“You can’t know who you are without dreams…dreams help you tune into your soul or deeper self.”
Jungian analyst Marion Woodman
As sleep and rest bring the body back into balance, dreams can bring the psyche into balance since they are opportunities for deeper realms of mind to speak to consciousness. From a Jungian perspective, the rich aesthetics of the symbolic language of dreams can guide the dreamer’s evolution on their life path.
In the flurry of modern life, time tending to a dream is a time out of time to honor the deepest expression of our being. Dreams can reunite us with what we fear has been lost and align us with our inner truth and what is eternal in our being, thus keeping us in tune with more authentic expressions of self in our life’s journey toward wholeness.
"What would be more natural, when we have lost ourselves amid the endless particulars and isolated details of the world's surface, than to knock at the door of dreams and inquire of them the bearings which bring us closer to the basic facts of human existence?"
Carl G. Jung
Michael is a dreamer who experienced a compelling series of dreams featuring towering trees, often distinguished by having many branches and roots but which looked diseased and broken. Several months after these dreams, Michael consulted a doctor about various symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with a systemic health disorder. Psychological theorists inspired by Jung such as Marion Woodman, James Hillman and Arnold Mindell have claimed that the body speaks to the mind through symbols in dreams. This idea is in keeping with the tradition of the ancient Greeks who consulted with their dreams for health diagnosis at the temple of Asclepius. Michael felt that his series of compelling dreams about diseased trees spoke to him about the need for his own physical and spiritual healing.
At the time of this series of dreams about trees, Michael was unaware that the symbol of the the tree of life or the tree of knowledge, is common in mythologies throughout the world. Yet the trees in his dreams deeply spoke to him through the same symbolic language. During this period in Michael’s life the color green often appeared in his dreams. For example, dream animals and objects were often green which is a color that symbolizes renewal, like springtime buds.
For Michael the symbol of the tree with its many branches and roots offered him transformational guidance about his personal well-being. He listened to his dream trees and realized that his life had become like a tree with only one branch, his stressful and unfulfilling work. In response, he became more attentive to his physical health and psycho-spiritual well-being. Using Dream Discovery Michael activated the dream image of trees by spending time walking among the trees, which he felt helped restore his health.
Philosopher Paul Riceour wrote about metaphors that recall the past, archaeological metaphors, and those that point towards future, which he called teleological metaphors. Dreams often address psycho-spiritual concerns with existential questions like looking back on my life, what have I learned? And looking forward, where do I want to go in my life? What is calling me on my life path? Michael felt that the series of tree dreams helped him answer these existential questions and called him to a more fulfilling life path for his future.
Through reflecting and working with these dreams in a dream group, Michael experienced a connection between his own health and that of trees. This understanding called him to be more attentive to his personal health and activated a desire to help restore the health of his fellow beings, the trees. He awakened to the interdependence of humanity’s health and the earth’s trees, who provide half our planet’s oxygen. A renewed sense of purpose was stirred in Michael as he began to devote himself to photographing and planting trees which connected him to a deeper sense of self, to nature and to his community.
"Regard dreams as an endangered species. Dreams represent our last wilderness...an oasis of spiritual vitality. We must protect them with as much fervor as the ozone layer, the rain forests, the elephant, the whale." Anthony Stevens, The Two Million Year Old Self
Several years after Michael was experienced the healing power of nature among trees, his awareness of trees led him to discover the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” In Japan, the health care system has long recognized the health benefits of leisurely strolling throughout the forest for as little as twenty minutes a day. Recently this practice has spread to busy high tech hubs such as the Silicon Valley where Michael worked at the time of his illness. Published studies report that “forest bathing” improves sleep, accelerates recovery from illness and lowers blood pressure, heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol. One study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacologyidentified a direct link between inhaling phytoncides, which are emitted by trees, and a substantial increase (50% on average) in the activity of NK cells, a major force in our immune health.Michael’s tree dreams carried messages relevant to his personal health and life path. These dreams are also an example of eco-dreaming or dreams that honor that we are still embedded in the natural world, “more-than-human-world,” according to eco-philosopher David Abram
Throughout time, trees have provided shelter and sustenance for countless beings, which many intuitively still feel when among them. During a time of crisis, trees were the perfect dream symbol and actual life companion that reconnected Michael to a deep experience of physical and psycho-spiritual renewal. As he walked among them, the beauty and life-giving power of trees soothed and renewed him with their earthbound roots and interconnected branches that reach to the heavens.
“Who lives in me? What are the animals and people, places and concerns that want me to pay attention to them, to become friendly and familiar with them? This familiarity, after some time, produces in one a sense of at-homeness and at-oneness with an inner family, which is nothing else than kinship and community with oneself.“ James Hillman
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