Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Tag: value of dreamwork (Page 2 of 2)

Opening to Dreams

[This post is somewhat longer than usual, since it’s a whole “sermon” that I presented at Eastrose Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s about the value of paying attention to dreams and other life experiences, about “dreamwork as spiritual practice,” about what “bad” dreams have to offer, and about the transformative gifts that special, numinous dreams bring—to our lives, and to the world.]

What is useful or meaningful about paying attention to dreams? The same question might be applied to waking experiences, and it really comes down to the larger question: What is useful or meaningful about paying attention to anything? The world’s spiritual traditions agree that paying attention to our lives—being mindful, aware, present—is essential to living fully. Life itself becomes meaningful only when we pay attention to our experience.

Dreams are experiences, in every sense. When we pay attention to dreams, we open ourselves to a fuller life—more meaning, more options, more learnings, more openings, more genuine connection. We spend a third of our lives in sleep and dreams, and during that time, we are having experiences, whether we remember them or not. In dreams, we can experience perceptions in all five senses; we can experience emotions; we can experience states of being that enlarge our understanding of ourselves, others, and the nature of reality: states of being such as love, awe, compassion, grief, gratitude, wonder, humor, joy.

We can also experience unpleasantness, confusion, fear, shame, revulsion, and rage. Events occurring in a dream have almost exactly the same effect on the brain as events occurring while awake; to the brain, dream events are real events. By paying attention to what goes on in our dreams, we give ourselves the opportunity to live that third of our lives as fully as we might live our waking lives. Continue reading

Dreaming Deep

roots 03When I decided to focus my life’s work primarily on dreams, I was following a deep sense of trust that dreamwork can include everything I care about, everything I believe is truly meaningful—from my concern for the well-being of the natural world (including the human world), to my sense of the power of death/renewal cycles and “threshold” places in our lives, to my commitment to the transformative power of authentic listening and presence, to the essential wonder of the multi-faceted, interdependent, ever-changing patterns of relationship among all beings on earth.

In the beginning, I couldn’t express, to myself or others, exactly how dreams could be so significant in so many different ways. But the process of actually engaging more actively with my own dreams and the dreams of others has increasingly affirmed my initial intuitive sense that dreams are pathways to depth experiences. In these blog posts, I’ve been learning as I write, and exploring new ways of articulating what I am learning.

I keep coming back to the word deep. I’m not so much concerned with going (or getting) high on the spiritual journey—“going high” tends to mean having peak experiences, which can be wonderful (and dreams can give us such experiences at times), but can also be ungrounded and hierarchical in relation to other people and the natural world. Striving to attain spiritual heights can lead to inflated attitudes (“my epiphany is bigger than your epiphany”), excessive emphasis on light without respect for the dark, and a lack of compassion or commitment to the “real world” challenges of our shared existence.

By contrast, going deep means including everything, finding the heart core and living it fully. When we spiral upward and outward, we expand but get further apart; when we spiral downward and inward, we come together in the deep places, finding the ground from which all life grows. The two directions balance each other, but depth must be the place where we begin, and the place where we return, before beginning again.

“The problem of our time is that we are like uprooted trees. Our roots no longer extend down into the inner depths to nourish us, so our growth cannot reach upward into the realm of the spirit. Our task will be to see how dreams are like roots that reach far down into the nourishing depths of the earth of our souls, and help energy flow upward so our growth and development are possible.”  -John Sanford

When Holly and I first moved into our tiny house with its scruffy little lot, we planted forsythia and dogwood, raspberries, a Japanese maple, lots of daffodil and crocus bulbs, rock rose, daphne,  fennel, thyme and sage. We weren’t “gardening” in any organized way, just digging down and getting into relationship with this place we were calling home.

