I am interested in those nights of dreaming from which we surface quite certain that we accomplished something valuable, with the sense that this was a real event, completed inside the dreamspace. Dreams of this kind do not require analysis, though we may look for verification in various ways - for example, by checking our subsequent state of health (in the case of a dream of healing) or observing incidents in the ordinary world that seem to follow from what was done in the dream.
In the ancient temples of dream healing, seekers came in hopes that a complete healing might be transacted during the night and (to judge by the Asklepian testimonies conveniently gathered in the Edelstein's massive compilation) many went home entirely satisfied. My friend Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams reports a recent personal experience of this kind. Troubled by a suspect mole that had appeared on the sole of one of her feet, she made an appointment for a medical inspection. Before going to the doctor, she asked for dream help. In her night dream, she saw a disembodied hand draw a line around the mole. In the morning, the mole had completely disappeared. Grateful but incredulous, she had to summon her husband to confirm that no trace was left.
My friend Louisa, a music lover, attends complete concerts in her dreams. On a recent night, she reports, "I dreamed of a grand gala performed by a superb orchestra, huge, Mahler-sized, with that distinct 'breath' that all great orchestras have. I was just a disembodied presence, but I could see and especially hear very well. The sound was direct and rounded, with distinct sound from each player, as though I was floating right above the stage."
I dream very frequently that I am conducting classes and giving lectures, as I do in waking life. Sometimes such dreams preview classes I subsequently lead in the ordinary world; sometimes they seem to be programs of the "Night School" sufficient unto themselves. I often hear from dreamers who claim they have attended some of these programs.
When I was writing my book Dreaming True I received an email from a very wise woman (a double PhD, inter alia) who had attended one of my waking-world courses at Esalen. She wanted to thank me for "the lecture you gave last night". I had given no such lecture in ordinary reality, but I had vague recollections of lecturing in my own dreams that night. My interest was piqued because she mentioned the "lucidity" with which I had summarized certain points, writing a list on a whiteboard. Since these points related directly to the book I was then working on, I asked her if she would be good enough to send me her notes form my lecture. She obliged, and I was able to incorporate the five points she had recorded from the lecture I had given in her dream, virtually unedited, in my book.
Sometimes the work of the night shift is emotional healing and the mending of relationships. I want to share a profound experience of this kind.
Many years ago, I felt that a powerful dream closed the book on a bitter conflict. For years before this dream, I had been locked in an ongoing battle with a man I then regarded as my worst enemy.
In the dream, I met him in a men's room. When he saw me, his features distorted and he inflated like a balloon, until he resembled a demonic entity more than a human.
Instead of doing battle, I looked at him calmly, reached deep into my heart, and said to him, from the heart, "I love you."
This sent him in whirling confusion. He deflated to regular size, and the darkness around him fell away. He went on shrinking until he resembled a pink and innocent baby.
I now bent over the sink and purged. When I inspected the clear bile I had heaved up, I saw it contained scores of rusty nails. I was astonished to realize that these had been inside me, and could now understand that they were the effect of the hateful thoughts and feelings that had been projected by my adversary.
I woke in wonderful spirits, feeling light and energized - and also that the old feud had now, really and truly, been ended.
I believe the work of that night shift was profound closure. My dream self, wiser and more generous that I may have been at that time in my life, was able to accomplish a healing that I doubt that my ordinary self could have undertaken then.. I did not encounter that old adversary again, either in regular life or in dreams, and he has since passed on. But I was able to think of him with compassion, remembering the sweet and innocent child that had been revealed, and I never again felt any harmful thoughts coming my way from him.
Photo by Suzette M. Rios-Scheurer