Armor. It’s not a word I often hear, so I was a little surprised to dream of such a concept. Armor can be thought of as a protective layer intended to deflect or diffuse damaging forces. The phrase, a knight in shining armor evokes a strong image, yet armor can be many things. Surely, it can be more than a physical object. And ‘damaging forces’ entail more than swords or bullets. Armor, in a psychological sense, acts as a coping mechanism to protect from emotional pain.
While the word ‘armor’ is not part of my everyday vocabulary, the act of armoring is a frequent experience for most of us. It’s the way our unconscious distorts the body. It happens unconsciously. When do we, as people, armor ourselves? Armoring can take place when suppressing emotion, holding in truths, and inhibiting ourselves in various ways, to start. Armoring happens when our authentic self is not permissible or allowed.
Could long-term armoring lead to disease and illness? Some would say yes, as emotional experience has a relationship with physiology. As a result of armoring, we may encounter physical and physiological symptoms. Considering that what happens internally is expressed externally, in our posture, and musculature, we may become aware of a hunched back, tight jaw muscles, or an overall stiffness, for example. The impact of armoring can be invisible as well, such as when we do not allow a full exhale to happen. It’s good to know that releasing years of armoring is possible. These insights and ideas come from Wilhelm Reich and the field of somatic psychology. Somatic psychology gives great attention to the embodied self. Body-oriented therapies are shown to help greatly in this area.
Like body-oriented therapies, dreamwork also provides an opportunity to attend to one’s embodied self. In California, many licensed psychologists and psychotherapists are experienced dreamworkers, offering individual and group dreamwork sessions. There are various types of dreamwork – Gestalt dreamwork is one example. Through dreams, we can see ourselves in different ways. Dreams are said to reflect many things, such as unconscious processes, adaptation, attention needed in some aspect of the waking physical life, and much more. Dreams can be a source of guidance and even provide concrete information. Dreams can also reveal aspects of our authentic self. A dream may even prompt one to schedule an appointment with physician or a therapist. While dreamwork can take various forms, one way to begin (after recording the dream) is to focus on the imagery. Often there is a central image. Stay with the image and give it life in order to understand it at deeper levels. As an artist, I prefer to draw or paint my dreams. Others act out the dream in dream-like theater. With lucid dreaming, we can ask the dream to bring a healing figure to assist us, or to show us how to heal ourselves. These are just some of the possibilities.
Below, I’ll share a portion of one of my recent dreams and the evolving process that, for me, followed naturally. In the first part of my dream,
Damaging forces abound. An adolescent girl (who may represent one aspect of myself) is being protected by a small group of caring adults, both male and female. The adults work at the girl’s group home or residential treatment center. We are outdoors, in town somewhere, under the bright sun. In particular, one of the adult females (who I understand to be my primary self), is very concerned and protective of the girl. She gently places her arm around the girl, kissing her on the forehead with wet eyes, as the girl removes her body armor (in the form of a metal body suit, somewhat similar to chain mail).
In the dream state, I experienced this scenario with the body armor as the strong central image, leading me to pay attention to my own armoring, its potential health impact, and to begin to seek solutions. As part of my own dreamwork process, I felt compelled to recreate the metal body suit, which I did by knitting with some thin wire. Not easy! Later, I represented the image in a painting (shown here). This is just the beginning of re-establishing my relationship with armor – a concept I had set aside, for the most part, since graduate school.
There is no end to this story. Armor must first be known, even allied, before it can be shed. And in order to shed, one must create a safe environment (perhaps with a therapist) before the armor will even budge. If we allow it, we can see truth with our dream ‘eyes.’ Dreams have a way of making the unconscious, conscious. Dreamwork acknowledges that consciousness and the authentic self continue to develop. Evolving interpretations are at play.
May your dreams be your medicine,
*I’d like to thank Dr. Jennifer Tantia of New York for her consultation with this article. She can be reached at http://www.soma-psyche.com
I’ll be selling discounted copies of my book, Extraordinary Dreams, and showing some of my Dream art! Come on by!
May 4, 2018
Osborn Woods gallery in Nevada City, CA.
If you would like a copy, but can’t be in Nevada City next week, order here:
The science of sleep has continued to gain attention and over the past couple of decades the field of sleep medicine has experienced a boom. According to American Sleep Association, there are two forms of sleep related hallucinations: hypnogogic and hypnopompic. Some researchers, however, note that the term hallucination is unfitting because hallucinations only occur in the full waking state. Firstly, hypnogogia, is the term used to describe the state one experiences just before sleep. In this state, one may experience hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Secondly, hypnopompia, is the term used to describe the state one experiences upon waking. Sleep paralysis is common during this period, along with perceived complex visual imagery, and increased dream recall.
These sleep-related states can serve creative types well. My own experiences have resulted in decision making, speech writing, and artistic creativity. Others have discovered solutions to complex problems and have even composed musical pieces. When we pay attention and attend to the lived experience of these states, possibilities become endless.
