The number one reason men talk about dreams, in my experience, is that they have dreamed of someone who has died and the experience seemed so real that they desperately need help in understanding what is going on. I’m not talking about the brave men who come to dream classes and share thier inner lives with a mixed group. I’m talking about the guy in the neighborhood pub or on the bleachers, the cop in the all-night diner, the commuter on the train.
When I was moving into a former home, I was startled by banging on the French doors of the study in which I was shelving books. I opened the doors and a huge, wild-eyed man introduced himself as a neighbor. He was a former basketball pro. “I’ve just come from the graveyard,” he explained, breathing heavily. “My dad showed up in my bedroom last night and I had to go prove to myself that he’s still in the ground.” The cemetery was half a block away, not a long hike at all.
But in fact the distance between the living and the dead may be much shorter. It is exactly as wide as the edge of a maple leaf, said Handsome Lake, the Seneca Indian prophet.
Today, in a lovely retreat center in the foothills of the Cascades, I’m about to open a session on “Dreaming with the Departed” for a circle of 22 gifted and spirited dreamers – six of them men – who are training to become teachers of my Active Dreaming approach to dreamwork, creativity and healing. So I thought it would be appropriate to share some thoughts about what is going on when we dream of the dead.
Many of us yearn for contact with departed loved ones. We miss them; we ache for forgiveness or closure; we yearn for confirmation that there is life beyond physical death. This is one of the main reasons why people go to psychic readers.
Here’s an open secret: we don’t need a go-between to talk to the departed. We can have direct communication with our departed, in timely and helpful ways, if we are willing to pay attention to our dreams. We meet our departed loved ones in our dreams. Sometimes they come to offer us guidance or assurance of life beyond death; sometimes they need help from us because they are lost or confused, or need forgiveness and closure.
Dreams of the departed help us gain first-hand knowledge of what happens after physical death. One of the cruelest things that mainstream Western culture has done is to suggest that communication with the departed is either impossible or unnatural. There is nothing spooky or “supernatural” involved, though these experiences take us into realms beyond physical reality.
The easiest way for the departed to communicate with the living is through dreams -though sometimes the departed, as well as the living, fail to realize this. For once, Hollywood got this right. In the movie The Sixth Sense a psychically gifted young boy can see and speak with the departed. He plays counselor to a man who has died, is initially confused about his situation, and then dismayed that he cannot talk to his wife. The boy instructs the dead man, “Speak to her in her dreams, only then will she hear you”.
In most dreams, the departed appear to be living, and very often the dreamer is unaware that the person he or she encounters is “dead” until after waking. The reason is that the departed are indeed alive, though no longer in the physical realm. The departed may appear as the dreamer remembers them from their last days of physical life, especially in the first dream encounters. But over time, it is quite common for the departed to alter their appearance, to shrug off signs of age and bodily ailments, and to present themselves as healthy and attractive. People who died in later years frequently reappear looking around 30 years old.
After my father’s death, he appeared repeatedly in my dreams to offer counsel to the family, bringing specific and practical information to which I did not have access in waking life. For example, he gave me the name of the real estate broker on the other side of the Pacific – someone otherwise unknown to me – who moved with great speed and humanity (once we contacted him because of the dream) to help my mother sell her home and resettle in a community where she spent some of the happiest years of her life. My father also made a happy dream visit to one of my daughters, who bitterly regretted never having known him in physical life; he showed himself as a handsome horseman, about 30 years old, and took her riding. Through many dream encounters with my father, I was vividly reminded that a departed loved one can truly play “family angel”.
I have been dreaming of departed people all my life, and have worked with thousands of dreams of the departed shared with me by others. While the departed person in some of these dreams may be an aspect of the dreamer’s own personality or genetic inheritance – or a mask for a messenger from the deeper Self – the great majority of these dreams appear to involve transpersonal encounters.
There are three main reasons why dreams of the dead (and other forms of interaction with them) are entirely natural experiences:
1. The deceased are still with us because they have not yet moved on.
2. The deceased come visiting.
3. In dreams, we travel to the Other Side.
In future articles, we’ll explore each of these situations.
Next: When the dead are stil with us
Sunrise photo by Suzette Rios-Scheurer