In the ancient world, people routinely sought healing guidance from dreams and from the divine power that showed itself in dreams. In the original Hippocratic oath, doctors swore by gods of healing, including the god Aesclepius.
In ancient Greece, dreams and visions were the most common method of inquiry into the cause and cure of disease. In the temple of Aesclepius, diagnosis of illness and healing took place during that state of consciousness just prior to sleep, when images come forth like frames of thought projected on a movie screen.
Galen documented and recorded a description of the effect of images and the imagination on health. He believed that one could study the records of a patient's imagery and dream content to glean important diagnostic information. Such inputs would help doctors help teach their patients to learn how to heal themselves, and help patients bring their bodies and minds hack into balance. (The Writing of Hippocrates and Galen, John Coxe, M.D., ed.)
The Renaissance physician Paracelsus credited his own understanding of the laws and practices of health to his conversations with women healers. He wrote a hook entitled Diseases of Women, in which he noted man to be his own doctor. He believed, correctly, that the imagination, the power of the mind, could both create illness and cure illness working singly or together with medical remedies and the spirit within. We can find the physician within ourselves and all things for healing within our own nature.
The Body Believes In Pictures
Through my work with dreams, I've developed a number of exercises that can help you access the power of your own dreaming. Two most powerful methods I've used are what I call "Intent" and "Prescription and Medicine."
Intent is your personal statement of either your desire for a dream or a statement of what you wish to receive from a dream. You might wish to have a healing dream or wish to state a more specific need. You can write it down and place it under your pillow before going to bed. This keeps it in your memory: "I want a dream of healing." "I want to be free from fear." "I want a dream on what to do about my upcoming surgery." The intent can be anything you need. You can use the same statements when meditating for a dream or meditating for a particular need. You state what you wish to know.
When I think of a prescription, it is the piece of paper the doctor gives which defines the kind of medicine and the dosage. In dreaming, the prescription is the dream itself and it can be transferred upon waking to one or two sentences of description (i.e., I walked through a field of body parts; harvested them; washed them in hyssop; and reconstructed a new body). When those dream sentences are then used as a message, whether it be a taped message, a drawing, a poem, or something else that works best, they become a medicine based on the original prescription, and must be used like a prescribed medicine as long as needed until the next dream of healing presents itself or until you feel that you have moved beyond the need for that particular dream. The prescription is the brief synopsis of the dream. Its use for active healing is the medicine working in the body. Waking or sleeping, imagery ? mind mental pictures ? is the way we send messages to our body. The pictures we send can be used to harm or to heal. When they are used consciously for healing, we release the most creative and powerful potential of our subconscious mind. When healing pictures come in a dream, they are gifts. Mind mental pictures, whether from our waking reality or from a sleep dream, provide an intention for healing that empowers the imagination to transport healing messages to the body. These messages become an active prescription for healing.
It is important to realize that healing is not always the lengthening of life. Sometimes healing is the final balancing of life. Healing is as important in the preparation for death as is the healing of the body to continue in active life. We need to learn how to use healing imagery for both a return to active life and for preparing the mind and body to enter a new passage. I hope the following exercises help you in your quest for healing.
EXERCISE 1: GOING INTO A WAKING DREAM
Even if you have difficulty remembering night dreams, you can ask for a waking image for healing. Try the following exercise:
1. Find a quiet place and get into a relaxed position. If you prefer meditative music, candles, or special objects as a background, select your music and prepare your space in a way that feels best for you. Have a pad and pencil nearby, perhaps a bandanna or scarf to cover your eyes, and anything else that makes you comfortable.
2. Close your eyes and breathe deeply several times.
3. Choose something to work with. Let's use anxiety as an example.
4. Think about the word anxiety. Translate the word anxiety into a picture that best describes the way you feel when you are anxious. For example, you might see a rope tied in knots or a person wringing their hands. You might visualize an entire situation that makes you anxious. Whatever you see is the image that will work best for you.
5. Now claim your image; it is your personal gift. It might be so unusual that it doesn't fit what you would think of as a normal image for anxiety, but it will provide its own magic if you work with it in healing.
