Most people know when their dreams hand them a big helping of insight to chew on. A 32 year-old woman has a recurring dream of being lost and hungry at summer camp. A 54 year-old man dreams that he rides into work on a white horse, but nobody sees him because they're all watching movies.
Both of these can be seen as crossroads dreams: each dreamer is in an untenable situation, and something must change in order for them to move ahead. Which path will they choose? Will the woman reaffirm her goals in spite of her fear, or will she decide she really is lost and look for new life direction? Will the man keep plugging away with a difficult work situation, or will he decide that his superior attitude is the real problem?
Using dreams for personal insight and career guidance is becoming increasingly popular, with the rise in dream groups and peer-based dream consulting. In these forums, it is up to each of us to determine what is true about our own dreams. Others may offer their interpretations, but there is no external authority telling us what the dream means. The dreamer learns to trust his or her own intuition, which in the end is our most precious resource.
But there are other places dreams can take us, beyond the level of our daily concerns and emotional well-being. They can bring us face to face with the Sacred. When this happens, we instantly move beyond thinking about what the dream means, and drop into a felt sense of something completely extraordinary. It is as if we have unwrapped all the layers of gift paper in the box and finally gotten down to the prize inside: the reminder that we are blessed, and loved, and that all is well.
Most people get uncomfortable talking about the Sacred. To begin with, no one even agrees what to call it: the Divine, Spirit, the Cosmos, God, Goddess, the Numinous. And from there, the questions get even harder to answer. Is it an external force or an internal grace? Are we referring to a He or a She, an androgynous Being, or the vast and intelligent Universe itself?
But all our questioning obscures the fact that no matter what we call it, or whether we even believe in it, some larger Knowing pops up in dreams all the time. The real question is, how do we relate to it once it appears?
I look for Divinity first in any part of the dream that is described as especially beautiful. Maybe the woman wandering around lost at summer camp mentions passing by a beautiful waterfall. When asked for more detail, she describes its mossy banks, the water that is as clear as glass, the air so sweet she doesn't ever want to leave. Stepping into this hidden grotto, she briefly forgets about her hunger and loneliness, and feels a deep sense of peace.
This may have been just a momentary respite in an otherwise difficult dream. But allowing herself to pause here, to breathe deeply that sweet air, to sit on the cool, damp ground and listen to the water cascade over the rocks, she accepts the true gift of the dream: a moment out of time, where everything is as it should be.
A moment of grace puts everything into its proper perspective. Suddenly the flight through the woods, and the difficult life decisions she faces, are counterbalanced by knowing that she will be okay, no matter what happens.
And what about the man on horseback? His dream was very brief, and in dream fragments such as this every symbol carries extra weight. In this dream I was struck by the image of the horse. He described it as very large and powerful, intelligent and beautiful. Sitting on its back, he felt it was the kind of horse that he could ride to the ends of the earth and it would barely be winded.
In other words it was a magical steed, an immortal, and a visceral reminder of the ancient stories of virtue and purpose that were playing out in his life. The white horse reminded him that he was not alone in his struggles, that his strength was a gift, and that he could trust his instincts to guide him at every turn.
In the end, encountering the Divine in dreams is not just about radiant beings of golden light descending from on high -- though it certainly can be. I find the Divine more often in those moments when we feel part of something much bigger than ourselves, when beauty appears unbidden and the ordinary becomes luminous. In these rare and precious encounters, we are moved beyond our human struggles and come face to face with the wonder and Mystery that is life.