Tag Archives: remembering dreams

Everything Dreams

Don’t Scare Those Images Away!

 

The Dreamer Owns Her Dream: Or, Why Dream Images are Intrinsically Resistant to Psychology . . .

It is a fundamental feature of most contemporary groups that the dreamer owns her experience of the dream. We may have ideas, we may think we see things, and at the same time we are, like the dreamer, only witnesses of a process. And as witnesses, we are removed one step further. The Dreamer is the original observer or participant in the dream; privy to al the senses engaged in the dream: The sounds, the tactile sensations, the smells – even the felt sense of the dream. Sometimes the running narrative of the dream – itself removed a step from the experience – is merely a play-by-play of the visual cues in the dream. 

Often, very specific or leading questions of the dreamer sometimes take away from the experience of the dream aTibetan Lanscape in Santa Fe NMnd may reveal more of a fantasy on behalf of the listener(s) than an accurate “interpretation” or psychologizing of the dream by the listeners. Dream Images hate that! We can scare them off with our own biases or with stupid questions! It is as though you are with a friend who says, “The Lost Puppy in your dream? That is so you. Just think about it, you’ve been looking for yourself in everything lately!”  You might reply, “I’m not sure that feels right,” to which your friend might say, “Of course it’s you. That’s the problem, you’re so close to it you can’t see it.” A different response might be, “Does the Lost Puppy seem familiar to you?” You might answer, “You know, it does look like a dog I had when I was 14” or maybe “Funny as it sounds, it looks like the new guy at work!” These are two completely different conversations; the one in which the listener imposes meaning and the one in which the listener supports the curiosity and the point-of-view of the speaker.When we ask open ended questions, things open up. And when things open up that resonate with the dreamer, many other positive things can happen that disappear when our questions become narrow, diagnostic, or conspiratorial!

"A Dream Loves to be Met in the Way of Dream!"
“A Dream Loves to be Met in the Way of Dream!”

So it is with dreams; as Steve Aizenstat often observes, “A dream loves to be met in the way of dream”  (bookmark above carefully stitched by Kathryn Lea for her father’s birthday!) Occasionally in a dream group I will hear from someone a feeding frenzy of staccato point-blank questions, fired off with machine like precision: “Was the man in the corner like your that guy who stalked you at the street fair yesterday?” or “Why were you in that forest to start with?” or “Did the hallway seem like it was concrete blocks?” I can tell from questions like these the listener has some specific notion about the dream that may be very far removed from the dreamer’s experience of the dream. Let us remember a few points about the experience of the dream and its retelling that set it apart from staccato questions of dream-killing specificity! 

  • Dreams have a “felt sense” that rejects interpretations that miss the mark; most often when people offer suggestions, those on target will evoke a ‘hit’ inside the dreamer as a point of connection;
  • Dreams have their own ready-to-hand knowledge; and by that I mean you can instantly have an understanding of years’ worth of information contrary to waking experience, (like that 18 months you spent as a CIA operative in Lisbon undercover with an Italian supermodel . . . And a dog named ‘Strega…’ ) 
  • This special body of knowledge, unique to the Dreamtime, may be one-off events of nearly infinite detail or may be a rhizome-like web from dream to dream, like a house or structure to which you return on successive nights, or a special power like flight, invisibility, or levitation that occurs in more than one dream, or a repetitive them like always being in airports but never actually getting on a plane in dream after dream. This inner architecture builds on itself, and a single dream auditor can never know all the dreamer has knowledge of in this way
  • As “the body is always dreaming”, there is often carriage of affect in the body in the retelling of the dream; dreams are not merely an event occurring on a small stage in the brain, but engage the breath, the sweat glands, and the polyvagal network of afferent and efferent nerve signals and the chemical reactions and messages that occur throughout the body. Gesture in the retelling becomes important, as this is how the body may tell the story of which the mind or memory is not fully aware. Therefore it is not always just the words, but the embodiment of the dream that presents in the retelling. 
  • Everything Dreams
    Everything Dreams! Dreams Are Happening Now! [DreamTending Coffee Cups honor the work and the dream practice of Dr. Steve Aizenstat, Chancellor of Pacifica Graduate Institute]

