Dreams as Medicine

Today’s blog feature my paper included in the 2nd annual Many World’s of Lucid Dreaming Conference which concluded just a couple of weeks ago. In case you missed the event, I’d love to share my paper with you here.

Dreams as Medicine:
How Conscious Dreaming Can Support One’s Journey Toward Wellness

Kimberly Mascaro, PhD

Introduction

Before I share some medicinal dreams, I’d like to take a moment to define terms I use when considering these phenomena, such as conscious dreaming, medicine, and wellness. I think of conscious dreaming as a practice of dreaming with awareness. Intentional participation in the dream arts may include such ritualized practices as attending to sleep hygiene, incubating and tracking dreams, in addition to dedicating time to developing skills, such as meditation, which enhances awareness of entering, exploring, and returning from the dream world. Experiencing various states of lucidity in the dream itself seems to come with the territory. With the terms medicine and wellness there are various definitions. Effective health practices center around wholeness, living well, and transformation. This is medicine. Dreams can be medicinal in that they support one along the path toward wellness.

We would all likely agree that dreams come in service. With this in mind, it is no surprise that dreams have been recognized as a potential diagnostic tool. Dreams which hint at or directly point to a diagnosis are nothing new – far from it! Examples hail across culture, time and place, going back to ancient times. Second century physician and philosopher, Galen, wrote about dreams as a medical diagnostic aid in his treatise On Diagnosis from Dreams. His theories were well respected and dominated European medicine for 1,500 years. There are many recent examples as well, such as the ‘monk dream’ described in the 2014 book Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing written by three- time breast cancer survivor Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos.

Pre-Diagnosis Dreaming

While the bulk of this paper will focus on dreams I personally recall which took place after a chronic illness diagnosis, first, I will share a few dreams from my dream journal that led up to that time. These four dreams prior to diagnosis seem to offer warnings or point to areas of concern – they are not shared in their entirety and parts of the dreams have been paraphrased. The first three are from March 2019 and the last one is from August 2019:

I’m in a house –it must be winter because of the heavy amount of snow. My parents are around. We eat dinner together as the sun sets. I ask them about the weird phenomenon occurring in the neighborhood. They don’t give me straight answers. I walk away irritated. After I press on and demand answers they tell me that I must keep the “right foot on the ground” to remain safe. I find this to be a strange response. I’m not even sure what the danger actually is!

A few nights later:

I’m in my vehicle and I’m the driver. I safely arrive at my destination but it’s overheated. I see the little symbol lit up indicating that the vehicle was operating too high. I worry about how I will get back/make the return trip. It’s best to drive slower and not use the air-conditioning system. It is necessary to look out for how much I drive and the manner in which I drive. This can prevent overheating.

About a week-and-a-half after:

I’m with a group of female friends. One of them does something that feels divinatory – a charting of some kind. It’s circular and reflects various symbols, images and words. I don’t recognize it, but it is something related to my health. They give me directions and instructions for something I need to do for my health. Do I need a special practitioner? Is it something huge? I need to figure out what my body needs …. I’m assured that this issue isn’t huge or life-threatening, but it is a message to attend to my body and psyche and to give it what it needs. I need to make adjustments, take certain vitamins or something but I don’t recall exactly.

That August, a tragedy unfolds in my dream apartment:

The toilet becomes clogged, and explodes. Feces shots upward about four feet high in a powerful stream, like a volcano erupting. There is a huge mess. I tell the landlord who connects me with a local company to correct the incident. But this team is only prepared for a minor incident and gives a superficial response. I’m pissed off by this so I give passioned speech regarding what I expect, as this incident is a big deal.

I take these dreams as warnings, poking at me to wake up in my day-to-day existence,
to be prepared for the unexpected, to stay grounded, listen to my inner signals, slow down, not rely on external systems too much, go see a physician and a nutritionist, not accept superficial or quick fixes, maintain boundaries, and to become a strong advocate for myself.

Post-Diagnosis Dreaming

In October of 2019, my health questions would be answered. I recalled dozens of dreams within the first month post-diagnosis. They flooded in, appearing to offer some direction. Here are a few:

I’m with my doctors at a live comedy performance, yet I don’t know who or what is on stage. We are laughing intensely and having really good time.

A week later in a dream,

I am dancing to salsa/timba (something I love to do in waking life) and showing people how to use a cold-press juicer. I also tell them the best combination of vegetables to use with the knowledge that they must be consumed for health reasons. That same night, I dream of swimming in a pool with others along with the explicit awareness that “We need to drain the pool as part of the cleaning process.”

Within the following two weeks, I dreamt of other problems while being aware in the dream of my condition: toilets that (still) wouldn’t flush, delicious bakery items appearing as skulls with the reminder that I must not eat baked good or anything with sugar, and people dumping their work on me. Dreams also reminded me of my body needing nourishment, and in the month following the diagnosis, my dreams explicitly reminded me that I need to “eat cauliflower” and “collard greens” – vegetables I rarely-if-ever consumed. If felt strange to be standing in the local market selecting them while having no idea how to cook or prepare them.

