Dreams make possible a larger, deeper consciousness as we work with them intentionally. The "I" who observes myself becomes aware of the many ways "I" deceive myself through the use of defenses, shadow roles and games, identification with persona deceptions, the circling through my eight typological positions, the entrapments and empowerments of my anima/animus, the ongoing battles and liaisons with my complexes/object relations from the past who enfold me within moods, false beliefs, emotional ruts, and destructive behavior patterns.
And, more important, dreams disclose the positive potentialities that wait to be integrated, developed, and employed: a clearer sense of identity and purpose, a heightened self-esteem, a greater comfort with one's body, vocation, and place in the world. These are not inflated over-lays on our life but natural ways of being, just as our dreams are natural. In the world of dreams, I come to myself. As I come to myself, I come to my meditation with clearer intent, focus, and process.
Meditation also, like dreams, is natural. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "meditate" as: "to train, calm, or empty the mind, often by entering an altered state, as by focusing on a single object... ."
In itself, as I said earlier, this is basically a natural process in its simplest form. But then the question arises: Who is the "I" meditating? For what purpose? What is the "single object" of focus? What "altered state" is desired? Why? What result do I have in mind? Is the meditation to deepen my devotional life? To "find God?" To develop mental and psychological power for use on others or myself? To escape? To lower my blood pressure and improve my health? To escape a threatening, debilitating pattern of behavior? To calm myself before a performance of some kind? To get a certificate that says I can teach meditation? To travel astrally? To levitate? To gain esoteric knowledge? To develop more compassion for others? To calm myself? To deal with a crisis? To prepare for death? To practice while dying? To practice the "presence of God?" To boost my ego by meditating better, longer, and more often than others? To learn the way of holding attention in the presence of an onslaught of inner thoughts, feelings, and sensations, or a barrage of external distractions? To practice the altered state of consciousness in the service of health, wholeness, and consciousness?
You can see that the aims and "outcomes" of dreamwork and meditation depend very much on the "I" who dreams, and the "I" who meditates. No wonder that there are so many skeptics about both of these very natural and universal experiences. For we all dream; and, indeed, we all meditate, regardless of what we call it, when we "get lost" in some activitiy such as driving a car down a familiar road allowing us to place our mind on some inner thought, feeling, or piece of music we may be hearing.
But even though we all dream and experience some kind of meditation, many people are ill prepared to practice these in an intentional way. Still less do most people expect any good thing to come from dreams and meditation. In fact, many among us are scared of both meditation and dreams.
Fortunately, even though the skeptics are many and the world seems still to give slight attention to dreamwork and meditation, our numbers are increasing, I believe. Yoga has done much to introduce meditation as a healthy, healing experience, and so have many of the martial arts, eastern religions, academic research, the contemplative tradition in Christianity, the medical community's explorations of traditional approaches to healing, discoveries in shamanic experiences of trance and altered states of consciousness, mindfulness communities, and even the research into the benefits of hallucinogenic drugs for healing veterans with PTSD. An astounding and growing body of reliable research has moved meditation to the front page of recommendations for health, healing, and psychological transformation.
As for dreams, there is a long history of research and dreamwork within the various psychotherapeutic schools, as well as within some religious traditions and native healers. I come out of the psychoanalytic school of Jungian analysis and frequently refer people to the profound autobiography of Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, that tells the story of his life "from inside out," focusing on his dreams and their role in shaping his life's direction.
So there is no reason why anyone today cannot practice dreamwork and meditation. I do recommend they begin with a teacher who herself/himself practices them, a teacher who has some years of experience and more than just a theoretical knowledge, a teacher who strives to know the "I" who is dreaming and meditating, a teacher that can help interested persons discover the "I" within themselves.
And while the experiences of dreamwork and meditation are very much an individual and personal process, I also suggest to people that they may at some time or other consider participating in a group of like-minded dreamers and meditators. Talk with people, interview them, and make sure you feel safe, "at home." Imagine, then, a group gathering with diverse people committed to the intentional and conscious practices of dreamwork and mediation. Imagine the introduction in families of children to the process in their formative, impressionable years. Imagine being with people as they prepare for death with dreams and meditation. Imagine beginning and ending our days with this spiritual practice that is natural but deeply rooted in medicine, psychology, and all the world's great religions. It is not in the name of any one guru that groups meet, although many teachers with long lineages stand behind all of us and come to our circles symbolically and beneficently.
It has been a great experience of my long life not only to have undertaken a dream analysis but also to have received instruction in meditation from many teachers and schools: Ananda Marga, aikido, taiji, chi gong, Herbert Benson's team at Harvard Medical School, the Bonny method of work in music and transformation, the Christian contemplative tradition, Zen, the active imagination of Carl Jung presented at my training institute, the journaling workshop method of Ira Progoff, Iyengar Yoga, and shamanism. I have also been inspired and learned from the works of Jack Kornfield, Stephen Levine, Anthony de Mello, and Sogyal Rinpoche.
As you see, my path in meditation has been serpentine with many different experiences and teachers. However, the commonality of these traditions far exceeds their differences. This in itself is a remarkable thing, is it not? And does that not point to the profound, archetypal core that is the root of this natural phenomenon we call meditation? But, you may ask me how I meditate, coming out of those many experiences? And my answer is, it depends. It depends upon what is taking place in my life at any particular time. What is going on? How am I feeling? Am I lonely, tired, scared, depressed, anxious, stressed, facing a deadline or anxiety-provoking performance, facing the vulnerabilities of my age and approaching death; am I dealing with a health matter? Am I feeling stimulated, lethargic, happy, etc.? What have my dreams been saying to me? All this may lead me toward a way of meditation at any moment that is more introspective or more active; more enabled by music and movement or more open and receptive to "what comes by my attention"; more focused on a mantra or simply watching my breath, etc.
In other words, my practice of meditation is varied, as varied as the crooks and turns of my life that, as Carl Jung says, has been marked by "fateful turnings and detours." But having said that, I must hurry to say my path may not be the way for many people who need the sustained focus of a specific method that one practices repetitively. The important thing is to recognize that "not one size fits all," but also to recognize the crucial importance of not pursuing meditation as a peripatetic dilettante! The basic fundamentals must be developed in the areas of posture, breath, and the steadying of attention so that one can hold the "one point." Just reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a recording probably will not help you develop those fundamentals. There is no substitute for a teacher who is qualified, who practices regularly, who passes along his/her tradition with a sense of joy, and who helps you to feel safe even when challenged.
In the months to come, I will return to this topic. I hope to develop and share with you the following ideas:
Meditation and the Psychological Complex
Meditation and the "Meditation Complex"
Meditation and the Archetypal Impulse to enter the Altered State
Meditation and Music
Meditation and the Way of the Samurai Warrior
Meditation and Movement
Meditation and Death and Dying
Meditation and the Practice of Spirituality
Meditation and the Tantric Path for Conscious, Committed Couples
Meditation and Active Imagination
Meditation and Health
Meditation and the Religious Contemplative Tradition
Meditation and the Aesthetic Experience
Meditation and Laughter
Meditation and Work
Meditation and Shamanism
Meditation and Compassionate Care
Meditation and Dreamwork as Paired Practices
I am not sure when these topics will be forthcoming, but stay tuned. They are on my radar, as is the prospect of offering a group experience of dreams and meditation in tandem. Le me know if you might be interested, and I will include you on the list of prospects. I am envisioning a circle of dreamers and meditators who form a community of sustained growth in the overlapping psychological, spiritual, and social dimensions of life.
Such an experience is the birthright of all people and should never be denied anyone on the basis of cost, location, ideology, education, or creed.