Thereís No Need to Go Outside
for Better Seeing
A Dream Quest Experience
(This article originally appeared in Venture Inward Magazine)
My first wholehearted attempt to abide at the "center of my being" was my experience using Henry Reedís Dream Quest Guide Book. It happened at a critical juncture in my life. I felt as though my back was against the wall, and both personal and professional doors were closing to me. I was anxious about my future and physically tired most of the time. I had decided I was going through a mid-life change. While I could intellectually understand this as "normal," even with its indescribable pain, that didnít stop me from being angry or confused about what to do.
I am now on the other side of that wall. I have gone through a transformation from who and what I thought I was to what I am truly becoming. My anger, confusion, and resistance have subsided. I am able to express myself in more creative ways. I am able to trust my inner voice and respond more appropriately. I have relaxed, let go, and become more agreeable to be with, both at home and at work. I have a sense of being on a fresh pathway, an adventure so searching and joyous that I can hardly remember my longing for public recognition, fame, and success. In short, I am discovering that there is far more to me than I had ever suspected.
In my teens and twenties, I believed I could have an important impact on the world and garner recognition in the molds of Madame Curie and Margaret Mead. Then 15 years in a difficult marriage forced me to reassess my purpose and goals and my beliefs about myself. Turning inward for guidance, I had a profound spiritual experience that revealed what I believe is my lifeís purpose. In the ten years since, I have struggled to make sense of that experience and to adjust to a difficult change in self-image from "world-renowned lecturer and author" to something much less attractive to me.
Without having resolved the self-image issue, I recently found myself at 46 as an educator, administrator, and counselor, facing my own professional crisis in a deteriorating urban community college. I also saw myself as a wife in a second marriage, concerned about my husbandís work, and a mother of three children, estranged for a year and a half from my 22-year-old daughter.
Almost in desperation, I saw the dream guide book project as a new tool to work with. What follows is a personal report of that experience and its effect on my life.
Focusing on the Quest
Approaching dreamwork for the first time, I was eager but apprehensive; determined to trust that dreams could produce the guidance I needed, yet terrified that they would! As instructed in the guide book, I collected my dreams for seven days and thought about several problems. For the first "study night" (on the seventh day), I had seven dreams to work with in my first "meditation in inspirational writing." The aim was to learn if my dreams guided me toward a single problem for my focus during the dream quest project. Hereís one dream:
I am in a senor citizen condominium trying to help out, going from one room to another in this vast complex. A number of movie and music stars breeze in, captivate everyone, and breeze out. I feel left out, ineffective, wishing I could be accepted like the stars.
To capture the essence of the dream and simplify the process of comparing dreams, I titled each dream. This one was "Threeís a Crowd; Helping Seniors and Stars." About this dream, I wrote in my journal: "Sometimes I try to help out in situations even when my help is not wanted or appreciated. I wish I were a star instead of just helping others become stars themselves." My unfulfilled ambition to become a "star" in my profession is a sensitive subject to me.
Hereís another dream:
Iím on a trip in the dark, an "adventure." Iím excited and afraid. A voice says, "Donít be afraid; youíve got your magic sword."
This reinforced another dream about being at a crossroads in my life. This one says Iím in the dark about my life, but Iím protected by what I interpret as the spiritual forces within me. When I started the workbook, I was concerned about my health, a career change, my daughter, my husbandís work. The first weekís dreams seemed to point to an underlying issue: My identity was tied to being wanted and helpful; how I felt about myself was related to being protected and loved. I was at a crossroads, wanted to take a turn for the better, but not knowing which way to turn. In my meditation journal, I wrote a dialogue between my questioning self and my knowing self:
"How will I ever be able to know what is the right thing to do?"
"You listen, and you understand, but you do not act, and not acting begins to dull your understanding."
I often avoided acting by being too "busy." Piling up on myself all the "helpful" things I had to do may actually have created more self-doubt and trouble, rather than less. From the quiet confidence radiated by my knowing self, I wrote: "I can be more truthful with myself and less demanding. I can take quiet action on the small things, a step at a time, and the larger problems will work themselves out."
As a result of this writing, I realized I no longer wanted to focus on "fixing" something in my external environment - my career or my relationship with my daughter. Instead, I wanted to focus on going deeper within myself and acting more confidently on what I found within. Waves of understanding washed over me, and I felt a sense of release.
My initial dream petition to be placed under my pillow each night simply said: "Iíll listen to my inner voice first, then act. If Iím still feeling afraid or doubtful, then dreams, please show me a better way."
Troubleshooting Mistaken Notions
I applied my affirmation conscientiously and collected a new set of dreams. I wrote in my journal: "Iím impressed that, as I listen to my inner voice and collect my dreams, I am having actual experiences in the day associated with my concerns."
