Let's Get Real
A little over a month ago, one of my teachers and dear friends spoke at the First Unitarian Universalist Church here in New Orleans under the topic: Let’s Get Real. Sitting in the pews with some of my nearest and dearest spiritual community, the reality of what church has been for so many was crystallized through his words…as well as a vision for what church could become. John has taught me so much about what community can mean, about how easy it can actually be to show that you care, to be vulnerable and open even in a world and a time when that may seem foolish or short-sighted.
So I hope you enjoy this recording of his talk, and can take the time to just allow the words to touch into your heart. And of course I would love to hear any and all comments and feedback you may have—and I know John would appreciate the same. He is now working with Sivani to create a more consistent presence in the New Orleans area, creating a space for people to come together without dogma or judgment and honor the spirit of unconditional love that vibrates through all.
The number one obstacle to doing dreamwork is not remembering your dreams. For those who know that their dreams have something to offer them and want to utilize this natural healing tool, it’s vital to strengthen your dream recall. But to truly begin to remember your dreams, first, you have to honestly want to, and second, you have to accept your dreams as they come.
You may be thinking—well of course I want to remember my dreams! Why would I be reading this if I didn’t? If this is you, then congrats! You are 90% there. Like anything you want, to truly demonstrate your desire for something, put your intention on it. Write it down, sing it out, dance with it. Ask for help. Find an object that has some resonance for you and place it by your bed so you can remember your intention. Buy a notebook and write dreams on the front and put a pen on top of that notebook and right next to your bed. If you want to remember your dreams, and you are put your full and focused intention on doing so, you will.
Because I’ve found these simple practices to be so helpful, it has led me to another conclusion. 9/10, the reason someone is not remembering their dream—even when on some level they want to—is because on another level, they don’t.
Because dreams are reservoirs of all that we are trying to avoid in our day-to-day consciousness. Your soul’s calling. Your deepest desires. The rumbles of your passion and your creativity. The truth and depth of who you really are and what it really means to be a human in this world, right here right now. Your wounds and your trauma, and all the myriad ways you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling those specific, individual pains…and ultimately from feeling love. This is the stuff of dreams, if you really start taking a look. And, I’m convinced, this is the reason most people don’t remember their dreams, even if a part of them wants to. Because who wants to worry about all of that stuff? We all have lives to lead, right?
So yes, if you want to start remembering your dreams, you have to want to…you have to want to look within, and look hard. And be unflinching in your desire for the truth, for the thing that feels most real—even, or perhaps especially, when it hurts.
But there’s something else I’ve noticed happens once people set their intention on remembering their dreams—they place all kinds of expectations on them. They want their dreams to be particularly action-packed, or emotional, or have really beautiful images. Maybe they want to lucid dream or have some kind of visitation by a spiritual being. Whatever it is, sometimes when they do remember a dream, they immediately toss it aside. “Well, that wasn’t a significant dream, it doesn’t really count. I’m going to try hard tomorrow to remember a real, significant dream tomorrow.” No matter how many times I tell people how all of their dreams are precious and filled with wisdom, they remain convinced that only some of their dreams are worthwhile, and the rest of them are not.
It’s kind of a perfect metaphor for the way we treat ourselves, our deepest selves. At times it can feel that we spend the majority of our lives trying to prop up the parts of us that we think are worthwhile, and hide, avoid, or forget the parts of ourselves that we don’t think are valuable.
Learning to honor each dream in the exact form that it comes is an essential key to becoming a dream recall master. And, it’s excellent practice for what the dreams are trying to teach us on a large scale as well—to just accept and honor our selves, our full selves, every nook and cranny, simply as we are.
A couple of months ago a friend of mine told me that I do shadow work. When she told me this it startled me, since it doesn’t sound very nice. And there’s certainly a part of me that wants to seem nice. But the reality of this hit me over time. Yes of course—dreams are shadow work. Our dreams show us the parts of our being that we would rather suppress, deny, or avoid. When I do work with dreams, I’m there to support you in feeling courageous enough to take a look at those parts, and over time, release your judgment of them, and accept them as the gifts that they are, pieces that fit perfectly into the overall puzzle that is you.
