In this book, Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner examine dream traditions from around the world, beginning with the oldest records from ancient Egypt, India, Greece, and Australia and expanding to shamanic and indigenous societies. The authors investigate the psychology of dreaming, the neuroscience behind the dreaming brain, the Jungian perspective, and the intersections of yoga and modern dream research. They show how dreams and myth are related in the timeless world of the Archetypal Imagination and how dreams often reveal the wishes of the soul. They explore the practice of dream incubation, an age-old tradition for seeding the unconscious mind to help solve problems and gain deep insights. They examine the profound role that dreams have played in the survival of exploited and persecuted cultures, such as the Native Americans, African slaves, and the Jews during the Holocaust, and share inspirational dream stories from exceptional woman dreamers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Joan of Arc, and Harriet Tubman.
Approaches with a Recurring Dream A recurrent dream is a dream that appears on a fairly frequent basis for an individual dreamer. Studies have shown that most recurring dreams are disturbing and generally are first experienced in childhood or early adolescence. “Approximately two-thirds of adults experience some form of repetitive dream and most are associated with stressful events.”(1)
Carole was in her early twenties. She came from a traditional Catholic family. As a teenager she could not wait to leave home and be out from under the oppressive thumb of her family. With only a high school education she was having a difficult time getting a job that would enable her to save enough to move out. She met a young man her own age, fell in love, quickly they got a place together and she was free at last. Life was going along fine until she became pregnant. The baby arrived and very soon her boyfriend was overwhelmed and abandoned her and the baby. Now with the full responsibility of the rent, the baby, and everything else she had no choice but to move back home with her parents, who were very unhappy with her situation but felt obliged to take her in with an “I told you so” attitude. Carole felt trapped, became very depressed, took an overdose of pills and ended up in therapy with me after a brief stay in the “psych ward” of the local hospital. She began having a dream that recurred a few times a week. In the dream she is asleep in her bedroom: the door opens and “awakens” her. A dark figure comes toward her. The figure gets closer and closer and terrified she wakes up in a cold sweat.
We talked about the dream and how terrible she felt being back in her parents’ home with the baby, how trapped and alone she felt. I encouraged her to try something. I asked her if she had the dream again to try and become conscious in the dream and ask the figure, “What do you want?” To face the fear in her dream, as terrifying as it was. I said this would take great courage but I thought she could do it. She said she would try.
I had been studying the Senoi peoples of Malaysia and their ways of working with dreams. They encourage this kind of lucid dreaming in which a dreamer stops in the dream and faces the fear asking, “What do you want from me?” I was having success with this method in my own dreams and with patients. This notion is captured in the Senoi proverb we have already mentioned, “Where the fear is, that’s where the power is.” This is a simple, profound psychological truth, based on the principle of projection, which Jung described as “turning the world into a replica of your unknown face.”
Carole came to the next session reporting that she had continued to have the dream almost every night. The dream was becoming more and more intense and terrifying. She had managed to become conscious in the dream but was unable to get the words “What do you want from me” out of her paralyzed body. But a new detail had emerged. The intruder had a large knife and the sense that he wanted to kill her became frighteningly clear.
The dream continued to haunt her sleep and new details continued to emerge, including that the intruder was wearing one of her favorite high school jackets. The final terrifying detail to emerge as we got closer to the naked reality of the dream was based on something she had failed to mention during our sessions: her baby daughter slept in the room with her, and the intruder was heading in the direction of her baby and not her! She began painfully to touch on her feelings of resentment toward her daughter. She felt her daughter had ruined her life, had destroyed her relationship, and forced her to move back home. She wept bitterly as she talked about these feelings. Her shame was as strong as her resentment. She loved her daughter but found a powerful part of herself wishing she had never been born. She was caught between these powerful poles.
Finally she had the dream for the last time. The intruder came into her room, she found the courage to say out loud, “What do you want from me?” The intruder was headed toward her daughter’s crib. Again Carole screamed, “What do you want from me?” The intruder now came toward her bed and stood over her with knife raised. The intruder brought the knife down, as if to plunge it into her heart. But as the knife got to eye level it transformed into a brilliantly lit torch. The torch revealed the intruder as the most startlingly beautiful version of herself she had ever seen, wearing a white dress and standing illuminated in the light.
I was overwhelmed with awe when she told me the dream at the next session. What a testimony to the power and creativity of the dream source within us. Facing her fear, facing the truth of her murderous feelings toward her daughter had revealed, in a most wonderful way, her own beauty and power. It had taken months to work toward the truth and terrifying beauty of this dream.
