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A Dream Quest Experience*

Joan Gravallese

The time was ripe, once again, to seek guidance from the invisible self—the self that is revealed when the conscious mind is laid aside in sleep. Sometimes it whispers to you, sometimes it leaps up and shouts, sometimes it must be almost forced into memory, sometimes its message is forgotten. Always, however, it is there, living a life that is woven inextricably with every waking hour.

Dreams have spoken to me before, during many sessions of dream groups and in a forceful experience of Jungian therapy. I was certain that I could now tap into that source of strength and depth and newness at this time when I felt blocked.

When I ordered Henry Reed’s Dream Quest guide book, Dream Solutions: Dream Realizations, the thought of four weeks of intensive dream work was in itself stimulating. What turned out to be the most revealing moments of that month’s experiment I have chronicled here, as a tribute to the Life Force active in our dreams.


Week One: Getting Focused

After collecting dreams for seven days, the first week’s written exercises were concerned with the question of how to develop a "focus" for my "quest" and clarify my feelings with regard to it. Dream images showed a part of me that was starving, almost disappearing. Life seemed a treadmill of work, chores, and fatigue. I was ignoring those spheres of interest that motivated me greatly—religion, art, languages, music, the East. I felt too busy for these things and worked at my job and at home to exhaustion. I repeated to myself again and again, "No time, always rushing; where are my feelings?"

As I began the written analyses of the week’s dreams, wonderful words sprang from my pen: "expression," "effusion," "brimming," "longing," "reaching," "changelessness," "giving." The feelings that these words conveyed were dimly starting to surface quite effortlessly and quite the opposite of the feelings occasioned by the situation troubling me. Instead of finding time and effort to do all my longed-for activities, my dreamwork suggested that I should simply allow a little mental time and these activities would be done in me. I must not revive my interests; they would revive me. What a surprise!

And then, another surprise. One of the guided exercises encouraged me to contact inner guidance by simply having an imaginary dialogue between the me who is troubled and the me who can solve problems. Startling thoughts emerged when I presented my problem:

"How can I be a good nurse and serve others and at the same time be relaxed, rested, in touch with my husband, have time for meditation, prayer, and all the other things I like to do?"

I was told to follow my heart, to do at every moment what fills my heart. Only then would I enjoy the moment and not rush. The inner guidance spoke on:

"Do that is most important and leave the details undone if need be. Pray to God for peace and calmness between every two things you do. This will not give you time for what you need—this is part of what you need. Cut out anything that separates you from the Spirit—job included."

So the initial formulation of my "quest" materialized and I was able to put it into words: "How can I change my attitude and my situation in order to serve others in nursing, be there for my husband, be relaxed, and have time for people and other interests?"

It appeared that the problem was caused only partly by the situation; the rest was caused by my attitude. Without changing that, a nine-day week would not satisfy my racing agenda. The question of perspective became clear. In the long run, the essence remains, but details of work fade away. As Emerson said, spare moments are like uncut diamonds to be fashioned for lasting beauty.

In response to the guide book’s instructions to devise a tentative plan of action, a "contract" with myself, I therefore decided on several concrete things to do to achieve my quest and asked my dreams every night of the second dream week to show me a better way if this tentative approach failed.


Week Two: Befriending Troubles

The next seven nights brought an abundance of dreams and daily effort to change my behavior. I slept a little more, spent some time on art, music, languages, and nutrition. I also meditated a little longer and took a few moments to pray for calmness between the things I did. I felt a little more relaxed, though still tired, and more satisfied to have spent time on the spiritual and the artistic. On the days I prayed for calmness, I was more conscious of the actual things I was doing instead of the number of things to do. One unexpected discovery was that I found myself more personable, interacting more with people and expressing myself more.

Performing the written exercises at the conclusion of the second week revealed how my dreams very clearly portrayed problems in my attitudes. In one dream I visit my parents’ house and see how I learned from them to work compulsively. The tendency to a stubborn desire for perfection and simply overdoing it appeared and was strongly criticized by a dream character who was easy-going and did not take everything so seriously. In another dream my husband and I missed a bus because of my rushed agenda. We had been headed for Cape May, a favorite vacation spot filled with nature, beauty, and peace. And still another dream showed that when I left my place of work, I saw, beautifully arranged on the sidewalk, antiques, artwork of lovely colors and European influence, and artifacts from the sea. A somewhat amusing symbol pursued me in another sequence—a female derelict from Virginia Beach who was pleasant, educated, and likeable, but very much in need of care.

