Category Archives: Spiritual Coaching

The Dream Within A Dream

Anyone who saw Christopher Nolan’s amazing movie Inception will be familiar with the idea of a dream within a dream. In the movie there were no less than four levels of dream. It was complex and fascinating and I needed to watch it twice to fully comprehend the intricacy. Each level operates within different temporal duration thus a minute at one level is an hour in another. This of course is consistent with our own dreams where actual time has little relevance.

The idea for this movie came to director Nolan as a teenager when he learned how to lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is a state between waking and sleeping where you realize you are able to both be within the dream state and observe yourself in it. With experience you can learn to manipulate your actions in the dream.

I have concerns about seeking meaning in lucid dreams; there is a risk that the ego begins to assert itself at the expense of the unconscious that is in charge of a regular dream state. For example in the lucid dream I can arrange to get the girl while frequently in a normal dream state the girl is for ever elusive.

However I do believe that we can have dreams within dreams. Have you ever experienced that surreal contradiction where you wake from a dream and begin your normal day only to discover you are still dreaming? I have always felt that the second dream comes as reminder form the unconscious that we must pay attention to the first dream.

Recently a client arrived for his session and when asked, “where shall we start?” replied, “well – I did have an interesting dream last night.” He found it easy to recall the dream. He was in a dark tunnel/valley, looking out over a beautiful range of mountains as the sun began to rise. He observed there were little pockets of snow under the trees. This surprised him as it was first day of summer. Then he noticed there was a skier picking his way over the patches of snow. This really grabbed his attention as he loves to ski. Then the skier somewhat nonchalantly slid over a large stretch of rocks, presumable trashing his skis although he seemed quite unworried by this. In the dream my client grabbed a pair of binoculars to observe two more skiers. There seemed to be more snow than he had realized.

At this moment something unexpected happened. He realized this was a dream and he made the decision to step out of this dream. He found that although he could choose to leave the first dream he could not choose the second one. He found himself running in a large concrete tunnel that seemed featureless and went nowhere. It seemed to curve up on itself like a giant concrete tire. There was no opportunity to do anything other than follow it around.

This was a dream with a moment of lucidity that then collapsed back into pure dream. I dream partnered with him – repeating the dream, exploring feelings, energy and the symbols. The first dream contained elements he felt good about, curious about and perked his interest He realized it contained aspects that seemed to relate to his current life – both positive and negative. Then he had an insight. I need to be careful about choosing a new direction for my life; it could take me into a tunnel of no opportunity.

The message of the dream related to a theme in his life. He has moments of believing his life is not enough, that he should make a conscious step into something bigger. My counsel has always been caution, “wait on the will of heaven”. Work with your intention and your attention and what is yours will come to you.

The dream reminds us that the ego can be a powerful master but not always a wise one.





Dream Images and Projection (Why we can’t know what someone else’s dream means.)

This exquisite image is from the Lynn Andrews Power Deck cards and painted by Rob Schouten. I use it to demonstrate why it is so dangerous to ever assume we know the meaning of someone else’s dream. Frequently as someone is sharing a dream, we will be creating theories about what it could mean. I encourage you to keep this information to yourself.

I ask participants in my workshops to consider the image and tell me what it is saying. The answers are myriad, contrasting and on occasion in violent disagreement. Some see a tranquil, passive scene, others see an image full of the energy of change and transformation. One person saw the image as threatening and full of dark, ominous elements. Another found it irritating and unreal.

How can a single image create such diverse opinion? When we derive meaning from an image like this we view it through a very unique and personal lens. At this point we are projecting ourselves into the image and what we see is as much about ourselves as it is about the image. 

The same applies to dreams which are basically a series of images projected from the unconscious of the dreamer. What you see in another’s dream is nothing more than a projection of yourself into their dream. It is what the dream could mean to you if it had been yours.

The symbols and characters belong to the dreamer and must be treated with respect and honoured as part of a sacred contract. It is only human to create an interpretation as we listen to the dream, however it may be more considerate to keep it to yourself,

Part of my Spiritual Guidance training was to find a dream partner and twenty-one pairs teamed up from our group. After three months only one pair was still functioning. The others had all disbanded due to the irresistible temptation of telling the partner what the dream meant.

A client once shared that she had recently lost her purse. It had impacted her more than usual because a month earlier she had dreamt about losing her purse. She hadn’t paid any attention to the dream because she had been assured it was a trivial anxiety dream and not to worry about it. 

