What’s the purpose of dreamwork?

A while ago, I talked with someone engaged in a particular form of dreamwork. They said that the women in their group tend to express themselves as more feminine – with long hair and skirts – after doing dreamwork for a while.

I was slightly surprised. To me, dreamwork means to be more fluid and embrace more sides of ourselves. It means to explore many different sides, perhaps at different times in life. It means to be more authentic, which will change over time and can look many different ways and sometimes won’t follow stereotypical gender norms.

It’s a reminder that what we see as the purpose of dreamwork may differ between groups and people, which is – of course – good. Diversity means we can learn from each other.


What do I see as the purpose of dreamwork?

For me, it’s to get to know more and more sides of myself (who I am), become more familiar with my nature (what I am), and find more fluidity with it all.


The world is my mirror, so everything I see in the world is something I have in myself. Whatever story I have about someone or something in the wider world, I can turn to myself and find specific examples how how and when it’s true.

I can find and embrace those parts of myself and relate to them more consciously. That gives me a far more rich and fluid sense of myself, and when I find in myself what I see “out there”, it helps me relate to it in a more conscious way.


Also, the world as it appears to me happens within and as what I am.

To myself, I am fundamentally consciousness. The consciousness I am forms itself into the world as it appears to me.

Night dreams and waking life are no different in that way. So the way I relate to others and the world is how I – directly, immediately, and literally – relate to myself.


Dreams show me what’s at the edge of what I am consciously aware of. It’s an invitation to be a little more aware of something at the edge, perhaps to recognize that I know something I previously wasn’t aware of knowing.

Dreams can show me what’s happening in my energy system. They can reflect and make it into images and stories. For instance, if I have done energy work on myself (often Vortex Healing), my dreams often reflect that process the following night.

Dreams can also, in some cases, say something about the future. These dreams seem to have a quite different quality than regular night dreams. I have had five or ten of these kinds of dreams. (I dreamt I would live in Oregon several years before I, for completely different reasons, found myself living there. I dream I would live in the northern part of South America, near a very particular school, and many years later – again for completely different reasons – found myself living there and next to the school from my dream. I dreamt my cat in Wisconsin would be hit by a car and die, I kept him inside for several days, and when I let him out again, he was killed by a car that day. And so on.)


For me, this means that I find more of my inner richness. I become more aware of my inner richness which is literally as rich as the world. It doesn’t make me more of something in particular. It makes me more of everything. It helps me find and explore many more sides of myself, many of which may not conform to norms and expectations. It means to paint outside of the lines.


I have to admit that I may appear relatively conventional in my clothing. That’s because I still have quite a bit of social anxiety and find it easier to not draw too much attention to myself. If I felt freer, I would likely use a lot more colors and vary between traditional masculine and feminine clothes (including skirts), find more androgynous styles, and sometimes have fun dressing in a far more eccentric way. I don’t at all justify my conformity here since I know it largely comes from my response to my social anxiety.

Even if I am a white European male, my views often align with those more typically found among women, non-Europeans, minorities of different kinds, and even indigenous people. (Although I don’t pretend I understand their situation or worldviews very well.) Even my illness is more often found among women.

In more important aspects of life than physical appearance, I hope I am following what’s authentic for me. I moved to South America to start a permaculture food forest and regeneration project. I will get rid of the water toilet in my little house and instead install a composting toilet. I plan on growing as much of my own food as possible. And so on. This is what feels good and right to me, and what’s aligned with what I see as most important in the world today.

I am not doing this just because of dreamwork, of course, but it is supported by my general exploration of projections and my inner richness, finding my real priorities, and so on.

Image created by me and Midjourney

Dream: I am a young black man at university

I am a young black student at a university in the US. I get the sense it’s the 1950s. In a math class in the first semester, I do far better on the exams than the white teachers expect. They are convinced I cheated but can’t prove it, so they make me take the class again. Again, I do very well and they assume I cheated. They consider their options, which is to make me take it for the third time or expel me from the university. I beg them to sit down to me, ask me to explain how I would solve the different types of math questions, and see me work it out. That way, they can easily see that I can do it. It will give them peace of mind, and it will allow me to move on.

I seem to be able to remember dreams again.


In this dream, I am someone different from my identity in waking life. That, in itself, is a reminder of my more fundamental nature. To myself, I am not fundamentally this particular human self with these particular identities. The surface identities are more fluid than that, and I can be any number of other people and beings in my dreams, and during visions. (In this dream, and in some visions, my waking life identity is completely gone.) More fundamentally, I am something else. I am what it all happens within and as.


In terms of waking life, it reflects a recurrent theme: Someone assumes something (wrong) about me, and whatever I say or do doesn’t help. It happened several times in school when other kids would tell the teachers I did something I hadn’t done, I got called into the principal’s office, and I didn’t even know what he was talking about. My brother did the same with my parents, who believed him and not me. And it has happened several times since then too, with other people.

In some cases, I contribute to the situation by not telling people something relevant about me in advance, and also not doing much if anything to clear up the misunderstanding. If someone misunderstands something about me, I typically – at least in the past – don’t say much if anything to correct it. (For instance, when I joined a nondual spiritual group in Oregon, I didn’t tell them anything about my background. They assumed I was a novice, and kept assuming it while I was active with them. When I shared a link to this blog with a teacher I met with regularly, he seemed upset and assumed I had taken the content from somewhere else.)

Why haven’t I spoken up? A few things come up. There is a part of me that enjoys seeing how the minds of others work, and they seem invested in a certain story for whatever reason. I also don’t like to appear to want to present myself in a good light, even if it involves correcting a misconception. In my childhood, it happened several times people had strong ideas about me based on what someone else had said, and whatever I said to correct it didn’t work. (My brother and his friends would blame me, much younger than them, for what they had done, and my parents believed them and not me. Students at school would blame something on me, and I got called into the principal’s office for something I hadn’t even heard about.) My experience is that it doesn’t work.

More to the point, all of this is in me. These dynamics happen in me. How do I not listen to myself? When don’t I trust and believe in myself? I can find many examples of that. I remember several times when my inner guidance was clear, and I chose to do something else – usually out of fear of losing the love and approval of others. I didn’t listen to myself and lived the consequences. (Some examples: Moving to Wisconsin after my initial marriage and leaving my graduate studies, my Zen community, my friends, and a place I deeply loved and felt at home. Not telling my partner I have studied architecture at a graduate level so she dismissed my design proposal for our tiny house.)

In the dream, I do speak up. I am standing up to myself, eventually. I propose a solution that may work for everyone.


All parts of the dream mirror something in me. It all comes out of and happens within and as the consciousness I am. Also, everything in the world in general mirrors something in me.

The young black man faces discrimination, just like my system (it’s more than just my psyche) discriminates against parts of me. He represents parts of my shadow, and he is brilliant and goes to university. By not including that part of me, and other parts in the shadow, I miss out on a lot of brilliance. More to the point, I miss out on being more real, authentic, and human, and on the rich diversity in me. I miss out on experiencing the fullness of me. I miss out on perspectives that can help me understand myself and others.

I am spending time with my birth family these days, and there are dynamics there I assume are partly in my shadow. There are things my personality doesn’t particularly like, I see it more in them than in myself, and there is a richness there if I can embrace it more in myself. If I can find more peace with it, and also acknowledge it in myself.

What does he represent, more specifically? I am not quite sure. He is someone who is brilliant, and his brilliance is not recognized because it’s not in the form that’s expected and approved by mainstream white society. My mainstream orientation doesn’t approve of or recognize the brilliance of something in me because it’s not in the expected or desired form. I’ll have to be with that for a while to see what comes up.


What’s the essence here? I can find a few:

One is to speak up for myself. In what situations do I not do it? How can I do it more?

Another is to listen to and believe in myself, which in this case means my inner guidance.

And yet another is to keep an eye out for parts of me I disown, dismiss, and overlook, and see how it is to include it more fully. What do I see in others, that’s not in the package my personality prefers, that’s secretly brilliant and I can find in myself? Right now, what do I see in my birth family?

Stand up for myself. Listen to my inner guidance. What’s brilliant in others, in a form I don’t like, and how can I embrace it in myself and them?

The two first are ongoing for me, so I may spend more time with the third right now.


When I explore my dreams, I usually do it in a few different ways.

I look at what it mirrors in my waking life. I look at all elements of the dream as reflecting parts of me. I look for any other insights or dynamics that can be interesting. (In this case, a different surface identity points to what I more fundamentally am.)

I sense into it. I look at what I felt as I woke up and what associations I had. I may dialog with elements or beings in the dream. I may take on their role and see what comes up.

I find the essence of it for me, expressed in a simple sentence as a reminder, and see how it is to bring that into daily life.

In general, I like to sense and feel into it and approach it viscerally although it’s obviously interpreted and expressed in words here.


I have spent some time with: What’s brilliant in my birth family that my personality doesn’t particularly like? And how can I embrace it in myself and them?

