reflections on working with the living & the dead

The year has flown by and here we are, again, at that time when so many of the world’s people turn their attention to the dead. Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, Festival of Hungry Ghosts (recently passed) – each one is different, but they each share some similar elements, and sometimes similar activities, such an making offerings or prayer.

Connecting with a deceased loved one is possible, no matter whether you engage in hypnosis, dreaming, deep prayer, imaginal journeying, altar-making, or use a black mirror, the fire place, quartz crystals, or what-have-you. Regardless of the object used or state induced, even a brief connection can hold tremendous meaning for those grieving or for those simply wanting to remember. My most preferred methods are dreaming and hypnosis, as both have offered positive experiences along with profound and memorable results. Any method, tool, or nonordinary conscious state can be accessed individually, but group work also holds promise, especially with an experienced therapist, medicine person, or guide.Il tavolo

One potent ritual involves constructing an altar. While I currently offer altar-making in individual psychotherapy sessions, many years ago, I co-led an altar-making and process group with another therapist. The attendees comprised of teenagers and pre-adolescents with unresolved grief/loss issues from loosing a parent or family member to ‘the life’ – a term referring to street life, addiction, overdose. Even though some of the participant’s parents died during the participant’s early childhood years, there was no shortage of memorabilia, stories, or recollections. The act of constructing the altar itself elicited spontaneous memories of shared experiences that were previously believed to be forgotten. By this, I mean that when asked directly to share a story from long ago, many children could not produce one, however, that all changed when they entered this collective ‘sacred’ container, or space, where the memory of the deceased was very much alive. Near the end of the weeks-long process, the attendees reported that the experience left them feeling closer to the deceased loved one, and this turned tears into smiles. Gratitude and peace were married in this new way of remembering.

Large-scale community altar-making has also left an impression. I participated in these activities in Arizona. I discovered that community bonds strengthen in meaningful ways when people join together to make offerings, blessings, or witness one another in prayer to deceased loved ones. These sizable collective altars were modifiable and continued to expand for days. They were multi-cultural in the truest sense. While I am no longer an Arizona resident, I still know the ritual continues, and I sit here in California today, Nonnityping this, shifting through recollections.

At this time, as I turn my attention to the dead, seven female elders immediately come to mind: Mary, Anne, Eva, Florinda, ‘Nonni’/Netta, Maria, and Censina. I feel so fortunate to hold a clear memory of each one, even though most of them (and their spouses) transitioned when I was still a child. Also at this time, I add extra flowers, fresh water, and dust off the prayer cards on the family altar that stands year-round in my home. If I am extra lucky, I will get a visit…who knows, maybe even in tonight’s dream.

 

May the veil be thin,

Kim

dreaming in recovery

While working as a trauma therapist at a non-profit agency for substance abuse recovery, I meet all kinds of women. The clientele are highly diverse, yet they come together in their recovery journey. Whether in an individual or a group therapy session, the topic of dreaming often emerges even though I do not advertise my experience as a dreamworker or dream researcher. Dreams in early and mid-stages of recovery surface and are shared. The question often asked is “why now?” and “what does this mean?”

“Dreams belong to the dreamer,” I state, “so you are the one to determine that.” My offer to share some prominent theories, in order to generate ideas, is met with approval. One perspective of dreaming is that dreams come in service of evolution. They act as a protective evolutionary factor. In this case, if a woman is striving to stay clean (and recover from long-term drug abuse), a drug-of-choice dream might remind her of her purpose and this most pressing issue.

In the dream, sometimes the dreamer simply looks at, or holds, a bag containing the drug-of-choice; other times she prepares to consume the illicit drug, but awakens before doing so. And even other times, dreamers use the drug while in the dream state .Perhaps these three examples represent levels or stages of recovery integration. Or, perhaps they exist simply to encourage the dreamer to progress in some way.

