Read an Excerpt
Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom
By Robert Moss
New World Library Copyright © 2011 Robert Moss
All rights reserved.
Punch a Hole in the World
The child's psyche is of infinite extent and incalculable age.
— CARL JUNG, "The Development of Personality"
To understand dreams and reclaim the practice of imagination, we must look to the master teachers: our inner children and the children around us. When very young, children know how to go to magic kingdoms without paying for tickets, because they are at home in the imagination and live close to their dreams. When she was four years old, my daughter Sophie had adventures in a special place called Teddy Bear Land, where she met a special friend. I loved hearing about these travels and encouraged her to make drawings and spin further stories from them.
One day Sophie sat down beside me and asked with great earnestness, "Daddy, would you like to know how I get to Teddy Bear Land?"
"I'd love to."
"Sometimes I take the Sun Gate. Sometimes I take the Moon Gate. Sometimes I take the Tree Gate. Sometimes I take the Rainbow Bridge. And sometimes I just punch a hole in the world."
I've never heard anyone say it better. To live the larger life, we need to punch a hole in the world. This is what dreaming — whether we are sleeping or waking or hyperawake — is really all about. On our roads to adulthood, we sometimes forget how to do it, just as older children in the Chronicles of Narnia cease to be able to see Aslan as they approach adolescence and become more and more burdened by the reality definitions of the grown-ups around them.
When we listen, truly listen, to very young children, we start to remember that the distance between us and the magic kingdoms is no wider than the edge of a sleep mask. True listening requires us to pay attention. To attend, according to its root meaning in the Latin, is to stretch ourselves, which requires us to expand our vocabulary of understanding. We owe nothing less to the young children in our lives. When we do this, we discover that they can be our very best teachers of how to dream and what dreaming can be.
What to Do When You're Eaten by a T-Rex
"I was eaten by T-Rex." Brian, aged seven, is rocking in his seat with excitement, but his voice is very soft. The fifteen kids in the circle, plus parents and grandparents, lean forward to hear him. We've gathered to spend a half day together at a local retreat center for a playshop I love to lead called Dreaming with Children and Families.
"Did T-Rex swallow you in one gulp?" Brian's grandmother asks, making a gurgling in her throat as she mimics something very big taking a big gulp. "Or did he kind of munch on you?"
"It was a big gulp." Brian's eyes are gleaming with excitement. "Then I was falling down, down into T-Rex's belly. I found two eggs. I cut them open and there were two baby T-Rexes inside. They came out and they killed the big T-Rex and I was fine."
"How did you feel?" I ask.
You don't analyze a dream like this, whatever the age of the dreamer — at least not until you do something to grab the vital energy of the dream and embody it and bring it through to the present. This isn't hard with Brian's dream. We have a room full of excited kids, and kids are naturals for dream theater.
"Hey, Brian, would you like to playact your dream?"
Brian can't wait. He chooses the two youngest children in the group, an angelic four-year-old named Abby who has just created a picture of one of her own dreams with crayons and sketch paper — a picture of a wild thing she has given her own name — and a toddler who has proved a virtuoso with maracas and other noisemakers from our communal music box.
"Aunt" Carol, our host at the retreat center and a gifted counselor and dream teacher, is picked to play the snapping head of T-Rex, a tricky role since she can't stop beaming and laughing. There are plenty of dreamers, kids of all ages, to make up the body and tail of the beast. Soon the monster we've made is roaring and thumping around the room. Brian, playing himself, darts around, trying to hide behind the furniture; his fate is preordained. He is swallowed by T-Rex. He rolls over and over, playacting his descent into the belly of the beast. Way down deep inside, he finds the eggs and frees the baby monsters, who return the favor by saving him.
This is wild and happy and just-so, and everybody wants more.
We turn other kids' dreams into theater, and each time a new strategy emerges for dealing with dream monsters. A ten-year-old girl tells us a dream in which she's at school, on her way to lunch, when a "short monster" appears and starts eating her classmates. "He couldn't eat me, because I kicked him in the face."
Playacting that one produces a stampede as a very small boy, thrilled to be playing the short monster, pursues the dreamer's classmates until he is laid flat by a pretend kick to his face. Everyone laughs as the dreamer dabs at the slime the short monster has left on her foot.
