I know first-hand the power of dreams; they have spoken to me since my youth and are a source I know I can trust. Marc Ian Barasch’s well written and researched book is one of the best I have seen to use dreams in a real way as part of a practice of self-awareness and connecting with your destiny. I hope this inspires you to pay attention to your dreams. – Sandra Cosentino

Excerpts from:

Healing Dreams: Exploring the Dreams That Can Transform Your Life

In the end, the task of an examined life–the task Healing Dreams set vividly before us–is ours alone to reject or embrace; which way we choose makes all the difference in the world.

To take dreams seriously, enough to act on them, to live by them–is potentially subversive. Dreams smash down the barricades; they admit all, proscribe nothing, view life through a different moral aperture. They do not always flatter us. They are a mirror of human imperfectability. they may scare us, reveal our most private terrors. But even a purely exhilarating dream stirs a different sort of unease–that we may harbor an unrealized greatness, a potential that, if we dared fulfill it, would bring an end to ordinary life.

Dreams seem to insist: You must live truthfully. right now. And always. They push at the edge of our limitations, urging us toward the wild boundarylands of the possible.

Most of us have had (or, inevitably, will have) a least one dream that stops us in our tracks. Such dreams tell us that we’re not who we think we are. They reveal dimensions of experience beyond the everyday. They may shock us, console us, arouse us or repulse us. But they take their place alongside our most memorable life events because they’re so vivid and emblematic. They constellate there, emitting a steady, pulsar-like radiance.

The images of the unconscious are not just fragments or memory or symbols of repressed inner drives, but have their own mysterious life and speak to us if we learn to listen. Healing dreams are soul force, truth medicine. Such dreams disturb us because of their utter refusal to pander to our fondest motions of ourselves. Healing Dreams offer few outright prescriptions. They often require us to live our questions rather than furnish instant answers.

The dream figure that bears the denied powers of the self often appears sinister. Yet he may be our secret ally: in spiritual life, what is merely pleasant can become the egoÕs friction-free way of sliding by without learning much of anything. By rubbing us the wrong way, the Healing Dream kindles an inner heat, forcing us to include our obstacles and adversaries in our process of growth.

Healing Dreams might be conceived as visits to an other worlds with its own geography and inhabitants. We are explorers visiting a foreign land. Dream images thus are experienced in their own right, not just as self-fabricated symbols. Dreams de-center us from our everyday identity, pushing us toward a multiplicity of being. Whatever we deem most ridiculous upon waking is the fulcrum point of what the dream wants to tell us. Dreams use absurdity to tell the truth when none else dare. A Healing Dream often comes to redress imbalance. the quickest way to the heart of a dream is to ask what one-sided conscious attitude it is trying to offset. Healing Dreams point to the relatedness of all things, reveling in the union of opposites.

Tribal cultures say something is lost if we don’t take our dreams seriously enough to embody them–that we ignore them at the peril of our souls, if not our lives. Little by little, if one doesn’t do what a dream has directed, one won’t be able to dream well anymore.

A Healing Dream can never be completely interpreted or fully understood. The alchemy occurs in our interaction with it. When we take our dreams seriously, their images and feelings subtly begin to alter our waking lives. Meaning seeps in through a kind of osmosis. We begin to glimpse the principle that connects each to all. Any sincere attention and commitment to our dreams renders us spiritually combustible. What was once inert now strikes sparks.

Healing Dreams seem to want something of us and often will not let go until they receive it. These dreams refuse to go quietly, for they mean to change us utterly. If we look into their depths, we may behold a unique destiny struggling from its chrysalis, and watch, astonished and not a little afraid, as our unsuspected selfhood unfolds a new, wetly glistening wing.

Healing Dreams want us to stop making sense; not just to crack the case, but to enter the mystery. We are being confronted with an ancient, urgent question: not merely what does the dream mean but what does the dream want? We’re engaged not just in the interpretation of dreams but an interpenetration, a back-and-forth dialogue between conscious and unconscious. While it is true that interpretation can, if we are not careful, insulate us from direct experience–can, in effect, sidetrack us from what is being demanded of us by our inner lives–without it, we are lost.

Dreams generally point to our blind spot. They never tell us what we already know. The trouble with interpreting your own dreams is that you can’t see your own back.

Animal helpers come in dreams–they crave intimacy, dynamic concourse; they offer us communion with powers high and low; they make clear, in visions of the night, that they consider us ever and always their own. They call us back to the earth, and to earthiness, to our at-homeness in our bodies. If you follow your dream, humbly, that is where your real life begins.

The demons of our dreams put a face on our full human potential for good or ill. We feel their presence when we are consumed by a powerful urge, on fire to manifest an idea, or driven by a talent that craves embodiment. We don’t wish to be taken over, yet who does not long to be seized by a great passion or a transcendent thought?

I most often experience my dream-self as a responsible, reasonable, even aggrieved party. It is the Others, whether dazzling or menacing, sublime or ridiculous, who seem to make all the trouble. But the dream ego–the part that feels like ‘me’ in the dream–is the point of view that’s already known. It is precisely the ‘outsiders’ of the invisible community who contain an unknown portion of being. They bear the unassimilated parts of our personality of which we are most needful, yet which the ego often deems least worthy–or secretly feels least worthy of. They splay out before us our unlived lives; immerse us in unfamiliar feelings and disturbing new perspective, desire and terrors and wisdom barred to a narrower selfhood. We may ignore them if they seem too humble, flee from them if they seem too awful (or too majestic), distance ourselves form them until we hear only faint echoes of their voices on the breeze. Yet they remain awaiting only the ripening of our appetite (and fortitude) for discovery.

A Healing Dream is a challenge that demands some kind of response, yet it offers no guarantees. Perhaps this is why dreams do not just come out and simply tell us what we need to know: knowing the destination. It is not given to us to arrive without ever departing. Perhaps the path, a sincere striving to understand more, is the goal.

first posted Dec. 9, 2002; updated March 3, 2008