Donna Ippolito's Dream Scoop

Understanding dreams is easy and fun...Dreams are the voice of your soul. If you're looking for answers, look within.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Waking Dreams

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 waited ahead.

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.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Inside-Out Approach

Though I've been intensely interested in dreams for many years, I never aspired to work with others on their dreams or to give talks or to write on the subject. But here I am. I'll guide you if I can. I'll teach you something if that's possible. But my main reason for being here is as a witness—a witness to the power and beauty and wisdom of dreams—which is the experience of our own soul.

That dreams are wise is my first assumption about dreams, but there is a slight catch. Depending on who you're talking to, whose book you're reading, whose dream group you're in, those three little words ("dreams are wise”) can mean very different things to different people. For example, you've probably heard of something called "dream interpretation." This approach usually views dreams as filled with symbols that we must learn to translate. And it usually requires using certain kinds of books called a “dream dictionary” or a “dictionary of symbols”.

Say, for example, that I dream my teeth are falling out—a very, very common dream. As a symbol, teeth might represent the ability to bite into the stuff of our lives, so losing teeth could represent an inability to express anger or to let people know how I feel or what I need. And so on. That might even be an accurate description of my so-called problem in life. But it doesn't bring me any closer to my inner life. Indeed, the interpretation actually creates distance between me and my dream. It pulls me away from what it's like to have my teeth fall out, how I feel about it, what is causing it, and other emotional details of the dream story.

I call this the top-down approach. It doesn't foster intimacy with the soul. It can be useful as reflection, later in the dreamwork process, but it can never serve as the heart of dreamwork.

Another example of the top-down approach is "dream analysis." In this method, we use dreams to diagnose what's wrong with us so that, theoretically, we can fix it. One example that comes to mind is a woman who dreamed of an ecstatic love affair with a married man. Though he was real enough in the dream, the man was not an actual person in her outer life. When she recounted the dream, someone in the group commented that it might show the dreamer’s tendency to get involved with unavailable men. Maybe so, but this was simply some idea about the dream. It totally ignored the energy of the dream, which was the dreamer’s experience of ecstacy. The heat and light of it was palpable. It was alive.

Another top-down approach is to find an expert, guru, spiritual teacher, shaman, or medium who will tell us what our dreams mean. There is a venerable tradition of this--probably dating from the dawn of time. Indeed, just about every culture preceding modern Western civilization depended on soothsayers, shamans, oracles, wizards, psychics, magicians, and so on to plumb the depths of the personal and collective psyche. Hearing what someone else has to say about our dream may be interesting, but it is still a top-down approach. It can never move us, shake us, transform us like coming face to face with our own soul.

In contrast to the top-down approach, I call mine the "inside-out approach" because it starts with the dream itself, not with ideas about the thing. What dreams want--what the soul wants from us--is to connect. James Hillman suggests that we "befriend" our dreams because they want to be "cared about" and "cared for." But how does this happen? How do we connect with our dreams without mangling them with interpretation or picking them apart with analysis? How do we "befriend" them?

We start by accepting that dreams are actual experiences. Not thoughts, not ideas, not concepts, not good advice--not any kind, shape, or form of what we know as the thinking activity of our brains. When we dream, we go to another dimension of our being. We are present in dreams, but only as one small part of the whole experience. Everything else in the dream is just as alive as we are, and every image has its own point of view. You might say that we don't have dreams. Dreams have us.

So, that brings me to my last assumption—that dreams don't mean anything--at least not in the usual sense. That's a radical idea, but it's also the one that really throws the door wide open for us. The “wisdom of dreams” is not about insight. It's about transformation--the transformation of energy.

When dreamwork is really happening, we experience it as an actual sensation. We feel our energy literally shift on a physical-emotional level. In that moment of connecting with our essential self, something moves in the depths of our being. No matter how small the shift, the whole structure of the inner world changes, and we will never be the same.

This is where we need to invoke the power of silence—the power of mystery. When this moment comes for the dreamer, it's tenuous, evanescent. We mustn’t step in and try to “help” anymore than we can "help" the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. If we hurry the process or interfere, the butterfly will be either maimed or it will die. The dreamer often gets choked up or her eyes well with tears. But we mustn't jump up and hand her a Kleenex. We just have to wait and let the dream work its magic. Indeed, the tears are not about sadness. They are blessed rain to a parched land. It's a moment of renewal, like falling in love.

As Hillman says, everything in the dream is image--people, feelings, sensations, colors, places, animals, things. The difference between images and symbols is that images are alive with the energy of emotion. In other words, images in dreams are pictures of feelings. Because the energies have taken form, we can now access them, engage them. Unlike symbols, images don't stand for something else like the cardboard houses of a movie set.

Though we call this approach dreamwork, it actually feels more like playing. We try for a light, delicate touch. We honor the integrity of the dream images. We give the soul all the room it needs to be itself. We slow down and listen very, very closely, and pay very, very careful attention to what's actually there. We let "the intelligence of the heart" show the way.

Copyright © 2006 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.