Each time I came to a decision or a need for action, I quieted myself, listened to my inner voice, and acted accordingly. Tuning in to that voice demanded staying close to the center of my being, listening closely before any response. Instead of reacting to my world with fear, and frustrated attempts to control others, instead of handicapping myself with anger and unhappiness, I found myself much calmer and quieter, more in control of myself. Frankly, sometimes it went well, sometimes not so well. But I concentrated on application.
I stopped trying to change the college, to get my daughter to communicate with me, to help my husband gain an important business contact. I also stopped rejecting what was happening to me, and two remarkable things happened.
First, I began to accept that my daughter was not contacting me, although that had been one of my deepest concerns. Then on the 10th day of the quest, she called me to arrange a time to meet, as thought we spoke to each other every day. I couldnít believe it. Nothing I had done in the last 18 months had moved her to contact me. We met three days later, and coincidentally, she wore a new hat of the same turquoise color as the suit I wore. The meeting went well as I concentrated on inner listening and guidance.
I also quit looking at how awful the college was becoming. I remained quiet as the organization continued to deteriorate. I also began to look for signs of new life, of transformation. How could I improve myself, my contribution to the college? Then on the 11th day, I met a man who changed my mind about looking for a position elsewhere. We began working together to further the research begun with my doctoral dissertation. We have since written a major grant to bring a large program for ethnic students into the college.
At the end of Week 2, following the guide book instructions, I reviewed my progress in fulfilling my application contract, seeking insights into how I might view my problem differently and compensate for anything I may have neglected or mistaken. Although I felt my initial efforts had gone well, I still had concerns about my health, about the stress at the college, and about my husbandís work.
My study of one of the second weekís dreams illustrates the value of this reappraisal and the recommended interpretation techniques:
A group of women are chatting around a round wooden table. Sunlight is streaming in through the windows. The walls of the room are painted yellow. Warmth and light surround the women. As I walk into the room they welcome me warmly and ask me to join them. I feel as though I have come home finally, am very feminine, and love it!
I interpreted this to mean I had been welcomed by the feminine aspects of myself - those qualities of being warm, enlightened, yielding, intuitive, and accepting. As if I had "come home" to myself, I felt complete, aware, effective, in balance and radiant. I realized that if I quit denying the feminine in myself - as I have been resisting the "womanís place is in the home" role - I would attain inner awareness and wholeness.
Dialoguing with a troubled image in another dream, I learned I was turning others off at work by being too forceful, demanding, and "masculine." In my career efforts, I had sacrificed many of my feminine aspects to the detriment of my inner life as well as my outer effectiveness. I would have to reduce the dominance of my male aspects and be more quiet and yielding in order to attune myself to the Higher Will. Thus I would feel "at home," accepted and loved, effective and once again powerful, but through enlightenment, not power games.
When I revised my pillow letter to strive for more feminine behavior, I did not remember dreams for a few days. I took that as a sign of resistance to my statement. So I revised it again to strive for more balance between the masculine and feminine aspects. I could bring the feminine into focus: being more receptive to others, more intuitive, more yielding, nurturing, and encouraging, yet without losing useful masculine traits, intellect, assertiveness, creativity, and strength of will.
Searching with New Eyes
After this revision, my dream life flowed again. My inner voice became more real each day, and I felt more willing to listen to it and be guided by it. I liked myself better. I made a doctorís appointment, started an exercise class, bought some new clothes.
A dream from that week seemed reassuring:
I go to the doctorís for a checkup. The doctor is warm and funny. He looks like Mickey Rooney in a bright green Hawaiian shirt with yellow flowers on it. Through the walls of his inner voice, I can hear his staff discussing the progress of my life. He seems to feel I am healing. On the wall is a picture of the doctor looking like a guru with white robes. He is smiling, and out of the top of his head flows a rainbow down to a bright sun shining on his nose! Yellow light streams in through the window, and two men materialize to my amazement and hug me. A woman tries to materialize, but is only a shadowy figure, and then fades.
I woke up happy about this dream. The shadowy figure of a woman confirmed my need to strengthen the feminine, while hugs from the men released a fear that I was too masculine. "Going to the doctor," was indeed what I was doing, that is, seeking my inner voice and the healing forces within me. The humorous image of the doctor seemed to suggest I lighten up. The guru picture with the rainbow and the sunny nose seemed to say I was "on the nose" with my spiritual quest.
In my journal, I reflected: "In trying to be more feminine, I find I have a lot of work to do on myself - weight loss, yielding, listening and responding more patiently to others. My resistance is very high. I heard a message today saying: You donít need sugar; you have me. Later in the day, however, someone brought me cookies and ice cream, and I ate them."
Part of my resistance to letting go and being more feminine is the fear that I will be left out or wonít get to do some things in my life. This fear is ludicrous because my dreams say the male and female aspects have to be in balance, and one cannot dominate the other.
