[An ASKLEPIA FOUNDATION Book]
DREAMHEALING: THE HEART OF DREAMS
...Why are the [dreams] not understandable?...The answer must be that
the dream is a natural occurrence, and that nature shows no inclination
to offer her fruits gratis or according to human expectations.
-- C.G. Jung
The paranormal dream that seems to transcend time and space remains
no less controversial today than it was in the days of Cicero, the great
According to Joseph Campbell, "Dream is the personalized myth.
Myth is the depersonalized dream." With the popularization of
his work, and more recently that of David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner,
many people are becoming more aware of the importance of myth and dream
in our daily lives.
Awareness of personal mythology is enriching and adds to our self-knowledge.
It gives us a deeper meaning to our lives, now that the major myths of
our culture and religions no longer form the glue to bind our psychic life
and profane experience together.
The growing awareness of the value of myth, dreams, and ritual has produced
a resurgence of interest in ancient practices and ceremonies to express
our modern selves and invoke the aid of higher forces for our pursuits.
Myth, dream, and ritual meet in sacred psychology. This infintely
expanded and extraordinary consciousness introduces us to a culture of
the depths, a larger framework of reality. It is transformative.
This experience is substantively real, and has consequences in daily life.
It is the source of poetry, music, science, and art which we can tap for
inspiration, sanctuary, or healing.
Jean Houston cites some physical changes which result from engaging in
sacred psychology in THE SEARCH FOR THE BELOVED, pg. 33, (1987):
"Part of the work of sacred psychology is to reeducate the brain and
nervous system for reception of this nested reality. As you do this
work regularly, you may notice some curious physiological phenomena such
as energy rushes or perhaps signficant mood changes. Such occurences
often indicate a change in your brain and nervous system, the creation
of new electrochemical connections, and more dentdritic growth than usual.
These changes provide the necessary increase in complexity in your biological
equipment, permitting you clearer access to larger realities without going
into overload and feeling blown out. Thus this work deconditions
you from old habit structures of mind and body and reeducates and refines
your biological structures."
For many reasons--spiritual hunger, curiosity, and our natural tendency
toward structure and ritual in our lives--people are tuning into the wisdom
of ancient cultures and healing traditions. It is within this fabric
of mythic awareness that dreamhealing is practiced. Sacred psychology
helps us promote growth and transformation. We learn to orchestrate
and integrate different states of consciousness, build greater sensory
awareness, tap the vast riches of the imaginal realm, incorporate multiple
realities, and recognize our spiritual genesis.
The history of dreams is longer than that of humanity itself. Science
now tells us that dream may reflect a fundamental aspect of mammalian memory
processing. Crucial information acquired during the waking state
may be reprocessed during sleep.
Humans have always sought to understand the meaning of dreams, and indeed
science verifies that they are meaningful. Throughout the centuries
there have been many approaches to the dream. Some of these approaches
focused on the individual, others on society at large.
The shamanic practice of travelling in dreamtime through non-ordinary states
of consciousness is perhaps our oldest lore about dreamlife. Through
their dream journeys, shamans garnered the personal power and knowledge
to help and heal the members of their societies.
The ancient Egyptians believed that dreams possessed oracular power.
In the Bible, for example, Joseph elucidates Pharoah's dreams and averts
seven years of famine.
Possibly the first recorded "dreamwork" was known as Egyptian "temple sleep,"
in which the participants entered a trance state. Hypnotic in nature,
it probably was the prototype of practices re-iterated in Greece in the
Asklepian dream healing temples.
Modern dreamwork employs various techniques, but trance is common to all
the experiential methods. Mostly "natural trance" is employed rather
than formal induction. Natural trance is induced simply by focusing
inward, taking a few deep breaths, and relaxing the body.
Modern dreamwork draws together these two threads of our heritage (dream
and trance) in the relationship between therapist and client. This
type of work creates a co-consciousness of the dreamworld shared by both
In the early 1900s, Freud proposed that dreams were the "royal road" to
the unconscious. He rediscovered an ancient truth known to many cultures
who valued dreams as inspirational, curative, or alternative realities.
Together, therapist and client create a shared reality, an altered state
of consciousness, using the dream as a doorway to enter on a journey into
the unknown depths of the imagination.
Allan Hobson of Harvard Medical School had maintained for years that dreams
were just responses to random nerve firings in the primitive brain, without
purpose or meaning. He has recently revised his theories, acknowledging
the deep psychological significance of dreams.
The sense or plot of dream results from order that is imposed on the chaos
of neural signals, according to Hobson's current view. "That order
is a function of our own personal view of the world, our remote memories."
other words, he is saying, the individual's emotional vocabulary could
be relevant to dreams, and that brain stem activation may simply function
to switch from one dream episode to another.
Jonathan Winson (SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, Nov. 1990) has suggested that theta
rhythm "reflected a neural process whereby information essential to
the survival of a species--gathered during the day--was reprocessed into
memory during REM sleep."
Theta rhythm has been linked to spatial memory and survival behavior that
is not genetically encoded, a response to changing environmental information.
Theta is also sometimes associated with meditation states and the regeneration
of body tissue.