A thirteen-year-old girl in the group is menaced in her dream by people behaving like monsters. She puts on bat wings and flies off to a special place where she can be safe. The scariest adults in the dream are the ones who remain strangely frozen, as if they have been encased in blocks of ice, while she tries to avoid the attackers. In a later scene, she is at a wild ocean. When she plunges in, she becomes a killer whale and swims with delight with an orca friend who comes to join her. When she shape-shifts back into the form of a teenage girl, the grown-ups are no longer a threat to her. She has brought power back from the place of the killer whales.
THESE ARE SCENES FROM A SINGLE AFTERNOON of dreaming with kids and their families, the way our ancestors used to do it and some indigenous peoples still do. We had started out right, by drumming and making cheerful music to call up the dreams that wanted to play with us. Then everyone grabbed art supplies from the center of the circle to make a drawing of a dream.
Also at the center of the room, we had placed a huge toy box full of stuffed animals and puppets and plastic lizards. I invited the kids to grab any animal they liked. Then, since we were on traditional Mohawk Indian land, I had them join hands and voices in singing a simple Mohawk song that calls in the Bear — and with it, all of the other animals — as helpers and protectors.
Don't cry, little one.
Don't cry, little one.
The Bear is coming to dance for you.
The Bear is coming to dance for you.
We discussed how, if you have a scary dream, it's good to know you have a friend who can help you out and take care of you. Little Abby came over to me and whispered confidentially, "I have a bear. And I have lots of dream friends."
We broke every half hour for snacks of orange slices and chocolate chip cookies.
Toward the end, I opened my dream journal to a page where I had drawn a picture of Champie — the cousin of the Loch Ness monster who reputedly lives in Lake Champlain — swimming in the East River in front of the island of Manhattan, with delighted kids riding on his back. This was an image that had come to me spontaneously in a recent drumming circle.
I told the kids and their parents and grandparents: "A journal like this, where you draw your dreams and write down your stories, is a treasure book. I hope everyone here will now start keeping a treasure book. Ask the grown-ups who brought you to help you find the right one. They can help you write down the words if you like. But there's one thing about a dream journal everyone should know. It's your special book, and if you don't want Mommy or Daddy to read it, you should tell them: 'This is my secret book.' And they must respect that."
I asked if there were any questions.
Hands went up all around the room.
"Can we do this again?"
"Can we do it every month?"
"Can we do it every week?"
"Hey," I responded, "you can do it every day at home or at a friend's house now that you and your families know how much fun it is."
When Kids Dream the Future
Children don't have to be told that we are all psychics in our dreams. They know this, because they have psychic experiences in their dreams all the time. They see into the future, they encounter the departed, they see things happening at a distance and behind doors that are supposedly locked against them. The problem is that very often the adults around them won't listen, sometimes because they are afraid of what the child may be seeing.
I once led a series of dream classes for sixth-grade schoolchildren as part of a "talented and gifted" program in a school district in upstate New York. At the start of each class, one of the questions I put to the kids was: "Has anyone dreamed something that later happened?" On average, nine out of ten kids said they had had this experience. A tough young boy who looked like Rambo in the making shot up his arm, eager to tell his story. "We went on family vacation in Myrtle Beach. I dreamed the whole ride from the airport, turn by turn. I kept trying to tell Dad which way to go, but he wouldn't listen to me. So we spent an hour getting lost and doubling back, because Dad doesn't believe in dreams."
My friend Wanda Burch, the author of She Who Dreams, remembers what her son Evan saw in a dream when he was just three years old. Although this is a family of dreamers, the parents did not understand the dream until it began to play out in waking life — at which point the dream prompted the quick action that may have saved mother and child from serious injury. Here's how Wanda told me the story that unfolded at their home in the Mohawk Valley of New York:
My son was just a bit over three years old and already sharing great dreams. He told me he had dreamed about "the dogs" and was terribly frightened of the dream, but seemed unable to express why they terrified him so much. My husband was working very hard and was really exhausted on the evening of a board meeting, so I offered to drive him the fifteen miles from our home in the Mohawk Valley.
Just as we closed the door of the house, Evan began screaming, "The dogs, the dogs!," pulling on my hands. I had to pick him up to get him in the car, and told him over and over again there were no dogs. He calmed down. When we dropped off my husband and prepared to drive home, Evan got agitated again, looking out the back window and telling me there were growling dogs. We spent a few minutes discussing nightmares and things he could do with the dream in order to work with it. I don't recall what I told him at that time, but he was usually quite capable of dreaming his own solutions to his nightmares, so I was surprised this one was scaring him so much.
