Category Archives: Dreams

Interpreting dreams, and living them.

The Art of Getting Up Again

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I had a great conversation with Dr. Joan Borysenko this morning on Dream Talk Radio. We talked about dreams and mind-body healing, and at one point discussed the limits of what can be taught in a workshop. I commented that there should be a workshop titled “The Art of Getting Up Again,” since that is the summation of pretty much every piece of advice ever given to anyone, in any context. She laughed and we went on, but the idea has stayed with me all day.

By definition, life hands us tough knocks from which we have to recover, regroup, and press on. Getting up again is what we do after we’ve been knocked down, or have lain down to rest. It is standard business advice that getting up again is what determines whether you will actually achieve your goals. It is equally true for everything else.

Everything we try to do, whether it be meditating in the mornings, remembering our dreams, quitting smoking, eating better, marketing our business, being nice to contentious people—everything comes pre-loaded with about a hundred ways it might not work. The secret to making it work is getting up and trying again that 101st time.

In aikido the art of falling, called ukemi, is very important, because getting thrown is inevitable. Falling allows us to flow with the movement of the incoming energy. It lessens the physical impact of a throw on our bodies, and gives us several strategic options for getting up again, which we decide on as we hit the ground.

How we get up from a fall in aikido is one of the subtleties of the art that most shows a person’s skill level. It can be fluid and graceful, as though it were a seamless weaving of the last fall and the next strike. When you see two people training and they show no energetic separation between one throw and the next, you are watching true aikido in action.

Getting up again in real life does not always demand this level of skill from us, thankfully. But we do need to keep in mind that falling is an art, not a failure. If we relax into it, our bodies can use that energy to find the best way to come back up again.

Metaphorically speaking, we make the fall hurt more by berating ourselves for falling, blaming others for our fall, or denying that we are indeed about to hit the ground. How much more sensible it would be to let the fall help us organize ourselves for rising again—to make getting up as effortless as possible, a seamless part of trying something until we eventually succeed.

Business is Magic

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I am not happy about publishing only one post in June, but while not writing I have been very busy mulling over how to make the best use of this space, and all the other spaces I have on the web. Some of you may have seen Jason’s post about the changes at Serpentine Music this summer, to which I would only add that if you want great deals on great music, the albums are going fast so order now!

Serpentine Music was my first business, a start-up back in the home-based business craze of the 1990s. It has been my do-it-yourself MBA, a crash course in music production, publishing, distribution, planning, niche marketing, sales, web design, direct mail, customer service, database management, and small business ownership. Winding it down has taught me a ton about how to carefully assess which pieces of a business should be tossed out for the useful stuff to thrive. Having an objective eye for something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and not being afraid to kill things that don’t work—that is tough, and it is also exactly where transformation happens.

This summer I have also undertaken the birth of a new business, Creative Content Coaching, which combines my experience as an educator and writer with everything I have learned about small business, consulting, and building a public presence. Shifting in such a short time from one business model to a completely new one, while not really shifting the essence of what I do at all, has taught me the biggest diy-MBA lesson yet: business is magic.

Allow me to explain. I have spent years helping people understand the spiritual messages in their dreams, while my dreams were advising me to make all sorts of changes in my professional life (which I followed). Eventually, the spiritual and practical streams in dreams merged for me, and I began doing dream seminars for businesses, while clients came to me looking for career guidance in their own dreams. (It is easy to find once you know how to look.)

Similarly, I started this blog on a whim five years ago, mostly to write on spiritual and personal topics. By hanging in there month after month, I’ve built up a large readership, leveraged it into writing for the Huffington Post, and now know more than most business coaches about the different kinds of web-based writing and how to do it well.

Magic is the art of sensing patterns, following the energy, and doing it all while staying centered and tapped into your creativity. What emerges is total transformation. What can also emerge is a very practical application of all that esoteric stuff, a vehicle through which we can use our whole skill set to bring positive change to the greatest number of people, while living by our core values. In other words, a very cool business. I hope to blog more about magic and commerce in the near future, and meanwhile I welcome your thoughts.

