Saturday, May 21, 2011

When A Loved One Dies

I'm sitting here thinking about my wonderful neighbor who this week lost his younger brother to cancer, and who had to make the choice, along with other family members, to take him off life support. Will his brother comfort him in a dream? Can he help his brother gain better footing on the other side; is there anything he can do for his brother now?

So many people have told me wonderful stories of dream visits from their beloved, and even not so beloved, dead. I take it for granted that dreaming provides a solid connection for people on both sides of the great divide who want to get through to one another. When people don't pay attention to their dreams, the hope of connecting to their beloved is sometimes the catalyst to bridging that gap and, perhaps, becoming a life-long dreamer.

Last post I quoted Robert, "a dream is a place." Death is a place, too. Perhaps, as Shakespeare intuited, the places we go in dreams and the places we go in death share a lot in common. All things are possible in dreams; perhaps the same is true in death. Robert has written about our lack of an "art of dying" in western culture; he believes the art of dreaming true provides connection for those leaving and those grieving. I heartily agree.

I remember the dream support I was able to offer my own mom when a few weeks prior to her death, she told me a dream where my dad, who had died six years earlier, was lying with her in bed. I shared with her how if it was my dream, I would feel my husband's loving presence and know he was there for me, waiting to help me cross over. Dreams offer immense comfort for the dying and the grieving; they can also provide a bridge across dimensions that allow relationships to continue and grow.

An art of dying? I've read that the majority of citizens of this planet believe there is some "afterlife". How many believe it involves bliss or damnation, reward or punishment? Religions promote various dualistic scenarios which involve these concepts in some configuration; followers are encouraged to tow the party line or pay the price.

What if after our personal experience of death, we have a personal experience of the afterlife? (A wonderful discussion of this is to be found in Deepak Chopra's book, "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof"). What if it depends on how acclimated we've become to inhabiting non-material planes, a continuity of dreaming in some fashion? Can dreams rehearse us for a possible afterlife; can they help us choose what that afterlife can be?

From my perspective, living on this side still, I feel great joy when I remember the dreams that have shown me what my soul might want after the crossing. Eternally? I don't know; perhaps we just keep dreaming our path. That dream self I see in almost every one of my night dreams, she might be my avatar. The better I get to know her, the better I know myself. I've seen her fly, face her monsters and dance her spirit; she makes me feel hopeful and gives me confidence that I will be alright when the moment comes to leave the material plane of my beloved planet Earth.

I know that the experience of being left behind by some dear person or sometimes, a beloved animal friend, really, really hurts. I've lost my mom, dad and others who have meant so much to me. If I suggest to someone newly grieving to pay attention for a dream visit, I phrase and time that suggestion carefully. I don't presume to offer a quick fix for the pain. I know from my own experience and those of many others who've shared theirs with me, that there is comfort in dream visits. For me, these visits have offered so much more than solace, as you may have read in some of my previous posts on this topic. I'm also careful to explain that dream time is very different than our time; a visit may come instantly or take months, even years to arrive. Usually, if we're paying attention, it comes just when we need it the most.

May each soul who crosses find a path of joy and fulfillment; may each soul who remains stationed here on Earth find a link to his or her beloved dead in the safety of dreaming.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DreamTiVo: Dream Memory and Dream Juice

A friend emailed me that she had a wild and crazy dream the other night. All she remembers, she said, was that it was a musical, not a familiar one, something brand new, all original songs and lyrics. She found it funny and exciting. Even across cyberspace, I could feel the thrill this dream held for her. She said; “As soon as I woke up I wished I could have DREAM-TIVOED it.” Bingo, I thought; of course you can! Good handle for dream re-entry, DREAMTIVO.

Knowing her love and talent for writing, I replied enthusiastically; “If it's my dream, I'm going to sit down and write as many songs, even just the lyrics, that I can, in honor of my dream. Even if I can't actually remember the dream narrative, the spirit of it is enough to get me going. I'll give the musical a title and craft it's story. Maybe I'll design the staging, etc., too.” A good way to jump start this adventure would be to relax first and re-enter the dream, look around and dream it forward.

