Better than the Movies
My Dream Quest
by G. Scott Albright
I’ve always paid attention to my dreams. In fact, a very vivid dream that had me in the midst of a cataclysmic world transformation helping people soulfully bridge two worlds led me to Atlantic University’s Spiritual Mentoring program. However, my approach to my dreams was as a dilettante picking and choosing the very ripe symbols ready to fall into my lap without much effort or need for analysis (or so I imagined). My ideas about dream work changed substantially as the result of a self-directed “Dream Quest” I undertook. This month-long exercise using Henry Reed’s Dream Solutions/Dream Realizations: The Original Dream Quest Guidebook– Trailblazing Intuitive Guidance in Dreams took me into realms I suspected but never had the focus, energy or tools to uncover.
The premise of the book is simple: if you will take the time to look at your dreams and apply dream insight—through a series of fully explained exercises—that effort will result in additional dreams that will steer you closer to a goal that you set for yourself. And even if you don’t have a goal or are unsure of what goal you might set, that is not an obstacle to beginning this process.
I began this dream journey not having much of an idea myself what my quest might be. I did think that my dreams might begin to speak to the health issues that have troubled me since a car accident in 2001 started me on a downward spiral. In fact, I rather hoped that the dreams would begin to pry open the lid that has kept my medical symptoms undiagnosed and anomalous for these past years. My first nights of dream journaling seemed to propel me in that direction.
A recurrent dream of mine—I only have had two in my life—cropped up the very first night. Once again I find myself in a race in which initially I’m very competitive but before long my legs begin not to function: they are heavy and drag. I almost go lucid at this point in the dream as my inner voice says to me: “It’s on the ‘lifting up’ that you have trouble.” I then lose the dream, semi-consciously realizing it’s my recurring running dream and that I’ll have to remember the details for the morning, especially the last bit of insight about the “up lifting” that is failing me. I’m exalted upon awakening that a very important clue has been thrown my way.
A few nights later I dream of taking an “off-duty” doctor away from his family in order to ask, “What do I have?” Ultimately the doc tells me, we are “ON TARGET” for the medications I’m taking—this after a bit of humor with Billy Crystal providing the laughs. Like Alice I’m beginning to feel that matters are getting “curiouser and curiouser.”
I am in a city plaza, busy traffic around it. The plaza has a double railing with thorn bushes growing between each concrete railing. I am crawling across a railing and get some thorns in my hand. I stop to pick out the thorns which are delicate thus not too piercing, but also sticky as I pull them away from my hand. Meanwhile a baby crawls by the thorn bushes or even over them without getting any thorns. I suddenly see my doctor down the busy street. I go to ask him about my medications and my diagnosis. We are suddenly in an enclosed courtyard, more a city’s concrete yard—nothing fancy. He’s playing kickball with his kids and I have to interrupt him to ask my questions and thus take him away from his family time. He is vaguely Hispanic I’m thinking, conjuring for me the notion of a very family-oriented person. He’s very accommodating and not perturbed that I am interrupting him. I ask him my question: what do I have? He says it’s probably something similar to what Private So-and-so died from. (military again) I ask, “who?” His wife is in an adjacent space, no door, where I see her scrolling through a televised library of theater posters of a play that I’m guessing was produced at a college. The wife says what a great poster it was, an award winning one or one that should have won awards. I don’t believe she ever gets to it before the scene switches to the other side of the yard where a public telephone rings. The doctor answers it. I can overhear loud chattering from the earpiece, but the doctor is only listening, he’s not in a conversation. He holds out the phone for me to listen. I say “Billy Crystal?” It sounds as if Billy is doing one of his manic shticks and jabbering away loudly. I find this incongruous to the situation we are in. But, humorous. A security guard or policeman sticks his shoulder and head into the telephone space and says he needs to check it out—for security reasons. Ultimately, the doc says we are “ON TARGET” for our meds and that it is OK to phase them in before getting to full strength dosages. End of dream.
