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In February 2019, I was fortunate enough to have a lengthy discussion with Dr. Joseph Dillard on lucid dreaming, dream yoga, yoga nidra, and his approach called Integral Deep Listening (IDL). Here, for Conscious Chimera’s March 2019 article, I share with you the highlights. If you haven’t yet, please take a look at last month’s article, as February reflects part one of this two-part report. In addition, it might be helpful to take a look at Dillard’s work, particularly these two web pages:
Dillard believes dreaming to be “our most misunderstood and underutilized, innate capability.” He begins by summarizing some core points. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, life is seen as a dream. Yoga, as a psychospiritual discipline, can wake us up out of an existence of perpetual sleepwalking. The Buddhist and Hindu worldviews are derived from Shamanism, which assumes a fundamental cosmological dualism – that is, an underworld of demons and devils, and an overworld of angels and deities. Trance and dreaming allow shamans to access communication with these worlds. Shamanistic approaches to dream yoga are concrete and literal; what you experience in a dream is a reality in another dimension. Most traditional approaches, whether they are Amer-Indian shamanistic, Siberian or whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Tibetan Buddhist approaches, will focus on the objective concreteness of experiences and further divide dreaming into either spiritual or mundane categories. You’ll find that again and again wherever you look at them.
This traditional approach to dreamwork and dream yoga is in opposition to the Western psychological approach, which sees everything in a dream or interior, psychological experience, as a self-aspect, sub-personality, or “shadow.” Dillard adds that these two approaches generate a fundamental division in approaches to dreamwork, with the first tending to view dreams as either sacred, spiritual, and highly meaningful, or secular, profane, and meaningless, while the second emphasizing ownership and the self-created nature of experience in order to foster responsibility and personal empowerment.
According to Dillard, Tibetan Dream Yoga is divided into two different categories – one is the category associated the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa, which emphasizes gaining power to awaken out of samsara, or the clinging to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, by waking up in your dreams. In this way, lucid dreaming becomes a tool for waking up. He states that, “The idea is to wake up in your waking life. You can rehearse this and learn how to do it by waking up in a dream, to realize that you are dreaming, and have various experiences which will teach you that you have control.” “Consequently, you’ll start to wake up in your waking life and to differentiate the dream-nature, the illusory-nature of waking life from dream life.” The “Milarepa” approach focuses on the steps or injunctions of the yoga of waking up while you are dreaming.
Now, Dillard gives attention to the second Tibetan dream yoga category known as Tibetan Deity Yoga. In short, with this approach one meditates on a bodhisattva or the Buddha, internalizes a mandala, in addition to many other details, recalling colors, shapes, figures, etc., in order to embody and become the deity. One tries to fuse with, or become the consciousness of the deity, Dillard explains. In Tibetan Deity Yoga this work uses sacred elements from within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The distinction between sacred and secular (whether in dream or waking or meditative states) is apparent, as it is in the shamanic traditions. (For a more in-depth discussion of these two types of Tibetan dream yoga, see http://www.integraldeeplistening.com/tibetan-dream-yoga/)
IDL does not make this distinction. Through the use of its interviewing protocols, we learn to listen to the perspective of an element first, before judging it to be sacred or not. Without deep listening, we may just be projecting our biases onto the element or experience. IDL is a nonjudgmental approach to dreamwork. It attempts to be objective by not assuming that dream elements are good or evil, or that they are aspects of ourselves.
Deep listening is a dream yoga that embodies or identifies with the perspective of the elements in a dream, or mystical or near-death experience (NDE), or even a waking life issue. We can interview these elements/perspectives in an integral, deep way. By “integral,” Dillard is referring to Ken Wilber’s work surrounding lines of development, stages of development, and the 4 quadrants (internal-collective, internal-individual, external-collective, external-individual).
IDL involves interviewing protocols for one or multiple dream or life issue elements. The first variety, single element interviewing, is derived from the second, multiple element interviewing, which is called “Dream Sociometry.” It was created in 1980 and is based on J.L. Moreno’s sociometric methodology. The relationships among dream elements or those constituting some personal or collective issue, such as 9/11, can be depicted in a diagram called a Dream Sociogram. For further details, see Dream Sociometry and Understanding the Dream Sociogram (Routledge, 2018), or visit Dillard’s website: www.integraldeeplistening.com for examples of both types of protocols as well as computer assisted formats for doing both sorts of interviews yourself.