Today our culture is learning more and more respect for the nightly dramas
that are so much a part of the fabric of our lives. This has not
always been the case. Over the centuries the dream has been feared
and maligned, ignored or distorted. Some have dreaded its portentous
message, while others refused the notions it contained any meaning at all.
Dreams present us with a seemingly chaotic jumble of imagery which all
agree is difficult to grasp with the rational mind. In primitive
times, people took it for granted that dreams were related to the world
of the supernatural beings in which they believed. Dreams served
a special service: they predicted the future.
As humans evolved out of their more intuitive-instinctual relationship
with nature and became more rationally-oriented, dreams came to be interpreted
in many ways. The phenomena always remains the same, but theories
come and theories go.
The extraordinary variations in the concept of dreams and in the impressions
they produced on the dreamer made it difficult to formulate a coherent
conception of them. The value and reliability of information processed
as dreams has gone through as many changes as our culture.
To Aristotle, arguably the grandfather of logical thought, the dream constituted
a problem of psychology. He alleged that the dream is of daemonic
origin, not god-sent. The ancient Greeks believed that nature is
daemonic, not divine; that is to say, the dream is not a supernatural revelation,
but is subject to the laws of the human spirit, which of course has a kinship
with the divine.
The dream is defined as the psychic activity of the sleeper, inasmuch as
he is asleep. Aristotle knew that a dream converts the slightest
sensation perceived in sleep into intense sensations. The dream exaggerates
Nevertheless, he concluded that dreams might easily betray to the physician
the first indications of an incipient physical change which had escaped
observation by daytime consciousness. We shut our focus on the inner
world of visions, hunches, etc. because we have to tune ourselves into
the physical world. In that action we filter out much valuable input.
Earlier Greeks realized the inherent healing power within dreams and deified
this force as the Olympian god, Apollo, and his son the healer Asklepios
(known later in Rome as Aesculapius). When the potions and practices
of medicine failed, one sought healing in the sacred dream.
There were many dream temples throughout the countryside devoted to this
very mission. Here one could end one's pilgrimage with purifications
in the sacred spring in hopes that the god Asklepios would visit on his
Priests attended these temples and the worshippers, but never interfered
with the pure healing energy of the god by offering their own rational
interpretations. This ancient approach to the dream grounds modern
non-interpretive, experiential dreamwork in a rich cultural heritage.
Because they have an archetypal quality, these images emerge again and
again through the centuries and their dynamic is as relevant for us today
as it ever was. There is an archetypal timeless quality, something
which transcends both space and time, to both dreams and dreamhealing.
None of this means that there is no value in dream analysis or interpretation,
but the dream's power is not limited to that. It is the ego, not
the larger self, which forms and desires interpretation to give "meaning"
to a dream. On the other hand, the meaning of dreams is inherent
in the experience, much like the purpose of being IS being.
There are many ways the dream symbols help us gain conscious self-knowledge.
However, in the last century perhaps too much emphasis was put on the rational
side. So today, a lot of people who are interested in growth and
healing, emphasize feeling and the heart over the head. They seem to wish
to reject anything mental or especially intellectual. Again, this
The mind has its rightful place as an ally. It takes heart and mind
to be whole. The proper role of the rational mind in dreamhealing
is to surrender to the autonomous flow of the stream of consciousness,
and to suspend any analysis of dream material until after the dreamjourney
has revealed its unique qualities. After that, the mind may integrate
the gut reactions with "what it knows."
It matters little if we take the Freudian approach and reduce most of the
dream material to repressed sexuality and instinct, or grasp a broader
concept of our movement toward the higher self, as the Jungians allege.
We can even form Gestalt relationships with various dream aspects and become
involved with our myriad of inner parts. There are several systems
for accessing a feeling-identification with dream images, but they rarely
lead to whole healing of the psyche and body.
Some people feel they really "get" a dream when they experience the moment
of "a-ha" or integration. The problem here is that stops the process
of relating to the dream image by substituting some sort of intellectual
inner "click" which may or may not be "right."
Dreams have many levels of reality, so no single interpretation can encompass
that. A myriad of interpretations contain useful self-knowledge.
Even a single dream can continue to unfold over the years since it contains
an unfathomable depth of information.
Beyond the symbols, beyond the "click," beyond "a-ha" is a healing state.
It is a gift from your dream in the form of a healing state--a place which
is without dialogue, which is about vision, which is about healing inside,
and which is beyond mere psychological understanding. This is Mystery.
So much of our time and energy is invested in building up models allowing
us to formulate our ego view of the world of relationships and preferences.
Where the most profound healing comes in is in the holistic (body/mind)
experience of the dream.
When you re-enter a dream in therapy, both the conscious mind and subconscious
cooperate in a new and wonderful way that you may never have experienced
before. Unpleasant seeming dream imagery often transforms into a
peaceful, healing place, if you allow the imagery to take your consciousness
down into deeper, less structured awareness. The healing comes from
simply "being there."
This is a far cry from the scientific understanding of dreams. However,
Freud was not wrong when he postulated that the dream was the result of
the conflict or cooperation of psychic forces. The process that underlies
dreams, when studied, can elucidate the nature of these psychic forces.
