Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: mythology and dreams

Letting Them Go: Dreams of Death & Transformation

dad 03mom in millBoth of my parents have died this year: my mother in April, my father in October. Although I think of them every day and recognize so much of them in myself (they’re in my blood, of course)—still, they are gone. I have been changed by their absence. I am being transformed by the increasing awareness of what it really means to live a full lifetime, touch the lives of others, and eventually die. I guess I’m growing into my new place: the place that they left open for me.

Along with others of my generation, I find that bearing witness to the deaths of my parents means not only grieving, but opening up to a larger perspective. This perspective goes beyond Mom and Dad as parents, beyond Shirley and Phil as individuals, to include the open-ended questions that defined them, define me, define all of us as living (and dying) beings… In the words of Gauguin’s famous painting: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? [D’où Venons Nous/ Que Sommes Nous/ Où Allons Nous].

Exploring these questions is part of maturing, aging, and preparing for our own deaths. It can be well underway before the deaths of our parents, but the passing of the generation before us marks a turning point—and saying good-bye to those we love in the previous generation makes this universal, archetypal turning point intensely personal.

Dreams are at home on the muddy, shifting soil of that fertile delta where the river of personal experience splits into rivulets and flows into the universal vastness of the open sea. So, as I say good-bye to my parents and ponder my own mortality, I find guidance in dreams. Such dreams ask more questions than they answer. This is as it should be.

In this post and the next, I’d like to explore two significant dreams that helped prepare me for the deaths of my parents. Continue reading

Monsters In My Dreams

In a recent post (“A Nightmare Is An Incomplete Dream”), I wrote about nightmares, and shared my own nightmare of “being hunted by a formless monster who tears people apart.” That post was about coping with the disturbing aspects of nightmares in general, and focused on some issues that might need to be addressed before exploring the metaphors and imagery within any particular nightmare. Now, I’d like to look at the central scary image of my dream—an image that is common in children’s dreams, and not uncommon in the dreams of adults: the monster.

mouthThe words I chose to describe the monster of my own dream say a lot about the significance that this particular monster has for me. It is “formless” and it “tears people apart.” Within the past year or so, I have come through a period of major depression. The experience of such depression is probably the scariest thing I can imagine—it is certainly “formless” (like being in great pain, but not being able to find any source for that pain), and it does “tear people apart.” Other aspects of the dream also point in this direction: I’ve been “held prisoner” by this monster in a “desolate house,” and when I am trying to escape, I am afraid to go to others for help, because I’m afraid that I’ll just bring the monster down on them.

Although there is no doubt that my personal associations create a credible case for identifying the monster in my dream with depression, it is important to note that this “solution” occurred to me very easily. According to Jeremy Taylor, “No dreams come just to tell you what you already know.” (That’s the 4th tool in his “Dreamwork Tool Kit.”) At the time of the dream, I already knew that I feared depression returning to hunt me, and I was (and continue to be) actively involved in exploring this fear in my waking life and in dreams. So, I looked further and deeper, and found other personal associations to the monster. No doubt, still more could be unfolded if I were to work on this dream with the help of a dreamworker, a friend, or a group.

The most exciting way to respond to a monster dream, however, is to go beyond the personal and explore it on a more universal, archetypal scale. Children have monster dreams even if their lives are relatively safe from threats to their well-being. Adults have monster dreams when they have no personal associations that seem particularly monstrous. Monsters appear in mythology regularly, and, as Joseph Campbell wrote: “Myths are public dreams. Dreams are private myths.”

In both mythology and dreams, across cultures, monsters are associated with primal energy—the original darkness we come from, and the darkness we fear will swallow us up at death (or if we “lose our minds,” or if the “light of reason” fails us). Whether this is the darkness of “empty” space before the big bang, of the “chaos” that precedes creation, of the grave, of the womb, or in the belly of the whale—this perceived darkness or chaos is a monster that threatens our belief that we are in charge, in control. Continue reading

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