I heard the call of the Unknowable One. They left a trail of scarlet breadcrumbs For my soul to follow, Because I was lost. Because my heart was baked hard like the stony desert. Yes, it was The Unknowable One Who scattered their hearts and flowers across my path. "There's beauty even here", I heard them say (when the ocean of my thoughts subsided a little). "I have no way of understanding. This new country is unknown." I replied. And so, they enfolded me in mother-arms; I was cocooned there. Nothing else to do But be carried by the Unknowable One.
She can gather up all the fragments. All the failed lives And all lives have failed. We all cast a shadow. I don't know the magic she weaves, where tears become sacred drops Like myrrh bleeding from a tree. And the upside down way feeble knees and broken feet are the very vehicle by which God travels the Earth. They say our hearts must crack open like a seed. Head first in the ground we go. Then we become like that Myrrh tree, with branches too beautiful to be seen with human eyes. Our senses have become dulled, through fighting endless battles with fickle tides. One day we will see the illumination. With clear eyes, see how our wings have formed, how love has transformed our lives. For love has shaped us. And love tends to us, from seed to sapling to tree. With branches like arms reaching upward, and our blood, our tears are Myrrh.
My recent paintings have been heavily inspired by the language of dreams, and how we engage in spiritual realities when our conscious, problem-solving minds are at rest. My deep longing is to understand how God engages with us in our dreaming unconscious state…Do we fly freely in our inner world, a solitary orb? Or is the Divine Spirit a tangible presence there just as it can be in our waking life?
Perhaps God is healing and helping us during our sleeping sojourn because we are too limited and distracted otherwise, laying the foundation for connections and those ‘aha’ moments later realised in waking life.
For me, attempting to remember my dreams and writing them down has become a form of contemplative prayer, a way of yielding and accepting what God is doing in my life. This yielding is not passive- it is a kind of active open-handed-ness. It’s an attitude of co-operation borne from the belief that God is a good, kind and benevolent force in the universe who loves us perfectly and wholly as precious children.
Through this practise, I am learning to notice the details of my life- even in waking hours as being significant. When I say details, I mean emotions, reactions, memories, places or thoughts of a person. These details work in synergy with the content of my dreams, giving life as a whole a sort of super-charged meaning. It’s like a seed planted at night, which later springs up and grows.
So, I’ve developed a pretty solid habit of recording dreams. However, I have come to realise how enriching it can be to interact with and explore them creatively. My hope is to find greater depth, clarity, and an ever -increasing grounding in my spiritual life and understanding.
Carl Jung developed a technique called ‘Active Imagination’ which involves using creative expression as a way of engaging with dream elements and characters. Using the creative arts in this way seems to help us bypass the logical left hemisphere of the brain, and utilise our more intuitive, image-rich right hemisphere. Jung himself was a painter, and it is fascinating to look at his artwork and how he has been able to dive into the content of his dreams and emerge with messages from archetypal characters.
How I utilised ‘Active Imagination’ to Understand my Dream
To enter into my own dream interpretation, it was important to remind myself that the technique as a whole is not about “getting an answer” or “solving a puzzle”, but to engage with it loosely and playfully. Allowing curiosity and an attitude of experimentation leads to open ended questions- “I wonder what would happen if I ….drew my dream/ interviewed a dream character/ created a song or poem? What would this character say to me if I asked who they were? What does this colour/place/animal mean? ”
Dreams are fluid, energetic and organic. Their meaning is richer and deeper than one answer or understanding. They can change over time, and bring different offerings to us according to our circumstances and emotional states. Dreams originate from a vast landscape. Their content is both particular to the dreamer and universal as part of what Jung describes as the ‘collective unconscious’. Think of the well known idea of the iceberg…our conscious mind being what is above the water, our unconscious the massive iceberg below. The invitation is to look below the surface- as deep as we would like to plummet. In this analogy the ocean represents all of us- the collective unconscious where we are all united and knit together as one.
I engaged with a recent dream by creating a painting about it. It is much shorter than most of my dreams, however, since the colours and imagery were so rich, it demonstrates how much can be gleaned by just a little bit of material. As such, I had a very strong idea of what I wanted to depict. I also found it beneficial to give dreams a title.
Here’s a brief overview of the dream.
I was by the sea, and there were 3 budgies in a cage. One was orange, one was blue and the third was a colour I cannot recall. I took them out and they were tame. I was wearing orange, so the orange bird felt comfortable with me. My youngest son was with me, and he was wearing blue, so he held the blue bird.
The process of painting this, with my dream as a guide was interesting and different. I was very aware of allowing the painting to become what it needed to whilst maintaining some of the main features. I changed the image of the woman holding the canary- which in my dream was me- based on an imaginative dialogue where I interviewed her as a separate part of me. In my journal I asked, “What is your name?” and the answer came, ‘Golden Shadow’. Many dream analysts suggest doing this by writing the question in your dominant hand, and the answer in your non-dominant hand. However, another way is through getting into a meditative and ‘attentive’ attitude by focusing on relaxing and being aware of the breath. (I found this way works best for me). After this, the woman holding the orange bird changed from having dark hair, and being almost like a self-portrait, to a ‘separate’ person altogether.