One of the main focuses in modern dreamhealing is on actualizing the healing
power within dreams and other visionary consciousness states. There
are many things you can do with a dream. One popular pastime now
is the development of lucid dreaming, where you become conscious within
the dream and direct your activities as in waking life. This may
produce an increased sense of personal power and control. However,
there is a chance that this is an invasive intrusion on natural corrective
forces by an over-active ego. The point of dreamwork is not to take
the ego into the dreamworld. We need to bring the dream images into
our conscious awareness and waking life.
Since the dream state arises from beyond the ego, anything can happen,
and natural laws of physical reality do not apply. Unbounded by any
physical limits and laws, dream realities broaden awareness so that we
can begin to experience our full range of humanness. Virtually anything
is possible in the dream reality -- death, rebirth, time travel, out-of-body
journeys, enhanced physical or mental powers, even extraordinary effects
like healing and balancing.
Yet, there is a voice in most of us that wants to discount the dream experience
as a less important, inconsequential reality than our waking experience.
For example, a parent tells a child, "Go back to sleep; it was only
a dream!", after the child has just awakened from a terrifying dream
and still experiences the physiological consequences, which are very real.
Disregarding the nightmare is one way to ignore the power of the dream
as if it did not have impact or validity in the conscious awareness and
experience of the child. The truth is that the experience of a nightmare
is just as threatening and dreadful as any waking situation that evokes
extreme fear and bodily contraction.
In fact, the nightmare may usher in an even stiffer fright because it may
be drawing on the fantastic and other-worldly aspects of the psyche.
What is important to observe is that, in both cases, the fear experience
causes bodily feelings and reactions.
Our natural reaction to a fearful situation like a nightmare is to turn
away and avoid the experience entirely. This avoidance (a version
of "out of sight, out of mind") sets our system off-balance and
triggers the fight/flight syndrome.
To re-establish the balance and harmony, it is usually necessary to stop
avoiding the fear and turn around and move toward it, accepting it and
owning it as a valid part of our reality. The monsters of our dreams
are only alienated parts of ourselves, vying for attention. If we
can embrace the fear, we no longer need to run away, and we can experience
the peace that comes from having "let go" of the fear.
Pain, either physical or emotional, is a marker that indicates where healing
is needed within us; but we usually surround our pain with fear to protect
us from experiencing it. The fear is usually a base for our anger,
or any of the other numerous denial and avoidance strategies we use.
The nightmare makes us a gift of the fear and its underlying pain.
It leads us to the inner places that need healing, and provides the healing
as we experience expansion within of our "stuck", blocked, lifeless parts.
At the heart of our approach is the notion that because dreams affect us
on our primary experience level -- the body -- and can stir intense multi-sensual
feelings and reactions in us, dreams can be used to enter a bodily place
of dis-ease and restore the natural flow and balance to that place.
In honoring the dream we draw from the ancient healing tradition of the
past, and the best of modern psychotherapeutic technique. The ancient
word for therapy, therapeuin, originally meant "service to the gods."
In this case therapy facilitates the healing process of the Greek god Asklepios.
He was god of both dreams and healing.
The content of the dreams -- the characters, the inanimate objects, the
activities, the feelings, the colors -- can all be doorways into the infinite
inner territory of our myriad inner selves. They are states of consciousness
that facilitate healing on mental, physical and spiritual levels.
If we can go deeply into the experience of a dream such as the nightmare,
for example, we can bring a healing to the dis-ease that caused the nightmare.
Dreams and nightmares are a unique way to move our awareness into our inner
feelings and bodily places of flow and blockage. With a remembered
dream, we already have in our grasp a good start at an inner resolution
of the process.
Borrowing from C.G. Jung, we propose the idea that dream symbols arise
from the psychic energies that create us and bind us together with all
other life forces, the collective unconscious. However, moving beyond
analytical and interpretive methods of treating dreams, it is possible
for us to experience directly the timeless and dimensionless primal force
that creates dreams.
To do so we have to use dreamhealing to travel beyond the symbols to their
very source. We call these experiences dream journeys, in the
old shamanic sense. The therapist functions as a guide to take the client
deeper than the surface symbolism.
Symbols are merely a means of capturing our attention -- of attracting,
appeasing, or scarring our ego's conscious waking awareness. Any
illness or disease, as the name itself suggests, has at its source a state
of dis-ease or out-of-balance energies.
Like the shamans of old, Jung noted that the onset of any serious disease
was reflected in dreamlife. In addition to leading to the source
of our dis-ease, dreams and nightmares also have within them the potential
for expansive experiences which can heal and bring us back to a state of
balance and health. They are both diagnostic and prescriptive, in
that sense. They reveal both problem and solution, if we only learn
how to attend to their clarion call.
On the surface and analytical level, dream symbols usually relate to the
ego's particular concerns. Some "big dreams" carry a more mysterious,
archetypal or collective value. However, each symbol is actually
of equal value. They are doorways opening into the formless, chaotic
energy underneath it which gave rise to it.
Interpreting the symbol gives us a more detailed description and picture
of the doorway, but does not give us the experience of going beyond that
doorway and exploring experientially what is on the other side over the
threshold in those primal energies.
Dreamhealing centers around the idea that by going into and then past the
experience of the symbols, we can experience the consciousness that created
them. This creative state is a source of healing and re-creation.