Some people assume that shadow work means that you are going to look at the ‘bad’ or ‘shadowy’ parts of who you are. But I’m here to tell you the shadows have been getting a bad rap! Your shadow is ANYTHING that you aren’t allowing to be present in your consciousness. And what I’ve noticed is that people are often just as likely to be suppressing the reality that they are loved, that they have access to their own truth, and that they are capable of healing and transformation as they are to be hiding negative things about their personalities.
When you live without the love for long enough, the idea of it is terrifying. It’s certainly terrifying to the ego. The ego wants nothing to do with it. Because if we believe that this love exists—and not just that it exists—but we feel the particular way that it exists for us, and if we start to trust that more than what our mind is telling us about how the world works, well then everything has to change. And the ego hates that!
So if you’ve been wanting to remember your dreams, just check-in—Do you really want to? And let me be clear—shadow work is not for everyone all of the time. If you’re already living in a traumatic crisis—if you’re in a state right now where it’s just difficult for you to stay grounded for more than a minute…shadow work might not be the perfect step at the moment.
But if you’ve been on the path for a while, but you feel like there is more you need to learn, or if there are behaviors that you want to change, but you’re not sure how, or if there are things you deeply want in life but they don’t seem to come, the kind of shadow work dreams can offer may be what you are looking for.
Maybe your dreams are fuzzy at first, or seem mundane. Or maybe they are just really short. Maybe there were a bunch of parts that you can’t seem to remember at this moment. Maybe they were in reference to some movie you just watched and you already know what they are all about. What if for just a day, you let them all have a seat at the table, the table of your heart, and hold them dear.
From my dream world to yours, I want you to know, your dreams love you so, so deeply. Maybe even more deeply than any human ever could on this planet. They see you, exactly as you are, in the precise way that your soul longs to be seen. They want you to know that you matter, and that your dreams, those hidden dreams you have for yourself, they matter too. And if you want to remember them, you can. And if you can accept your dreams, and in turn your full self as you are, then you can make them come true.
Can you share with me a dream that you think is totally meaningless?? It would be fun to see if we can bring in the depth and healing your dream might be trying to offer you. With all of my love—and please do not hesitate to be in touch or disagree with me here! It’s such a pleasure for me to hear all of your perspectives and ideas.
Last week I had one of the hardest dreams I have had in a very long time. The feelings were excruciating, horrifying really, and incredibly real. At the start, I was probably around age 14, confiding in a therapist. Although I am terrified to, I reveal to him that I can see spirit right in front of me. I immediately find myself inside of a small room, and feel that I am in a mental institution. All of my perception is profoundly altered. I am aware that I am taking the drug Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic medication normally given to people with profound symptoms of Schizophrenia.
I lose all perception of time. I long for my former life, but am also barely conscious. At a certain point I realize my mother is in the room, sitting right behind me. I am trying to convince her to let me out, but I have trouble speaking. My mouth is extremely dry, I actually pull cotton out of it. I pull a tampon out of it. I am horrified. I can’t even form a thought, the Haldol feels like someone is jumping on my brain and that my perception is flickering in and out. Have five minutes passed? Five years? I don’t know.
I see pictures of myself being a good member of my mental institution community. I am participating happily in the art class. I am helping others heal. I am terrified that my mother will see these pictures and want me to stay locked up. I am doing so well after all. I look at her and realize that it is no longer my mother but a version of myself, and I am spewing vile words, that I can never be trusted, that I have no integrity, that I couldn’t handle getting out of here. That I am not strong enough, not disciplined enough. The Haldol is so debilitating, but I finally get the words out—
“I know I am crazy, but I still have feelings.” And then I wake up.
It feels important to mention that I have never taken any prescribed psychiatric medication—I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder, as a matter of fact. I have always been terrified of this and resisted it in so many ways. For me, having a diagnosis meant I was going to be stripped of my power, of my autonomy, of my dignity. What I did not realize that it was this fear that was keeping me institutionalized, and that I have been doing all of these things to myself. By working so hard to keep any of my experiences that might be considered ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’ hidden so that I wouldn’t be labeled as such, I have kept my spirit locked in a tiny room, drugged, disoriented, unable to express my pain.
It’s a turning point in the dream, when I am finally able to speak, speak to this part of myself that has kept me down, tortured me and silenced me, allowed me to do anything but just be myself, and feel the way I feel.