Character interviewing can also be done while one is lucid in a dream. When lucid, we merge with the element so that we suspend our own perception of our experience and view it from the world view of other embedded, relevant perspectives. The results can be stunning. Lifelong nightmares can go away for good with just one interview. Agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and toxic life scripts can be reframed in ways that open up healing, balance, and transformation.
The two approaches of Tibetan Buddhism to dream yoga largely fall within the shamanic tradition that we are having illusory experiences regarding objectively real states. There really are gods and demons and they really do appear in our dreams. But these in turn are aspects of a cosmic dream of maya. The other broad approach to lucid dreaming and dream yoga in general is the Western psychological approach, which is the opposite, which says that you are dealing with self-aspects. Dillard’s approach, Integral Deep Listening (IDL), holds a third perspective and that is that what we experience in a dream is “ontologically indeterminate” – that is, “we can treat dream elements like self-aspects, yet to a certain extent they are, at the same time, more than self-aspects, in that the perspective, or world view, of different elements within the dream, disclosed when we become and interview them, includes our own perspective, but transcends it, in that every interviewed perspective adds its own world view to our own.” Simply put, we do not know the dream element’s nature of being. Is it “real” or a self creation, both, or neither? Therefore, to immediately reduce it to a self-aspect is reductionistic, while assuming that some dream about our deceased aunt Mildred, really was her communicating from the other side, is also reductionistic. Mildred could be real or a self-creation, both, or neither; we don’t know. However, if we become and interview aunt Mildred, we will at least have the benefit of a perspective more in a position to know than we are.
Dillard’s approach is phenomenalistic, meaning that we recognize and suspend our assumptions about why we dream and what a dream means. For instance, we do not begin by assuming dreams are symbolic or that aunt Mildred is a symbol. We attempt to withdraw our projections and get out of our own way so that we can practice listening to different dream, mystical, and waking perspectives in a way that is deep and integral. Such a phenomenological approach is based on respect, which is in turn based on the principle of reciprocity: treating others, including dream elements, with the same degree of respect that we would hope others would treat us.
Dillard believes that IDL has the potential to move us away from a psychologically geocentric perspective, or pre-Copernican worldview, toward a psychologically heliocentric, Copernican worldview (which is much less egocentric, but still Self-centered), and even beyond this toward a multi-perspectival, holonic, approach by which every point in the universe is the center of the universe. The purpose is to decentralize the self, expanding, freeing, and opening our worldview significantly. This is why IDL is multi-perspectival in its orientation, as well as phenomenological.
At this point, I inserted my thoughts about yoga nidra (sleep yoga) into the discussion. Yoga nidra allows one to experience a formless self (See the February article for a brief introduction to yoga nidra). While the value of what yoga nidra can teach us is apparent, Dillard does not believe that yoga nidra shifts worldviews in such drastic ways. He asks, “What’s the change agent?” Even when aware in deep sleep, a long-time yoga nidra practitioner still experiences the phenomenon out of his/her cultural and social framework and life assumptions. Dillard adds, “What do you do about the perceptual framework of the self you’re stuck in, regardless of your state of consciousness?” IDL supports the stepping out of the waking, acculturated self, so that we don’t act out of its interpretations of our experience. When we disidentify and suspend the assumptions of the culturally, socially scripted self, more creative options can come up in our choice frameworks. Dillard states, “It is as if our everyday mind moves into the clear and spontaneous space musicians and athletes experience when they are in a state of flow, or that nidra yoga cultivates as a formless ground of all possibilities. This is an extraordinarily fecund and creative space, in which we no longer block access to perspectives that are not stuck in ways that we are stuck.” Dillard designed IDL to support people in waking up in the here and now so we can become more fully alive. It’s all about “healing, balancing, and transformation,” highlights Dillard. He considers everything to be sacred, but not from a place of polarizing the spiritual from the profane. “Vomit and spit can be sacred, in that they can teach us something, if we get out of the way and listen.” “Everything we experience in any state can be approached as a vehicle to help us to wake us up.” Through IDL we use the self as a tool to thin the self by laying it aside and becoming, or identifying with, different perspectives, whether they arise from dream or waking experience, over and over again! This is the opposite of grasping or maintaining control. Because most of our childhood was about learning to be in control, and because society places high value on having control and fears states of loss of control, learning a practice that surrenders both the self and hands control to completely foreign perspectives can scare people away.
Near the end of our conversation, we touch on NDEs, mystical experiences, and OBEs, in addition to how IDL can help those with depression, or anxiety. No matter how we label an experience, why not view our body as a vehicle for growth? Dillard sums it up by claiming, “All experiences are emerging potentials. All are my teachers.”