Some symbols offer access to memories of the past, some reveal future
events, others can lead us to our inner healer -- the part of us that can
provide the energy we need to restore balance and harmony within ourselves.
Much work has been done lately with imagery and healing, usually importing
symbols or images into the client's visualization. The healing tale
or teaching tale is used in both spiritual and secular counseling.
The "imported metaphor" is part of the stock-in-trade repertoire of Ericksonian
The results are inherently stronger when the individual produces their
own imagery while the therapist unobtrusively helps the client avoid the
pitfalls of self-indulgent fantasy. The client is guided to stick
with the metaphors that arise from within to describe what his state of
being and experience is like.
You can experiment with this yourself, simply by asking yourself a few
simple questions: What would you like to have happen? When
it isn't happening, how do you know its not? And where do you feel
that in your body? And what's it like? By this means you
create your own metaphor for your personal experience, whether it comes
from dreamlife or some problem, or a childhood trauma.
The therapist functions solely as a guide to the inner realms, since it
is familiar territory to the practitioner. We can use the well-known
map analogy, noting that the map can only be a partial representation or
symbol of the actual terrain.
For example, looking at any map of the countryside we can see lines that
mark rivers, hills, and other topological features; however, to walk through
an actual old growth forest with a compass, climb the hills and pitch camp
under the protective canopy of the trees, and listen to one of those rivers
imprints a much deeper impression of the forest than the map ever could.
It is a full experience of what is behind the map.
Trying to experience the terrain through the map is like interpreting the
symbol, while the experience of going into and beyond the symbols is as
everchanging and alive as an excursion deep into the forest and the mysteries
of nature. Another example of the distinction is the difference between
reading a recipe and tasting the dish. The savor certainly isn't
A dream guide, like a river guide, takes the person through the turbulent
(chaotic) waters of the psyche, past the rocks and boulders of their fear,
to find the safe passage where the river flows easily into the calm beyond
the rapids. The therapist's approach evolves in the moment to keep
pace with the flow of the client's process deep in the heart of the dream.
Consequently, the client has an active part in the healing process and
learns psychological self-care. Flowing with the experience through
the progression of multi-sensory images provides the pathway to healing.
The experience of finding an inner healing state is invaluable, as it teaches
firsthand that the healer is within. The outer healers are only representations
or mirrors of what is already inside.
The healing process and myth are deeply engrained in our lives, as individuals
and societies. Each culture evolves its own variations on health
and disease, and those able to aid in recovery from physical and mental
distress. The problem with the old western healing paradigm is that
the perception is that healing comes from without. In our culture
now we are developing many alternatives to mechanistic medical and psychological
One of those alternatives is awareness of personal mythology. Jung suggested
that each individual life is based on a particular myth. By discovering
that myth, we can live it consciously and adapt ourselves to our destiny,
harmonizing inner and outer experience, and allowing our true individuality
But mythic living doesn't necessarily mean living one myth, since the patterns
of all god/dess forms are within us. The myth does not provide us
with a blueprint for daily living concerning what we should or ought to
do. Instead, it helps us in the process of discovering who we are,
where we come from, and where we are going. They spark our sense
of discovery and urge us to question and go deeper.
There is a chaotic assortment of mythical images within each of us, but
sometimes certain themes emerge and assert their priority on a life.
So, an individual life seems to strongly parallel a specific myth theme.
One way this can manifest is through an uncanny series of synchronistic
events, wherein a particular myth becomes the paradigmatic model of a life.
The quest for actualization of this myth motivates a variation on the age-old
journey of the hero.
In ancient Greece, if you wanted to ensure success in some undertaking
you invoked the god who oversaw your particular endeavor with prayers and
offerings. As stated before, Asklepios was the Greek god of healing
and dream. He was the son of Apollo and the mortal Coronis who was
slain by Apollo for infidelity before the child was born.
Taken prematurely from his mother, Asklepios was raised by the centaur
Chiron, who was a master of the healing arts. Asklepios was an able
student who soon surpassed his teacher and incurred both the wrath and
blessings of the various gods and goddesses. To protect him from
these whims, Zeus immortalized him as the Divine Healer.
An entire healing tradition developed in ancient Greece based on this myth.
The medical physicians became known as Asklepiads; however, the Asklepian
dream healing temple was the place to go if their medicines and treatments
At the Asklepian temple, the god himself visited mortals in their dreams
to bring Divine healing. At the temple, Asklepian priests oversaw
the rites and procedures which brought the sick mortal into direct contact
with the god. These temples were located at great distances from
the cities and populated areas in Greece so that to reach one a pilgrimage
Having arrived at the temple, one was received by the temple priests who
began the sometimes lengthy process of determining whether or not the god
had summoned one for healing. The priests did have a therapeutic
function in the temple, but they were not in any way therapists, nor did
they interpret any of the supplicant's dreams.
The priests determined whether or not one had been summoned by Asklepios
by making discreet inquiries about the god's appearance in their dreamlife.
An appearance by the god signified that one had indeed been invited and
was ready to enter the temple. The form which Asklepios assumed in
dreams was either a snake, or less commonly a dog (or wolf).