Like Dropping a Stone in a Very Deep Well

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A few days ago I woke with a vivid dream: I am watching someone skim the surface of the pool I swim in, running the big blue net back and forth across the calm water. Suddenly the net picks up something other than leaves and bugs: a big black tar ball appears in the net and is scooped out of the water. But how did it get there in the first place?

In the Gulf, tar balls appear on the beach sand in advance of the spreading crude. It is a gruesome, sickening sight from a disaster that continues to grow and spread and affect millions of lives both in the water and out. Not even a lap swimming pool on the opposite side of the continent is out of harm’s way.

Three weeks ago I was out enjoying our local Friday happy hour in Bodega Bay, and struck up a conversation with some weekend tourists from inland. One couple was nice and chatty, but another woman kept her sunglasses on and an aloof expression on her face, barely managing an occasional smile as she sipped her wine and looked out over the bay.

After a while the other couple left and she and I sat next to each other in silence. I was racking my brain for something to say to this obviously reserved, conservative person, when all of a sudden she spoke up. “I keep imagining what this would look like if the oil spill was here,” she said.

What could I say to that? It sank into the heart of what every person there was thinking, what I myself had been thinking all day and was at the moment trying to forget. She didn’t want to talk about the politics of offshore drilling bans, she was in shock, and was sitting there trying to grasp the magnitude of what has happened to the ocean.

People come out here from all over the country to recharge. The ocean has a powerful psychic pull, along with the lure of physical beauty, recreation, great food, and fresh air. It exists in the collective imagination as our ancestral home, source of dreams, origin of all life.

This was not the first conversation I’ve had with a total stranger who is soul-stricken about what is happening to the Gulf of Mexico. It is not a laughing matter to anyone. People know how bad this is, and they are taking it very personally. This alone gives me hope.

Oil has already reached Barataria Bay, and is just a hurricane’s breath away from destroying New Orleans for good. The mighty Gulf fisheries are gone, as are the beaches, the nesting grounds, and all deep sea life, for the foreseeable future.

The news sinks like a stone to the depths of our psyches. What will we do when the tar balls stir the waters of our dreams as well?

The Call of the Dream Tribe

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Do you listen to your dreams but have no one to talk with about them? Are you looking for a circle of fellow dreamers to help you explore dream messages? The perfect solution may be at hand.

Introducing The Dream Tribe, a members-only online community where you can get instant feedback on your dreams, connect with experts in many different kinds of dreamwork, and find your place in the worldwide clan of dreamers.

The brainchild of interfaith minister Amy Brucker, The Dream Tribe launched just days ago. At the center of the effort are what Amy calls the “Dream Team”—professionals who are experts in different aspects of dream research and interpretation. (Full disclosure: I am part of the Dream Team.)

Each of us make ourselves available to site members by participating in the online forums, offering discounts on classes and private sessions, and distributing exclusive content through the Dream Tribe site. As a members-only site, the only people reading and responding to your posts about dreams are those who are truly interested in the healing potential of dreams.

It is a great value for people who want to learn more about their dreams but don’t have access to a local dream group. Registration is open for a few more days, so I encourage you to check it out, and take advantage of Amy’s no-risk membership offer.

I will blog more about my experience as part of the Dream Team—this is an experiment for all of us, remember—but for now I want to welcome the worldwide network/clan/tribe/consortium/consulate of dreamers to our virtual tribe!

Avalon, the Mirror Isle

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Long, long ago, before the legends were made, before the stories of heroes and magic were passed like flagons around a peat fire, Avalon was a green jewel of an island floating in an inland sea. The way to this island was always by boat, each vessel woven by hand, and guided skillfully through thickets of willow and sedge, following the winding, ever-changing paths formed by water and land.

The people of this land learned to find the high spots in the water to build their villages, and stayed away for all but the summer months, when the flood waters receded. This land was called Somerset, “land of the summer people.” It is among these first people that all our stories of the Sacred Isle begin. Avalon was sacred first simply because she was there: a refuge from the rising tides, a source of food, of fiber, an anchor and place of safety in a land ruled by the fickle gods of the waters and the weather.

