When I started living in ruralNew York, I dreamed repeatedly of a huge standing bear. Though the bear never menaced me, it made me uneasy because it was several times my size. I realized that I needed to face the bear and find out why it kept appearing in my dreams. I made it my intention to go back inside my dream, and “brave up” to whatever I needed to confront.
I stepped back into the dreamspace – as you might step back into a room you had left – and the bear was there, vividly real and tremendous. There was nothing cute or “made-up” about this encounter. I had to push myself to approach the bear. When I found the courage to step up to the bear, he embraced me and we became the same size. He showed me we were joined at the heart by something like a thick umbilical, pumping life energy. He told me he would show me what people need in order to be healed.
I later discovered that the bear is the great medicine animal in Native American tradition, and that the most powerful healers of the Lakota are the members of the Bear Dreamers Society, composed of those who have been called by the Bear in dreams and visions. Today, when I lead a healing circle, we call in the spirit bear.
Our dreams may offer us gifts of power and healing that we can only claim by going back into the dreamspace and moving beyond fear or irresolution. We may need to go back inside a dream to overcome nightmare terrors, to clarify whether the dream is about a literal or symbolic car crash, to talk to someone who appeared in a dream, to reclaim our own lost children, to use a personal image as a portal to multidimensional reality – or simply to have more fun!
Joanie was disturbed by a recurring dream of a dog that was caged and abused, cowering in a confined space that is spattered with feces. She resolved to reenter the dream and had the satisfaction of freeing the dog and cleansing and grooming it. When she did this, she felt herself reclaiming a part of her own energy that had been lost through confinement and abuse at an earlier stage of her life.
Wanda woke terrified from a dream in which she felt she had been killed in a car accident. She needed the missing details. She went back inside her dream, and found herself involved in a head-on collision with a little red Honda on an icy bridge. Two weeks later, when there was ice on the road, she remembered the dream as she approached that same bridge, stopped her car – and avoided a collision with a little red Honda that skidded across the road just ahead of her.
Dream reentry is one of the core practices of Active Dreaming, my original synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism. If you would like to experiment, start by picking a dream that has some real energy for you. It doesn’t matter whether it is a dream from last night or from 20 years ago, as long as it has juice. Get yourself settled in a comfortable, relaxed position in a quiet space and minimize external light. Focus on a specific scene from your dream. Let it become vivid on your mental screen. See if you can let all your senses become engaged, so you can touch it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Ask yourself what you need to know, and what you intend to do inside the dream. And let yourself start flowing back into the dreamspace…
In my Active Dreaming workshops, we use shamanic drumming – a steady beat on a simple frame drum, typically in the range of four to seven beats per second –to help shift consciousness and facilitate travel into the dreamspace. The steady beat helps to override mental clutter and focus energy and intention on the journey. If you are doing dream reentry at home, you may wish to experiment with a drumming tape or soft music. I have made my own drumming CD, “Wings for the Journey”, especially to help with the dream reentry journey.
The applications of the dream reentry process for healing are inexhaustible. In this way, for example, we may be able to travel inside the body and help to shift its behaviors in the direction of health. In her wonderful novel for kids of all ages, A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle describes a journey into a world inside one of the mitochondria of a sick boy; when things are brought into balance inside a particle of a cell, the whole body is healed. As we become active dreamers, we can develop the ability to journey in precisely this way. Our dreams will open the ways.