I use the guidebook’s instructions for gaining insight into my first week’s worth of dreams by creating, and reflecting upon, descriptive titles for my dreams. As I sift through these “movie” titles—Up Life; It’s Crystal Clear; A Smoldering Fire; Country Comfort; Wrestling Perfection—I’m beginning to suspect that my main issue is about how I am living my life. It seems to be all about my lifestyle and how it is consumed by work and guilt—guilt not only for not treating myself better but for not having more quality time (and patience) with my family, esp. my children. And guilt for mustering up the energy to engage strangers but collapsing from exhaustion with my own family.
The first week of dream work culminates with the creation of a daily contract. As a result of the insights I uncovered in this first batch of dreams, I wrote out a contract for myself as to how I would apply these insights daily during the coming week while I continued to collect the dreams that occurred in week two. The first week’s contract crystallizes: When I am with my children and/or wife I will stay present and not worry about work. If I am still distracted, dreams show me a better way. And the application of that contract actually brings some focus to my daily activities in week two; it helps me make a clean break from my work when I stop working in order to spend unbroken time with family, and seems to bring a bit more sanity to my schedule.
I’m doubtful as I head into week two that my luck will hold out with as many detailed and robust dreams as I encountered in the first week. I’m a bit anxious as I go to bed on Sunday night with my contract under my pillow. But, the first dream of the week has me speaking up to tell a woman who has butt into my line at the market that she must go to the end of the line.
I’m in a car with others (family?), driving through a gas station not intending to get gas but to drive through to some other stores. But as I pass through, the station is jamming up with cars so I decide that I should get gas now. Some lady is passing in front of me, but the scene morphs into this lady pushing a shopping cart (in a grocery store now?). I say, “Go on by” thinking she wants to get by me. Instead she jumps into my line at the counter and starts unpacking her things. I speak up and say, “I don’t think so, not in my lane. You need to go elsewhere!” She says, “Well, you didn’t say that.” I say you weren’t intending to stop shopping but did so suddenly. She leaves; we pull up to the counter and start to unload our things. End of dream.
It is a good sign; but then for several nights I cannot hold onto any dreams. I’m disappointed that I’ve missed my night “at the movies.”
Mid-week I’m taken aback when my “to-the-end-of-the-line” dream morphs into reality. A client of mine calls me on my cell phone, as I’m driving around town, to discuss a job that is hours away from its deadline. She is asking for a change that has no merit; it is purely a subjective request and has nothing to do with content. Five years ago, I would have rushed back to my office abandoning my errand to make the change and the client happy. In a very reasoned explanation, I tell her that the cost would be much more than her non-profit could justify and
that now is not the time for such changes. She defers to my judgment: she isn’t happy but my decision prevails and my life stays sane and stress-free for the rest of the day. My entire week feels less stressed: the contract that I devised seems to have been on target. The intensity of my dreams comes back late in the week leaving me much to ponder as I sit down for Evaluation #2, the end-of-the-week study night meant to review and evaluate my second week’s worth of dreams. This time there is a new set of interpretive tools to apply to the dreams that will again lead to a new daily contract.
I was pulled especially to evaluate a dream whose locale was Atlantic City, for me a very iconic place that embodies warm memories, much fun and a place of little stress. However, my dream was anything but those comfortable things:
A Stormy Inlet
I’m in Atlantic City up in the inlet. We are with Paul Giacometti (although he’s not himself) and he’s apparently wealthy living up in this swank enclave in the inlet close to the ocean. We walk up a block from where he lives, up by the boardwalk and the ocean. My wife and I are looking at this “mansion” that is shaped like a “U” with a plaza between the wings; it faces the ocean. Apparently there had been a fire but with only subtle clues to see—some smoke marks around the windows. My wife wonders if the upstairs might be available in which to do some work: “maybe there’s less damage upstairs.” Meanwhile, I’m noticing the ocean at my back. It’s extremely rough at the inlet. I watch a huge wave break (it’s breaking away from us, not as if coming to the beach or boardwalk.). It looks threatening, menacing, the ocean is dark and gray, full of foreboding. It’s scary. While we are looking at