Listening to Dreams

I have always loved being a stranger. Throughout my life, I have loved to wander in strange places, riding a bus filled with goats and chickens to a small village in the hills where I do not speak the language; sitting in a marketplace, in a small restaurant with tin-topped tables, eating something I had pointed to because I did not know the name, watching the trucks move in and out; riding in the rain in a dugout canoe with an outboard motor going pequepequepeque, waiting to be dropped off on a muddy river bank, somewhere else.

That is why I love dreams.

I am always a stranger in the underworld of dreams. I am being talked to in a language I do not speak. I am surprised at every turn by the exotic goods unloaded in the marketplace, the jokes I do not understand, the sudden kindness or treachery of my dream companions, my own capacity for compassion, terror, and rage.

And, perhaps like my own journeys, dreams have a purpose — to make me richer and more human. To that end, dreams are willing, perhaps like my own journeys, to teach me things I do not always want to learn.

All dreams come from the same place, which is, in some sense, me — perhaps the most deeply hidden shadow part, perhaps the most deeply sacred part, but all me nonetheless. On the other hand, the apparent experiencer of the dream, the point-of-view, the one through whose eyes I see the dream, the ego, is the stranger, the butt of the jokes, the outsider, the one to be taught by the sacred shadow how to become a human being.

Therefore, when listening to my dreams, I try to remember three points:

  • All parts of the dream are equally important;
  • All parts of the dream are equally me;
  • Any dream interpretation that flatters the ego is wrong.

To implement these principles, I use four techniques.

The of-me technique. I dream I am in an elevator in the building where I work. The elevator goes up very slowly. Just as I am reaching my floor, the elevator starts to fall. It is going very fast. I awake suddenly. I ask: What is the elevator of me? What is my elevator? I dream I am riding in a bus, holding a beautiful old shotgun in a case, but the wooden stock is crumbling with dry rot. I ask: What is the beautiful-old-shotgun-with-a-crumbling-stock of me? What is my broken shotgun?

The asking technique. I dream I am inside a house, trying to escape some formless terror. I reach the door, pull it open, and there before me is another huge menacing shape, blocking my escape. I wake up full of fear, my heart pounding. So I go back into the dream, or I call up before me the menacing shape in the doorway. I ask: Who are you? What do you want? Will you be my teacher? I say to the shotgun with a crumbling stock: Who are you? What do you want? Will you be my teacher?

The identification technique. I become the menacing shape in the doorway. I ask myself: Who am I? What is my name? Why am I blocking the doorway? How do I feel about this ego who is trying to get past me? I become the bus holding the ego with the beautiful broken shotgun. I ask myself: What is my purpose? Where am I going?

I dream I am running, trying to escape. I have a folding knife in my pocket, which keeps opening up by itself, interfering with my escape. I become the knife. I ask myself: Why do I keep opening up? I reply: I am trying to be helpful; I am trying to be useful, to be open, to be the tool I am meant to be. Ego is the one who, by keeping me in his pocket, is hindering the escape, keeping himself from reaching his goal. So now I must ask: What is the knife of me? What is the part of me that I need to take out of my pocket, open up, and use? What does it mean that this knife-of-me is opening up by itself?

The Martian question technique. I have a dream that takes place in a locker room. I pretend that I am from Mars and do not know the use or function of earth objects such as locker rooms. I ask: What is this thing called a locker room of which you speak? And I reply: A locker room is a place where you change; or, A locker room is a place where you are naked.

I dream I am reading a guidebook entitled Great Diving Down by the Continental Shelf. I ask: What is this earth object you call a shelf? I reply: A shelf is a place where you put things that are no longer useful; you shelve unimportant agenda items. I ask: Then what is a continental shelf? I reply: It is a place off the continental coast where the water suddenly becomes very deep. I ask: And what is this diving you earth people talk about? I reply: Diving means deep sea diving, which means adventure, risk, fear, beauty. And it means journeying inward, diving inside oneself.

Now I talk to the book. I ask: Who are you? What is your purpose? The book replies: I teach people where to find adventure, where to go diving, where there is safe diving and where diving is dangerous. My text and pictures motivate people to dive in unusual places. But to dive in these waters, you — talking to my ego, who is the one asking these questions — you have to be shelved, put aside, become unimportant, before we can journey together into the dark and mysterious depths. But the diving will be great.

Now: Think of what happened to you today, or yesterday. Put it in the form of a story. If this were the story of a dream, then what is it saying to you? What is the meaning of what happened to you today, or yesterday? Is all the world speaking to you — the rock you tripped over, the child who smiled at you, the rain and moon? Are you listening?

This is how we make the world meaningful, and full of mystery.


  1. Beautiful, Steve, thank you. And very practical.

  2. There may be in book in this. In our age of penury, this is the sort of thing people still buy, and publishers want! (I suppose you're aware of this.)

  3. That is very kind of you. But this is all I really have to say. :-)