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Dreamwork as a Spiritual Path
by Amelia Sahentara
I'm a dreamworker. Analyzing my dreams feels as natural and necessary as eating food or brushing my teeth. Dreams appear to be as logical and understandable as following a well-written movie plot. Sure, there's a bit of mystery in every dream, but that's true of life as a whole. In my view, dreams aren't any more bizarre than the life we lead while awake. So when people ask me what I do, their head scratching responses always amaze me. "What's dreamwork? I've never heard of that." -- "I've heard of dreamworkers but I've never met one in person". It's my turn to scratch my head. Dreams are part of being human. We all sleep and dream about a third of our lives. Why is it so few of us are interested in what happens during that time? Why aren't we taught to value our dreams? Actually, all this head scratching isn't quite fair. I think there are some good answers to these questions.

My favorite "global" explanation comes from philosopher Ken Wilber (Up From Eden  and A Brief History of Everything). His work examines the unfolding evolution of consciousness which culminates in Spirit becoming conscious of itself. He suggests ancient peoples experienced no clear division between spiritual and physical realities. We have slowly evolved from "immersion with the unconscious" toward individual consciousness. Since dreams are experiences in the unconscious realm, we have gradually become estranged from them in the process. Having fully achieved separateness, Wilber believes we are now moving toward the experience of oneness again, but this time with choice -- with the consciousness of our individuality in tact. (Ken Wilber's vision answers many of my own questions regarding the human condition and I highly recommend his work).

In the meantime, most of us still believe dreams are frivolous, meaningless or beyond our comprehension. Many people claim dream dramas are nothing but a release of stress -- or -- they are caused by the foods we eat. Most dream dictionaries attribute superstitious meanings to dream symbols -- like a black cat in your dream means you will have bad luck. In spite of copious scientific research in modern dream labs and a growing body of knowledge on the benefits of dreamwork, most people still consider it a very weird thing to do.

I myself didn't think much about dreams until I began having nightmares twenty years ago. As they persisted, I was determined to understand them. I started keeping dream journals, attending seminars, and reading every book I could find on dream interpretation. I consumed the classic works of Freud and Jung along with major contributors such as Perls, Adler, Ullman and others. I confess, it didn't take long to get hooked. Once I began observing my dreams consistently, I became aware of a nurturing guidance behind all my dreams -- even nightmares. I was developing a relationship with my higher self or soul and it felt like visiting a wise, loving friend each night. As time went on, my dream experiences left no doubt in my mind that we are indeed, spiritual beings of peaceful essence.

Early on, I had several special experiences I call "transcendent dreams". The most powerful dream began with a normal dream drama. I was in Tibet climbing a mountain. As I neared the top of the mountain, I could hear chanting and drumming. I felt like I was coming home and I thought how much I miss this while I'm away. When I reached the top of the mountain I saw about 10 monks walking in a counter-clockwise circle, chanting and drumming. As I stood there, I felt myself hungrily filling up with the spiritual energy they were creating. At the sound of the last drum beat, I fell into the arms of a monk and into a timeless state of pure awareness. I could see my sleeping body below. There were no thoughts, no drama, no visual pictures -- just a deep, peaceful consciousness. Eventually a thought entered my mind -- "This can't last" -- and I went directly back into my body and awoke. Oh was I angry at that thought!

Following the dream, I went through the motions of my life in complete serenity for about ten days before returning to my "normal" state of consciousness. I think it's fair to say, the experience changed my life. This dream taught me how to open up to my own spiritual energies and the experience became part of my meditation practice. Although many types of meditation focus upon transcending the personality in order to experience inner peace and expanded awareness, we are still subject to our repressed feelings, inner conflicts and conditioned beliefs when we come out of meditation. I believe we must also become aware of and work with our personal issues if we are to manifest peace on earth.