What I see is that even their hangups – their issues and traumas – are brilliant. They were formed early in life to deal with a difficult life situation. They have kindness and intelligence in them. (Even if they now bring suffering.) How is it to viscerally get it?

That’s beautiful to notice. It’s beautiful because it’s true, and it heals something to recognize it. It shifts how I relate to it in myself and them.

I have seen and felt this when I have explored my own issues and traumas. They are here to protect me. Their essence is love and a kind of wisdom. They were the best my system could come up with at the time and in the situation when they were created. There is innocence and even beauty in it, even as they also create suffering. There is beauty and wisdom in the suffering too. It’s the motivation to later examine the issues, invite them to unwind, and find another way that works better now.

How is it to not only see and feel that with my own issues and traumas, but also theirs? How is it to stay with it, let it work on me, and transform something in me?

Image by me and Midjourney

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Life is like a dream

The world is dreamlike in a few different ways.


In my experience, life is like a dream. Every moment, it’s new. What was here is gone, just like a dream. At best, I have a vague memory for a while, and then that’s gone too.


To myself, I am most fundamentally consciousness, and the world – to me – happens within and as that consciousness. That too is like a night dream. Night dreams and waking life happens within and as the consciousness I am.


That’s all how it appears to me.

Can I say anything about existence itself? Not really, but I can make a couple of guesses.

It seems that in existence itself – in the world and the universe – everything is new every moment. What’s here is gone, just like a dream. In this way, it’s as if existence itself is like a dream.

It’s even possible that the nature of existence is the same as my nature, and that it’s all actually happening within and as consciousness. In this case, existence is like the dream of God, the divine, Spirit, Brahman.

Image by me and Midjourney

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The dreaming process seems ongoing through the day and night

This is something that’s so ordinary for me, perhaps for my whole (?) life, that I don’t see it as something unusual or noteworthy.

The dreaming process of this mind seems ongoing. My mind seems to produce dreams during the day and also during the night.

Sometimes, these dreams are in the background although I can typically notice them if I bring attention to them. I watch the dreams form and unfold as if I am watching a night dream.

And sometimes, they take the form of night dreams which I either remember or don’t or vaguely remember or have a sense of.

I imagine it may be like this for most people, it’s just that we don’t always notice.

Image: Created by me and Midjourney

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Ale’s cosmic dreams and one of mine

It’s night and I see long spiral chains (DNA?) coming down from the sky. They are made up of bright radiant golden light. I see them as immensely beautiful. When they reach the ground, they turn into my parents and my aunts and uncles.

– Ale’s dream #1

I am in the hammock on our land in the Andes mountains. It’s night. I open the eyes and I see one UFO in the sky. There are then hundreds of UFOs moving around in the sky creating sacred geometry patterns. My parents and aunts and uncles are there and we all see them.

– Ale’s dream #2 a couple of days later

The night sky is full of UFOs in a kind of grid pattern. They all blink synchronously. The whole world sees it and know that a big shift is coming. It’s a new era for humanity and civilization. We go from only knowing about ourselves to be part of a cosmic community of beings.

– my dream when I was in my late teens or early twenties

These are all dreams with a cosmic flair.

So what do they mean? What processes in the psyche do they reflect?

Ale’s first dream may be the most straight forward. She has worked a lot on healing her relationship with her family and finding healing for family and ancestral patterns. The dream may reflect that healing process. Her DNA is golden (divine) and descends from the sky, and it turns into her close family.

The two UFO dreams are a little more puzzling. My best guess is that they are expressions of a shift in consciousness. Perhaps a visceral shift in our worldview, in how we relate to existence and life in general, and/or in how we experience our own nature. (All of those tend to go together.) These shifts tend to come out of an awakening or healing process, and each one is one of many in the larger process.

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AI images – water people – week #5

A collection of water people, an undersea dream by me and Midjourney.

What would this represent in a dream? Being completely at home in the watery world of the emotions?

I love to explore AI images as I would a dream. The AI and I dream up images together, and they resonate with something in me. I can explore them as I would a dream. In this case, these water people seem to evoke a wish in me to be completely at home in the watery world of the emotions. How would it be to be as comfortable with my emotions as these people are in the water?

See more of my AI explorations here: https://www.instagram.com/chrysopoeia_ai_art

Update: A few weeks after creating these, I watched Wakanda Forever where an underwater people (the Talokanil) look a lot like these images. Did I see some images from the movie without consciously remembering? Was the AI trained on images from the movie so that when I asked for underwater coral people, the images created came out similar to the movie? Or is it just an example of currents in the culture leading to similar imagery?

Picking up dreams from others?

Several times in my life, I have noticed that my dreams not only change when I sleep in a different location, they also seem to reflect things that are not from my life but from the people who have been in that place before me.

For instance, when I lived in Madison, I would go to Milwaukee to join the Process Work meetings and workshops there. One time, I stayed overnight in a place owned by one of the organizers and I had a string of very intense dreams involving archetypes, magical creatures, and so on. The dreams seemed “foreign” to me somehow. I told my host about the content of the dreams, and she said: “Oh yes, you slept where I work with clients, and those images come from recent sessions I have done with clients.” I moved my massage-table bed to another location in the same room, and slept quietly.

Another time, I stayed in my old Breema teacher’s house in Berkeley during a Breema intensive while he and his new partner were away. The first night, I dreamt his wife was screaming at me and accusing me of several things. When I woke up, I felt I had been him in the dream, and I remembered that he was going through a divorce at the time. I moved to the other side of the bed and slept quietly. (I wonder if the first side of the bed was where he slept?)

Over the last week, I have had very restless dreams bordering on nightmares. This happened when I started sleeping in an apartment and bed that belongs to someone I know (RL). Yesterday, I was curious about what’s happening, I wondered if I am picking up something again, and cleaned the apartment and bed energetically. My sleep last night was much more calm and peaceful.

I should mention that one of the dreams I have had here was of me looking down on my arms and noticing that they were dark brown. (In waking life, they are pink or at best light brown.) I wonder if this dream too may reflect sleeping in the bed and residual energies of another person? (He has darker skin.)

For me, this is just an interesting pattern. I know I can sometimes pick up and sense what’s going on with others and a place, so this may be just another way my system picks it up. It’s also a reminder of how interconnected we all are. And whatever comes up in these dreams does reflect something in me since everything – the whole world – reflects dynamics and characteristics in me. Equally important, it’s all happening within and as what I am. That doesn’t change.

Am I dreaming or awake, right now?

Whatever we come up with, we may find it difficult to justify the answer. We cannot come up with any watertight argument.

We cannot know for certain. And for a very good and important reason.

To us, dreams and waking life happens within and as consciousness.

They happen within and as what we are. To us, there is no difference between the nature of the two.

This doesn’t say anything about the nature of waking life or existence itself. It also doesn’t say that we shouldn’t take waking life seriously or not be good stewards of our life. It just says something about how this particular question appears to us when we look into it.

And it says something about what our more fundamental nature is, in our own first-person experience. Which, I assume, is why the question was created in the first place.

Cartoon: Drawing by Schulz, text attributed to Stephen LaBerge.

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The dreamlike quality of reality

To me, the world seems like a dream.

It’s as if I can put my hand right through anything.

And I have some guesses of why it appears that way.

The world as it appears to me – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as what I am. It happens within and as what a thought may label consciousness.

That’s the same with dreams. They too happen within and as consciousness.

Does it appear different when the mind identifies as a human self, as something particular within the content of experience? Does the world appear more solid? I almost can remember since the shift happened so long ago, but I assume so. I have heard from several in an awakening process that they notice this dreamlike quality of the world, and it seemed more solid before.

From inquiry, I am familiar with how the sense of solidity of physical objects is created by the mind.

Certain physical sensations combine with thoughts so the sensations lend a sense of reality, solidity, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give meaning to the sensations.

This is how the mind creates anything that seems unquestionably true, including the solidity of physical objects. (This is not about the nature of the physical world, just how the mind is creating its experience.)

Note: This article is originally from one of the Brief Notes posts.

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Recurrent dream: Russian attack

Over the last few months, I have had several dreams on the same theme: I am in Norway and Russia is attacking with rockets.

This obviously connects with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which I have followed in the media and which has impacted me as it has most others in Europe.

Consciously, I don’t really have fears of Russia attacking Norway. (1)

So what are these dreams about?

They may tell me that I have stronger fears than I am consciously aware of or want to admit to. Consciously, I don’t see any attack as realistic, and at some level I may still have fears I am not aware of and that the dreams invite me to get in contact with.

There is also a small chance they are premonitory. (2)

And the world is my mirror, independent of all that. The world and my dreams mirror parts and dynamics in me. Whenever I go into a belief, I go to war within myself. I go to war with reality and I tend to go into reactivity, defense, blame, and so on.

For instance, whenever I believe something about my partner, and especially something obviously painful, I go to war within the relationship whether it comes out in an obvious way or not. (Usually, it does eventually so I get to see it more clearly.)

So the dreams may reflect a fear I am not fully aware of or admit to. They may be premonitory, although I wouldn’t put money on it. And they definitely reflect wars within myself that happen as soon as I attach to stories as true, which is especially clear with obviously painful stories.

