Dreamwork and the Longing for Wisdom
Wisdom is so simple that we overlook it, undervalue it; often we do not even recognize it. Yet there is nothing more important. This wisdom is the deep natural understanding that springs from and takes us back to what is Real, to what nourishes and heals.
This wisdom lies underneath our beliefs, behind our perceptions of how life works, beyond our personality. It goes beyond any belief or idea of spirituality, and yet deepens our own practice within a spiritual tradition. It is ancient, and yet we can experience this wisdom in a way that is fully conscious and relevant to contemporary life. Suffering sometimes opens us to real wisdom because suffering opens the heart. And it is through the heart that we perceive this deeper state of consciousness.
Our dreams give us direct access to this wisdom, to this healing, to this nourishment that we as a culture hunger for, and that women especially need in order for their hearts to be deep and open. Our culture offers little to nourish the hearts of women. We find in our culture no echo of the sacredness of wisdom, or of the spiritual values of the feminine nature. And if the hearts of women are not nourished, then life suffers. While this wisdom is alive in both men and women, there is a particular role that women have to play in weaving it into everyday life.
Dreamwork involves the practice of listening to our dreams, perhaps writing them down, reflecting on them, giving them a space in our daily life. But dreamwork is more than that. It also trains the mind to work with the fluidity of the inner world and to work in harmony with the soul. Our dreams reveal to us the deeper nature of life and its flow, often showing us what needs our attention or love long before there is any outer sign of trouble. The soul speaks to us through our dreams, and it is often the most clear access we may have to the deeper wisdom that is always there, within us.
I paid little attention to my dreams until the age of thirty-six. I was on a rare trip to Hawaii with my parents, my brothers, nieces and nephews, my husband and children. The hotel was brightly lit with tinsel-covered artificial Christmas trees for the tourists. I felt hollow and filled with sorrow. There were strained relationships among many in the larger family, and I went to bed crying on Christmas night.
The next morning I awoke when it was still dark. We were going to leave the next day, and I felt a need for something that I couldn't even identify. Compelled by a barely articulate desire, I walked down the long hotel road to a little path I had seen each day. It frightened me a little, this path into the lava beds, and each day I had avoided it, walking instead on the other side of the road. This morning, however, I had to go in.
Turning off the main road, I left behind the soft glow of the street lamps. I followed the narrow path for at least a half hour. The sun had not yet risen, but there was just enough diffuse light in the east to discern the path. It felt good to be walking alone, and my mind became very calm and at peace.
At some point, I decided it was time to go back to the hotel, and turned around. But instead of the single path that had taken me to where I was standing, I saw that there were many paths, and the lava formations were so high that I couldn't see how to get out. I couldn't see the hotel, or the main road, and for some reason, it felt darker than when I had started.
A feeling of panic began to take hold of me. I realized I didn't even know if it was safe to walk here alone. I tried a path but it forked several times, and then I knew I was completely lost. The lava field extended for acres, and the only recourse was to wait until the sun rose. I sat on a rock and closed my eyes. I had recently learned to meditate, and knew that it would help to calm me. I relaxed and the panic subsided. Another half hour had gone by when I felt the rays of the sun rising over the hills, touching my face.
As I opened my eyes, ready to find my way out, I saw that I was sitting in the midst of hundreds of petroglyphs etched into the lava. I was sitting on top of them, surrounded by symbols that I couldn't understand. The most beautiful was a circle with a dot in the center. It was repeated many times, and I bent down, touching it with my fingers, astonished at the fact that I had been sitting in some sacred spot. I explored this area until the sun became hot, and it was time to find my way back.
I spent the day with all of the family, and when I went to bed that night I knew that I had finally seen beyond the outer appearances of my life, and had been touched by something deeper and real. But still, the sorrow about my relationship to my family remained. That night I had the first dream I ever remembered.
It was direct and simple. I was shown a circle with the dot in the center, the very symbol I had seen that morning. I then heard a voice say, "This dot in the center of the circle is Love. If you would be this dot in the center, the problems you have with your family would not exist." I was pulled into the dot in the circle, and waves upon waves of love poured through me, through my entire body. I woke up in awe of what had just taken place.
This dream changed the course of my life. It awakened a longing to return to the experience of love, to live from the center of myself, although I had no idea what that even meant, or how I would go about doing it. I only knew that I could no longer live my life as I had done before. For the next three years I stumbled along. I tried to improve my life but it only seemed to get worse. I even forgot the dream. And then, when I was desperate to make sense of my life, I met a Sufi teacher who specialized in dream interpretation and meditation. Gradually, over the next few years, I learned to be receptive to the wisdom within me that I had first glimpsed in my dream.