During that period (and even to this day), I’ve engaged these dreams, following their instructions. I now watch much more comedy, include dance regularly into each day, drink organic, cold-pressed green juice most days, consume 10 times more vegetables than ever before, attend to gut-health, and completely avoid gluten and sugar. Turns out, these are all beneficial for optimal health and wellness. I learned this to be true as I read more and engaged health practitioners. Part of the wellness journey is accepting help. I had always wanted to solicit health services but now I had an excuse to do what I had always wanted but previously told myself I didn’t have the time or money.

As time passed and the calendar turned to 2020 there were even more dreams following the diagnosis. Around this time, I was becoming a strong advocate for my health and read about a dozen books on the particular condition I was dealing with. I dug in deep and felt as if I put myself back in doctorate school. Some of my doctors told me to stop reading and instead partake in joyful, nonmental activity. That was hard to do. As I continued to expand my education on root causes, treatment options (naturopathic, holistic vs medical model approaches to illness), I log many more dreams.

A Lucid Dreaming Incubation

December 2019, just before the new year, brought with it a lucid dream with the highest level of consciousness I experienced that year. In the dream, I am standing in my house, the one I still live in today. Lucidity is triggered. Once I became lucid, I asked the dreaming consciousness itself, “How do I heal this condition?” Followed by, “What is the root cause of this condition?” The responses were interesting. As for the first question about healing, I float upward, put myself in lotus position and begin to meditate. Then the dream scene/space collapses and there I am again hovering lotus position in the black void, continuing to meditate.

I feel soothed…it’s so nice and peaceful. Then I see a human figure dusted in white (chalk or paint?), hovering, sitting in lotus position as one would for meditation – it’s like a mirror image of myself, but all white. Not long after, I am back in the original dream scene. So, I ask the second question about root cause. From the upper left, an alien-like face flashes…it’s a bit reptilian, unlike a cartoon alien. This is some other type of creature or entity. I become emotionally aroused and lucidity fades. However, as I begin to enter physical waking state and sense myself lying in my bed, there is energy surging through my hands. I place my hands over my heart-center and take the energy in.

About six weeks later in February 2020, a puzzling dream is recalled, as I know nothing about car mechanics:

I need a catalytic converter. My Uncle X appears and places the order. When they arrive, I see that there are many of them. There are more than I believe I need, but he tells me “That’s how they come, in a package.”

This is where the internet is a blessing – I now know what these devices do. Because catalytic converters change harmful components from an engine’s emissions into safe gasses, and my dream indicated that I need more than one, I was able to acknowledge many life shifts were necessary for me to survive the chronic illness.

And the Dreams Go On . . .

In early November 2020, when considering whether to get another MRI sooner. rather than later, all-the-while weighing the pros and cons of risking COVID exposure from visiting a major medical center, I would fall asleep with this question on my mind. Dream incubation has often been very helpful for wellness-related concerns. The next morning, I recalled a dream showing me a physician I had never met. I was surprised because I rarely dream of medical professionals in sickness or in health. In the dream, the physician is a white, middle-aged female, about my height, with a short, brown hair cut into the style of a ‘bob.’ I sense she is a N.D. (a naturopathic doctor). She holds an unfamiliar device in her hand used to measure tumor size. I ask her if I should rush to get an MRI done. She says, “Nah, no rush.” I wake up in bed that morning with a diminished sense of urgency feeling that my current treatment plan is good enough for this time. While I still planned to get an MRI, I was no longer anxious about the exact timing.

From the set of dreams above, I chose to practice meditation more regularly, be aware of outside influences, seriously look at additional changes I needed to make in my life, but also know that my efforts were working – no need to rush to out for imaging at that time.

By 2021, I felt much more settled into a new lifestyle routine. A dream in January that year left me feeling like I was on the right track. I felt less threatened by the chronic illness and more confident in my ability to manage this wellness journey. The following dream was a rather long one, however what stood out most being in a scene with family and a long-time friend. My mother announces, “We want to reward you.” As I sit with surprise and wonder, several deceased family members arrive. They are all here for me! Even though I am aware of my health status in this dream, I am still not sure what I am being rewarded for. I had close relationships with those deceased in the dream and I feel love. In the dream I am aware of the blessings and good fortune bestowed upon my in this life time, yet am told a “much bigger reward is coming.” Three months later, in the waking state, a color doppler ultrasound reveals the tumor is without blood veins, meaning it is likely inactive, or non-threatening.

In conclusion, dreams can be considered medicinal in that they support health-related practices in many ways. Never once did I recall a dream that directed me to do something my medical team thought ill-advised. Yes, that’s right, I share my dreams with my medical team. If they are rude, dismissive, or insulting, they will no longer be on my treatment team. In my opinion, a conscious dreaming practice is supportive for anyone’s journey toward wellness. Lastly, as we make our way closer to present time, mid-2021, an exciting occurrence takes place: a toilet (finally) flushes and in that dream I know that the pipes are all clear.

Kimberly R. Mascaro, PhD, LMFT is a psychotherapist, author, artist, and educator with 20 years of professional experience in mental and behavioral health. She is passionate about wellness and spiritual development holding certifications in hypnotherapy and yoga nidra. Dr. Mascaro is the author of Extraordinary Dreams. Contact her at https://consciouschimera.com/

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