Crucible of Evolution
Dreams and Dreamwork
by Ramsay Raymond, MA, MHC
A woman lies napping, two days back from the hospital for an appendectomy.
Her body is clean and light from intravenous feeding. She has spent many hours, days in silence. She dreams that ....
Jennifer’s experience is rather like ours - sleeping
and waking, sleeping and waking, both literally and figuratively, physically
and spiritually. Are we aware that we are sleeping? How may we awaken?
Can the dream activity that takes place while we sleep actually assist
in our greater awakening?
For Jennifer, this powerful moment of contact gave her a glimpse of a greater presence, calm and benign, which underlay all her daily doings, her frantic pace. Rising from the sea of the unconscious to approach her in her time of stillness, the whale revealed something about Jennifer’s own nature, the greater “I” or “Eye,” which she could contact when she was ready. This wordless wise presence is called by different names — the Source, the Great Mother, the Ground of Being, the dynamic ground, the unconscious, the life-in-matter, God/dess. The dream also points toward the power of intuitive intelligence, a deeper way of knowing than our schools, customs, and media acknowledge, but which is the “Eye” and currency of dreaming.
This guiding dream helped the dreamer gradually reorient her life toward a deeper reality that sustained her in her work and life. It required that she let go of the primacy of her intellect, and come into the belly center of knowing as one of the doorways to the great mystery of Being.
Cornerstone of Spiritual Practice
Whether through illness, genetic inheritance, cultural
orientation, or the gradual opening to new dimensions of consciousness
through bodywork, meditation, art, and psychotherapy, most of us inevitably
encounter the compelling reality of our nightly dreams. Dreamwork is one
of the cornerstones of spiritual practice; it is intrinsic to the development
of an inner life. Yet many are shy or uncomfortable about exploring this
realm — partly because the reigning mechanistic view of reality discounts
the value of the imagination and subjective experience, and partly because
our worship of reason would insist that there is no logic to dreams or
that we might “drown” in their dangerous emotional waters. Thus the baby
is thrown out with the bath water, and the baby never matures.
Nevertheless it is to our dreams that we owe our sanity. Deprived of sleep for more than 36 hours, we begin hallucinating. Dreams help the mind to regenerate, integrate current life experience with the past, rehearse for the future, and direct our attention where it is needed. As Carl Jung taught us, they compensate for imbalances in our conscious attitude or circumstances; they reveal our hidden aspects, both positive and negative and, most importantly, they help reveal our path, our calling. Through the deep wisdom of the essential/higher Self, they guide us quite precisely in the life journey of becoming more whole and more truly ourselves. Jennifer’s dream offers just such a glimpse of wholeness.
The process of personal development can be profoundly assisted through dreamwork. The practice involves working consciously to acknowledge, decode, and assimilate the implications of our dreams, and to put into practice their guidance. Much as the whale came of its own accord to visit Jennifer, rising to meet her at her level of consciousness, beholding her with impartial patience, our active engagement with our dreams elicits an actual give-and-take with the inner Self. Over time, we develop a reciprocal relationship that is highly responsive and which deepens our process of integration. The baby matures into adulthood, and, behold! tracts of intelligence reveal themselves. One TV producer gets his scripts from his dreams, a sculptor chooses from among the many designs that his dreams regularly lay before him; a mother gains insight into her child’s difficulties; in therapy a client is taken deeper into his formative memories of childhood to retrieve the innocent, wounded one, and helped to integrate his experience of goodness and harm.
Just as we cannot see the backside of the moon, we
are all blind about ourselves in large degree. We do not know why we respond
the way we do. Though we have outer freedoms like cars and the right to
vote and endless choices of cereals to buy, most of us are running our
lives on automatic pilot. Thus we remain prisoners of our conditioning,
unaware of what is happening, or why, or who we might really be.
Our dreams help reveal what is hidden, what needs to be assimilated into consciousness. Healthy and rigid identifications are revealed side by side Both need attention, but the latter can feel at times like a straightjacket. The rebellious adolescent may prevent us from experiencing intimacy, the stern critic stifles our creative impulses and kills off our self-esteem, the mother role may block access to the warrior’s courage and decisiveness, while the warrior may block access to the heart’s compassion and humility. Worse, certain archetypal life scripts can be truly destructive, operating like “black suns” (as Robert Bly calls them) within the psyche that invisibly control behavior. The myth of The-Artist-Dying-Young, for example, “took” the lives of Dylan Thomas, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, River Phoenix, John Denver. Poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars govern a life.” At age thirty she died by her own hand.
One woman provides a more ordinary and felicitous example of how a dream illuminates a limiting pattern. In her dream, Martha goes to lunch with her work group, but in the cafeteria she stays at the end of the line to bake a fish for everyone. Sad not to be able to get a dessert, she is further disgruntled when she finally arrives to take a seat at the table only to find that everyone has nearly finished eating. Yet she has barely anything on her plate, and her fish offering has burned! Through dreamwork, she recognized a lifelong habit of unnecessary self-sacrifice, which usually left her natural generosity “burned to a crisp.” In the dream’s reenactment of the burnt offerings of ancient rites, we see her deepest gift — her selfless (christ) consciousness, her tenderness — rendered inedible because of inappropriate timing. She herself goes hungry and misses the opportunity for normal sociability. Her psychological task became clear: she needed to right this imbalance, to move from premature martyrdom and burnout to restorative self-nurturance, from co-dependency to appropriate generosity of spirit. She needed to eat the fish herself, and join the feast of life.