the house, a wave breaks and crests over the boardwalk getting us wet. But we feel, too, the hint of the strength with which the wave could sweep one out to sea. It’s a little struggle to walk back toward the house. We walk on and now find ourselves in a restaurant, and with my daughters. As we are walking down this corridor (into the restaurant?) Paul tries to play with the girls, but it feels awkward. He goes to step between my youngest and me as if to shield her so she thinks I’m not there; but, she quickly slips around him and grabs onto my leg. He attempts to play with my oldest; she’s dancing and pirouetting down the hallway. Now we are in the bar part of the restaurant. I notice a man walk up to my wife, who is sitting at the bar, and lean down to say something to her. He’s an older, father-like gentleman. I’m assuming he has recognized my wife. He bends down to tell her how much the city misses her. Now I’m in a neighborhood in my hometown, walking. Not sure where I might be headed—back to my childhood home? Current neighbors are walking their basset hound. I think I’m going to run on home. It’s a bit dark, maybe duskish. My neighbors and I pass this ornate front of a Catholic school or church. We have to cross its plaza and go down some stairs to continue on our journey. Now we are on the street where I grew up, the broad street that fronted our family home. I’m jogging up this avenue and there are all kinds of animals in a group. I think, “uh, oh: not good to be running with so many loose animals around.” They begin to chase the running me. Is there a monkey in the group? There was a goat, I’m pretty sure. The monkey is quick and is trying to grab for my crotch. My neighbor is strolling behind and says something like, don’t worry they’ll leave you alone! End of Dream
Here I use one of the new interpretive techniques from the workbook to unravel this dense imagery: I rewrite the dream adding phrases to the dream text that help clarify the meaning of the symbols that appear scattered throughout my dream. For example, I replace “inlet” with places where I let things in, “mansion” with my body, and “wings” with passions; I replace the verb “crests” with overwhelms and “breaking away” with freeing oneself. Through a substitution of phrases for the nouns and verbs that resonate with me as I read through my dream, I begin to clarify the dream’s message and end up with this analysis:
Balance is what my quest is about and I think this dream points out vividly those concerns and maybe even begins to sharpen the focus of the quest. In the fresh air where I feel free, I’m able to let things in. When I am so busy and overwhelmed, I shut down and pull a protective shell around me. The ocean is my untapped reservoir of emotion, probably the strongest being anger, anger at myself for not pushing for balance or making it happen in a better way. The house, me, is singed from the burning embers of anger, but my wife thinks it still can work well enough as is. I’m doubtful that we can continue this pace. I feel the pull of the ocean, my emotions, and find it hard to fight back; it’s hard to fight to get back to myself. I see I need to find my solutions in my day-to-day life and not necessarily in my spiritual practice; I need to try to play more even if that feels awkward for me, whether with my children or on my own. And I need to be happy with who I am as a man, father, breadwinner, etc.
By the end of the second week’s evaluation, I attempt a “best guess” at what my dreams have been telling me throughout the week. The “best guess” is a workbook first step among several that helps home in on my next daily contract for the new week. In this case I concluded that my goal was the same: to bring sanity to my personal and professional life. My best guess with more thought, however, took on a larger struggle: that of losing things to do, not just staying focused on what’s at hand. I needed to be more proactive in saying “no” to new work, or needed to do better in defining a better schedule for myself. I needed to evaluate more intensely what work I really want to do, what work I am not afraid to lose. My contract for the second week, something I would try to apply daily in week three, stated: If the decisions I make on a daily basis to simplify my life do not bring me the peace and nurturing I need, dreams please show me a better way. I put this under my pillow to begin week three.
A definite need for nurturing me was at the heart of this message and the start of my third week dreams were populated by motherly women and Madonna—the singer; but, I knew my unconscious was having a bit of fun with me: it was the name and concept, not the person my dreams wanted me to acknowledge.
I also had a dream about “integration” involving a racially mixed sports team with a black coach that seemed to point me towards a need to integrate the light and dark aspects of my personality, with an indication that the “dark aspects” even had to step up to lead.
