Dreams are playful; spiritual direction sits on the bench and watches.
Dreams are wild; spiritual direction is still.
When you pair these two up against each other they act as the yin/yang that makes movement.
They shake up your life and create friction that heats things up and propels growth.
When I walked into the chapel at the Ignatius House Retreat Center to begin leading the day of reflection on dream work, I knew right away what we needed.
Everyone was sitting comfortably, quietly gazing ahead at the serene scene in front of them.
This place inspires peace.
It fuels deep contemplation.
As I looked out at the forest behind the altar, I felt it too- the call to let the silence wash over me and settle me down into the depths of myself.
“Time to shake it up,” I thought. It’s beautiful out here, it’s safe from distractions. So now let’s unpack those dreams. We all have them; dreams that disturb our peace. Dreams that tell truths we don’t want to admit; and show us experiences we never want to see and ones we never want to leave.
We were all gathered together to look at how tending to nighttime dreams can serve as spiritual practice. And so for the day, we played with dream imagery as the raw material of our souls. We used the chapel as a place to bare our souls- even the parts that make us blush. We talked about how dreams can be scary, mysterious, hilarious and mundane. We played with dreams, asked questions and pondered about them, we turned to awe and wonder and we supported each other’s claims about the audacity of our dreams.
We became relaxed, receptive. Throughout the day, we let a dream guide us beyond the emotions they elicited; we let them shake us up- and we let them show us that even in the midst of the terrifying, in the midst of the wild storm of them, we are always still safe.
By talking about a dream, we assert conscious control over it. By bringing the nighttime dream into the daylight and out into the openness of a conversation, we learn that even when dreams haunt and overwhelm us, we are still, always, in control.
We have a moral responsibility and right to go to the dream and say, “enough.” and “Thank you.”
Our nighttime dreams share everything with us, holding nothing back. And then, they wait for our response. “Here I am,” the ocean (vast and powerful) says, “what would you like to do with me?”
Spiritual direction, then, is learning how to be in dialogue with that which is vastly beyond us.
God’s unending mercy reminds us that we are meek, small, less than, minute, and minuscule in comparison to the vastness of the Universe.
When we turn to gaze at God, nothing is held back; we are hit with an overwhelming sense of love, oneness, mightiness and in the face of that greatness, we are nothing. And yet…
Here we are, tiny little beings, living out our tiny little lives with these inexplicably grand visions of greatness. Something planted that sense of greatness in us, when we encounter it, unconstrained by our own consciousness, it inspires awe and wonder.
Dreams + spiritual direction= childlike wonder + mature command of our size difference.
We know who we are in relation to that vastness, and WE ALSO KNOW that we have a right to command it; to serve it by doing something with it.
The growth that emerges when we pair dreams + spirituality is an organic response.
It is what happens when you finally appreciate, the deeply personal language which God has devised for only the two of you.
It is because God speaks to me in my own symbolic language in dreams that I begin to wrap my head around what’s happening. I begin to understand with a sliver of dawning realization that God’s vastness is forever bending in loving humility to me, not in spite of my flaws, but in response to them. Even now I’m not sure how to completely explain what I mean.
I only know that the playful language of dreams is what makes me drop my pretense of self-righteousness and allow me to be real at the altar. And that’s when I relax enough to understand.