Category Archives: Dreams

Interpreting dreams, and living them.

Three Times a Wood Passes for Rain

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That is the line I woke up with a few weeks ago. Three times a wood passes for rain. It gripped me and I rushed to write it down before it vanished. As I wrote, there spilled out from behind it a whole dream that was just as poetic and mysterious. In the final scene, I am sitting on the lawn of my parent’s house, next to my mother’s casket.

I think about the dream a lot, but only now do I have the first idea what that opening line means. And that is because I went to Jenya’s memorial on Sunday.

drive up from seattle to vancouver

Jenya Bohr was an aikido buddy of mine, but our deeper bond came from his role as high school teacher to my son Bowen and nephew Alex. Jenya helped Bowen graduate when he only wanted to take junior college classes. And he helped Alex graduate by putting up with way more than he should have. But being an effective teacher to Alex meant propping him up, being in turns cajoling and reassuring, overlooking his massive academic failures, and constantly believing in the good he had inside him. Jenya excelled at that.

This Samhain was the third anniversary of Alex’s death, and I managed to get through it without too much extra heartache. But on Sunday I found myself crying with several of Alex’s old teachers at the memorial, not just for Jenya but for Alex. One teacher told me she’d had a dream the night before Jenya died that she went to visit and he was dead, smiling with his eyes wide open. Her immediate thought was, “I have to tell Alex!” which woke her up, because she remembered Alex is already dead and therefore Jenya must be, too.

Alex’s death flipped a switch in me. I grew up with a highly developed instinct for managing unpredictable behavior. Being the family harmonizer, the “responsible one,” became second nature to me, so I recreated my starring role early on by marrying a borderline personality and having kids young. I had enough energy for all of that, then Alex joined us and it all got turned up to eleven, all the time.

While raising three children, then four with Alex, then five the next year as his sister Rose came to live with us too, I clung to aikido like a mast in a storm. It was what I did to find my center, and to breathe and move from there in relation to others, even multiple attackers. Aikido absolutely got me through those years, re-patterning me so that I no longer tolerated anyone who kept trying to knock me off-center, unless it was an actual teenager under my care. And once the teenagers started moving out there was no more organizing principle for the marriage, so it too went away.

There is the normal pace of healing when we change the habits of a lifetime, and then there is the turbo-charged version. Alex’s death brought me to an unbearable rawness, as I faced once and for all the limits of my power and responsibility. I began setting new standards for relationships of all kinds, and held to them no matter the consequences. Internally, I ruthlessly weeded out old emotional patterns that kept me off-center, losing 35 pounds in the process. As a result, I am happier and healthier now than I have ever been. 

In my dream, there is an implication that after the third time something changes. The woods do not pass for rain. What is seen is fully revealed. There is also a vein of premonition through the dream, as my mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s registers in that stark final image. May her current quality of life continue for a long time.

Three years have passed since Alex’s death, since the turbo-charged period of change began that led me to this place. Yet it is never a far walk back to the grief, despair and loneliness that his death also ushered in. Jenya’s memorial reminded me of this fact. I walked through those woods again, and came out the other side. And today it is raining for the first time all season.

When the Past Comes Back to Save Us

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Memory is an odd thing: slippery as a fish, shapeshifting and disappearing with the flick of its tail. We call our memories ours as though we had some dominion over them. But nobody knows why memories surface when they do, after decades of absence.

In his final years, my grandfather was tormented by a rhyme from his schooldays that he could only remember part of. It was a verse listing the presidents, and each time we visited he would recite what he knew: “Washington, Adams and Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe. Adams again, then…”

He begged my father to look it up for him, ask a librarian, do something to ease his mind by recalling the rest of the verse. Each time my father promised he would, though I could tell by the look on his face that he would not. He never did.

The past can haunt us, but it can also come back to save us.

It was the Spring of 2008 when out of the blue I remembered my first piano recital, in 1967. I was five years old, the youngest student and therefore first on the program. Our recital was held at the Chapel of the Chimes in downtown Oakland, with its beautiful Julia Morgan architecture.

The room seemed cavernous to me, and my family sat on a pew several rows back. I remember feeling confident about my piece, and calm about playing it in front of everybody. When my name was called, without hesitation I walked up to the front and sat down, played my piece, took a bow, and returned to my seat. That was that.

What I remembered most in the Spring of 2008 was how matter-of-fact that performance had felt. There was no moment of hesitation, none of the agony and nerves of later recitals and performances. I had no idea why the memory had surfaced, but used it as an opportunity to reflect on my current life of public speaking and teaching. Did I ever feel so calm and confident about performing now? Would I ever find my way back to that simplicity?

When a memory from the distant past revisits us, we turn it over in our minds for a few hours or days and then it recedes again. This memory did not. For weeks it kept returning, as I planned workshops, traveled and taught. Then, that Summer Solstice, my father died.