I want to thank Dr. Joseph Dillard for his time and for such stimulating discussion. By Dillard sharing his extensive experience and through his lively input, Conscious Chimera’s 3rd anniversary article (especially part two) has turned out to be quite special and memorable.
Happy Valentine’s Day – I’m excited to share with you this two-part article celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Conscious Chimera! I’m marking the occasion by delivering an informational piece about practices that have been a part of my life and hold personal meaning for me. While the title of this article is somewhat of an oxymoron, by reading on you will come across several ideas about awakening through sleep. This February 2019 posting is part one. It draws on some of the writings, thoughts and contemplations of Kamini Desai, PhD, Andrew Holecek, PhD, Clare Johnson, PhD, Joseph Dillard, PhD, and myself. Here, in part one, I compare and contrast lucid dreaming, dream yoga, and sleep yoga (yoga nidra). Part two (available in March) will include an interview with Dr. Dillard focusing on Integral Deep Listening (IDL). Hot off the press – enjoy!
Lucid dreaming (dreaming while knowing you are dreaming) is often used for entertainment and pleasure. This learnable skill has become quite popular in the past several years. Many of those new to lucid dreaming are thrilled to learn that they can control their dreams and do what they most desire. Overindulgence in consuming sweets and fatty fast food, racing expensive cars, beating up enemies larger than oneself, having sex with supermodels (or becoming one), you name it, I’ve heard it all. Well, probably not, but those were the top responses I recall from my undergraduate students when teaching psychology courses for ASU. These lucid dream experiences made going to sleep exciting for them. To each semester’s half-dozen or so lucid dreamers, I would say, “Wow, that’s something.” It was something, as I didn’t expect to meet so many who attended to their dream lives. Then I would ask the experienced students about less materialistic matters: Had they ever talked to a deity or wise person, transported themselves to a sacred site, or even ask to be shown what death is like, or how to prepare for it? The responses were mostly blank stares, contorted faces, including a few scratching their heads as they muttered “nope.” I left it at that.
What one does in the dream state affects both body and brain. You can train your physical body by what you do in the dream state. We know this from countless scientific studies. Training in singing, art, athletics, and solving mathematical puzzles are some examples of purposeful, induced lucid dream activities practiced in order to improve waking life experience or events. I’m sure it’s clear that the experience of dreaming lucidly can lead to self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment (remember my students?). In addition, trauma survivors and military veterans have been taught to lucid dream for therapeutic purposes, as a way to alleviate PTSD symptoms. What a powerful modality to support healing! The wonders of lucid dreaming have impact and purpose, sometimes lasting a lifetime, yet remains relatively secular and focused on the self among contemporary Westerners.
In her 2017 book, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming: A Comprehensive Guide to Promote Creativity, Overcome Sleep Disturbances and Enhance Health and Wellness, Johnson writes, “Lucid dreaming does not always involve deliberate dream control.” Nor must it involve manipulation. We can remain open when lucid, and go with the flow. Holecek (2016), in his book, Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep, describes ‘witnessing’ dreams as a “type of lucid dream where you prefer not to engage in the dream. You’re lucid, but you prefer to just watch what unfolds without changing anything.”
“Dream yoga picks up where lucid dreaming leaves off,” says Holecek (2016). Self-transcendence is what dream yoga is all about. It is a spiritual practice, essentially. In Buddhist and Hindu worldviews there is the concept of life as maya, a dream, viewing life as illusory. Maya is Sanskrit for illusion. Dream yoga’s purpose is to wake us up out of the dream/illusion. As one’s practice grows and develops, worldly things may start to lose their power, and waking and dream worlds come to be viewed as equally real or unreal.
For the practice of dream yoga, we use our body as a tool, or vehicle, for growth. Consistency in practice matters, which is the case for any discipline. Holecek’s (2016) book offers chapters on both Western and Eastern lucid dream induction techniques, thus reminding us that we can become our own instructor, teaching ourselves how to do this stuff! My teachers taught a combination of both Western and Eastern induction techniques for the purpose of conscious dreaming, which I began practicing regularly. As a deeply curious student, I wanted to engage with my dreaming world in new ways. After a few months of dedication to the set of daily exercises, I met my initial goal. Over-zealous, I added more techniques to my daily routine and set new goals. On one hand, I began gaining increasing levels of competence. On the other hand, like other spiritual or health-based practices in my life, I became inconsistent and side tracked. Later, realizing that I had lost time, I set lofty goals, which led to feeling frustrated and pressured. Disillusioned, I gave up for a time. This happens to some of us – it can be considered normal human activity. The moral of the story is to monitor the ego, and to be gentle and kind to oneself while making daily commitments, and not set deadlines or huge goals that are in opposition to a preferred long-range lifestyle choice.
