Traditional Buddhist practices and understandings of dreams is different from our Western psychological approaches. In pyschoanalysis and psychotherapy, dreams are, broadly speaking, usually seen as a message from the unconscious that can help us understand ourselves better.
In Eastern traditions, dreams are not only messages to the individual about her mind, but they are also messages for the group. Doing ritual dream work in a group helps us see intimately how our minds are connected, and how we can use dream images, processes, places, and events to do needed work on behalf of the larger culture.
Buddhist dream practice is seen as a powerful aid in the process of awakening. In this view, waking life often has the quality of a dream, perhaps a repeating dream (think Groundhog's Day) or even a nightmare. This is our normal mode of operation. We walk around in a dream-like state, avoiding pain and trying to secure pleasure. This is the source of our suffering.
Buddhist dream practice is based on a three-tiered model of mind. The outermost level is that of the individual psyche, the conscious and unconscious mind. The second level is the substrate consciousness, a subtle mind stream that is connected to the group and to previous generations. The third, deepest and most fundamental layer is the primordial consciousness, an ultimate level of wisdom where the "inner" and "outer" worlds are not separate. The realization of primordial consciousness is a key to awakening.
So, we use dream practice to help us wake up! Dream practice prepares us to enter primordial consciousness by showing us that we are all connected, that our minds are not as separate as we may think. Dream practice can help us deeply understand the nature of mental processes, to penetrate to the source of the primordial mind.
In our Practices of the Night retreat, we will learn dream practices for group dream work as well as for our awakening. We will learn traditional Buddhist practices for inviting and remembering dreams, we will do group dream work, and we will get an introduction to dream yoga, an ancient process for using dreams as spiritual practice. We will also learn about practices of deep sleep. There will also be lots of meditation, time to enjoy the land around Tomales Bay, and great food and people.
It can be helpful to spend a period of time writing down your experiences in meditation just after you sit. This can help you become more familiar with your experience in meditation. By writing things down, we can cultivate awareness of of thoughts, feelings, and bodily states that come up in meditation. By recalling these experiences, we can identify patterns, obstacles, and develop tolerance and curiosity about our minds.
Here are some basic instructions for journaling your meditation. I am indebted to Jason Siff's book Unlearning Meditation as the inspiration for this approach.
1. Find a quiet spot to meditate; either a cushion or a chair is fine. Decide how long you are going to meditate and have a timer or watch nearby. If you are new to meditation, try starting with ten minutes. If you are a more experienced meditator, try twenty to fifty minutes.
2. You may use any meditation technique you find helpful. Many people find that counting the breaths on the exhale, from one to ten, is a good way to stabilize the mind. If you have a koan, you can bring it in. You can also just let your mind go where it will, bringing attention back to the sensation of the hands touching each other or the contact of the body with the cushion or chair from time to time.
3. After the sitting, take a moment to recall what you can of the sitting. Have a notebook or journal nearby, and start by writing the date and duration of the meditation.
4. Write down as much as you can remember about what happened in your meditation. It doesn't have to be complete, exact, or in chronological order. You can write in a list form, or as a narrative. Start with what you remember most easily, then write other things that come to mind. Don't be a perfectionist about it!
5. It is normal that you will remember only a small part of what happened; that is just fine. Keep your entries focused on what actually happened during the meditation, rather than your analysis of your meditation.
6. You may also use creative formats, such as sketches or experimental writing.
Here is a sample of a journal entry. Yours may be very different!
February 3, 2016, 30 minutes
Many thoughts about my office space, ways I could redecorate, worry about finances. A flash of anger at my rent increase. Started to feel that these aren't real concerns, but rather part of a bigger feeling of "something wrong." This lead to a distance from the thoughts and a curiosity about the pervasive "something wrong" feeling. I leaned into it and felt a heavy, sad energy, and it came as a feeling of weight in my heart and an image of brown sludge in my bloodstream. Having this feeling made me strangely happy. There were still thoughts about my office but they seemed slower and more transparent. I noticed a red glow behind my eyelids. The heater came on, and I worried I would get too warm and sleepy. Started to think that I'm becoming comfortable as my thoughts and feelings aren't frantic. Then thought my meditation is getting better, and thought I shouldn't evaluate my meditation. Returned to my breath. At some point rain started to fall on the skylight and I rode the patter of the rain. I had a strong feeling that the rain and I are intimate.
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..