Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: intention (Page 2 of 2)

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

Soul Retrieval and Shamanic Dreaming

reservoir 08The healing work of a shaman regularly involves the practice of “soul retrieval.” To continue my series on shamanism and dreamwork, I’d like to explore some ways that the concept of soul retrieval can give us an understanding of particular kinds of dreams, and help us to fully experience the healing that these dreams may bring.

When an individual or community is disturbed, diseased, wounded, or out of balance, there can be a variety of causes according to the shamanic tradition. But probably the most common cause—a problem that is almost universal in our modern culture—is what is called “soul loss.” Soul loss can occur when something happens to an individual or community that cannot be fully integrated. If the trauma or shock is enough to violate the integrity of the individual (or community), the soul can respond by splitting off a part of itself—in effect, sending that part out of harm’s way, just as city children were sent away to the country during World War II when the cities were being bombed. These soul parts may become lost—unable or unwilling to make their way home after the immediate danger has passed.

As a result of soul loss, the original “home” soul lacks an essential aspect of itself, suffering from the absence of qualities that constitute its wholeness and uniqueness and make it possible to cope with change and challenges. These split-off qualities can include resilience and flexibility, creativity, openness, emotional availability, playfulness, generosity, innocence, discernment, trust… and finally even the will to live.

In indigenous cultures, the lost soul part is seen quite literally as a separated Spirit being—often taking the form of a child or adult at the age when the initial traumatic splitting occurred. These split-off souls continue to exist somewhere in the worlds of Spirit, and a shaman can be called upon to journey into these other worlds, find the lost souls, and persuade or help them to come home. Once returned, these souls must be nurtured and integrated—a process which, like any healing, can be facilitated by the shaman, but is ultimately the responsibility of the one who receives the healing. Continue reading

Review: “Lucid Waking”

Lucid Waking: Using Dreamwork Principles to Transform Your Everyday Life by Zoé Newman. White Egret Press. Paperback. 260 pages. $17.95.

Lucid WakingHow would our lives be different if we approached waking situations with the same openness we might bring to our dreams?

When we are reflecting on our dreams, we don’t need to apply the same expectations and judgments, take sides, or assign blame—we tend to think more in terms of exploring and experiencing, trying out different points of view, considering possibilities, and finding meaning through metaphor and creativity. These dreamwork skills can be cultivated in waking life, too, so that our relationship to the world around us can become as flexible, playful, unexpected and intuitive as our relationship to the dream world.

In past posts [such as: Haiku Dreams, Green Sloths & Synchronicities, and A Bird-Watching Dream Walk] I have written about the waking/dreaming continuum, and have suggested some ways in which dreamwork approaches could be applied to our waking lives, but Zoé Newman has gone far more deeply into this work in Lucid Waking—a book that offers both the imaginative insights and the practical tools we need to relate more openly (less habitually) with our waking lives. She writes:

“Lucid waking is seeing situations as opportunities for experimenting, for trying out new behaviors, for cultivating undeveloped qualities. It’s being in life in a playful, risk-taking, adventurous, free way… letting the world become a classroom, a laboratory, a creative canvas.”

Reading this book makes it seem perfectly natural to learn from our waking experiences as we learn from our dreams. Using examples from the lives of real people facing real challenges, Newman explores creative ways of coping with unpleasant situations (such as getting a parking ticket), working through interpersonal conflict, and expanding opportunities for spiritual growth. She draws on some essential Buddhist wisdom about relating directly to our experience, which can be useful both in the practice of lucid dreaming and in “lucid waking”:

“Buddhist mindfulness is, in essence, a practice of bringing lucidity to our waking life. Developing mindfulness, as a matter of fact, is very similar to developing dream lucidity.”

