Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dreamworkers' Tools

As Jesus taught, to be a friend is to give. To be a friend is to lay down my life for others, whatever than means. This is easier said than done. Other is a scary idea out there. Other is the terrorist who travels by night. Other is the stalking criminal who threatens my child. Other is the specter of failure that robs me of my wealth. Other is Darth Vader whose face I cannot even see. Other is the shadow that rises in my most terrifying dreams. Other is the shining light I can never hope to be.

Meeting the Other and learning to love him is only one reason why projective dreamwork has been just about the most helpful skill I have learned for getting along in that world and learning to forgive my hatreds and my fears. Projective dreamwork, like a sacrament, is a way of mediating raw experience, a way of facilitating conversation. It respects the uniqueness of self and it honors the shared world of other.

Even when I live so far away from the songs of the beautiful forests in which, millennia ago, I awoke, whenever I dream, I reconnect with the most primal levels of my humanity. I enter a world which has not yet been tamed with numbers and words. I have before me a wisdom that is so important and so reliable that even in this age of computers, modern medicine and statistics, it continues to teach me what I need to know to live and thrive. When I learn to work and understand dreams, I reconnect myself with a what may turn out to be earth-saving truths.

The first is, that although the dream is mine, and only I can know its ultimate meaning, I am also going to be uniquely and selectively blind to what the dream is trying to teach. I suspect this is because my own symbolic world is too familiar for me to see far into it and when the dream is shocking, I remain so shocked by its manifest content that I get stuck there. Even if I am the most skilled dreamworker in the world, I will still learn more about my dream when I share it with others. This is because human beings are pack animals and the sacred (and dreams are sacred) is less about exulting the individual than it is about creating the best possible community out of the best possible selves. This truth flies in the face of the most carefully constructed gated community of individualism.

The second is that if I am blind to my own dream, neither can I tell you what your dream means. I can imagine that I have had this very dream you have told me and I can filter it through my own experience, my own issues and questions, my own framework of images and from this, offer valuable insights as to what this dream might mean to me if I had dreamed it, but you as you will ever be a mystery to me even if we have known each other for years. My words might be helpful to you; they might not. My insights, however, will almost always be helpful to me, because dreams do arise from common human experience and (un)consciousness. This kind of work is a species of projection. Becoming conscious is an act of projection. As I begin to learn who I am, I do so by learning what I am not. It is very easy to dispense with things I do not like about myself through projection; also things I long to be, but am afraid to become. Mature people do not continue to project. The ancient mind of the dream is very helpful in sorting all this out.

The third is that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness. That means that even the most appalling nightmare comes in the service of health and wholeness. My experience of my own and others’ nightmares has shown me that nightmares arise from the ancient experience of “fight or flight,” of dealing with an experience that must be resolved so rapidly that I do not have time to think and must, therefore, react. When a dream comes to me in the form of a nightmare, it is because it is so important that it must get my attention. Nightmares are often easier to remember than the sweet dreams. I have encountered confusion about this in therapy, where I often work my dreams as a way of discovering where I am distressed. This is OK, but in every distressed dream also resides the cure, or I would not have had the dream.

The fourth is that dreams do not come to mock me with all the things I cannot do. The mere fact that I have dreamed a situation assures me that I can do something about it. If I am suffering from something even as serious as posttraumatic shock, if I am having nightmares about it, I am engaging in the work of healing. It may take a long time, for the traumas that the violence of the mechanical, poisoned and impersonal world can inflict are huge, but I am wise to remember that spiritual growth happens one step at a time. Dreams guide me not to the world’s false ideas of its and my power, or lack thereof, but awakens my own, which is true, and which will be a gift, not an oppression, to my community. Dreams remind me that the whole human condition, of which I am but a tiny part, is a slow process. As we shall see during Holy Week, humankind has been unable to learn from our mistakes for thousands of years.

Thus the Bible remains a dependable guide. Today, in the face of ecological destruction, multinational corporations, mass hunger and mass corruption, in the face of sharing our home with 6.5 billion people, it is easy to say, “What can I, as one person, do?” When I read the Bible through the lens of my dreams, I realize that the whole of our sacred story is precisely about what one person can do.

Because dreams are stories, not theories, no dream ever has just one meaning. Dreams have many, many meanings. The word is “overdetermined.” In this way, dreams are like scriptures and parables and myths. If history is our current cultural myth, then it might be good to look at objective “facts” as having many meanings as well.

This is helpful as we stand at the Gates of Jerusalem, when a defining event in our spiritual story is about to take place. None of the four Gospels quite agrees about what happened when Jesus entered the city and stood before all the threats of the political world. Some say, as with Moses and the Israelites, that it never happened anyway. Still others look for Jesus’ bones, the equivalent of a Christian skeleton in the closet. There is altogether too much awe and fascination with the power of death. The ancient messages of the dreamers tell me that I may be wiser to remember the awesome world of conscious life, that I have walked this world far longer than I ever dared dream.

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