January 19, 2011

Dreamyoga: Tie Waking and Dream Life Together

In some mysterious way, dream images allow connections between body and mind we sometimes cannot manage while awake.

So I keep on dreamin, to communicate

  And I keep on dreamin, if that’s what it take  ~Ziggy Marley


(Linda will be teaching an upcoming Dreamyoga session at Karma Yoga Center in Denver in February.  See karmayogacenter.com for details)

My sister dreamed of a tall, skinny African man materializing in green smoke.  “It scared the shit out of me even before he fully appeared, so I made myself wake up,” she told me.  “What does that one mean?”

“Hell if I know,” I shrugged.

“You’re so good at this,” she replied flatly.

It’s the same answer I give to my students.  They look to me with expectant gazes as they complete a description of their personal dream.  Hell if I know, I say and remind them repeatedly throughout the semester.  What I can offer them about half of the time are impressions, ideas, hunches, or hints that might assist in drawing meaning from a dream in a way that might be of use to their lives.

I know it may not seem worth the bother.  I get it. Exploring dreams can seem like a big distraction. With the demands of our upcoming day right there in the forefront of our minds when we wake, examining nonsensical images from our dreams the night before can seem like so much fluff.  A waste of time. 

But those who are drawn into their night visions have usually had an experience within a dream that has remained, maybe for years – a kind of emotional imprint that has kept them wondering – maybe there’s something here.  In this way, like shamans and mystics before them, the dreamer is called to the dream in a dream.

There is a Spirit who is awake in our sleep and creates the wonder of dreams.  He is the Spirit of Light, who in truth is called the Immortal. ~ Upanishads, c. 800 B.C.E.

Still, if our dreams want to tell us something, why don’t they just say it in plain English (or Spanish, or French, or…)?  Why all the code and crazy symbolism?

Perhaps dreams don’t speak our native tongue.  Perhaps they speak in a deeper, ancient, more primal language common to all humans in all times:  Images.  Pictures.

The interesting thing about images in dream is the energy and aliveness associated with them.  They have the ability to evoke strong and intense experiences, emotions, and physiological responses straight into our bodily systems. That’s real adrenaline coursing through your blood during a nightmare . That’s an actual orgasm you just had.  In some mysterious way, dream images allow connections between body and mind we cannot manage while awake.

Rachel was a serious student.  I sensed a depth and sensitivity in her that would marry well with a profession like a nurse or a counselor.  But for now, she was waiting tables at Red Robin to get through school. Attempting to do her job perfectly while keeping all her young co-workers happy and conflict free, she put undue stress and pressure on herself resulting in a pretty serious depression.  She knew in her rational mind that it wasn’t worth it, but she couldn’t make the rest of herself believe it until she dreamed of desperately trying to deliver a salad amidst a natural disaster, debris flying, chaos and destruction everywhere.  People were injured and actually screaming at her for medical help but she ignored them, still carrying the salad.

Rachel woke with a rush of anxiety, but when she reflected on it later, she couldn’t help laughing at how the dream had shown her the ridiculous importance she placed on her job.  Something about the images and the full body dream experience allowed her to do something her waking mind could not: produce an internal change in feeling, allow an experiential shift which resulted in lasting changes in perspective.

Union with the Dream

Dreamyoga seeks to join insights and understandings given in the dream to your life and the lives of others.  Here are some practices that can assist your dreamwork:

1. Honor your dream hangover:  As has been pointed out, dreams transfer meaning through emotion, so note what emotions linger from the dream upon waking.  This will be your biggest guidepost to the dream’s meaning. Don’t worry if the emotion does not logically fit the images (you feel a happy sense of adventure after getting lost in dark woods, for example). Remember, this is not a rational operation.  Go with what you do feel vs. what you think you should feel.

2. Consider literalness:Before exploring symbology, it might be helpful to consider if the dream may be speaking of a literal situation in your life. Brianna was fearful of losing her father’s dog which she inherited after his unexpected death. She began to have a recurring dream that the dog couldn’t be found and its microchip failed to locate it.  She assumed the dream was just her fear and insecurity talking, but after a few weeks of the dream continuing to nag at her consciousness (as well as her classmates’ encouragement to check it out) she took the dog to the vet where it was discovered the microchip was registered to the wrong address.   

3. Notice connections during your day: This may happen spontaneously.  You dream of the snake, for example, and the next day first thing you see a story on the news about a snake, or an image in the paper, or one crossing your path.  A student dreamed of a huge wave like she’d never seen before, and was surprised to catch an author talking about rogue waves the next night on Conan. This practice of simply noticing serves to tie waking and dream life awareness together.

4. Look into symbolism: I suggest avoiding dream dictionaries.  While they may be helpful for stimulating your thinking regarding possible meanings in your dream, plucking an image or symbol out of the context of the rest of your dream and looking up its meaning separate and apart from the story may not be the most useful method. Also, there’s a lot of variance among them; instead, exploring the symbol’s meaning in history, culture, religion, fairy tale, story, or myth will likely provide a richer, more authentic understanding.  Information is a simple internet search away.

5. Go back into the dream: This is the suggestion I gave my sister.  Clearly the dream left unfinished business: Why did the skinny, African guy show up? Did he have something to tell her?   Luckily, there’s always the opportunity for second chances while awake!  Tibetan Dreamyoga traditions and Jungian psychology agree that the best dreamwork occurs when our waking consciousness is applied.

So try this as soon as possible after the dream (when you’re somewhat in between awake and asleep and can still feel the essence of the image in a ‘dreamy’ way):  Relax, breathe deeply, and call up the image or scene you’re interested in to your mind’s eye.  Likely, another dream-like scenario will begin. 

You may be able to retrieve details you missed the first time, like a certain mode of dress from a particular era or culture, the title of a book which held important information for you in a dream, or an interesting symbol on a piece of jewelry you can then investigate.  Once, upon going back into a dream, I was given the spelling of what I thought was a nonsensical word from my dream, but it turned out to be an actual genus of a moth (I had never heard of, I can assure you) on the other side of the world.  I still don’t know the relevance of that moth to my life -indeed there will be many connections we won’t understand – but I think it’s wild I found out about its existence in a dream.   

These are all practical ways you can integrate dreams into your waking life.  Sometimes, though, the best thing to do with a dream is nothing at all. Liz’s brother died of AIDS days before the Fall semester began.  She had been his caretaker during the hardest months before he died.  No sooner had the family buried him than she was back in college at the urging of her parents, who felt it best for everyone to go on as usual.  She had virtually no time to recover from not only her huge loss, but also the significant physical fatigue and emotional anguish of his care. 

Obviously, Liz struggled all semester with poor concentration, disorientation and dream recall; but in the final days of classes, she retreated into nature and was given a dream:  She stood in an open field. All was quiet, calm, absolutely still.  Experiencing the vastness of her surroundings, the bright blue sky, she breathed in deeply, fully.  As she exhaled, multitudes of pheasants emerged from the shrubbery into the sunlight.   She found herself surrounded by brilliant sparkles of color: bright greens, reds, brassy iridescent browns.  In that field of pheasants, Liz felt fresh and new, excited even, to be right where she was standing in that moment.  The dream provided her with a groundedness she had not felt since her brother’s death.  No search or interpretation needed.  Just the felt experience of a dream.

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