And so in this dream I see some light. In seeing my own struggle I feel some resolve. How much longer will I keep myself institutionalized? How many more months will allow my energy to be drained, my connection to the deepest yearnings of my soul cut off, trampled on, numbed away? I’ll say these words like a mantra, I may be crazy, but I still have feelings. I may be crazy but I still have feelings, still have feelings, still have feelings. In so many ways, they are the primary thing I have. I have the way things feel to me, I have the way I experience the world, and I know I must honor that completely. This dream helped me see how I have denied myself this, and worked so hard to destroy my own light, and keep myself locked away. Truly, the more I think about it…the more it opens up.
Of all the self-destructive behaviors I’ve engaged in, I think my most shameful (and the one that would probably be most likely to garner me some kind of mental diagnosis, although it’s not exactly difficult to come by these days..) is punching myself, pinching myself, and slapping myself. Basically, physically abusing myself. Self-harm I guess they call it, but that’s always been a somewhat bland term to me because so many things could fall in that category. I wish I could tell you the first time I did it. I might have been really young. It has always been a somewhat instinctual reaction to a wide variety of external stressors. But I know when it got really bad—when I was 17. Thus far, that has been the lowest part of my life. I sunk into a deep depression that expressed itself in a lot of ways—I lost my appetite, experienced extreme insomnia, the whole nine. But I also began consistently hurting myself, and to extremes. During school these powerful waves of self-hatred would pulse through my body and it would feel like the only viable option was to expel them in some way, to punish myself.
As the depression continued I eventually began relating to this heavy punishing energy as a demon that lived at the back of my throat, pulling at my tongue, taunting me, spewing this vile hatred into my ear. In my notebook I began referring to him as the MOC (Master of Ceremonies). He completely controlled my life. Whatever he said went, and I could never get him to shut up unless I hurt myself physically in some way.
And what was his biggest threat, the biggest reason I was such a terrible failure? That I was crazy. And wasn’t I? Hearing voices telling me to hurt myself? Isn’t that basically the definition? This is why I was always so careful to hurt myself privately and to hide all of my self-harm from anyone. I was completely terrified of cutting myself, A, because the sight of blood has always made me ill, and B, because I thought that if I cut myself then I would definitely be seen as crazy—or perhaps what I was most afraid of—needing help.
I did not want help. Mostly, because I didn’t want to be someone who needed help. Those people were weak and unstable and untrustworthy—and weren’t being ‘good’. I was supposed to be good and happy and help other people because my life was so blessed. And how was I ever going to that if I needed help? I did not want anyone to know of my pain, because having pain at all was shameful. Plus, I had way too much of it. I had to be punished for it. And so I was, and so I did. Over and over.
I wish I could say I never ever do this anymore, but I can’t. I can say that I do it significantly less. Like maybe once or twice in the last few years, and with a lot less severity. At least 13 years since I’ve left a bruise on myself. When you self harm you sort of start to count things in this way, like ok I just slapped myself—but I didn’t slap as hard, I was a little more gentle this time.
As with so many of my self-destructive behaviors, I am on a healing journey with this one. And this blog post right here, paired with this dream I had last night, feels like a really important milestone. Because I am speaking my pain to all of you, and I am opening up my closet and letting all of the skeletons out—especially the one that has me convinced that you will all think I am crazy.
And you know what? It feels really good. Because somehow, some way, today—so what if I am crazy? I’ve got my feelings, and I’ve got to own them. It’s the only way….no, it’s my way. And I love it. So much gratitude for anyone who took the time to witness me here, like this. And courage to anyone out there that may be hiding some of their pain for fear of judgment. Maybe I am ‘crazy’, but I still have feelings. I’m not going to let those voices keep me locked up anymore. And as I have learned time and again—for me, speaking up is the way out.
Last week, I had the amazing pleasure of posting up at an amazing new spot in New Orleans, the Glitter Box. On Royal St., it’s a hub of incredible art and crafts pieces, all centered around a modern intersectional feminism that honors the need for making yourself feel beautiful, look glamorous, and ground into your spirit. I was there offering dream consultations to the patrons, and when a group walked in looking for some healing, I got the same reaction I’ve gotten over and over these years that I’ve told people I do dreamwork—EEK!
I’ve come to realize this is because, 9 times out of 10, if a person remembers any of their dreams at all, they remember one they consider a “nightmare”. The dream reminds them of a feeling they want to avoid. Having someone stand there and suggest we explore it together—well that doesn’t sound very fun does it? Why would anyone want to do the work of exploring our shadows—opening up to precisely the things that we’ve been working so hard to avoid or reject?