His death was quite sudden, and took us all by surprise. I was about to fly to Portland and teach, so needed to coordinate with my family to make sure his service was scheduled for right after I returned. That’s when I learned that his funeral would be held at the Chapel of the Chimes.

I had always intended to speak at his funeral, to honor what an important figure he was in my life. Now I learned that neither my sisters nor my mother wanted to. I would be the only one of us to speak, and therefore first on the program.

How could I possibly rise from my seat and proclaim that my father was dead? Because if I spoke about him in the past tense he surely would be gone, and therefore his return would be impossible. In that extreme, surreal state of grief, writing his obituary and then his eulogy, flying and planning and teaching and returning to speak again, returning to the scene of my earliest memory of public performance, seated now in the front row of a room that seemed so very small, that memory saved me.

By some miracle the words had come that I wanted to say. I wrote them down. I felt calm, sitting next to my mother waiting for the service to start. When it was my turn I got up, went to the lectern, said my piece, thanked the crowd, and sat back down again. It was done.

That simplicity had returned in the moment I needed it most. Unmoored by grief, there was no part of me left to be nervous or insecure. There was just this piece, the delivery of it, making people laugh and cry, and then the long drive home, wondering all the way what had just happened, how I had been so lucky to have a memory come like a lifeboat and carry me through rapids that I hadn’t even known were going to be there.

Magic is a Way of Living

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In September of last year, I posed a question on Facebook about magic:

How do you define magic? What is it? How does it work?
I’ve never liked Dion Fortune’s definition, that magic is “the art of changing consciousness at will.” I’m thinking of writing an article about why it’s so bad, but first I’d like to hear what others think. No pressure, mind you…

Little did I expect such an overwhelming response: 55 generous, thought-provoking comments by a range of brilliant people. Re-reading them now feels like being in the best graduate seminar ever. Needless to say, it has taken me a while to digest it all.

My impetus for asking the question was to continue the work I started in The Baby and the Bathwater, and examine the foundations of my spiritual training. I want to explore what I was taught versus what I now believe about aligning with the elements, working magic, creating community and using ritual for transformation.

This will eventually lead to a bigger work, probably a rewritten and expanded version of my dissertation on the priestess. These days I write books one blog post at a time, so for now I just need to dive in. Defining magic seems like a good place to start.

“Magic is the Art of Changing Consciousness at Will”

I first heard Dion Fortune’s definition of magic in the early 80s, and it has taken me this long to figure out why I don’t like it. It turns out that 30 years is not an unreasonable amount of time in which to fully change our consciousness around a single issue—especially if you apply a great deal of willpower to it.

And that’s the key to why I rejected Dion Fortune’s definition.

The big fallacy in the “focused will” model of magic is that consciousness is hierarchical. The mind sets its goal, you use breath and a bunch of other stuff to clear the channel between your head and all those lower chakras, create a circuit of energy flowing into your solar plexus, then beam out that laser-focused will to activate your desires.

Even if this method works for some people, for me it just highlighted the model’s deeper flaws. Because what happens to the minority report? Sure, our minds can overpower just about any conflicting signals coming in, but is that really what we want?

I reasoned that the proof of this philosophy of magic would lie in studying the lives of those who live by it. Were there any teachers or practitioners out there whose lives as a whole I admired? What were they successful at manifesting, and what were the obvious caveats to their success? Most importantly, did they have healthy relationships? Were their children happy and thriving, or disturbed and struggling?

In the end, out of a few hundred I found maybe a handful of people who I felt were grounded and sane as well as successful at this type of magical practice. So I abandoned that approach entirely and turned to dreams, particularly dream incubation, to see how well that worked.

As I wrote here, dreams are an excellent means for both listening to and integrating that minority report. If there is something I want to manifest, I ask for dreams about it. Without exception, this has helped me be wiser in what I ask for and better able to integrate the changes that come.

What About the Body?

If consciousness is not hierarchical, what other methods can we use to change it? In my experience, transformation starts in the body, as far away from the head as possible, then slowly makes its way into our minds. And because deep wisdom arises in the extremities, the more focused and overpowering our will is, the more difficult it is for this emerging wisdom to register in our awareness.

Dreamwork helps. Trusting dreams means trusting the wild reaches of consciousness, following them and learning their logic. It really helps to do this with a solid group of friends who can help you identify those emerging patterns and keep your bearings at the same time.

But dreamwork can also be very heady. We need a physical practice too, like aikido or chi gung.

Aikido helped me learn how it feels when my will and mind are aligned and in right proportion with the rest of my body. It taught me at a far deeper level than any other practice how to expand my awareness, how to be aligned with the flow of power, how to move strongly with a centered focus that comes from the body as well as the mind. I use it every day.

