Monday, March 23, 2009

On the Night Shift

I am interested in those nights of dreaming from which we surface quite certain that we accomplished something valuable, with the sense that this was a real event, completed inside the dreamspace. Dreams of this kind do not require analysis, though we may look for verification in various ways - for example, by checking our subsequent state of health (in the case of a dream of healing) or observing incidents in the ordinary world that seem to follow from what was done in the dream.

In the ancient temples of dream healing, seekers came in hopes that a complete healing might be transacted during the night and (to judge by the Asklepian testimonies conveniently gathered in the Edelstein's massive compilation) many wen home entirely satisfied. My friend Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams reports a recent personal experience of this kind. Troubled by a suspect mole that had appeared on the sole of one of her feet, she made an appointment for a medical inspection. Before going to the doctor, she asked for dream help. In her night dream, she saw a disembodied hand draw a line around the mole. In the morning, the mole had completely disappeared. Grateful but incredulous, she had to summon her husband to confirm that no trace was left.

My friend Louisa, a music lover, attends complete concerts in her dreams. On a recent night, she reports, "I dreamed of a grand gala performed by a superb orchestra, huge, Mahler-sized, with that distinct 'breath' that all great orchestras have. I was just a disembodied presence, but I could see and especially hear very well. The sound was direct and rounded, with distinct sound from each player, as though I was floating right above the stage."

I dream very frequently that I am conducting classes and giving lectures, as I do in waking life. Sometimes such dreams preview classes I subsequently lead in the ordinary world; sometimes they seem to be programs of the "Night School" sufficient unto themselves. I often hear from dreamers who claim they have attended some of these programs. When I was writing my book Dreaming True I received an email from a very wise woman (a double PhD, inter alia) who had attended one of my waking-world courses at Esalen. She wanted to thank me for "the lecture you gave last night". I had given no such lecture in ordinary reality, but I had vague recollections of lecturing in my own dreams that night. My interest was piqued because she mentioned the "lucidity" with which I had summarized certain points, writing a list on a whiteboard. Since these points related directly to the book I was then working on, I asked her if she would be good enough to send me her notes form my lecture. She obliged, and I was able to incorporate the five points she had recorded from the lecture I had given in her dream, virtually unedited, in my book.

Sometimes the work of the night shift is emotional healing and the mending of relationships. I want to share a profound experience of this kind.

Many years ago, I felt that a powerful dream closed the book on a bitter conflict. For years before this dream, I had been locked in an ongoing battle with a man I then regarded as my worst enemy.

In the dream, I met him in a men's room. When he saw me, his features distorted and he inflated like a balloon, until he resembled a demonic entity more than a human.

Instead of doing battle, I looked at him calmly, reached deep into my heart, and said to him, from the heart, "I love you."

This sent him in whirling confusion. He deflated to regular size, and the darkness around him fell away. He went on shrinking until he resembled a pink and innocent baby.

I now bent over the sink and purged. When I inspected the clear bile I had heaved up, I saw it contained scores of rusty nails. I was astonished to realize that these had been inside me, and could now understand that they were the effect of the hateful thoughts and feelings that had been projected by my adversary.

I woke in wonderful spirits, feeling light and energized - and also that the old feud had now, really and truly, been ended.

I believe the work of that night shift was profound closure. My dream self, wiser and more generous that I may have been at that time in my life, was able to accomplish a healing that I doubt that my ordinary self could have undertaken then.. I did not encounter that old adversary again, either in regular life or in dreams, and he has since passed on. But I was able to think of him with compassion, remembering the sweet and innocent child that had been revealed, and I never again felt any harmful thoughts coming my way from him.


Wanda Burch said...

It just occurred to me that when I was a child and my father worked the night shift that he would come home around 2 a.m. I would sometimes wake up - with a new dream - and share it while he unwound from his peculiar work "day." I would sit in his lap and talk while he snacked and read the newspaper from the morning. Sometimes he would take me outside on his shoulders to look at the stars, particularly if something interesting was happening in the sky. Those shared early dreams were the childhood dreams that I still recall, and I recall that even then many of those took place in a classroom, a wonderful metaphor for continuing education. At that time I was usually worried about a question or math problem or an upcoming exam, and the answer to the problem would be there waiting for me in my early morning chat with my father.

As I grew up and had jobs and a busier life, those kind of dreams continued to work with me. From working out "work" problems to the dream in which the dream surgeon removed my mole, I have benefitted greatly from my night-shift dream guidance. Thank you again for your beautiful words that place these dreams within the reach and understanding of all of us.


Robert Moss said...

Dear Wanda - Thank you so much for this lovely memory from childhood. By being willing to hear your dreams when he came home from his (literal) night shift, your father conformed, in the most natural and uncalculated way, to the practice of many families before the advent of artificial lighting, when dreams - and much else - were often shared in the interval between two sleeps. Part of our contemporary enstrangement from dreaming may well come from the disruption of the patterns of sleep and dreaming and dream sharing that were followed by our kind for 99 percent of our time on the planet.

Unknown said...


I had a similar dream regarding an inner condition resulting from a relationship with a person that could "get my goat" in a way that was controlling me.

The dream: I looking in a mirror and noticed that I had blue-black shiney hooks all over my body, mostly my upper body. The other person was in the dream with the same kinds of hooks.

I asked for help in my dream from my dream grandmother. She said that I should pull the hooks out, put them in a basket and place them in a bonfire.

I woke from the dream feeling very good and found that this difficult individual no longer had the ability to pull me into an angry vortex.

I guess I was hooked by this person's animosity and threw hooks in kind. What a mess.

So good to feel powerful in a situation like this.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Naomi - What a great and healing dream experience, of getting "unhooked". The hooks you describe remind me both of the nasty little hooks of the bot fly, a wicked parasite that tormented horses and horsemen (as described in my account of William Johnson's approach to the Mohawk Valley in "The Firekeeper") and of grappling irons used in war and piracy in the days of sailing ships.