Friday, February 25, 2011

The Magical Mind of Dreaming

Trish and Rob MacGregor host a stirring blog, Synchronicity. Here's their link:

In yesterday's post, "Synchronicity and Magical Thinking", they address the conventional belief, based on some branches of science, that anything but left brain, rational thought is unfounded in "fact" or "reality".

As usual, their post got me thinking about how this prejudice applies to dreaming.

There are people who dismiss dreaming, as they dismiss intuition and imagination, in the service of a left brain only existence. All I can say is, "How's that working for you?"

Remember the yin and the yang of Chinese philosophy? The idea is that all life's many opposites are in a constant harmonic dance that keeps life in balance.

Rational thinking, presumed conscious thinking, presumed sane and ordered and predictable is one mode of our brain function. The other is where the dream mind takes us constantly, into the realm where nothing is predictable, or ordered, but somewhat insane. "I had the weirdest dream" is a common preamble I hear when someone tells me a dream.

The "magical" dream mind doesn't play by the rational mind's rules, nor does it have to; experience shows dreaming to be incredibly effective at delivering personal benefits to the conscious dreamer. Right brain thinking is a different stretch for the old neurons, but to get the most out of our underused noggins, and scientists tell us our brains are under-employed, we need to think outside the left brain box.

As Trish points out, many great inventions, many innovations in thinking that have benefited humankind were the direct result of the magical thinking of amazing people, like Einstein and Jung. I highly recommend Robert Moss's book, The Secret History of Dreaming, for one wonderful example after another.

My point is, it's not, either we're rational, conscious, productive beings or ninnies. We're rational, waking, conscious AND intuitive, creative, dreaming beings. We're both; our mind, when used as a whole, provides both avenues, both experiences. It's up to us to balance that flow of information for personal and communal gain.

Opposites aren't mutually exclusive. We don't need to deny that men are valuable to esteem women just as much. We don't have to have one skin color to know what it means to be human, and we don't have to live just one aspect of our lives on this planet. The waking, conscious life is great; but so is the dreaming life with it's windows on the unconscious, or as Ursula LeGuin would call it, inner space.

Now given all the information and all the images out there, it's my personal soul mission to judge for myself what I think, feel and do; I don't need an authority to tell me what to think. Science is a wonderful profession full of great practitioners, but come on, it is no final authority. In order for it to be successful, it has to be in flux, in discovery mode. We can assume that what they proved yesterday will prove different tomorrow. It's up to each of us to make choices about truths based on what we know from our own experience and what we believe from others. So who died and left anyone in charge?

I write this blog to offer others what I've learned by playing in the magical thinking realms of dreams for so long. This type of thinking may come easier to me than to someone stuck in a rational paradigm, but that doesn't mean that I can abdicate my need to exercise left brain judgment. It's both, we can do both. Isn't that wonderful?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Animal Buddies and Spirit Guides

Thoughts live in the brain, images live in the heart. Much of waking language is left brained, rational; most of dreaming language is image, right brain stuff in waking.

This is why dream totems, animal spirits, can be such a tremendous psychic help to a dreamer, regardless of their age. I have many wonderful animal visitors in my dreams; I'm sure I'll share more about others in the future. Number one on my dream totem pole is Elephant. Elephant was first introduced to me in a dream my first husband had of me. I grew up with the image but his dream sealed the deal for me; Elephant became my totem. I often wear Elephant as jewelry and have images of her everywhere in my house.

Elephant has visited me in dreams for many years. My banner on this blog is one beautiful example. In that dream: I'm watching these wonderful mother and baby elephants dance on the beach. I hear the music. I wake up filled with joy.

Here's an Elephant synchronicity I love. In the 70's, when I lived in Rochester, NY, I met a young man at a community event who loved to draw. We sat down at a table to talk and as we spoke, he drew on a small piece of paper. I wasn't wearing anything to give away my totem and we hadn't touched on that subject at all. At the end of our chat, he handed it to me. I've posted it for your delight and mine. (Just don't call me Addie, not a nickname I prefer.)

Totems are like rock star body guards you carry in your heart. They jump out and protect you by giving you of their spirit; who's going to mess with an elephant; yet, most people like them. I think they're wise and kind and beautiful.

Many Animal Spirits have manifested in my dreams; each has given me an energy I've used in waking life.

So who are you're totems?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dreams, Friends and Fun Times

Some people think dreaming is a solitary activity. To the extent that we plunge from our conscious mind into the unconscious, it is; although, we meet people and have experiences in dreaming, as we do in waking. One way I experience dreaming as a social activity in my waking life is playing dream buddy to a friend. In my experience, playing with shared dreams is fun and deepens friendships.

(Maybe some of my friends who've shared this experience with me or others will leave a comment.)

Recently, a dear friend shared an "icky" dream with me; I won't be posting details of the dream but I'd like to use the experience of our dream buddy session to present the "Lightning Dreamplay" process developed by Robert Moss, as I practice it, with the hopes it helps you and your buddies add dream games to your friend-time repertoire.

Since I enjoy conversations about dreams and dreaming, I've encouraged many friends to keep records of their dream journeys. I'd recently encouraged this friend to, so I asked her, "Have you had any dreams lately?" She gave me a wry smile and told me how she'd just had a really icky dream and when she woke up from it she said, "Oh no, sorry, Adelita, I'm not writing this one down."

I had to smile, I've woken from dreams with exactly that feeling; I asked her if she wanted to talk about it and she did.

Active Dreaming teaches a dream sharing etiquette that's highly respectful of the dream and the dreamer, so you ask first, before assuming someone wants to talk about a dream. With permission granted, the next step is, one buddy tells a dream story, the other listens. The listener can ask the dreamer to give the dream a title before they start the story, but I find that when a dream carries a strong negative charge for a person, as most icky ones do, the dreamer is more comfortable titling the dream after relating it's story, or even later in the sharing process. All rules of dream play require sensitivity to the particular dream and dreamer.