Something had changed. Within a few months Carole was able to apply for a program at a local Community College that supported single moms wanting to attend college. It took time, but her life gradually reflected the illuminated, powerful person she saw in her dream. I remembered Jack’s saying from the Senoi: “Where the fear is, that’s where the power is.”
Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., LMHC, BCIA-eeg, is professor emeritus of psychology at SUNY Ulster, board-certified in EEG biofeedback, and the author of several books, including The Healing Power of Neurofeedback and The Fundamentalist Mind. He is the founder and director of Stone Mountain Center, offering biofeedback, neurofeedback, and psychotherapy treatments. He lives in New Paltz, New York.
Tom Verner is a practicing psychotherapist and professional magician and was a professor of psychology at Burlington College for 35 years. The founder, with his wife Janet, of Magicians Without Borders, he lives in Lincoln, Vermont.
“More than a thousand books have been written about dreams. If you had to choose just one, you could not do better than this beautiful integration of the biological, psychological, cultural, mythological, and spiritual dimensions of these mysteries of the night. The best, most practical techniques for remembering and understanding your dreams are placed in the rich context of humanity’s best dream interpreters, from ancient shamans through Freud, Jung, and contemporary authorities with whom the authors have studied, up to the authors themselves. Just reading this book has enriched our dream lives, and it is bound to stimulate your psyche as well!”
– Donna Eden and David Feinstein, Ph.D., coauthors of The Energies of Love
“A deep well of knowledge from two of the world’s most respected dream cartographers. This book is mythically oriented, historically detailed, and everyday practical. It also serves as a fascinating personal memoir about the crucial role of dream practices in contemporary mythopoetics. A fine feat! Highly recommended for all dream enthusiasts looking to remember who we really are.”
– Ryan Hurd, author of Sleep Paralysis
“The Transformational Power of Dreaming is a beautiful synthesis of scholarship, science, mythology, and the many fascinating but little-known facts about the lives of those dreamers who have had an outsized influence on humanity--scientists and inventors, philosophers, and even some of the great spiritual heroes of our kind. For me this book is a delightful balance of insight and human touch with generous openings into clinical practice and growth. A great bedside read to usher you into the night’s journey.”
– Edward Bruce Bynum, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., author of The Dreamlife of Families
“I have read numerous books about dreams and dreaming, but Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner have revealed insights that are both new and old, both practical and entertaining. The Transformational Power of Dreaming takes the reader on a wild trip that spans centuries and continents. Its description of contemporary brain neuroscience is solid but the book also delves into Greek dream incubation, Tibetan lucid dreaming, Jungian dreamwork, and an innovative procedure by which readers can enter the portals of their own dreams. Actual dream reports from the authors’ clients and students illuminate novel ideas, conveying personal touches that will touch the heart and move the soul.”
– Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., Working with Dreams and PTSD Nightmares
“The power of The Transformational Power of Dreaming as told by Stephen and Tom is the story of the dreams of history--of how they were incubated, used, and valued by our ancestors--dreams that gave them directions to find health and harmony in the ways they lived. By listening to the dream spirits of our ancestors and of the Earth, these spirits can carry us into a world that heals both us and the Earth and can bring us peace. This book needs to be read and practiced by all.”
– Nicholas E. Brink, Ph.D., Ecstatic Soul Retrieval
“The authors lucidly map how consciousness and unconsciousness ‘look’ at each other and can be brought into deeper, more intimate conversation. This insightful, entertaining book is also an immensely practical guide to working with dreams. Verner and Larsen’s fascinating stories, meticulous explications, and poetic intelligence inspire our dreaming selves and lead us toward more concentrated, richer lives. They make a wise and convincing case for how, as our roots deepen, our branches blossom.”
– Tony Hoagland, poet and teacher
“The Transformational Power of Dreaming urges us to drink from the inexhaustible waters of the mythic imagination that flows through us every night when we dream and to use these dark depths to help orient us in life, direct us on our way, and to companion us in times of our soul’s despair. The book offers a wealth of helpful understandings and exercises for those who are seeking connection with the deeper mythic imagination that lies awaiting them inside.”
– Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm
"Diverse yet cohesive, this encyclopedic work invites readers to explore the “partnership we are in with the deeper more autonomous parts of our being” through an understanding of dreams...this book provides context and history about working with dreams that will appeal to readers who want to engage the sleepy side of the mind."
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