Iím still not sure about the best way to carry out my life purpose, such as being by my husbandís side instead of in a career of my own. However, Iím going to act as though itís a fact and watch for signs of confirmation. As instructed by the guide book, I recalled a past experience when I said "yes" to a spiritual life of service, when I felt dedicated and at-one with life. I was utterly certain that a new age of consciousness was coming and that the part I was asked to play would be successful.
Through an exercise in which I rewrote the "magic sword" dream, I realized that, in spite of my "spiritual commitment," I had been trying to go it alone, not sufficiently attuned on a day-to-day basis to the Higher Will. Perhaps I had intellectualized my commitment, and my dreams were returning me to the need for moment-by-moment contact with my inner voice if I am to fulfill my purpose. They suggest that, if I so listen and respond accordingly, I will be more effective professionally, more loving and understanding with my family, in better health and less stress, and more satisfied with and accepting of myself. My new revision of my pillow letter said:
"If I strive to become a clear, balanced channel of service to others not only by listening to my inner voice, but also by responding fearlessly and in complete trust to its suggestions, yet still feel ineffective, then dreams, show me a better way."
The very next dream was very moving for me:
A beautiful woman in riding clothes is training ponies. She befriends my young daughter and me. We move through her life, watching the men in her life fall in love with her while she is busy working. The dream shifts to an apartment where my daughter is playing with a mirror that cracks into fine pieces all over the carpet. My husband helps me pick up the pieces, but the feeling is that I didnít move fast enough to prevent the breakage or even to pick up the pieces myself, so he had to act. Heís not happy to have to come to my rescue, but not condemning either. The dream fades back to the pony woman, still not certain who she chooses to love. Approaching her is a pony man who looks just like her. The feeling is that maybe this match will work.
To me, the pony woman symbolizes those aspects of myself that are developing my energies (ponies). Beautiful and competent, she focuses more on her work than on making a successful match with the male aspects (men in her life). The incident of the mirror seemed to say that my facades, my reflections, were cracking into many pieces. But because my daughter symbolizes new life and joy to me, the mirror breaking in her hands was a positive expression of the good that would result as my facade crumbled. that my husband was helpful but annoyed is very much the way he is. He loves me and respects my competence, but thinks I have often misdirected my energies instead of carefully listening to the Higher Will and responding. The pony man approaching at the end of the dream seems to verify that my efforts are working; listening to my inner voice, balancing the male and female aspects, then responding.
When I took this dream to a dream group for help, I began to cry, then shake. I couldnít stop letting go, in spite of the embarrassment and the pain of self-revelation to a group of strangers. Beyond the pain, this dram was telling me, "This time it will work out." Self-doubt, anger, confusion, and resistance were washing away. The worst was over; the storm had passed. This time I was coming together as a person. I felt my existence deeply and profoundly confirmed. No longer need I struggle to please others, realizing now how deeply and unconditionally we are loved as we are.
Two other dreams of the final week seemed significant. One suggested I should listen in a more concentrated way (meditation) to the rain (inner voice) tapping and often pounding on my roof (brain) and at my windows (soul). Another dream suggested I donít listen enough. I felt these were telling me I should meditate more regularly, in addition to attending to my dreams.
The dream quest experiment, in short, played a central role in my transformation. My dreams became a private haven from the storms of my personal and professional lives, storms I often created for myself. My dreams seemed not to blame, no matter what my struggle was. They guided me to hope and resolution. I saw my life reflected in them and, to my joy and amazement, the reflected image seemed more vivid than the one in my mirror.
The process was not an entirely gentle one. I had to review my personal commitment to an image I had held for many years. I had to reevaluate the shame and anguish, the bitterness and guilt I experienced over my divorce, my rebellion as a housewife, and the subsequent deaths of my parents. I was slammed in the face with my past in my daughterís rejection of me. And out of this, I have come to believe that the premise of this workbook is correct: Dreams will speak, sometimes dramatically, to those issues that occupy you during the day. They can become your inner companion with whom you can share your secrets and from whom you can expect support.
As to my daughter, our meetings have led us to new levels of mutual understanding. I came to realize the impact on a relationship when both individuals are going through a life-stage transformation. At 22, she was experiencing an identity crisis not unlike mine at 46. In her anxiety about being ill-prepared to step out into the world alone as a professional dancer and teacher, she mirrored my dark side. She felt I was thoughtless, greedy, destructive, and blind to her needs. One of my dreams made clear the parallels of our individual struggles. Our different life styles and goals had driven us apart, but this dream suggested that our love and respect were mutual, that is, if I accepted her world as being as significant to her as my world was to me.
Not every issue of concern in my life has been resolved, of course, but for the first time I am optimistic about what lies ahead, and I am more equipped than ever to go where adventure leads.