Dream Helper


Healing Dreams:

Exploring the Dreams that can Transform 

Your Life

(Riverhead Books, 2000)

by Marc Barasch

Dream-sharing customs vary from culture to culture. The Zuni people of New Mexico have a tradition of making public their bad dreams, while good dreams are sometimes withheld even from close relatives. Among the Quiche of Guatemala, all dreams, even small fragments, are shared immediately with family and tribe. An Australian aborigine told me, We have a saying, Share it out before the next sunrise We tell our dreams to the group, because different people have different gifts and might help understand it. It reminded me of the informal dream groups that have sprung up in Western societies over the past several decadesuntil he added an intriguing comment: We often meet each other while were sleeping.

There are a number of cultures where members are said to deliberately dream about each other. The shamans of Siberias Yakut tribe conduct an evening ceremony using the shoulder blade of a deer, then ask participants to pay close attention to their dreams. The next morning, dreams are recited and interpreted for guidancenot only for the dreamer himself but for the other members of the group. There have been even more exotic accounts of dream sharing throughout history. After Islamic soldiers conquered the island of Rhodes from the Knights of St. John in 1522, a monastery was built in which collective dream techniques were practiced.

Writes one scholar: Master and disciples purified themselves bodily, mentally, and spiritually together; they got into an enormous bed together, a bed that contained the whole congregation. They recited the same secret formula together and had the same dreams. Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi speaks of a Jewish ritual called a dream assembly. A group of people says a prayer together at a certain time of night, when the Shekhinah [divine wisdom] removes her veil. They close their eyes when the evening prayer reaches the words Guard our going out and our coming in. Then, he says, Those who joined in prayer together will be joined together in a dream.

On several occasions, I have dreamed about friends in meaningful xvays, and they about me. Sometimes they are relatives, but more often they are people I have been drawn to by what Goethe called Wahlvenvandtschaft (elective affinity). It is a term roughly equivalent to the novelist Kurt Vonneguts inspired neologism from Cats Cradle, the karass, a group bound by mutual sensibilities, affection, and fate. If you want to know whos in yours, watch who you dream about.

I once decided to organize a series of informal experiments to see what would happen if I invited my karass into my dream space. At the time, I stood at a difficult crossroads. I asked friends and family to incubate a dream that might help me find my way. A number of them devised informal ritualslighting candles and incense and meditating before bed, putting a slip of paper with my name on it under their pillows, or just visualizing my face as they went to sleep.

Several reported having vivid dreams that, upon examination, had as a common thread images of cups and glasses. One dreamed that wine was being poured into my eyes through the hollow stems of two wine glasses for medicinal purposes. (A month later, I was prescribed my first pair of glasses, after a test involving eyedrops.) Another saw a counter laid out with paper cups with pills in them, administered by a nurse in a white uniform. Another friend, Sally, had a vivid, elaborate dream:

I am in a very large old mansion with many rooms. We are sitting around a ceremonial table on which plastic party cups filled with water and peach-colored flowers have been laid out, two hundred glasses at least. U/c see the water quivering, as if from an earthquake. Then a great wind blows, and a hand comes in, pointing, and we hear a huge voice, like the voice of God: Ask and you shall receive! The flowers begin to blossom. I see flames growing out of the petals.

I was fascinated. The day before, a psychologist friend (who was also a nurse) had encouraged me to do an active imagination exercise regarding my predicamentat the time, bad health, money trouble, an existential loneliness I couldnt shake. The image had arisen in my mind of a prisoner in a bare stone cell, desperate for water. The setting became so vivid that my mouth grew parched. I could barely swallow, managing only to croak out, Water. Please. My friend asked me to close my eyes and stick out my tongue, whereupon she began to drip water into my mouth. It felt like blessed rain in a desert. Driven by an ever greater thirst, I demanded more, and she brought me plastic party cups brimming with water, which I gulped down greedily, one after the other. I felt I was in a sacred ritual, drinking the medicinal waters of life.

Somehow this scene had been amplified in Sallys dream, a dream that seemed sanctified not only by the elementsearth, water, fire, windbut by the hand of God Himself. I found her dreams emphatic Ask and ye shall receive affecting. It is hard for me to reach out when I am in need. Sallys dream helped me find the courage and humility to send a letter to sixty friends revealing my situation and asking for assistance. I discovered to my surprise that helping hands had been waiting all alonghands that would, in months to come, lift inc willingly over hurdle after hurdle.

Several other friends had dreamed of healing rituals that night. Rick, who told me he rarely remembered his dreams, had one strong enough to wake him in the middle of the night:

Howard Badhand, a Lakota shaman, is standing behind me and putting a necklace around my neck. The necklace consists of four red cotton prayer ties, which are usually filled with tobacco and sewn up. These are unusual ones in that they are oblong and very largethey cover my throat, almost like a choker. As Howard is tying the necklace around the back of my neck he says, Pray anybody, which I take to mean, Pray to anybody. My heart was beating thumpde-thump, and my chest felt opened.

I assumed Ricks dream had to do with my own illness, which was in my throat, and felt grateful to receive his vision of a Native American blessing. But it turned out to have an unforeseen meaning: a week later, in a routine checkup, Rick was diagnosed with a recurrence of lung cancer. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to Boulder for a ceremony conducted by none other than Howard Badhand. Rick asked me to come along. Late one night, in a pitch-black room sweetened by burning sage, we found ourselves praying together for healingour own, each others, everybodysin a moving yuwipi ceremony, which featured large, oblong, red cotton prayer ties. Rick sang out his prayers hoarselythe cancer had moved into his throat, its choker impinging on his vocal cords. It marked the beginning of our companionship on a journey that took him well past his medical prognosis. His dreams message became his watchword: he prayed anybody from Hawaian kahunas to top oncologists, and became a regular participant in Lakota sun dance ceremonies.

Ricks experience was something I was to see duplicated in other dream helper ceremonies: my request that people dream on my behalf produced Healing Dreams for them. It has the logic of a spiritual folktale: if you want to heal yourself, resolve to heal another. The dreams had drawn a magic chalk circle that summoned powerful forces into all our lives.

(taken from pages 151-154.