The water element is also very important. In this dream, the ocean speaks of the unconscious, going below the surface (this is not always the case as water has a strong connection to emotions). In my imaginative meeting with the dream character in the orangey/red dress, she took me from the window down a staircase where there was another window showing under the water. I could see jellyfish and tropical fish. She took me down another staircase leading to a window of a deeper sea- telling me “keep going” “You can go as deep as you want”. The invitation was also, significant to the birds, to allow myself to be affected by “the little ones”: in other words, it is safe to be soft and tender of heart in the world, rather than trying to shield myself from it.
So, the woman in my painting became ‘Golden Shadow’, with red-gold hair. Her message to me was to encourage me to ‘keep going’ . Notably, the orange bird became a canary. Canaries are symbolic of joy and compassion as well as freedom from limitations or shackles (especially pertinent because the symbol of a cage was also in my dream). I added tears to the woman’s eyes, which is serendipitous since part of her message to me was to allow myself to feel and be affected by the world. The birdcage became a pretty decorative planter- a container of life as opposed to captivity or oppression.
Here’s a little snippet of my painting process- as I said it changed quite dramatically as I engaged with both the dream and the emerging artwork itself.
I made this little video in collaboration with Kylie and Sammy Horner, with lyrics by Beki Hemmingway. Artwork is mine and is an amalgamation of older pieces, some from my ‘Angels and Archetypes’ collection from 2019, and a couple of paintings from my most recent series “Butterflies With Tattered Wings’.
I was participating in an ‘Introduction to Trinitarian Theology’ course with Baxter Kruger, and part of the content was to explore the Mary, the mother of Jesus and the very significant role she played in the story of redemption. She is the link between us and the humanity of the Christ. I hope you enjoy.
Something is calling me towards re-engaging more fully with my dreams.
What started as decluttering my house led to a kind of decluttering of the mind: holding on to the valuable, letting go of the things that had been weighing me down. I found long-forgotten treasures like dream journals, some from recent years, and others from many years ago.
I want to follow the staircase down into my dreaming world because I believe the unconscious has new and wonderful offerings there for me. Wonderful, in the sense of revealing both shadow and light. But it seems to me that one cannot feel joy unless there is a willingness to dive into the shadowlands too. After all, that is how we become fully human.
I’ve been researching, as is so easy for us, when we find a subject of interest. There’s a plethora of information out there to be had on everything, and dreams are no exception! I zeroed in on the work of Carl Jung. He’s always fascinated me, especially in the way he fleshed out the idea of archetypes and used visual art extensively to explore dreams.
According to Jung, dreams are revelatory. In other words they present content that we are completely unaware of in the daily chatter of our conscious minds. This may seem obvious at first to those who have dabbled in the practise of dreamwork. However, when you think about it, having an idea or concept presented to us, about us, which is outside of our inner dialogue feels miraculous. We are lifted away from the physical entanglements of our material existence into the unknown of the Divine.
Our dreams have an eternal quality- dreams from long ago can evolve in meaning. Rather than being like deadwood of the past, dreams are more like facets of a diamond ever revealing different aspects from the deep waters of the psyche. This is why it was so serendipitous for me to re-discover old dream journals and the artwork I did around them.
This piece ‘Feather’ was a collage around a dream character from more than 15 years ago, when I was studying counselling. When I found it, I felt compelled to do some more work around this drawing by asking questions and writing intuitive insights down. Not surprisingly, I found these archetypes just as relevant for me now as they were then, and the meaning has deepened and developed.
Interestingly, the owl-like creature represented God for me, which is comforting now as a mother who has lost a child. I see my heart being held in this picture. Not long after he passed, my angel son Jordan sent us many signs in the form of owls. Because of this, it speaks as reassurance that just like the girl in the picture (an aspect of me), his heart is also safe in God’s care. It’s hard to describe the utter wordless wonder I feel in my soul with these deep symbols. They tell a much larger story.
Our lives, all of our lives, are truly a labyrinth of treasure.
I wrote a short poem about this dream character, which illustrates one aspect of the Jungian way of dream analysis. Unlike Freud, who used free association to decode dreams, Jung’s method is a way of bypassing the logical mind by trying to examine the images and archetypes as if you had never seen them before. As if you are trying to explain something to an alien or a small child.
Feathers are light They are lifted by the air They are soft to touch. With feathers, a bird can fly and enter into the heavenly space. They shelter and comfort gently, so quietly. God has wings, too. We gather under, allowing them to enfold us, Like a Mother Hen.