Can dreams offer guidance? If so, then how can we access their wisdom in a way that enriches waking life without taking them literally or resorting to superficial interpretations? Can the creative imagination, as experienced in dreams, offer meaningful ways of coping during a crisis or major transition?
These are just a few of the questions that I have been exploring in my research on dreaming and its relationship to the creative process, spirituality and healing.
Years ago, while I was in my thirties and living in Japan, I had a dream in which my hands had become lion paws. As I practiced retracting and trusting out my new-found, razor-sharp claws, I realized that I had within my grasp the ability to cut through all the red tape that threatened to bring my son’s adoption to a halt. The strength within these lion paws brought a vital new energy, which had been sorely lacking in my waking life as I struggled with endless legal complications.
After four long years of loving and mothering him as my own, the one who had abandoned him at birth had returned, declaring that he belonged to her alone. The intricacies of the Japanese legal system threatened to overwhelm me as my heart filled with despair at the possibly of losing him. How could I ever allow this child of my soul, this child who had become autistic as the result of her abandonment, go to her? The lioness within me had awoken in the dream and showed me how to tear through all the barriers that stood in our way. As I embodied the image of the lioness, I was able, through her paws, to access the courage and strength necessary to defend and claim this child unequivocally as my own. After all, I was the only mother he has ever known. The lioness within me was fully awake.
Later, in my forties, I found myself once again on the threshold of dreams, this time facing the door to an S & M chamber. In front of me was a naked man, bound with rope as a ceiling fan spun slowly above him. Attached to each blade of the fan was a chain with a sharp knife slicing through his abdomen upon each rotation.
Horrified, I stood frozen, unable to help as he suffered in silence.
A few days later, as I began to work this dream with my teachers Robert Bosnak and Jill Fischer, I was surprised to discover that when I set aside my own fear and looked carefully into the man’s eyes, he bore an expression of pure ecstasy. How strange! Ever so gently, Robbie and Jill showed me how to slow down the image and begin to participate in his way of being through the process of embodied imagination work. As I began to experience abdominal pain from the man’s perspective, I instinctively knew from deep within my own body that there was another way of coping with the incredible pain that had plagued me for years from endometriosis. Following his lead, I began to surrender and relax into the pain rather than resisting it.
At the same time, I also acknowledged my own deep fear of pain that would often erupt without warning in my belly when ovarian cysts erupted. As I held the paradox of these two very different ways of being, afraid yet surrendering to painful sensations, I was surprised to find an effective new way of coping emerge. The next time pain ripped through me, I was able to return to the image of the man and hold it together with my own fear as I surrendered fully into it, allowing the pain to move through me without being overcome.
Recently, in my fifties, I found myself in a dream with my beloved Japanese calligraphy teacher, who was showing me how to take all that I had learned thus far in life and express it beautifully with just a few simple strokes of sepia ink.
“Stay with the image,” she urged, while moving the supple hairs of her brush across handmade paper.
Following her example, I took up my pen to write this article, allowing the creative spirit present within her image to flow through me onto the page. As I embodied her energy my hand was led into the dance of creative expression. By allowing the “ki” – the life force – within the dream to flow through me onto the page, I am to communicate with others while at the same time being healed in ways that I never could have imagined. Although many years have passed since I last saw her, the image of my teacher continues to inspire me through dreams. By allowing myself to re-enter her presence through the dream, I am able to enter into a deeper relationship with my own creativity in waking life.
Through the practice of embodied imagination, I have learned how to participate in many different ways of being that images in dreams and memories offer. In this way, I have found ample guidance over the years. Dreams have taught me how to cope more effectively during the crisis of my son’s adoption, shown me new ways of dealing with the pain of endometriosis and continue to inspire my creative work. As I continue to deepen my relationship with images through dreams, I become more whole, more truly myself.
Through this work I have learned that there is no need to interpret images anymore than I would interpret my friends in walking life. When I simply open up to the grace of their presence, I am blessed and my life abounds in a richness for which I am truly grateful.