Avalon is an island of mirrors, then as well as now. In the beginning, it was surrounded by mirrors: the smooth surface of the lake reflecting the deep blue sky above, or cloaked in mist so thick that it veiled the land and obscured all beyond range of our fingertips. And today, our Avalon, the Avalon of our myriad stories, is a mirror for all our longings, our yearnings for the past and our deepest dreams for the future.

For the stories that have been handed down to us have taken twists and turns of their own on their way through the marshes of time and memory. They sometimes reveal vistas, reward us with nourishment for the soul, only to vanish again or be lost as a new story appears to take another’s place. There is no true path anymore among these stories; no way to follow the sure path through the wetlands and step foot finally onto dry land. The levels have long been drained, and people dwell today where none were in the time of legends.

All we have now are our mirrors, and some beautiful ones there are. We dream of a lineage of priestesses, a place of wisdom, a school of mysteries, all the things our hearts yearn for. We can see it, feel it, enter there and journey in, around, and through that landscape clear as day. And then our mirror fogs with mist, and we see instead a steep, sheep-grazed hill crowned with the ruins of an ancient church.

Where do we go when we visit Avalon? Why do we seek it? What do we hope to find? When we come together to invoke Avalon, we create a brilliant mosaic of mirrors, our stories of what might have been. Together we rebuild the waters, re-grow the willow and sedge, weave our own boats and journey to the beat of our own drums, through the mists of time and down the winding path formed by water and land.

We seek the Shining Isle; how could we not? And yet, that is not where this journey leads. In the center of the mirrors is always our own heart, our own Story. And who but ourselves will tell us when we have found dry ground at last?

Two Great Books on Dreams

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I have had the distinct pleasure over the past few months of immersing myself in some wise and erudite books on dreams. Here, rising to the top of the pile, are two books that I consider essential to the serious study of dreams in history and practice.


The first is by Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and author of many worthy books on dreams. Dreaming in the World’s Religions: A Comparative History (2008, New York University Press) is a book that finally answers the basic question: how did people in ancient cultures view dreams?

I call this a basic question, because anyone who spends a significant amount of time working with their dreams inevitably wonders how it was done in the past. In your religion, in other religions; by your ancestors, by other people’s ancestors. Dreams call us to understand our place in the world, and Kelly’s book answers the call because it addresses the problem with both comprehensive scholarship and also a deep love and appreciation for dreams.

In the book’s first three chapters, Kelly covers Hinduism, the religions of China (mostly Confucianism and Taoism), and Buddhism. He then branches out to the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Judaism), the religions of Greece and Rome, then Christianity, and Islam. In the final three chapters, we learn about the religions of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. A whirlwind tour to be sure, but with Kelly’s flair for laying out a clear overview combined with meticulous attention to detail, one is left after each chapter with the feeling of having had an excellent introduction to a fascinating, and ever-changing subject.

This book is required reading for my class at Cherry Hill Seminary on using dreams in spiritual direction. It gives the student of Pagan religions a valuable sense of perspective, and the student of dreams a glimpse at the rich possibilities for dream interpretation and understanding in the continuing evolution of our dreaming minds. I highly recommend it.

childrens_cover2The second book is not new at all, but is certainly new to us. Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936–1940 (Princeton University Press, 2008) is the English translation (finally!) of a seminar conducted by Carl Jung with some of his more advanced pupils, and is the most accessible, understandable presentation of Jung’s dream theories  that I have ever read.

Here we have the master in action, explaining his theories and then showing in great detail how he applies them, using examples of his patients’ earliest remembered dreams. In the first chapter, Jung lays out all of his methods of dream interpretation, which is invaluable in itself but also helps focus the later chapters, as each dream analysis follows the steps first introduced here.

Each of the later chapters include his students (among them Marie-Louise Von Franz, Aniela Jaffe, and Jolande Jacobi) presenting a dream or dream series, then analyzing them using Jung’s rubric. Jung makes comments, clarifies ideas and answers his students’ questions. The conversational style highlights Jung’s skill as an educator, and reading it one has the sense of witnessing the development, there in that room, of the practice of analytical psychology. It is a fascinating and inspiring ride.

