I've had to admit that only certain people lean in and ask for more when I say, “I had such an interesting dream last night...”
Others give a vague, “Hm,” or steer the conversation to another subject. And that's fine. I love talking about dreams – with people who love talking about dreams.
When a friend shares a dream with me, my ears perk right up. It's a welcome relief from chit-chat: Finally! Yes! Let's talk about our souls. Let's talk about what really matters!
Thankfully, I have a community, now, of people who feel that way as well (many who are newly curious about dreams). Some of them are fellow Chinese Medicine practitioners, or are patients who get acupuncture treatments.
Turns out there is a beautiful dance between dreamwork and the science of symbols used in Chinese Medicine to understand the human being.
(Love that idea? Click here for a free mini-book that I'd love to share with you. It's all about the Five Elements and your dreams.)
For me, as a dreamworker and acupuncturist, it's become completely natural to combine the two. But why? And what does it offer me, and the people I work with?
I'll explain with a story. As Stephen Jenkinson might put it, this is a true story, but it didn't really happen.
That is, it's full of truth, but it's not a direct re-telling of any one person's experience. (I never share “really happened” stories publicly, to respect confidentiality.)
A woman in her early 40s, whom I'll call Jennifer, shared this dream with me:
“We're riding in a small raft, me and my two sons. We're moving nice and easy down a small river, and I've got a stick I use to push against the banks, just gently keeping us from bumping into the banks, keeping us in the main flow. All of a sudden, the water speeds up and we start bumping into rocks that are popping up around us. One of my sons falls over, still on the raft, and bumps the side of his head, and then he looks at me accusingly, like this is my fault. I kind of know it's not my fault, but I feel guilty anyway. The river is flowing toward a place where two other rivers meet it, all three becoming one big river, and where they meet I see this chaotic vortex of rushing water and big boulders, whitewater splashing and sticks breaking against the rocks. I'm afraid we'll all drown.”
Jennifer shared this dream with me when she was asking my Chinese Medicine advice for headache relief. If you've ever gone to see a Chinese Medicine practitioner, you may have heard words like “stagnation,” “deficiency,” “blockage,” and “excess.” You may have heard the names of the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal) and the names of the channel and organ networks, or “meridians.”
Basically, a Chinese medicine practitioner needs to figure out a few things:
which channels and organs have plenty of qi, and which don't have enough
where qi is flowing and where it's stuck
what's in your body that shouldn't be (like “dampness,” or “wind”)
and what should be there but is lacking (like “Spleen qi” for strong digestion)
Dreams are incredibly eloquent, and surprisingly direct, about these questions.
I as the listener, though, could never know what Jennifer's dream was telling her unless I explored it with her. When we dove in, she had “ah-ha” moments about:
the significance of her son hitting his head (on his right temple, where her own headaches tended to happen)
the blame in his facial expression in the dream, and the judgment she felt toward herself in waking life, for waiting too long to treat her headaches
and the sense that she was losing control over her teenage sons' lives (especially their safety).
Personally, I was curious about the dream-son having hit his head, so I asked more about it. Injuries cause what we call “Blood stasis” in Chinese medicine. Blood stasis is one reason for headaches like Jennifer's, and it requires a specific type of treatment.
My own imagination was also captivated by the image of three rivers meeting. There is an acupuncture point on the lower leg called “San Yin Jiao” or “Three Yin Meeting,” a.k.a. Spleen 6, where three channels cross one other.
Not to let my own projections lead me to assumptions, though, I asked Jennifer to press on Spleen 6 on her own legs. She did indeed find this point tender to the touch. (Those of you who've had acupuncture might know that acupuncturists get very interested in those tender points.)
More importantly, when she did some self-acupressure (massage) on Spleen 6, the intensity of her headache went down.
Jennifer's dream brought clarity to her Chinese Medicine diagnosis and treatment – and Chinese medicine helped enrich our understanding of the dream. She and I loved this conversation for both of those reasons, but perhaps even more because of something unnameable that shifted in our interaction.
This often happens when a dream enters the room (or the room enters the dream?): speaking the dream and meeting it with curiosity deepens, or elevates, or somehow “drops us into" the moment.
Things that really matter seem to just happen.
Can you tell that I love this stuff? I truly do, and I love working dreams with other people who are into it.
But dreamwork is not for everyone. Some people would give the noncommittal “Hm” that I mentioned, or would change the subject, simply because they've never learned how rich dreams are with insight and inspiration. Others would do so because they're just not interested.
I still bring dreams up in conversation even if I don't know whether someone is interested, but I don't share a dream with anyone who doesn't want to hear it. Sharing something that's meaningful to me with someone who doesn't find it interesting or important? Honestly, it's a bit painful. We can connect over something else instead.
For that deep connection with my dreaming life, I keep a dream journal. I work my dreams with a group of friends in person, and with my online community. I turn to the language of symbols in Chinese Medicine because it resonates deeply in my mind and body.
If I've learned one thing with certainty in the mysterious domain of dreams, it's that whatever resonates with each dreamer – whatever inspires those “ah-ha” moments, that leaning in, that curiosity – is when we're onto what really matters.
Are you leaning in? Come dive deeper in the Dreamers Den free Facebook group. Grab my free mini-book pdf about the Five Elements in your dreams, to deepen your own dreamwork practice. Let's keep in touch!