As we develop along our psychospiritual path, we may want to bring a waking life practice into the dream state. When dreaming lucidly, try engaging in a form of meditation. What happens? Holecek (2016) claims that “the meditation you accomplish in the dream state is up to 9 times more effective and more transformative than what you do in the waking state.” So, why not? Even in fully lucid dream states, where we have control and clear decision-making capacity (such as the decision to meditate), we may come into contact with the unexpected. For example, in most dreams (even lucid ones) people often run away from their disowned aspects – think powerful, hideous monsters. “Dreams are truth-tellers,” writes Holecek, in his article The Art of Lucid Dreaming published in Conscious Lifestyle Magazine. He adds, “Dream yoga will show you a great deal about who you are, and where you stand…” In dream yoga, integration of our unwanted, split-off parts is one way to go. In this example, we turn toward (a monster, in this case), instead of away. At the very least, we do not resist. By doing so we can gain awareness, illumination and transformation through acceptance. Some dreamers turn toward the scary creature and ask a question. “What do you represent?” or “What do you need?” are examples. Others simply remain with the experience. By clearing out the cobwebs, or moving deeper into the monster’s lair, we have an opportunity to tap into a deeper core, a greater awareness.
Due to the conscious awareness in this dream state, which becomes more common with practice, we can do much more, such as fly, manipulate the body, transform into an animal, converse with a deity, pass through seemingly solid objects, practice tai chi or qi gong, meditate, and more. As one moves along the dream yoga path, exercising greater levels of spiritual discipline is evermore encouraged, and this is where deeper meditation practices come into the picture. This is another area where I struggle and stir. Once the fun has been had, the simple curiosities expunged, and the egoic explorations complete, the mind is often pulled toward more of the same. This pattern is a way for me to see my own inner distractions, as well as face the part of me that fears thinning the self, not wanting to wake up from the perpetual dream called life (a serious question!). With further growth, trust, gentle practice and dedication, plus a little patience, this too shall pass.
Nidra means sleep in Sanskrit. Johnson (2017), who teaches yoga nidra, explains that “the experienced yoga nidra practitioner can carry this conscious awareness right through the sleep cycle and effectively stay lucid all night long while the body sleeps.” This is true even during the deepest state of sleep. What is so unique is that yoga nidra (aka sleep yoga) is associated with delta brainwaves similar to states of coma or under anesthesia. Such states are restorative and healing for the physical body. When in this deep meditative space, one disidentifies – there is no separate “I” in that all personal identification diminishes. This is a reason that this practice is considered a “yoga” – a psychospiritual discipline of awakening – as it takes the practitioner to places typically only experienced by advanced meditators. In addition to his many books, Dillard produces two highly informative websites on the topics discussed in this article: dreamyoga.com and integraldeeplistening.com. On lucid deep sleep, Dillard writes, “All of us think that we are awake, but few of us are. Those who are most likely to be most awake, and therefore have the most credibility regarding how to wake up out of our self-created life dream, are those who can stay awake while in the deep sleep state. Can you?”
In her 2017 book, Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep, Desai points to the research demonstrating the increased delta activity, which is “associated with empathy, compassion, intuition and spirituality,” among experienced meditators and even monks. The point of sleep yoga is to train oneself to access such states consciously so as to bring them back to waking consciousness! Now one may experience states of ‘higher consciousness’ during lucid dreaming – this is often reported. However, the yoga nidra practitioner’s focus is of cultivation and deliverance of what I understand to be transpersonal growth, and virtue in my opinion. The mission is to train the consciousness to be awake 24/7. This is no easy task – few have achieved such mastery and enlightenment.
There are a million and one ways to lose concentration and focus. After all, the mind likes to wander and stay busy. This is referred to as monkey mind in Buddhism. With consistent practice though, there is improvement – the monkey can be tamed! We have a lifetime (and possibly many more) to continue working at it. Those with dedication to such practices can, and do, advance along the path with steady pacing and persistence, all the while gaining increased clarity, intuition, empathy, compassion, self-decentralization, and more. Those that have mastered the yogas of dream and sleep are considered some of the enlightened beings that have walked this earth throughout history.
