Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: playfulness (Page 2 of 2)

Wishful Dreaming

It’s about time to leaven these blog posts again, with a little light poetry. But writing limericks about dreams and dreaming is more difficult than you might think! I took a walk with a notebook in my pocket, and worked on rhymes and rhythms in my head (I hope I wasn’t doing it out loud!)—and scribbled down lines I thought were going somewhere clever, but then they turned out to be nothing but stray couplets without any dream scheme to come home to. Sigh. This is my best effort, for the time being:

A middle-school history teacher
dreamed of going where the kids couldn’t reach her:
joined in cosmic space walks,
took the lead in peace talks,
climbed K2 with a yeti-like creature…

Okay, so I made up the dreamer, and the dreams. But I’m playing with words and ideas here, while trying to remain resolutely silly—not so easy! The idea I’m making fun of is that dreams express our secret wishes—a theory suggested by serious people like Freud (who described the intricate mechanisms at work in the dreaming mind to simultaneously reveal and disguise our desires), and then turned into cartoons (where kids dream of mountains of candy…) and limericks by folks like me who don’t take the wish-fulfilling dream theory terribly seriously.

Sometimes I have beautiful, wish-fulfilling dreams—but rarely when I feel I really need them! When daily life is tough, and the increasing darkness, dampness, and chilliness of this season is getting to me, I often just dream of dark, damp, and cold. Where are those sweet dreams of Maui—full of warm, fragrant breezes, waves softly lapping the beaches, and whales playing just offshore? Oh well. At least I can imagine that my intrepid middle-school history teacher has a more pleasing dream life. Continue reading

Threshold Experiences: Dreaming and Waking

crater wallIn the previous post (“Threshold Work As Spiritual Practice”), I was thinking about how an everyday familiarity with “small” threshold experiences can help us when we are thrown into more intense and overwhelming threshold experiences such as a life-threatening illness, or the death or loss of someone or something significant in our lives.

Now I’d like to consider some examples of those “small” thresholds. On a daily and nightly basis, we encounter in-between places—where the ordinary suddenly seems strange and surprising, or oddly off-key, or wonderfully new, or just uncomfortably indescribable.

Dreams are definitely thresholds like this. In the midst of a dream, I find myself thinking: “Wait, this can’t be happening!”

Someone gives me a paper bag with a fish in it, and, after carrying it around for hours, I suddenly  realize that the beautiful, silver creature is still alive and flexing… The fireplace is the size of the whole room, and we are walking around inside it, tiptoeing gingerly among the coals… Two rhinoceroses come out of the woods and walk down the path toward the lake… I am about three years old, riding a bus alone, and I am also my middle-aged self, sitting across the aisle and worrying about that child… We’re exploring a perfectly-preserved shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean, and have no difficulty breathing underwater…

In Tibetan dream yoga, a central practice is to learn to ask oneself repeatedly during the day, “Is this a dream?” By doing this on a regular basis, especially when something unusual occurs, we learn to ask the same question when we realize that something peculiar is happening in a dream—and so, “wake up” to the fact that we are dreaming (lucid dreaming). The deeper aspect of this practice, however, is to learn to question our waking state as well… Until we discover that our waking “reality” (the world we think we know) is also, in a sense, a dream—a tenuous, transitory condition, a threshold experience. Continue reading

Dream Fragments Squeezed Between Waking And Sleeping

Dreaming and waking are on a continuum, and often the distinction between them is not entirely clear. The vivid images or sounds that we sometimes experience as we are going to sleep (hypnagogic “hallucinations”), or as we are emerging from sleep (hypnopompic “hallucinations”) can be just as bizarre as any dream, but can also seem very much like random waking thoughts or sensations. Often, they are extremely fleeting and easily forgotten—so we might not even notice that we are dozing and our thoughts have become dreamy.

egg 01This often happens to me when I am meditating. I am trying (often trying too hard) to keep my mind alert and open, and to be aware of thoughts as they arise and pass. But fairly frequently the thoughts carry me off into elaborate planning or worry, and it takes a while for me to remember that I’m meditating and return to the breath. Then, just when I feel that  my mind is growing more steady, and the thoughts are coming and going without my getting too attached to them… Oops! My head drops heavily forward and I jerk awake. Sometimes, I can sense the sleepiness coming even before I begin to feel drowsy, because I notice that the passing thoughts are getting more peculiar... Oops, again! I startle awake, and feel embarrassed even though no one is here but me. Was I drooling? A deep breath, and try again. I can feel myself trying, trying, trying... And the fragmentary thoughts and images stream by…

There’s a duck trying to lay an egg that is much too big for her. She is straining hard, squeezing her eyes tight with the effort, grimacing…

I snap back to alertness, just as I’m asking myself whether ducks can grimace. It’s easy enough to take these brief images, or dream fragments, and unfold them just like any other dreams. Continue reading

Does Dream Incubation Have To Be Hard Work?

guardian cowIf your project is dream incubation,
You must limit crude sense-stimulation.
Be calm and serene,
Conscientious and clean,
And refrain from excess celebration.

(I was going to end the limerick with an exclamation point, but that might have been “excess celebration.” )


“Dream incubation” is the process of cultivating a “good” dream by preparing oneself in various ways before sleep. The desired dreams may be spiritual “dreams of power,” predictive dreams, healing dreams, or dreams that will give responses to particular problems or questions. In any case, ancient rituals from many cultures generally involved purification (washing, fasting, etc.), prayers, offerings, visualizations, sleeping in a sacred place (such as a temple or grove), and other practices. A very serious business. Continue reading

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