Holding any story as true, even the most apparently benign ones, is ultimately uncomfortable and painful because it’s at odds with reality. It’s a kind of war that comes with defense, attacks, suffering, and so on.


In the recurrent dream, I am outside the house on the southwestern side. Earlier today, I was outside on that side of the house, and a fighter jet flew low over the house from the southwest to the northeast, just like in the dreams. It was a strange experience and a kind of synchronicity, although I don’t know what it’s about if anything. It’s very rare to see fighter jets here.

These days, with a continued weakened Russian military, any kind of conventional war between Russia and NATO seems less likely than ever. And it also seems very unlikely that Putin would use nuclear weapons since it’s clearly suicidal. (Although his rationality and connection with reality is questionable.) So that makes any premonition seem even less likely than it was.

So why the recurrent dream, and this real-life mirroring of the dream?

There may be something here I am still not seeing. For instance, I often experience a kind of invasion from someone in my life (who wants to dictate my behavior and even internal state so s/he can be more comfortable and not have their own issues triggered). It’s something I tend to dismiss or downplay in my own mind. Maybe these dreams are inviting me to notice it and take it more seriously and do something about it.


I haven’t had this dream again, and I still consciously see it as unlikely bordering on impossible for it to happen. It wouldn’t serve any sensible purpose and would be suicidal for Russia. At the same time, the dream had a different quality to ordinary dreams. It bordered on the type of dreams I have had foreshadowed something that later did happen.

Putin isn’t always so sensible. The dream of rebuilding the Russian empire through conquest is doomed to fail. If he had been able to occupy Ukraine, it would be a quagmire and a nightmare for the Russians. He may want to test the resolve and unity of NATO, and one way to do it is to do a localized attack in the outskirts of NATO.


(1) It wouldn’t make much sense. (Although the invasion of Ukraine also didn’t make much if any sense, at any level, so that’s not really an argument.) They don’t have conventional military resources to engage in any successful invasions and especially not NATO countries. (In terms of conventional weapons and military, Russia is a mosquito compared to NATO and wouldn’t stand a chance.) If they were to attack targets in Norway, it would mean that WW3 had already started. And it would probably mean the use of (at least smaller) nuclear weapons.

(2) My whole life, I have had dreams of things that later happened – sometimes years later. (For instance, a dream in my teens of living in Oregon, which happened fifteen years later. A dream of living in Latin America, which happened maybe three decades later. A dream of my cat being killed in an accident, which happened a week later. And so on.) By invading Ukraine, Putin and Russia created a volatile situation that can escalate and eventually involve NATO – and Norway – more directly.

It may not be that Russia literally will fire rockets toward the Oslo area. That seems very unlikely. But the rockets in the dream may be more metaphorical and suggest a more direct involvement of NATO and Norway.

I should mention that when the war started in February, I had an unusually bad feeling about it. I had a sense that it would (or could) have worse consequences than most suspected. (I wrote about it back then.)

That feeling rarely happens, and when it does – about world events – it’s often accurate.

When I checked in more closely with my sense, at the beginning of the war, I saw a kind of black cloud moving out from Ukraine and towards the west into other countries. At the time, I want sure what it cold be. And later, I realized it may best fit radiation from a damaged nuclear reactor. I hope that will not happen.

Stranger Things & the shadow

I love Stranger Things.

Like many others, I love it for its 80s nostalgia and for being more 80s than the 80s were. I love it for the characters which often are more stereotypical than their inspiration. I love it for the dialogue. I love it for bringing Kate Bush back on the charts and introducing her to new generations.

And as with any story – whether it’s fiction, mythology, or about others or the world – we can explore it as a dream. We can use it as a mirror for ourselves.

What I see in Stranger Things is a group of nerds and outsiders, much as myself at that age. (A part of me wishes I had found the type of community back then that they have, which is perhaps also why I enjoy watching it.) They don’t quite fit in. Some of them are bullied.

And I see the upside-down as one of many representations of what Jung called the shadow. The parts of all of us that don’t fit into our conscious or desired identity. The parts we sometimes push aside or even deny. The parts of us that may take on the form of monsters since they are exiled and we are unfamiliar with them.

In this case, we can take it even more literally and see it as the shadow we tend to create for ourselves if we feel like an outsider, if we are bullied (or bully), and so on. We may experience a mix of emotions and painful beliefs and identities — pain, loneliness, self-criticism, blame, bitterness, anger, sadness, victimhood, and so on. And since these may be painful and confusing to us, we may partially exile these experiences and parts of ourselves. We may also attack the sides of ourselves we feel are responsible for us being outsiders, so these become partially exiled. When these experiences and parts of us are exiled, they tend to take on the form of monsters to us. They go into our shadow. They don’t fit into our conscious or desired self image. And they can look, to us, as the upside-down.

Stranger Things operates from a classic good vs evil duality, at least so far. But it does also have some healing qualities. It shows healing and supportive friendships, which mirror how we can be friends with ourselves. (Even as we may also battle other sides of us.) The new season gives us more understanding of how the upside-down may have been created, and with understanding comes a less adversarial relationship. (Although they’ll still need to protect themselves and their world.)

How could Stranger Things reflect an even more mature process and way of relating to our shadow?

I am not sure, there are several options. In Star Wars, we got the back story of Darth Vader so we could understand him better and find empathy with the person he used to be. We learned that the hero (Luke) and villain (Darth Vader) were as closely connected as two people can be. And the villain was redeemed before his death.

In Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver by Michael Ende, the main characters capture the evil and dangerous dragon. Instead of killing her, they put her in a cage so she couldn’t do more harm. And that allowed her to transform into a golden wisdom dragon for the benefit of everyone.

Stranger Things does hint at intimate connections between the main hero (Eleven) and Vecna and perhaps the upside-down itself. If that theme is continued, it reflects the intimate connection between the two. They are both parts of each of us. And if we create a “good” identity for ourselves that excludes certain things in us, then what’s excluded is often transformed into apparent monsters. (This also goes for excluding discomfort and pain. What we exclude tends to take on the form of monsters to us.)

It’s also possible that One (Vecna) could be redeemed. In terms of contemporary storytelling, that could be seen as a bit naive and sentimental. (Unless it’s well done with realism and grittiness, which they probably could pull off.) But in terms of mythology and reflecting inner processes, it would give us another image in popular culture that shows how we can find redemption for parts of us in the shadow.

And it’s possible that Eleven somehow, through facing her past and the uncomfortable sides of herself, could redeem herself and the upside-down. It could bring about a transformation of her and the upside-down. Again, if the story was to reflect a healthy and deep inner transformation, something like that would happen.

Note: I am writing this after having seen the first release (this first seven episodes) of the fourth season.

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Exploring the world like a dream

I like to explore the world similar to how I would explore a dream.


The simple answer is that they both mirror me at a human level. And, to me, they both happen within and as what I am.


Any content of my experience is a mirror for me.

My experience of dreams and waking life both show me what’s happening in my mental field. It shows me my assumptions, stories, and beliefs about others, myself, and the world.

I can take my story about anyone or anything, turn it to myself, and find specific and genuine examples of where and how it’s true.

Anything within my experience, whether it’s a dream or waking life, mirrors parts and dynamics in myself at a human level.


Dreams and waking life both happen within my experience.

They happen within my sense fields. They happen within and as this consciousness.

They happen within and as what I am.

In a conventional sense, and to others, I am this human self in the world. And when I look more closely in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is more fundamentally capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I am what any content of experience – night dreams and waking life – happen within and as.


I won’t go into this in detail here since there are many other articles on this topic.

Depending on the approach, I explore what comes up in me in relation to something in a dream or waking life, or I use dreams or waking life as a mirror to identify and explore parts of myself.

I typically use some form of inquiry. For instance, The Work on painful stories related to what’s happening. Or sense field explorations (Living/Kiloby Inquiries) on anything coming up or mirrored including identities, anxiety, or compulsions. Dialog with parts of me triggered or mirrored in dreams or the world. Heart-centered practices towards someone in the world, dreams, or parts of me (tonglen, ho’oponopno). I may identify issues and work on them with energy healing (Vortex Healing). And so on.

And I use some forms of structured inquiry – Headless experiments and the Big Mind process – to find myself as what the world to me happens within and as. (Some like to use lucid dreaming to notice that night dreams happen within and as consciousness, and then see if they can notice that in waking life as well. In my case, I prefer a more direct approach.)

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From fundamentalist to agnostic to taking the stories as mirrors

I listened to a podcast with someone who went from Christian fundamentalist to agnostic to taking the Jesus stories as a mirror.

It’s a nice illustration of some of the ways we can relate to religion and spiritual stories and mythology in general.

Do we take it as literal truth? If we do, we inevitably come up against logical inconsistencies. And by holding anything as any full, final, or absolute truth, we take a position not aligned with reality and this is inherently filled with conflicts, a need to defend and prop up our position, and discomfort.

Do we still think of it as a literal truth or not and say: I don’t know. I take an agnostic view.