Since I began on, for me, the seemingly interwoven path of meditation, conscious dreamwork, and yoga over a decade-and-a-half ago learning the lessons has not been perfect, nor linear, yet it has been necessary to pick myself up and return to the practices time and time again when motivation declines and distractions arise. I have found reward, not only in the benefits mentioned earlier, but also by enhanced creativity, patience, humor and hope. And during these times, we know how we can all use more of that!
Please click FOLLOW so that you will be alerted when Conscious Chimera releases part two of this report. No matter where you are on this path, I say to you “All the strength”…and “Namaste.”
Happy new year! May 2019 bring you and yours much peace, good health, personal fulfillment, and joy. I’ve been working on this article for a couple months uncertain whether a more inspiring topic would come to me and take the place of this one. Then, like anyone with a burning new year’s resolution, I committed to action. For me, I (once again) joined a yoga center and embarked on a journey. After today’s class, I feel certain that this is the right topic to share with you at the beginning of another year, as January is for many people, a time of renewed commitment, planning, and setting the course for the new year ahead. Below, you’ll notice that I have some things to say about mindfulness – a practice I have been faithful to and in awe of, in both waking and sleep states, for the past 15+ years.
Take a seat for a moment…and just breath. As you softly gaze downward, do nothing else, except breath. Pay attention to the temperature of the air moving into the nostrils at each inhale. Notice the subtle movement of the belly as the lungs fill. Pause. Any sensations present at the moment just before exhalation? Exhale deelply, fully. Repeat, and repeat again as you move throughout the day.
Mindfulness is state – an active state of being with conscious observation. The instructions above are an example of just one way to begin. It can be considered a type of meditation, rooted in Eastern philosophy. It is not easy, yet remarkably simple. In mindfulness we bring our attention to present moment awareness, observing one thing or experience at a time –whether a thought, a feeling, a sensation- without interpretation, identification or judgment. We simply experience what is. Through this level of nonjudgmental observation without attachment to any of it, we can learn a great deal about the nature of being and the nature of mind. It may quickly become apparent that we typically follow our stream of thoughts, which are often out-of-control, and more often than not, in the fantasies of past or future. We are minimally aware of what’s living in the present moment, minimally aware of our own breath.
Through consistent mindfulness practice we awaken to our current experience, instead of looking into the past or toward the future. Busy city lifestyles don’t allow the room for such stillness, which is why I teach and practice this with almost every client I see. When we are determined to make room for mindful awareness, we reap the many benefits as noted in countless scientific publications.
Those that practice mindfulness meditation exercises often do so for the many known health benefits as evidenced by clinical trials. These include reductions in stress, anxiety, pain, depression, insomnia and high blood pressure (hypertension). With continued practice, sleep and attention also improve, and this is where consistent mindfulness practice can support conscious, or lucid, dreaming.
Now how about mindfulness in the sleep state, during the time when the body slumbers? To dream mindfully, with conscious awareness, one must first be able to have basic dream recall, and, of course, be able to sustain awareness in the moment. Daytime mindfulness practice has supported my extraordinary dream experiences for years, so I am faithful to it. One must also be able to bring the body into a relaxed state so as to bring about sleep. The combination of relaxation and focused attention (at the same time) does wonders for conscious dream support. When the body can relax and fall asleep while simultaneously maintaining focus, a new world opens up to us. Here, for this January article, I’ll focus on just one way of going about this.
World-renowned dream researcher, Stephen LaBerge coined the term W.I.L.D., which stands for Wake-initiated Lucid Dream. LaBerge’s WILD technique can be practiced in order to do just that – enter a lucid dream (knowing we are dreaming while dreaming) straight from the waking state. This way, there is no loss of consciousness, so some very unique and unexpected sensations will be noticed. This is just one “style” of lucid dreaming, considered by some to be an advanced technique. Some would refer to this experience as an OBE, while others, a form of lucid dreaming. And for others, there would be no distinction made at all, as the experiences of consciousness are just that, resting along a continuum of soul existence.
For a WILD to occur, one maintains “continuous reflective consciousness while falling asleep,” notes LaBerge and DeGracia (2000). This is a rare event, when compared to becoming lucid from a non-lucid dream state (over 80% of lucid dreams occur this way). In addition, WILDs occur more often during afternoon naps and in the early morning hours. I believe that this is due to the body having already had some rest. Don’t let any of this discourage you. With practice a W.I.L.D. can take place – I have had many WILDs myself, the majority of which have taken place shortly after sunrise. That’s because I have set that time aside and know that I have had enough rest that I can maintain focus, without slipping into sleep as quickly as I do at night after a long day. While I have scheduled time for this activity, it’s worth knowing that others have reported experiencing a spontaneous WILD, just for the record.