Also, I have noticed there are times during which a group that knows the dreamer well sees something in the dream that the dreamer cannot see. I believe this to be different (and surprisingly rarer) than the case in which a group fantasy of perceived meaning runs wild. In the case of this blind spot on behalf of the dreamer, many things can happen. The dreamer may have the option to consider the feedback and to reject it, in which case the wise and patient group will not press any points. Also, the group may meet the dreamer in the dreamer’s own perceptions and curiosity; and when that happens the dreamer almost always arrives at a moving and insightful point, whether or not it encompasses all of the content perceived or imagined by the group. Clearly, nothing is gained by pressing a point, even if accurate, that is outside of the Dreamer’s awareness or ability to integrate. In these cases, as in most every other circumstance I can imagine, the most helpful tack is to let the image be the teacher. Images are dynamic: the information they carry lives and changes with the dreamer’s capacity to recognize or internalize different lessons or tasks. Images are autonomous; they do not require us to decode them, to psychologize them, or to toggle between manifest meaning and some latent, St. Colmans Cathedral in Cobh, 2“real” meaning. In other words, we do not have the right to superimpose our understanding onto an image which is inherently wiser that are we. That is just as much a form of colonialism as bringing our band of religion to “save” a people while robbing them of their rain forests, their natural resources, or their way of life. We think we are so smart . . . until we bump up against a stronger, a wiser, or a more patient force.

Henri Rousseau Sleeping Gypsy

Anxiety Dreams

Anxiety. Inadequacy. Fear. Exposure.

Most dreamers report some type of anxiety dream, often repetitive or recurring, very particular to the individual and still very much like other people’s anxiety dreams. This post does not intend to minimize the anxiety that some people have to an extent that impacts life areas every day. If that is true for you, please get in touch with a professional today whom you can see face to face as soon as possible for evaluation and a comprehensive care plan.

For most folks, anxiety dreams aren’t just for weenies. A lot of people have them, including those of success and power. Take Tony Soprano, for instance. In an early session with Dr. Mefli, he has a dream his penis falls off. Scary.

Tony Soprano ~ James Gandolfini

Mickey Mantle had inadequacy dreams in his retirement – yes, the repeat World Champion, first ballot Hall of Famer had anxiety dreams too. Nobody questioned his courage, ever.

The Mick

And from the old testament, what about the feeble dreams of the powerful kings and pharaohs? The most powerful people in our culture also experience anxiety dreams. The real question is not, “does this anxiety dream mean I am a fearful coward?” but instead, “What can this dream teach me about showing up in my life?”

My own anxiety dreams are common enough: Naked in public. Back in High School or Junior High, and it is test time. Needing to use the bathroom. Waiting tables/bartending/managing the Sailmaker Restaurant  (a job I had 1979-1985) and the place fills up, I am the only one working. Naked in a High school test and needing to use the bathroom all at the same time. Each one is a dream specific to myself and as common to all dreamers as clouds that fill the sky in their unique and never-ending way. So where to begin?

(1) Looking back on the last 24-48 hours is always a good way to approach a dream that shows stress and worry. What has my attention, now? It is not a math test from 1976, I can be pretty certain. But there may be something testing my attention or problem solving skills.  And something I have heard a peer say recently a couple of times applies: “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”

(2) Who is in the dream that does not fit, and why do they apper now? Remember the picture game, what doesn’t fit? One thing or item is out of place . . . . dreams play this with us. That is why Jung invited us to pay attention to the “little people” in dreams – sometimes they carry as much or more information as the archetypal or god-like figure. Ask the figure why they appear . . . why here . . .  and why now? What do they carry for us that cannot be said by someone in our life now? And who in our life now ar ethey like? Or what is our life dealing with now that we dealt with through them or someone like them?

(3) Follow the feelings . . .  Confusion usually is a cluster of more than one feeling. Allow the feeling in the dream to connect us with what is alive in our emotional life today –  or what needs to be relived, animated, vivified. It is less about remembering “I had an anxiety dream” and more about using any tool the dream might present to the dreamer, including the feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear.

4) Allow figures to come forward: This includes allies, helping figures, mentors, archetypes, family members. It may be an obscure figure seemingly out of place in the dream. Sometimes it is that high school classmate you knew only casually that appears in a dream that carries an essential quality needed to confront life’s current situation. It also includes figures which may be fearsome, unlikable, annoying, or downright scary. Facing these figures, allies at hand, helps to clarify the “message” of the anxiety dream and bring out resources or solutions. The picture below is a constellation of images from a single dream; one scene painted on a rock, and a different (goat) image formed in clay in the back of this altar.