She asked me if I thought the dream had been a premonition. I considered that indeed that was possible as dreams can sometimes concern events that have not yet happened. However another possibility was that the loss of the purse was a synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) to remind her of the dream. 

I asked if she would be interested in dream partnering and we explored the dream and its feelings, energy and symbols. When I asked her what losing her purse could represent as a symbol, there was an immediate reaction. It was about loss of identity. Her “trivial” dream had become an opportunity for meaningful exploration that another person’s inaccurate projection could have caused to be missed.

Today I had an encounter that provided another perfect example of projection. I was sharing a dream that involved me being bitten by a skunk. When I shooed it away, it was replaced by an ominous tiger walking toward me. The response was immediate, “well that means you should deal with the small problems before they get replaced by larger ones.” It was a logical thought and almost seductive in its simplicity but was not my truth. Too often we can give our power away rather than wait for our own inner wisdom to emerge. 

So next time someone tells you a dream, hold back and wait a moment – your interpretation may be all about you. 

Having a Dream Partner

As I wrote the headline I realized it was perhaps a little ambiguous however I am not going to reflect on the perfect relationship rather I am going to share with you a process of working on a dream with someone else.

I was introduced to the idea of dream partnering over thirteen years ago in the program The Art of Spiritual Guidance which had a session on dreams. Up until then my study of dreams had been individual, mostly associated with reading and practical experience.

The essence of the teaching was not new except in one regard which in fact became a life changing experience. Atum our teacher introduced the idea of working with a partner to explore the meaning of dreams. Choosing a partner becomes a sacred contract between two people where one assumes the role of the dream keeper or holder of the dream for the other. In this way a container is created for the dream’s unfolding.

The role of the dream partner is as follows:

  1. To listen to the dream without commenting or interjecting rather from the place of the listening heart.
  2. To repeat the dream back to the dreamer.
  3. To explore the feelings that were felt during the dream. (not after as the waking moments are the most unreliable witness because this is the moment the ego enters the dialogue).
  4. Ask the dreamer to describe the energy of the dream (e.g. flowing/stuck, vital/lethargic, harmonious/discordant etc.) and which aspect of the dream had the greatest amount of energy.
  5. To identify the symbols of the dream and ask the dreamer what these (people and things) may mean if they represented part of them.
  6. Finally to enquire if this experience seems to relate to anything that was transpiring in their lives.

It is important to observe which observations appears spontaneous and reactive as opposed to reflective. Dreams are generally not solved in the mind but at the level at which they occur – the unconscious. Frequently I observe that at this point someone will clearly see meaning or they won’t. There is what I refer to as the “ah-ha” moment. If not then simply let it go and “wait on the will of heaven”.

I was dream partnering with someone who shared the following dream. “She was pregnant; there was a lot of trauma and she needed a caesarian to deliver the baby. We explored energy, feelings and symbols. She told me the baby represented “a creation” and that a caesarian meant “forced delivery.” When I asked if this related to anything in her current life, she reacted in astonished amazement. She had just launched a new business venture that had been very slow to get off the ground. The dream helped her see she had pushed ahead too quickly.

During the workshop Atum asked us to find dream partners for the next year. I knew immediately who I wanted to work with and fortunately she had thought of me so we teamed up. She is still my dream partner and has become an invaluable support in the development of this process as well as my own dream teaching.

No-one else in our group of twenty-two lasted the year. The problem was that the others could not resist telling their partner what their dream means and this feels invalidating. Unless you have vast amounts of experience, only the dreamer really knows the meaning of the dream. What most people do is project themselves onto the dream with devastating consequences for the dream partnering process.

Learning How Not To Interpret Dreams

Dream Journal
My First Dream Journal

My first dream journal – it was a surprise to find it replete with black pages, silver ink and my very best handwriting. I realized it was not the original repository for my dreams (the one beside my bed is illegible), rather it was where I had recorded what I considered my best dreams including the one with the wolf and the eagle.

Once you make a commitment to explore dreams, it is essential to try and recall them immediately. Don’t lie in bed trying to memorize the dream; don’t get up to go to the washroom; keep a journal or recording device beside the bed and use it straight away. It is said that alarm clocks are the enemy of dream retention but so is time. Dreams evaporate quicker than a morning summer mist. Capture the salient details and then write them out again once you are up.