Do we see the stories as useful metaphors for our life? As saying something universal about humans and ourselves?

Or do we go one step further and see the stories and mythologies as we would a dream? Do we see it all as reflecting parts and dynamics of ourselves? Here, it doesn’t matter so much if Jesus – or other religious figures – were historical persons or not, or whether or not the stories actually happened. What’s important is what they can show us about ourselves and our own process.

For instance, we can see Jesus as an image of the clarity and love we all have in us and ultimately are. Or the wholeness of our human self when it’s more healed and we are conscious of more of it. Or someone who lives from noticing his nature as capacity and what his world happens within and as.

We can see the virgin birth as an image of how the world, to us, happens within and as what we are. Our world – including this human self – is born from nothing, from virgin territory.

We can see the death & resurrection as the death of our beliefs and the resurrection on the other side of these beliefs. This can happen in smaller (and still significant) ways when we see through old beliefs and identifications and find a less limited and more receptive way of being on the other side. And it can happen in a more dramatic way when our identity as something within content of experience falls away and we find ourselves as capacity and what the world, to us, happens within and as.

We can see Judas as the dynamic in us abandoning truth, clarity, and love for the benefit of reactivity to fear and unquestioned stories.

And so on. Any story within religion and mythology can be explored in this way.

Two of my favorite books on this topic are Resurrecting Jesus by Adyashanti and The Jesus Mysteries by Tim Freke and Peter Gandy.

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We cannot escape the dream, but we can learn to recognize and find appreciation for it

We cannot escape the creativity of the mind, and why would we?


Our experience of the world is like dream in two ways.

It’s created by the mind. And it happens within and as consciousness.


At a story level, we can say that our biological system takes in information about the wider world, and the brain puts it all together into a more or less coherent experience. 

And in our immediate experience, we can explore our sense fields and see how this seems to happen. We can notice what’s here in sight, sound, smell, taste, physical sensations, and so on. And how the mental field comes as an overlay to interpret and make sense of it all, and also create a sense of past, future, and a separate self. 

Our experience of the world is not how the world is. It’s created. It’s an expression of the creativity of the mind. It’s dreamt up. 

Most of the time, it’s accurate enough so we can navigate and function in the world relatively well. 

And sometimes, it’s off enough so we are shown that our experience is created. It’s not how the world itself is. 


Logically, we see that to ourselves, we have to be consciousness, and any experience we have – of ourselves, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as consciousness. It cannot be any other way. 

We are consciousness and this consciousness forms itself into all our experiences. 

Even if – in a possible more objective and external reality – we are most fundamentally a biological being in the world, to ourselves, we are most fundamentally consciousness, and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness. It happens within and as what we are. 

We can also find this in our immediate first-person experience. We can see that our nature, most fundamentally, is capacity for any and all of our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything at all. To us, the world happens within and as what we are. 

Night dreams clearly happen within and as consciousness. And our waking life is no different. That too happens within and as consciousness. To us, the world happens within and as what we are. 


To the extent we assume our perception of the world is accurate, and our stories about the world are true, we are out of alignment with reality and this creates suffering. 

We can see through this in a general way, and specifically for each story, and this helps us recognize it all as created by the mind. To the extent we see through the dream, we can hold it all more lightly. We can use our stories as guides and questions about the world and know they are not any full, final, or absolute truth. And this helps us be more aligned with reality and live more in peace. 


Through this, we may find what we more fundamentally are in our first-person experience. We may notice our nature as capacity for any and all experiences. We may notice we are what the world, to us, happens within and as. 

We may notice that the world, to us, is like a dream. It’s created by the mind. It happens within and as consciousness. It’s created by what we are and happens within and as what we are. 

This helps us hold it more lightly. We know it’s not any full, final, or absolute truth. 

And this also helps us find a deeper appreciation for it all. We can find a deeper appreciation for the creativity of the mind and the dreamlike nature of the world as it appears to us. 

We don’t need to get rid of the dream. Why would we? Especially when it would mean that we wouldn’t be able to function in the world anymore. To me, it makes more sense to find a deeper appreciation for the dream. 

Image: Created by an AI called Huxley and described as the dreaming up of images. From the “Invisible” video by Duran Duran.

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Some side-effects of the awakening: poor memory, dreamlike quality, etc.

The awakening process tends to have several side effects. Some of these happen during certain phases of the process. Not all are experienced in all cases. And some seem more or less unavoidable and inherent in the awakening itself. 

I’ll mention a few here that I am familiar with from my own experience and that seem relatively common based on what I hear from others.


It’s quite common to experience poor memory at some point in the awakening process. Our memories used to feel solid and real, and now they feel ephemeral and difficult to grasp.

We may also have a more general sense of cognitive dysfunction. It seems that our mind doesn’t work very well, and may be surprised when we actually are able to function and do what we need to do. It’s as if the abilities miraculously come online when they are needed.


The world may have a dreamlike quality to us. It’s as if we can put our hand through it. It feels ephemeral.

The world and this human self – and any content of experience – feel like a dream to us.

This can feel disconcerting, although here too, we may find that we can still function fine in daily life.


Another common side effect is that this human self lives its own life.

Anything connected with this human self – thoughts, feelings, words, actions – happen on their own. 

It’s always this way. And noticing it is now more unavoidable.


All of this can be disconcerting to our mind at first.

And all of it is normal and we get used to it.

We may develop strategies for remembering certain things. (I write anything down that I may need to remember in the future.)

We trust that we will function OK in the world even if it appears like a dream to us.

And we also develop a trust in this human self being able to take care of itself, even if it is living its own life and anything connected with it is happening on its own.


There is a reason why we may have these experiences, and it’s inherent in the awakening dynamic itself. 

Poor memory

In an unawake state, we tend to hold many of our thoughts – mental images and words – as inherently true. That gives them a charge for us, and it makes them seem real and substantial. This also applies to the mental representations we call memories, and the charge and sense of solidity make it easier to bring them up. It’s easier for us to remember things because these memories mean something to us.  

In an awakening, we tend to recognize all mental representations as just that. They are representations aimed at helping us orient and function in the world. They may be more or less accurate in an ordinary sense, and they are unable to hold any full, final, or absolute truth. For this reason, they tend to lose charge for us and they generally seem less substantial and solid. And that can make it more difficult for our mind to bring up memories. They don’t have as much charge for us, they are more ephemeral and less solid, and we recognize them as a mental creation happening here and now. 

Dreamlike quality

The world takes on a dreamlike quality because it always is like a dream to us. Dreams also happen within and as consciousness. And the world to us – this human self, the wider world, any content of experience – happens within and as consciousness. To us, it all happens within and as what we are, which a thought may imperfectly call consciousness, and it’s always that way. It’s just that we didn’t notice and now we do. 

Lives its own life

This human self appears to live its own life because that’s how it always is. Its thoughts, feelings, words, and actions are always happening on its own. All of it is living its own life. It’s just that in an unawake state, we added a sense of an “I” or “me” doing it (a human self, an observer, a doer, etc.), and now we recognize that as a mental add-on. 


As mentioned earlier, there are many possible and typical side-effects of awakening. One is that thoughts quiet down. They appear when needed, and otherwise, it’s mostly quiet. There is just perception and a general absence of noticeable thought. And it’s not always this way. For instance, Byron Katie, rapports a great flow of thoughts, and that’s perhaps why she was moved to formalize her approach to inquiry. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

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The more we try to make life fit our ideas, the more chaos we create

The more you try to make it fit, the more chaos you create. 

– Adyashanti, in Ale’s dream

Adya is, as usual, clear and spot-on, even when he appears in Ale’s dreams. 

The more we try to fit life into our ideas about how things should be, and the more we push and pull and struggle, the more chaos we create. 

When this happens, it’s a sign that we are perceiving and acting from unclear parts in us. From parts that are wounded, caught up in beliefs, unloved, and so on.

And this gives us an opportunity to explore what’s going on. 

What are the unexamined beliefs this part of me is operating on? What do I find when I examine the belief or beliefs? 

How does this part of me perceive the world? 

What does it need? (Safety, love, support, feeling seen?) 

What happens if I give this part of me what it deepest down wants and needs? 

What’s the nature of this part of me and these painful dynamics? Is it different from my own nature?

And so on.

The only thing that’s not dreamlike

Any content of experience is dreamlike. It’s as if I can put my hand through it.

Why? Because it’s all happening within and as what I am. It’s all happening within and as what a thought imperfectly can label consciousness.

A dream happens within and as consciousness. Waking life, to me, happens within and as consciousness. The two are not different in that sense.

Is anything not dreamlike?

Yes, when I notice what I am, it’s more direct and indisputable.

When what I am notices itself, it’s direct and indisputable.

I was reminded of this when I was asked about the initial awakening shift in my teens. Any and all experience is dreamlike. And that awakening shift was nothing like that. It was more clear and immediate than any experience.

And it’s still that way. Ordinary experiences and any experience have a dreamlike quality. And noticing what I am, or what I am noticing itself, is far more direct and immediate and has a different clarity.