In the first example, some of these dreamers have spoken about a feeling of mastery or pride in that they could be so close to such a dangerously tempting substance, yet not act impulsively or have any desire to do so. In the second example, dreamers have reported feeling worried about their dream activities (e.g. chopping a line; preparing a syringe), only to become increasingly vigilant in their recovery work. The third and final example can leave the dreamer with much confusion and fear. One woman reported smoking crack cocaine in a dream, and while slowing waking up (aka hypnopompic state), she touched her face, perceiving it as thinner and sunken in. This perception led her heart to race and body to jolt out of bed in fear. The dream, she said, upon reflection, supported her recovery by scaring her out of thoughts of using. The cravings dissipated for some time and she made several statements about her commitment to her recovery.

Substance abuse is like a slow death. It is, essentially, self-harm and the illicit drug is the weapon. For those living with addiction, the drug-of-choice is extremely powerful – powerful enough to hijack, sabotage, and rob a person of their own life. If dreams do serve evolution, then a dream centered around the relationship and power dynamic between the drug and the dreamer, may support relapse prevention or prepare the dreamer for what could come.

Addiction is a chronic disease. It can cause disability and premature death, but it can be managed and people do recover. The resources listed below can offer help and provide information, however, they are just a starting place.

http://www.asam.org

http://www.na.org

http://www.smartrecovery.org

http://www.womenforsobriety.org/beta2/

taemong

Parents, grandparents and other family members report dreams about children-to-be. Most often it is women who experience such dreams, typically occurring around the time of conception or during pregnancy. These episodes have been referred to as conceptions dreams, fertility dreams, and even announcing dreams. I consider announcing dreams to not only feature the child-to-be metaphorically (a small furry animal or a seed are examples), but to also serve as a communication between the baby and dreamer.

Taemong, or Korean birth dreams, first came to my attention from the 1989 book Oriental Birth Dreams by Fred Jeremy Seligson. Later, Associate professor, Loren Goodman, PhD, of Yonsei University expanded my view significantly. Taemong are part of a long oral history within Korean culture. They typically do not feature the child-to-be as a human baby, but instead as an animal or jewel for example. As the saying goes, “One cannot come into this world without first having been dreamt.” We can show the dreamer a lot about who we are and who we will become from such powerful dreams.

Not so long ago, Koreans, and others interested in taemong, have begun to collect and transcribe these stories. Dr. Goodman told me that taemong are not usually written down, but instead, passed on orally. He is one among many who recognize the importance of recording this extensive tradition so it does not become lost. Without doing so, it may very well likely die out as we become an evermore globalized society, abandoning traditional practices and culturally-specific ways of knowing.

Dr. Goodman expanded my view and understanding of this rich cultural tradition. He told me that many narrative elements emerge from taemong. Some of the elements stood out to me because I noticed that these elements also emerged from the announcing dream reports I have been collecting for the past decade. These ‘shared’ narrative elements are suddenness, brightness, brilliance or illumination, enormity (size) or miraculous proportions, vividness or a quality of being unforgettable, and reciprocal gaze. Consider the following dream (the full version was posted in June 2017). The dreamer saw an adult size baby boy kneeling on the floor by her bedside. The dreamer stated,

“He was leaning on my bed, watching my husband and I sleeping. When I got up to look at 17800279_10154857591042949_1533489294192211638_nhim, he calmly whispered, “I’m coming.” This freaked me out, because it was the first time a baby had ever appeared…”

This dreamer told me that the dream-baby appeared suddenly, out of nowhere, and was huge – nothing like the size of a typical baby. She said that the dream was vivid and truly unforgettable. The elements of suddenness, enormity, and quality of being unforgettable/vividness all exist here – these are common among taemong. Here, though, the baby-to-be speaks to the dreaming mother.

The following taemong was provided by Yoon Ha Park, a student of Dr. Goodman:

As I am walking alongside a lake, I see the clear sky suddenly change dark. I try to get a better look at what is happening above. From high above the sky, I spot an enormous dragon gracefully, yet powerfully, make its way towards the lake in front of me. It sinks in the lake and pulls out its head and looks at me directly in the eyes. Strangely, despite its vast size and figure, I don’t feel afraid.

The narrative elements here are suddenness, enormity, and reciprocal gaze.

The two dreams shared here (the first an announcing dream, and the second a taemong) share similar elements. This appears to be the case for many dreams that are recalled around the time of pregnancy, whether they are categorized as conception dreams, fertility dreams, announcing dreams, or Korean birth dreams. A thorough analysis to encompass all of these categories could provide an expanded understanding and further clarity. Until that happens, it is clear that these types of episodes are common and meaningful for so many families.

