Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: healing (Page 1 of 5)

Walking Around The Block

[This essay first appeared in the Winter 2023 Special Issue of Passager Journal. It’s written in a longer format than my usual posts, so please take your time reading it. Although it is not about dreams, I wanted to include it here, because it relates to the many posts I’ve written about how trauma, grief, and other kinds of life-changing events can influence our dreams.

“Walking Around the Block” is a very personal take on how trauma may come to us not only through our own personal experiences, but also through the experiences of others in the past, and through the conditions of the world in which we live. These kinds of traumas are what IFS (the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy) calls “legacy burdens.” Legacy burdens are burdens that are not intrinsic to our own psyche, but instead are inherited from our ancestors, our culture, and the society that surrounds us. We are all affected by legacy burdens, and such burdens appear in our dreams as well, which may become a topic for a future post. In the meantime, I’m including this essay here, because I believe it is vital that we all consider just how much we affect one another. We suffer together, and potentially heal together, so we all need to consider our impact on future generations and on the world we’re inhabiting right now, for better or worse.

While some of the images at the beginning of the essay may be triggering for some people (and if you need to stop reading, definitely do so!), please know that this story moves toward resolving the harm that such harsh images can stir up. I believe it’s essential that, whenever we are courageous enough to let ourselves be stirred, it is vital that we keep walking until we come all the way through the experience and into a new place. And, when we walk in courage and vulnerability, it is best that we do it together.]

Seven years before I was born, my parents had a ghastly car accident. They were on the freeway, on the way to a wedding; my dad was driving when a tire blew out. He lost control of the car, which skidded across the median strip into oncoming traffic and was then struck and spun and finally crushed “like an accordion” (my mom told this story so many times that I’ve memorized the phrases she habitually used). Fortunately, my parents were not wearing seatbelts, so they were thrown clear, probably through the windshield, at some point before the front seats were obliterated. Dozens of cars were involved in the pile-up, but theirs were the only serious injuries. Both were “given up for dead” at the scene. 

I know exactly what that scene looked like, not only because of my graphic imagination, but because there are large glossy black-and-white (thank god) photos of it. These gruesome photos were shot by “an ambulance chaser” who sold them to my parents later, so that their lawyers could extract evidence of the cause of the crash. When I was a kid, the photos resided in the attic where my sisters and I, exploring, would periodically dig them up and bring them downstairs, so we could ask my mother to walk us through the story once again. Hearing it was both horrifying and oddly reassuring. I knew that my parents would ultimately come through, and that the happily-ever-after conclusion was my own eventual birth—my whole existence, in fact. The appeal of the story seemed to be the same for my sisters, and even, perhaps, for my mother who was always willing to tell it, as if the telling made her believe in her own survival.

Between the story and the photos, we’d all get pretty buzzed on adrenaline. I remember my hands and feet tingling, my lips going numb, my throat getting tight; I remember a weirdly ecstatic light-headedness. (I can remember this vividly, because as I write about it now, I’m feeling a lesser version of that same buzz.) When my mom died over sixty years after “the Accident,” my sister mailed me a big box of her possessions which included those photos. And when I went through them, telling my partner Holly the story just as my mom had told it, I felt the same symptoms, the same odd ecstasy—and afterward, a headache, nausea, and a shimmering anxiety I couldn’t shake off for several days. I haven’t opened the envelope of photos since; they live in a box at the back of a closet, or maybe in the garage. I don’t need to go looking for them.

Anyway, I know what they show. The smashed car, the debris scattered on the pavement, the blur of people being helpful or getting in the way (the police hadn’t arrived yet). My parents are the only ones not moving, not blurry. My mother is that gray, human-shaped mound on the road shoulder, with a blanket or tarp from the trunk of somebody’s car drawn up covering her face. She told us that “most of the bones in her body” were broken (not actually “most,” but many: both collarbones, one leg, a hip, several ribs), and she was badly concussed. She remained unconscious until she “woke up in the ambulance with a mouth full of teeth.” My boyish-looking dad sits slumped like a broken puppet with a stained jacket, too big for him, around his shoulders, and a spill of black blood all down the front of his white t-shirt. He had a concussion like my mother, plus a broken toe, a sprained back, and a shattered jaw. The blood came from his jugular vein; his throat had been sliced open by a large shard of glass. He would have died within minutes, except for the miracle that there happened to be a surgeon stuck in the ensuing traffic jam who happened to have a clamp in his medical bag. I don’t know whether the photo was taken while my dad was bleeding out, or just after the bleeding stopped. His expression is dazed and faraway, as if he’s watching himself die, but from a distance.

My sisters and I would gape at the closeness of this close encounter with death, and stare at my bloody young father, my covered-up mother. We passed the photos around with shaky hands. According to my mom, my dad could remember the whole Accident, though he rarely talked about it; she herself only remembered fragments, in flashbacks, much later. He remembered losing control of the car, shouting her name, and then overhearing someone at the scene who gestured toward her body, saying, “this one’s dead.” In the hospital afterward, Dad had to be brought to her bedside in a wheelchair again and again, because he couldn’t be convinced that she was alive. Her actual, living face was less persuasive than the mental image of her dead one. I know it was cathartic for Mom to tell us the story, but it probably left her feeling shaky, too.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. My own inheritance from my parents’ Accident was a heady mix of strong emotions and vivid mental images leading to some false conclusions that have remained extraordinarily tenacious. Although I know better, I somehow still believe that my own body went through that Accident, or at least that I am doomed to play out versions of it in my own life, to revisit it again and again. I anticipate horrors around every corner. An accidental blow-out on a sunny summer day can suddenly lead to a catastrophic, whirling loss of control, and a devastating, black-and-white still shot of chaos. Of course, while accidents do happen and change is always happening, crushing crashes are certainly not inevitable. Maybe I’ll eventually persuade myself. 

The biggest inheritance I’ve received from the Accident, however, actually adds something to my life rather than taking something away, even though it makes life feel precarious. (I notice that the words “precious” and “precarious” only differ by two letters.) Because of my parents’ story, I know, truly, that I might never have been born. And so I also know that having been born is something. Having been born is not irrelevant, not to be taken for granted, not incidental or accidental. 

For the past three years, I’ve been trying to live with—and learn from—the horrors of my own post-traumatic stress disorder following a major spinal surgery that set off a landslide of crises and losses for me personally in a world where crises and losses are everywhere. My PTSD didn’t just come from the surgery, of course. The condition that’s called PTSD rarely if ever develops from a single catastrophic personal trauma. In my case, there had been a degenerative neuromuscular disease, and a series of smaller nightmares leading up to the surgery. No trauma really exists in isolation, since anyone who experiences anything will have a previous history of other experiences, which will predispose that person to be more or less susceptible to being harmed by whatever is happening now. 

