“You can’t know who you are without dreams…dreams help you tune into your soul or deeper self,” says 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 the authentic self while on our life’s journey toward wholeness.
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. Months later, Michael consulted a doctor about various symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with a systemic health disorder. It’s been claimed that the body speaks to the mind through symbols active in dreams by psychological theorists inspired by Jung such as James Hillman, Marion Woodman and Arnold Mindell. 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 considered his compelling dreams of diseased trees with their many branches and roots predictive of his systemic health problem.
At the time of this series of dreams about trees, Michael was unaware that the symbol of the world tree, in the form of the tree of life or tree of knowledge, is common in mythologies throughout the world. Yet this series of dreams spoke to him through symbolic language.
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 work. In response, he became more attentive to his physical health and psycho-spiritual well-being. Activating the dream image in his waking life, he was drawn to experience time among trees photographing their beauty that he found restorative, a balm for his soul on his journey to healing.
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? Philosopher Paul Riceour wrote about metaphors that recall the past, archaeological metaphors, and those that point towards future, which he called teleological. Michael felt that this series of tree dreams called him to a more fulfilling life path.
Through reflecting and working with these dreams in a dream group, Michael experienced a connection between his own well-being and that of trees which not only called him to be more attentive to his personal health but also 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 the planet’s oxygen. A renewed sense of purpose was stirred in Michael as he began to devote himself to planting trees that connected him to a deeper sense of self, to nature and to his community.
Several years after these dreams guided Michael to his recuperative experiences 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 Pharmacology identified 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 humans are still embedded in the natural world, what eco-philosopher David Abram calls the “more-than-human-world.” 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. 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.
Learn more at My Dream Life: THE SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE OF DREAMS.
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