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Contractions and dreams

I woke up this morning, having dreamt a man was about to kill me. The man was big, strong, heavily armed, and unyielding.

Obviously, that’s a part of me. It’s another part living from unloved fear and unexamined scary stories.

Unloved fear, unexamined stories, identifications, emotional issues, hangups, trauma, those are all names for the same dynamics.

Yet another name is contraction. This man in the dream is a contraction in me. A part of me that has contracted because of unloved fear, unexamined stories, and so on.

I can explore contractions showing up in dreams as I explore any other contraction.

After waking up, I took time with this man and the contraction he represents.

I noticed the physical sensations associated with him. (Very faint.)

I welcome the sensations and him. I notice all of it is already allowed, and join in with the allowing.

I allow it to get as big as it wants.

I thank it for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. (The contraction is here to protect me and comes from care for me, it’s confused love.)

I am curious about its needs and wants, and the lack it comes from. I give it love. Am a safe harbor for it. See it. Notice which one(s) resonates the most with the contraction.

I notice its nature and rest in that noticing.

I invite it to notice its own nature and rest in and as it.

Using dream work to inform waking life – in a few different ways

There are several ways we can use dreams to inform waking life.


We can take the different dream elements as representing parts of ourselves, and explore it. This is typical dream work, and it helps us get to know the different dynamics and elements in ourselves, and relate to them in a more intentional way.


We can engage in lucid dreaming, and notice we dream as we dream. Here, we can intentionally notice everything in the dream as happening within and as consciousness – within and as what we are.

And we can bring that with us into waking life. In waking life too, we can notice all our experiences – the world as it appears to us – as happening within and as consciousness, within and as what we are.

(I personally prefer simpler and more direct paths, although I know some find this useful.)


We can approach waking life as a dream in two different ways.

We can explore waking life as we would a dream. What if my waking life was a dream? What if all the different elements in waking life mirrored me? What does it say about me? How can I get to know these parts of me? How can I relate to them more intentionally? How can I befriend these parts of me?

This is what we also do in projection work, when we explore our sense fields, and in practices like ho’oponopono and tonglen.


We can use dreams as a way to hold our waking life a little more lightly (if we hold it tightly) and see it more as an exploration and adventure.

For instance, Alan Watts’ dream-related thought experiment can help us shift how we relate to waking life. If I could chose my dreams, what would I chose?

First, I would probably want to have wish-fulfilling dreams. Then, I would get a bit tired of it and add in elements of surprise and challenges.

And after a while, I may end up with dreams that are very similar to waking life – with elements of pleasure, contentment, challenges, surprises, and so on.


In each of these ways, and probably many more, dreams and our exploration of dreams can inform our daily life.

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The past is like a dream

Do you remember how it was before? It’s almost like a dream, isn’t it?

I heard someone say this in reference to the time before the pandemic.

Why does the past seem like a dream? Because, just like a dream, we can only find it as mental images and stories. And, just like a dream, it happens within and as consciousness.

The future is also like a dream, for the same reason. We can only find it in mental images and stories, and it happens within and as consciousness.

And really, the present is very similar. Our mental images and stories about the present, including about what’s physically present with us, are the mental images and stories we find in a dream. And it all, including what’s appearing within all the sense fields, happens within and as consciousness.

If we don’t notice what we are, we tend to take all of this as more solid than it is. The past seems real to us, even if we can only find it as mental images and stories happening within and as consciousness. The future can seem relatively real to us, especially if we attach fears and hopes to it, even if that too only consists of mental images and words happening within and as consciousness. And the present seems real, even if our mental images and stories about it are just that, and what’s happening in all of the sense fields – sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thoughts – happen within and as consciousness.

And that’s why, when we notice what we are, it can feel like the world is a dream. It’s because it is, to us. It always was and is and cannot be anything else, we just didn’t notice. This can be disorienting and perhaps disconcerting at first, but we get used to it as anything else. We are just noticing what’s always here and what we already are more familiar with than just about anything else.

Our mental activity is a kind of dream

I mentioned this briefly in a previous article, and thought I would expand on it a bit here.


Many think of dreams and waking life as categorically different.

A dream is a fantasy and product of the mind. It may say something about our internal life, and that’s about it.

Waking life is real, as it appears to us. It has nothing to do with dreams, with the possible exception of daydreams and fantasies.


The reality is quite different.

When we look, we may find that all our mental activity is a kind of dream.

We put mental representations on top of what’s in our sense fields – sights, sounds, sensations, smells, taste – to make sense of them. We label and have stories about what’s here. Similarly, we have mental representations of what isn’t here – the wider world, the past and future, and so on.

In a very real sense, all our mental activity is imagination and a fantasy. It’s a kind of dreaming activity.

It can be very useful in helping us make sense of the world and in helping us orient and navigate in the world. It can be more or less accurate, in a conventional sense. And this dreaming activity doesn’t hold any absolute or final truth.


This general dreaming activity of the mind plays itself out while awake and also in our sleeping dreams.

Both are an expression of the creativity of our mind.

Both create a world for us. Sleeping dreams happen in the absence of sensory inputs. And these waking dreams happen partly as an overlay over sensory inputs (what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste etc.) and partly in the absence of these sensory inputs (imaginations of a wider world, past, future, and so on).

Both can seem real if we take them that way, and we can learn to see through both. We can recognize a sleeping dream as a dream while we dream (lucid dreaming) and we can recognize our waking dreams as they happen (through inquiry). It takes time, but recognizing dreams as they happen can become a new habit.

What we are is capacity for both types of dreams, they both happen within and as what we are. When we notice this, identification with them tends to soften. It’s easier to recognize them as dreams.

Our sleeping dreams are one expression of the general dreaming activity of the mind.


Recognizing this general dreaming activity of the mind can help us take it a little less seriously. It is immensely valuable in helping us navigate the world. And it doesn’t hold any final or absolute truth.

When we notice that all mental activity is a kind of dream, it helps release identification out of this dreaming activity.


If we just read or hear about this, it becomes part of the dream. It may be interesting, but it doesn’t really do anything for us.

So how can we explore this for ourselves?

The simple answer is by noticing the dreaming activity directly. By noticing this dreaming activity as an overlay on the other senses for what’s in our immediate environment. And for anything else – the wider world, past, future, and so on – it functions on its own.

And to do this, structured inquiry can be very helpful. We may not be used to noticing this, and may not even know how to go about it, so a structured inquiry will function as training wheels and helps us explore it more systematically and in depth.

The best approach I have found is the Living Inquiries, which is a modern version of traditional Buddhist Inquiry. Here, we get to explore the different sense fields, and how the mental field combines with other sense fields to create our experience of ourselves and the world.

As we get more familiar with this, we learn to notice and recognize the dreaming activity of the mind – the mental field activity – as it happens. And that makes a big difference. It helps us hold this dreaming activity more lightly, recognize it as a kind of dreaming activity, and not something that holds any final or absolute truth.

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Adyashanti: All ideas of what should or shouldn’t have happened are just dreams

All ideas of what should or shouldn’t have happened are just dreams

– Adyshanti

That’s literally true, and we can find it for ourselves through examining our ideas about what should or shouldn’t have happened.


I cannot find any should outside of my own mental images and words.

They don’t seem to be inherent in reality. In fact, reality is what allows what happens to happen. Reality is what happens.

I can trace my shoulds – to my parents, upbringing, friends, culture, society. The essence of my shoulds are universally human and likely go back to the beginning of civilization and before.

When my mind holds a should as true, it creates suffering for me. It’s at odds with reality. It makes me a victim.


Shoulds are like dreams in a few different ways.

Dreams are an expression of the creativity of the mind, and shoulds are an expression of the same creativity.

Dreams and shoulds happen within and as consciousness. They are not found in any other place.

If our mind holds dreams and shoulds as true, they feel true. We perceive and feel as if they are true. And we may even act as if a should is true.

We can recognize the true nature of dreams and shoulds, and recognize they have the same nature.

Dreams and shoulds happen within and as what we are. When we recognize this, our mind’s identification with them tends to soften.


How do we explore our shoulds, and especially the ones that feel true?

The most effective way may be through structured inquiry like The Work of Byron Katie and the Living Inquiries, especially when guided by someone familiar with them and skilled in guiding others.

We can dialog with the should part of us. How does it see the world? What are its fears? How does it see us? How do we relate to it? Do we listen? Dismiss it? How is it to find that it is there to protect us? How is it to thank it for protecting us? How is it to listen to the wisdom within it?

They point to emotional issues, and we can work on these in whatever ways work for us. (The other approaches do this as well.)

After a while of exploring shoulds, we may find we generally have a different relationship with them. We may recognize them and see through them more naturally. And if we have some especially strong shoulds coming up, we can take the opportunity to explore them in even more depth.


When we look, we may find that all our mental activity is a kind of dream.

We put mental representations on top of what’s in our sense fields – sights, sounds, sensations, smells, taste – to make sense of them. We label and have stories about what’s here. Similarly, we have mental representations of what isn’t here – the wider world, the past and future, and so on.