Figures

5) Meet these figures on their terms. Here is an example from a different tradition: Recently, a friend recommended the book Feeding your Demons by Tsultrim Allione. Her recommendation in the Tibetan Chod tradition is to visualize yourself turning to nectar and feeding the demon figure whatever it is seeking from you. This happens on an imaginal level of course; one visualizes turning one’s body into the quality or the nectar that the demon seeks and submitting. In dreamwork, the process is similar. It can be as simple and as powerful as an empty-chair Gestalt with the figure. It can be an invitation to take the figure on a walk in nature, as real or as imaginal as you wish for it to be.

Living with anxiety usually means living – with anxiety. Dreamwork helps us place the emphasis on living. There is something leveling and humanizing about powerful figures like Mantle and Soprano carrying anxiety and feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Living with anxiety can mean living fully; dreams can assist in giving the anxiety a scale and context which helps us go forward more fully, into life.

 

 

Medicinal Meditation: A Healing "Hair of the Dog" that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.

Big Dreams

Those of us who regularly journal dreams are often in search of the Big Dream, that overarching spiritual glow we get while basking in the presence of the divine that makes Jacob’s Ladder look like a cat nap whimsey.

Russell Lockhart says of the Big Dream:

The reason why interpretation fails big dreams is that interpretation tends toward understanding  . . . only in terms of what already is known, while the bog dream is speaking . . . in terms that are not fully known . . .

Too often perhaps we have those dreams of great mystery and awakening. Perhaps we admire them for a day or two as the glow follows us into waking life. Perhaps we sit on the side of the bed watching it run past again in our waking presence, say “oh!,” only to metaphorically roll back over and fall asleep. The challenge of this post is to seek out the Big Dream, and when it visits, find a way to keep the light alive and burning in your soul!

I mentioned Jacob’s Ladder at the beginning, and that dream which has had such a huge impact on the last three thousand years of history, geography, religion, and politics should not be treated as lightly as I did above. It certain qualifies as a Big Dream among big dreams.

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

William Blake ~ Jacob's Ladder
William Blake ~ Jacob’s Ladder

Hence, the origin of the promise behind the promised land. Pretty big dream, huh? For most of us, we may never have a dream so large that it alters the lives of say, several billion affected people, as did the dream of the Patriarch. So how do we distinguish between the big dream, the wishful thinking dream, and some garbage-in-garbage-out “day residue” from the day before?

Deborah DeNicola helpfully gives a clear and succinct answer: “Numinous dreams are any dreams that leave you in wonder and move you emotionally into awe, as if you’ve been graced with a transcendent presence.”

For those of you looking for a brief and well researched post, this is a good stopping place. For those who are willing to attend deeply to an experience, stay with me!

A recent dream, worked first with my Dreamtending partner, and later with a mentor, has led to a feeling of the transcendent presence in each of several figures, all of whom seem larger than life. First, the dream fragment from the middle of a much longer and equally substantial dream:

There is an evil man, later he is a Billy Goat, that is a bad character that is threatening a small Latino boy of 6 or 8 and his mother alternating. Each time he would seem to get the upper hand a force would intervene. I have the awareness this is a series and therefore none of the main characters will be killed. At one point the man/goat dreams the boy onto a rock and the boy may be about to be killed or smashed and a bear attacks the goat and sends him off. The boy throws small rocks at the goat that can do nothing but the goat is fleeing the bear more than anyone and the woman in league with him and the boy, I am thinking, can regain some esteem by thinking he is a part of driving off this goat.

The goat is forced to a cave where “Billy Goat Gruff” is coming to work and is now unfortunately for him having to choose between returning the face the bear or taking his chance with the toughest of his kind. He engages with the even more aggressive Goat; this Tough, Old Goat as they go farther into the cave and as I follow and watch. . . .

There is more before and after, but I awaken thinking about the toughest Goat, as well as the bully billy goat, hereafter the “Young, Wounded Goat” that has to meet him. This picture of that scene emerged:

"The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly" dream; detail
“The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly” dream; detail

Each of these figures has become larger than life. From this one dream has sprung a conversation with other dreams; imagery and dialogue with each of the five dominant figures, and a felt presence throughout the day of one or more of the figures. I’ll start with the Boy.