Don’t make the mistake I made and record them in your regular day journal then forget them. It has an ability like Harry Potter’s famous cloak to cause everything in its clutch to disappear. Too often I have spent hours browsing a journal to find the recalcitrant dream. Dreams are best served up hot.

It was a humbling experience to look at the journal above and realize what an abysmal failure my early attempts at dream interpretation were. I worked with a dream book and would look up the symbols in the dream and write out the meanings then I would try and use my brain to figure out what everything meant. The result was I contrived meanings that often satisfied my ego rather than allowing the will of the Soul emerge.

Dreams can only be solved on the level that they were created – that is in the unconscious.   I find the key is in exploring the feelings within the dream, the energy of the dream and where it connects to you and finally the symbols in the dream. In addition a starting point is the circumstances of your current life for context.

Using dream guides as a support is fine as far as it goes but all the symbols come from your unconscious and will be consistent with your social, personal and cultural values. Characters rarely represent the people themselves rather what they would represent in you.

The symbols generally represent what they mean to you although some also seem to be archetypal – patterns that are common to all of us. For example the car is one’s personal journey, a house is your personal state of consciousness, water is either the unconscious if you are under it or feelings if it is turbulent. It is helpful to create a library of your own symbols.

After an initial reflection on your findings, it is time to let the dream go and wait for the “ah ha” moment. Like bowl of good soup we let the dream simmer until it is ready to reveal itself.

One of the dreams I came across in my old dream journal went like this: “I am skiing with a friend I will call Alec on a quadruple black diamond – for the non skiers these don’t actually exist but would be supremely difficult. He is leading and I cannot believe what I am doing, descending huge cliffs, cushioning the impact with my knees and keeping going. It is exhilarating; I feel at my limit yet surviving. I say to him, “if what is over that ridge is any worse I may have to quit.”

We peer over the ridge and there is just no way – it is incredibly steep and there is no snow. We are looking for options when a stranger appears and says there is an easier way. We follow him to a wide gentle trail and it is easy to follow him doing big easy turns.”

At the time I could make no sense of the dream and in hindsight I realize I made a series of beginner errors. First I did not look at the environment of my life. I had just lost my belief system in Unity and was in a place of confusion. At the time I thought Alec represented my “unspiritual self” but he is now an ongoing character in my library of symbols and actually represents the dynamic masculine or the doer.

Secondly I did not relate to the feelings in the dream – successfully navigating life but feeling out of control – being led by the active masculine with no idea of destination. It was an accurate portrait of what was transpiring. Thirdly I ignored the stranger who I can now see represented a new teacher or guide.

Fortunately the teacher appeared and I found my way into a two year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance led by Atum O’Kane. Coincidentally he became the first of the dream teachers who has been so important in my journeying with dreams.


The Eagle and The Wolf

Not a Rembrandt but you get the idea of the power of the images

This is an image from a remarkable dream. It was vivid and colourful. I was standing by a calm, blue, lake looking into the water. Beside the lake was an old man. Under the water was a beautiful eagle straining to rise to the surface. Holding the eagle back was a wolf that had the eagle’s talon in its mouth. This was a dream I knew was important.

My  ongoing experience with dreams remained personal and formative however I did not understand many that I recalled and most were forever consigned to the valley of oblivion. I had continued my studies at Unity and had some sweet dreams to support me. One featured being given a new green Ford Fideles which reminded me once again of the power of ones faith to sustain a healthy belief system.

After my graduation in the summer of the millennium year I began considering the next step. I no longer felt called to pursue the ministry, it would have required me to go back and take an undergraduate degree. However there was a program called the Licensed Unity Teacher that I believed I was qualified to take. I contacted the registrar to find out that I would need to get the minister of my Unity church to agree that I could assume some minor teaching role in the church but he point blank refused. He trusted only himself or his wife in that role.

That door seemed closed however the school registrar decided that as long as the minister would sign my application form that would be enough; they would waive the requirement of the teaching role. It seem that as long as he acknowledged I attended the church then I would be accepted. I recall completing the details and a letter of explanation and popping them in the mail. I resigned myself to accepting the outcome regardless of consequences. I was already a little concerned about how I was having to force this door open. I never heard back. It seemed clear and unequivocal that my path of study in the Unity Church was complete. Then I had the dream of the eagle and the wolf.