When we dream like this, consciously, it is very possible to recall details of our daily lives. We can make a plan of action before sleep, then act on those plans when recalled in the conscious dream state. Imagine the many stimulating and profound experiences waiting for us in a lucid dream!
For the sequence of steps and detailed instruction, either go to LaBerge’s website: lucidity.com, pick up one of his books, or listen to him talk about the technique in a youtube.com video.
Remember, not only can mindfulness be practiced in the waking state, but it can also be practiced in the dream state. A plan of action could be that once we become aware of being conscious/lucid in the dream state, we sit and begin meditating, toning, or praying. I have found that the more mindful I become in one state, the more mindful I am in the other state (waking or sleeping). So, making an attempt to practice mindfulness 24 hours a day is possible.
Mindfulness exercises vary from highly structured to loosely structured – both offer the highlighted health benefits listed above. I recommend daily practice for several months while also keeping a journal to record reflections and anything newly discovered.
All the best on your 2019 journey!
~For more on mindfulness, refer to Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield, PhD and take a look at these resources:
~For more on lucid dreaming, check out the following:
~You may enjoy reading the many books of Clare Johnson, PhD, Robert Moss, Robert Waggoner, and Stephen LaBerge, PhD.
Join me tomorrow evening at the Raven’s Wing on Grand Ave. in Oakland for this free event! Every third Wednesday of the month, we come together to explore the world of dreams. Each week is structured differently, sometimes lecture, discussion, activity, or a blend of all three. If you would like to suggest a particular dream-related topic for the evening, contact me. Hope to see you there!
I’m on a train. Several extended family members (all deceased relatives who have died during different periods of my life) enter through doors, but not all at once. Some are already seated, while others enter through different train doors on the same long train car. We quietly acknowledge each other. The train is moving again. Some prepare to exit as the train approaches its next stop. Then, they begin to leave, some together, some solo, getting off at different stops, exiting through different doors. I am not going with them. I do not protest. After all, I know they are dead. I have my own stop, my own door. I have some awareness that I am dreaming.
In both November 2016 and 2017, conscious chimera turned attention toward some aspect of visitation dreams, shrine/altar-making, or contact with the deceased. This makes sense given the time of year. So now, as the month of the dead wraps up for 2018, attention returns to these phenomena. Above, is one of a handful of easily recalled visitation dreams that contain several of my deceased relatives all together, in the same dream space.
From my research, I learned that visitation dreams most often arise in the context of major life transitions and loss (e.g. bereaved individuals as well as those in the dying process). Jeanne Van Bronkhorst’s book Dreams at the threshold: Guidance, comfort and healing at the end of life (2015) is a notable example, providing rich information about visitations reported among these groups. The Canadian author, who worked as a hospice social worker and bereavement counselor, describes how visitation dreams bring comfort to the bereaved as well as confidence to those who are moving toward death.
In 2011, Patrick McNamara authored a Psychology Today article titled Visitation dreams: Can dreams carry messages from loved-ones who have died? McNamara shares his own experiences with visitation dreams of his parents. Each dream occurred about 6 months after each death. Even with his strong Western scientific background, he “could not shake the conviction” that true communication between he and his dead mother and father took place. Like many researchers and scholars of dreams, McNamara is aware of how little research has been carried out on this topic, all the while knowing that these types of dreams can be very helpful. He states that experiencing a visitation dream can carry a bereaved person to “successful resolution of the grieving process.”
What can one make of a visitation dream outside of bereavement or end-of-life concerns? One commonality among the visitation dreams reported by those grieving, near death, and others (who are not experiencing grief or loss) is the appearance of, along with some form of communication with, the deceased. In such cases, the deceased individual often appears more youthful and in good health. After a neighbor-acquaintance had died, he greeted me in a dream. Effortlessly moving toward me, his body was in better shape than it had been the last time I saw him alive. His essence felt light and jovial.
Another commonality among the visitation dreams of those grieving, near death, and others is that the dream structure is organized and clear. This was the case for my neighborly visitation dream, along with other visitation dreams I have experienced. None have been outlandish, disorganized, or outrageous.