The Consciousness of Everything

At last, I had found a combination of practices that enabled me to trust both what I asked for, and what I received. It was a much more complicated and demanding process than the one I’d been taught, but in the end felt so much simpler.

There were a number of responses to my original post that took a Taoist view of magic: being in the flow makes things happen. This is true, but it’s kind of like saying that jazz improvisation is easy, when making it look easy is actually the end of a very long process of mastery.

More than anything, magic is a study in paradox. So it was probably no coincidence that the other day I came across a great quote about magic by Carl Jung, a master at understanding paradox:

Everything that works magically is incomprehensible, and the incomprehensible often works magically. The magical opens spaces that have no doors and leads one out into the open where there is no exit. We need magic to be able to receive or invoke the messenger and the communication of the incomprehensible. Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place. (The Red Book, 314)

For now, “Magic is a way of living” is a good enough definition for me. Because magic is what you see and experience when a whole bunch of other things are finely-tuned and working well. Maybe it sometimes looks like a mere act of will and mindful focus, but the reality is so much more interesting, and rewarding.

Dream Incubation: Finding the Way In

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The following is a (long, lightly edited) talk I gave at the International Association for the Study of Dreams Conference in June, 2006. 

Dream Incubation as an Extreme State

A few days ago I realized we would be presenting this panel on the Summer Solstice. Today is Midsummer, the middle point of Summer, the longest day and shortest night of the year. It is one of the two days each year that the earth leans way over on her axis, engaged in a tango with some unseen celestial partner. It is a day of extremes.

I consider this to be good timing for our subject matter, because dream incubation is a very extreme state. It is set apart from the normal routine of waking and sleeping, dreaming and living. It stems from extreme circumstances: we are desperate to know, desperate for change, all our rational options having failed us somehow. We have reached a fork in the road, or have come across an obstacle so great that we are helpless to go on the way we have been.

So we decide to enter the unknown, give over the car keys to a ghost, and ask the dreamworld for help. This is a radical act. It is an impulse which runs counter to what this culture teaches us from our first waking day. Admit we aren’t in control? There are rehab programs for that. We can consult any number of experts whose good advice we may or may not take. But asking a dream for help? That’s going a bit too far.

When I first proposed this paper, my idea was to talk about how dream incubation is a way in to our creative process, and helps us engage with a wisdom greater than our own. But when it came down to actually writing it, I found myself more interested in the ways that incubating dreams bedevils us, throws up roadblocks to understanding, and stymies even the most diligent among us who seek to use it. So if you are looking for something to inspire you to try dream incubation, this might not be it. On the other hand, I hope it will still be entertaining.

Dream incubation, the act of asking for a dream, raises a lot of big questions. Foremost of these, and my own personal favorite, is: When we ask for a dream, to whom or what are we speaking?

First Big Question: How Big is God?

To talk about dreams at this level, we have to talk about cosmology. Dreams have changed a lot since we thought of the universe as an egg sitting on a cosmic nest. In those days, the moon, sun and stars wheeled around the shell of that dome-shaped heaven. Dreams came to us from underground, from the lair of Apollo, the Sun, once he had ridden his blazing chariot across the sky and descended in the evening to the Underworld. The realm of the Gods was almost close enough to touch, and dreams were quite literal and tangible as well. When we asked for a dream, we asked a specific deity and that figure often actually appeared and gave us very specific information on what was to come.

Dream interpretation has changed a lot since those days, too. Nobody that I have read from antiquity ever talked about the different levels of meaning in dreams. Yet today that is practically the gold standard for dream interpretation. Just as there are myriad ways of working with dreams, most Western dreamworkers will tell you that every dream symbol can have multiple interpretations depending on which level of the dream you are looking at. This is a concept borne of a relatively new worldview. It is part of our cosmology, in that it goes hand in hand with the idea that ours is just one solar system among many in this enormous galaxy, one of millions of galaxies in an expanding universe. How could our dreams not hold different levels of meaning, when our minds are in the process of learning to adapt to the enormous consequences of our own knowledge?

Opening ourselves to advice from that kind of life force is a bit daunting. It helps to invoke a power in dreams that is easier to visualize: God. The moon. The Great Spirit. Isis. A dead grandmother. Asking one being for something specific is very reassuring, because while we’re giving up control, we’re giving it up to something whose essence or intentions we generally trust. Yet there is a part of our minds that says, “well, I am asking God, but isn’t God just a form of my Higher Self? Shouldn’t I ask my own psyche, or my intuition, it’s pretty much the same thing. And if I pray to Spirit, am I praying to the creator of heaven and earth, or the creator who made the Milky Way too? How big is God?”

I have a friend, a radical priest, who begins every prayer with the exhortation, “Listen, Multiverse!”

