Monday, May 16, 2011

The Lesson of Rita’s Woodsman: The Dreamer is the Only Authority on Her or His Dream

A couple of years ago, when I was leading a wonderful group of women dreamers, all completely new to dreamwork, I experienced the powerful truth of Robert’s teaching on the absolute authority of the dreamer as interpreter of her own dreams, as well as the juicy power of Lightning Dreamwork to en-soul even an almost forgotten dream of power.

A lovely woman in her mid-forties, whom I’ll call Rita, shared a dream with us that came to her during the drumming. To her amazement, the dream was at least 20 years old, one she reported she’d often dreamt in her childhood and teen years, but had not remembered for many years.

In her dream, she’s in a very deep woods but she’s sitting at a lovely white vanity table in front of a mirror brushing her long beautiful blonde hair. In the mirror, she sees a very big woodsman coming up behind her. He’s a very big man, carrying an axe. Her dream ends.

She told the group that this dream puzzled and intrigued her until she learned it’s meaning from a psychologist friend of her husband’s. When she was first married, she related the dream to this friend at a social gathering; he enthusiastically proceeded to ask if she’d had the dream since she met and married her husband. Rita couldn’t recall that she had and told him so. “Aha,” said the psychologist, “the dream is obviously dealing with your adolescent sexual tensions. The woodsman represents your desires and fears about men and sexuality. You’re sitting at your vanity; that’s showing you your vanity as a young woman who wants to be desirable but is also afraid of male sexuality. When you discovered sexuality with a man in reality, your dreams stopped because the issues and tensions the dream signified were resolved.”

“Hmmm,” I said, “maybe, but I’m curious, how the dream made you feel – do you remember?” “Yes,” she answered, amazed at how clearly she could recall these feelings, “I was never afraid; he never seemed threatening even though he was huge and carrying such a large axe. I always felt calm that he was there.”

I didn’t do the reality check right then, that came later, but when I asked her what she wanted to know; she wanted to know who the woodsman really was and if the psychologist had been correct about him.

“Well, if this is my dream, I said, “a couple of things come very strongly to mind. One is the story of Paul Bunyan, although I don’t know it very well, I’d want to read about it.”

Rita sat up with a beaming smile on her face; “Paul Bunyan! I loved that story as a kid, it was one of my favorites!” He was the strongest and biggest man ever born!”

“Well,” that’s neat, I replied, “because it also brings to mind the biblical connection of hair with strength, pride and spiritual connections, hence the practice of not cutting the hair by Nazarenes like Jesus and also the dangers of cutting your hair and losing your strength like Samson.” So if this were my childhood and adolescent dream, I might see in it a way to access the birthright of my personal strength and power. I would like an ally like Paul and maybe Babe, the blue ox, so I’d maybe re-read those stories and think about how they made me feel, and I might also keep them around and call on them in times of need or to dialogue with them as guides and teachers. I might re-enter that dream and see myself at my vanity (or altar) in the woods, brushing the strength into my hair and feeling protected and safe anytime in waking life that I need to summon my courage for the challenges at hand.”

It turns out that Rita, (reality check) was facing some personal tests in her family that required her to be strong. She didn’t share much, since I gently discouraged too much personal revelation, but she said she remembered how her family had always praised her for unusual strength of character, something she hadn’t thought about herself in years.

It was clear to all in the group that Rita felt very differently about her dream and, judging from the energy she vibrated and the sparkle in her eyes, she felt differently about herself, as well. To honor the dream, she was going to do one of her favorite things, cruise the antique stores (again, a pleasure she’d not pursued for a while) and find her white vanity. Her bumper sticker; “My strength is inside me, always.”

Witnessing Rita’s experience, the whole group now understood how important it is not to project your interpretation of a dream that isn’t yours on to the dreamer; yet how powerful sharing your intuition of the dream as if it were your own can be. We all saw how dreams retain their juice over a lifetime and how they return when invited, to feed our souls just when we need it the most.

In my wonderful experiences as a teacher of Active Dreaming, I often find that the single most difficult thing about the Lightning Dreamwork process for many people is to hold back their judgments and projections and, instead of interpreting, tap their intuition in a genuine way, truly making the dream their very own. Playing “analyst” seems to be a role that’s easy to slip into, maybe because it’s so much easier to see the “speck in our neighbor’s eye and miss the log in our own.” as Jesus pointed out.

For me, the magic of dream sharing happens when I truly put myself in the moccasins of another’s dream and walk inside it myself. My feelings, my memories, my intuitions in symbol or thought form spring up spontaneously. I’m free of the responsibility or audacity of giving correct answers and appearing guru-like in my awesome powers as dream interpreter. Instead, I get to play in the landscape of another’s dream and bring back the gifts given to me, just in case they can be of use to the dreamer.

In this process, I’m conscious that there is more at work than meets the I, my personal ego. There’s me, there’s the dreamer and there’s that amazing third Participant that’s greater than just us. When a group finally experiences how this works, the dreamwork becomes rich and deep, fun and powerful. The energy of the dream moves like lightning around the group, crackling with genuine dream illumination, not only for the dreamer, but in some intimate way, for each person in the group.


  1. This is a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading about the dream, how it came back after 20 years, your gentle guidance redirecting the interpretation to the dreamer, and Rita's transformation.


  2. Thank you, Misha; how lovely to hear from you! This experience was magical.