I had several dreams in which there was a struggle to be in control. The dream I choose to focus on and evaluate had everything to do with this issue:
My wife and I are by a body of water: a lake, an ocean? It’s calm so I’m thinking it’s more like a lake but with a hard limestone-like beach surface. I’m dragging my wife, who might be sleeping, on a boogie board, sled or such (maybe even a wagon). I’m pulling her along but the vehicle wants to slide down this hard surface toward the water until it finally plunges into the water and overturns my wife. I’m in the water, too, watching and waiting for her to awaken and bob to the surface. It takes her a while to pop up and when she does she is very angry with me. End of Dream
Coincidentally (synchronistically?), this week also offered me a work challenge, a rather large one. A professional friend offered me the chance to take on a large, new client represented by a high-powered young woman we both had collaborated with a few years earlier. It did not take me long to decline this offer: my mind had been made up by the focused attention my dreams had clarified for me to bring a semblance of sanity to my life. Taking on a large client was the opposite of what I needed. In fact, during this third week I had decided that I would begin to jettison some of my smaller, older clients in order to thin out the ranks of my professional client base in order to free up time for my family and myself.
My dream investigation also prompted a conversation with my wife about my desire to lose clients. Her reaction basically was “it’s about time.” She is more than happy to see me gain time away from the computer to devote to the family even if it means less income. She’d prefer that I have more time to support her in her work efforts as she transitions into her new job.
So another week of dreams was in the journal awaiting evaluation. A thorough review and an exercise in dream titling led to picking a symbol that seemed to call out to me. The symbol was “water” and the workbook had me tell its story in an exercise of inspirational writing—a rather free-flowing, non-linear way of writing “from the gut” and not the head—and then dialogue with that symbol. The entire process immersed me in watery imagery so when it came time to recall a peak experience of mine I found one that in fact took place on water. That peak experience led to the creation of a motto for myself which in turn informed the rewriting of my sled dream into one with a positive outlook and ending. This process of reflecting on the actions in my dreams worked as a mirror to better understand the personal ideal that came up for discussion in the dream itself, and the motto distilled the ideal making it possible to rewrite the dream in this positive way:
I am pulling my wife down this beach on a sled. She is awake and enjoying the ride. I tell her that the sled feels as if it wants to slide down toward the water. She says it might be refreshing to end up “in the drink”. So, with focused effort I begin to run towards the water, fast enough so the sled picks up enough sped that when it hits the water it hydroplanes across the surface of the water before slowly sinking into the cool water. My wife is laughing and so am I, like two kids at play. End of Dream
I end up with a new title for this dream: Sliding Purposefully Along. There is a vast difference between the original dream and my rewrite of it. The main difference is control. In the first, I seem to have no control over the sled as it careens into the ocean. Too, I’m not having any interaction with my wife: she is asleep and rightly surprised at ending up “in the drink.” In the revised dream, I do have control and am interacting with my wife so that communication is open and clear allowing me to then make a decision to play along with her.
I think “Sliding Purposefully Along” captures the essence of a better solution. The “sliding” indicates we can’t know all that will take place along the way, i.e., we don’t have control over every detail. But, we can purposely make a decision to shape the sliding into something positive. In the rewrite, we end up playing in the ocean. In that idea is the message not to take things so seriously, to find time to play in life and not to force it. Go with the flow.
The week’s work ended with the creation of Contract #3 stating: "If I speak out more clearly for myself and for my needs and if I still feel uncomfortable or stressed, dreams show me a better way." This contract, as the others did, then went under my pillow for the new week.
On the fourth and final week of the dream quest project I was on vacation, a time that usually fosters some peace and relaxation. To a large degree it did, but it also brought on some new health symptoms that created their own degree of stress. But, without undermining our family vacation I was able to do some things to take care of myself: skipping shopping with the girls, taking time for myself when my family swam at the pool, saying “no” to the extra hike. Those decisions didn’t seem to have any negative impact on my family. In fact, it may be the case that because I was clear on what I needed that there was less tension in the family as a whole: we knew where we stood.
Week's Four evaluation looked at the entire 28 days of the dream quest to discern how my understanding of my quest changed with time and with the unfolding dialogue with my dreams. An intense dialogue—another exercise in inspirational writing—with a source of wisdom within myself pointed me towards the importance of intent: without it our taking action is like the shooting of an arrow into the fog—we have no idea where it might land. And intent takes focus and action. Ultimately, week four ended with a new “Best Guess” that stated: I’ll will stay focused in the moment, simplify my life and be proactive in making decisions that allow me to feel in control of my life and not a victim of circumstances—all to gain a better balance in life.