It's the listener's job to practice active listening. As I'm listening to my friend tell her dream, I'm not sitting there asking myself "What does this dream mean?" I'm imagining myself in her dream landscape. I'm entering that dream space, seeing it, feeling it, living it, letting it evoke whatever feelings or memories enter my consciousness. I'm not leaping ahead of the dreamer's story. I'm paying attention to every detail and asking for clarification if I need it. Focused listening also allows me to let my associations flow, yet, not jump ahead of the story. The rush to interpret that is so common to the ego personality in most of us is a major block to understanding dreams. As a dream story unfolds, it's subject to unexpected twists; my presumptions can make me miss the real message.

After telling me her dream, my friend asked me, "Now, have you ever had an icky dream like that?" I could honestly say; "Yes, almost exactly like that." She laughed and noted the irony of looking forward to a dream to record and having it be so horrendously icky.

Relating to the dream personally, I recognize a familiar dream trickster at work. After all, the first dream for her new journal turns out to be completely obnoxious, a turn-off, a neon sign blaring, "WE'RE NOT GOING THERE". In my experience, despite the dream's icky factor, it's vividness and the emotional charge it carries encourages me to pay attention; it's got juice. I recognize that for my friend, a dream she couldn't write, yet could share with a friend, became less off-putting; she decided she didn't mind talking more about it.

The next step in Lightning Dreamplay is to note the dreamer's feelings; both on waking and in the dream. Feelings are powerful clues to the gifts a dream may be bringing and on what door of the psyche it's knocking. I ask how my friend felt when she woke up; it's important not to assume you know because an image that might evoke one feeling in you, may evoke something entirely different in the dreamer. Symbols are personal and symbols are universal, or as Jung would have it, personal and collective. A friend may freak out if there's a snake in her dreams, but for me, that's a goddess symbol; I'd feel blessed.

Asking questions to avoid presumptions is an important part of the Active dreaming process. To avoid projecting my views, I ask questions like, "How did you feel when you woke up?" When I asked my friend, I didn't expect what she said, which just goes to prove that listening is the foremost talent of a good dream friend. In my friend's case, her feelings gave another nuance to the dream's message for both of us.

Next, we did some reality checking, which is when the dreamer takes a bit of time to compare the details of the dream with the details in her/his waking life and see if there are parallels to consider. If there are, then this dream may be referring to that aspect of the dreamer's waking life. I think it's important that the dreamer not share too much personal history. A good precept of Active Dreaming is "don't get lost in personal history", whether the dreamer's or the listener's. A lot of back story is unnecessary and can hamper getting the dream's true message. The point of dream play is not to rehash our waking lives, but to open the door to what's possible through the dream; dreams seldom tell you what you already know. Dwelling on the waking life personal stuff detours the dream and overwhelms the dream play process.

As a close friend, I may be very familiar with the context of my friend's waking life, but that familiarity can lead to more projection; as a dream buddy, I need to watch out for that. A dream buddy's primary job is to act like an visiting alien who needs to have everything explained and takes nothing for granted.

The next Lightning Dreamplay step is really fun for the listening dream buddy. The listener gets to make believe this is her or his own dream and share their experience of entering it with the dreamer, always prefacing whatever they offer with "If this is my dream..."

So, I might say; "If this is my dream, I recognize that it's similar to other icky dreams I've had that have revealed very helpful messages to me, so I'm going to get past the icky and look at it closely. I'm going to go beneath the obvious turn-off and see if there are other perspectives; and I'm going to pay attention to details, emotions and dream characters' attitudes so I see where the dream is pointing. If I need to take an ally in with me to feel safe in re-entering the dream, which I'd want to do, I would find the right ally and re-enter the dream to dream it forward, see where it takes me."

I keep in mind with icky dreams or nightmares that often dream guides don't coddle us. When they think we're ready, wham, they get our attention with icky dreams or nightmares. But just let the dreamer brave up and look at the dream as an interactive learning opportunity and perhaps even take it to a dream buddy - look at it from different perspectives, and usually the emotional charge changes, icky becomes interesting, intriguing, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny.

By offering observations that are totally predicated on my experience in the dream, I, the listening buddy, acknowledge that perhaps none of what I'm saying has any relevance to the dreamer at all. My thoughts are offered just in case they help; the dreamer is free to take them or leave them. I don't play dream psychologist or give my dream buddy interpretations of her or his dream or her or his psyche. Beginning with "If this is my dream..." I share experiences, thoughts and emotions gathered while listening to the dream and relating to it personally, as if it were mine. I don't presume that I'm solving any mystery for my friend or that I have any valid interpretation of my friend's dream.

In my experience, both the dreamer and the listener benefit immensely from this approach to dream play.

The last step in the Lightning Dreamplay process is honor the dream. Whatever the lesson is, the dreamer commits to doing something in waking life that manifests the dream somehow. For instance: the image for this post is a dream drawing of the waking dream I'm talking about; so, drawing or painting, or creating a song, or writing a poem or a story, or wearing a color from the dream, or calling that person in the dream, or having a dream dialogue, or re-entering and journeying in a dream, or making up a bumper sticker with the dreams loudest message, or any other way the dreamer wishes to honor the dream. This honoring step is a big thank you to the universe, the Dream Source, and it opens the door to more valuable dreams.

Of course, the first way to honor a dream is to record it for future explorations.

I truly enjoy helping people trust their dream wisdom and enjoy their dreaming life, so playing dream buddy is something I do often. It's just nice to know that dreaming offers us a wonderful opportunity to be there for those we love.