I’m not alone in my trauma history. There are always repercussions from anything that happens to anyone, and the cumulative cause-and-effect can be passed on through generations, which means that not only do we gather more and more burdens as we age, we also inherit whatever was too heavy for our parents to carry, especially if their own parents left them a back-breaking load. The good news is that when we manage, somehow, to lay down (and learn from) our own individual burdens, we protect our descendants, and the people around us, from inheriting our pain. We might even resolve the unfinished business of our ancestors simply by not perpetuating it. Of course, this works laterally as well: we all influence each other, whether we’re family or not. But parents’ trauma histories do have a particularly high impact on how their children’s traumas will play out. 

After weeks in the hospital, my own parents were released into the care of my mother’s parents. It was not a healthy arrangement. My grandmother was disapproving; she nursed a heartbroken conviction that both of my parents were going to hell since they’d renounced their evangelical upbringing, and her grim, reproachful, sorrowing silences were impossible to ignore. Meanwhile, my awful grandfather baited and shamed my father again and again with the “just joking” suggestion that he had “fallen asleep at the wheel.” 

My parents could not work, could not drive, could not pay rent, and so could not leave my grandparents’ house. They couldn’t have a private conversation or even touch each other for weeks, since it was a small house and they had to sleep separately in the living room (my mom on a couch, my dad—whose back didn’t allow him to lie flat—in an armchair) just outside my grandparents’ open bedroom door. I don’t know what burdens of their own might have made my mother’s parents as unhelpful as they were, but the broken connections implicit in the conflicts and confinement of this arrangement were almost as traumatic for my mom and dad as The Accident itself. Here, in one small house, were parents and adult children harming each other, passing their traumatic histories back and forth, deepening each other’s wounds.

Retelling this familiar tale, I intended “to make a long story short…”—but it looks like I’m making a long story long. It was certainly a long story for my parents. In a sense their story never ended, and the whole point of telling it is that the Accident seemed to go on and on, like one car skidding into another all over the freeway, one impact leading to the next in my parents’ lives, and then in the lives of their daughters. I’m wondering now how such endless stories can be told differently, so that all the moving vehicles might finally come to rest. In the haze of oil smoke and exhaust, somebody will get out of their overheated, idling car, hike past the long line of stalled traffic with a medical bag in hand, and place a clamp on a vein to “stop the bleeding.”

It has taken me three days to write the last few paragraphs, to get my parents past the Accident and out of my grandparents house at last. It was several interminable weeks for them, before they were finally rescued by my other grandparents, my father’s parents, who paid the deposit and first month’s rent on a small apartment and bought them a second hand car so they’d be able to return to their jobs eventually. Even as further trouble kept coming for my parents, there were gaps in the relentlessness of their long story, where they could rest and heal. 

But the relentlessness always resumed. My dad’s jaw had been wired shut during this time, so he’d been sipping his miserable meals through a straw. He was so excited when the wires could finally be removed that he indulged in a steak dinner immediately. That night, shortly after they’d moved into their own place, he woke my mother, clutching his stomach, groaning, “I’m dying.” It was an ulcer, though they didn’t know it at the time; all they knew was that they had to get him to the hospital. He was too sick to drive, and she had a cast on one leg from hip to toes and on one arm from shoulder to fingertips. They called 911, of course, but—wouldn’t you know it?—there was a minor hurricane going on at the time (at least it was a minor hurricane) and the dispatcher said there were no available ambulances. 

So, my mother had no choice but to get behind the wheel. Neither of them had driven since the Accident, and these weren’t the best circumstances for restoring their confidence. With her one good leg, Mom worked the pedals, and with her one good arm, she steered. Dad, in agony in the passenger seat, shifted gears whenever she stepped on the clutch and shouted at him. The rain lashed down, the dark was impenetrable, and the gale-force winds hurled trash cans at the windshield. The main roads were closed, and every side street came to a flooded dead end. They couldn’t get the car into reverse, so she made innumerable U-turns in narrow alleys, and soon realized that there was no way they were getting to the hospital. So she gave up and drove to my grandparents’ house (not the miserable grandparents’ house, but the helpful grandparents’ house). Finally, I’m coming to the point of my story.

My helpful grandfather wasn’t particularly surprised to see them, and wasn’t particularly worried. The arrival of his frantic daughter-in-law and apparently dying son at three in the morning in a hurricane didn’t faze him. According to my mom, he just shrugged on his overcoat and said (I imagine he drawled), “Well, you know, when the horses had colic, we’d just walk them around until they got over it.” My grandfather was a Baptist minister, not a cowboy or a farmer, but he grew up in rural Sweden where everybody had horses and it was a long way to the nearest hospital, or veterinarian. He wrapped my dad in a blanket and walked him around and around the block for hours. And by the time it had gotten light, and the hurricane had blown over, and they could get my dad to the hospital and find out he had an ulcer, the crisis didn’t seem so critical after all. My dad was okay, though he didn’t eat steak for a while. 

The family mythology of the Accident, accompanied by graphic images, fed an adrenaline addiction in me that the culture at large cultivates in all of us. We seem to trade in shock stocks that are always on the rise. So I came to associate the alarming, painful events depicted in those photos with being energized and alive. The quivering thrill of catastrophe is incomparable. Whether it’s experienced directly or just stimulated by a story, this perceived danger drives the autonomic nervous system to pour every bit of life force into survival, pumping us full of an energy so compelling that we cannot help but live. Afterward, we’re exhausted—almost high, but also empty. The way it’s supposed to work, once the danger is past, the body rests and returns to equilibrium, reminded by a calm environment and caring people that safety is possible, that ordinary stimulation is enough to live on. But if the danger signal gets sent again and again, then there’s no reassurance, no escape, no return to normal. There is no normal. A final burst is kept in reserve for emergencies, but after a while everything looks like an emergency and we’re constantly firing off what little we’ve got at nothing, wasting our life force on nothing. Worst of all, we become fundamentally disconnected from ourselves, and especially from all the other people who seem to have gone on without us.

Our culture sets us up for easy adrenaline addiction through violent entertainment, stressful competition, high-risk short-term pleasures. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before, but we’re addicted so we don’t do anything about it, or can’t do anything about it. Maybe I believe that I’m only alive when my body’s playing out a life-or-death scenario in my imagination if not in action. But the truth is, it’s rarely life-or-death—it’s always life-and-death. Life includes small, quiet encounters with mortality all the time: something ending, giving way to something else. I could be savoring and sharing the cycles of endings and beginnings that repeat routinely but are subtly changing with each repetition. 