Sometimes all that’s needed to re-enter a juicy dream is lingering energy, emotion or images. Often, in my daydreaming state, new details return of the actual dream. It doesn’t matter how much or little of the dream I remember; it’s charged with energy. It's like getting a free pass into my own personal amusement park. Why would my inner creative child ignore this invitation?

Dream “juice” as Robert speaks of this energy, can last for days, weeks and even years. There are dreams that still thrill me; dreams I could re-enter alone or with friends anytime. I can also peruse my journals to find dreams with juice I may have forgotten. I’ve often experienced how time effects a sea change in a dream’s energy. Here's an example I posted in March of 2011, Erotic Dreams.

The possibility I hold out to my friend and to any dreamer is that, no matter how small the memory trail your dream leaves behind, you can slip through that little bitty dream gate and be back in the world of that dream. Robert often says, "a dream is a place". I invite you to think of the dream as a place, a locale you travel to, not a figment of your imagination (or as I prefer to call it, a pigment of your infatuation), but another dimension, a parallel existence, that you can re-enter at will, using imagination to fuel the journey. As with any cross-cultural travel, the more you visit, the more familiar you are with the differences from your normal existence and the more comfortable you are going there.

It all begins with our innate ability to sleep, perchance, to dream.

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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Barnacle Ganesha: A Waking Dream Gift

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity of teaching Active Dreaming to a diverse group of professionals engaged in Masters’ level studies in experiential health and healing. It’s thrilling to be with such talented, accomplished and motivated people. It’s especially thrilling to share with them a dreaming practice I know will benefit them personally and aid them in the awesome work they do to help others.

If I were to coin a bumper sticker from this experience it would echo a theme that the program coordinator mentioned several times, the best things happen when you trust your heart and get out of your own way.

Get Out of My Way My Own Self

My workshop was titled; “Active Dreaming as Eco Dreaming”.

In an unpleasant synchronicity, while I was preparing my presentation on Friday, my neighbor was having a healthy maple tree professionally removed. Whatever the reason for cutting down the tree, witnessing the act, the men with loud saws, ropes and huge bucket truck, was a nerve jarring and saddening experience. I escaped to walk the beach just steps from my house and down 20 feet from street level.

I walked a mile to the pier reflecting on this irony. We're alienated from Nature without and from our own nature, our dreams, within. How fortunate for this teaching opportunity; perhaps I can help heal a piece of this disconnect through my dream work. Thinking this, I turn around and head home, offering my gratitude to Mother Ocean. As I approach the stairs to go back up, while crossing a small patch of shallow water with lots of seaweed and shells, I see a yellow object partially covered in the sand.

Curious, I bend to pick it up, realizing as I get a closer look that it’s none other than Lord Ganesha! OMG! Can the universe get any funnier? Elephant has been a dream animal guide to me for decades, as I’ve mentioned before. Here is this gift from the universe, a true synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence according to the man who coined the term, Dr. Carl Jung. It made me feel happy, blessed and confident. Plus, I just love the barnacles; baby barnacles!

The Hindu Elephant headed God, Ganesha, is revered in India. Did Lord Ganesha come all the way from India here, or just from across Long Island Sound? I Googled “Ganesha Lord of Dreams” to see if I got a good hit on it, but instead I found that Ganesha confers Success, presides over Beginnings, Education, and Knowledge, among other things. I took my marvelous Barnacle Ganesha with me to place as my elephant totem on my dream altar at the workshops.

In one of the sessions I led, during a group round of Lightning Dreamwork, a dreamer shared a dream that began in a gift shop. Gifts from our dreams and gifts from our waking dreams can inspire us as we work to transform our culture into one with a sustainable future.

Amazing Grace.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Attack Cat: A Nightmare Dreamgate

Rocking my 60's has been off to a slow start because I've had to deal with unaccustomed bouts of blues. Having grown up with a mom, goddess bless her in every way, who was subject to these late life blues, it's "My Mother/Myself" all over again. Remember Nancy Friday's brilliant book by that title published in 1977?