I knew immediately from the symbology that this dream was important. In my current world view the eagle represented “Spirit”. Being in a clear lake suggested something was immersed in the unconscious while a wolf represented the teacher. The old man seems to me to be a divine guiding presence. I tried drawing the dream to see what may emerge.

After some reflection the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. My spirit was being held back by the teachings that I was still holding on to. The dream suggested to me that I may have some unconscious dissonance with Unity as a path. Then I recalled the sermon of the previous Sunday and the Rev. Marvin Anderson saying, “sometimes it is time to move on and some of you should not be here.” At the time I felt a strange tug that he was talking to me. Now I felt more certain that I needed to let go of the Unity path.

I began to see some dissonances, at first it was a bit like micro chips in a windshield that get exposed by close examination and sunlight but soon they looked like crevices. I noticed my new God concept was uncomfortably similar to the one I rejected in my teens except this God was more feminine, less judgmental and authoritarian. It incorporated what I now sense was a delightfully naive concept that ‘God” could change everything if we worked hard enough. In addition although there was no God judging us, we were judging ourselves and if we did not achieve the financial wellbeing, relationship and the health we wanted it was because our state of consciousness had proved inadequate.

My beliefs withered on the tree like a leaf fading in the autumn sun. Eminent Jungian Analyst and author James Hollis suggests that once the energy levels the symbol, nothing remains but a dry husk. It was time to move on, time to leave the nursery but where was I going next?


The Magical Mysterious World of Dreams

My passion for dreams began in 1998. Up to this point in my life I was one of those people who would claim, “I don’t dream.” I was fifty-three years old and after living my adult life as an atheist had little time for such esoteric pursuits. Then everything changed.

As a consequence of my mid life crisis, I had embarked on a quest for meaning and purpose in my life. I had joined the Unity Church and was actually contemplating that my true vocation was not to be an advertising consultant but a minister. As a result, much to my amazement and those of my friends,  I had enrolled in a program at the Unity School of Religious Studies in Kansas City.

One of the pre-requisites of the ministerial program was called the Continuing Education Program. it would require about seven weeks taking five courses a week. It had an intensity that was unfamiliar, I felt like the proverbial “fish out of water”. I was a total newbie to the religious and spiritual courses that were required – The Christ, The Spiritual Journey, Life of Prayer to name but three.

After the third day I was drowning in emotion. The courses were taking me deeper into the world of feelings than I had ever been; frequently I would experience outbursts of tears that came from nowhere. I began to wonder if I could survive the two weeks to which I had committed.

I awoke early one morning with a series of amazing images unfolding in my mind. “I was standing by a turbulent lake; there was a figure on the water beckoning to me; I recognized it as St.Peter. I walked confidently toward him across the water. Then my comfort evaporated and I began to panic and sink. He reached me and bent down and lifted me up; I was safe.”

I lay confused. This was obviously a dream. What did it mean? What should I do with it? I felt lost and confused with no idea what to do next yet there a strange  sense of excitement. It was like arriving in a foreign country for the first time. I decided to check out the dream section in the comprehensive Unity School Library.

Immediately I gravitated to a book called The Mystical Magical Marvellous World of Dreams by Wilda B Tanner. I was transfixed as my mind was opened to a series of unrealized possibilities:

  • We dream all the time – six to eight times a night.
  • Dreams can be goldmines of information and guidance once we learn how to explore them.
  • There are many different kinds of dreams but the one I had to explore was likely a symbolic dream.
  • Dreams frequently offered a specific guidance about our lives but were coded with symbols. The key was understanding the symbols. These symbols could be universal, cultural and personal.

My dream had two key symbols: St. Peter and a turbulent lake. I learned that water was likely a universal symbol. It will represent either emotion or the unconscious. I felt an immediate resonance with the tempestuous lake representing my confused emotional state. St. Peter was a personal symbol emanating from my early Christian background.

The pieces began to smoothly fall into place. St. Peter is considered the foundation of the Christian Church, “upon this rock on which I will build my church”. The dream was the encouragement to accept that although at times I would begin to feel overpowered by the force of the emotions i would encounter, my faith and foundation underpinning my life would sustain me.

I felt a sense of relief, clarity and assurance. My energy and feelings lightened. These are signs I have learned to recognize as the “ah-ah moments” and a clear sign that I had solved the mystery embedded in the dream. My seventeen-year passion for the world of dreams had begun.