Get this (I remind myself): I don’t have to to fight for my life in order to be alive. In fact, the fight takes the life out of me. The less I have to fight the better off I am. Wouldn’t it be enough, just living and eventually dying, alongside our loved ones, in our own time, in our own way? Life’s not the accident or the ulcer or the hurricane; it’s not the surgery or emergency; it’s the walk around the block as the winds blow themselves out and your father tucks a blanket warmly around you, and keeps you walking until morning.

The Accident and its aftermath was horribly hard on the young people who became my parents, of course. Hearing about their trauma, I got to realize that their lives were not about me; their lives were their lives. I couldn’t help but notice that these two twenty-one year olds on the way to a wedding on a hot July day, were not “my mother” and “my father,” they were Shirley and Philip, who were not expecting to become my parents any more than they were expecting The Accident to happen to them. The Accident shaped them, but it was only part of what shaped them. I had a place in their lives, but I didn’t define them either. And I don’t want to define them now. Yes, both got stuck in what could be called PTSD, a kind of adrenaline addiction. In terms of trauma’s influence on their lives, Shirley could be described as “freezing,” while Philip “fought” and “fled.” Their trauma responses impacted their daughters, and later their grandchildren. But both Shirley and Philip also recovered, to a considerable extent, and lived, day in and day out, for many years, through many experiences. Both died in their eighties, with their daughters and grandchildren nearby, loving them. My own catastrophic accidents and aftermaths in the course of a lifetime have affected me, too, of course, sometimes in ways that echo my parents’ experiences, often not. It’s how we live the everyday that distinguishes us—not the shocks that force us to react but the ways we walk with our reactions, covering the same familiar territory: eating, sleeping, relating, circling the neighborhoods of normalcy.

Shirley told the story of the Accident for some of the same reasons I need to tell my own painful stories of illness, surgery, grief, PTSD. These reasons fall into categories that are either helpful or not—sort of like the strategies of the helpful grandfather and the awful grandfather. Like the awful grandfather, unhelpful reasons are focused on getting an adrenaline-fueled reaction. Telling stories to stimulate excitement is not necessarily harmful, but it’s certainly not helpful. We often do it because teasing out more emotion has become habitual; we’ve been scared into believing that life requires the utmost intensity of us and that connecting with others involves attracting their attention dramatically. This is, unfortunately, a slippery slope and can lead to manipulative behavior like that of the awful grandfather. Anyway, there are much better reasons for storytelling. Like the helpful grandfather, helpful stories try to evoke courage and coping, not over-reaction. When we share the story of a terrible experience with the intention to encourage and connect, when we have compassion for ourselves and gratitude for own survival and pass it on to the next generation, it is life-giving. 

Dividing my grandfathers into the “awful” one and the “helpful” one is actually problematic. Do I need to divide my ancestors between the bad guys and the good guys? It’s true that one of my grandfathers used shame as a power play and was selfish and destructive in many other ways, while the other tried hard to be a good person, shouldered his responsibilities, and attempted to serve others. It’s true that some of my ancestors were Nazi collaborators, and others were artists, farmers and civil rights activists. But even the best of them—the best of us—were and are sometimes troubled, sometimes angry, sometimes hurtful. Even the worst of them—the worst of us—were and are capable of generous gestures and thoughtful moments. 

I learned from my own PTSD that trauma causes shame, not because there’s anything shameful in being traumatized, but simply, biologically, because being in a traumatic situation makes the autonomic nervous system disconnect us. When we become stuck in a trauma response, as in PTSD, our social functions are impaired: we cannot make eye contact or smile authentically; our adrenaline pumps when we feel threatened, and we react in anger or deploy tricks to protect ourselves; we feel small and helpless, and this translates as a physical sense of shame even if we know there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This kind of shame is contagious, from ancestor to descendant, and right now in the present generation from one person to another. But other cycles are operating as well. 

In the immediacy of traumatic pain and loss, that which makes life most meaningful may be sacrificed temporarily in favor of mere survival, but when PTSD makes that trade-off chronic and the suffering keeps coming, I invite my parents and grandparents to walk around the block with me. I invite those who are here now, and those who will come after us. And I try to receive the invitations that are extended to me. By disabling our capacity to engage with others, PTSD causes despair. More than anything else, healing calls for reconnection with the trustworthy people and humble routines that make life meaningful. Sometimes, even in desperate circumstances, a walk around the block means more than a rush to the hospital. My own PTSD got reenforced because each time I started to settle down to that everyday kind of comfort another emergency came along. So now I practice walking back through my stories slowly, sharing them with an awareness of those who are listening, emphasizing the pauses between the crises, the love and support, the parts where telling it will not crank adrenaline or jerk tears but instead can encourage us all to take a breath in the stillness before morning, after the winds have died down, when the rain-wet pavement smells like gentleness. 

Dreams & Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Richard Schwartz developed Internal Family Systems (IFS) as a therapy model forty years ago, and it is a highly effective approach to trauma-informed mental health care that is still evolving and being applied innovatively today. Psychotherapists who work with dreams might notice that dreamwork and IFS have striking similarities; combining these tools can have tremendous potential in their work. Outside of a therapeutic context, there’s also a naturally symbiotic relationship between the two, and bringing dreamwork and IFS together in our personal self-care and spiritual practices can result in life-changing insights and breakthroughs. Although such inner work is important, it doesn’t have to be laborious. Dreamwork and IFS both offer a sense of radical possibility, so using them to explore our psychodynamic ecosystems can feel more like play.

The IFS model draws upon our natural tendency to think of ourselves as complex multifaceted beings, recognizing that some aspects of our psyches are familiar to us while others can surprise or offend us. In IFS these parts* of the psyche are treated as sub-personalities, which might be compared to dream figures, with distinct feelings, behaviors, and motivations. Our parts, even the ones we consider problematic, all have something to contribute to the wholeness of ourselves, so IFS teaches skills and practices for communicating with these parts, to win their trust, address their concerns, and receive their gifts. 

Some parts have been forced into extreme roles in response to difficult experiences, usually in childhood. The parts known as exiles are like vulnerable children who have been hurt; because exiles carry so much pain, other parts called protectors try to keep them contained (or exiled). Protectors resemble “parentified children” themselves, and they have taken on the burdens of extreme roles (like perfectionism, being overly critical, people-pleasing, etc.) in a misguided effort to control pain. Such strategies might once have been useful, but have become unsustainable, distorted, or ineffective over time, and often cause further harm. Protectors and exiles interact with one another in ways that can resemble a family in distress.