The next steps of bodily and mind purification were begun. Another
interview with a priest was held because it was recognized that unless
a person was conscious and accepting of his present life condition he could
not expect a healing from the god. After the interview, the patient's
body went through cleansing in the springs or streams around which the
temples were always constructed. And at last, the supplicant was
prepared to approach the god.
Since Asklepios visited the sick in their dreams, a special chamber, called
the abaton (a Greek word meaning "a place not to be entered into
uninvited"), was provided where the person would remain alone and asleep.
The couch inside where the patient lay was known as the kline. This
period of waiting for the god was called the incubation.
After dreaming the patient was interviewed by the priests who, without
interpreting the dream, would instruct the patient as to whether or not
the god had brought the healing. Sometimes many sessions in the abaton
on the kline were necessary to come into contact with the god and the sick
did not leave the temple until they were healed.
As far as interpreting the dream, the belief was that the experience of
the dream and not an interpretation was how the healing came to the sick.
The healing was accomplished through the direct intervention of the god
himself with the patient's soul through the dream.
As a final part of the healing process, a fee was paid to the temple priests
as an offering for the ongoing maintenance and work of the Temple.
It was said that a failure to do so would result in a relapse of the dis-eased
Testimonies were inscribed on the temple walls attesting to the miraculous
and powerful healing which went on in the temples, including cures for
afflictions like blindness. In this way the Asklepian dreamhealing
went on for hundreds of years.
This tradition is continued in dreamhealing. The eight phases of
dreamhealing reflect an archetypal healing process. This healing
myth is reiterated in the techniques ("ceremonies") of many disciplines.
These steps form the real sequence of inner healing no matter what the
outer form, including traditional medical practice. These phases
include: 1) the pilgrimage; 2) the confession; 3) purification; 4) the
offering; 5) dream quest; 6) dreamhealing; 7) work on dreams; 8) re-entry
The entire process is contingent on a healing sanctuary, whether that refuge
can be found without or within. Processing is the principle of assisting
an individual to look at his own existence, and improve his ability to
confront what he is and where he is for greater adaptability, wholeness,
The pilgrimage satisfies the necessary first step in healing. It
is important because one commits one's energies and resources to healing.
It is a notice of intent. The outcome of the process is directly
proportional to the personal energy put into it, as well as the intent.
As in ancient times, the refuge, retreat, or sanctuary is a place where
the seeker can devote all of their energy to their dreams and healing without
worry about the outer world. That sense of safety is a key factor
in healing, because healing is an act of trust. Sanctuary is being
in a state of total safety which supports trust.
Healing involves pushing past old boundaries and negating old confining
belief systems and that too is best done in trust and safety. Disease
is a state of deep inner fear and pain, and it is easier to face fears
and pain from a base of safety. Most therapists know this, but generally
conceive of it as a pleasant office, confidentiality and being game and
But it takes more--a deep respect and honoring of the natural healing process
from within, rather than egotistically claiming to be "the healer."
This is why we jokingly call Doctors -- M.D.s -- "Minor Deities."
Dreams and visions seem so fragile, so whimsical, and insubstantial in
our pragmatic, materially oriented society. When the substantial
and concrete is valued more than the mystical and insubstantial it is more
difficult to validate one's own inner life.
This is perhaps one reason the retreats were located a distance from any
city. To live and survive in the civilized world requires a well-structured,
strong ego and intellect just to deal with its technological complexity
and its threat to our sense of self.
But the ego, in defending itself often feels and acts directly opposite
to our deeper wisdom. In a word, we go against ourselves, a case
of ego vs. higher self. This creates a state of tension or dis-ease
which eventually manifests throughout our whole organism as mental and
physical diseases that assume the shape of this inner conflict.
For example, most of us have a deep and basic fear and unease over how
we are impacting our planet's ecosystems. We may or may not be aware
of it, depending on our vested interests and whether or not we identify
as environmentalists, but it is there.
Yet, in our daily battle to survive we burn fossil fuel driving to work
in automobiles that deplete resources and generate pollution. We
support hundreds of other activities daily that similarly degenerate the
ecosystem. This deeply distresses, puts part of us out of ease with
We are torn in opposite directions by the pulls of our survival instincts.
It may be out of our awareness but we are distressed by it. Similarly,
a person may continue to smoke cigarettes fully aware of the building health
risks incurred. The fear of cancer may remain subconscious, but it
Most degenerative diseases reflect this state of distress. Degenerative
is also a word that characterizes what is happening to the ecosystem.
For example, cancer is both a symbol and a physical manifestation of our
We could describe cancer as living cells in a state of uncontrollable growth
destroying their host organism. This is a perfect metaphor for our
relationship as a species to the ecosystem. Aerial photographs of
cities bear a remarkable likeness to photographs of microscope slides of
cancer cells. The outer disease assumes the shape of the inner state
Nature and wilderness, however, invite flow and merging of the spirit and
soul with the ego. Nature's threats are not to the ego or self alone,
but to the entire organism. They require instinctual or intuitive
responses involving the whole organism. This allows the ego self
and the deeper instinctual self to cooperate in a dynamic balance and that
That, plus the beauty and serenity of wilderness, takes us back to our
grounding-founding state. Nothing has the ability to return harmony
to soul and ego so readily as nature. The nature-mystic experience
is one of the most easily accessed non-ordinary states. Untainted
wilderness is possibly one of the least realized yet most valuable healing
resources that we have. Water, in particular, was important to the
dream temples, and there was always a healing spring within the precinct.