This beautiful English edition of Children’s Dreams was a project of the Philemon Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing into book form Jung’s unpublished works. The Philemon Foundation also facilitated the publication of Jung’s Red Book last year; they do beautiful work. Children’s Dreams will make you realize just how much of your ideas about dreams are from Jung, and at the same time will show you just how little of Jung you really understand. I find the combination exhilarating; I am sure you will too.

2010 New Year’s Dream Resolutions

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Yes, it’s time once again to post my New Year’s Dream Resolutions. Actually it is well past time to post them, and my handwritten notes from reading through last year’s dreams have been sitting on my desk for over a month, waiting for me to write them up.

The one waking-life resolution I made for myself this year is to relax more, and the only way I can make this resolution square with having so many projects in motion is to not push forward any project until I feel the energy for it. Everything has to take its own time this year, without me trying to force anything to fruition before its time. So, much to the dismay of my Aries mentality, everything is not getting done instantly. Dream resolutions are being written in mid-February, and that’s just the way it is.

In 2008, this is how I explained the concept of New Year’s Dream Resolutions:

This new feature is not like most New Year’s Resolutions because these are not about how to act during the day, they’re about what to do in dreams. Doing the right thing in dreams is much different than doing the right thing in waking life. It is hard to know whether a monster in a dream is an evil demon that needs to be vanquished or a gift in disguise that only needs witnessing in order to completely transform. Sometimes of course it is both, in which case you may want to consult a professional. Fortunately, I am a professional.

My dream resolutions tend to come out more like pronouncements than typical New Year’s resolutions, but that is part of the fun. This is a type of dream re-scripting, so if you try them yourself just let them come out the way they are. And here are mine for this year:

1. If you are held underground in a “DNA-resistant container,” get out immediately, maybe by turning into a tree and growing yourself out and away.

2. The lucid stream is glittering all the way down to the gravel, so go ahead and dip your fingers in.

3. Do not give your name when caught in someone else’s library—Google will find out and publicize it!

4. If you are pole-vaulting across the grass, don’t assume you will fail. Enjoy sailing through the air and you will make it just fine!

5. If you see a bunch of little kids wandering around backstage after a performance, bring them to the main hall so their parents can find them and bring them home.

6. Joking about how old you are getting probably isn’t the best opener at your high school reunion. On the other hand, you’ll learn a lot from the reactions you get.

7. Don’t just pass by the guy doing uninteresting things in a dream—he may be about to open the treasure drawer!

8. If a dead relative returns for 25 seconds to tell you your future, and it is everything you want, believe them.

9. Even if the others are hanging back, moving toward ground zero is the only way to get the footage that will really make a difference.

10. Just because you dream of restoring a beautiful theater into a thriving community hub doesn’t mean you should do that in waking life. But who knows? Pay attention, and see what opportunities come your way in waking, and in dreaming.

PantheaCon Calling

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The ramp-up to this year’s huge PantheaCon event has been remarkably mellow for me. I have been working hard on it for days now, but blessedly without the usual high-pitched whine of anxiety in the background. I attribute it partly to the unheard-of luxury of having a partner who has my back and is happy to help out—and also to my latest herbal garden experiment.

My friend Gail Julian, who teaches here, was telling me a couple months ago about the wonders of the ubiquitous California poppy as a sleep aid, anxiety reliever, and mildly euphoric nervine. It is gentle enough to use with children too, apparently, and who wouldn’t want that?

I had a patch of poppies growing where I didn’t want them to grow, so I took the next full moon opportunity to harvest the whole plants, and soak them in alcohol for a while. The result, decanted just this week, is a marvelous, very strong tasting but energetically not overwhelming California poppy tincture. It is keeping my shoulders from bunching up with stress, yet my head is clear and I am actually enjoying getting everything done. What a marvelous find! And part of the car-full of goods and services I will be selling all this weekend at the  Serpentine Music booth.

There has already been an entertaining stream of Twitter posts about PantheaCon, and if you want the scoop on what’s happening at San Jose’s long-suffering Doubletree Hotel, follow the hashtag #pcon.