IFS also affirms that behind the ecology of parts, our original nature, called the Self, has an infinite capacity for qualities like curiosity, calm, clarity, compassion, courage, creativity, confidence and connectedness. If parts are comparable to dream figures, the Self is the deeper wisdom of the dream and the dreamer. The presence and guidance of Self means a happier inner family, providing an experience like waking from a nightmare and recognizing that you are the dreamer of the dream, not its victim. Even the most disturbed and disturbing parts or dream figures have reasons for doing what they are doing. When you, the Self or dreamer, create a trusting relationship with troubled parts or dream figures, you understand and honor what they’ve been trying to accomplish, and help them step out of extreme roles or patterns of suffering that are stuck in the past. Once unburdened, your parts can contribute their unique gifts to your overall well-being, and that of the larger community. This may sound like make believe, but the process feels astonishingly real, and the ensuing transformation can be remarkable. 


For a brief example of how dreamwork and IFS might play together, here’s a dream with my commentary:

I’m a patient in the hospital, getting better, but still weak and fragile.

[The dream ego often acts as a protector, so her self-description might indicate the burdensome role she uses to avoid or manage pain. Here, the protector identifies with being “weak and fragile.”]

Another patient, a sick toddler, is crying. 

[Exiles typically appear in dreams as children or animals in distress.] 

Holly is here visiting me. She comforts the toddler, but I’m not sure we should be taking him out of his crib.

[My partner Holly is sometimes a stand-in for Self in my dreams. I see her as someone who can handle things that I can’t handle. In waking life and in dreams, I often have mixed feelings about this! Protectors are likely to distrust the way that Self relates to exiles, at least at first. ]

The baby is wriggling, so Holly lets him walk around a little. But someone opens the door, and the toddler becomes a cat and scoots out. I’m afraid he will get hurt, or disturb other patients and get us in trouble. 

[The transformation and escape suggest that this exile has been spontaneously healed by the loving attention of Self. As a cat, the child no longer needs to be guarded by the protector, but the protector is afraid to let him go.]

I chase and catch the cat, and he nips my hand. I get mad at Holly, telling her that I’m supposed to be the sick one and don’t have the energy to chase cats! Besides, she’s the one who let him out, so she should try catching him. She picks him up, but then it’s me holding him. Maybe I’ve become Holly—I seem strong enough to manage him gently now. 

[The protector herself has transformed here. As a weak patient trying to grab the cat, she got bitten, but when she becomes Holly-Self, she is able to handle the cat gently so nobody gets hurt.] 

Now, the whole dream changes and I’m no longer trying to return the cat to the hospital room. Instead, I’m getting to know the hospital staff and patients, offering them my support. 

[Now Holly is no longer here, so the dream ego has become fully Self, getting acquainted with various other parts in ways that could potentially support them.]


This is an oversimplification of the way IFS might look in dreamwork, but it demonstrates how the dream itself can enact a healing process with an IFS cast of characters. The dream ego (protector) is no longer anxious or weak by the end of the dream; the cat is no longer a sick toddler (exile) confined to a hospital room. The dreamer wakes up feeling that some inner dilemma has been resolved. 

In most cases, dream figures don’t fit quite so easily into IFS roles, but the IFS model can still be applied helpfully when dreams and the feelings they evoke might otherwise be baffling or distressing. For example, I dreamed recently that I was behaving like “an absent-minded professor,” and woke feeling upset without knowing why. Recognizing the upset part of me as an exile, I asked her what she needed me to know, and distinctly “heard” her reply that she didn’t trust me to keep her safe. She showed me an image of myself as a small child: my father was “an absent-minded professor,” and although some parts of me found his eccentricities amusing, there was a vulnerable part that felt frightened and hurt when he didn’t behave like an adult I could depend on. The dream pointed out that a protector in me now (represented by the dream ego) acts like my father, deflecting painful emotions by acting confused and disorganized—and this eccentric behavior is threatening for the vulnerable exile, whose upset feelings emerge upon awakening. IFS techniques support my Self-capacity to be responsible and trustworthy, so I can attend to strong feelings (exiles) without being overwhelmed by them, and without resorting to absent-mindedness or other problematic strategies to avoid them. The dream drew my attention to an inner dynamic that I can now address compassionately. 

I invite you to explore IFS as you explore your dreams, with curiosity and the other “C” words that distinguish the Self. What happens to our dreamwork when we believe that even troubling dreams are meaningful, and troubled dream figures are potentially helpful? What would happen to our lives if we could trust that we are, at the core, truly able to handle our “cats” (our strong feelings, difficult challenges and disturbing dreams)—with kindness, wisdom, and grace? 

*Boldface indicates IFS terminology.

[This article was originally published in in the Winter, 2024 issue of DreamTime Magazine. If you enjoyed it, please consider subscribing to DreamTime by joining the International Association for the Study of Dreams ]

PTSD Dreaming, Part 2

In the previous post, I wrote about how trauma-informed dreamwork can be meaningful in restoring well-being for those whose nervous systems have become disregulated by overpowering experiences. Here in part two, I’ll use some of my own dreams as a case study to reflect on dream themes that are typical when people are recovering from trauma. 

It’s especially important not to over-think trauma-related dreams but to attend to the impressions they leave in the body and emotions. For people with PTSD, sense impressions in dreams can often be disturbing or confusing. Dreams may be difficult to describe or fully experience because the nervous system views disturbance and confusion as threatening, and is mobilized to react by “fighting” (denying the validity of the dream experience), “fleeing” (forgetting or fogging the dream memory), or “freezing” (becoming overwhelmed). Even vague trauma-related impressions can be emotionally intense, and can leave the person feeling haunted if the dream remains unexplored. Regardless of whether these dreams seem positive (helpful), negative (disturbing), or neutral (mundane or confusing), there is tremendous healing potential in giving care and attention to the specific sensations and emotions they bring to light.

In groups or with a therapist, theater and bodywork are wonderful tools for PTSD dreamwork. Playing the role of a dream figure allows a person with PTSD to experience themself as someone who is not “the one with the problem.” A dream scenario can free them from the need to make sense of a chaotic situation, as it emphasizes the dynamic flow of interacting characters rather than following a linear storyline. This flow—interpersonal and often playful—is particularly meaningful for those whose lives have been reduced to a series of reactions. Bodywork generally involves a similar freedom from the need to seek cognitive solutions to somatic problems. Instead of analyzing the dream’s imagery, bodywork helps the dreamer to focus on the sensations that arise as the dream is recalled, and to explore those sensations through breath, touch, or movement. 

