Tending an Image

March 30, 2018


Q:     I feel like I change the dream as I tell people about it, or write it down.  I find myself saying things like, "I was at school, but it was underwater.  Or not really underwater, but I knew it felt wet.  But then it wasn't school.  Rather, it was my office, which was like a school - or a clinic."  Does that mean I've already missed out of the dream's meaning because I can't pin down the imagery once I start thinking about it?


A:        Yes. Any amount of thinking about anything takes us out of direct relationship with the image. Images present themselves as emotion, feelings, pictures, sensory phenomena . The central task of dream-centered living is to pull the reins back on any kind of thinking about and do your best to stay present to the image for the sake of the image and ask, “Who is visiting here from the dreamtime,” and, “What is being asked of me now?”


Our work then becomes endeavoring to hold back our waking-world willfulness and attempts at strip-mining an image to figure out “what it means.” It is fully whole in and of itself and doesn’t need or want to be figured out—images want to be seen, noticed, tended. Live into the image with your whole being, doing your best not to saturate the it with meaning.


This leads us to practice with dreams as activity rather than becoming enamored with, and focusing on, their content—what are you noticing bodily upon waking? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Are you oddly refreshed after an abundant night of dreaming? Are you exhausted? Are you annoyed and have no idea why? Our challenge then becomes being an investigative reporter of sorts—to notice what is actually happening. It is difficult at first because dream content can be so exquisite, and it is easy to become distracted by its glory or its horror.


Imagine you’re in conversation with a friend or colleague and at some point you begin drifting away from the conversation, thinking about your car needing an oil change or how your friend’s hair would look a better with a little cut and color—at this point, you’re out of direct relationship with your friend and in your head in a thinking about kind of way. The same is true with dream images. Our undertaking is to notice what the dream is doing, its activity, rather than becoming consumed with its content, or “what it’s trying to tell me.” Although content is necessary to carry the dream’s activity, it is not where we want to place all of our attention. The practice here is being in both places at the same time and simply noticing what is present.


The beautiful Latin phrase esse est percepi reminds us that to be is to be perceived.  Stick with the image; notice it, perceive it, feel it and ask what it wants.  This is a relationship of reciprocity between dream images, the dreamtime and the dreamer. Remember to query the image, “Who is visiting here from the dreamtime?” and, “What is being asked of me now?” Moment by moment, image by image, dream by dream—and wait, with patient expectation, for what is trying to happen through you to be revealed to you.




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