The confession helps you target where in your life you have missed the
mark. The word "sin" is simply an old Greek archery term (hamartia)
for "missing the mark." So if you miss, you simply try again.
This self-analysis goes beyond an intellectual review of wrongs, should
and ought-tos. It is a special form of in-sight. It signifies
attention is turning inward, and becoming reflective.
Dreamhealing begins with the premise that each feature of the dream is
a part of the dreamer. One can enter a symbol and speak as if one
were that symbol and learn a lot about perspectives other than the ego.
It is a way to experience the multiplicity of consciousness within each
Many ego parts exist in states of conflict or dis-ease with each other,
and by experiencing or becoming the symbols in a dream, and exploring the
relationships among them, one eventually can resolve, or move beyond the
rifts to a 'gestalt' or inner merging. This signifies the unification
of conflicting parts into a state of wholeness or integrity.
This is a very healing experience for the ego. Occasionally in Gestalt
dreamwork, the therapist-client team slips past the experience of the symbol
to some deeper state of consciousness. These are confusing initially,
because they don't compute with traditional training or experience, but
they are intriguing.
If you merely forage deeper into the dreams, following the dream symbols
through and beyond the surface features, they function as doorways into
profound states of consciousness, very healing states of consciousness.
There are apparently extremely powerful energies or forces within dreams.
Just getting to them and experiencing them leads to profound healings.
What is really amazing is that they seem to have effects on physical levels,
resulting in physical as well as mental restructuring of self image.
Perhaps someday we can devise experiments to track these processes with
biofeedback. It may eventually become possible to monitor physiology
and feedback the unique pattern of mental and physical states that promote
healing on an individualized level.
The confession is an extremely important part of the healing and letting-go
process. The Asklepians believed that you couldn't be healed or visited
by the god Asklepios until you were at ease with your own soul. Paralleling
that practice, the confessional during a retreat is more a case of exploring
the state of disease at many levels and from many perspectives.
It usually ends up looking more like psychotherapy. The physical
and emotional diseases reflect or manifest inner states of dis-ease between
ego-personal self and the deeper soul-self, or among the separate parts
of the ego.
Identifying these out-of-ease states is the purpose of the psychotherapy-like
confessional. It is a process of becoming more aware of and intimately
acquainted with the disease and one's relationship to it on a very personal
Harking back to the meaning of sin as simply missing the mark, you have
missed where you have sinned. So if you sin, try again with another
arrow to reach your target. This is a closed-loop feedback system.
It is important for the individual to actually hear their own voice identifying
the problem area.
Another aspect of a psychotherapeutic confessional is that you also have
the opportunity to declare and validate out loud, to yourself and others,
what you have done right. Often in life this simple validation is
unavailable or overlooked.
We all need a pat on the back once in a while for our growth and well being.
Willingly taking time to self-reflect on one's positive and negative aspects
promotes being honest with yourself. It implies taking personal responsibility
in the sense of recognizing your personal ability to respond.
The dream guide functions in a manner similar to that of the ancient dream
priest who oversaw the dream temples. A guide helps you make a trip
through unfamiliar territory. They help you prepare for the trip
and guide you to the best routes, but they don't take the trip for you
-- they just provide the guidance.
The therapist's role, like the shaman of old, is to lead people on journeys
deep into the unfamiliar terrain of the self and to the balancing states
of consciousness that ease or heal. This is likely what the dream
priests did. The word "priest" had different connotations to the
Greeks than us.
The role of the Asklepian priest was to prepare, and guide the seekers
to meet the healing god in the dream. They don't claim to be, or
to speak for (channel), or interpret (analyst) the god. They simply
guide each individual to their own personal encounter.
Purification prior to entry into sacred ground or sacred space has always
been a priority in all forms of magic. And, make no mistake, the
ancient technique was a form of magic with its own protocols. Today
we can use a sweatlodge or sauna to purify through sweat and heat, a spa
for water purification, and a healthy diet of natural foods. Most
of these are easily available.
If dreamhealing is used in a traditional setting, the client may take a
ritual bath, perhaps with herbs, before arriving for the session.
It is a symbolic gesture of intent, and sets the tone that one is on a
sacred mission with a higher aim in mind. Both purification and confession
imply relieving oneself of sin. These practices also help reduce
the stress of modern life. Purification of mind and spirit can be
an important symbolic part of the process, preparing one for transformative
challenge and change.
When it comes to purifying the body, the cleansing needs to be literal.
Most people's bodies are filled with poisons, pesticides, preservatives
and other anti-life chemicals in food. Nearly all meat is full of
steroids and antibiotics, and even amphetamine residues used in chicken-raising.
A more natural diet cleans up the body chemistry. As you truly come
to love yourself, you desire only the best for yourself both inside as
well as outside. Some people use exercise, music, or drumming, and
dancing partly as catharsis to clear out old emotional baggage. What
is most important is not the form of the purification but letting the creative
process flow to take whatever form is appropriate for the individual.