Multiverse! That’s just scary to me. I can’t even comprehend the distances in our own solar system, let alone our galaxy. I can agree to the existence of other galaxies in theory, but there’s no way I can wrap my head around how many galaxies there are in the universe. Then to talk about other universes…well, that’s what chocolate and whiskey are for, when you start thinking in those terms. So for my friend to call in the Multiverse—multiple universes!—as the ultimate intelligent guiding force just puts me into shock. I get numb and uninspired thinking of anything that huge and theoretical. For me, God or Spirit has to get a little more graspable in order for me to ask anything of it in waking or in sleeping.

That is why I think the old Gods will never die, at least for our purposes. All those residents of Olympus and beyond are alive and well because they are so very useful as vessels through which we can comprehend greater universal forces. Most of the time, in dreamwork as in regular life, we walk around trying to put the cap back on that cosmic egg. We want a simple answer in our dreams, something that is readily understood and doesn’t make us work too hard. But it’s too late. Our dreams generally move us toward complexity rather than away from it, which doesn’t mean they don’t also answer our questions. Yet I think they’re very interested in us coming to grips with the enormous universe we’ve found ourselves in, and their often obtuse, non-literal nature reflects that.

Second Big Question: How Do We Know What to Ask?

Of course, many people don’t have the problem of wondering who or what they’re asking, and more power to them. But they may get hung up on the next big question that dream incubation raises: How do we ask for what we want, and how do we know it’s the right thing to ask for? Remember, this is an expanding universe we’re talking to. There is no right way to do things, but there are definitely ways that are more right than others.

For instance, I may want some guidance on my career. Specifically, I may be desperate for a better paying job doing something I love to do. So do I ask the dreamworld for a job? Do I ask it to show me where to find this job? Do I ask if my profession is still right for me? How much do I want to know? How much guidance am I really prepared to accept?

Sometimes we do get very literal, simple, clear instructions in our dreams. In response to my question about finding a great job, I may have a dream that I’m walking down a street I don’t normally walk down, and I meet a friend who shows me into this incredible building which is filled with light. Maybe I take the hint and, following the scent of the dream, I walk down that street today. I might actually meet that friend, and we might go have a cup of coffee. In the course of our conversation it may come up that he knows of a great job opening that I’d be perfect for and he’ll put in a good word for me. So by virtue of acting on that dream suggestion, I find my way into the building filled with light.

This is a nearly literal dream response to a pretty specific question. I would venture to say that it represents the minority of dream responses from incubation, however. More common is the experience of asking for a job and getting a dream about my family, or a troubled relationship. This happened to a friend of mine who incubated a dream on what her next step professionally should be. The dream that came to her referred very strongly to her mother’s recent death, and it was clear from working on the dream that my friend needed to stop worrying about her job and take some time to grieve her mother’s passing. This was a message she was open to hearing, and it was helpful to her that the dream put her professional concerns in the context of everything else that was happening in her life. So if the dream we receive isn’t very clearly referring to our question, one possibility is that there are other things that need our attention before the dream question can be resolved.

Then there are instances where we ask for a dream and the response we get feels a bit like the vending machine just rejected our quarter. We may remember only garbled bits that confound our attempts to describe them. Or the dreams we get may take us on what seem like wild goose chases through strange landscapes, none of which appear related to our initial question. In these instances, it is always useful to work on the dream material even though it is not a simple answer to our question. If we have the patience and commitment, we can gain a lot by reflecting on why we asked the question we did, and which unconscious assumptions or habits the dream might be pointing to as the root of our problem.

Two things are most likely going on here. One is that the dream is placing our concerns in a broader context. The other is that the dream is commenting on the question itself.

As far as I can tell, it is these long, convoluted journeys which have the potential, if we stick with them, for the greatest increase in self-knowledge and personal transformation. Being a very stubborn person, I have of necessity become a fan of these long inner journeys, because sometimes they are the only way to whittle down my resistance to new and/or challenging ideas about who I am and where I’m going. If I keep at it, examining the dreams I get and rethinking my question, posing new questions and recording the results over a period of days or weeks, eventually I will have undergone the internal transformation necessary to solve my problem.

Time in this case is our ally, and our sense of urgency is our greatest stumbling block. Taking more time when time is running out flies in the face of the culture of stress and overwork that we are trying to survive in. But unless the dreams are coming to us as nightmares, which implies some urgency on their part to communicate with us, dreams are basically not in any hurry. They come from a time source that is not concerned with the fact that we have to pay our rent or mortgage by the first of next month. It is more important to the dreams that we figure out what questions are worth asking. They are always looking at the big picture, because they are the big picture.

So if we assume that incubated dreams are responding both to our question and to the nature of our question, we will get a whole lot more out of incubating dreams. Yet it remains a complex process and difficult to accomplish alone, because we’re trying to uncover our own assumptions while being unaware consciously that they exist. It is much easier to work on incubated material with another person or in a group, which brings us to a third problem with incubating dreams: the role of the dreamworker in assisting with dream incubation.

