Using Dreams to Become Emotionally Empowered and Aware
Most people assume that their emotional reactions are caused by external stimuli. For example, when someone cuts you off on the highway, we think, I feel angry because that guy cut me off. The external action causes a somatic sensation of anger, which the mind identifies and then reports back to you, in the form of your thoughts. But what if that isn’t how it works? In my work diving deeply into the feelings present in dreams, I have come to understand that this is not actually the most accurate model of how our emotions work. You can imagine my excitement then when a fellow dreamer sent me a link to a recent episode of the NPR podcast Invisibilia which reported on research that backs up an alternative theory quite similar to my own. They interviewed the psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, which posited that instead of emotions arising as reactions to external stimuli, we have a constant somatic sense of like/dislike and arousal/non-arousal that is affected both by external stimuli and internal constructs.
How does the mind reach conclusions about how we feel given the multitude of external and internal inputs at any moment? It uses its memory bank. We reference past situations where similar sensations were felt with particular external inputs, and use them to make guesses about what we are feeling in the given moment and why. So, the mind perceives both that someone has cut you off and a strong bodily arousal, and then the mind remembers that the last time this bodily arousal happened in the car, someone cut you off, so then you conclude—I am angry because someone cut me off.
To reach clarity about our feelings, and ultimately who we truly are, we have to get to know that internal world, understand its beauty, its truth, its pitfalls and its blind spots.
It’s a fine enough system, but it is never 100% accurate. In fact, I’ve found through working with dreamers that the more certain you are that a feeling is being directly caused by something external, the more likely it is that you are missing an important aspect of your internal experience. Certainly, the external world has a role to play in triggering our emotions but it is always in a conversation with our internal world—our individual set of memories, traumas, relationships, values, and identities. To reach clarity about our feelings, and ultimately who we truly are, we have to get to know that internal world, understand its beauty, its truth, its pitfalls and its blind spots. Then, we can learn to make better guesses about what we are feeling in a given moment and why. We can even learn to transform the nature of our guesses altogether, and create a new story about our experience that is liberating and transformative.
To me, this is where dreams come in. Inside of our dreams, the barrage of external information we are subjected to every time we open our eyes is gone, and we are left only inside of our own internal landscape. Sometimes, people judge the content of their dreams to be both boring and uncomfortable. Boring; because their dreams depict them situations that they experience in real-life all the time, and uncomfortable because they experience the same stress and anxiety they feel in those real-life situations, only magnified.
But I would argue that it is precisely in this quieting of external inputs and magnification of interior sensation that dreams offer us their most unique and delicious medicine. Since there are no external inputs in dreams, we can understand all of our feelings and experiences in a dream as originating within us on some level. Because of this, dreams highlight situations in our life when we are overly focused on the external causes of our emotions, or where we are lost in projections.
For instance, in the case of the individual who became angry when they were cut off in traffic, they might have a dream of a very similar experience, which would be easy to write off—oh, I dreamt of being cut off because I was cut off in real life. But what if that person actually has a form of road rage? It would be easy enough for them to deny this, because in their waking life perception, every time they react angrily in the car, it is because of something wrong someone else did. But if they are dreaming about this anger, especially consistently, it suggests that there is an internal origin of this felt experience that the dreamer needs to pay attention to. If you have dreams like this, I would invite you to concentrate on the feeling of the dream as you experience it in your body, not the external details.
Becoming dutiful and consistent observers of our ingrained internal reactions and stories about our somatic emotional experience is vital to living in a more authentic and integral way.
The more you concentrate on the internal experience of the feeling, the more likely you are to recognize it in your waking life. You may even find that you are feeling some level of anger as soon as you get into the car—way before anyone does anything that might trigger a strong reaction in you. When you accept that some level of your anger originates inside of you, you can learn how to process and contain that experience in healthy, empowering ways.
There are other ways dreams can illuminate ways we may be projecting or externalizing the source of our feelings. One rule of thumb I like to use is whenever you “just know” something in a dream without there being much external evidence, there is a good chance you are experiencing a projection. For example, if an unarmed man is simply walking towards you in a dream and you “just know” that he is going to rape or murder you. Reflecting on the dream, you might simply conclude, I felt afraid because this man was going to harm me. You might even think this dream suggests a man will harm you soon. But actually the dream is trying to teach you about the projection you may be carrying in waking life. Remember, there are no external inputs in the dream, there are only aspects of your own internal landscape—in dream land, it all originates from you. So without any external evidence that he was going to harm you, how did you “just know” harm was approaching? If you are having dreams like this, the dream is suggesting to you fearing men is an internal filter your mind is using to explain your emotional experience. When we meditate on the felt experience of the dream internally, we can then become more present and aware of when the feeling is originating inside of us and when it is coming from outside of us.