I wish to thank Fred Jeremy Seligson, Loren Goodman, Yoon Ha Park and the anonymous dreamer for their assistance, guidance and for sharing with me their experiences.

 

In the Spirit of Peace,

Kim

mutual dreaming

 

Can two or more people (even complete strangers) share dream elements? Can two or more people agree to dream together and intentionally interact? Dreamers casually talk about these episodes. A significant body of anecdotal reports exists as well. Still, scientific investigations in this area are rare.

About two decades ago, I had my first dream of a stranger, which I met later, for the first time, in the waking state, a few weeks after the dream. She was a young woman close to my age. While I recalled information about her from the dream, she did not recall dreaming me. This episode was one-directional, although many people report dual-directional experiences.

The term ‘shared dreaming’ usually refers to two or more people sharing similar elements in the dreams. ‘Mutual dreaming’ involves two or more people interacting or meeting together in a dream. I see it as more intentional. Both shared dreaming and mutual dreaming can involve highly detailed recollections or vague memories.

Once a month, I lead a dream course in California. One time, as the participants departed, a man approached me and asked if I had ever heard of two people having the same dream. I said, “yes,” and told him that this phenomenon has been reported by many people. He then told me about a recent experience he had with a friend. He said they seemed to share the same dream space and awoke to recall very similar events and scenes. After listening to his story, I asked if he or his friend had written down the episodes before speaking to each other – they hadn’t. I suggested dream journaling upon awakening. Not only would this document the dream for future reference, but it would also say a lot if both dreamers produce similar written episodes before interactional influences have an effect. We parted ways, both excited that this might occur again soon.

While I was aware of the varieties of anomalous dream occurrences much earlier, it wasn’t until about 2004 that I attended courses and participated with a group that taught lucid dreaming and out-of-body techniques. During that period, the group would meet about once a month at night to practice mutual and shared dreaming – a special occasion. One of the group facilitators would place a secret object in the next room and the attendees were invited to dream with each other, interact, and if they chose, discover the object unknown to the group. This was a fun challenge and my first time working with a group to enhance our conscious dream skills. I was unsuccessful, but those more seasoned participants were quite successful, at times, and made accurate claims regarding the target object. During those years I came to understand that mutual and shared dreaming is possible.

Neuroscientist Patrick McNamara, PhD asks Can Two People Have The Same Dream? (See June 19, 2016 article in Psychology Today by that name). McNamara states that the best-documented cases involve shared dreams between therapists and their clients, followed by those people in close relationships. Think emotional closeness! While McNamara notes that the dreamers don’t agree on every dream detail, I understand that to be consistent with reports from waking state occurrences. For example, two friends walking together side-by-side down the same street would likely not report the exact same details of the experience. Psychological theories of memory, sensation and perception explain this. As McNamara’s article concludes, he writes, “In short, we [the scientific community] have no good explanations for shared dreams. Perhaps that is why science has not yet investigated these events. Science has no place to put them within its current worldview—but this is all the more reason to investigate them. Paradigm-challenging phenomena are the most important data for science because they force revolutionary changes.” I can think of no bigger clash than that of the current scientific paradigm and the transpersonal or spiritual perspectives.

Western science aside, consider non-materialistic views and those traditional, nature-based, indigenous, non-western, or even mystical views. Can consciousness leave the physical body and return at will? If the soul travels as one’s body slumbers, bumping into friends or family members who share the same ‘dimensional space’ may be possible. While such a notion is a given among certain groups, it may not sit comfortably with particular religious groups or even extreme secularists. Mutual and shared dreaming rides dangerously close to historical accusations (Salem witch trails; the Inquisition) of individuals making a pact with the devil. Whatever we believe, it is unlikely that the next person that crosses our path will hold the same assumption or harness the same belief. The bottom line, however, is that it may be difficult to deny the power and mystery of mutual dreaming once one (or more) experiences such.

