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Excerpt from "The Transformational Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul"

Excerpt 10 - Dreaming While Awake, Waking in the Dream

by Stephen Larsen, Ph.D. and Tom Verner

Tom Uses Waking and Lucid-Dream 

Approaches with a Recurring Dream A recurrent dream is a dream that appears on a fairly frequent basis for an individual dreamer. Studies have shown that most recurring dreams are disturbing and generally are first experienced in childhood or early adolescence. “Approximately two-thirds of adults experience some form of repetitive dream and most are associated with stressful events.”(1) 

Carole was in her early twenties. She came from a traditional Catholic family. As a teenager she could not wait to leave home and be out from under the oppressive thumb of her family. With only a high school education she was having a difficult time getting a job that would enable her to save enough to move out. She met a young man her own age, fell in love, quickly they got a place together and she was free at last. Life was going along fine until she became pregnant. The baby arrived and very soon her boyfriend was overwhelmed and abandoned her and the baby. Now with the full responsibility of the rent, the baby, and everything else she had no choice but to move back home with her parents, who were very unhappy with her situation but felt obliged to take her in with an “I told you so” attitude. Carole felt trapped, became very depressed, took an overdose of pills and ended up in therapy with me after a brief stay in the “psych ward” of the local hospital. She began having a dream that recurred a few times a week. In the dream she is asleep in her bedroom: the door opens and “awakens” her. A dark figure comes toward her. The figure gets closer and closer and terrified she wakes up in a cold sweat. 

We talked about the dream and how terrible she felt being back in her parents’ home with the baby, how trapped and alone she felt. I encouraged her to try something. I asked her if she had the dream again to try and become conscious in the dream and ask the figure, “What do you want?” To face the fear in her dream, as terrifying as it was. I said this would take great courage but I thought she could do it. She said she would try. 

I had been studying the Senoi peoples of Malaysia and their ways of working with dreams. They encourage this kind of lucid dreaming in which a dreamer stops in the dream and faces the fear asking, “What do you want from me?” I was having success with this method in my own dreams and with patients. This notion is captured in the Senoi proverb we have already mentioned, “Where the fear is, that’s where the power is.” This is a simple, profound psychological truth, based on the principle of projection, which Jung described as “turning the world into a replica of your unknown face.” 

Carole came to the next session reporting that she had continued to have the dream almost every night. The dream was becoming more and more intense and terrifying. She had managed to become conscious in the dream but was unable to get the words “What do you want from me” out of her paralyzed body. But a new detail had emerged. The intruder had a large knife and the sense that he wanted to kill her became frighteningly clear. 

The dream continued to haunt her sleep and new details continued to emerge, including that the intruder was wearing one of her favorite high school jackets. The final terrifying detail to emerge as we got closer to the naked reality of the dream was based on something she had failed to mention during our sessions: her baby daughter slept in the room with her, and the intruder was heading in the direction of her baby and not her! She began painfully to touch on her feelings of resentment toward her daughter. She felt her daughter had ruined her life, had destroyed her relationship, and forced her to move back home. She wept bitterly as she talked about these feelings. Her shame was as strong as her resentment. She loved her daughter but found a powerful part of herself wishing she had never been born. She was caught between these powerful poles.

Finally she had the dream for the last time. The intruder came into her room, she found the courage to say out loud, “What do you want from me?” The intruder was headed toward her daughter’s crib. Again Carole screamed, “What do you want from me?” The intruder now came toward her bed and stood over her with knife raised. The intruder brought the knife down, as if to plunge it into her heart. But as the knife got to eye level it transformed into a brilliantly lit torch. The torch revealed the intruder as the most startlingly beautiful version of herself she had ever seen, wearing a white dress and standing illuminated in the light. 

I was overwhelmed with awe when she told me the dream at the next session. What a testimony to the power and creativity of the dream source within us. Facing her fear, facing the truth of her murderous feelings toward her daughter had revealed, in a most wonderful way, her own beauty and power. It had taken months to work toward the truth and terrifying beauty of this dream. 

Something had changed. Within a few months Carole was able to apply for a program at a local Community College that supported single moms wanting to attend college. It took time, but her life gradually reflected the illuminated, powerful person she saw in her dream. I remembered Jack’s saying from the Senoi: “Where the fear is, that’s where the power is.” 

Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology at SUNY Ulster and the author of several books, including The Healing Power of Neurofeedback and Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. The founder and director of Stone Mountain Center, he lives in New Paltz, New York. 

Tom Verner is a practicing psychotherapist and professional magician and was a professor of psychology at Burlington College for 35 years. The founder, with his wife Janet, of Magicians Without Borders, he lives in Lincoln, Vermont.

The Transformational Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul by Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., and Tom Verner © 2017 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com. Price: $19.95. To purchase this book visit B&N.com, Amazon.com, InnerTraditions.com, or your local bookstore. 

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