This is not to say that feeling this fear is illegitimate, invalidate, or not a useful emotional response in certain situations. Given the statistics of violence and sexual violence at the hands of men, this projection is understandable. It is simply to suggest that becoming dutiful and consistent observers of our ingrained internal reactions and stories about our somatic emotional experience is vital to living in a more authentic and integral way. After all, if we simply assume external factors are the cause of what we feel and then make assumptions and take actions based on those assumptions we discount the vast, intricate, and ultimately beautiful array of internal factors that exist inside of each of us. Do we need any more evidence than the ongoing and despicable tragedy of police violence against black people of how harmful it can be when humans engage in this behavior?
Understanding the degree to which our emotions originate inside of us and getting to know our subtle, emotional body is one of the most practical and transformative things you can do with your dreams. And I couldn’t be more excited that psychological research is catching up with this understanding. If you are ready to dive deep into your internal world and learn what it means to really love yourself, consider joining my new program, Dreams of Love. In this immersive experience, your dreams will reveal your interior emotional landscape with a depth, beauty, and grace that is as intricate as it is universal. I honor all of the dreamers out there that have the courage to walk alongside their dreams with devotion.
Something that brings me a lot of joy is how expanded the conversation has become around the idea of the feminine, or divine, or archetypal feminine, and the masculine, or divine, or archetypal masculine. About four years back an incredible woman that I’ve now had the pleasure to meet made this movie, Ensoulment, investigating the feminine in Western culture, and I remember thinking that it felt like a pretty new concept for people.
Today I feel like I see people writing about it everyday, from all kinds of perspectives, and I feel revitalized by that. At the same time, I recognize that some people don’t resonate with the concept of there being any particularity to “the feminine” or “the masculine”, or who have felt oppressed by these categories one way or another. I would like to invite all who feel that way to engage with me, I would love to learn about the way this writing hits you. I understand ‘the feminine’ and ‘the masculine’ as two essential and vital energies I recognize inside of my human experience, i.e. the sense of having a “feminine side” and a “masculine side”, or of feeling “like a girl” or “like a boy” interchangeably. Not to say that everyone has this experience or should, but simply that I do.
When I feel into or embody my femininity or my masculinity, I have a sense of what that feels like inside of myself, it’s a distinction that’s has been shaped inside of me through cultural/societal messaging, dreams, and internal contemplation. I feel it in a variety of situations, but probably most often when I exert my power.
Through this, I’ve come to understand the essence of my masculine power as: exerting my power to create the world as I desire it to be. And the essence of my feminine power as: exerting my power to fully embrace the world precisely as it already is. Where masculine power asserts, feminine power surrenders.
I can understand if it feels oppressive to name surrendering as the power women have. But to me, this is because in today’s patriarchal society, where individuals labeled/read as men disproportionately have access to power, masculine power is often simply a synonym for power itself, and we’ve been trained to completely disregard how empowering it is to surrender. I think we have all believed the lie for too long that to surrender, which requires trust, vulnerability, and devotion is to be weak and powerless, but that is only true if you linger there for too long. For me, the path is not to favor either side, but to seek balance between both. This is how I learn to exert my power with integrity.
To me, the feminine power of surrender is what allows the power of vulnerability, for the power of allowing contradiction, acceptance, diversity, and humility, the power of not knowing, of letting go what you thought you knew. After we have taken action to exert our masculine power to create and assert, at some point or another the time will come for you to let that truth go, and the more people that are directly affected by your individual decisions, i.e. the more power/resources that you have access to, the more often and intentionally you should open again to the possibility that you actually do not know anything for sure, and trust the power you have to surrender to and fully embrace what is.
After all, right on the other side of that surrender is the recognition that at the end of the day that while you fundamentally know nothing, there’s one infinite thing that you can know very very well…better than anyone else on this planet. And it is how you feel, who you are, and what your truth is right here and right now. And it is precious. And it is powerful, and its truth is needed, and when you feel it, and you allow that masculine energy to embody it, and put it into the action of creation, the whole dance begins again.
So I pray that we can all muster that bright shining sun fueled courage of conviction to stand on the top of the hill and declare—this is me! Behold! I am what I am! And then allow the natural course to follow, to feel the beautiful aching melancholy tug of the moon, illuminating our stars, asking us to rest, to relax, to connect, to simply be, surrendering completely into a place where pain no longer feels so different from love, where shame has no hold, and where we are absolved from all of our transgressions. Haven’t we all experienced the divinely transformative power of that embrace?
How do you understand the relationship between your masculine and feminine energies? Does this distinction resonate with you at all? Have you had any recent dreams where you bore witness to various embodiments of these archetypes? I would love to you engage with you about this! Feel free to share any dreams you may think are relevant to this to KeziaVida.K@gmail.com, I’d love to utilize dreams as a tool for illustrating this topic.