6. Open your eyes for a moment and think about your image. If it is a positive image that makes you feel free of anxiety, you will be able to use it as a mental picture of yourself without anxiety ? for example, you as a child running free across the grass. I sometimes use the dream image in which I saw myself sitting on a hillside holding a group of balloons. I had written the words fear and anxiety on the balloons. Then I released them one at a time into the universe.
If your image is one that defines your anxiety, like that of the knotted rope or the filled balloon, think now about what would make that image the opposite of what you see: Untie the knot; untwist the rope; burst the balloon or release it.
7. Close your eyes again. Take three deep breaths and release them slowly. Spend several minutes with your positive image (the child running across the grass, untying the knot, untwisting the rope, or whatever works for you). Allow your mind to work freely with your image until you feel a sense of release.
8. Open your eyes and record your experience with your image. Write it down, draw it, tape-record it, or find some other method that will allow you to come back and use it again.
9. You now have a healing prescription. When you begin to use it, it becomes active healing medicine. You can use it as a meditation when you feel you need it, or you can use it throughout your day. You do not have to close your eyes to use it. Think about it while at work or at home. Use it while you are driving the car or sitting in a bus, subway, or train. Use it while you are washing dishes or in a quieter special place at home. Just let it drift into your thoughts for a moment, and you will find it as effective as sitting quietly with it for longer periods of time. Use it until the intention, the thought, the image becomes active within you.
This exercise can he used with any dream or image from the waking imagination. For me, simple dreams worked best because they were easy to turn into a mental image and easy to turn into a few sentences for a taped message. The colleague who dreamed of scrubbing the barnacles off the whale successfully used her small dream as a taped message and as a simple meditation for healing.
EXERCISE 2: TURNING DREAM PRESCRIPTIONS INTO MEDICINE
As I described earlier, the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer I came home and walked into my house alone, angry, afraid, and confused. I lay down on the sofa and desperately tried to think of what to do first. I closed my eyes, drifted into sleep, and had a dream in which I held a cone-shaped sponge over a pan of water, turning it over, identifying the exact location of the cancer, and squeezing the cone object like a sponge into the water, dark fluid flowing into the bowl. That dream located the source of my cancer and provided the mental picture of squeezing the cone until the poisonous liquid flowed into the bowl. When my surgeon told me to go home and do something to begin my healing, I took that dream picture of the cone and consciously used the image of squeezing the dark liquid into the howl as an element of my healing process. I used it every day and every evening until the day of my biopsy. I treated my dream as a prescription and turned it into medicine for healing.
With a few variations, you can follow the same process for developing a dream prescription as you did to find a waking image in Exercise 1. It is important to trust in your ability to heal. When you work with an image, either from your waking reality or from a sleep dream, you are actively speaking to your immune system. You are giving your brain messages that can be translated into healing in your body.
Always keep a pad of paper and a pencil handy near the place where you dream; that will make it easy to collect your images while they are fresh. Here's how to gather a dream prescription (the dream message itself) and turn it into medicine (using it for active healing):
1. Before going to sleep, ask for a dream of guidance. State your intention for the evening (i.e., "I want to be healed," or something specific, like, "1 want to know what to do about my aching knee"). A dream question can incubate during the night and produce answers in dream imagery.
2. Once you have your dream, reenter it to get specific information. In a general healing dream, you might want to know more about a place or a guardian you see. An animal or a special plant might appear. For example, I asked for a dream to help heal my lymphedema, and my grandmother appeared showing me a plant that grew near a limestone wall. I relaxed, went back into the dreamscape, and asked questions. I had recorded the dream when I awoke but looked again at the dream, closed my eyes, and began to revisit the dream, scene by scene, until I had all the information I needed. I opened my eyes and wrote down each scene in the dream that answered the questions I asked:
What kind of flower does this plant have? My grandmother had shown me the leaves: wide and flat, with a forked end and furry underside. There was no flower.
