The Limitless Adventure of Dreaming
The following exchanges are from an interview Robert gave in April 2001 to Rita Baniene, Lithuanian journalist and psychologist, for one of her countrys leading magazines.
When did you start to organize your workshops?
I have been leading public dream workshops on a regular basis since 1992. I was guided to do this by a dream in which people were tremendously excited because a famous dream author (Patricia Garfield) had moved to the town where I was living and was teaching "ordinary" people how to empower their lives through their dreams. A friend suggested that the "famous author" in my dream might be me. After arranging a series of workshops, I dreamed that 46 people were registered for the first class, which puzzled me because I had made 35 the class limit. I then discovered that we had 35 people signed up, and eleven more on a waiting list, giving the total of 46.
Could you tell me about your mentors and teachers?
My most important teachers, for all of my life, have been inside the dreamworld. This is something all active dreamers will understand. I have learned from Native peoples - especially Australian Aborigines, the Iroquois peoples of North America and West African traditionalists - and from modern dreamworkers and shamanic practitioners, but my vital training and advanced study has taken place (since my early childhood) at locations in nonordinary reality, and these studies continue and deepen. In childhood, one of my dream teachers appeared to me as a radiant young man from the Hellenistic world who spoke to me in the difficult language of the Neo-Platonist philosophers. My encounters with him inspired - perhaps the better word is reawakened - a passionate interest in the ancient world and the Western Mystery traditions that led directly to my first job, as Lecturer in Ancient History at the Australian National University.
When I moved to North America and started living on the edge of Mohawk country, I dreamed of a powerful woman healer and a master shaman of long ago who insisted on speaking to me in their own language, which proved to be an archaic form of the Mohawk language. So I studied Mohawk to understand my dreams. This brought me into further life-changing encounters with Iroquois dreamers, both in dreaming and in waking. The Iroquois reminded me that dreams are journeys of the soul - in which we may travel across space and time, or into other dimensions - and that dreams also reveal "the secret wishes of the soul", which is critical to healing and self-awareness. In ordinary life, we so often fall into confusion because we operate according to the limited understanding of the ego, or (worse yet) confuse our own identity with what other people tell us we are and can be. Dreams bring us into the realm of soul and put us in touch with our soul's purpose in this lifetime. If we fail to honor the "secret wishes of the soul" - the Iroquois say - we will lose vital energy and get sick, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Among Western teachers, there were three towering intellects of the twentieth century who inspired me deeply: Jung, Einstein and the poet/magus William Butler Yeats. All have figured many times in important dreams, over many decades. If you look at their lives and the source of their wisdom, you will find that each, in a true sense, was a shaman or magus of the West, who knew the things that mattered through direct experience.
Among living teachers of different approaches to dreamwork, I have gained greatly from the courage and example of my dear friend Rita Dwyer, one of the leaders of the American dreamwork (a former rocket scientist whose life was saved by a friend's precognitive dream, as described in my book "Dreaming True"), from the cross-cultural research of Stanley Krippner, from methods of group dreamwork developed by Montague Ullman and Jeremy Taylor that honor the dreamer as the final authority on his/her dreams, and from Patricia Garfield's early breakthrough work on creative dreaming. Among contemporary teachers of shamanism, I have learned from Michael Harner's streamlined approach to "core shamanism" - helping left-brained Westerners to travel into a deeper reality through monotonous drumming - and through Sandra Ingerman's wonderfully spirited and practical approach to soul retrieval, a powerful form of healing that may prove to be one of the most important contributions of ancient shamanism to our modern health and medicine.
What helps you to go back inside your dreams?
The key to going back inside a dream (as to so much else) is intention. Start by thinking of a dream you remember as a place - a house, a beach, a nebulous cloudland, maybe. Then make it your intention to return to that place, just as you might go back to a house on a certain street, open the door and walk in. Decide before you try to go back inside a dream what you what to know, and what you want to do.
Often I try to go back inside my dreams because I have been interrupted, pulled from a dream by a noise in the house or the street, the dog barking, or my young daughter tickling my toes. If I can, I'll lie back in bed, cover my eyes, and simply try to let myself drift back into the dream and dream the dream onward. This can be great fun, deeply relaxing, and a marvelous way of slipping quite naturally into a conscious dream state where we are fully aware that we are dreaming and are able to navigate the dreamspace, choosing our actions and directions.
But of course it's not always that easy to go back into a dream. Conditions may not be right, or something - often fear of an issue or entity seen or sensed in the dream - may be blocking us. I find that monotonous drumming helps me to shift my awareness, eliminate clutter and go back inside a dream, often in tremendously vivid and exciting ways. In my workshops, we use live shamanic drumming to help people travel into dreaming in this way. At home, you may want to experiment with a drumming tape. This is a primal technology for shifting consciousness, and it truly works. In as little as 10-14 minutes, the average left-brain-focussed, scientifically-oriented Westerner can be released by the drumming to become a conscious dream traveler, capable of bringing back gifts of insight and healing from a deeper reality.