My transcendent dreams feel special but my normal dreams are just as valuable. I feel like I'm hunting for and finding ancient treasure every day. When I first began working with dreams, I wanted them to guide my decisions. Should I quit my job? Date that guy? Move to Florida? But I realized this is a shallow use of dreams. I began to see that they were illustrating a map of my psychological make-up. Each dream was like another piece of the puzzle, clarifying my inner dynamics. Like a mirror, they reflected what I was unconscious of the day before. They dramatized how my unconscious beliefs determined a waking decision -- how I felt inferior but acted superior -- and why I repeatedly attracted familiar experiences. My early dreams were filled with intense fear, rage and terrible guilt -- repressed feelings from childhood. Dream voices coached -- Feel your feelings! -- but believe me, there didn't seem to be much choice. In spite of the pain, I felt the essential quality of love behind the dreams. I knew I was freeing myself through the process.

There were pleasant dreams too. I would follow wise men and women down forest trails to discover ancient relics and treasures. I swam with whales and dolphins deep under the sea. I had beautiful poetry read to me and exquisite symphonic works performed. I would wake up filled with inspiration and awe of this powerful creativity. I also had what I call affirmation dreams. Since I longed to be a writer and musician, these dreams supported me in many ways. I received titles for books I wanted to write, I would play beautiful music in dreams before appreciative audiences, and sometimes a dream character would simply acknowledge my creative skills.

I also learned how to use my dreams for physical healing. I had a chronic ailment for about four years in the mid-1980's. I felt it was due to emotional conflict so I was determined not to have an operation. I kept asking for understanding from my dreams, and eventually, I got the answer. My condition was caused by two opposing inner voices. One said, "I want to do this and I will do this". The other said, "I am unable to do this". The reason it took me so long to see it was that these two voices pervaded my entire existence. They were chattering their opposing messages constantly and the tension they created in my body was causing the ailment. The amazing thing is, the moment I understood and stopped the voices, the ailment disappeared overnight. It seemed like a miracle. This experience convinced me beyond doubt that our inner conflicts cause physical disease and our bodies can heal themselves when we stop participating in the inner cause.

My first few years of dreamwork were emotionally riveting (much better than T.V.!). I have been literally charting both -- the development and unraveling -- of a typical neurotic born of a dysfunctional family -- in my dream journals. I have been becoming aware of and letting go of my family's beliefs and patterns of relating so I may be free to be who I truly am. For me, the key to changing is identity and focus. When I analyze a dream -- see the inner patterns and feel the feelings -- I not only become aware of my inner dynamics, I become an observer instead of a participant in my personal drama. In time, my main identity has become an observer rather than who I learned to be as a child. Through this process, I've also become an observer of my waking life. At this point -- life -- awake or dreaming -- looks very much the same to me. Over the years my dreams have indeed become more peaceful. It's kind of like eating an apple. I started on the outside and have been working my way to the core. I have some core issues left, but a good deal of the apple is gone. I believe it is possible to fully release our inner conflicts that develop in childhood and have inner peace in the waking state.

One of the most common questions people ask is why do dreams have to be symbolic? Why doesn't our psyche communicate in plain English so we can easily understand them? I think it's because metaphor is the expression of our true nature. Life is far more fluid than we imagine. If we relax, focus inwardly and give ourselves some space, we'll easily see and understand metaphor. There is something else behind everything. If Ken Wilber's vision is correct, we will all feel understanding our dreams is as natural and easy as eating food and brushing our teeth. We will be astounded at the power and creativity we already wield. We project our unconscious beliefs and conflicts out onto the world, creating life as we know it. I almost can't imagine what kind of life we might create out of conscious intention, free of our unconscious projections. But I'm sure whatever we dream up, it will be very exciting -- because we are essentially fun loving creatures. We are not separate from nature, our souls or from each other. We are peaceful, loving beings on the way home. And oh how we will laugh and laugh, when we finally see ourselves -- creators all -- shining in each other's mirrors.

Amelia Sahentara, M.A. is the founder of Northwest Dream Circles and has been teaching people how to work with their dreams for personal growth since 1985. She is available for individual work, phone sessions, workshops and classes throughout the Northwest. She is presently earning a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology. For more information, call (503) 356-0299