Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Punching away your fears: dream theater in the physical therapy room

posted by Robert Moss

Minoan boxers from a fresco from Akrotiri

I love it when we are able to bring the techniques of Active Dreaming into everyday life in spontaneous and energizing ways. My friend Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams and a teacher of Active Dreaming, shares a delightful and rousing story of how she found herself leading impromptu dream theater this week for five people -practitioners and clients – at a physical therapy center where she has been going for regular treatments for a foot complaint. Everyone felt better, and Wanda says she is feeling no pain since the performance!


Guest blog by Wanda Easter Burch

Earlier this week I went to one of my two weekly physical therapy sessions for ankle tendonitis. Not very glamorous but beneficial. The usual routine involves calf stretches, walking on a squashy balance beam while trying not to fall sideways; and doing a variety of exercises involving balance balls and stair treads. The last bit is a soothing few moments of ultrasound to relieve the nerves around the tendon.

The physical therapy room is divided into two spaces. The largest of the two is filled with exercise machines and mats. The smaller of the two has four massage tables and columns fitted out with various numbers of devices for stretching arm and leg muscles.

The three therapists were all in the smaller space where I was receiving ultrasound. Their four patients were also in that space, some doing leg exercises for post-knee surgery and one man working with stretch bands for a shoulder injury.

It was during the last few moments of my therapy in that smaller space that a young woman rushed in to share good news – she had finalized a rental agreement for her own yoga studio downtown. The place was exciting, an old church building with interesting spaces, including a room she could use as a gallery. Being polite, I shared information about my involvement with arts retreats in the Adirondacks and how beneficial yoga was to both chronically ill participants and to women who had served in the military, especially those suffering from PTSD.

Asked what I did, I talked about dreams. All three therapists gravitated to my side of the room, and my therapist, Chris, shared a recurring dream in which he is battling an opponent, except just as he pulls his arm back to punch the opponent, the dream goes into slow motion and he cannot move his arm fast enough or far enough to reach the opponent. The opponent is never clear in the dream, just a shadow. He wakes each time just as he is throwing his slow motion punch but wakes writhing and tossing in bed.

“What would you do with this dream?” asked Dan, one of the therapists. If this were my dream, I said, I would like to do dream theater with it. “What is that?” two of them asked at the same time. Now I had everyone’s attention. The man working with the stretch bands was holding one of them waist level and had ceased to move, waiting to hear what came next. The elderly woman doing leg raises on the table next to me leaned over on her side to listen. The young woman with the yoga studio perched on the table with the woman and two others sat down in chairs nearby. I told them how to proceed with dream theater.

The man standing still with the stretch band volunteered instantly to be the invisible opponent. I had just apologized to him for interrupting his therapy session. “It’s OK,” he said, “I have nothing else to do all day and I used to be a boxing coach. I’ll be the perfect opponent.” The woman on the massage table who was now sitting up, no longer interested in leg raises, said she would be the mother. Chris turned around – “there was no mother in my dream.” “There’s always a mother,” she said, “I’ll be the mother.” We all laughed.

We performed Chris’ dream. The mother said, with no prompting from me, “This really is my dream too.  I’ve been afraid of everything in my life, and I had just decided this morning that I don’t have a lot of years left, so it is finally time to not be afraid any more. In my own dream in Chris’s dream, I just punched my fears and I made contact with them. They are gone. I can punch them whenever they come back now and I won’t be afraid to do it.”

Chris now spoke to his own dream. He told the group that he sometimes goes to a center where he works with patients with neurological damage. Some of them cannot do even the most simple activity that the rest of us take for granted and that once they took for granted, such as combing their hair or even sitting in a chair. He has been studying the power of the imagination and has begun working with them, teaching them to first imagine doing the activity and then imagining each small movement of the activity. Imagination is working, and he is excited about the patients’ progress.

In order to continue that work Chris would need additional degrees but had become stuck doing what he was doing. He had put off going back to school. His friends and his girlfriend had tried to encourage him to move forward but he had not. He looked at the “mother” who had invited herself into his dream and said that he realized his opponent was himself, standing in his own way, becoming large and filling the doorway; it was his fear of moving ahead with his life.

I put on my shoes and everyone followed me out the door, chatting about their dreams. My husband was in the waiting room, looking at the clock. “What were you doing in there?” he asked, “you’ve been in there almost two hours.”

“Oh, I was at the theater. I lost track of time.”

(c) Wanda Easter Burch. All rights reserved.


She Who Dreams: A Journey into Healing through Dreamwork, by Wanda Easter Burch, is essential reading for anyone who want to learn how to work with the diagnostic and healing power of dreams, and how to use dreams as a factory of personal images that can help the body to get well and stay well.

As her article here demonstrates, Wanda has become a dream ambassador who helps people in all environments to awaken to the power of their dreams and to take action to bring their healing and creative gifts into the body and into everyday life. Shhe has completed my three-year training for teachers of Active Dreaming and leads arts and healing retreats that incorporate core techniques of Active Dreaming. Also a historian, she is currently writing a book about the dreams of soldiers and their families in the era of the American Civil War that will greatly expand our understanding of the role of dreams in American history. Her website is www.wandaburch.com


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Don

    WOW What a wonderful story about the power and usefulness of dreams. You can bet that I will read “She Who Dreams” soon. Thank you for posting that story.

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