Where does this plant grow? My grandmother had shown me more details of a limestone wall against the side of a mountain.
In what season will I find this plant? I followed my grandmother over wet snow with small flowers and green grass showing beneath, as in early spring.
I opened my eyes from my second visit with this dream and was able to find the plant: the hart's tongue fern. I have a number of herbals and books on plants that have drawings and photographs. The visual image of the plant was so vivid I was able to locate the plant rapidly. A brief history of the plant noted that it had no flower, grew along the base of limestone walls in moist areas, and was called the hart's tongue fern because the forked end of the leaf looked like a hart's (deer's) tongue. When I went on a search for the plant I discovered it grew well in Tennessee, where I was born, but also in western New York. It was also rare, so I had to actually buy a plant from a nursery on my next visit to Tennessee. I had one set of herbal volumes from the early twentieth century that included recipes for tea from the hart's tongue fern leaves. I dried the leaves and turned them into tea -- it tasted a bit like chamomile. The tea is said to aid in vascular health in the body.
Turn your prescription dream into medicine. With my dream of the cone-shaped breast, I took the dream ? the prescription ? and turned it into medicine by writing a few sentences and taping them to the dashboard of my car to remind me to use the dream. Repeating these sentences became so much a part of my day that I replayed them over and over in my mind as a simple intention until they became a positive healing image. I used them until I felt that I could move on to a new image that offered the next step in my healing.
Dream prescriptions can be honored and turned into medicine in many ways: meditation, writing poems, physical activity while thinking about the message in the dream, and personal or group reentry into the dream for continued healing or further messages of healing.
The Pool Of Bethesda
If a dream in She Who Dreams speaks to you, use it as your own healing dream; change it as you see fit to make it work as your own healing prescription. Let's take as an example one of the more powerful dreams in my healing repertoire of dreams. You can use it as a starting point for healing, and change it to fit your special needs as you explore your own images of a healing pool. I will recount a portion of the dream, omitting names of people so that you can insert names of your own:
I walk with a guide to the healing pool at Bethesda. There is a long row of steps with a columned arcade above, and I meet an angel who says its name is Eliseus. I ask the angel for help, but no one seems to come. I hold my guide's hand as a child would, and I move cautiously into the edge of the pool. Another angel moves forward, perhaps the same one, and stands beside me. This angel tells me that I will find healing in the "rushes" or "rushing." I walk with my guide into the cleansing water of the pool, and I feel that I am healed.
EXERCISE 3: MAKING ONE OF MY DREAMS YOUR OWN
1. Look at this healing-pool dream. Think of a special place ? a river, a swimming hole, a place by the ocean ? any place that will work as your own healing pool. Follow the steps in Exercise 1 to work with your own healing-pool dream; you can explore it alone or you may ask friends to explore it with you.
2. Relax with music, candles, whatever feels most comfortable for you. Have your pad of paper and pencil nearby.
3. In your mind, travel to your healing pool.
4. Look for a guide ? animal or human ? who will go with you into the healing pool. Travel to my healing pool and wait for the rushing of the water with your guide or travel to a place special to you. Remember everything you see, and bring back your own personal set of healing images that you can claim as your own healing-pool meditation.
5. Write your meditation.
6. Revisit your healing pool whenever you feel the need. Use your healing pool as a prescription or as a special location for future exploration.
EXERCISE 4: USING YOUR HEALING IMAGE AS A LONGER MEDITATION
You now have healing images from both waking and sleeping dreams that you can use to speak to your body in a number of ways. You have used these pictures with intention. If you wish, you can now choose your favorite dream or healing image and incorporate it into a longer meditation.
In a recent dream, I saw myself walking through the woods to a meadow where I came upon a small person who held a key and a box. The dream was quite long and lent itself to a longer meditation that I could use in a quiet space. You can use any dream, but let's use the woods as an easy meditation. If you don't feel you can hold a longer dream in your mind as you sit in your quiet space with your favorite music, you might wish to tape the dream against a background of your favorite music and play it. Have your pad and pencil nearby.
