WORKING WITH DREAMS
I’m bounding through Central Park, Manhattan. In my sweats, I’m leaping, almost flying, across the meadows and through the trees. I’m exhilarated, expansive, flowing and effortless. Full of myself, my expansive Texas-born smart-ass self takes hold and I’m inspired in mid-bound to shout to the world, “The best running backs come from Manhattan from dodging all the dog shit.” Without missing a beat, the deep and resonant voice of the Universe responds, “NO! They come from Texas from dodging all the bull shit.”
I laughed so hard I woke myself up.
I was having some interesting dreams in the late seventies!
I was also coping with a mild and chronic depression. It was a time of spiritual and psychological exploration as I was completing my training as a psychotherapist, doing my own psychotherapy, meditating and exploring expanded states of consciousness.
One topic I was exploring was called Senoi Dream Work*, a process for extracting the wisdom and insight of a dream. An anthropologist while living with the Senoi people, an isolated primitive tribe in Malaysia, participated in a dream processing ritual. He learned it and adapted it for modern American use. I had learned the process and was using it for myself and guiding my therapy clients in the process with amazing results.
MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE NIGHTMARE: I’m working the Renaissance Pleasure Faire drawing caricatures. I’m watching one of the Faire characters/employees – a wizened little old man dressed as a leprechaun. He’s prancing around, flirting with the pretty girls, laughing, making jokes and generally having a great time. In the midst of the scene, there is a large metal box like a corner mail-drop box or giant bread box with a roll top lid.
The old man approaches the box with the comical caution of a mime. I watch as he laboriously climbs inside the box and closes the lid. Silence. Moments pass. What’s going on? Then there is the sound of racking coughs and choking. Then dead silence. More moments pass. I’m feeling worried, anxious. Is he OK? I approach the box with a deepening sense of dread. I lift the lid of the box.
Not only is he dead, but he has already begun to decompose! In terror I slam the lid closed. Panicked, I lift the box with no clear intention. I need to get the box out of my dream! As I stagger along under the weight of my burden, I hear a voice like old-time radio emanating in a sing-song rhythm from the box, “Do you want to dance? Do you want to sing?”
I am so terrified I drop the box and wake up soaked with sweat.
Trembling from the residual fear and the chill of drying perspiration, I’m thinking, “That was doozie!” Still half asleep, I remember the dream process and I know I have to work this one.
THE DREAMWORK PROCESS.
I have to go back into the dream, “Yikes!. . . OK, here goes.”
1) I begin to remember the dream in sequence as if it’s happening right now. As I remember I retrieve the feeling quality of the dream.
Once I finish repeating the whole dream, 2) I select something or someone in the dream that seems important and, 3) I ask for the spirit of that important element to show itself and speak to me. I select the corpse in the box. I imagine I am there with the box and, per my request, and to my great dismay, a figure in a hooded black cloak jumps out from behind the box and shouts, “BOO!” Seriously startled, I whine, “What did you do that for?” “To scare you, of course.” “Well, you sure scared me, but why did you want to scare me?” “I wanted to scare you to get your attention.” I’m starting to calm down, “OK. You’ve got my attention. 4) Have you got a message for me?” “Yes,” the figure replied, “you must pay attention to death. You must make peace with death, especially your own.”
Then, in accordance with the dream work process, 5) I ask for a gift of esteem from the wraith. (In the sixties there was a rock album cover with a picture of a skull with bright red chewing wax lips – a wonderfully powerful image.) So, no surprise, the shrouded figure hands me Red Wax Lips! Perfect. The Kiss of Death.
I cracked up.
So, 6) I began the dream’s assignment of exploring death (short of dying, of course). Over the next few years I read Kubler-Ross, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bryan Weiss, MD, among several others. I did a number of past-life regression where I experienced my death and its aftermath. I studied and meditated on Key 13 of the Tarot – Death. I talked with others about it. I imagined death and thought about it.
During that time, death as a fearsome specter, lurking in an unknowable future vanished for me. Years later as I enter my eighth decade, I can say with a light heart, “I’m going to die sooner than later and it should be a very interesting experience.” In retrospect I am also convinced that my quest was an important influence at the time in dispelling my depression, which never returned.
I continue to use the dream analysis process for myself and with my clients from time to time – always with a positive effect. For my clients who are interested I teach the process so that they can do it for themselves.
and a bibliography on the topic: