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Listening at the Gate of Dreams

Posted: 11/18/08 11:49 AM ET

Everyone dreams, whether we remember them or not. Many of us do remember our dreams, and think about them until they slowly fade away like a radio signal as we drive out of range. Sometimes a vivid dream comes like a bolt of lightning, and we reverberate from the shock of it for days, weeks, even years. Sometimes the same dream comes so frequently that we learn to anticipate it as we fall asleep, and the dream itself becomes an invitation for us to explore its meaning.

Why do some dreams fade into obscurity while others stay lit with neon in our minds for ages? Is one kind more important than the other? Are dreams friend or foe? And what could any of them possibly mean?

These are the questions that I have the good fortune of pondering every day in my work as a writer and dream consultant. Dreams have always fascinated me, ever since as a five-year-old I woke up one morning and informed my mother that while I was sleeping God had told me to swallow a rubber band, so I did. The pained, incredulous look she gave me is forever seared in my mind. I saw it a lot from that day forward.

Fortunately the world has changed significantly since the 1960s, and dreams are enjoying a resurgence of interest around the world. The grassroots dreamwork movement deserves a lot of the credit for this, as do many early authors who insisted that dreams were not just the domain of psychotherapists, but that all of us could glean wisdom from them whether we had specialized training or not. Dreams, in other words, are part of the commons. They are a shared resource, and a means of insight that we all have access to.

There are many different ways to work with dreams, some easily accessible and some highly esoteric. At their root, however, the best dreamwork methods all encourage us to trust our inner wisdom. After all, dreams come to us unbidden every night, like water rising from a spring. Their source is within us, somewhere beyond the gate where our conscious mind ends and the deeper processing of our unconscious begins.

Touching that deep spring of guidance, trusting dreams and learning to discern their messages, is the subject of this blog. In future posts I will share stories of some remarkable dreams I have met, and how working with them can help us in every aspect of our lives. Before we can reap the benefits of our dreams, however, we need to learn to listen to them.

Listening to dreams takes intention. With all the things we need to do each day to keep our families going and keep the money flowing in, it can feel like a luxury to take five minutes before getting up in the morning to lie still, recall the dream we were just having, and write it down. We can strengthen that intention by keeping a notebook and pen (or mini voice recorder) next to our bed, and saying an affirmation before going to sleep that "tonight I will remember my dreams."

Just like learning to throw a football or play a musical instrument, recalling dreams takes practice. Some of us have an easier time at it than others, but that doesn't mean our dreams are inherently more valuable than anyone else's. In fact, even the briefest, most nonsensical dream fragments can yield significant insights--sometimes even more than epic dream adventures that take upwards of half an hour to transcribe.

The second most important thing we can do to reap the benefits of dreams is to get in the habit of discussing dreams with friends and family. Sometimes just talking out a dream enables us to find the nugget of gold in it. All we need to do as dream listeners is to keep an open mind, listen to the dream story without judgment, and remember that dreams are friend, not foe. Every dream has something creative, useful, and deeply affirming at its core, and just the simple act of telling the dream helps the dreamer discover what that is.

In my case, even though my mother was completely unprepared for her young daughter's dream report that morning, to her credit she didn't make any derogatory comments or send me off to a psychiatrist's couch. Her puzzled reaction in turn made me take a closer look at what I had just experienced. Had it really happened, or had it been a dream? Was there in fact a difference between the two?

I don't think I had considered the idea before, but that morning set into motion a lifelong curiosity about the terrain between sleeping and waking. The nugget of gold for me in that dream was an early awareness of the gate through which our souls cross as we dream. Beyond it lies riches there for the taking, if we can retrieve them and bring them back with us into the clear light of day.

 
 
 

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