1. Go to a space where you know that you can have undisturbed quiet and that the telephones are turned off.
2. Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
3. Play your favorite music for meditation.
4. State your healing intention and close your eyes.
5. Visualize a favorite place ? in this meditation, a forest ? and embark on your journey:
Walk slowly and quietly through the forest, looking at everything. Remember the kinds of trees you see, the kinds of plants, and any special flowers; they might hold healing messages for you. If a flower seems to speak to you, pick the flower and carry it with you. Walk until you come to the end of the path.
You see a meadow before you. Enter the meadow and look around. Look for a person or an animal; approach that being and state your healing intention. Spend the next few moments exploring your environment with the person or animal. Remember everything given to you, everything said to you, and all the places you visit.
After you have explored your landscape for a few moments, return the way you came: across the meadow, through the woods, and back to your entrance to the woods. Bring favorite things back with you from your journey.
6. Comfortably return to the waking reality of your meditation space.
7. Write down the details of your journey, and separately write down the healing images you were given: the special flower or tree you saw in the woods, a special place you saw in the meadow with your guide, a gift from your guide, or perhaps a song ? anything that is given to you.
8. To honor your meditation, use the song or gift in ways that feel most appropriate to your healing. If you have been given a special flower or tree, look up its healing properties and discover ways to honor its gift. Plant the flower or tree. Buy a bouquet or find an essence that will make you feel comfortable or contribute to your healing. A fragrant essence is usually available in oils or potpourri. An actual flower essence has no scent but might be given to you in your meditation as a healing option. If so, you might wish to explore popular books or websites on the properties of flower essences. Be creative. Draw your journey or write a poem.
9. If you liked the meditation, use it again or expand it into a different one using your new gifts.
10. If you enjoy using meditation in a quiet space, experiment with your dreams and change your taped messages frequently, using the gift of your own dreams as the journey for your meditation. You will be surprised at how much more effective a meditation becomes when it is your own dream in your own voice.
EXERCISE 5: VISUALIZING YOUR BODY (BODY SCANNING)
In the midst of my healing, I had a wonderful dream in which I was in an enormous room filled with tools. The tools took on a life of their own, and in the end of the dream I joined them in a magnificent ballet of active healing. The ballet was performed in the air, and the entire dream was so permeated with magic and healing that I felt that there was no barrier between my mind and my body. I felt the two could work in a magical harmony to effect the healing and balance of both.
When I awoke from this dream, I was more aware than ever of my ability to look at my body from many angles, both inside and out. In periods of healing, we often become anxious and frightened about how we are doing. Learning to scan our body to check on whether small aches and pains or feelings of anxiety have any basis can help us separate fears from useful messages from our body. Based on my dream, I developed a simple exercise in which I made my body spin and dance in my mind's eye, as in the ballet in the air so that I could scan it inside and out:
1. Relax in your special place.
2. Create a mental picture of your body.
3. Pull this picture of your body up into the air -- a small version of yourself.
4. Move your visualization of your body in a slow, spinning motion so that you can see it from every direction.
5. Look at it from every angle as it turns.
6. Now go inside this image of your body. Turn it around and around. Check everything inside, from its toes to its head, and feel what you are seeing.
7. If you see any area that is dark or discolored or that doesn't look right, you can work toward healing that part of your body. Consult a doctor if necessary, and begin to work with anything of concern from your scan using your dreams and images and the other exercises in this chapter.
Forming a Circle of Dream Helpers
Forming a circle of dreamers offers many benefits. Sharing dreams in a group and reentering dreams for further exploration within the comfort and safety of a dream family magnifies the experience and the energy of the dream. A circle of dreamers can support healing and bring information back to the dreamer that the dreamer may have overlooked. The emotional support of a dreaming family often brings spontaneous emotional and physical healing.
Some circles simply share dreams or put together a few simple rituals: singing an opening song or creating an altar with candles and personal objects ? perhaps those that represent a special dream. Some circles use taped meditation music, and some prefer the shamanic style of rhythmic drumming using a round frame-style drum and a single monotonous beat to bring energy to the dreams. Do whatever works best for your group to provide a place for sharing and bringing the energy of your dreams together for yourself and for others.