Numinous Images Guide Us
As we come to know ourselves and break the chains
of limiting identities, like those of Jennifer and Martha, we gradually
disidentify from old ways of being and behaving; we become aware of new
options. The “I/ Eye” becomes freer, more impartial,
witnessing both inner and outer dramas as the “dream” of life. Gradually,
the center of identity becomes more rooted in the eternal view of the soul.
Our dreams also constantly feed us the positive food we need to change. They continuously serve up numinous and emotionally-laden images, even the nightmares, that are required to show us the way. Examples of guiding images abound: An ancient tree filled with huge white blossoms. A young boy brilliant with natural laughter. A map of acupuncture points, all glowing. An attic full of artist paints. A dark faceless figure so black the dreamer is struck with terror. (But in facing it, she learns not to run from fear and thus gains a spiritual guide, for the shadow figure transforms into a Native American elder, a spiritual grandfather who supports her even today). A wolf who steps out of the underbrush on the left, whose eyes are sheer pools of light, his gentle, infinitely wise expression indicating “Yes, you are on the right path.” Standing in a church pulpit, the dreamer holds up pieces of a bright blue puzzle and instructs the congregation, “Find where you fit!” (This presages a career shift; she soon enrolls in divinity school.) These dream images all demonstrate signs of the inner processes that guide us to become more fully integrated as human and spiritual beings.
Yet the creative implications of our dreaming move
far beyond the individual. In James Joyce's Ulysses, the young artist Stephen
Dedaelus vows, “I go forth to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated
conscience of the race.” How is it possible that a single individual can
create a new conscience - consciousness - for the species? And what has
this possibility — this glimmering quirk of wildness — got to do with dreaming?
Our dreams live closest to the creative source, the fertile void which mystics and scientists alike call “the field of all-possibility.” They provide direct access to the most ceaselessly creative resource we yet know (other than the source of life itself), the human imagination. “Everyone of us is a genius when we sleep,” says a popular dreamworker.
Through quantum physics which studies the nature of matter and the structure of the universe, we are now coming to understand what the mystics have always known: that reality is more like a mind composed of information and energy, that there is no such thing as separate individuals, that all boundaries are infinitely permeable, that everything is affected by everything else. Creativity is the central characteristic of reality.
As Deepak Chopra put it, “The universe is one huge dream machine churning out dreams.” And our own nightly dreams partake of that totality, as do the more visible “dreams” of our lives. Within the crucible of each “individual” consciousness, new possibilities are born out of the whole of life and are given back to the whole of life. The Earth, each human being, each group and ecosystem, small and large, is a self-organizing system interrelating with all other systems. We are all part of the biological and psychic internet of the planet.
The Psychic Internet
Nowhere does evidence of this reality show up so
clearly as in our dreams. Fluid, ever-changing, cease-lessly creative,
they partake of the open system of the creative un-conscious which draws
on all per-tinent resources to make “its” point and to generate new possibilities.
These resources include personal experience, genetic and species patterning
(biological, psychic, experiential), cultural consciousness, and the universal
“library” of plan-etary experience throughout time.
The breadth of intuitive access to such huge resources — the original and true Internet of the Earth — may give dreaming a more central role in the coming years. For we know two things: 1) All solutions and visions, for good or ill, originate in the imagination. 2) The extraordinary and unprecedented challenges of living in a planetary culture are upon us. They require a truly creative response if we are to find our way into new (or maybe old) social organizations that live in harmony with each other and the heavily burdened earth. Our times require guiding mythologies and inventions appropriate to the new situation. We must evolve. Are we evolving already ? Or perishing?
We must also learn how to navigate intuitively in the unknowns of nonlinear systems, in times of fast-paced and incremental personal, social, and planetary transition. Dreams can be hugely helpful here since they are so often prescient. (This is how Joseph knew to leave home with pregnant Mary to escape Herod’s death threats; how Harriet Tubman guided escaping slaves to safety without a single mishap via the underground railroad; how General George S. Patton so un-cannily anticipated his enemies’ moves.)
As Ferenczi said, “Dreams are the workshop of evolution.” So we do our dreamwork not just for ourselves as “isolated” individuals trying to become better human beings, though that is the central challenge. But we do dreamwork, especially in groups — so that the free activity of the unconscious may find its way out of the private mind and into the world. This may take place in writing, in stories and film, in our daily inventions at work and home, in songs and play, in our discussions with others. Inventors and problem-solvers, mothers and teachers, cab drivers and artists, business folk and computer hacks, children and the ancient ones, all have equal access to the creative intelligence of the species. How much is lost because so many of us are not listening to the source? How many apt metaphors, visions, images carrying perfectly rearranged re-lationships and information, like acorns, like DNA, carrying the seeds of tomorrow, never make their way into reality?
The Spread of Dreamwork
Fortunately, all this is changing. At this time, dream groups and associations are spreading and there is a great deal of dream activity on the Internet. Web sites are flourishing along with books in a way that was unthinkable a mere 15 years ago. We are on the verge of becoming a dream-friendly culture.... and every-one can participate. We can all awaken. In the twinkling of an Eye. ™
Ramsay Raymond, MA, MHC is an artist with over twenty
years experience as a psychotherapist, group facilitator, and educator
in spiritual psychology, dreamwork, and creative expression. She is an
Advisor to the Dream Network Journal, teaches in New England and directs
The Dreamwheel, a program in dream education in Concord, MA.
The Dreamwheel, 191 Sudbury Road, Concord, MA 01742-3423;
Tel. (978) 369-2634