Third Big Question: How Do We Interpret What We Get?

It should be pretty obvious by this point that I am not coming to this subject from a quantitative perspective. Thank heavens I can be anecdotal rather than follow a rigorous methodology. It is not where my strengths or interests lie, but I have immense respect for those who can use the scientific method to learn more about dreams. And frankly, scientific inquiry itself is under fierce attack in this country by forces of fundamentalism, corruption and greed. Talk about wanting to cap that cosmic egg! Therefore, even the most militantly intuitive among us should support our colleagues in the academic and dream research communities.

That being said, being a dreamworker changes how we look at dreams. Our training expands our capacity to view dreams from many angles, so that we can reflect back to the dreamer as many facets of the dream as we can access. Along with training programs, and constantly working on our own and others’ dreams, we also enter a lifelong study led by the dreamworld itself, which sends us the dreams (and dreamers) that we most need to learn from. This continuous cycle of knowledge and reflection is what being a dreamworker is all about.

As dreamworkers, we face a question of alliance that is not always acknowledged, but shows up particularly when dealing with the obtuse, difficult-to-decipher dreams I mentioned earlier. The quandary is: are we on the side of the dream, or the dreamer? Is our goal to get the dreamer to realize certain difficult things presented by the dream, or do we want to focus on levels of meaning that the dreamer can understand?

The problem of alliance arises because of a feature of the human condition: we ask for things without knowing what it is that we are really asking for. There is a difference between what we think we want to know and what we are prepared to learn. In dream incubation, what we ask for is what we think we want to know. But when push comes to shove there are usually some key parts we don’t really want to know or aren’t ready to hear, and our dreams point these out as well.

Of course, central to the excellent IASD Code of Ethics is that each dreamer gets to decide what his or her dream means. Yet there are times when I feel my role is that of a mediator, trying to balance what the dreamer can hear with what I see in the dream. Because dreams come from a greater source than our waking consciousness, eventually they will have their way. But in human terms the changes that dreams demand can be wrenching. In the end, I always err on the side of the dreamer.

To this point, there is one piece of advice I always give to people asking me about dream incubation—and to everyone who uses fervent prayer at all. I suggest they include some sort of caveat in their prayer or question, along the lines of this prayer attributed to Socrates:

All-Knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give me the good which from ignorance I do not ask.

What is the Way In? Where Does It Lead?

When I started writing this paper, I assumed that the idea of entering an inner realm through dreams was a generally understood concept. Then I had the good fortune to lead a workshop with a new group of people. We created a collage on the cover of a new dream journal as an aid for remembering dreams, and I led a simple visualization drawing a parallel between this external place where our dreams would be written and the internal space where our dreams come from. One of the women piped up, “what do you mean, ‘internal space’”?

My immediate answer (and thank goodness I had one) was “your heart.” The image of hope and other qualities dwelling in the human heart was immediately understood, and we went on. But for me this was a very important point, and it made me wonder just what I meant by the title for this presentation. What is the way in? Where is “In”, and why would we want to go there?

One of the attractions and paradoxes of dream incubation is that we are taking action in order to be still, and listen. It requires both intention and patience, like the best of all spiritual practices, and its rewards come when we are able to stay in that quiet place, listening, until something—let’s call it a dream—arises from somewhere else. That somewhere else is the “In” I am talking about. At the risk of alienating people who don’t like to view these things in religious terms, that still point is where we experience communion with the Divine. We can also call it the mythic realm, Dreamtime, the collective unconscious.

For me, dream incubation is a process that helps me know myself, and helps me understand and accept what is going on in my waking life. It is a process of putting dreams at the center of our spiritual life, through a ritual with the act of dreaming at its core. So for those of us who have eclectic tastes in ritual and spirituality, it provides a wonderful anchor for our observances.

And yet we don’t have to incubate a single dream to feel the connection and sanctity that a spiritual or creative practice affords. Every night, without any extra effort on our part, our minds dream as a way to funnel material from that inner still point out to our conscious awareness. Whether we pay attention or not, that built-in process of reflecting on and integrating our experience goes on as long as we are alive. We can lead perfectly satisfying, successful lives without worrying for one moment about where our dreams come from or whether that might be a nice place to visit.

So why would anyone bother adding complexity to their life by incubating dreams? The simplest answer is that sometimes our dreams tell us to. There is a very subversive element to dreams, they are always searching for ways to complicate our understanding of who we are and where we’re going. Maybe someday they will even convince me that speaking to the Multiverse might be a useful practice, but I certainly hope not.

In spite of all the difficulties inherent in incubating dreams, I have found it to be an immensely insightful, rewarding practice. I will probably continue incubating dreams and finding new ways of interpreting them for a long time to come. I highly recommend trying it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On Turning Fifty

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This is my year of gratitude. Not that I don’t already feel and express gratitude regularly, but this weekend—my 50th birthday weekend—made me realize that I need to focus for a full year on just being grateful.

