|Dreams have a poetic integrity
and truth. . . .
These whimsical pictures, in as much as they originate from
us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate.
My fascination with dreams actually began nearly two-and-a-half decades
ago when, seemingly out of nowhere, a torrent of unusual dreams roared
into my life. It was as though somewhere in my psyche, someone had opened
an inner floodgate. Even though I was unable to interpret this inner, symbolic
language at first, my intuition told me that these dreams were far more
than just my brain purging residues from the day. They contained thematic
images, symbols, and dramas that moved through my life, leaving strange
tracks, exotic fragrances, tearing down old buildings, setting fires. I
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the late seventies, I began working with othersÆ dreams and
with numerous dream study groups, filling several filing cabinets with
fascinating examples of individuals' dreams. I realized early-on that dreams
held many valuable keys to understanding life and especially the choices
we make that inevitably chart our future course.
Over the years I discovered a something quite remarkable about dreaming:
Our dreams relentlessly identify those essential, extraordinary qualities
that make us unique and authentic individuals. At the same time, dreams
are ruthless and often shocking in exposing influences from others that
threaten our ability to live our own lives.
On one overcast, windy morning I'm walking along and I'm thinking how
we all see the world through glasses of some sort: we put on our religious
lenses that see life through a particular religious viewpoint; or we put
on our political glasses and see the world through one political viewpoint;
or we put on our familial glasses and see life through the expectations
of our parents; or we put on societal glasses and live our life by adapting
to social pressure to conform to popular ideas. Or we interpret our dreams
through the thick dark lenses of some theory. Our dreams carry the awesome
potential to help us to see clearly who we really are; our natural, inborn
potential and unique character without anything "put on" us.
Our family's hopes and expectations for us, while usually well-intended,
become one of the "things" we put on. For example, not long after the September
11th tragedy, a good friend, clearly upset, told me about a dream that
appears to have a literal warning. Aaron, a soft-spoken young man in his
late twenties was in the midst of struggling with what to do with his life.
His dream appeared to be predicting a terrorist attack:
Someone keeps showing me a map. I notice it's a pie-shaped
area and realize it's somewhere around the Great Lakes area, maybe Chicago.
An unknown man's voice tells me that a nuclear bomb is going to be detonated
there on November 1st and I should make sure that I'm at least fifty to
a hundred miles away from there.
Aaron's family, particularly his mother, wanted him to follow family tradition
and go into the medical field. But he had always loved art and architecture
and felt a frustrating split between giving in to his family's expectations
and following his own passion.
Dream images constantly clarify what belongs to the dreamer's Authentic
Self or essential nature and what symbolizes self-defeating outside influences.
I asked Aaron to describe what it would be like to imagine being that part
of the country, and, as the land and the waters, what had happened. "The
water has been polluted," he replied. "And if I'm that land, I've
been overrun by civilization, covered up." Then I asked him to describe
what it would be like, from the land's viewpoint, to experience a nuclear
explosion? He explained, with a sudden smile of realization, "Everything
that's been put on me is gone!"
A few days later I received an excited call from Aaron, who couldn't
wait to tell me that November 1st was the final deadline for him to enroll
in dental school and that he had just decided not to register. Aaron's
dream, one week before the school deadline, dramatically showed him the
power of this decision on November 1st. It had the potential to clear away
all the attitudes and expectations from his family that were preventing
him from living his life - everything that had been "put on" him, that
had "overrun" and "polluted" his original, natural landscape. His "nuclear"
family's influence was about to be exploded. Moreover, atomic fission,
a nuclear reaction, promised to release tremendous energy, energy that
would now be available to begin a new life - energy no longer tied up the
exhausting effort to conform and to live someone else's life. And his dream
also warns him to keep his distance from this event, to be aware of the
"fallout" - the reaction from his mother and his family to his decision.
Aaron avoided making a disastrous career choice.
Aaron's dream is a profound example of how our dreams are relentlessly
purposive in seeking to move us into living our own authentic life, releasing
dormant, inner potentials so that each one of us can add unique values
and characteristics to society and to our world. It would seem that our
dreams want us to lead uncommon lives!
John Goldhammer is a dream researcher, psychotherapist,
and author of three books. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
"The Time Bomb" is adapted from his new book: Radical Dreaming: Use Your
Dreams to Change Your Life (New York: Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press,