All of this is a kind of dreaming activity of the mind, and it plays itself out while awake and also in our sleeping dreams.

That’s why our waking dreaming activity is not that different from our sleeping dreams.

Both are an expression of the creativity of our mind.

Both create a world for us. Sleeping dreams happen in the absence of sensory inputs. And these waking dreams happen partly as an overlay over sensory inputs (what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste etc.) and partly in the absence of these sensory inputs (imaginations of a wider world, past, future, and so on).

Both can seem real if we take them that way, and we can learn to see through both. We can recognize a sleeping dream as a dream while we dream (lucid dreaming) and we can recognize our waking dreams as they happen (through inquiry). It takes time, but recognizing dreams as they happen can become a new habit.

What we are is capacity for both types of dreams, they both happen within and as what we are. When we notice this, identification with them tends to soften. It’s easier to recognize them as dreams.

Our sleeping dreams are one expression of the general dreaming activity of the mind.

Recognizing this general dreaming activity of the mind can help us take it a little less seriously. It is immensely valuable in helping us navigate the world. And it doesn’t hold any final or absolute truth.

Shakespeare: We are such stuff as dreams are made on

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 4

As usual, there are many ways to understand this, and that’s the richness of good poetry.

One way we can understand this, is in a very literal sense.

What dreams are made on

A dream clearly happens within and as consciousness.

And if we look, we find that waking life is no different.

All our experiences happen within and as consciousness.

To us, this human self and this wider world happens within and as consciousness.

And to ourselves, we are consciousness.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

In a very literal sense, we are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Dreams are made on consciousness.

We, as this human self in the world, happens within and as consciousness.

And to ourselves, we are consciousness.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

What’s the function of dreams?

I tend to approach anything from several angles, including dreams. It helps me find the validity or usefulness of each approach, and it helps keep my mind open.

So what’s the function of dreams? They may help us process information and charged issues. They may bring our attention to processes in us right on the edge of being conscious. They may compensate for our conscious orientation and attitude. They may train us for situations we can encounter in waking life.

And, as a recent Guardian article suggests, they may help us get used to new and unfamiliar experiences. Dreams are often new and unfamiliar to us, so we get training in processing these types of situations.

I suspect there is some validity and usefulness to each of these views, and many more.

In any case, dreams are an expression of the creativity of the mind, and they show us certain characteristics of the mind.

Everything in a dream represents parts of our psyche, so by returning to the dream after we wake up, we can interact and dialog with these parts of us and get to know them, how they experience us and their world, and the dynamics between them and in our relationship with them. (Active Imagination.)

And, if we take it that way, they are a reminder that just like dreams, our waking life happens within and as consciousness. Dreams happen within and as what we are, as does our waking life. We can use the nature of dreams to find our own true nature.

What does awakening feel like?

The short answer is that it doesn’t feel like anything in particular.

We find ourselves as what we always have been, as capacity for the world – including all and any feelings.

Another answer is that it makes the world seem or feel like a dream.

Everything in a dream happens within and as consciousness. And when we find ourselves as what all our experiences happen within and as, it’s the same. We notice it all happens within and as what we are. In other words, in and as consciousness.

It was never any other way, it’s just that we now notice it. The world and a dream both happen within and as what we are, or within and as consciousness.

I am using the word “consciousness” because it makes the point I set out to make. Apart from that function, it’s not a very good word for what we are. Putting a label on it makes it sound like something we can grasp intellectually, and that’s not what this is about. It’s about direct noticing, and for that, an absence of labels is perhaps more helpful.

Some advocate using lucid dreaming to notice the consciousness-quality of dreams and then see if they can notice it in waking life. It may work well for some, although there are simpler and more direct approaches.

Pandemic dreams: mine follow a pattern

For a long while now, perhaps since almost a year ago when the global pandemic started, many or most of the dreams I remember follow a certain pattern.

I am in a place with a lot of people and interact with them and generally enjoy myself.

And, at some point, I am aware none of us wear masks or keep our distance.

It makes sense. For health reasons, I am generally much less social than I otherwise would be. And the pandemic has reduced social interactions to close family. We are social beings, and I imagine the “dream maker” in me wants to give me a sense of social interaction through the dreams since I don’t get much in waking life.

Towards the end of the dreams, I usually have a moment of “this is a pandemic and we are doing nothing to prevent transmission”. That probably reflects my concern and focus when I am out among people and some of the natural low-grade anxiety behind it.

Byron Katie: When you walk in a dream

When you walk in a dream and you know it’s a dream, that’s love.

– Byron Katie

Just like a dream, our waking world is happening within and as consciousness. And to ourselves, we are that consciousness.

Also like a dream, if we believe our mental images and words about the waking world, the way it appears to us seems real and true.

Any lack of love comes from what we believe about our world. We take our mental images and words as true, that creates stress and struggle, and it covers up the love that’s here.

To the extent we recognize our world as a dream – as happening within and as consciousness, and our images and thoughts about it as not inherently or absolutely true – there is a release of the stress and struggle.

And what’s here is love. A love for our world as it is. A love for our world as one. A love for our world as what we are.

Lucid dreaming may be a spectrum, and a part of us knows we dream while we dream

In my Grant Imahara dream yesterday, I saw and talked with him while also knowing he had recently died. It wasn’t weird at all in the dream, and it seems that this is quite common. In our dreams we do and experience things that doesn’t fit with the “rules” of waking life and we are fine with it.

Why are we so at ease with the different rules within dreams and waking life? My sense, from my own experience, is that a part of me knows I am dreaming while I am dreaming. Lucid dreaming may be a spectrum and all dreams may have some element of lucidity even if it usually is at a low level.

What we conventionally call lucid dreaming may be lucid dreaming turned up to 9 or 10, and most dreams have just enough lucidity so we are OK with the dream logic.

This seemed especially clear in my dream from yesterday. When I saw and talked with Grant Imahara, I wasn’t very aware that he had recently died. That remembering came in when I saw he was moved and cried, and I wondered if he was sad because he had died. At that point, I was more aware that there were different rules in this experience than in waking life, and I was a little more aware that it was a dream. It was as if the lucidity factor was turned up slightly so I would be OK with the difference between the dream and waking life.

Headphone adventures: approaching life situations as symbolic or as if a dream

Over the last several months, I have had an adventure relating to headphones. I wanted to buy noice cancelling headphones (for travel and neighborhood noise) and do it outside of Norway since the price is lower.

The first was going to be delivered to my partner when she did a Vortex class in Wakefield. The delivery people didn’t deliver it since they “thought the hotel was closed on Mondays” (!) and there was no time for re-delivery before she left the hotel. (April 2019.)

The second – which I got when I was in London – was defective (pulsing in one ear) and I had to return it after coming back to Norway. (November 2019.)

The third was one I actually bought in Norway but it was the wrong – and inferior – model so I again returned it. (January 2020.)

The fourth got delivered to the wrong address in London and was signed for (!) and received by someone I have no idea who is. At least someone out there now has a nice pair of headphones and they didn’t have to pay for it. (February 2020.)

At this point, I knew I had to take the symbolism in this more seriously. If life is trying to show me something, what is it? What can I learn from all this?

What I first saw was my contraction around it. I have sound sensitivity (typical for CFS) and also misophonia, and although it’s much better than it was, I still sometimes get stressed from noise. My approach to the whole situation – and getting noise cancelling headphones – was contracted and fear-based.

How can I approach noise in general with more ease? (I have already worked on this but there is further to go.) And how can I approach the headphone situation differently?

When the last pair of headphones were delivered to someone I don’t know who is, I got into a stressful pattern of thinking and feeling – some mix of hopelessness, victim, and related beliefs, identities, and emotional issues. I noticed this and the addictive tendency in it.

The whole process seems to have put me in a place where I was finally ready to hold it all more lightly. To let it go more fully. And to take a more genuine approach of playfulness and adventure.

I decided to order another pair more as an experiment. This time too, something went “wrong”. When I went on the website to order, they didn’t have any new ones in stock and there was no indication they would get more in. So I ordered the one pair of used headphones listed. The following day, I got the message they had cancelled my order since “the product was unavailable”.

This only strengthened the shift that had already happened in me. From this new place, I went back to the website, ordered another set (they were now suddenly available), received it without problems, and enjoyed using them on the flight back to Norway. (The flight was very enjoyable, partly because of the comfort from the headphones.)

Not everything in life needs to be taken as a symbol or as if it’s in a dream. But when there is a pattern like this, it can be helpful to approach it in that way. If life wants to show me something, what can it be? If this was a dream, what would it mean? If I am supposed to learn something from this – to grow, heal, mature – what would it be? How would I be different in this situation? How can I implement it? What issues – emotional issues, beliefs, identifications – stops me from making this shift?

I also noticed that this ongoing situation felt like a series of synchronicities. Perhaps not in a strict sense, but what happened seemed to follow a similar dynamic. It was as if life wanted me to see something through a series of unusual events. (So far, when I have ordered something online, it usually goes without a hitch.)