We drove back home. The same scenario began again. I had to carry Evan into the house. This time he was screaming so hysterically I could barely pick him up. He calmed down again in the house. Time to pick up my husband. Again, Evan was hysterical, thrashing around in a desperate attempt to avoid getting in the car.
When we returned to our home with my husband, Evan started screaming. I was struggling to get him from the car to the house. When we were just feet away from the glass-enclosed porch, I heard the most terrifying barking and growling. I turned in that instant to see a pack of wild dogs coming over a slight rise just yards away from the cottage. I literally threw Evan into the porch, screaming at my husband to close the door and stay in the car. I barely made it through the door to slam it against several of the dogs as their bodies lunged against the porch. Several crashed against the door and walls of the enclosed porch before they whirled around and ran off with the pack.
If I had not been able to throw Evan into the porch and myself after him, we would have been in serious trouble. At this point, my son was completely calm, staring out the window at the dogs as they vanished into the creek bed. He looked at me and said, "The dogs!" I said to him, "Yes, I got it."
My son has shared his dreams, big and small, with me all his life — and still does, now that he is in his late thirties. I turned to him in my darkest moments when I was experiencing doubts about my ability to heal from a life-threatening illness. I asked him, "Am I okay? What are you dreaming?" I'll never forget his response: "You are fine. I am dreaming you into the future."
If you have any doubts about our ability to dream the future — and to use our night previews of possible future events to make better choices and change things for the better — listen to a young child telling his or her dreams. And consider how you may be required to recognize and act on clues to the possible future contained in the dream you are hearing. To put it mildly, children are not independent players on the stage of life. They need us not only to listen but to help.
I once led a dreamplay session for a group of at-risk inner-city kids in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted by the local Police Benevolent Association. A beautiful fourteen-year-old girl told a dream in which she gets off a bus on a winding mountain road and is attacked by two wild dogs with red eyes. The dogs didn't sound like regular dogs, but the description of the rest stop on the mountain road was very literal and specific, though she said she'd never been to a place like that in regular life. We were lucky that day to have a counselor in the room who recognized the dream locale. "She has just described a rest stop on the road we'll be taking to summer camp in a couple of weeks. I'll be on that bus, and I promise you nothing bad is gonna happen at that stop, because I'll be there to make sure of that."
Helping Kids to Make a Secret Book
Luca had not yet turned four when he climbed into his mom's bed in the middle of the night and told her the following dream:
I was running away from a huge T-Rex who was chasing me. Then I remembered, "Wait a minute, I like T-Rex." So I turned around and told him, "Hey, you're my favorite dinosaur!" And he picked me up so I could ride, and then we went to the beach together.
In the morning, Luca asked his mother to write the dream down for him. Luca did something inside his dream we all want to learn to do. Instead of running away from something scary, he turned around and faced it, on its own ground. Luca's mom did the essential first thing that adults need to do with kids' dreams: she listened. At Luca's instigation, she then did the next most important thing: she helped her young child to do something fun with a dream, which in this case simply meant writing it down so the story would be a keeper.
Luca often told his dreams to his Aunt Chele, an active dreamer who had been keeping a dream journal for many years. Inspired by Aunt Chele's example of writing her dreams in her journal, Luca's mom provided Luca with the most special book any of us will ever have — a book filled with the magic of our dreams and imagination. If we are privileged to have access to young children, one of the greatest gifts we can give them — and in the process, ourselves — is to encourage them to record dreams and stories in a book that will become a journal. I did this with my own daughters. When they were very young, they would do the pictures and I would write the words for them. They took over more and more of the writing as they got older, until, at age nine, they were keeping their journals by themselves and for themselves. Then the same thing happened in each case. They said to me, in effect: "That's it, Dad. This is my secret book, and you can't read it anymore."
Now that's a journal. The secret book of your Self, not to be shared with anyone without permission, which should not be given lightly.
Nine Keys to Helping Kids with Their Dreams
Here's what we need to know about listening to children's dreams and supporting their imaginations:
1. Listen up! When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.
2. Invite good dreams. Pick the right bedtime reading or, better still, tell stories. Help your child weave a web of good dream intentions for the night — for example, by asking, "What would you most like to do tonight?" Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.
Excerpted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Copyright © 2011 Robert Moss. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.