The dreamhealing offering may also take many forms. The most surface
level, of course, involves dealing with paying fees for your therapeutic
sanctuary. It has ever been so, since the days of the temples.
In fact, the Greeks believed that stinting on this offering could jeopardize
Ceremonial offerings invoke a deeper and more personal commitment.
Sometimes we create a more formal personal offering ceremony for individuals
on retreat. But the offering happens at many levels, ceremonial or
During a ceremony, the seeker at some point is asked to offer something
of themselves to help induce a healing dream. It is another personal
energy commitment to healing, like the pilgrimage. For example, one
might offer to devote time to working with the homeless, or commit to picking
up three pieces of litter everyday, or some other form of community service.
This offering is committing to give some form of service beyond one's self
for the collective good.
The offering places even more value on the healing. It helps satisfy
or ease the soul-ego conflicts. Further, following through on the
offering puts ongoing energy into the healing process to prevent the dis-ease
creeping back. Healing is a mind or mindful journey and so you have
to help the mind to prepare and execute it. The offering helps invoke
that state of mind.
A "dream journey" uses the mind, in the broader concept of mind, to enter
one's healing states. States of mind or consciousness can manifest,
for example, as the "placebo effect" in medical terminology -- or in the
evangelist's terms, faith healing.
It is a journey to our ultimate creative state of mind which is the source
of our dreams and imagination. If you are so minded you might even
consider this state to be "the Creator," "Higher Power," or "God force"
within. In Jungian terms it would mean an experience of the healing
power of the Self.
Healing is an act of creation, and that part of us, our creative spirit
or the god within, speaks most vividly through dreams and imagination.
Even Einstein considered imagination more important than knowledge.
It is not an anti-scientific approach to dream.
A dream is a mystical expression of imagination and creative mind which
is what ritual and ceremony help invoke. There is safety in ritual
and ceremony--secureness in it. It is another symbolic act of commitment
to an inner faith.
Ceremony by-passes the mind or intellect; it boggles it. It is a
way of opening to a state of grace or faith, and these are integral aspects
of mystical healing. Ceremony reminds you of something you already
have within you, but don't usually notice. It brings it to surface
Because ceremonies are not rational, they confuse the rational mind.
They appeal to the senses and take us outside of our usual ego experiences
and beyond the experience of the rational or intellectual ego mind.
This is where you find these healing states of consciousness, beyond the
rational ego mind, in the mystic.
Any time you turn your attention within and become receptive to yourself
you enter a whole new world of experience, which is just as real in effects
as the outer world. You can facilitate change within yourself and
cooperate with your personal growth or evolution. The only problem
is getting around the habitual ego identity with its resistances to change.
Many techniques of hypnotherapy have been used for years to accomplish
this. One of the more famous, the "confusion" technique was popularized
by therapist Milton Erickson, a pioneer in modern hypnotic therapy.
Any momentary disequilibrium of either the mind or body can induce a trance
state which by-passes the conscious censoring ego and creates receptivity
in the subconscious.
The ego mind is formed from the sum accumulation of our life's experiences
and our reactions to them. It sets the limits or boundaries of our
usual thing-feeling-behaving patterns. Based on our experiences,
at deep levels of mind we form multi-sensory images of self and world --
images that capture their essence and shape our belief systems which in
turn shape our ego and personality.
Not only do these primal sensory energy images and beliefs limits us, they
also contain the "psychic" distortions which form the nuclei of our dis-eases.
This structure is the ego-mind. It is limited, but what lies beyond
is infinite mind or consciousness. It is our source of energy for
re-imagining ourselves and healing.
New or unfamiliar experiences, irrational ones like ancient dream rituals
that don't compute or match with your normal experiences cause confusion
and disorientation in the ego-mind, and can even turn it off. In
fact, most of the techniques used in dream guiding are based on fooling
this part of the mind.
In ceremony, the ego either automatically or voluntarily steps aside and
becomes willing to relinquish its fantasy of "control." It becomes more
vulnerable and open, particularly if the environment is safe and supportive.
This is when the deep wisdom, the collective infinite consciousness tapped
into through dreams and visions helps transform the old beliefs and images
into more ease-ful, less limiting ones. Then one opens to free and
easy states of mind.
A healing retreat creates a different world image, one in which the inner
mystical experiences, dreams and visions, are held to be equally, if not
more important than outer processes. With sanctuary one is free to
explore them -- the permission is there in the environment.
Virtually all religious traditions throughout recorded history held that
the deities communicated with mortals through dreams and visions.
Yet, direct communication with deity is a new, unsettling thought for many
people. These experiences are neither encouraged nor allowed in our
culture by its healing and religious institutions.
Healing doesn't happen with a one or two time workshop, nor will one dream
accomplish it entirely. Great progress comes in the initial stages
occasionally, but it is not probable and most likely will only be symptomatic
healing. Deep healing or restructuring takes a full commitment of
self, time, and energy.
Most disease has taken years, perhaps a lifetime to develop and permeate
all levels of our organism. By the time it takes on physical or emotional
symptoms, it has been around for awhile and involves the whole person and
most of their life patterns.
There is a momentum to each life and that is not usually changed overnight.