The soul responds to the calling within our hearts. It speaks, perhaps through a dream, or sometimes in life, to our longing. For some, this longing for what is Real is a need as basic as breath. And when there is a need, something is given. Longing is said to be the magnet that draws down the grace. If we allow it - that is, if we dare to make a space to listen to our longing - it will lead us beyond the appearances of life to a deeper reality.
A woman recently dreamed of a natural hot springs that had been covered over by a road. Only if she could stop the cars from driving over this area would it once again become pure, and then rise to the surface creating warm pools for women to bathe in. This pure water which the dream speaks of, is real. It is the water that comes from the source, from the innermost and sacred place within us. Without the warmth of this pure water, life is not nourished. Life needs women to know this sacred place within themselves. It is a deep, dark place within us. It is a quality of the soul turned towards the source of life. We have almost completely forgotten it - we have paved it, driving over its surface.
When we have inwardly said yes to this process of deepening, for the sake of life, then we are given what is needed to be of service. It seems so simple, but is not at all easy. It is walking in the lava field, in the darkness, and being unable to do anything but wait until the sun rises. It is stumbling around for three years, waiting for the one person who could help me to find my way back to the state of being that was shown to me in my dream.
One friend who has had a difficult time in her life for many years, recently heard a voice in a dream. She was told, "You know nothing, and you are nothing." Finally, after months of prayer and complaint, she was given what she would need to heal her relationship to life. To know nothing was to allow for the dream to be wiser than her doubts and fears. To be nothing was, for her, to bow down before the highest truth.
After years of meditation and being attentive to my dreams, I began leading retreats for women. After a number of years of leading workshops and retreats, there was one particularly memorable event. We sat together during this retreat, thirty women from different spiritual traditions, in hours of silent meditation. Out of the silence, dreams were shared, discussion arose. The emptiness of this retreat created a space for a deeper state of being within each woman. On the last night, I dreamt that I heard the voice of a friend who has a deep, mystical nature. In an off-hand, almost humorous way, she asked me, "So, where are you with all this?" Before I could answer, she continued. "You have so much of this in your body, it's just that you don't see it or value it, but you have operated out of what is familiar to you. This deeper place of knowing has always been with you."
This place is so vast, where the river of wisdom runs through, waiting for us to remember it. This place within us, where feminine wisdom surfaces from the depths, allows us to drink from its clear water; it is not personal, although it touches us in an immensely personal way. If we try to bring to the dreams our preconceived ideas or any imposed rational way of thinking, it's like driving cars over the natural hot springs.
What do we do with the dreams that open us to a different way of being, even though we still have to get up in the morning, go to work, take care of our families? How do we hold this wisdom that is now presenting itself through dreams? It is usually not a matter of changing or manipulating our lives, but rather how we live with remembrance and devotion to the grace that is given.
One friend had the following dream at a time when she felt she was not doing enough for the world. She wanted to be of service, but felt that raising a family and working was not enough. This desire haunted her days, giving her little rest. Her dream came like a bolt of lightening, waking her up to the power of her ordinary being, taking care of her children, facing the complexities of marriage, working.
I dreamt I was walking in the pitch-black night of the world. The night was like all the darkness in the world right now. As I was walking, I saw a beacon of light that was kind of surprising to me. Then as I was walking, I saw one by one thousands of lights stand up out of the darkness -- beacons all over the world, each one a personal holding their own portion of the light in the darkness. I got the sense that each of these beacons was outshining the darkness...more powerful than the darkness. The lights were like lighthouses or beacons for other souls in the world to gravitate to -- they would be attracted, so to speak, to the light.
These dreams are here to help us, to guide us, to bridge what has been cut off in our lives and in life itself. When we work with our dreams not simply for our own sake, but for the sake of the greater whole, the pure water of wisdom can flow into our lives. For many women, this wisdom lies underneath the feelings of despair or anger or experiences of suffering, but through devotion we can learn to bear what the dreams may reveal. Just as inside our own darkness is hidden a light that is the very core of our being, so it is with the world.
When we feel a vulnerability or uncertainty in our life, our need for wisdom becomes more acute, our heart more receptive. During a bleak winter, I had the following dream. I heard, in this dream, the quiet voice of my teacher saying, "Just love me and then the branches will blossom and the heart will sing."
I have learned to hold dreams carefully, to allow them to unfold in their own time. Without knowing how I would reach this love that would make the trees blossom, I knew only to follow the thread of the dream, the intimacy and tenderness that I felt when I awoke, and to wait. Slowly, the truth of these words became real; a quality of wonder returned to my life. I remembered again what I had forgotten, the dot in the center of the circle.