I attended an international conference on dreams many years ago. I did it as a lark--a "what the heck" kind of thing--a great diversion. What I didn't know at the time was that my experience there would in fact, divert the entire course of my life, opening me to a deeper creativity and spiritual awareness.
As a psychologist I naturally thought in the way psychologists like to think about dreams: " I wonder if dreams will show me how to understand my clients' conflicts better?" However, I quickly became intrigued by new concepts I encountered at the conference. For example, I learned about Dream Incubation--a simple technique for seeking guidance and healing that most Mediterranean, Asian and indigenous cultures began practicing over 3000 years ago.
To incubate a dream, just focus on an issue or concern in your life with which you have been struggling. Boil down the problem to a single sentence and repeat it as a mantra until you fall asleep e.g. "I need help understanding…" or "What's the real nature of this relationship I have with…."
The great Swiss analyst, Carl Jung viewed dreams as an objective mirror of our behavior, attitudes, and relationships in waking life - for better or worse. So the incubated dream you receive will be just that--an objective assessment of your current situation or problem. It is this profound aspect of
dreams that has renewed the spiritual dimension of my life. I have come to view the process of dream incubation as no different than prayer--with the exception that dreams provide the tangible, concrete answer we are seeking when we pray.
What remains for us to learn is the language of metaphor with which dreams speak to us. Everyday we speak in metaphor, but when we 'see' metaphor in dreams, we think our dreams are just weird or confusing. For example, I tell a friend that I 'went right through the roof when I heard what happened…' but when I go right through the roof in my dream, it looks weird and crazy. I am perplexed when in my dreams I keep 'missing the bus' or I ' close the door behind me' as I leave…'
Here's an example of an incubated dream that has stayed with me for many years since I attended that conference. I asked, "What good will it do me to begin working with my dreams?" My dream:
I am walking through a deteriorating neighborhood and against my better judgment feel compelled to enter an old, boarded up house. On its last legs, it’s wrecked and empty - a musty, moldy, dank place. I begin to feel "that feeling" – that chill wind that always paralyzed me on reluctant errands to the basement for my mom… like liquid nitrogen coursing through my veins.
I’m standing there stoned with fear and in a moment full of either divine grace or certain insanity, I hear myself say: "I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’m just sick of it. I'm staying".
Suddenly, the sea of dust parts clearing a path to where the boarded windows have now politely taken up home in some other dimension. Dumbstruck I stand staring at a huge picture window - now a timeless portal of sunny energy--brilliant, warm sprinkles of light fluttering down in joyful dance around my proverbial cold feet.
The house is reborn. Alive, I can almost feel it breathe. It’s as if someone’s home now. The woodwork is that richly carved kind, burnished Mahogany tiered along the edge of both ceiling and floor. It’s just a leisurely spiral climb to room after room of what I see now is an incredibly spacious, rich and inviting place. But more profound is the question that begins to form: "Why would somebody abandon a place like this?"
Now I’m awake, eyes wide and I’m thinking, "OK, Cool! This is easy. Great. What's the metaphor? I guess there’s a whole me that can be really rich and warm and inviting that I’ve abandoned a long time ago. I’ve just got to fix up the place, so to speak. They're right about dreams … but how could my life be like an empty, decaying, old house?"
Years later, I am grateful for a dream about a moldering life I had no idea I was living--a dream that opened a portal for me--to a deeper, more creative and spiritual ground of life. I've been working ever since with my dreams -- and those of clients and friends. I've learned that understanding a dream is always helpful. However, when we consult our dreams at a turning point in life--when we're very stuck or in crisis--they can have a most amazing and profound healing impact.
In the meantime: May your dreams guide you swiftly and well along your path.