I made this commitment after waking up too early this morning, a fairly regular occurrence unfortunately. My habit for those pre-dawn hours is to stay lying down, and search for a meditative focus to calm and center myself. Falling back to sleep is not my goal, though it sometimes happens. Rather, I want to make use of the liminal state to soothe any worry or anxiety that has me in its grip.

This morning in meditation I thought about my rich and wonderful birthday celebrations. For days I have been surrounded by humor, warmth, friendship and love, being toasted and fêted in such grand style it has been hard to take it all in. This morning I was able to sort out some of what has been going on for me under the surface. Overwhelmingly, I had the sense of long cycles being completed, and a feeling of grace at their fulfillment.

One cycle began soon after I left home as a teenager. I felt strongly that I wanted to have three children by the time I turned 30, so that by 50 I would be done raising them. This plan had its flaws of course, but it was also a profound sacrifice of my youth and freedom that I was willing to make. I wanted plenty of time to enjoy having grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and felt somehow that I wouldn’t find my vocation till later in life anyway, so spending my early years raising kids seemed to make sense.

As I sat surrounded by old friends yesterday, many of whom have known me since those early days, it slowly dawned on me that I really have completed that huge act of manifesting. My children are grown and pretty much on their own. I have my vocation, and my freedom. At fifty, a whole new life has begun.

The other cycle started more recently, and was marked by a big dream in early October, 2005. This was an extremely difficult time in my life. Just three weeks before, I had left my marriage of 20+ years after months of turmoil, and moved out to the coast. I knew by then what I wanted my career to be, but it was nowhere near developed enough to support me and my teenage daughters. Meanwhile, every day was filled with more painful revelations of just how bad my relationship had become. Everything behind me lay in ruins, and I could not see the road ahead.

Then I had the Bridge Dream:

I am approaching a toll booth at night, and scrounging in my wallet for the two dollar toll. I hand the fee to the attendant, and she hands me back a million dollars change! I hand it back, saying, “But I gave you exact change.” She says, “No, this is your change.” “A million dollars change? This is my lucky day!!!” I think as I drive joyfully off into the darkness.

A dream like this needs little explanation. Its clarity and simplicity meant that I could tell it to anyone and find instant agreement that ending my marriage and moving on was absolutely the best course of action. I told the dream to a group of Jungian friends, asking if they could see a downside to the dream. They were mostly silent, but one pointed out that energetically the distance between $2 and $1,000,000 was so vast that I should guard against exhaustion. Truer words were never spoken.

I have leaned on that dream for reassurance, trusting its truth when I didn’t yet trust my own. Yesterday, as I drove over the bridge on the way home from San Francisco, I felt in my bones that the Bridge Dream’s transformative process in my life is also complete. Perhaps there will be a moment when someone literally hands me a million dollars, but short of that I do feel a million times more alive, and more myself, than I did seven years ago.

The dream has seen me through some very low spots and helped me climb back up, and it has given me the clarity and compassion to guide others through their own dark nights of transformation. For this, I will spend an entire year in gratitude. I have my health, my life, my family, my work, my home, and a wonderful, shimmering circle of friends and loved ones. I feel truly blessed.

Dreams for the Harvest – My Fall Newsletter

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Like a very slow-moving clock, I aspire to create quarterly email newsletters but somehow only manage to get out two per year. Still, that does not deter me from calling them Quarterly Newsletters! Aim high, as I always tell my kids.

Earlier today I sent out my Fall Newsletter, available to read here. Highlighted in the email is news of my upcoming workshop in Portland, OR from Sept. 30—Oct. 2. Dreams and Eros takes on the forbidden subject of, well, dreams and eros ”not in the sense of romantic love, but in the original Greek meaning of the word:

“The original Eros expresses a new thrust in the universe: …from out of Earth there springs what she contains within her own depths. What Earth delivers and reveals is precisely the thing that had dwelled darkly within her.” —Jean-Pierre Vernant, The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths

Erotic dreams often break taboos and feature shockingly graphic imagery that we find it hard to bear, much less share. Yet in dream language these images of creation, destruction, and sexual union hold powerful energies that can help us overcome huge obstacles and transition into new phases of life. Our intent in this workshop is to create a safe space for engaging in this process with our own dreams. It should be a transformational weekend, and those who sign up before Sept. 12 receive a 20% discount.

Other highlights from the newsletter include mention of my two latest Dream Talk Radio podcasts. First up is a greatconversation with authors Kelly Bulkeley and Bernard Welt about their new book Dreaming in the Classroom: Practices, Methods, and Resources in Dream Education. I highly recommend the book for educators at every level.