In the fall of 2012, after three and half years of personal dreamwork, I began my apprenticeship with my original dream teacher, Marc Bregman at his organization North of Eden. Two brave individuals (that I am still lucky enough to call my friends) volunteered to be my guinea pigs as I began learning the art and craft of working with people and their dreams, and within the next year or so, that number grew to 6.
The next year and half were difficult. Learning how to work with other’s dreams and bear witness to the healing journey I had experienced myself was incredible. I felt certain that I had found my life’s passion, witnessing with awe as dreams opened up the gates for tremendous healing over and over again, and learning so much from the teachers and supervision provided to me by North of Eden. At the same time, the closer I got to my teacher and his organization, the more disillusioned I became. As fate would have it, within a year and a half of my joining North of Eden, the foundation of the group broke apart and was never quite the same again. Like everyone who was part of the fabric there, I have my own personal story and role in that breaking apart, but that story is for another time. Suffice it to say, I was not a silent witness to the injustices I perceived within the functioning in the group, and was eventually shamed and shunned because of it.
By the spring of 2014, I was torn. On one hand, by then, I was beginning to develop a practice of dream clients, all modeled off of the work I had been doing with Marc and his organization for over five years. On the other hand, I was disheartened by the breaking apart of my dream community, leading me to deeply question what I had previously been so confident about. Was this work actually beneficial to people, if the person who originated it was flawed? And if the work was actually flawed in some way, didn’t that mean I was too?
I am incredibly grateful for the dreamers that I had the privilege to work with in this period. Without them, I’m not sure where I would be today. With all of these questions swimming in my head, my one-on-one sessions were a bright spot, hour long spurts where I felt grounded, connected, and clear. Yes, this was my purpose, and I got so much joy from each and every session.
But the hours outside of those sessions were not so harmonious. My questioning of myself became more and more intense as I lost the previous support system I had in the dreamwork. Many of my questions stemmed from basic confusions I had around healing, power, and the possibility of guiding others through their dreams.
Gradually, I began to realize that I needed to change what I offered to dreamers who came seeking guidance, but I wasn’t sure how. So I just continued to meditate upon the questions and issues that would come up for me through my work. Slowly but surely, more and more peace came to me, and my questioning became more focused. Eventually, a few central paradoxes floated to the forefront of my mind:
- The dreamer is the utmost authority on their own dream…and dreamers need external perspective in order to gain clarity on their dream
- Deep, long lasting transformation takes patience and time….and the longer an individual depends on another for their healing, the more dependent they become
- We must bring our awareness to the ways we are separated from love to find it again…and consistent dwelling in the separation can block love
- Without external support, healing is not possible…and ultimately it is only the individual that can initiate their own healing
At first, I thought the path forward for me would only appear once I determined the answer to these struggles, i.e. which side of these seemingly contradictory notions were ‘right’. But as they became more clear in my mind, I realized that the path forward was not by choosing one truth over another, but instead walking in balance between each. Slowly, I was able to make peace with the contradictions of my former teacher, and feel fully comfortable embracing all of the amazing aspects of his teachings while discarding the aspects that didn’t resonate with me. Of course he had flaws, he was human, just like me. And that didn’t mean that powerful and transformative work in service to others hadn’t taken place. As I’ve come to fully embrace these contradictions and live my truth out among them, my new offering was born, and I couldn’t be more excited to be sharing it with all of you.
Dream of Love coaching is a new system I’ve created to that is meant to answer these paradoxes with firmness, integrity, vulnerability, and devotion. The core of the work—guiding individuals through their dreams to engage with the healing is still there, but I’ve created a new container and expanded offerings that allows me to interact with these various paradoxes openly and consistently. I feel confident that this new approach to my work will facilitate profound transformations that are grounded in self-empowerment and unconditional love, and I cannot wait to share it with all of you.
So if you are feeling like the time is now for you to engage on an individual journey of healing and transformation utilizing your dreams, I say congratulations!! That is an amazing, and sometimes terrifying step that not everyone finds the courage to take. And I would be absolutely honored to be your guide. Please take a moment to check out the new Dream of Love page to learn more about this offering and if you want to move forward, fill out the application form by clicking here. I’ve got just a few spaces open that I’m seeking to balance with my current client load (and the fact that I’m going to graduate school in August for my Masters in Counseling!! Eek!!).
Finally I want to say thank you to all of the teachers, guides, friends, brothers, sisters, and dreamers who have touched me in so many countless and nameless ways to bring me to where I am today—including those that I have yet to meet! I’ve never felt so supported and loved in my entire life, and feel an immense and joyful weight of gratitude thinking of all the time and energy others have spent caring for my well being and supporting me on my path. I am fiercely devoted to continually walk with integrity, devotion, and boundless love, and please do know that I take each step in your honor. Thank you.
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.