Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dream Workshop

Only the dreamer can interpret her own dreams.

That was my main takeaway from a workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago on dreams and spiritual direction offered by Jungian analyst and spiritual director Janice Bachman, O.P.  Our focus was on helping people (including ourselves) to notice and understand what our dreams might be saying to us in the context of helping people to find what God is doing in their lives rather than on analysis of dreams such as one might do in therapy, but the principle of self-interpretation holds true.

The best and worst of my dreams over the past five years have centered, of course, on Josh.  Some of them, fragmented and terrible nightmares, seem to be means for absorbing and processing what has happened to us.  I didn't sleep much the first few years after he died, but apparently I slept for periods long enough to fall into the REM sleep required for dreaming.  The dreams themselves indicated a mild form of PTSD, although it didn't feel mild at the time.  I often thought that I stopped sleeping more than a few hours a night because my dreams were so horrific. These days, I still have the dreams, but it seems that I've gotten used to them.

Others?  Like most parents who have lost children, I have vivid, joyful dreams of my son, of all my children, to which I try desperately to return when I awake.  Josh is so alive in those dreams.  It astonishes me, that our brain circuits retain so much detail of times and people long past that they seem to live in complete fullness as we sleep.  The voices, the gestures, the shining hair ~ all as it once was.  I wonder sometimes whether those dreams are indeed a form of communication, whether Josh, or God, or someone, is trying to tell me that he's fine, beautiful and whole and healed.  Or are they merely wishful thinking, brain circuits working overtime, trying to recover an irretrievable sense of well-being and security?

I wish that I had the confidence in dreams that Biblical dreamers demonstrate.  We spent a chunk of our workshop on Jacob's dream, reflecting upon it in great detail as a way of practicing what we might explore with a spiritual directee.  Rich layers of meaning that can be extracted from the symbols and repetitions.  Can I apply to my own dreams the reverence that Biblical dreamers applied to theirs?

Ironically, this past week-end, my daughter and I went to see Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, her Christmas present to me.  Joseph, of course, does interpret the dreams of others, and thus changes the course of history. I wonder whether we could alter our own lives if we could fully access and understand our dreams.


  1. What a great gift from your sweet girl! I hope you had a wonderful time together.

  2. I never took dreams seriously till my son passed and he visited me in my dreams. So many others had dreams of him as well and they always came with some message. My husband just happens to be gifted at interpreting dreams, rather surprising to discover, and that interest has rubbed off on me from listening to him with others. The Bible makes quite a bit of fuss over dreams, too, and I never understood that till I had my own experiences. I have a whole new set of eyes and ears! I am so glad to hear of the precious happy dreams you have had of Josh and your other children. There is comfort in all that joy, and for me, a sign of things to come.

  3. Your daughter is so thoughtful. It wasn't until after I finished college that I began to really appreciate and understand who my parents were. Now I consider it a treat to take them out on the town and spend time with them, but they're always happier about it than I am. Hopefully you get to see your daughter as often as you'd like!

    Dreams lost a bit of their mystic power to me when I began a series of psychiatric medications. Over time I noticed that each drug affected my dreams in an obvious, quantifiable way, and so I realized that some of it is simply a matter of chemistry. But there's more to it than that. Nowadays I think of my dreams as someone wandering through a library, leafing through the volumes of my life or maybe concentrated on one particular paragraph. It's very much active and deliberate whether or not I realize it. When I wake up I wonder "why did I choose that one? Why that time, that word? What was I looking for in that moment, and have I found it?"

    1. Luna, an evening out with my daughter is one of my most favorite things.

      One of the questions raised at our workshop had to do with the effect of meds on dreams. I don't think out instructor had given it much thought; your reflection is based on actual experience, I like you analogy of leafing through library books and wondering why you chose a particular one.