Dreams reflecting our ecological crisis: Boiled pigs

I am in a restaurant with friends. They are boiling two live pigs in hot oil to be eaten by some of the guests. I am horrified and shocked but nobody else seems to understand what I am reacting to. They see it as completely normal to boil pigs alive and then eat them.

– from Alejita’s dream a couple of nights ago

Since this dream is not my own (it’s from my beloved), and most dreams have a personal and a collective aspect, I’ll focus on the collective side here.

When I was told the dream, my first thought was that many today probably have dreams like this, and perhaps especially young people.

It reflects a growing awareness of how we treat nature, how cruel and damaging it is, and how it impacts ourselves – psychologically and our ability to thrive and survive.

These dreams shake us. They help wake us up to how we treat and relate to nature and ourselves as nature. They help us recognize our cultural power-over attitude towards nature, women, children, animals, and our own bodies and ourselves as animals.

We are in the middle of a global ecological crisis. We have created it ourselves, mainly through a too-often unexamined power-over attitude. It shakes us, including through these types of dreams. And we need to be shaken. We need to examine ourselves and how we see ourselves in relation to nature. We need to transform how we see ourselves and nature and how we organize ourselves within the larger ecological systems and this living planet as a whole.

At a personal level, these dreams may cause us to be more conscious of our behaviors in general. They may also be a small piece in transforming our worldview. They may change how we vote and what policies we support. And collectively – if we are lucky – these type of dreams help move us towards a more ecologically sound and wise civilization.

I am very curious about how many have these types of dreams these days – of cruelty to animals and nature and of ecological devastation. I imagine they are more common than we realize. It would be very interesting to collect some of them to get a sense of how our minds are processing the situation we are in and also as a historical record.

One of my own ecological-crisis dreams is recorded in this article.

As an aside, how do I see the situation we are in and how it was created? An early significant shift was transition to agriculture and the possibility of accumulating wealth and creating social hierarchy. With it came a power-over attitude towards nature, other human beings (especially women and children and those lower on the hierarchy), and ourselves.

On top of that, we created our current economic and social system (in the 1700s and 1800s) at a time where we didn’t need to take ecological realities into account. We are still using and living within that outdated system even thought our situation now is very different – we are far more people and our technology is far more powerful.

And that – agriculture, power-over, and an outdated economic and social system – explains the crisis we currently find ourselves in. The crisis is feedback. And how we respond to that feedback determines our own future and fate and whether and how we will survive.

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The dream of the divine

Sometimes, it can seem like the world is a dream and that may be more accurate than we realize.

Dreams at our personal level

At our local and personal level, we can explore how the world is as a dream in a specific way.

In dreams, all the content of our experience – all that happens in the dream – happens within and as consciousness. It can’t really be any other way. It makes logical sense. And we can notice it when we do lucid dreaming.

In our waking life, it’s the same. All content of our experience – including our human self and the wider world and anything else – happens within and as consciousness. We can notice this through different forms of inquiry. In my case, I have found the Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and the Living Inquiries, to be especially good at revealing this.

From this, we see that what we are is consciousness, and what we often take ourselves to be – like this human self – happens within and as consciousness. In other words, who we are happens within and as what we are.

This can seem abstract at first, if it’s just an idea or something someone else points out. We can then get a taste of it for ourselves, perhaps through inquiry or spontaneous revelations. And we can then continue to explore it and get more familiar it and allow our life to be transformed within this noticing.

If the world sometimes seems like a dream to us, it may be because it’s more true than it first seems. Just as our dreams happen within and as consciousness, our waking life happens within and as consciousness.

The dream of the divine

Similarly, we can say that all of existence is the dream of the divine. It’s all consciousness and all of existence happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as the divine. And this consciousness – right here and now – is no different from this consciousness. It’s the same consciousness.

These experiences – that we may take to be “ours” – are the experiences of the divine. These experiences of sights, sounds, sensations, taste, smell, movements, and thoughts are the experiences of the divine. These thoughts saying these experiences belong to “me” as this limited and local human self are the thoughts of the divine.

Alan Watts’ thought experiment

I love a thought experiment from Alan Watts.

Say you can decide what you’ll dream about. First, we may chose to dream very pleasant dreams. After a while, that may get boring and we throw in some challenges, and perhaps some that seem very serious and a matter of life-and-death. If we know we are dreaming while we dream, we won’t experience the full effect of it. So we may also decide to forget that we are dreaming while we are dreaming so the dream feels more real to us.

By following this process, we see that what we end up with is the life we have now. There are perhaps a lot of good and pleasant experiences. It’s mixed in with challenges – big and small – that makes it more rich, juicy, and interesting. And we – as the divine – have temporarily forgotten we are dreaming in order to make it seem more real and make us more invested in the dreams.

The play of the divine – lila

Why is this happening? Perhaps for the divine to express, explore, and experience itself. For the divine to explore and experience its own potential infinite richness made a little more manifest.

The world can be seen as the play of the divine. And this is not a new discovery or noticing or speculation. In the Indian traditions they call this lila.

The world is real… and a dream

Our world is real in a certain way and also a dream in a certain way. That’s why I said “a little more manifest” in the previous segment.

Although there is validity to all our conventional ideas about the world and our lives, it’s all happening within a larger context that changes how we see it when this context is more alive to us in our immediate noticing and experience.

Even what we tend to experience as most physical is still happening within and as consciousness. The physical is real in that we experience it as physical and this seems to be a shared collective experience. At the same time, it’s our own mind – through combining thoughts and sensations – that gives it a sense of solidity and physicality. (How the mind creates its own experience through combining sensations and thoughts can be explored through inquiry, for instance Buddhist inquiries or a modern version of these such as the Living Inquiries.)

As we explore all of this, we may find that the world is simultaneously kind of real and kind of a dream.

Lucid dreaming and waking life: all happening within and as consciousness

A friend of mine (JL) mentioned that he wants to explore lucid dreaming. Although I understand it can be fun, I have to admit I don’t quite see the usefulness of it.

When I was little – perhaps 7-10 years old (?) – I decided to try lucid dreaming for myself. Before falling asleep, I set the intention to realize I was dreaming while dreaming. It happened and was mildly interesting (I became aware of it as a dream while being chased by peasants with pitchforks!), and I haven’t explored it since.

Of course, there is one side to lucid dreaming that is interesting and somewhat useful. Both in a dream and in waking life, all of our experiences happen within and as consciousness. Perhaps for some, it’s easier to first recognize this within a dream and then notice it in waking life.

For me, noticing all as consciousness happened spontaneously when I was sixteen so I haven’t felt the need to explore this through lucid dreaming. It may be a useful approach to some. Although it may also be a detour from the more direct approach of noticing it in waking life, for instance assisted by inquiry.

Note: I intentionally kept the language more conventional when I said “noticing all as consciousness”. It’s more accurate to say that consciousness notices all as itself. And even that is not so accurate since “consciousness” is a label and something the mind easily can understand as a thing or object, and it’s not a thing or object. The most accurate way I have found to talk about it is that what we are – that which all experience happens within and as – notices or wakes up to itself. And even that is just a pointer. A temporary guide or springboard to finding it for ourselves. The words themselves are not worth anything apart from as a pointer.

The depth of popular culture

Some folks see popular culture as inevitably shallow. But is that true? And is it true that shallow is bad?

First, is shallow bad? No. There is nothing inherent in life telling us what we should be into. There are no requirements.

Many have stressful and busy lives and need something undemanding to help them relax and switch gears. Nothing wrong in that. (Although we can question a society that sets us up for such busy and sometimes stressful lives.) At one time or another, easy pop culture serves a helpful function to us.

And for most of us, it’s just one part of a much more varied cultural diet.

Is it true that pop-culture is shallow?

Yes, it’s perhaps true in a conventional and limited sense. There may be less soul and more formulas in much of what we find in pop-culture.

It’s easy to find exceptions. There is often depth to aspects of what we find in pop-culture. Something surprising, moving, or something that gives us an insight into ourselves or the lives of others. And some of what we find in pop-culture obviously has more depth, richness, and complexity to it, for example, stories rich in archetypes like Star Wars (original trilogy) and Pan’s Labyrinth.

It also depends on what we define as popular culture. Bach is quite popular. Is that pop culture? Chopin was a pop-culture superstar in his time.

And it depends on how readily available something is to us. When we have to put more effort and intention into finding something, it can seem more sophisticated, for instance when we are into the pop-culture of another time or culture.

Finally, we bring the depth to it.

When I watch movies, including the most mainstream Hollywood movies, I often look for archetypes and archetypal dynamics.

I take it as I would a dream, see the different parts of the story as parts of me, and find it in me.

I notice what I react to and look for the beliefs or emotional issues it triggered in me.

I notice what I am fascinated by and find what the fascination is about and then see if I can find that in myself.

So when it comes down to it, if we see something as shallow, we can only blame ourselves. We take a shallow approach to it.

We bring the richness or the shallow to it.