In other words, when we become lucid in a dream, we “wake up” within the dream and become aware that we are dreaming, which opens up all kinds of new options for our responses to dream events. When we become mindful (or “lucid”) in waking life, we “wake up” to our immediate experience and become aware that this present moment offers far more possibilities than we had previously conceived. Either way, lucidity means that we are not limited by our habitual expectations and opinions, so we can relate to experiences as they unfold, with open eyes, heart and mind. Continue reading

Are Dreams Boring?

toby bored

bored, bored, bored…

It’s a popular cliché that listening to (or reading about) other people’s dreams is boring. Really, really boring. Henry James said, “Tell a dream, lose a reader.” In all honesty, there’s some truth in this. Have you ever listened—or tried to listen—to a six-year-old recounting the plot of her favorite movie? When dreams are told without context, and without a sense of what the listener needs in order to follow the story… well, yes, they can be pretty monotonous.

Dreams definitely can have a “you-had-to-be-there” quality. Even the best storyteller might have difficulty conveying the indescribable experiences that occurred in a dream where sensory impressions were nuanced and intense, events seemed to overlap in timeless patterns, things kept changing into other things, and there was just a whole lot happening endlessly. As the little kid telling a movie plot (or a dream) might say: and then the man ate all the pizza … and then the dog was a horse… and then they ran over the fields… and then it was the next day… oh, and I forgot, the pizza wasn’t real, it was a big cookie kind of made of toast…

There are ways of telling dreams so that people will be engaged and even entertained. When I’m just telling a dream as an example, or to make a point, or to get a laugh (in a blog post, in a workshop, or casually with friends), I leave out everything that isn’t directly related to the topic at hand, and I try to choose a dream with images that are funny or vivid, a storyline that can be summarized simply, and scenes that are relatively easy to describe and imagine.

Nevertheless, even though I’m pretty experienced at both telling and hearing dreams, I can sometimes sound like the little kid recounting the relentless saga—especially when I’m trying to share all the significant details because I’m going to be working on the dream with others.

The bottom line is that sharing any complex experience that has profoundly affected you will be difficult. The context and background may be unfamiliar to your listeners, and lots of details are needed to convey the richness of the experience and its implications. So it’s best not to even bring it up unless everyone present is prepared to get past their own impatience, and give you and your experience—or dream—their full attention.

Okay, but here’s my heated defense of dreaming and dream-telling: Dreams are not boring at all! In themselves, they are often magnificently subtle, brilliantly “on target” with their insights, full of stunning surprises, hilarious plot twists, creative genius, rich sensuality, cunning irony, dazzling landscapes… Well, you see I’m biased in favor of dreams! It is definitely worthwhile to pay attention to them and share them, even though, as I’ve acknowledged, someone else’s dream can be very difficult to follow. 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

Can Healing Dreams Offer Practical Help?

plant 01In the last post (“The Healing Experience of the Dream Itself”), I emphasized that healing dreams aren’t usually specific in their helpfulness. I wrote: Dreams don’t generally bring healing by offering immediate solutions. If I incubate a dream with a particular problem in mind, asking for an answer, I believe I will always get a response, but usually it is a response that asks me to open myself to the whole experience, rather than giving me a specific key to unlocking the problem.

But, can dreams offer any practical help? By asking me to “open myself to the whole experience” of the problem I’m facing, can they help me to find useful tools or guidance within myself and within my situation? I believe that they can. And I believe that attending to the details of my dreams is one of the best ways to become aware of unexpected options and unconventional answers that might be available to me.

It is the very fact that the possibilities presented in dreams are unexpected and unconventional that makes them useful. If I am in need of healing, I have probably already considered, and tried, every possible solution within the grasp of my conscious mind. I’ve already reacted with strong emotions, and worked my way through various approaches to the problem. By the time I remember to go to my dreams for help, I’ve usually exhausted myself with the struggle, and I’m ready to try any crazy thing the dreams might suggest. Continue reading

Dream Seeds

solar system with cabbageIn the morning, while I exercise, I listen to something enlightening (recently, radio programs about shamanism), and I watch the animated public television show, Dinosaur Train. Really, Dinosaur Train is a treat! Leaving the sound off is best, since the soundtrack combines too-cute kids’ voices with educational themes. But it’s a terrific show. The colors are so rich and intense, the characters so spunky, the premise so bizarre (dinosaurs traveling to various prehistoric times and places via choo choo train?), and the background settings—rainforest, savannah, oceans, cliffs, caves—so intriguing… I would love to live in that world!