Allow me to share a recent hypnopompic episode. As I was awakening one morning, I saw a strong and fairly clear image that puzzled me. There was a simple wooden wall or plank, with a bright red heart (like a paper valentine’s day-like cut-out heart) floating near the top-left side. To the right was a vertical column of silvery milagros or ex-voto. Unfortunately, I could not hold on to the exact ones, but I’m certain that they were all body parts. There were at least four, but likely many more. I brought the image to my dream group and processed its many possible meanings. Still, the image stuck with me and I began to draw it, then paint it (I now have plans to construct it in the near future). Through the artistic process my relationship to the meaning behind the raw imagery developed. This style of dreamwork can evolve over a long period of time leading to greater insight and awareness of one’s soul journey. So much of this space remains private, but I am beginning to reveal more and more in time. This image, in its many forms will be on public display in two art exhibitions this spring and summer. I’m excited to share more of my inner work with others and discuss how sleep related states have created meaning in the lives of my community.
Shamans and practitioners of traditional ways do not necessarily label or compartmentalize the human experience the way the West does. No matter which labels (hallucinations, etc.) Western science applies, sleep related states have a long history of supporting spiritual growth and development in many areas (business, career, marriage, creativity). With a pen and paper by the bedside, and a set intention, so much can be unleashed.
While I’m no longer a student or faculty, taking a break as the spring season approaches is just what I needed. So that means no blogging (no articles written at all) for the month of March. Instead, I am surfing, almost daily, in Costa Rica this month, as well as relaxing, rejuvenating & reconnecting with myself. Just what a trauma therapist needs! Oh! And I still haven’t had any surfing or ocean dreams on this trip yet…maybe tonight.
Greetings! It’s the two-year anniversary of Conscious Chimera! To mark the occasion, I decided to write about a topic that I have yet to include here – the near death experience. An author once told me that she considers the near-death experience to be “the book end” to the pre-birth experience. Her idea peaked my interest considering my research on announcing dreams and other communications parents report involving those yet-to-be born. While pre-birth experiences encompass a variety of phenomena associated with events prior to being born (reported visions, or spontaneous prenatal or pre-conception memories, for example), the near-death experience shines light on what may exist after death. Pre-birth experiences not only offer insight into fetal consciousness, but, also quite possibly reincarnation. A near death experience, on the other hand, can offer a post-death roadmap, shift one’s paradigm, and even diminish the fear of death altogether.
To truly understand a near death experience (NDE), consider the following perceptions: movement through space, light and darkness, intense emotion, sensing a presence, a strong conviction of having a new understanding of the nature of the universe. These are broad characteristics, or common features, found among NDE reports according to the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS). The IANDS website states,
“An NDE typically includes a sense of moving, often at great speed and usually through a dark space, into a fantastic landscape and encountering beings that may be perceived as sacred figures, deceased family members or friends, or unknown entities. A pinpoint of indescribable light may grow to surround the person in brilliant but not painful radiance; unlike physical light, it is not merely visual but is sensed as being an all-loving presence that many people define as the Supreme Being of their religious faith.”
Such profound psychological events contradict Western assumptions about the nature of reality, therefore we don’t often hear about things like this in daily conversation. When I am open and curious about near death and/or pre-birth experiences, I have found that people talk – sometimes even complete strangers have shared a profound experience with me. About three months ago, I was riding in a taxi making small talk with the driver. When he asked about my work and I told him of my background in psychology, he asked questions surrounding the mind-brain problem, also known as the hard problem of consciousness. Our lively dialogue continued and we seemed to build rapport quickly. After some minutes past, he spoke about two NDEs he had within the same week, both took place in a hospital bed. Both times, he floated above his body, saw his physical body below him (an out-of-body state which can be a precursor to an NDE) and heard the conversations in the surrounding areas. He told me that he had never, up until that time, experienced such a profound sense of peace. During the experience, he recognized that he did not want to return to his physical body, despite the medical staff’s efforts. When he finally did return to his body, he continued to experience that sense of great peace, and no longer had a fear of death. Since NDEs often have life-altering effects, I asked him about any noticeable changes in attitude or other aftereffects. I learned that he considered the top-ranking effects to be his ability to now live life with much less resistance or attachment to outcome, and that when his time to die approached, he would not fear it, but instead, embrace it because he knew he would be going somewhere serene and peaceful.
While NDEs appear to share many commonalities, they are never exactly the same. On rare occasions, some NDEs have been described as disturbing. From 1% to 15% of NDE reports may be considered distressing: a relatively small percentage. For more on this topic contact the International Association for Near Death Studies at iands.org. Their website contains a page specifically dedicated to distressing NDEs if you would like to understand more. In addition, the IANDS website contains dozens of NDE accounts from individuals so one can take in this truly diversified experience that has changed the lives of so many. Through those courageous enough to describe their experience and share it with the world, we all have the opportunity to learn about what may be waiting for us on the other side, through the veil.
Happy February – Happy Valentine’s Day,