A personal note: In my late teens and early twenties, I had judgments about pop culture and went deep into more “high” and “sophisticated” art, music, books and movies. There was nothing wrong with this, and it was very rewarding and I still enjoy that type of culture. But it also came from insecurity. I wanted to be “better” and more sophisticated. I didn’t feel good enough as I was. Now, fortunately, I feel more free to enjoy all of it.

If we have ideas about high or low culture, or one thing being better than the other, it’s a reminder to take a look at ourselves. Where in me does it come from? Do I try to create an identity for myself to feel better about myself? How would it be to enjoy it all independent of labels?

Premonition dreams

Sometimes, “premonition dreams” are coincidences. We have a lot of different dreams, and we experience a lot in daily life, so sometimes a dream we remember corresponds to some experience in the days that follows.

And yet, sometimes, dreams do seem like actual premonition dreams.

For instance, years ago I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, with a dear friend who happened to be a cat. One morning, I had a very vivid dream of him dying. Most dreams, including stressful dreams, are clearly just regular dreams. It’s the mind processing something. But occasionally, a dream feels different. This one was different. It had the distinct feel of a premonition dream. So my wife (at the time) and I decided to keep him indoors to keep him safe. We did so for a week. And on the first day we let him out again he was hit by a car and died.

It was obviously sad, but he did have a full and rich life and knew he was loved. And it did show me that some dreams may be actual premonition dreams.

Working with dreams

I thought I would do a series of articles on how different approaches to healing and awakening work. So here is one on dreams.

In my experience, dreams are the mind digesting either what happened the day before (often more fragmented dreams) or an emotional issue (often more of an unfolding story and sometimes archetypal). I wonder if not this digesting happens most or all of the time, and it just happens to take the form of dreams while we sleep.

Everything in the dream is me. It’s all created by my mind and reflects parts of me and the dynamics between these parts.

The digesting inherent in dreams is likely helpful in itself, and I suspect I don’t even need to remember the dream for it to have some effect in terms of processing, healing, and gaining some insights from it.

And yet, I sometimes also explore the dream more actively, especially if it’s a strong or more archetypal dream.

Here are some of the approaches I find helpful:

Active imagination comes out of Jungian dream work, and here we go back into the dream (imagine ourselves back in it) and interact with the different elements of the dream. For instance, I can take an action and see what the response is, or I can engage in a dialogue with the different dream characters and get a sense of who they are and what they want (both on the surface and what would deeply satisfy them). There is no limit and it can yield a lot of helpful insights. Often, these insights are just at the edge of what we are conscious of, and active imagination can help make them more conscious. (I typically avoid formulaic dream interpretations since dreams seem more juicy, fluid, and sometimes individual than that.)

Active imagination is a form for parts (subpersonality) work, and if we are familiar with a form of parts work, we can use that one.(For me, Voice Dialog and the Big Mind process.)

And then there are the approaches I often write about here.

I can explore the dream through inquiry. For instance, I can do inquiry on any stressful beliefs I had in the dream or about it after waking up (The Work). I can also explore any identities the dream brought up in me, any fears, or any compulsions in the dream or after I woke up (Living Inquiries).

I can use heart-centered practices for anyone (or any thing) in the dream that seemed hurt or uncomfortable in any way. (Ho’o, tonglen, metta.)

I can use energy healing on any emotional issue brought up by the dream, or anything else the dream pointed to as needing resolution or healing. For instance, last year I had a dream about a lake being polluted, so I could intend healing for what that lake represents in me. (Vortex Healing.)

I can do some therapeutic trembling to release any tension from the dream. (TRE)

And I can use any other approach I know and find helpful.

The key is that I can explore dreams as I would anything in daily life, and I can also explore daily life as I would a dream(!). It’s the same mind creating our experience of both.

For instance, active imagination is traditionally used specifically for dreams, although it can be helpful to use it in other areas of life as well. We can use it for situations from past, present, or the imagined future, and it can help us see what these situations mean to us, how we relate to them and find other ways of understanding the situations and relating to them.

Fewer dreams after inquiry

Since my teens, I have worked with dreams using mainly Jungian approaches such as active imagination. It’s been an important part of my process, and I used to remember dreams quite regularly. Since I started with the Living Inquiries a couple of years back, I have remembered far fewer dreams.

I wonder if it is because dreams convey information from what’s going on outside of conscious awareness to my conscious awareness, and especially if I remember them and work on them. Using the Living Inquiries, I am accessing that or similar information anyway, so there may be less need to remember dreams. An even simpler explanation is that my conscious attention is more on inquiry than dreams right now, and my mind responds by reducing the number of remembered dreams. One or both of those seem to be the most likely reason and they also make most intuitive sense.

Alan Watts: the dream of life

One of my favorite thought experiments.

Imagine you can control your dreams. The first night, you may decide to dream that you have everything that you have ever wanted. It’s very pleasurable, and you may repeat it for several nights.

Then, maybe you decide to forget that it’s a dream, while you are dreaming it. That makes it more interesting.

You may also decide to include some challenges in the dream, to spice it up. Maybe even some that seem a matter of life and death.

Eventually, you arrive at the life you have now. You have forgotten it’s a dream, and there is a mix of pleasant experiences and challenges.

After some more nights, you may decide to add another wrinkle to your dreams. Within the dream, you add hints that it’s a dream – perhaps through synchronicities or direct glimpses. These may cause you, the dreamer, to be curious about waking up within the dream. You may even actively wish for it, and work at waking up. That becomes another adventure within the dream.

And that too, may be the life you are living right now.

Working with dreams: depth psychology vs inquiry

In my teens and early twenties, I explored dreams through depth psychology, partly through active imagination (my favorite) and partly through more conventional interpretation. If I go back into the dream, recreate it for myself and interact with the different beings and situations, what do I find? What do they tell me? (Active imagination.) If I see all the different parts of the dream as parts of myself, and look at their characteristics, relationships and dynamics, what does it tell me about me?

Later, I explored dreams through Process Work, a more recent version of depth psychology.

And even more recently, I started exploring dreams through inquiry. What beliefs does the dream bring to the surface? What are my stressful stories about the situation, the different beings, and what has happened or may happen? What do I find when I inquire into these stories?

As I explore inquiry and dreams, I see it aligns with and complements the depth psychology approach.

Let’s take the dream of the old car as an example.

From a (very simple) depth psychology perspective, I see that the old car may represent how I see my body. It’s perhaps not very old, but it’s functioning as an old car, in my view, and it’s running on coal, a not very efficient energy source. Even worse, it’s running out of coal so there are only a few wood chips left for fuel. All of this shows me how I see my body now with health challenges such as the cf. In the dream, I am not in the driver’s seat, which also reflects my experience about the body. And I ask friends for more coal, but don’t wait for them. I sometimes don’t allow myself the help others can and would like to offer me. All of this makes sense, and it gives me some directions for my daily life. I can find ways to upgrade this car and it’s fuel source, to be more in the driver’s seat in terms of my health and body, and allow myself the support others are willing to give me.

From an inquiry perspective, some beliefs are right there in the dream: The driver wants us to move on before the coal arrives. The driver will be upset if I suggest we wait. It’s important we finish the race. This car is the only one available for us. In this example, these thoughts may seem a bit trivial and specific to the dream, and yet, my experience is that these types of thoughts show up in many situations in life. By finding clarity on them in this situation, something may shift in other areas of life.

Some beliefs also come out of the depth psychology view: My body is in charge. My body runs the show. My body is not functioning as I want. My body is not supporting me. My health prevents me from living a good life. My health is not good. People around me don’t want to help me. They see me as a burden. Life is a race. Life has a goal. 

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Dreams: Wise man and bridge, Kate Bush, and Mongolia

There is a war is going on in the distance. I take a young traumatized girl to a friend of mine, an older wise man. He welcomes her, and she will stay with him for a while. There is a shared knowing by most or all that this war is a precious gift, it brings people to clarity. The three of us also knows that the girl will find clarity and heal. Part of the healing process involves her crossing an old wooden bridge, more than once over some time. (Dream #1.)

I visit Kate Bush and stay at her place for a while. We get along very well, and there is an easy shared appreciation and understanding. She has three large orange snakes to deter potential burglars. I am a bit hesitant at first, and she informs me they are harmless. A fourth snake with different marking and large fangs appear, and she informs me that one is harmless as well, although it does occasionally bite. (Dream #2.)

I have a conversation about climate change in Mongolia with someone from Mongolia, while we are out hiking in a beautiful mountain  landscape. (Dream #3.)

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Doing The Work on Dreams, Fairy Tales and Movies

I find it fun, interesting & helpful to do inquiry on dreams, fairy tales and movies.

There is more freedom of imagination, the themes are amplified, and I am out of my familiar context of everyday life even as the themes and stories are the same.

So I can take any dream, fairy tale or movie, identify my thoughts, and do inquiry on these thoughts. And I can also imagine myself in any role in those stories, image what thoughts I have about what’s happening and other characters in the story, and do the same.

It can be a playful and juicy way of tapping into some core stories.

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