If a group or trained guide is not available, there’s still a lot of dream exploration that can be done on one’s own. When working with PTSD dreams, always engage with intense sensations and emotions in small doses, returning to a baseline of safety frequently so you (the dreamer) can trust that you have a choice about how much to experience. If the dreamer can’t access a baseline of safety (free from physical agitation and anxiety), then it is not a good time to work with disturbing, negative dreams. Positive dreams, however, can be appreciated anytime.

If your life has been impacted by trauma, as mine has, here are some types of dreams you might recognize, and approaches you might consider. 

Some dreams offer a glimpse of life energy and possibilities. Others may set up problems that have solutions, requiring some effort but bringing a sense of accomplishment. Such dreams are simply to be savored, as they give the body a direct experience of what is needed for healing. 

Mouse In Trouble: A frightening storm. Through the window, I see a mouse huddled on the ground. I plunge into rain and wind, and nudge the trembling creature into a container, but she wriggles out again. She is afraid of me and won’t cooperate. I keep trying until finally I’m running down the trail with the mouse at least temporarily contained. She escapes just as we reach the sheltered place I’ve found for her. It’s a dry area under a shed, and there’s a cereal box lying open there. The mouse goes into the box and gobbles cereal. She must have been starving—she is so thin and frail. She knows I helped her, so she’ll be willing to trust me from now on. 

[This dream suggests ways of reassuring my own traumatized body. I can savor the mouse’s sense of safety and fullness, as well as the dream ego’s experience of having the courage to go into the storm, the patience and gentleness to ease fear, and the capacity to provide nourishment and protection to vulnerable aspects of myself.]

Especially early on in the healing process, some dreams may seem ugly, discouraging, shocking or nightmarish, leaving the dreamer feeling worse rather than better. You’d probably want to forget such dreams as quickly as possible, but it can be useful to notice how they affect your body. Try allowing your body to respond naturally, with exaggerated gestures, sounds, or facial expressions that convey the revulsion, anger, hopelessness or fear the dream evokes. Repeating these gestures vigorously (or imagining them, if they’re too intense to enact) can be cathartic and empowering.

Eating Lizards: I am eating a snack of small lizards from a paper cup. This is supposed to be one of my favorite treats, but as I become aware of what I am doing it becomes more and more revolting. I look at the last lizard and wish it were actually alive so I could let it go—but it’s dead and I have to swallow it. 

[This dream captures the misery and shame of painful experiences I was unable to stomach. As I recall the sensation of swallowing dead lizards, I allow myself to make faces and gag, shaking my head. After a while, revulsion is replaced by sadness. I can feel the strength of my longing that the last lizard might live after all—that might live.]

During the worst times of PTSD, I had violently frightening nightmares where I found myself drowning, being eaten alive, or fighting with dead-eyed attackers. Other dreams evoked grief and helplessness as I watched loved ones being harmed, or saw my home swept away by floodwaters. It was difficult to find a gesture that would encompass the enormity of such images, but I could respond by imagining myself screaming—letting the scream carry all the pain that I was unable to contain or express otherwise. Paradoxically, intense emotional pain represents a very powerful suppressed life force, and by screaming it out (in my head—it was too strong for my voice), I actually felt energized. I let the scream go on until the pain broke like a wave into crying, shivering, deep breathing—and finally receded so I could rest. 

Recently, I’ve been having dreams that give me direct experience of being free of PTSD.

Spacewalk: We journey into deep space, beyond the known universe, on a mission. My beloved and I met on this spaceship journey; we are trying to figure out how we will maintain our connection once we have returned to our home planet. For now, we share the freedom of deep space where none of the laws of physics apply. We can actually go outside the ship without spacesuits, and walk on the emptiness, which is like walking on stars. We’re surrounded by sparkling lights and infinite, rich darkness. 

Every dream is a healing journey into deep space. May we all step into emptiness and experience the infinite, in darkness and in light. We can trust ourselves to come through our most difficult experiences, restored to our home planet, reunited with our inner beloved. 

[This article was originally published in in the Winter, 2023 issue of DreamTime Magazine. If you enjoyed it, please consider subscribing to DreamTime by joining the International Association for the Study of Dreams ]

PTSD Dreaming, Part 1

For the past three years, I’ve been living with post-traumatic stress disorder from experiences that occurred before, during and after spinal surgery. Trauma-related issues have become commonplace these days as uncertainty about the future is causing unprecedented levels of stress and crisis in many people’s lives all over the world. Our dream experiences reflect and influence our waking experiences, and in difficult times this dynamic relationship becomes especially significant. Drawing upon current therapeutic models for trauma care, I’d like to explore some of the healing possibilities of trauma-informed dreamwork.

First, a brief primer on trauma. Not everyone who has traumatizing experiences gets PTSD. Usually, we are able to literally “shake off” (through releases like trembling or crying) the physical shock of such experiences and go forward integrating the changes that traumatic events can cause in our lives. But PTSD occurs when the body’s natural threat responses and recovery processes are acutely or chronically thwarted or distorted. In PTSD, we feel trapped, and therefore can’t stop reacting, can’t return to equilibrium, after the crisis has passed. When this happens, virtually every subsequent life experience is perceived as a potential threat, especially experiences that remind us of the initial trauma. The body is numbed and disoriented by internal alarms, overwhelmed and confused by external stimuli, perpetually mobilized to fight or run away, or locked into paralyzing dissociation. 

When all of the body’s resources are going toward threat readiness, some internal systems are charged up, while others are switched off. When we’re gripped by “fight-flight” (a sympathetic nervous system response) or “freeze” (a parasympathetic response), no energy is available for everyday essential functions like digestion, sleep or socializing. We can’t think creatively or systematically, can’t make decisions or feel joy. We aren’t motivated by anything but the emergency that never ends, so exhaustion is inevitable, relationships can break down, and secondary illnesses or injuries are likely. PTSD has profound physical, mental and emotional consequences, diminishing our sense of ourselves as whole beings with full lives; we become nothing but a set of reflex reactions to circumstances beyond our control. Even if diagnosable PTSD is not present, anyone with a trauma history may experience some of these symptoms when stressed. In troubled times, we all need support from one another, and from practices that help regulate our nervous systems and restore balance. Though dreams can be part of the problem (PTSD often brings repetitive nightmares and sleep disorders), they can also contribute greatly to healing. 

