When people find out that I work with dreams, they often they tell me that they do dream, but that they simply don’t remember their dreams upon waking.
That’s fine, I say. For one thing, you don’t have to be asleep to dream. Awake or asleep, the psyche (some people call it "the unconscious" or even "the subconscious") is present at every moment. It’s much greater than consciousness, of course. It contains us; we’re literally swimming in it. It is the unknown—all potential, all possibility—everything that ever was and ever will be. We’ve simply trained ourselves to operate as if it’s not there.
By looking at outer experiences with the inner eye, moments of our lives can become waking dreams. The experience is often mundane on the surface. What makes it stand out is the strong emotion—anger, sadness, elation, frustration, helplessness, glee—at the heart of it. When looked at deeply, these moments speak to us of the soul’s longings as clearly as any dream. By viewing the people, the places, and the experience as dream images, we can perceive the incident from the inside out
. We penetrate to the energy at its core.
One example of life as dreams came during a dream group one evening. Jodie said she hadn’t brought a dream, so I asked if some recent experience stood out for her. She immediately launched into a story. A few days earlier, she had gone down to the lake to enjoy the beauty of the day. Instead, she found the park thronging with people and strewn with garbage. She was furious that others were so lazy and careless, and her day was spoiled. She felt angry at those who didn’t respect one of the few beautiful, restorative natural places in the city.
I listened, noting down her words and asking the same questions I would if this were "a sleeping dream." She went on and on, her sense of outrage increasing. But the events were only the outer layer, simply the container
of the emotion that shaped the experience. Just as in a sleeping dream, this deeper layer of emotion was the gift.
For now, we asked questions that helped Jodie explore the incident, and it came out that she took the experience in the park as a personal affront. She felt abused by these people who couldn't be bothered to throw away their garbage or respect other people's right to the refreshment and beauty of the lakefront.
The event was some days old, but the emotion was fresh and furious. It was a "hot spot" in her inner landscape. Though Jodie's concern about protecting an oasis of nature in the big city was legitimate, her outrage emanated from a hurt painful to the touch. Like any fierce tigress or bear mother, our anger often seeks to protect a part of ourselves that is precious and vulnerable.
Because we had come together to look at our lives from the inner perspective, we didn't pursue Jodie's thoughts about joining social or political activists to protect the lakefront. That was a worthy option that she could explore with another kind of group on another day. What interested us was what lay at the core of her story, just as in a dream. After all, not everyone present in the park that afternoon had experienced outrage at the scene. It wasn't likely that they were still talking about it, either.
Jodie's angry reaction came from within her
. The emotion was raw and fresh, imbuing even the memory of the incident with its hot, red energy. The energy was as alive and present as it had been that day. Now, it was time to go even deeper with a question I ask about any dream. I asked Jodie if this experience called her attention to anything else in her life.
It didn’t take more than a millisecond for that to hit home. Yes, Jodie’s own living situation was chaotic and upsetting, with no hope in sight. Again, she went off on an angry spurt about cigarettes, dirty dishes, and so on. Apparently, her roommate wouldn’t keep her promise—despite many discussions—to be clean and orderly, and Jodie felt driven to huddle in her room for even a shred of harmony or order at home.
Again, we could have veered off with a lot of questions about the roommate and how Jodie might negotiate the issue. We could have stayed on the surface level of the problem, with various group members giving helpful advice on how Jodie could resolve the conflict. But we didn't. We continued deeper into the darkness, going slowly, feeling our way, partly because it was hard to draw Jodie’s attention away from her anger and helplessness. Though I didn't know where we were headed, I sensed that something Jodie didn't know but needed to
In the end, we came to the longing underneath all that anger. Jodie began to cry as she told us what it's like to grow up as an orphan and of her desire to know who she really was. What stood in her way was an inner landscape of chaos and confusion, her outrage at being betrayed and abandoned. Yet, focusing on what other people were or were not doing was a dead end. No matter how angry Jodie got, the mother who had left her to an orphan's uncertain fate would never return to undo the damage.
But that mother energy
was inside Jodie herself. It had the instinctive power not only to protect and defend the vulnerable part of her but to nurture a sense of groundedness, of being at peace with the order of things. Feeling victimized didn’t serve her soul’s longing, but connecting with the longing itself gave access to the power of desire. The soul is its own doctor.
Just as every dream is a gift, so was this experience. The next step was for Jodie to find some way to honor what her soul was seeking, whether by lighting a candle or some incense in her room, finding a few moments for quiet reflection, or setting out a bouquet of flowers where she could see and enjoy their restorative beauty.
That, of course, was the first small step. Incredibly, it wasn't long after that Jodie reported using her Internet savvy to track down the orphanage--in a foreign country!--where she'd been left for adoption. She also located a group that was helping adoptees find their birth parents in that land. Though her means were limited, it wasn't long before Jodie boldly booked a low-cost international flight "home". It was a short visit, but not her last. She immediately made several deep friendships, and soon she was studying the language of her birth. She also took to wearing a beret as a symbol of a newfound sense of self.
The last time I saw Jodie she was in love with someone she'd met while visiting "home," and she had hopes of making a new life there. Not surprisingly, the person she loved embodied many qualities she wished for in herself. Though I don't know how the story ends, I do know the most important part. Connecting with the energy of that "waking dream" was transformative for Jodie. It had nothing to do with insight or symbolism. It was a lived experience. In a single moment, she went from feeling helpless, trapped, and at the mercy of other people's lovelessness to being a woman energized on her own behalf. Her existence took on new meaning.
Just as every dream comes to open our hearts a little bit more, in this one Jodie's heart opened to herself.
Copyright © 2006 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.