More Tools for Self-Healing
If you go to a gym or do physical exercise as any part of your routine, make it part of your healing ritual. Working out in a gym is an excellent place to practice active meditation. You are already working with your body; all you need to do is to add your favorite simple meditation for expelling what you do not want inside your body and inhaling healing and light. Any exercise instructor will tell you to breathe in during the relaxed part of your exercise movement and breathe out for the strenuous part. You can use that breathing process to incorporate your healing images. Let's use sit-ups as a simple example:
1. Lie on your back on the floor, knees slightly bent, hands behind your head.
2. Lift your head straight up toward the ceiling using your stomach muscles.
3. As you lift, breathe out; as you go back to the floor, breathe in.
4. Now make this a healing exercise. As you lift, expel all the darkness from your body in your expelling breath. As you lower yourself to the floor, breathe in light and healing.
5. Repeat this process with every exercise you perform.
I purchased a tape of ocean sounds. Then I placed a small tape recorder near my pillow and listened to the tape each night before I went to sleep. I also developed a simple mental exercise using the ocean sounds on the tape; it relaxed my body and mind and allowed me to sleep after some of my more anxious days. Here is the exercise:
1. Imagine that you are lying on a beach.
2. Allow the ocean waves to move up over your body and back down again.
3. With each movement of the waves away from your body, see tension and darkness leaving your body.
4. With each movement of the waves over your body, see healing, light, and release moving into your body.
MAKING A TAPE FROM YOUR OWN DREAM
After several months of using a recording prepared by others, I decided that the best way to talk to my body's immune system was to use the words given to me in my own waking and sleeping dreams. I chose a favorite dream and rewrote it until it sounded like a meditation. I borrowed a second tape recorder and played the ocean tape on one recorder as a background while I read the dream onto a new tape. My dream then became a meditation read against the backdrop of the ocean sounds. Then I played my own dream using my own voice as a night meditation for healing. I felt that my body would respond well to hearing its own voice reciting a healing message given back to it from its own waking and sleeping images. I changed the tape as my dreams changed and as my healing progressed.
GO FLY A KITE
Shortly after my chemotherapy was completed, I was visiting a neighbor on a windy spring day. He put together a kite, and we walked to the top of a nearby hill to fly it. After a few moments, he had the kite so high it was almost out of sight. He then asked me to hold the large plastic spool of string. He had brought along pieces of paper. He cut one piece into a geometric shape, then cut a simple line into its center and made a small hole at the center. He asked me what I wanted to release, and I said "anxiety." He wrote the word "anxiety" on the piece of paper, then told me to imagine that the piece of paper held all my anxiety. He slid the paper onto the kite string, making sure the string was inside the small hole. Then he let go. The string was fully released. The paper immediately began whirling and twirling straight up the kite string and disappeared out of sight, sent to the top of the string near the kite by the wind. I felt such childish joy as I watched the simple magic of the piece of paper whirling into space that I asked him to do more. We used all the pieces of paper and watched them carry all of our negative feelings and statements of intention into the universe one by one.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. ©2003. www.newworldlibrary.com
She Who Dreams: A Journey into Healing through Dreamwork
by Wanda Easter Burch.
Wanda Burch dreamt that she would die at a certain age; her dreams foretold her diagnosis of cancer, and then guided her toward treatment and wellness. She took advantage of all the healing resources available to her, but Wanda believes she is alive because of her intimate engagement with the dreamworld. Through powerful prose and practical exercises, this book demonstrates that wisdom lives within each of us, and we can tap into that wisdom through dreamwork.
Info/Order this book. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Wanda Easter Burch is a long-term survivor (over 13 years) of breast cancer. She advocates for breast cancer research and gives seminars and workshops on dreams and works closely with support groups, churches, and cancer organizations to teach women about healing practices. Her other work involves historical preservation. Visit her website at www.wandaburch.com.