Dreams and the Spiritual Path

As John Sanford observed in his book The Kingdom Within, in biblical times dreams were viewed as a vehicle through which God would speak to us. That view has faded some and for a time was replaced thanks to Freud. Dreams became manifestations of unconscious themes and therefore were the stuff of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s colleague Carl Jung developed a much more rich view of dreams, drawing upon cultural traditions to develop his theory of archetypes. He also developed rich techniques for mining the wisdom of dreams.

Nowadays dreamwork seems to be a less common facet of psychotherapy much less spiritual journeys. I would like to suggest that dreams can still be a rich resource on your spiritual journey, offering a mirror that may not always reflect something back to you that you like. Sometimes our unconscious mind and God working through there can point something out to us that we might not like hearing.

I recall a dream I had when I was reading Jung’s Man and His Symbols, which has many case studies including Big Dreams, i.e., dreams reflecting a major theme in one’s life. In this dream I was travelling to the center of the earth! How profound is that? Bur I was taking an elevator and when I got to the center of the earth, I did not find the Philosopher’s Stone. I found a hot dog wit thorns in it. I was consulting with a Jungian therapist at the time and eagerly took the dream to him, thinking it showed I was a Deep Thinker. Using Jung’s technique of active imagination, he invited my associations to the image of “hot dog”. I began to become uneasy. Finally, he suggested that “hot dog” could be a term for someone showing off. Needless to say, I did not like this interpretation.

The joke was on me! I had my Big Dream. It showed that at that time in my life I wanted all the spiritual and psychological benefits of the journey but without the struggle. Ouch! It was on target. Years later, I was reminded to be careful what you pray for. I’d had my Big Dream after all.

Current theories of dreams tend to view them as “day residue” — leftovers from our day or reflections of current worries. Dreams are also recognized to be the repositories for traumas. Thus, not every dream is a Big Dream. Yet sometimes we have a dream, even a nightmare, that demands our attention.

Some people keep dream journals, which can be helpful; however, if we start writing down and analyzing every single dream we have, the results are overwhelming. So it is more helpful to pay attention to those dreams that stay with us.

I recall a midlife dream I had. I was hiking out in the Guadalupes and had a walking stick. This stick, however, was not something I found by the side of the road. It was a work of art — sanded and polished. I came to a bridge and, in a scene right out of Robin Hood was met by an ugly threatening man. I knew that to cross the bridge I would have to battle this man, who also had a stick. But before I stepped out onto the bridge, I set down my stick because I didn’t want it to get banged up.

The dream stayed with me. I realized the stick was a key symbol. At one point, as I was trying to discern its meaning by sculpting some clay, I had the thought of power. Then the words came to me “Your power is in your gifts.” I had been considering pursuing writing during this time but kept putting it off. The dream confronted me with the fear that kept me from embracing creativity. I was afraid of being criticized and even rejected. I accepted the dream’s and God’s confrontation and took up the pen. I had my first book published a year later.

If you chose to include dreamwork on your spiritual journey, I recommend you do some reading to include Sanford’s and Jung’s books. Do NOT rely on popular dream dictionaries. You may also want to find a spiritual guide who is open to the power of dreams..

Suppose Jung, Sanford, and others are right. Suppose, just as in Biblical times, my dreams are a pathway to connect with God’s guidance. How sad if I don’t take the time to listen!

Reflection: Do dreams play a part in your spiritual journey? Have you had any Big Dreams?