Because traumas impair cognitive function, many forms of talk therapy are unhelpful, but if a traumatized person is able to recall dreams and has some capacity for self-reflection, dreamwork may be a tremendous resource because dream imagery offers a perspective on disturbing experiences that includes the body as well as the mind. Although PTSD dreams are often filled with repetitious problem and threat scenarios, these scenarios can be emotionally cathartic, and may include fresh details and connections essential to restoring equilibrium. Except in the case of PTSD nightmares (which are more like inescapable flashbacks than like dreams), dreaming can refresh our range of options, helping us recognize possibilities we can’t see when our emotions and cognitive minds are on automatic pilot, stuck in threat reaction patterns. 

Dream scenarios usually diverge from literal memories of traumatic events in ways that create alternative neural pathways in the brain. Just having dreams helps, and then telling them to an attentive and caring person helps even more. If that other person has dreamwork skills and can provide fresh insights, all the better, though this isn’t essential. A listening ear and an open mind may be exactly what is lacking for a person with PTSD, and dreams provide an opportunity to connect with others in ways that are intimate and authentic yet potentially non-threatening. Just telling or hearing dreams non-judgmentally may be meaningful, because when interesting dream content is being shared, the social pressure of making conversation is reduced.

Generally, PTSD dreamwork that involves talking should emphasize sensations and impressions rather than analysis—allowing the dream itself to provide the healing. I’ll give some examples of this in part 2, but for now I’ll just say that an important aspect of PTSD healing is restoring trust in one’s own body, so paying attention to direct physical dream experiences in all five senses is extremely powerful medicine, provided there is a safe context. Even if someone does not recall any dreams of their own, or if their dreams are too disturbing to share, indirectly experiencing the imagery in others’ dreams may be meaningful, inviting physical impressions and responses without overwhelming personal associations. A person with PTSD should not be expected to offer insights, but should be welcomed to do so if it comes naturally. Above all, a vulnerable person needs permission to simply experience dreams without the imperative to make sense of them. This helps reinforce trust in self and others, so when potentially triggering dream content comes up, it can be felt with the confidence that it will pass, making room for new possibilities rather than an endless recycling of traumatic events.

If PTSD is acute, however, a more body-oriented approach may be necessary, since thinking and talking, even about neutral topics, can be too threatening. In some cases, flashback nightmares reinforce traumatic events, and more positive dream memory may be entirely absent. Yet dreams can still be the path of healing for the psyche, even if this process isn’t conscious. During REM sleep (perhaps also during other sleep stages) dreams integrate scattered memory fragments and sense impressions to create the coherence and meaning that are absent in severe PTSD. Unfortunately, it is often not just the capacity to remember dreams that is impaired by trauma, but the dreaming process itself: people with PTSD (like those with certain forms of depression or anxiety) tend to have less REM sleep and poor sleep quality overall, which deprives them of integration when they need it most. Therapies such as EMDR, tapping, and neurofeedback seem to carry out some of the same functions as dreaming, and may be helpful in reestablishing healthy dream sleep.

In part 2, I’ll give some examples of PTSD dreams, and also discuss how tools like theater and bodywork with dreams can be effective for those of us with disregulated nervous systems who might have difficulty with analytical dreamwork. In the meantime, if you are having PTSD symptoms, take heart! Even if you can’t immediately feel it, your dreams are working within you, and others’ dreams are working around you (as Jeremy Taylor would say) “in the service of healing and wholeness.”

[This article was originally published in in the Fall, 2022 issue of DreamTime Magazine. If you enjoyed it, please consider subscribing to DreamTime by joining the International Association for the Study of Dreams ]

Dreamwork & Race

Whenever a participant in one of my groups brings a dream that includes BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, or People of Color] dream figures, I inwardly cringe. My dream group members are mostly white, and their racially-inflected dreams can be a minefield of stereotypes and projections. I wish I could write about this from some moral high ground, but I can’t. As a white person in the United States, my own unconscious mind is also filled with buried racial bombs, and though I’d love to claim that I’m not the one who buried them, I’ve been living happily in a land shielded by the presence of these deadly munitions all my life. 

When recounting racially-inflected—in fact, racist—dreams, many group members are sensitive to the unconscious biases that these dreams reveal, and they acknowledge this with regret and sometimes shame. I hope I have the courage to expose myself as they do, in the interests of learning and changing at the deepest level, but the fact that we can see our own racism doesn’t make us less racist, and sometimes exposing ourselves can be a preemptive tactic to keep others from exposing us. Still, it’s less excruciating to work with these dreams if the racist implications can be openly discussed with the dreamer. Some dreamers, however, are oblivious to any implicit racism or, perhaps worse, sense that the “wrong conclusions” might be drawn from their dreams and hedge with justifications and denials. I’m afraid that my own dread as we tiptoe around our minefields doesn’t just come from the unpleasantness of hearing people I like say things that appall me, it’s also from a fear of dealing with any of this at all. Like most white people, I can avoid dealing with racism just by surrounding myself with the safety zones of whiteness—and it is those white zones of privileged obtuseness that make racism such a clear and present danger to the BIPOC community, while corrupting and corroding our collective humanity.

White people can easily take fundamentals like safety for granted, which is why I’m addressing a “we” in this article that refers particularly to white people. Although dreamers of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds can enjoy reading about meaningful dreamwork issues, BIPOC dreamworkers probably won’t be particularly surprised or enlightened by anything I have to say about white people’s racially-inflected dreams (though I’m grateful if you do choose to read on). On the other hand, I hope that all white dreamworkers will choose to reflect on issues that may cause us discomfort, letting an awareness of potential racist implications inform our work. I’ve learned a lot by overcoming my desire to avoid this subject, and dreamwork has been an excellent way to do some of that essential learning. 

While white people’s dreams with BIPOC dream figures inevitably reflect the societal racism (and sexism, and cultural assumptions of all kinds) that we have absorbed, it’s helpful to remember that dreams reflect unconscious attitudes that are not necessarily congruent with our conscious intentions. Talking about our racist dreams should not become an exercise in blaming ourselves and one another, but should instead expose the ugly psychological and sociological scaffolding that has structured some of our fundamental beliefs and behaviors. We do this hard work so that we’ll be better able to refuse to perpetuate harmful and shameful systems even when they benefit us personally.

The presence of a person of a different race in your dream isn’t automatically racist—our waking world is populated by people of differing ethnicities and so is our dreaming world. However, all dream figures have stereotypical elements (representing categories or types, not just personal qualities), so they exhibit our prejudices. BIPOC characters in white people’s dreams often end up being cast in roles that are blatantly racist: lacking individuality, and emphasizing reductionist stereotypes. Working with such dreams, do we accept these stereotypes, or do we face and challenge them? It is essential that our ways of working with our own or others’ dreams focus on the uniqueness and humanity of every dream figure, while simultaneously acknowledging the roles that our dreams have assigned to them. Our dreams can exhibit a caste system—ranking figures according to our own scale of values. This is not accidental, and we must commit ourselves to questioning the demeaning systems within our dreamworlds that reflect similar systems in the waking world.