You can read the complete newsletter here, and even join my mailing list if you want. I do send out informative newsletters a couple times a year—and who knows, maybe sometime I’ll actually achieve a quarterly schedule.

Talking to Children About Dreams (Video)

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It’s early in the morning and you’re busy getting your children ready for school. They are mostly cooperative, but one of them is moving very slowly and instead really wants to tell you about her dream. What do you do?

Maybe you’re a teacher, working with a small group of students who are writing stories. One of them proceeds to tell you his dream, and asks whether he could write that as a story. How do you respond?

If you have children in your life, eventually you will be faced with questions like these. Most adults these days want to encourage children’s creativity and avoid making them feel somehow “different” because of what they feel or experience. Talking about dreams with children is a great way to achieve both these goals, and many others besides.

I joined a dream group right after my third child was born, so by the time she was able to talk and tell me her dreams I had a little bit of knowledge about how to handle that conversation. The other ideas in the video below I figured out on my own, and I offer them here to help a new generation of parents become more comfortable talking with children about dreams.

My main requirement as a parent was that any dream activity or conversation had to be something I could do on the fly, without a lot of set-up, and whenever the moment felt right. There was just too much to do in our daily routine for me to stuff in one more must-do activity. Plus, I didn’t want dreams to feel like math homework—it had to be fun and non-stressful. Of course there are countless other ways you can bring dreams into the family (or school) conversation, but these will at least get you started. The basic idea is to expand our awareness of what is possible by bringing our dreaming creativity more fully into our waking lives.

This video presents seven great ideas for bringing dreams into routine family conversations, from keeping a dream map on the wall to making up dream stories in the car. It is the first in a series of “Essential Guides to Dreams” I have in the works, to share the most useful information on a number of common dream topics. Future episodes will cover nightmares, creating healthy sleep habits, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. If you want to be notified about them as soon as they are up, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. Be sure and leave a comment if you have any suggestions for future videos!

Standing in Spirit – Centeredness Through Change

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I love my work as a consultant on digital publishing and social media. It’s fun, I’m good at it, and it allows me time to write and keep up my radio show. Still, I was wondering when I’d get back into teaching, my other love. Now, it seems, is the time.

In 1999 I went back to school for a Doctor of Ministry degree, as a way to step back from all the teaching I’d been doing and reflect on what I’d learned and what I still believed. My dissertation was about women, power and leadership, with insights gleaned from dreamwork, Goddess spirituality, and the principles I’d learned while earning a black belt in aikido. I had seen a lot of examples of how not to hold power, and was convinced that it was possible to do it better, or at least avoid the most egregious errors I’d seen. In my dissertation, I started developing ideas on how to get there.

After graduating in 2003 I wrote a book proposal based on that material, and tried for several years to get it published. (I hope to publish it as an ebook this year.) Meanwhile, a friend asked me if I could teach what I was writing about—namely, how to stay relatively centered while holding authority and working well with others. The outcome was Standing in Spirit, a year-long training and transformative process to deepen personal presence while increasing outward effectiveness.

Leading the Standing in Spirit training for the first time was an amazing experience, and made me feel enthusiastic about teaching again. Then my father died, the economy tanked, and I had to stay focused on other things for a while.

But now it’s a new day, and it feels like a good time to start teaching again. I will be doing dreamwork in Chicago in May, teaching in Portland in July, and in June I am offering a daylong version of Standing in Spirit here in Bodega Bay, for anyone who might be interested. The full day is $50, and will only be open to 10 people.

You can see my full calendar of events here, sign up at the Standing in Spirit Facebook page, and even join my monthly dream group. Getting back into teaching feels great. But having something I’m really excited to teach—that’s the best.

My Very Best Piece of New Year’s Advice

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I was explaining to my teenage daughter yesterday what a tough year 2010 was for most people, by way of an example from our own life. Here we were, driving on the freeway in my old Honda, heading down to San Francisco. On the back window of my car was a big white “11” on a pink piece of paper, a temporary registration tag from the DMV. Consequently, the entire way down I was being extra good on the road and keeping an eye out for the CHP, who could reasonably pull me over at any time asking why my registration was out of date.

“You remember that fender-bender you had in my car last January, Jojo?” I asked her. Yes, she replied sheepishly. “Remember how I thought I’d taken care of all the paperwork and repairs and spending a new fortune on your insurance, by the end of May?” Yes, she remembered that too. “And then how in August I found out they were not letting me re-register my car until I had all kinds of other inspections done? And then I paid for all those and sent them their paperwork in September, but here it is the end of December and I am still waiting for the actual registration tags?” Oh yes, she knew all too well about the incredible tide of incompetence that her accident had unleashed.

“Well, that is exactly what 2010 has been like for almost everyone I know. You have setbacks that you expect to move through fairly easily, but instead they take 84 times longer than they normally should, and no matter how hard you try they just grind on, getting worse and worse, until either they are good and ready to be over or you die of exhaustion, whichever comes first. That, my dear, was 2010.” She understood perfectly.