By turning these symbols round and round, I discovered that I was missing the essence of that I needed by concentrating on details, though the details were worthwhile. Because of my desire to squeeze in every activity even at the last minute, I lost sight of the Spirit within, Who could lead me to the answer I needed and Who is peace, beauty, art, and nature. The dreams were saying that my husband and I must wait for the Spirit, our "bus," our vehicle to take us to the perfect place of peace. Wait—not work, not rush.

How well this advice responded to my dream quest! My efforts to change my behavior during the week also related to the dream content. Concentrating on the inner life of dreams, sleeping more, reading, meditation, involvement with art, music, languages, and study—all these actions led to a little less hurrying and more reliance on feelings. There seemed to be the beginning of making room for the spiritual and intuitive sides of me and rest for the physical body.

One writing exercise involved a dialogue with a "troublesome image." I chose to interact with the symbol of the derelict. She had a great deal of interesting things to tell. She also insisted upon being cared for! We came to a bargain: I would let her rest, feed her, fix her up, and she would accept this treatment and teach me all she knew about entering into myself and slowing down. She would remind me of the values I encountered in my involvements with A.R.E. at Virginia Beach.

The blocked feeling I had when beginning the dream guide book did not seem pertinent any longer. I realized, however, that change is not easy and touching emotions is sometimes difficult for me. The part of me that is mechanical and compulsive tends to be defensive when criticized. Letting go of this did not seem like a big sacrifice at this point when compared to the benefits that spring from growth in the directions I favored. The key words became "balance" and "perspective."

The conclusion of this week’s writing exercises involved a revision of my goals of action for the next week. For my daily contract I decided to follow these principles: Think of the correct perspective before doing anything. Pray between all things. Consider a four-day work week. Each day read something satisfying about the spiritual life (Monday), the psychic (Tuesday), nutritional therapies (Wednesday), travel (Thursday), dreams (Friday and Saturday). Sleep more, and above all, meditate with full attention.

I prepared my "petition" (a "pillow letter" to my dreams that I would sleep on) for the third dream week: I will try to be rested, peaceful, in touch with God, art, and beauty, and I will try not to be compulsive, so that the richness that is inside may fill me and heal the neglected person within. If I can’t keep my actions and feelings in the right perspective, then, dreams, show me a better way.


Week Three: A Creative Encounter

The third week was pivotal. New dream symbols were brought forth and the struggle to change behavior continued. I was not too successful in sleeping more or in achieving peace, but I was acutely aware of the part of me that tried to forbid these new things. Also, I noticed that the dreams did not focus on practical things—as I had done before starting this experiment—such as how to save time at work or in household activities The change of attitude was emphasized in the dreams and this seemed more than ever to be the key to a solution.

This week’s dream symbols were exciting: visiting relatives, tea cups, horses, Oriental dance, growth, plants and replanting, exotic Egyptian eyes, more dance, a lovely old house, a jailbreak in Madrid. But again there appeared a symbol of the neglected person—a young woman, looking sick and undernourished, with her hair cut off. Uncertainty about a new approach was shown by another young woman about to do an Oriental dance on ice skates accompanied by another woman. She needed little practice but her outfit was wrong for the part and she also had to spend some time waking up her dance partner for the rehearsal.

An important writing exercise of this third week was to converse with a "novel" symbol to find out its role and special qualities and to see what light it might shed on the dream quest. The most intriguing symbol in the week’s dreams was a reddish-brown horse being led down the staircase of a guest house in Cape May (the spot my husband and I could not reach because we missed the bus in last week’s dream). Two teenage girls took the horse through the living room into the backyard filled with yellow flowers. My husband and I were looking for a place to stay and decided that this strange house was not it.