A white person’s dream of a BIPOC dream figure can be both racist and anti-racist, since that figure’s presence and our response gives us an opportunity to see what we are assuming, and opens up the possibility of seeing something more. Dream figures aren’t just there to reinforce and represent our prejudices, they are uniquely created and creative beings with the capacity to surprise us and change us. The more we recognize our stereotypical beliefs and how they are reflected in a particular dream figure, the more we discover how much we don’t know. This individual figure appears in my dream or your dream for a reason, and when we see them in their wholeness, we expand ourselves as well. Paradoxically, any dream figure (even blatantly stereotypical ones) can teach us to see our own blind spots, confronting our prejudices with humor or deadly seriousness; subtlety or shocking crudeness; compassion, or a gut punch.

I am not an expert on racially-inflected dreams, but perhaps my clumsy “beginner’s mind” is more useful than expertise in working with such dreams. Racially-inflected dreams make me uncomfortable—and they should make me uncomfortable. Racist social structures have allowed too many white people to be too comfortable for too long, at the expense of others who can never let their guard down without their vulnerability being exploited. When a white dreamer brings me a racially-inflected dream, my discomfort is a flashing red light that says, “Stop. Pay attention. This is important. Don’t respond by rote, because your knee-jerk response will probably be an attempt to escape.” The alert message I get from my discomfort gives me good advice for any kind of dreamwork: don’t take your expertise for granted, don’t trust your own assumptions (assumptions are the opposite of insights), don’t make excuses or try to prove anything, just listen to the dream and what it says, and invite others to do this with you. 

Black people, Indigenous people and People of Color have been insufficiently heard and seen as full human beings by white people like myself, no matter how anti-racist we believe ourselves to be and want to be. That’s an essential thing to know. So, at the very least, when a figure in my dream is BIPOC, I know immediately that this dream figure is someone who should be fully seen and heard by the white dreamer (me) and by other white dreamers who might explore the dream with me. When white people dream up BIPOC characters, it’s likely that those characters, more than any white dream figures, will be carrying the information or insight that we most need to receive from this particular dream. 

White dreamworkers do not need to smother our BIPOC peers with questions and concerns as we try to prove our “wokeness” or genuinely wake ourselves up—instead we can turn to our own dreams, question ourselves and our dream figures, and let them teach us what we still need to learn. BIPOC dreamworkers can learn from one another and from their own dreams about the needs and challenges they face in their own lives—and white people need to take responsibility for doing likewise, so that our lives are not being lived at the expense of theirs. Most of us share a hope that if we (all people) do our personal homework we’ll overcome our fears and assumptions about each other, demolish the power structures of white supremacy, and finally let our individual dreams invite us into an authentic understanding of our common humanity, our common dream. We’re not there yet. In the meantime, let’s learn to endure our mutual discomfort , integrate our real pain, and do the hard work even as we dream big.

[This article was originally published in in the Spring, 2022 issue of DreamTime Magazine. If you enjoyed it, please consider subscribing to DreamTime by joining the International Association for the Study of Dreams ]

The Ninth Dog Guards The Threshold

[This “Dream Alchemy” column, first published in DreamTime magazine in 2019, includes a dream that still raises questions in my mind about the true meaning of healing. Now, more than four years after it was written, I’m touched by the innocence of my approach to the dream, my idea that the “ninth dog” resting across the threshold and blocking my way, might be suggesting that my need for rest would require nine weeks, after which I would be ready to return to life. Healing turns out to be a much more complicated process—and the dream, too, is rich with imagery that I don’t/can’t fully understand. Dreams are mysterious; they don’t offer formulaic answers to our questions, though they do allow us glimpses of potentials, impressions and openings. In this dream, the experience of the dreaming itself was a form of healing that unfolded over nine weeks, nine months, and beyond. Some healing is completed, some is perpetually in process. My intention is to remain aware of my own changing understanding over time.]

What are your intentions as you work with dreams? Whether we are researchers, artists, therapists, educators or explorers, our dreams can be some of the most powerful, potentially sacred, experiences in our lives, and we should approach them intentionally and respectfully.

Whatever we bring into the world, the intentions that guide our actions really do matter. That was true for the ancient alchemists, too. If their intentions were selfish, their experiments were likely to end in flames and failure rather than successfully realizing greedy dreams of gold, power, and immortality. 

When I offer workshops (about dreams or anything else), I always begin by sharing my intentions for this gathering of people, this unique event: 

  1. I intend that we will be reminded of things we already know.
  2. I intend that we will learn something new.
  3. I intend that something special will happen among us: an alchemy that can take place only here and now. 
  4. I intend that whatever happens here and now will expand outward to touch others and spread beyond our imagining.

These intentions are very broad, of course. I think they can be applied to many different kinds of endeavors, and they can certainly be applied to dreamwork. Dreams themselves serve all of the purposes expressed by these intentions: they remind us of what we already know; they show us something new; they create an experience in themselves; and they can expand beyond any one dreamer’s experience to reach others in ever-expanding ways.

Here’s a dream that expresses these intentions clearly:

The Ninth Dog Guards the Threshold: I’m in deep woods, being chased by a pack of wolfhounds. They are not mean dogs—but they are guard dogs, and I am in their territory. For refuge, I run to an isolated house; an older woman meets me at the screen door and lets me in. The dogs come in, too, but she provides protection and will help me deal with them. She explains that we can’t manage the dogs as a pack—each dog needs something different. One dog needs information, understanding. Other dogs need other things: some have emotional needs (comfort, kindness, patience, reassurance); some have physical needs (petting, feeding, healing, play). The dogs become calmer and friendlier in the woman’s presence, and I know I can follow her example and be safe with them. But now the woman is speaking urgently, calling for my full attention: “Not all the dogs are here! Where is the ninth dog?” I am confused by the question. Why does it matter whether they are all here or not? Also, there are only six dogs—are there supposed to be nine? She’s insistent, so I recognize that the ninth dog is especially important. I look for him, and find him. Unlike the other dogs, he’s a black lab. He’s sleeping on the threshold of the doorway where I entered. He wakes, stands up wagging his tail drowsily, greets me, then lies back down. He’s not threatening at all—but not budging either. He won’t let me cross the threshold until it is time. For now, we must let him sleep. 

