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
George, a senior executive, dreamed he received an
urgent summons from one of his bosses to meet the boss at his second
home on the beach. George woke with the sinking feeling that he had just
When he shared this dream at one of my workshops, which he
was attending with his wife, I suggested that if it were my dream, I
would want to go back inside it and get some more specific information,
by the technique I call Dream Reentry. I told George that he could ask
another person in the workshop to go inside the dream with him and act
as tracker – gathering information for him from an independent
perspective – in an exercise in conscious shared dreaming in which we
would use shamanic drumming to fuel and focus the journey.
was excited by this plan. He invited his wife to be his partner and
tracker. At the end of my drumming, they were eager to share their
reports. They described the boss’s beach home as if they had inspected
it with a real estate agent. Being a guy, George had spent more time
looking at the den and the deck than at the kitchen and the closets, but
their accounts – of a place neither had ever seen, outside their shared
dreaming, were remarkably similar.
They returned with far more than the
layout of the beach house. They now had information on a crisis brewing
behind the scenes in George’s organization that – he realized – could
definitely cost him his job unless he made certain moves, fast. He acted
on this data from shared dreaming. The upshot was that when he was
summoned to his boss’s beach house for a crisis meeting six months
later, he did not have to ask the way to the bathroom since he had
already been their in his conscious dream. And he was sitting on the
right side of the table, with those had kept their jobs and had to tell
others about downsizing, because of the action he had taken with the
information gained in his shared dreaming.
*You’ll find much more about the techniques of Dream Reentry and conscious dream tracking, in my books Conscious Dreaming and The Three “Only” Things.I have recorded a CD of shamanic drumming for dream travelers and Dream Reentry, Wings for the Journey.
Tracking contrails photo by Savannah M. Caitlin
I’m looking forward to seeing the movie Inception. Judging by the advance notices, the director, and the cast, I expect it to be brilliant. I have one reservation. It’s not about the movie itself. It’s about the problematic use of a term, and how this relates to a larger problem of understanding.
The problem, simply stated, is this. Powers of dreaming that are natural, fun and healing are (1) dismissed as illusory by academic “experts” who don’t keep journals and don’t seem to do much dreaming, and by hard-boiled reporters who follow their lead while at the same time (2) those same natural powers are presented by Hollywood as science fiction in which dreaming abilities are often the perquisite of drug-fueled Dark Side psychic warriors.
The problematic term is “shared dreaming.” In the movie promos, “shared dreaming” appears to be the learned technique of psychic spies and mind manipulators tasked to extract information from other people’s dreaming minds, or implant thoughts in them.
Such things are certainly possible outside of science fiction, but they are more properly described as psychic intrusion or dream sending (a term I’ll explain in a later article). Off-screen, shared dreaming may be a wholly benign and energizing consensual adventure, part of a spectrum of options for what I call social dreaming.
While we tend to think of dreams as private and personal, dreaming is actually a highly social activity. Many of us, indeed, are far more gregarious in our dreams than in our ordinary daily lives.
As we share dreams with friends and family on a regular basis, we may notice that sometimes our dreams overlap rather closely. We may have been dreaming on the same theme, or visiting the same dreamscape, on the same night. Sometimes we have shared adventures, though (more often than not) only one of the dreamers remembers exactly what was going on.
We are drawn together in dreams in the same ways that we are drawn to each other in waking life: by family ties, by shared interest, by common concerns, by love and sexual attraction, by the need for healing or the desire for fun and adventure
As we become Active Dreamers, we can develop the practice of embarking on conscious interactive dream journeys with focused intention. We can do this up close or at any distance. We can learn to enter shared dreaming with an intimate partner who shares our bed, with a group of friends in a living room, or with a network of dreamers in other parts of the world.
Let’s pause to define the varieties of social dreaming:
Synchronous or concurrent dreams are those in which two or more dreamers have very similar dream experiences at the same time. They may or may not see each other inside the dreams.
Interactive or mutual dreams are those in which two or more dreamers are aware of each other and interact with each other in a shared dreamscape. In terms of ordinary time, their experiences may or may not be synchronous.
Shared dreaming, in my lexicon, is the practice of embarking on intentional interactive dream travels with one or more partners.
Group dreaming or group dream travel is shared dreaming conducted with a whole circle or network of participants.
Director Christopher Nolan said in an interview with the New York Times: “What Inception deals with is a science fiction concept in which…you and I are able to experience the same dream at the same time. Once you remove the privacy, you’ve created an infinite number of alternate universes in which people can meaningfully interact – with validity, with weight, with dramatic consequences.”
Yes, it’s a great idea for a movie. And far from being only a science fiction concept, interactive or social dreaming is a real phenomenon in our lives that may go on every night. Shared dreaming is a practice that can be learned – without chemicals or psywar trainers – and developed as both a home entertainment system and a method of gaining first-hand data on the nature of life in the multiverse. We’ll see how in the next article.
Next: Shared Dreaming as Home Entertainment
A thought for any day, inspired by a participant in the Dream Teacher Training that I led over the past week on the Connecticut shore.
Savannah surfaced from a night of elusive dreams with little recall, but with this statement clear in her mind:
Stay on the line. A dream will be calling shortly.
This delighted our whole group when she shared it during our breakfast dream-swapping. We thought about the ways a dream can call outside the hours of sleep – for example, through a sudden flash of intuition or a symbolic pop-up or chance encounter in regular life. The birds were notably actively over the land and sea beyond the windows that morning. The flight patterns of hawk and osprey, crow and seagull, punctuated our session and often gave us the sense that a dream was calling, on feathered wings.
I thought of Savannah’s guidance when I woke early this morning with sketchy dream memories that seemed rather bland and dull. I decided to allow myself some extra time in bed and “stay on the line”.
During my second sleep, I came home to a rambling house that seemed to be a composite of two previous homes, one of them a farm. At the back of this dream house was a lovely dappled wood set two stories below the main living area. At the front was a room-sized screen porch that projected from the house like a pier.
As I walked through this house towards the master bedroom, I felt a thrill of excitement because I sensed that my bear was at home. I called for him, and he came bounding in through a side door – a shaggy black bear, maybe 300 pounds. I petted him like a dog and nuzzled his face. We rolled around and played together on the floor. Then I heard voices at the front door. I hurried towards it, in time to catch a couple of mail carriers who were about to leave because they needed a signature and thought no one was at home.They handed over a large bundle of letters, packages and special delivery envelopes on that jetty-like porch. I was keen to read my mail, but first I had catching up to do with my bear. He had gone out into the woods, and I followed him there, eager for adventure. I’ll have a go at reading my dream mail later on, and I won’t have to go to the Office of Lost and Found Dreams to do that. I’ll just imagine myself stepping back inside my dream house, where my bear is waiting.
Stay on the line. A dream will be calling shortly. That’s good advice for any day.
Related posts: How to Break a Dream Drought
Photo of a lighthouse on Long Island Sound by Savannah M. Caitlin.