Why am I going on about a children’s TV program? For me, watching Dinosaur Train is one of the ways I stimulate my senses (including my sense of humor), and sow the seeds of my dream imagination. In dreams, experiencing the world of Dinosaur Train would not be impossible. Our dream-making capacity can certainly be as colorful, creative, playful and inspiring as even the most inventive modern animation. And the more we pay attention, keeping our senses open and our minds alert to enjoy the world around us (animated or natural), the more our dreams will be stimulated to use all of these faculties as well.

It’s clear to me that the more open and sensitive I am to the experiences available in waking life, the more likely I am to dream vividly, and to remember those dreams in fascinating detail. Many of the toys and games and movies and books designed for children are perfect for this, because their intention is to stimulate and expand the developing faculties of flexible minds. And, incidentally, they’re also entertaining—a characteristic of good dreaming that is often under-estimated! Continue reading

Lucid Dreaming: Control and Choice

Lucid dreaming is paradoxical by definition: in a lucid dream, I am asleep and dreaming, but also fully aware that this is a dream and capable of making choices and taking action as if awake.

I wrestle with another paradox that goes along with lucid dreaming, and relates to waking life as well: how to find a balance between “free will,” and letting go into the unknown. To what extent should I try to take control of events in a lucid dream (or in my waking life), and to what extent should I allow the dream (or my life) to unfold around me and invite my participation? This is really a very big question.

I feel strongly that the kind of control advocated by some popular books on lucid dreaming is misguided. Such books suggest that as soon as we realize we are dreaming (which can happen spontaneously, or as a result of practices like the one described in “Threshold Experiences: Dreaming and Waking”), we should start doing the things we’ve always wanted to do: go to Paris, have sex with someone famous, swim with dolphins, etc. Although I think it’s not a bad idea to try new things when lucid dreaming—such as flying, moving through walls, asking questions of other dream figures—I think it would be a waste of a good dream to actually decide what the dream reality is going to look like. I also think it’s not really possible. I suspect that those who do this kind of “lucid dreaming” are probably at least partially daydreaming or fantasizing rather than fully immersed in the dream state.

“The multitude of lucid-dream stories that come from the Tibetan and other Asian traditions suggest that no matter how dedicated and skilled the lucid dreamer, the dream remains autonomous and defies counterproductive manipulation and control.”   -Jeremy Taylor

Dreams go beyond our conscious minds, beyond our wishes and desires—and thus have the capacity to expand those minds and show us more possibilities, more choices, than we could ever consciously invent. Continue reading

What Is the Motivation for Dreamwork?

This morning, I read something about the Buddhist perspective on “intention”—the importance of being clear about our motivations. Ideally, all our actions should be motivated by the desire to benefit others, rather than the desire to benefit only ourselves. Putting others first leads to happiness, not only for those who benefit directly from our altruism. Selfish motivations tend to lead to unhappiness all around. In my experience with hospice work, I have found this to be true. Instead of being caught up in my own problems, I get to experience the deep joy of really paying attention to other human beings, and focusing all of my energies on their needs, their concerns. In practice, however, our motivations are always mixed, and our intentions are often unclear.

What are my intentions and my motivations with Compass Dreamwork? I started this organization because I feel that dreams represent a tremendous untapped potential in our lives, and I have repeatedly expressed the conviction that working with dreams can have a positive impact on the ways we relate to others, and ultimately on the well-being of our communities and our world. But, on a day-to-day basis, dreamwork is also my livelihood, and I look for opportunities to work with dreams because I want to use my skills and experience in dreamwork to make a living. It’s important for me to acknowledge this, yet if I ask myself about my real intentions, I can honestly say that I believe dreamwork can be beneficial in a far-reaching, mind-boggling, open-ended way. Continue reading

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