The dream helpfully reminded me of something I already knew. I was recovering from spinal surgery, and the wolfhounds expressed the many urgent needs that were “hounding” me. I would have to tend those needs one by one, in a safe place, under the guidance of the wise woman who represented my own inner wisdom. The last dog affirmed my need for rest, and I couldn’t cross the threshold and return to active life until all the dogs were satisfied, especially that one.

I also learned something new. The question “Where is the ninth dog?” led me to wonder about the significance of the number of dogs in the dream. Apparently there were nine dogs: six chasing me, two absent, one guarding the threshold. The specific numbers made sense if I looked at them in terms of time: It had been two weeks since I’d left the hospital (those two dogs were absent because they’d already caught up with me—their needs had been met), but there were still seven more weeks, seven more dogs presenting their immediate needs. I’d hoped to return to work after five weeks of recovery, but the dream suggested I’d need more time—a total of nine weeks. My healing would take longer because there were many physical, emotional and spiritual needs still to be met. The first need was for me to “get” this information, to understand; and the last, most significant need was for rest. Because the wise woman insisted that I find “the ninth dog,” I was compelled to pay attention. As it turned out, I needed those extra weeks since new cardiac problems and pain issues developed, and prolonged rest was absolutely essential to my healing. It wasn’t enough to accept my own needs conceptually—I had to learn what these dogs were asking of me. I had to change my expectations, and my plans. I had to allow myself to be changed. 

A powerful alchemy occurred within the direct experience of the dream. I truly felt the fear as those needs threatened to overwhelm me, the relief when I turned inward (entering the house) and found a guide who could respond wisely. I felt genuine recognition when I found the sleepy “ninth dog” on the threshold, and acknowledged my own profound longing to rest, to satisfy the simplest and deepest need of all. This was the need that lay behind every other need, gently but firmly preventing me from crossing the threshold. The “black lab” was the blackness of night, the transformative laboratory of sleep and dreams where authentic healing can occur—a place where I could rest in the deep darkness of my inner unknowing, to be restored and recreated. 

So, this dream spoke to all of my personal intentions: I was reminded, guided, inspired and changed—and after all of the dogs had been satisfied, I was released to share what I had learned by living this dream in the world, letting its meaning expand and spread beyond me. All sacred ceremonies follow a similar pattern. Like our dreams, they are shaped by fundamental spiritual intentions that include revisiting the wisdom we already hold, making new discoveries, invoking and inviting transformation… And, finally, there’s a “sending forth,” where the individual and collective experience of the this unique time and place can be scattered like pollen on the wind, to seed new possibilities, new dreams. 

Perhaps every dream is a kind of ceremony that potentially expresses our best intentions, holding us in the crucible of transformation (guarded by the “black lab” of sleep, and “hounded” to meet our own essential human needs), until we can be “sent forth” to share that which has changed us.

[This article was originally published in the Fall, 2019 issue of DreamTime Magazine. If you enjoyed it, please consider subscribing to DreamTime by joining the International Association for the Study of Dreams ]

Bowing To One Another

Click on the photo for “Bowing to One Another”

I don’t have a new blog post this month, since I’m still healing and taking time for reflection before writing more. Instead, I’d like to share an article about vulnerability that I wrote for Presence magazine. Presence is published by Spiritual Directors International, so this article is specifically connected with my work as a spiritual director (which includes working with dreams)—but the larger theme of relationship and authenticity is certainly applicable to other contexts.

“Bowing to One Another” was written over a year ago, and although I was coping with illness and loss at the time, my understanding of vulnerability was still developing. Then, my central consideration was how vulnerable I should allow myself to be with other people, particularly with clients. By the time the article appeared in print last June, however, I had gone through major surgery and a month-long hospitalization, and vulnerability meant something quite different to me. I’m now learning about a more profound level of vulnerability, which has little to do with allowing or choosing.

So far, I’m not really ready to write about this deeper sense of vulnerability—perhaps because it must be fully experienced (willingly or unwillingly) alone, before it can be shared. But, eventually, this, too, is an experience I hope to be able to explore with you in a meaningful way. In the meantime, please join me in contemplating the essential, preliminary question that I posed in writing this article: What does it mean to be vulnerable with one another—in our work, and in all of our relationships?

[Click on the photo for the article]

Just Walk

A big dream of mine has become a reality. The book that I’ve been dreaming and writing for the past couple of years is now a living being, made of actual paper and ink: Just Walk: Following the Camino All the Way Home. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2016, this book was stirring deep underground, breathing beneath my feet at every step. And when I returned home and found myself grappling with some serious health issues, the pilgrimage continued in my everyday life and the dream of telling its story began to emerge—first in fragmentary whispers on the edge of sleep, then flowing slowly into wholeness.

For me, the Camino pilgrimage was an experience of immediacy. I couldn’t reflect on the changes as they were happening; it was all I could do to “just walk.” The process of integration happened gradually, as I stepped through the mirror to follow the Camino again in reflection, discovering dynamic soul connections between that journey and my life’s journey, between past and present, grief and love, stillness and movement, courage and vulnerability, solitude and community, wellness and illness. Although those connections were intimate, they were not merely personal—they were beyond me. I needed to make something out of them that could be shared. Thus, the book.

Because of my work with the world of dreams, where the dynamics of the imagination are truly real, I know that this book is not only a real physical object, but actually alive: it is tender, funny, contrary, painful, joyous. And right now, as I’m recovering from a life-changing surgery (multi-level spinal fusion) that literally took me apart and put me back together again differently, I’m also watching how this book, this reflection of my lived experience, has fundamentally changed me, and how it has the potential to change others who may read it. The book itself will change, too, becoming richer as it is read.

If you read it, the book will be yours, and it will whisper to you like a walking-prayer, accompanying you on your path. I hope you will read it.

[to find the book, click on the photo]

Interview by Metka Cuk on the “Dream Owls” website

Metka Cuk, a creative and inspiring dreamworker and artist, has been interviewing other dreamworkers and dreamers, introducing us to the depth and breadth of the dreaming community. These interviews are posted on her delightful website, “Dream Owls: A Place to Talk About Your Dreams.”

Some months ago, she did a wide-ranging interview with me about my background in dreamwork and my spiritual journey with dreams, including connections in my life between dreaming and healing, hospice work, Buddhism and Christianity, the Camino de Santiago, haiku, and more.

Please click on the picture to read the interview, and while you’re there, you’ll want to check out “Dream Owls” and the many other wonderful interviews, as well as Metka’s excellent cartoons and artwork!

I hope you can imagine your own version of how dreams have affected your life… Think of how you might share your own dreaming story with others. Dreams take us to our depths, and reflect the vital heart of our lives—and sharing these stories can be meaningful for all of us.

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?

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