Are there signs that you’ve ignored, or even dismissed, because they would disrupt your safe but maybe not quite fulfilling life? Have you experienced a synchronicity, but you don't know what it means? Is there a recurring dream that is torturing you, but you don't know how to make it stop? Are you aware of a deep inner discontent, but you don't know how to address it?
I hope my story both entertains and inspires you to honor those experiences that move your soul. As you read more of my posts, you'll also begin to learn the language of your unconscious, so you can find meaning in these experiences.
When You Can’t Quite Put Your Finger on it
My kids and my husband thought I was crazy! I wondered if they were right.
I had just returned from a dream tending conference. One year earlier, I had experienced a synchronicity that compelled me to figure out a way to pursue a very expensive education in a field I knew nothing about and for reasons unknown to me at the time. The weekend-long program was the closest I could get at the time to pursuing my goal of attending Pacifica Graduate Institute.
It was a Friday evening, and as the first day of the conference was wrapping up, the presenter gave us an assignment. “Tonight, as you lay in bed and relax in anticipation of sleep, ask your psyche to bring you a recurring dream that has left you unsettled.”
“What?! You can ask for a dream?” I excitedly thought.
That night, the activities that led up to my crawling into bed felt more like a spiritual ritual. As I lay on my back, I embarrassingly said aloud, “Here goes. Psyche, please bring me that dream about the mercenaries that I can’t seem to outrun.”
Recognize that motif? The dream that had tormented me for several years went something like this: I was running, running, running. It was always in the middle of the night, so it was very dark. I crawled out my bedroom window of my childhood home, as I was being chased by men with machine guns. I ran across the street, into my friend’s house, then out another window, then crouched down as I scrambled to another house in the neighborhood.
The mercenaries just wouldn’t let up.
“Holy crap,” I said as I awoke in the morning. I couldn’t believe it worked. The dream came, but this time there were new elements:
I ran into my sister’s bedroom – we called it the red room, because it had red carpeting. This time in my dream, my son was in bed. As I slid the window open and pushed out the screen, I yelled, “Come on William, we gotta go.” He looked at me calmly, and said, “Go ahead Mom, it will be okay.”
I ran out the window, and this time in the dream, instead of running through the neighborhood, I went around the house and into the garage through the back door. I opened the door from inside the garage to the house. I was scared.
When I looked into the living room, it was dark, but I saw a man sitting on a chair. I was even more afraid.
I didn’t know what to think of this new version of the dream. It was tempting to chalk it up to something from childhood I was seeking to escape. Robert Johnson, Jungian analyst and author of Inner Work; Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, would say if it seems obvious, you haven’t figured out the meaning of the dream.
The room was buzzing the next morning when I walked into the second day of the workshop. I wasn’t the only one who was excitedly freaked out about what had happened for most of us.
“Look at the person next to you. You are now dream tending partners,” the presenter said as he explained what would come next. We were to listen to our partner as they consciously dropped back into their dream and allowed their imagination to pick up where the dream ended.
With my eyes closed, I responded to my partner’s questions about what was happening:
Okay, I’m back. I take a breath. I’m about to face my fear.
I’m tentatively looking through the crack in the garage door.
I see the man.
Actually, I just see the man’s shape because it’s dark.
I decide to walk towards the man.
He is just sitting there. I notice he has a top hat on.
For some reason that reminds me of Frank Sinatra,
and this makes me think of my husband, who loves Frank Sinatra.
He doesn’t move. He just sits there.
I walk towards him and around him.
I decide to sit down as if he is a chair.
I am still scared, but as I sit there, I am surprised.
I feel nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I was exhausted after the experience. I still didn’t know what the dream meant, or why my son showed up, or what this active imagination meant. I knew it had to do with facing some kind of fear. Two years later, I realized that the fear I hadn’t wanted to face was that I did not feel the same way about my husband anymore.
Here’s Where the Hummingbird Comes in
It’s Sunday morning, the last half-day of the workshop.
“I want you to go on a 20-minute walk about,” the presenter announces. A walk about is a rite of passage in Australian Aboriginal society. It has to do with becoming an adult and finding out who you are - in my understanding anyway. We were to simply walk around the gorgeous grounds of the campus – Carpinteria, CA – and see what would happen.
As I awkwardly walked around, the narration in my head sounded like this:
Just walk? Why is this hard for me?
There, a water fountain. I love water fountains.
No, that’s way too obvious.
Hmmm, I’ll walk down this path.
What are these? Some kind of butterfly bush.
The whole walkway is lined with them.
Oh my gosh, a hummingbird! I love them.
Another one?! They’re everywhere.
I can hear the whir of their wings flapping.
I’ve never heard that before.
Where is everyone? Don’t they see this?
Let’s keep walking, I’ve got an assignment to get done.
Stop. Silence. Total silence. Nope. Turn around.
It’s here. I don’t know what, but it’s here.
The hummingbirds. There’s one on a branch.
I’ve never seen one land before. It’s just sitting there.
I can’t believe it’s still sitting there. I’m so close now.
Slowly. Slowly. It’s chirping. I’ve never heard one chirp before.
Is it looking at me? Where is everyone else? I can’t believe no one else is here to see this!
Is it really happening? Am I crazy?
It’s still chirping, and it’s looking at me! Are you looking at me? I say aloud. Are you talking to me?
What are you saying? What are you trying to say to me?
How much time has passed? My twenty minutes are gone.
“I don’t think I can handle being excitedly freaked out twice in 24 hours,” I thought as I rushed back into the room. As I relayed my experience to my partner, she said, “You know Deborah, I think that hummingbird is you. I think you were looking in a mirror. That hummingbird was reflecting something back to you. Now that I think about it, spending time with you is like being with a hummingbird. You flit about, you’re light, you’re enthusiastic about life.”
It was the most amazing experience. I still don’t know exactly what that hummingbird was trying to tell me, but something shifted in me because of that weekend, even if it was mostly unconscious.
For two years, I would continue to be visited by hummingbirds. Eventually, what I had been working to keep down in my unconscious burst forth – the fear of admitting I didn’t feel the same way about my husband and the readiness to discover my true self.
Finding Meaning in Your Own Dreams and Experiences
This story might just be amusing, or it might get you thinking about the ways that your unconscious is using dreams and odd experiences to get your attention.
Do you have a recurring dream that is torturing you? Share it in the comment section and let’s work it together. Or, click here to share it privately, and I’ll give you a couple ideas for how to work it on your own.
Have you had a surreal experience with nature? What happened and how did you make meaning of it? Share it below. Sometimes these experiences feel so extraordinary, we’re afraid to talk about them. You’re not crazy. You just need to learn the language of your soul.
I love Robert Johnson’s approach to working with dreams and active imagination. Click here to ask me for a one-pager on how I’ve incorporated his approach into my dream work.
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To see more photos like this beautiful hummingbird, check out Chris Charles.
To see more of Sven Brandsma's photos (dark woods).