I therefore found myself in the unusual position of speaking to the horse. The result was one of the best conversations I’ve had with a symbol. What was the horse doing in a run-down guest house? Trying to get out, of course. The backyard would make it much happier. The horse was filled with energy and needed too much exercise to be confined. It needed to run for pure enjoyment; it wanted to feel the sun and see green grass and flowers. This horse reminded me that it was the same earthy color as one I colored as a child, one that was criticized by my mother. It then asked me if I wanted to go for a ride! The time had to be right for it to be led outside, it said. Now that it was out of the house, my husband and I could go in and fix it up. It said that we’d be very happy because something that was confined no longer is.

I asked the horse if it was my creative side. "Only the energy behind your creative side. You colored me, remember?" The horse said that it was helping me to be peaceful and in touch with what I love. "When energy is let out as it should be, there is enough to fill you so you can get your house in order. If you leave the house, you’ve missed the boat. If you try to fix the house with me inside, I’ll undo it. But, with me out, you’re free." The horse also told me to let chores wait, feel happy to be alive, and to do what satisfies my soul first. "Use energy on the right things and it will multiply." It advised me to pray first, feel the sun, sit down and draw, and spend more affection on my husband.

Another writing exercise had me describe a peak experience from the past and write a motto for it. I remembered an afternoon several years ago when I was home drawing and suddenly felt exhausted, lifted to a plane of feeling where I was part of all created things—part of nature, part of the force of life. My essence and the essence of nature seemed the same. I was compelled to draw what I felt, and the result was a vibrant young woman in a dress made of leaves, climbing a giant vine of large tropical leaves. Two mottoes came to mind to describe the truth that was expressed in that experience: "In You we live and move and have our being," and "Life is one."

As instructed by the guide book, I rewrote the horse dream with my peak experience and mottoes in mind to see how I might have acted differently. In the new version, my husband and I saw the horse and followed it out to the backyard. We petted it and enjoyed the sun and the grass. We felt part of the nature in that lovely place. The two girls smiled at us and silently left. Renewed with energy, we went back into the house and thought about buying it, fixing it, and opening a guest house. In other words, we followed our instinct instead of rejecting it. This suggested to me that before plunging into work, we must first renew ourselves by becoming one with the Life Force. In practical terms, follow our instincts, sleep more, meditate in the morning, take the sun, and be out in nature more on the weekends. Let the spirit run free and this would give us all the energy we needed for the week.

These insights fit in with my dream quest and new ideas emerged. I was still focusing too much on things, even though they were the things that would satisfy my soul. Instead, I felt that I must follow the Life Force and incorporate it into all I do. How could that be done? The answer suggested itself: Follow any impulse, however slight, that drew me to God, peace, nature, beauty. This meant looking at trees and flowers on the way to work, gazing at the sky, eating lunch in the park and not inside, sleeping more to replenish the Force, looking for the life in every person I met and praying for them, eliminating rushing, meditating, reading, and asking for a four-day work week. These things would constitute the "contract" with myself for the next week.

My dream quest was slightly modified with all this in mind: I will seek the Life Force, let it draw me to it so that I may be rested, peaceful, in touch with God, my husband, art, beauty, and I will let go of compulsiveness, let it melt in the Life Force; so that the richness that is inside may be nourished by that Force, so that it may heal the neglected person within. If I can’t keep my actions and feelings in the right perspective so that this will happen, then, dreams, show me a better way.


Week Four: Inspiration Realized

Thus I approached the last week of the dream quest workbook experiment. Every day I tried to keep the contract. Some moments I was very successful and enjoyed the time immensely. I felt closer to God, meditated more, followed impulses more, and showed more feelings with others. At other times, the compulsiveness won. But I felt that I had a handle on the new approach of seeking union with the Life Force. One important outcome was that I finally decided to work only four days a week. This was approved by my head nurse and I felt elated.

Tentatively, the solution to my problem seemed to be not merely more time, but also seeking the Kingdom of God first, contacting nature next, and trying to put all things in the right perspective. Contacting the Life Force first would make energy multiply. It would loosen the life within me so that I might use it for people and for the right things in the right way. Its abundance would spill over into all activities.

My dream experiment had so far brought me closer to my real feelings. I learned that I could contact people better and follow my impulses better when other parts of me were satisfied. I realized again that I must follow the slightest impulse to the infinite.