I understand it, I really do. But I feel pain about it too. Because through my work with these shadows I have come to see that all of the energy we are using to avoid them is one of the biggest sources of our suffering. And even though we know this, when it comes to the individual and specific ways we are blocked—the things our dreams love to immerse us in—it can be so difficult to muster the courage and the strength to look.
So as the years have passed, I’ve come back again and again to these questions: How do I frame dreamwork in a way that doesn’t feel as scary to people? How can I advocate for the dreams in a way that honors their power while still empowers the dreamer? How can I create a way for people to interact and interface with dreams in a way that is nurturing and supportive and even…dare I say it…FUN?
One of the most powerful ways I know to explore dreams is through a process I was exposed to during my time at North of Eden called ‘strings’. In the process, a group leader takes each dreamer through a theatrical re-enactment of their dream, intended to illuminating the wisdom and healing potential of the dream. By creating a physical experience of the dream, dreamers can more readily access that healing potential. I went through many retreats focused on this process, and it was nothing short of life altering. I felt into wounds I was carrying from many generations previous, and was able to understand the source of so many of my negative reactions and difficulties in relationship with others.
I eventually came to help teachers lead strings, and have even led a few string groups myself. But as with any powerful medicine that engages with shadow work, the territory can be extremely tricky. More than once I witnessed and have even facilitated pushing people into places and experiences that were actually too much for them to handle or process in that moment. I’ve come to realize that I do my best work with dreams with an extremely gentle touch, and one that empowers the dreamer first and foremost and always. And through this realization, Dreamplay was born.
Starting this January, I was blessed with the commitment of a few incredible dreamers in New Orleans, including Mary Lou Bensabat and Marian Gay-–dreamers and teachers who have walked the path of their own dreams with an inspiring amount of humility, discipline, and compassion. They agreed to meet with me every couple of weeks to help develop this Dreamplay process. We stuck with the idea of bringing the dream to life through dramatic re-enactments. But made a definitive change—instead of a group leader directing the dream, it was the dreamer themselves that is charged with telling the group how they would like their dream to be played with.
We focus on the felt experience of the dream, and encourage a quiet, meditative state during the practice. This way we make space for whatever may be alive for the dreamer as they allow for their inner vision to be witnessed. Questions and commentary are kept to a minimum—and when the dreamer feels done, we’re done.
When I started this I was worried that the practice wouldn’t be powerful enough, that it wouldn’t really honor the capacity dreams have to heal. But that judgment completely changed after the first time I experienced Dreamplay for myself. Sure, it was not as life-altering as the first time I did strings in an intensive retreat setting. But it wasn’t meant to be. And when it compared to just discussing my dreams with someone one on one, it actually effected me just as powerfully—if not more so. I was able to connect with feelings in the dream that I didn’t even realize were present, making it possible for me to gain insight on the topics brought up by the dream.
What I love most about this process is how accessible it is. Just like a yoga class or meditation circle, dream play is meant for dreamers of all levels of experience and relationship with their own dream practice. Truly, no matter if you only remember one dream from your whole life or you engage in deep lucid dreaming experiences every night, Dreamplay opens up a safe and non-dogmatic environment for you to explore what your dream wants to reveal to you. One of the things that I’ve loved most about it so far is the awesome synchronicities that arise between the dreams and the dreamers who participate, allowing themes to arise organically from those present. And the fact that since the focus and power is put into the hands of the dreamer, it’s easy to regulate the depth of the experience so that it aligns with what you’re most prepared for in the moment.
So!! I’m happy to say that I’m starting to bring Dreamplay out of my office space and into the wider world and I hope that some of you may be able to join me. The process is truly a lot of fun and something I’m eager to bring out into the world so that more people can find ways to incorporate the wisdom of their dreams into their everyday lives. Here’s the upcoming info & dates!
Mondays, except April 17th – NEW ORLEANS @ Grandmother Dream House, 1112 Mandeville, 6:30pm
April 17th – MIAMI –Dreamplay @ Inhale Miami, 7:30pm
April 23rd – NEW ORLEANS — Dreamplay @ Nola Yoga Loft, 2pm-4pm