CONCLUSION OF MY DREAM QUEST
Each week brought changes in my dream quest: my hypothesis evolved, my best guesses were reshaped, my vision changed as to how best to achieve my goals. It’s been an interesting set of developments and not any I could have imagined. The first week brought the realization that my lifestyle had to change, but my best guess was to change my focus. It was a good start to the process of bringing balance to my life and less worry. This gave me a first step-by-step and easily “digestible” set of rules to follow. Although I thought my dreams were speaking to my health issues, actually they were speaking to the lifestyle that undoubtedly has challenged my health. They also challenged me to look elsewhere than higher (lifting up) powers—to things more basic that would have a direct impact on the way I lead my daily life.
The second week brought to my attention the larger need of simplifying my life and presented me my first challenge of saying “no” to a client. The fact of becoming more proactive in making decisions to simplify my life also gave me more of a sense of control. This idea of simplifying my life made me face larger decisions in week three: that of reshaping my client-base in order to gain more sanity in my schedule. It forced a discussion with my wife who was more than willing to allow me to lose income, gain a better personal/professional balance and free up more time to be more of a support to her professional career. These were all positive developments in my perspective on my life and on our combined goal setting.
But my dreams wanted to push me even deeper: they sought to achieve a balance of the opposites of my nature giving voice to the darker elements, especially anger that otherwise gets bottled up inside of me and more than likely has contributed significantly to my health issues, many of them from stress. I need to nurture myself more giving voice to my needs and perhaps acknowledge and utilize the feminine aspect that involves nurturing.
The evaluation of the “Sled Dream” certainly allowed me the insight about taking charge and not feeling the victim. The idea of “Sliding Purposely Along” captured for me the essence of my quest: We can’t always anticipate what lies ahead, but we can make decisions that maximize the situation for us. And in taking action I think I can let loose and play more with what life presents to and for me.
In the end, I see a slogan for myself: focus, simplify, take action. Good advice all around. My final “Best Guess” reads: I’ll will stay focused in the moment, simplify my life and be proactive in making decisions that allow me to feel in control of my life and not a victim of circumstances—all to gain a better balance in life.
Did I “stumble” my way to more clarity? In one sense, yes: by taking a walk through my nighttime dreams I did bump my way around and through objects and symbols that ultimately were signposts along my quest. If I am my dreams, then perhaps I could say the path was much straighter than I imagined it to be.
The final exercise in the workbook was to summarize what I had achieved for myself by creating a picture of my dream quest and to write a poem in the form of a Haiku. My picture turned out to be a collage that embodied many of the symbols I had encountered along the way: a scale indicating balance, feathers that represent creativity and stepping more lightly through life, a box of popcorn that points toward the movie-like nature of dreams and to my need to have more fun. It was a worthwhile endeavor and a picture I look at occasionally to remind me of my journey on this dream quest. The haikus, a very dense and concise poetic structure, forced me to synthesize in the fewest words possible that same journey and what I had discovered for myself. Three came to me, each speaking to slightly different aspects of my discoveries.
To know of myself
I catch my dreams by the quill
And feather my bed
My dreams cover me
In images soft and stark
and I wake to life.
To balance my life
Means hearing my voice speak loud
The things that I need.
The premise of the Dream Solutions workbook—that following insights from one’s dreams will lead to newer insights that will take one to a goal—was abundantly confirmed. The journey proceeded as if my inner wisdom knew to reveal itself at the pace and in doses that I could deal with. As the weeks went by, my dream quest goal morphed into deeper and fuller considerations with which I could better deal having slowly built a foundation from which I could work. All of this played out against my nightly trip to my personal movie theater, my dreams. It’s not an easy journey. It is one that needs commitment and perseverance. But, the end results and the insights gained, the compelling nature of dreams closely viewed, and the synchronistic timing of dreams whose content foretold of similar real-world decisions that came up made for a fascinating and eye-opening journey. I would recommend a dream quest for anyone yearning for a better grasp of life and a better understanding of their place in it. I look forward to my next quest now that I have an indispensable set of tools in Henry Reed’s workbook.