Among the dreams of the final week was one with my husband and me moving into a new apartment. It was large, elegant, religious, filled with art and Middle Eastern objects, and had just been vacated by a psychic friend of ours. It was also near to my job and would save commuting time. This new dwelling meant room for expansion.

In another dream, the apartment was being shown to us by a woman I know, who took the role of real-estate agent. In reality this person was always tired because she was starved for beauty and art and tried to satisfy all her artistic needs by working eighteen hours a day; in the dream she looked rested, lovely, with a new outfit and hair style. This hopeful symbol was quite a change from the derelict lady of a couple of week ago—a true "agent" of change! The only flaws in the apartment were the frenetic shocking pink walls, showing my compulsion still alive, a clogged drain, and rich wooden floors covered over with old beige carpeting. There was work to be done, but the price for all this was less than my present rent. So it appeared that I would be working at healing myself for less output of time and money and energy. Another dream showed repairs being made on the walls.

The last dream of the week was a war scene in which I was being attacked by an army of soldiers in my parents’ house. I plotted various ways of destroying their power before it destroyed me. I survived and felt the dread of going into the house to clear out the corpses.

These dreams showed a change—a new dwelling, representing myself and the house of my spirit; a battle that was won, representing the beginning of a change of attitude.

An important writing exercise in this final week’s dreamwork was to let a dialogue emerge between myself and the source of wisdom which had given me the dreams, the dream mottoes, and the peak experience of several years ago. My mind was pulled to a figure that I had discovered several years ago, conversed with then, and even painted. To my surprise, the image was as real to me now as then. She was still sitting there in her forest, surrounded by leaves, gazing at a lake as still as a mirror; still there in her flowing robes, lovely as a Grecian goddess, all serenity and peace. Her advice to me glowed, and still does:

"I am always here, within you. Do you see me rushing, cramming, compulsive? Yet I have peace at my feet. I do not study, but I have the wisdom of the ages. My link is with the Life Force, the Spirit the spark of God within. It gives me sustenance—all that I need. It is reflected in my lake. You have only to call me, come sit at my side, gaze at the deep waters and you too will find peace. Think of me when you are harried. I am in you, unhurried. I will be your anchor. I will lead you to the Infinite you yearn for, through stillness, quiet, nature. You must have your link to nature. Do not forget it. The sun, sky, wind, rain, trees, plants—all these will give you life. During the day, wear your white (i.e., uniform)—it is the symbol of purity and service. Give the Life Force to others during the day. But take off the white at night and done yourself in all the colors of the palette. Paint all the colors. Paint your plants and vines, and bless all that is living around you. You are God’s instrument. Let His Spirit guide you as the water in my lake guides the leaves that fall upon it. Take my hand when you are tired or frightened or harried. For Life is always within you. And peace is at your doorstep. The world may howl about you, but you are safe in my forest."

The impact of these words was tremendous. They flowed from some inside source and reduced me to tears. How could such an answer be given to a problem I posed four weeks ago? And how could it come from within, when for months I had kept trying to change things without? We must always look in amazement and humility at the resources we have, given to us by the Spirit.

To end the project, the guide book instructed me to write a poem about a dream, its interpretation, and the realizations derived from the dream quest. A long poem developed about the entire experience. The instructions also explained how to write a briefer version, a three line "Haiku." This short poem rushed out instantly, ready-made:

Life Force exploding,

Channel unblocked and flowing.

Peace is within me.

The effect of what I learned stayed with me for many weeks. I felt revitalized. I tried to fix up my "new dwelling" and respond to the feelings that arose, though the battle with over-extending was far from over. For several months I dreamt of guest houses, Cape May, and the peace it symbolized. One added and very unexpected benefit from the entire experience was that I was drawn inward by a great desire to meditate—as though some invisible fisherman were reeling me in with no effort on my part. This feeling insists upon being obeyed while it is with you, or else it fades as imperceptibly as it comes.

A chronicle of this dream experiment can never be as deeply vital as the experience itself, but the truth expressed still touches me and still has the power to renew and refresh me. From time to time I read my through what I wrote in my Dream Quest Guide Book, meditate on my poem and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to touch once again that deeper part of me—the Life Force.

* A Mentored Dream Quest, guided by Henry Reed and his home-study materials, is available from the Edgar Cayce Institute of Intuitive Studies.

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