. In a hoarse whisper, he told me:

I’m walking across an open field. Just walking and walking. Trying to get to my father. He’s at the far side of the field, standing by a fence. He’s expecting me. I walk and walk but can’t get any closer. Don’t want to disappoint him, but I’m too slow, can’t keep up. The tall grass is dragging on my legs, slowing me down. But I have to keep walking. The sun is setting.

Jasper was anxious and exhausted, but committed to completing the task of his life. He’d always worked hard, and he wasn’t going to give up now. So he struggled and labored through the process of dying. Towards the end, he was in a coma, unresponsive to those around him, but with his eyes partly open, and his lips moving as if he was talking to himself, urging himself on. As I sat beside his bed, hour after hour, I noticed that his feet were moving under the thin sheet: first one foot flexed and then the other. Actually, his legs were working, too—alternately tensing and relaxing. He was walking. I imagined him walking across that field, to meet his father. It was a long way, and it took a long time. He worked hard at walking, and worked hard for each breath, the whole way. Continue reading

A Bird-Watching Dream Walk

Dreamwork includes practice in looking at waking life as if it were a dream—where the ordinary may become extraordinary, experiences have multiple layers of metaphorical meaning, and anything is possible. This is a useful spiritual practice, because, really, the world we see when we look at things with the freshness of a dream-perspective is more “true to life”—and certainly more interesting—than the habitual, predictable world we think we inhabit as we go about our business in the usual way.

Here’s a creative approach (particularly recommended by Robert Moss) to getting in touch with the dream-like nature of waking life, and the responsive relationship between ourselves and our world. Suppose you have a problem or concern, or you just want to better understand your current situation: Formulate a question, and just as you might hold this question in mind before sleep and hope to dream some kind of answer, you can treat your day (or a part of your day) as if it were a dream. Pay attention to what happens, and trust that information pertinent to your question will emerge. Any unusual event, or pattern of events, will contain a message. 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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