PantheaCon is the largest indoor gathering of Earth religions, eclectic spiritualities, Pagans, Druids, witches and freaks eccentrics that I know about. There is a fascinating mix of practitioners, teachers, researchers, clergy, and seekers in attendance, not to mention those who just love the party.

I will try to post pictures in my idle moments between selling music and herbs, leading and assisting workshops, and socializing. If you are attending, be sure to stop by the booth and say hello. But whether you’re there on site or just enjoying the home game, have a great weekend!

Dreaming Up Success in 2010

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Just like dressing for success puts our best foot forward, dreaming for success can help us achieve our biggest goals this year.

Last year I shared 10 great tips for having big winter dreams. But more important than having big dreams is knowing how to work with all the dreams we have. Here’s how to make every dream count, no matter how small.

  1. Remember your dreams and write them down. Even if you only remember a word or name, color or feeling, write it down. Dream recall increases the more we practice it.
  2. Go for what makes you happy in dreams. Some traditions insist that to be happy in waking life you must pursue pleasure in your dreams. Being successful in 2010 means being bold, so start by doing what you want in dreams even if it’s something you would never do in waking life. It’s just a dream–go for it!
  3. Don’t run from conflict in your dreams. This may take some practice, but you’ve got all year, right? If there’s a dragon chasing you at night, coach yourself to turn and face it. Likewise with intruders, thieves, and other scoundrels. You will soon find it easier to overcome obstacles of all kinds during the day. Seriously, it works!
  4. Keep tabs on your health. If you are sick or injured in a dream, don’t freak out, but do heed the warning. Dreams usually work on the symbolic level, but sometimes they have direct, concrete advice for us. Always check out a health concern in a dream, it could be the best move you ever make.
  5. Pay attention when things go bad. Notice what happens just before a good dream starts becoming an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Do you hesitate out of fear? Is there a misunderstanding that sets things off the rails? Are you listening to someone with the wrong information? Figure out what the glitch is, and start overcoming it in waking life.
  6. Look for dream allies and treat them well. Dreams are full of unforeseen turns of fortune, if we know what to look for. Just as in fairy tales, if someone offers you something in a dream be gracious and thank them. It may look strange, but looks can be deceiving, and we never want to turn down what could be a golden opportunity.
  7. Always go for the highest good. If you have a choice of two actions to take in a dream, and one of them benefits you alone whereas the other benefits you and several others, take the second choice. Start now to shift those self-centered patterns in the dream world, and you may find that others are more willing to help you achieve your goals on waking as well.

We all have to sleep and dream, no matter how desperate, ambitious, or energetic we are. The good news is, our dreaming minds are perfectly capable of helping us with our waking goals–when we act in accordance with our values and stick with it in spite of the setbacks that inevitably occur. In a year where money is scarce and every advantage counts, who can afford to discount their dreams?

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Evolutionary Dreaming

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Back in August I commented in my review of Robert Moss’s new book that,

People are people…

The dirty little secret of the human potential movement is that even if we all develop to our fullest potential, our society will still not be perfect.”

Much to my surprise, I did not get a lot of blowback from that statement. Maybe people didn’t read the review that closely, or perhaps the human potential movement has lost some of its lustre—though I find that hard to believe, with our country’s obsession with self-improvement (and accompanying disregard for the real suffering of others) seemingly as dominant as ever.

In The Secret History of Dreaming, Moss details the way dreams have guided people and shaped history, and the book itself is a tremendously inspiring read. But in promoting a greater engagement with our dreaming minds, he also implies that if we do so everything will be better. Of course, the “secret future of dreaming” is outside the scope of an in-depth book on dream history, but that is what I immediately wanted to hear more about.

At the time, I thought the lack of controversy surrounding my review meant that I could set that subject aside for a while, but instead the opposite has occurred. I am increasingly curious about Sandor Ferenczi’s idea that “dreams are the workshop of evolution.” Great advances and cognitive leaps are being dreamed up by people all the time, but isn’t it premature (or at best wishful thinking) to call that process evolution?

Are we really evolving into anything new? Or is it just people, all the way down?