While these sorts of experiences may imply a broad spiritual perspective and a conviction of after-life realities for many bereaved individuals, they may also offer the same for those not experiencing any kind of grief or loss, or those outside of deprived conditions. My neighbors dream visit served as a reminder that there is much more to see (and sense) than our physical eyes can show us. A vivid dream visitation has the potential to impact anyone! As conscious, soulful beings, these visitations can open doors and change lives.
What can be done so that meaningful dreams become more than a distant, fading memory? Having over a dozen books (perhaps even over two dozen) published on various aspects, traditions, and perspectives on dreams and dreaming, Robert Moss is known to assert, “dreams require action” – A motto by which he lives. Having learned much from his time with Iroquois, Moss writes that tending to dreams was the first order of the day for the community. Whether grief is resolved or unresolved, visitation dreams, like all big dreams, require action. We can honor our dreams and those that visit us in many ways.
A most basic, yet important way, is to document our dreams and title them. This can be done in a fancy journal or on a simple notepad, or even with a smart phone voice memo app. In addition, we may even decide to share them with others.
As an artist, I really enjoy getting creative with actions prompted by a dream. Making small altars or shrines (or adding to an already existing one) is a favorite. It is a popular as well as traditional action throughout November, especially. Altar-making allows for photos of our dream visitors to be displayed and embellished. Altars and shrines also provide a space to hold objects that may have once belonged to the deceased, as well as items the deceased favors. This space can act as a place to pray, remember, or meditate.
In a ‘working’ altar, these objects and items can be fresh flowers, water, and food, for example. Some even leave alcohol and cigarettes at the altar. In caring for any ‘working’ shrine or altar, it is necessary to keep the space clean and to replace foods, water, and flowers daily-to-weekly. By honoring deceased loved ones in this way, it is like we are making the statement that the relationship is important no matter on what side of the veil we exist, and that we appreciate such dream visits. Furthermore, such action and attention may prompt additional, similar dreams.
Whether we are actively grieving, aware that we are near the end of our own life, or in neither of those places at the present moment, a space exists to turn our attention toward the journey of the soul. I consider this kind of dreamwork as sacred. Truly, it is a way of life.
I hope your November dream-life was meaningful and memorable.
For the month of November, Conscious Chimera is featuring a recent article written by Roshan Fernandez and Sarah Young of Monte Vista High School. This article appears in El Estoque, a publication of Monte Vista High School (Cupertino, CA), and includes interviews of IASD board members, myself included. I hope you enjoy the article – I think they did a fantastic job.
Experts interpret the meaning and importance of dreams
When she found herself wondering whether her relationship was healthy, whether there would be a future, she turned to an unlikely source for guidance: her dreams.
“I asked [myself] when I was asleep, ‘Dreaming mind, show me what I need to know about this situation.’ And then in the dream, my boyfriend at the time was driving unsafely in the car, and [he] brought us to our home, which was a barren shack. And there was a little more detail, but that helped me think, ‘Ok I’m being cared for or driven in an unsafe manner to a place with nothing.’ And that’s all I needed to know.”
Dr. Kimberly Mascaro, a board member for the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), cited this anecdote from her personal life as a way of explaining how dreams can be helpful. In addition to the scenario above, she explains that dreams have helped her make important decisions about her career.
But beyond the helpful aspect of dreams, Mascaro’s interest has shifted towards the field of extraordinary dreams, a category which includes the more unusual types of dreaming. Among these are precognitive dreams, which is when one dreams of an event that may happen in the future. Though there is anecdotal evidence that people may foresee extreme catastrophes in their dreams, she says precognitive dreams are usually more mellow.
“[Some] people saw 9/11 in their dreams before it happened and they couldn’t make sense of the event, they just did not understand what they were seeing,” Mascaro said. “[But] what we find is in precognitive dreams is usually … basic stuff like … the wrong package being delivered to your door. It’s really benign stuff like that.”
The science behind precognitive dreams is still unclear, but Mascaro believes the answers lie within theoretical physics. Research in this field can help explain how a dream can predict a future event.
“We contemporary Westerners really only have one understanding of time, which is very linear,” Mascaro said. “Other cultures have a different understanding of time which is not linear — it may be a sort of circle or something like that.”
Although precognitive dreams have not been clearly defined, Mascaro explains that it’s still important to pursue research in these types of fields and emphasizes the the importance of paying attention to one’s dreams. Her IASD colleague, Athena Kolinski, expands on this, explaining that one dreams about the things that are important to them.