On the radio today I inevitably wound up talking about dreams and predictions, because it was my last show of the year. If I’d had a guest or callers I would have asked for their new year’s predictions, but since it was just me I started talking about what I thought 2011 was really going to be like.

The first thing I thought about was last night, driving home by myself from the City, and coming across the blinking yellow “Flooded” signs blocking the road, because of all the recent rain. I thought that the road was probably passable since it had been clear all day, but wasn’t sure—and it was pitch black and freezing cold out, so I didn’t want to make any tragic mistakes.

There was a car pulled over by the side of the road, and I sidled up to it and lowered my window. Inside were two or three kids, probably Alex’s age, either stoned or just young and stupid. I asked whether they’d tried the road yet, and they said no. Then the guy driving says, “I just saw a shooting star. Do you think that’s a good omen?”

Without even thinking, I said, “Definitely. I’m going to give it a shot.” “I’m following you!” he called as I pulled away from them, squeezed past the signs, and started down the road. Of course, that meant he tailgated me the entire mile-long, slow journey down the road because he didn’t know any better, but that is a minor side point.

The real point of the story is that I didn’t even hesitate before declaring the shooting star a good omen. That is new this year, the unquestioned assumption that all omens are essentially good. It ties into a dream I had 6 years ago that maybe I’ll talk about someday, but was basically about interpreting an omen positively when privately I thought it might go either way and probably involved lots of bad news regardless.

This very difficult year has been full of good omens, and great things have happened, or have started to happen, to lots of people, myself included. The thing I have become most aware of, as I struggled through this year’s challenges, is that everything can change in a second. Luck is basically random, which means that if you’re having lots of what you consider bad luck, the longer you keep going the more likely it is that your luck will change for the better.

It’s not like I knew anything about the shooting star that kid saw, it’s just that I believe our best move is always to accept the omen as a gift. If nothing else, it means we are paying attention, we recognize an omen when we see one, and have the presence of mind to ask what its impact will be in our own lives. Especially in 2011, I think that kind of behavior is the absolute key to success.

The hardships of 2010 will not evaporate on January 1, and the dreadfully slow processes of change will still be with us in 2011, but there will be real opportunities opening up, doors suddenly swinging wide that we have been banging on for months if not years. The ones who will notice, and be able to act, are the ones who keep going because they know it’s just a matter of time before the tide turns. So pay attention, don’t let the bastards (or the DMV) get you down, and remember that the omen is always a gift.

Mugwort Harvest!

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Fall fell with a thunk today, as the air turned from summer-fog-wet to winter-is-coming-cold. You have to live here for a couple years at least to feel the shift, but California does have four seasons, and they change roughly at the cross-quarter days: May 1 for Summer, Aug 1 for Fall, Nov 1 for Winter, and Feb 1 for Spring.

We have been socked-in all summer here, with only occasional glimpses of sun. This has been fine with me, since I find the quality of light under cloud cover to be extremely conducive to creativity, and besides, all you need to do is travel 10 miles inland to be in the hot sun again.

As weather anomalies go, I think the California coast got the better part of the deal compared to the rest of the country this summer. It has been a prolific season in the garden; all the flowers and herbs are going out of their way to celebrate the cool greenhouse-like conditions, and the colors have been extravagant. Here is just one bouquet I picked last month.

Everybody warned me that planting mugwort was akin to saying I wanted my entire property covered in mugwort. With some extreme pruning and digging up of runners over the winter months, I am happy to say that so far it is staying put in its bed—but it has taken over the entire bed, crowding out the other artemisias planted there and providing me with a lifetime supply of mugwort in just one season.

Last summer I made the mistake of harvesting the mugwort too soon; only afterward did I read that you’re supposed to wait till it flowers to pick it. This year I have been much more patient, but even now, late in the summer, it is not quite ready to harvest. The cool weather has delayed its ripening, but it is the most amazing slow-motion transformation. As the buds develop, the stalks and leaves turn a burnished purple-red and the plant gets strongly fragrant, reminding me of another common psychoactive plant (one that is much more lucrative to grow, sadly for me).

My friend Corey came over and asked what I was going to do with all this bounty, but I haven’t quite gotten that far. After hanging it to dry, I will use some of it to make dream pillows, but that still leaves about 90% unspoken for.

Mugwort tincture seems excessive; it is such a strong plant already that putting it into tincture form could be more harmful than helpful. Mugwort oil sounds like a good choice, but I would love to hear from others on what works best. Are there any dreamers and/or herbalists out there with great suggestions to share? Meanwhile, here is another view of the garden, where Pacific mugwort, yarrow and rosemary all mingle and kvetch, overheard by a nosy strand of passion flower.