Writing from Retirement: Exploring Dreamwork

Jan 24, 2021

This summer, I participated in a zoom workshop on dreams and poetry that my partner found from a fellow writer. I was amazed at the presenter’s interaction with participants and his understanding of dreams from the point of view of the dream. I felt strangely at peace and very relaxed after the two hour experience of valuing and exploring our subjective worlds of imagery.

I came to find out the presenter is a lay therapist, with a lot of training in dreamwork and a book called “The History of Last Night’s Dream.” This is Rodger Kamenetz. He was among the students that met with teacher Collete Aboulker-Muscat (1909-2003) in Jerusalem and begins his book with some of those experiences with her guided imagery. Rodger went on to work with Mark Bregman (lay therapist, NorthofEden.com) and that’s what blew his dream/world open, and is the focus of his book.

Alongside Rodger's description of his awakening out of his ego predicament and into connection with Soul, he relates the history of the dream in western thought, as found in the Old Testament itself, later with Hebrew scholars and early church fathers, and then Freud and Jung. We are shown the movement of our relationship to God in dreams through the books of the Torah: first as actual meeting with God, then hearing God’s voice, then interpretation of images, and lastly a fear of dreams. We see a separation from God and dreams and a huge grieving loss. And then there’s the forgetting that anything has been lost. And finally later attempts at remembering and reclaiming, as with Jung.

This is a brief glimpse into Rodger’s book, which I highly recommend, 

and some of the work I am exploring with one of his students, soul farer Liza Hyatt.

Carry on,

says a voice in the dark,

if possible, all the way

to the forgotten measure

of limestone tears,

cave pearls.

~a verse of a recent poem found at lizahyatt.com

I’m letting myself be a student again. There’s something I did not see until it was pointed out in this work: We often enter our dreams as our adult ego and view and interpret what happens from that stance. We are trying to control the dream as it happens from the point of the ego. We project our fears onto the dream characters that come to guide us. There are choices in a dream that can move the dreamer toward reactivity or toward feeling and connection. There are many choices in dreamlife, just as in waking life. There are exit points and places where we try to go away from feeling (like going to the bathroom in the dream to pee, moving away from what is happening).

It is a relief to imagine shifting out the control stance in dreams and life, because with the attempt at control comes A LOT of fear. The breakthrough for me was working with a dream where I realize I am in the back of a driverless van about to hit something. I panic and can’t get to the “driver’s seat.” but the van slows and stops on its own. My therapist pointed out that the dream can drive, it can drive the van and slow it when I panic, I don't have to try to drive, it can even take me places if I let it. This is a relieving answer to a recurring dream where there’s no one driving and always a sense of guilt/shame/fear that I SHOULD be driving.This is a new perspective to me. I can let the dream drive.

Working in this framework, there’s a chance of seeing the predicament of the ego - it is often trying to figure things out, and feels lost, abused, or confronted. These patterns begin to be fleshed out in writing down dreams every morning and picking some big ones to work with in dream sessions.

I send Liza dreams every two weeks. Together we pick one or two dreams to work on in an hour session. There is a slow going through the dream. There is a combing through. Sometimes Liza invites me to re-enact something to discover more of what is happening. Then there’s a settling onto a pivotal moment. For example, I’m in a dream and I’ve been asked to do something and I’m trying to carry it out. But I'm interrupted by a flood and I am running from the flood. The homework is to see myself running, stop and turn, feel that shift, then stay there and notice what comes up as I face what is coming, the flood.

This dream homework becomes a brief daily meditation, to see and feel that dream moment where there’s the potential to step out of reactivity and into awareness of feeling. Another homework example is to see an intruder, notice what I feel, and take a step toward the intruder(s), with curiosity. There’s nothing to figure out or interpret. Instead, the homework is to feel a shift in orientation and perspective and feeling. In his book, Rodger describes the dream homework as occurring hourly.

In our dream sessions, there is little discussion of waking life, other than as reference points for the dream characters. There is no trying to ferret out how the dream is trying to communicate something about waking life. The dream is experienced as it is, worked with as it is. And it is trusted that the waking life will shift accordingly without trying to identify how. The dream is it’s own life, not a reflection or mirror, but an equally compelling life being lived with characters trying to convey our experience, the world of our bigger Self. Our world suddenly gets a whole lot bigger.

And what are the sources of help in our dreams to meet, our Self? Mainly, where can we open to FEELING? This is the thrust. The places in the dream that invite us to feel and drop the script, the pattern, become the focus. To stop our warding off and defending and fearing long enough to let the dream guide us toward feeling. Eventually, there is a shining through, a breaking through of the soul Self from our projections. We think we are wanting this connection to Soul, Lifeforce. But it is very uncomfortable to let it through. It is radical to the dream ego and feels very dangerous. It’s like dying and coming undone. It’s like letting strangers ransack the house. It’s a breakthrough of our conditioned reactivity.

In his book, Rodger identifies predicament patterns, the opposition in ourselves to feeling, and the dream characters that exemplify our opposition. Then he identifies helping figures that are often part of the healing process, which we can easily overlook. He says that when we meet a child, it is often a good indication of our Soul, our feeling self. What is the child experiencing and inviting us to explore? What is the reflection of the state of our Soul? And once we start identifying with the child, and that pure state of feeling, then we also notice a lot of help. Eventually, there is a siding with the feeling of the dream, not a controlling or numbing of it. And that becomes part of our waking life too. Our fear and reactivity and ego strategies loosen their grip. And more of our Self can have a chance to be experienced.

I thought when I started this work, I “feel” a lot already! What do you mean You want me to FEEL more? But what I am realizing is that a good deal of what I perceive as feeling is emotional reactivity. There’s a difference. And eventually there’s the chance to feel the actual grief of separation from Self. And that grief pulls us into being reunited with our Self.

By taking our dreams to heart, over a long period of work, we heal that loss. We are given our Self back, our Soul, God.

It reminds me of the first of Ursula Le Guin’s novels in her EarthSea series. The main character realizes he has to stop running from his shadow (a character unleashed by a terrible event he initiated) and instead move toward it. He eventually incorporates it and becomes immensely empowered. I have often wondered how to move toward the shadow in actuality, in myself. It’s a very popular thing, shadow work. But so slippery. And yet, we have a chance just about every night in our dream: Stop running and turn around and see the intruder. Stop trying to drive the car and let the dream drive. And if we don’t do it in our dream, we can do it in waking imagination and still feel the difficult shift, the turning. We don’t have to wonder or think about how to do the shadow work, it’s happening already. It brings hope.

Rodger’s website, thenaturaldream.com, has more information and some great resources, such as writings about turning toward and moving closer to the “wound,” and a clip from an interview by Oprah Winfrey about his book. He also has a list of people from his team that are offering this work.