“Your intuition speaks to you from whatever you know and whatever you understand,” Kolinski said. “So as you gain more information on these subjects, it can speak to you, sending you symbols [through your dreams].”
In order to put those pieces together, the IASD holds conferences that attract people from all over the world. Through both an annual conference as well as numerous regional conferences, people have the opportunity to delve deeper into the different areas of dreams through seminars, workshops and presentations. These conferences are held across the world, including past events in Anaheim, Calif., Scottsdale, Ariz. and the 2019 conference will be held in the Netherlands.
Personally, Kolinski enjoys workshops where people share their dreams and the entire group discusses them. She emphasizes, however, that nobody else has the right to definitively tell someone what their dream means –– they can only offer their opinion.
“The dreamer is always the ultimate authority of their dream, so nobody has the right to say ‘this is what your dream means absolutely,’ that’s not how it works,” Kolinski said.
Even when someone else is sharing their dream, Kolinski says that she is still gaining something from it. Because we all have different ideas about the way the world works, she says hearing someone else’s point of view is beneficial.
“When we’re hearing a dream, we’re interpreting it from what we know in our own mind,” Kolinski said. “When I or anybody gives an example of what the dream means, we have to own our projection, so we have to say ‘If this were my dream, I think it means ‘blank.’”
Dr. Angel Morgan, another member of the IASD, is a firm believer in what she calls ‘dream circles.’ With a group of people listening, the dreamer explains their dream and the others listen, reflecting on what they believe it means. According to Morgan, these can be powerful interactions that really help the dreamer gain understanding. She recalls a particular example, where the group was re-enacting the scene of a girl’s nightmare.
“She had a dream that a troll and a dragon were chasing her around a coffee table … so she cast a boy in the group as the dragon and a girl in the group as a troll. I asked her how she felt, and she said I feel scared, I feel helpless, I feel silly,” Morgan said. “And I said why don’t you turn around and chase them, and she said OK. And [after that] they all started laughing because it was funny, and it just made her feel so much better about the dream.”
This kind of ‘therapy’ seems to be helpful, but one thing the IASD discourages is dream dictionaries. These are books that people may reference to find the meaning of particular symbols that appear in their dreams. Morgan and Kolinski encourage group discussion, as opposed to referencing a dream dictionary, because every person’s mind works in a different way.
“Say for instance, you dream of a rose. And then the dream book says its about love and fertility, so you’re already set in that that’s what it means. But the reality is, what if I’m dreaming about a rose, and the rose reminds me of my grandmother named Rose,” Kolinski said. “So we always need to look at the personal meaning, not just what happens in our dream but deeper, what is that symbol connecting us to, what is it saying. That’s something only you know.”
Dr. Steven Nouriani agrees with this as a practicing psychotherapist. He believes that dreams have multiple layers to them, originating from an individual’s life and relationships and stemming from the state of unconsciousness.
“There’s this whole theoretical model that we have [an] unconscious and [a] conscious,” Nouriani said. “We believe dreams come from … the unconscious — the psyche is [constantly] trying to balance our consciousness with our unconsciousness.”
Nouriani follows the Jungian belief, a way of thinking that emphasizes the individual psyche and personal quest for wholeness. Following this, dreams reflect the unconscious and internal conflicts. When he hears a client’s dream, Nouriani takes a deeper look at the symbols from a Jungian perspective.
“Jungians have an amplification method in which we go beyond the symbols and try to apply what we know about mythology and fairytales and culture,” Nouriani said. “So, for example, the dog [symbol] can have different stories in fairy tales or mythology, and then we bring these other kind of associations at the cultural level to understand what other meanings these symbols might have.”
Similar to Kolinski, Nouriani looks for symbols in dreams and what these symbols mean to the individual.
“No two dreams are alike; they are always different,” Nouriani said. “The same way that your thumbprint is different from someone else’s — you have the same thumb as other people but the thumb print is still different, and so you have to have a certain level of expertise to decipher the meaning.”
One thing all of these experts share in common is they all encourage individuals to record their dreams and think about their meaning. With dreams being so intrinsically connected to the unique individual, Kolinski, Mascaro, Morgan and Nouriani are there to provide guidance, but never insert meaning.
“We all believe dreams are just there and we can understand them — we have to work with the person to understand,” Nouriani said. “It’s good for people to be interested in dreams because they constantly try to help us be more conscious; I encourage everyone to pay attention to their dreams and wonder what they mean. They help us grow and they help us develop.”
Many blessings this Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Day & All Saint’s Day,