Cultivating the Dreaming
by Rachel Creager Ireland
I dreamt our family was set to go on a trip, but when the time came to get on the bus, I wasn’t packed. I couldn’t even get to my room against the crowds of people all going someplace. There were lots of stairs, there was a hotel room with piles of clothes and other junk that I had to clear out. The bus left without us.
I woke up pretty glum and related my dream in a post on facebook. My friend Kay Shandler replied, “You have the neatest dreams. I rarely dream!” This surprised me because Kay is a skilled energy healer, and I would assume that intuitive healing would require substantial capacity for imagination. Imagination, intuition, and dreaming are all related, and maybe sometime I’ll write a detailed post about that.
But it led me to think about my dream history, because it isn’t an accident that I dream vividly and remember my dreams. I’ve cultivated my dreaming intentionally over many years.
As a child, I never remembered dreams. My sister sometimes talked about her exciting, vivid dreams, and I think everyone in my family related dreams upon occasion, but I never remembered them. It felt like a wonderful and mysterious experience that I was missing out on.
Eventually I learned techniques for enhancing dream recall. I read books about dream interpretation. I kept a journal by my bed, ready to receive any dream that might come. I though about dreaming before I went to sleep. It took time because I had chronic insomnia, but by high school I was recording dreams frequently, sometimes three or four times in a night. I still have my dream journals from that period, and they are filled with page after page of terrible nightmares. Someone tried to kill me, someone chased me, someone shot me point blank in the face and I died. Or I was the aggressor, on a shooting spree in a shopping mall, before that was a trendy thing for crazy people to do. Or there was a nuclear holocaust or an alien invasion and everyone was lost in the dark.
I somehow knew that these nightmares had some kind of message in them, but I had no tools for interpreting them. All I knew to do was diligently record every dream, so that’s what I did, like an illiterate person painstakingly copying letters line by line, messages for an unknown person who might find a way to decipher them in the future.
In college I learned a little about reading symbolism and understanding archetypes. I continued to journal my dreams, and used them as source material for surrealist poetry, which seemed kind of like cheating. But the dream images were more compelling than the ones that arose from my conscious mind.
In my twenties, I learned to dream lucidly. If a series of unbelievably improbable, terrifying events happened, I could recognize that I was having a nightmare. It didn’t necessarily end it, but I knew it wasn’t real. Then I discovered flying. I’m dreaming? Great, that means I can fly!
I was in my thirties when I took a class in past-life regression, which included basic training in hypnosis. I adapted self-hypnosis techniques to return to my dreams in a waking trance state, so that I could dialog with the aggressors in my nightmares. I’ve written about this technique previously.
Also at the past-life regression class, I met Henry Reed, a pioneer dreamwork researcher. One practice Henry uses is conscious dreaming for a person or problem. One way I use dreamwork is to ask for a dream about a question that is on my mind. I write it in my journal, think about the question as I fall asleep, and record what I remember when I wake up. This can be a tool to access information which the conscious mind doesn’t know exists.
When I look at all this history, I’m surprised to realize how constantly important dreaming has been for me, for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, I rarely have violent dreams anymore, and even the unhappy ones don’t have the nightmarish intensity they used to. My dreams are rich and varied. Where will my dreaming go next? I have no idea.
What about you? What do you dream, and what relationship do you have with your dreams?