“Paco,” not meant in a pejorative fashion here, is a boy who shows up in at least four dreams in the month in which this dream visited. In one he is throwing rocks off a bridge on the way to a town while a woman approaches him from across the water. In another, he is in a hole in the ground, protected by the same bear who presents. Paco is protective of his mother, and intensely a fierce competitor – survivor qualities in a boy who sees family as important. My concern  for his self esteem is a key to the take-away for me as the one who views and participates in this dream.  This is the time to acknowledge the consistent work of Jill, my dream partner, with this image of this boy and the connection to other dreams and images I have shared with her over these months and years. Jill brings her own life experience, her shamanic ways of knowing, and an incredibly patient presence in allowing me to deepen into meaning or into pain, however it unfolds.

Bear:      Bear 2

Bear has long been a family totem. Bears, as Jill has helped me see, are the repressed feminine in my family in the form of play and mirth and love that they were allowed to bring forward. Bear is Protector in this dream and in the other referenced above which happened about a week later. This bear reminds me of the bear in a dream of friend Tammy, whose Bear in a dream she shared with a group of us a year ago seems to be “the one who notices” and calls attention to important action in the dream. My Bear is not the same as her Bear, but the two know each other. Bears happen to be present throughout my office, and each one I see is a reminder to be present and to notice . . .

Thoreau Bearing Notice

Young, wounded goat: The “numinous” or openly spiritual aspect of this dream is that from the outset I knew there is something of my destiny that is inextricably tied up with the destiny of this wounded goat. The watercolor I made shortly after the dream captured the bright, fresh, and dangerous nature of this wound. To make peace, I had to deepen my understanding of this goat’s wounds – and my own.

Greater Detail: Young, Wounded Goat
Greater Detail: Young, Wounded Goat

Tough, Old Goat: The tough old goat, as he announced in my meeting with my mentor, is not impressed by the appearance or presentation of the young wonded goat. “He has seen 4,000 young goats come and go. Not every young goat gets to be an old goat, but every old goat was a young goat once.” There is wisdom in this figure that reminds me at once of my original AA sponsor who died over 26 years ago, and whom I think of every day. \

The “Mother” figure has not yet been touched in this discussion with the fullness her presence and her vulnerability represent. For length, and out of respect for some of the work I am doing with this fugure now, I will only say shortly that this dream exists for her as much as or more than it does for the young boy.

Tough Old Goat 1The combinations of this “Big Dream” include the relationship of goats young and old, the protection of Bear toward Boy, and the underlying relationship between this boy and his mother.  Therein lies both some of the original wound; the closeness of child and mother that was affected at some level by the alcoholism in and around both; their alchemical interaction which ranged from the comforting and loving to the conflictual and competitive. And the overcoming of that – ultimately the making of peace with the long buried past – that is some of the magic and the essence of this dream.

Forgiveness and mentorship, healing and repair work together in the formulation of a daily medicine from the parts suggested by the dream: The four components of the medicine are a bit of the old wound (abandonment), an equal part of the energy from the affliction (addiction), the quality of wisdom and experience (sponsor/old goat) and the essence of mountain, the gift of the earth suggested in this dream.  These four parts I mindfully mix each day now, and journal the experience.

Medicinal Meditation: A Healing "Hair of the Dog" that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.
Medicinal Meditation: A Healing “Hair of the Dog” that bit me with some of the things proven to work on my behalf.

This draft has now been revised several times since the first draft on February 26th, more than five months ago. It was waiting on this dream that visited about six weeks ago.  I want to get back to Russell Lockhart’s quotation: that interpretation fails big dreams because big dreams point to the unknown. I have worked this dream privately for hours, openly with a trusted friend for  a couple of sessions, and transparently with a mentor in front of nearly three dozen people. It still has not revealed all of the secrets of the cave nor of the inner relationships of the figures. This is not a big dream because it carries Jehovah or  Govinda or Athena or Mohammad, but because Bear notices and because goat feels. This is a big dream not because it will change the course of life for a billion people, like Jacob’s Ladder, nor even in the twenty or more who may read this post. This is a big dream because it may more fully illuminate some dark corners in the life of one. And I feel almost unspeakably grateful for the visitation by this dream and each of the figures. I can only repay that gratitude by continuing to deepen the conversations between myself and them, or witness (bear) the conversations between the figures themselves.