 

Be well,

Kim

creativity and dreams

Has a dream ever inspired you in some way? Artists of all kinds, such as musical composers, poets, and fine artists, have used their dreams as sources of inspiration. From poetry and literature to painting and sculpture to music and dance, dreams can offer new ideas and make clever contributions. Many well-known writers — Clive Barker, Steven King, and Amy Tan — have credited their dreams for guidance and inspiration.

Recently, I decided to bring my dream images to life through creating fine art. After three vivid dreams featuring an anaconda, I knew I needed to take these experiences beyond my typical dream journal sketches. Since I am most comfortable using stretched canvas, I began there and allowed myself to explore imagery with oil pastels and other media. Not knowing where this would end up, I just kept playing with shape, movement and new materials. It turned out that I enjoyed the process and the final outcome, so much so, that I entered three pieces in a juried exhibition. Mascaro1To my surprise, two were accepted. A few months later, the two pieces you see here were displayed as part of a group art show in Southern California. Each participant was inspired by a dream or a series of dreams, which was reflected in their artwork.

I discovered that this entire process (first dreaming, journaling & sketching upon awakening, then talking about the dream, transforming it into a finished piece, and entering that piece in an art show) brought the dreams to life. The three anaconda dreams continued to unfold in the waking state each time I spoke about them, retold the dream sequences, or continued to develop the imagery. Engaging in the artistic process is one way to work with dreams. Mascaro2This may be the preferred way for those that consider themselves more visual than verbal.

Another way that creating art from a dream is beneficial is that it can bring new understanding and meaning to a dream from long ago, which may not have been understood at the time it initially took place. There is one particular dream I had two or three years ago that still leaves me confused. My plan for this summer is to paint that dream several times, making each version slightly different. My goal is simply to see what can be discovered through the process. Maybe it will help me consider a wider range of possible meanings or spark a flash of insight as to what the dream has to teach me. Once complete, or complete enough I should say, I will share it here with the ‘conscious chimera’ readers. Until then, happy dreaming!

~Kim

dreaming at conception…and beyond

Dreams that indicate conception or fertility are more common than one might think. This informal category of dreams is shared among men and women across the globe. Some cultures expect such a dream before a child can be conceived or even born. For other groups, such dreams may come as a surprise. The following story was told to me recently and is filled with emotion for this dreamer.

Newly wed Amalia loves her job as a school teacher and adores children. She planned to start a family not long after the wedding because she is in her mid-30s and has been very excited, for quite some time, to have her first child. Amalia said that that year was filled with frustration because conceiving did not occur as easily or quickly as she expected. As time passed, however, Amalia experienced a striking dream in which an adult size baby boy knelt on the floor by her bedside. “He was leaning on my bed, watching my husband and I sleeping. When I got up to look at him, he calmly whispered, “I’m coming.” This freaked me out, because it was the first time a baby had ever appeared in my dreams,” she said.

Amalia wasn’t sure if the dream was supposed to reassure her, inspire hope, or encourage her to keep trying. She had many feelings, including anger and sadness. Amalia said, “I felt like that dream was a tease and maybe just a sign of my subconscious longing for a baby. To our surprise, I conceived the next month.”

“The entire thing sure has been a miracle,” she continued. At 10 weeks pregnant, Amalia openly spoke about how she hoped for a baby girl, even though her husband desired a boy. She said, “I had gone to the doctor for a check up and was a little upset that they didn’t do a sonogram – just a heartbeat check. I wanted to see the baby, as I was honestly still shocked that I was pregnant. I didn’t believe it. As if the 15 extra pounds, constant exhaustion, profound hunger, nausea, and stiffness wasn’t enough to convince me!” Upon returning home, after the check-up, Amalia rested, meditated, and thought about how much she wanted to see the baby growing inside her. That night she had another dream.

Amalia reported, “In my dream, I was laying in my bed right next to my husband. Then my husband put his hand on my belly and his hand turned into a sonogram. Immediately, my husband and I both went into my body and into my uterus. It was so intense and real looking. When we were in there, we saw the baby hooked to the umbilical cord and everything. I saw the face and all of its body. I then looked down between the legs and saw a little pee pee.”