What is your view of Freudian and Jungian dream interpreters?
First of all, I don't allow anyone with whom I come into contact to "interpret" anyone else's dreams. The dreamer is the only true expert - and the final authority on - his or her dreams, and we must never give this power away. In working with dreams, I try to create a safe space where the dreamer can tell her dream, simply and clearly, and be deeply heard. Then I ask a few questions and then play the game of saying "If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such." This gives the power to the dreamer, not the analyst.
Now: We owe a debt to Freud, for coming along at the end of the 19th century and reminding the West that dreams are important. But he proceeded to do a great disservice to dreamers by settling on a narrow, dogmatic method of dream interpretation that left out most of the good stuff and handed the interpretation of dreams over to a bunch of well-paid professionals.
As for Jung; I have been inspired for all of my life by this tremendous explorer of the deeper reality, who taught us (quite correctly) that dreams give us a direct line to the collective experience of the human species (past, present and future) and to multidimensional reality.
What do you think about special goggles and other machines designed to enhance "lucid dreaming"?
Frankly, I suspect the only "machine" you need to enter conscious dreaming is inside your own head. The easiest and most effective way to become a conscious dreamer is to learn to shift consciousness and enter dreaming when you are still awake (or have just awakened). I encourage people to spend a lot more time in the "twilight" zone between waking and sleep (the area of hypnagogic experience) or between sleep and waking (hypnopompic). The images that will arise to you quite naturally in this zone, if you let them, can be used as doorways into conscious dreaming.
Dream reentry - as I have explained above - is truly the "royal road" to conscious dreaming. The best technology to support it is monotonous drumming, either live or on tape.
Why do more women than men come to your workshops?
In most modern societies, at least until very recently, men have been discouraged from showing their feelings and vulnerabilities and from sharing their inner life. This is changing, but it is still challenging for many men to sit in a circle - especially among women - and speak of their deep inner experiences. It is often said that women, on average, are more intuitive than men; it might be better to say that women, on average, are more in touch with their intuition and more willing to accept its guidance. This may be a second factor. We are looking for more than a few good men to become active dreamers! This is essential to the rebirth of a dreaming culture.
Do you always follow the guidance of your dreams?
I try to! I have noticed that whenever I try to ignore a dream message, I get myself into trouble. I know that dreams are wonderful navigational tools, because my own dreams have saved me from death on the road (in car accidents) on at least two occasions.
One of the things we need to understand, in order to work successfully with dream guidance on a daily basis, is that dreams are constantly rehearsing us for alternative possible futures. If we don't like a certain scenario, played out in a dream, we can choose a nicer one - if we become active dreamers!
Another thing we need to remember is that we are often so close to our own issues that we can't or won't receive the full message of a dream. This is why I like to share my personal dreams with partners (who may be intimate partners or complete strangers) as often as possible. Provided we can learn to follow a simple etiquette for dream-sharing that respects the dreamer's privacy and final authority over his/her own dream, we gain so much by receiving the insights and associations of others!
How often you have big and conscious dreams?
Let's distinguish these terms. A "big" dream is not necessarily a conscious dream (in the sense that you know you are dreaming). A "conscious" dream may be quite trivial - like the dream of a woman who becomes conscious she is dreaming during the night but can't think of anything better to do than to fly over to a local shopping mall, which of course is closed at 4AM. So she ends up window-shopping, and getting thoroughly bored, in a conscious dream.
A "big" dream, for me, is one in which I have a deep encounter with a spiritual being, receive healing or initiation, or gain important psychic information. Dreams of this kind have literally changed my life at important crossroads. I enter this general territory every night - and often every day, since so much of my life centers on dreaming - but the life-transforming dreams are not necessarily enacted every week, or according to any schedule!. I experience conscious dreaming, in the sense of entering the dreamspace while fully awake and aware, every day of my life. But in many of my night dreams - including many of the most exciting and "big" dreams! - I am not aware that I am dreaming (at least not in the conventional sense of saying to myself "This is a dream").
At all times, whether I am in a sleep dream or the dream of waking life, I practice remaining fully awake to the fact that I have the power to choose my direction, to choose where I will put my energy, and to test the limits of the possible.
Do you have partners with whom you embark on shared dreaming?
Certainly! For much of my life, I have embarked on shared adventures in dreaming with intimate and trusted partners. In recent years, I have led and participated in many, many experiments in interactive or "mutual" dreaming. You will find reports on some of these group dream experiences in my books Dreamgates and Dreaming True. This is a path of limitless adventure - and a key to the emerging science of this 21st century. When two or more people can enter the same space in nonordinary reality and come back with mutually confirming reports, we have objective, scientific evidence of the existence of orders of reality beyond the physical. And we are on our way to discovering that time is indeed (as Einstein said) only a human convenience; we have the ability to move beyond it, and we can enter those trans-temporal and hyperspatial realms with others.