I just did an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio in which the callers produced a fresh harvest of personal examples of how dreams help us to get through life.
A songwriter described how he has woken in the middle of the night with new songs playing in his mind. Sometimes they are complete, with words and music. Sometimes he has to work on them for a bit. He is in a long tradition of songwriters and composers who have plucked new pieces from their dreams. I was reminded on John Lennon's statement that "the best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write them down so you can go back to sleep."
As we discussed diagnostic dreams, the host, Veronica Rueckert, recalled the case of a man who dreamed a rat was gnawing on his throat. Shaken by the dream, he sought medical assistance, and went from one physician to another until his throat cancer was detected and treatment began that he credited with saving his life.
David, an IT professional, recounted a situation in which his office was preparing to install a new system. The day before, his supervisor told him to go home and get some sleep. He took a nap and saw himself in a workaday situation. He saw and recognized the code he would be applying. Suddenly the screen in his dream went fuzzy and a voice said firmly, "NO. It should be like this." The code changed. When he went into the office the next day, he checked and found that the code they were working with was wrong. He made the necessary changes, as had been done in the dream. "Good thing you caught that," his supervisor told him. At this point, David explained that he had dreamed the correction. "Never heard of anything like that," the supervisor shook his head. "Maybe I should have my analysts do a lot more sleeping."
A woman caller spoke of a recurring dream theme whose full significance became clear to her only at the end of a long relationship. She dreamed again and again that her partner was missing. She couldn't find him or couldn't get through to him on the phone. Sometimes she felt he was hiding from her. By the time of the break-up, she had been compelled to recognize a long pattern of deception, and that in fundamental ways, her partner had been "missing" for much of the time they had been together. We discussed what is going on when a dream theme repeats over and over. I suggested that it's either because we need to get the message or because we need to take action on that message. We may have a notion what a recurring dream is about, but can't bring ourselves to do what is necessary - which would be very understandable if we dream our partner is missing. Like a helpful (and well-informed) friend who is looking out for us, the dream theme will come again and again until we do something about it.
At the end of the show, the host asked me to share a "big" dream of my own. How to pick one, out of so many? Yet I knew at once which dream I would tell, because earlier in the program - when asked to explain how dreaming can help to move us beyond hatred and war - I had quoted a phrase in the Mohawk Indian language. The phrase is tohsa sasa nikon'hren. It literally means, "Do not let your mind fall". We fall into Dark Times, in the traditional Mohawk cosmology, when we forget the higher world - the Earth-in-the-Sky - from which we come. Our ability to heal our enmities and grow as a life form depend on not-forgetting a higher source of wisdom and a higher order of reality. Dreaming is the main link between our ordinary minds and that higher spiritual plane, a way of not letting our minds fall.
So I told a watershed dream from my life some twenty years ago, in which I entered a space where a circle of people who lived very close to the earth were singing and drumming. I hestitated at the entrance of their longhouse, fearing I was intruding. But they welcomed me into a place they had waiting for me. At a certain point, I lay by the firepit, at the center of the circle. One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot coals from the fire and placed them over my ears and my eyes, and on my tongue, and over my heart. They sang in their own language, which I could now understand: "We do this to open your ears, that you may hear clearly. We do this to open your eyes, that you may see clearly. We do this to open your mouth, so you will speak only truth. And we do this -" placing the coal over the heart "-so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart."
I did no analysis with that dream. Vitally energized, I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in a state park east of my home. I promised to the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth I will speak and act only from the heart."-
On the darkest days, a dream like this can be a hearthfire and a homing beacon. Charging us with the power of a deeper drama, inciting us not to let our minds fall - these may be the biggest ways that dreaming helps us through.