I've been listening to Pema Chodron's talk, "True Happiness", which does help; she's a wonderful Buddhist teacher. I'm not a Buddhist, though; I'm a dreamer. Sure enough, last night my dreams gave me the key I needed to unlock my missing inner resources. I'm so grateful for the beauty and the wisdom in my dreams. Here's how it happened.

Last night I had a nightmare. I went to bed early, tired out from weekend responsibilities and so happy to snuggle into bed. I woke up around 1:30AM from a dream I titled, ATTACKED.

I’m not ready to share it in its entirety, just that it involved an axe murderer and an attack cat. If you find this funny, so did my husband this morning when I shared the dream, and so do I now. But it wasn’t funny at 1:30AM.

If there’s one thing I've learned over the years, it's that your garden variety (non-PTS) nightmare is your best friend. My first rule is to write down the dream before I start searching around for it’s meaning. I padded off to the bathroom, because, of course, at this time of night I also had to pee. Taking my journal and pen with me, I put on the light and sat down, opened my journal to May and entered the dream with today's date. Doing this was important because, until I began to write the dream as a detailed report of my experience this night, I had forgotten a significant part. I remembered the attack cat, but had forgotten about the axe murderer.

Although in my dream I’d escaped the one and bagged the other one with the help of my entire neighborhood, when I woke up as we were about to drown the cat, I felt unnerved and dismayed. With my beloved cat sleeping next to me, it felt awful that a cat would actually attack me or that I would have to kill one in a dream.

The feeling you wake with is very important. From this two part dream drama, I woke with the icky feelings I mentioned heightened by a slightly agitated state closer to the terror and alarm a Big Nightmare can give you. Remembering the first part of the dream as I wrote it down certainly explained my feelings.

I knew there was only one thing to do. Brave up, as Robert Moss puts it, and face the terror, with an ally, if I need one. Dream Re-entry is one of the brilliant tools of Active Dreaming. Based on shamanic journeying practices from many indigenous and ancient cultures, it’s a practice of going back into the dreamscape of a dream and dreaming it forward.

Returning to bed, even though I knew this was what I had to do, I wasn’t enthused about doing it because it felt like something I didn’t want to know, an illness maybe? But I trust my dreams to give it to me straight, but with hope, so I did brave up and I did go in. Keeping my neighbors with me, I confronted the cat with the classic Senoi dream practice questions: “Who are you?” and “What do you want?”

It never fails to amaze me how my dream re-entries can completely surprise me. When the cat answered I called on more protection; from what the cat said, I knew it wasn’t earthbound protectors I needed. Again, I was amazed at who showed up; their presence helped me feel completely safe. I finished my conversation with the cat, who was the axe murderer, and realized this dream holds the key to my personal puzzle about my blues. Hallelujah!

I've found that the best time to re-enter a dream is right away, with the energy of it still pulsing in my heart and head, (although, I can and do re-enter old dreams regularly with great results). I don’t go back to sleep to do this; I’m wide awake, but relaxed and ready to launch back into the dream scene with the props or protectors I need to feel safe. All it takes is a willing suspension of disbelief, same as when watching a movie. Jump in and daydream it forward, the less you let your judgmental mind interfere, the greater the rewards when you finish. I then record my dream journey on the following page of my journal, indicating it's a re-entry, the sequel, to my dream.

I’m writing this post to honor the power of my dreams and the value of their spiritual, emotional, and physical gifts to me. I'm forever indebted to my friends, guides, teachers and experiences in the dream time because now I know what I have to do to be wholly myself, and also my mother’s daughter.

What I want to share with you most is the certainty that your own dream path has the same healing, helping potential for you that mine has for me. Dreaming is as ancient and universal as we are; it's an intricate part of our existence that we’ve shared from the beginning of time and beyond, as we dream our future, personally and as a world community.

I’m also grateful to Robert Moss for developing and teaching this simple, powerful approach to playing with our dreams.

I photographed to share with you an old leather banner that now hangs, out of sight, in my shed, but many years ago, hung near our back door. I was relieved it wasn’t my cat that attacked me in my dream, but a big scruffy tabby. While telling Jim my dream, I realized the "Attack Cat" looks a lot like our old “Protector Cat." I love the humor and irony of dreams.