She continued, “Right then, my husband was just crawling into the bed for real [in the physical waking state]. He comes home from work after midnight. I suddenly woke up and with eyes still closed, I casually muttered to him, “Papi, I just met the baby, it’s a boy.” He chuckled a little bit and held me to fall back asleep. When we woke up, he said I was talking in my sleep, and I told him, “No, I really did meet the baby” and shared what I remembered. I explained that it seemed so real and that I even remember his face. He thinks I’m crazy. I was hoping that I was losing it too and that the dream was nothing.”

Three weeks later, the genetics test came back to show that Amalia was carrying a male fetus. This affirmed what was ‘seen’ in the first and second dream. Amalia told me that her and her husband cannot agree on a name and that they have only come up with a handful of possibilities. Amalia hopes that the baby boy will return to her in another dream and share his name, or possibly, a name he would like.

Dreams around the time of conception can mean so many things. For Amalia, uncertainty, a range of strong emotions, hope and inspiration were intermingled. In addition, what might such occurrences imply about the baby him/herself? This all depends on culture, of course, and whether one integrates dreaming into larger life concepts of meaning, purpose, and existence.

 

Here’s to dreaming,

Kim

militant dreaming

As highlighted in last months blog article (April 2017), dreams have led to waking life actions in the service of humanity and have inspired a variety of creative pursuits. Sadly, dreams have also prompted others to act in violent ways. Dreams have been linked with the killings of individuals and groups, children included.

In June of 2016, I met Iain Edgar of Durham University. We were both presenting our work at the 33rd annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), held that year in Kerkrade, Netherlands. Dr. Edgar gave a presentation about the dreams and decision-making processes of radical, militant, or extremist individuals and group members. The May 2015 Garland, Texas attacker, Elton Simpson, for example, posted his dreams online, which indicated that martyrdom was near. The 2016 Brussels Metro bomber had dreams prompting him to act as well. In addition, dreams of Al-Qaeda members and Taliban leaders have been reported, including some of the most well-known jihadist commanders. Osama Bin Laden spoke about the dreams of his followers in one of the first videos released after 9/11. Bin Laden said,

Abu’l-Hassan al-Masri told me a year ago: “I saw in a dream, we were playing a soccer game against the Americans. When our team showed up in the field, they were all pilots.”

Bin Laden continued,

He [Al-Masri] didn’t know anything about the operation until he heard it on the radio. He said the game went on and we defeated them. That was a good omen for us.

According to Edgar, “Dreams can facilitate conversions, either into Islam or into militant jihadism” and have confirmed and legitimized radical group membership and action. “Dreams of heavenly spaces and the glorious reception of the martyrs are reported; dead friends appear with metaphysical information” Edgar wrote. Many militant Islamists and Jihadis attach a considerable amount of significance to dreams, as they are an important part of their religious experience. Futhermore, Islamic State/Daesh sympathizers have discussed dreams on Twitter, and it is quite possible that dreams impact the decisions made by these group members as well. For more information, there is a section in Edgar’s book The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration that gives attention to these topics. On an important note, Edgar reminds us that “not all Muslims who believe they have true dreams about jihad or martyrdom, become militants. For some radicalized individuals, however, a dream or series of dreams can be a catalyst for taking up arms.”

More recently, on December 26, 2016, People magazine reported that a Texas man recently accused of the murder of his wife and infant son had a dream in which he decapitated his wife and her father. Less than two weeks after revealing this dream to one of his co-workers, he allegedly murdered his wife and their baby. Their bodies were found in the master bedroom with knife wounds to their necks (see article by Harris, 2016). This differs from the reports above, yet in the end, two people were murdered – and one was a baby.

While a dream cannot push anyone into action, it can bring forth imagery associated with a wish, fantasy, or desire, no matter how terrible. When one can ‘see’ a terrible act committed in the mind’s eye, through dream, how might that experience alone affect a person? Some would be absolutely startled and describe the episode as a nightmare, but that may not be the case for everyone.

When I first learned of dreaming being linked with militant action, I was surprised. The connection just never occurred to me. Dreams, as we can see, can mean different things to different people. Dreams do not force one to commit violent acts, however, dreams can be a source of inspiration and provide confirmation for those already contemplating particular actions. In the end, the interpretation of a dream varies from individual to individual. In an effort to grow as evermore-conscious beings, may we dream of peace and for peace.

 

Toward non-violence,

Kim