Douanier Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy

In the passage in Dante’s Purgatorio where he encounters his radiant guide in the form of a lovely woman called Beatrice, she reproaches him for not heeding the dreams in which she sought him, over many years. The message is clear and enduring: our true spiritual teachers are looking for us, which is why they can always be found. They especially come looking for us in dreams, when we move beyond the self-limiting beliefs and consensual hallucinations of the little everyday mind.

The guides who come to us in dreams put on masks or costumes adapted to our level of understanding. There is an old Greek saying that “the gods love to travel in disguise”.

The guide may appear with a familiar face – that of an old friend, or a departed loved one. Some of those who have passed over may of course assume the role of spiritual guides in their own right, according to their personal evolution.

The guide may appear in dreams as a generic figure, especially in places of transition or in border zones: as the taxi driver, or the customs official, or the train conductor, or the person at the airline check-in desk.

The sacred guide may appear in a form that has been shaped by our religious upbringing – or in a form that is wildly shocking to conventional beliefs. Genuine teachers often love to shock us awake.

When the guide drops even the edge of the mask, the initial effect can be terrifying. “Every angel is terrifying,” wrote Rilke, who knew what he was talking about.

The encounter with the guide may challenge us to brave up, to move decisively beyond the fear and clinging of the little everyday mind, in order to claim our connection with deeper sources of wisdom and true power.

This is often the case with dream experiences in which we meet a powerful animal. Faced with a bear or a tiger in a vivid dream, our first instinct may be to run for our lives. Yet the bear or the tiger may be hunting us to invite us to claim our own power and our own medicine. How do we do that? By going back into the dreamspace to face whatever needs to be faced and to claim our connection with the dream animal,or the angel.

In Native American teachings, we are not fully alive – we are missing a part of our vital soul energy – if we lack a strong and vibrant connection with the animal guardians. Here, also, it is recognized that our truest and most important spiritual allies come looking for us in dreams. The Lakota have many ways of approaching the sacred. But they also recognize that the greatest gift comes when the sacred beings come looking for us. The most revered medicine lodge among the Lakota is the Bear Dreamers Society. It is composed of those who have been visited and called by the Bear in their dreams.

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