It wasn’t a one-way relationship. The earth responded. In the middle of our vegetable patch, an oak tree sprouted. Because we didn’t think it belonged there (at first) we both tried to pull it out. But although it was only a slender stem with two or three leaves, it already had deep roots and wouldn’t be pulled. We soon recognized that this tree was at home as much as we were. The vegetable garden could be moved, but the oak tree was staying right here. Continue reading

What Actually Happens In A Dream Group?

dream circle 01

Dream images come to life among us…

Last week I played with the metaphor of a dream group being like a happy gathering of dogs in the off-leash zone (“Dream Groups and the Doggy Jamboree”). I took the metaphor and ran with it—like a dog with another dog’s squeaky toy—and maybe got a bit carried away. Of course, a dream group is not just a free-for-all romp. Among other things, it’s a mutual opportunity to share experiences. Often, in the process of this sharing, unexpected and indescribable events occur. Although I can’t describe the indescribable (I gave it a shot with the doggy jamboree metaphor), I can at least mention some of my own recent experiences with groups.

The groups I facilitate meet in a classroom, in the local Quaker meetinghouse. The room has lots of windows and a high ceiling—and although it is small, it feels spacious and light-filled most of the time. We move the big tables to one side, and sit in a circle of chairs near the windows (trying to arrange things so that no one gets the sun in their eyes).

At the beginning, we “check in” briefly. After several sessions of meeting together, we know each other, and we also begin to recognize images and themes that have a tendency to come up in each person’s dreams as well as in their waking lives. We’ve come to know some of the things we have in common, and some of our individual special qualities. We catch up with anything new that is arising, and sometimes find it’s arising not only for one person, but for several, or all, of us. Maybe it’s a time of feeling too busy; or a time of losses and letting go; or a time of reconnecting with old friends; or a time for a fresh start. A shared theme can emerge even when we are just giving the smallest glimpses of our daily lives.

Then, we go around the circle again, and each of us tells a brief dream. Like the check-in, there are common images and themes that come up, and already there’s a sense that a dreaming process is going on collectively as well as individually. For example, in one group, several people dreamed of babies—human or animal—being born; in another group, the color blue kept being mentioned. Continue reading

Dream Groups And The Doggy Jamboree

Earlier this week, I participated in two dream groups—one is a group that I facilitate, and the other is with fellow dreamworkers on-line. Both groups are now at the point where the true alchemy of dream-sharing begins to work among us, and a living dreaming process takes shape with a life of its own. These group experiences leave me feeling invigorated and open. After the second one (on-line), I emerge from my office for lunch, and notice that it’s a windy, sunny, beautiful late-autumn afternoon. So I decide to forget further work for the time being, and take a walk in the park. Walking is a good way to let the dream group’s energy and insights bubble and spark inside me, while the cool, fresh air stimulates my senses, and the rhythmic pace of forward momentum steadies my thoughts.

There’s an open, grassy, off-leash area in the park where the dogs come (with their human companions) to meet and play. I stand for a while, watching. The atmosphere tingles as each new dog arrives and the leash is unclipped. At first, even the big Bernese Mountain Dog is shy. She keeps close to her human, while he stands sipping coffee and chatting with the others. But almost immediately, more dogs bound up. They stop a short distance from the Mountain Dog, tails wagging tentatively, legs a bit stiff. There are perky gestures with heads and ears, gentle woofs, and soon a general sniffing and greeting and all the tails are wagging enthusiastically.

Then, one bright little terrier jumps to attention and shoots off like a rocket, and everybody explodes into motion. Dogs chase; dogs bound and roll in the grass; dogs tumble over each other and leap up barking. The humans whistle or call if things get out of hand, and occasionally throw a ball, but mostly they aren’t needed. The dogs are having fun, building and affirming relationships, learning from each other, and feeling the freedom of infinite possibilities.

Of course, because I’m thinking about dream group dynamics anyway, I make the connection: a good dream group can be like this doggy jamboree. The “humans” could be the participants’ conscious minds and waking identities: aware of the rules and roles, good-hearted and willing to go along. They want their “dogs”—their deeper, dreaming selves—to get some exercise and have a nice time. 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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