It might not take three months, or it may take longer. Still, a retreat
gives a person time and sanctuary and a better chance to explore themselves
thoroughly to make deep physical and mental changes, to change the momentum.
In ancient Greece, the dream priest would look for a sign of the god in
dreams. If they saw a sign of the god, then that was a sign that
the healing had already occurred. Then you simply paid your fee for
the upkeep of the temple, and left. As therapists, we can't say,
"Oh, there is a snake in your dream--you've been healed--see you later."
The ancient healings may have been conducted in this manner, but it is
not necessarily enough for the modern ego, because it is a surrender of
personal power to an external force which only visits in certain dreams.
Dreamhealing participants learn to realize that they are really the power
behind their healing, not the therapist. That is much more empowering,
and real healing is an empowering process, an opportunity for personal
evolution. Knowledge of self-healing capacities goes back over the
That is a fundamental way dreamhealing differs from the ancient technique,
or for that matter, most modern medical or new age healing practice.
Common to shamanism, psychology, and the medical approaches are their implications
that the healing power is outside of the person seeking healing.
Somehow it is the doctor or his medicines and techniques, the shaman or
the God -- someone, something, or somepower outside of the self who provides
the healing. That disempowers.
WORK ON DREAMS
Bringing the awareness or senses of the inner healing process from the
dream into the conscious or rational mind, which is what a dream journey
does, helps us to realize the healing in the outer world also. It
draws the ego-mind into a partnership of cooperation to make outer changes
in lifestyle and behavior that compliment or support the inner ones.
The individual is empowered and takes a more active -- pro-active -- role.
The pattern is learn, commit, do.
Dream therapy often triggers surprising changes in life patterns without
intellectual awareness of how the change of attitude occurs. For
example, some dreamhealing participants find they are simply unable to
eat certain foods, or lose the desire to smoke after a dream session, even
though the work didn't touch on that at all.
It often takes the mind weeks or months to finally understand the depths
and changes in personal dynamics that the dream therapy initiates.
But it is still an inner process. We could describe it as intellect
catching up to wisdom.
So, dreamhealing incorporates and expands on Asklepian dreamhealing.
It was not derived from or contrived to fit this archetypal model.
It emerges spontaneously, reiterating the same themes, loud and clear.
It is a new paradigm for healing, a model that incorporates the old but
only as part. It integrates science and mysticism yielding a view
beyond the capabilities of either system alone.
Dreams themselves, as the long-forgotten healers, do this. From the
scientific side, there has been much research and acknowledgement that
dreams are necessary to health. They are believed to exert a balancing
effect, and without them we soon show signs of mental and physical deterioration.
For example, studies have shown that sleep deprivation within days results
in extreme nervousness and anxiety, hallucinations, or delusions.
Freud, Jung, and Fritz Perls were among the earliest contemporary scientists
who recognized the healing potential in dreams and used them as therapeutic
tools, but they did so more from the superficial ego and interpretive levels.
Jung hinted at much deeper aspects of dreams, but still remained interpretive
in his dream therapy. Perls recognized that it was the experiences
in the dream that were healing, but limited it to the ego. Most "in
depth" psychotherapies include dream therapy. And, of course, from
the mystical perspective dreams come from the deities, and give us the
gifts of prophecy, wisdom, and their unique perspective.
By and large, dreams are the forgotten healer. When healing is needed,
very few people think of turning to their dreams.
Dreams provide a missing feminine element as contrasted with the characteristically
masculine approach in the medical healing model. It is an intuitive
one where the person needing healing is acted on from the outside by therapists,
chemicals, surgery, or technology. Dreams, on the other hand, are
a personal inner healing, a non-intrusive one that arises from within,
a creative healing of faith.
Modern medicine is practiced in bright lights and technically outfitted
hospitals. Dreams are the night's creations from the soul and sleep.
The contrast is that of a masculine quality, with a feminine quality.
This doesn't mean dreams should necessarily replace allopathic healing;
they provide a balance and wholeness it is missing -- the yin and yang
complementing the whole. It is a marriage between dreamhealing and
medical science that seems most appropriate.
Dream therapy in hospitals might speed recovery rates from surgery and
other medical techniques and treatments. It would certainly empower
patients with a sense of personal and deep participation in the healing
For the skeptic, who wonders how ancient practices like Aesculapian mythology
could play a role in our lives today, we suggest an open-mindedness about
dreams. We can learn from them without having to become "true believers."
A new paradigm for healing has to incorporate all the models, but not be
bound or limited to them. This includes the old and new medical technology,
psychology, Aesculapian dreamhealing, shamanism, and anything else with
something to offer. But it needs to be much more than just the sum
of all of them.
The old models are incomplete and inadequate, too limited and narrowly
focused. They are entrenched in dogma and habitual ways of viewing
reality, and the patient.
Contemporary medical or psychological therapies, perhaps even more so than
the ancient practices, are biased belief systems. Immediate change
is imperative because, for starters, we need to heal our species' relationship
with its environment. It is one of dis-ease.
None of the old models motivates us or shows us how to heal it--creativity
will be required. Healers cannot just focus on only healing parts
of the individual any more, the issues are much broader. The survival
of our species is at stake.
File Created: 6/15/00 Last Updated: 7/24/00