Part 1 of DreamWork: A Soulcentric Approach

Introducing DreamWork, a section of the Real Imaginal online magazine, dedicated to the re-enchantment of Neptune.

The planetary archetype of Neptune engenders dreams and dreaming, both in the sense of the states of consciousness experienced during sleep and those more diffuse, permeable and unfocused of the dayworld, in which imagery and fantasy seep into our ordinary or everyday consciousness.

The human relationship to dreams, dreaming and psyche’s imagery is ancient and varied and dreams frequently play an important role in past as well as contemporary cultures around the globe, shaping events in the waking world. There are probably as many ways to “work with” or think about or engage with dreams and dream consciousness, as there are dreamers. In DreamWork, we will explore various ideas about and experiences of dreaming, with an open mind which honors Neptune’s infinite ocean of potentiality, and the seemingly inexhaustible variegation of meaning contained within imagery itself. And while one is free to explore the language of dreams via “dream interpretation dictionaries,” for such an approach may glean something of value in the way that even a blind hog on occasion roots an acorn, we rather seek to allow imagery and ideas to work upon our conscious minds, and ourRedwoodOrchid-Apr2015 beating hearts. To enter the interiority of dreams seems to require being within its living reality, just as one would seek to understand dayworld experiences within their greater contexts and not isolate events in an attempt to understand them.

DreamWork honors dreams as a potent way of engaging with the imaginal realms, the archetypal and creative, and dreams may even provide a portal to conversation with the vast Earth Community, the greater-than-human world. The field of ecopsychology, for example, honors dreams as a doorway to place, a way of connecting our inner geography with the outer topography of Home, our planet Earth, through our shared depths of psyche.

One approach to listening to dreams is the soulcentric orientation set forth by the depth ecopsychologist Bill Plotkin. Its main principle—which many find difficult to adhere to—requires setting aside the primacy of the ego, that conscious sense of self which seeks to narrate our individual lives, in order to listen for a more profound patterning, an often strange or foreign nibbling of longing and desire emerging from a deeper dimension. In the soulcentric approach, we are invited to a conversation with soul, which promises to disrupt the middleworld ambitions and opinions of our ordinary sense of self and personal trajectory.[1]

Plotkin elaborates James Hillman’s archetypal approach which seeks to undermine the everyday ego’s habitual stance:

“From the archetypal view, the dream wants to separate the ego from its surface life, at least temporarily, so it can be introduced to a deeper, richer, larger possibility, a life more in keeping with the desires of the soul. Ultimately, this will render the conscious personality more whole, but not without an intervening death” of the existing personality. [2]

What is the soul? James Hillman refused to define it beyond “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things rather than a thing itself. …[Soul] refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. …[B]y soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” [3]

For Plotkin, “The Soul is a person’s unique purpose or identity, a mythopoetic identity, something much deeper than personality or socio-vocational role, an identity revealed and expressed through symbol and metaphor, image and dream, archetype and myth.”[4] Plotkin elaborates,

“By soul, I mean a thing’s ultimate place in the world. I use the word thing to embrace the fact that every thing has a particular place in the world and therefore has a soul—all creatures, objects, events, and relationships. …By place, I mean not a geographical location but the role, function, station, or status a thing has in relation to other things. …A thing’s ‘ultimate place’ is its place in the great scheme of things, its quintessential place in the world or the universe…[which] corresponds to the set of” innumerable “relationships that this thing has with all other things in the world.” With the term ultimate place, “we are calling attention to the very core or heart of a thing’s identity, its decisive meaning or significance, its raison d’etre. …The human soul is a person’s ultimate place in the more-than-human world.” [5]

Hendy Woods Feb. 2015

As an astrologer, I endeavor to listen to people’s stories in relation to their astrological charts and transits in a similar, soulcentric way—listening for that which is just at the surface; the clearly spoken yet unseen; the obscured and neglected; the overlooked, the wounded—and to offer love and witness (rather than analysis or judgment). To invite soul into the world of waking consciousness asks us to set aside superficial interpretations and desires to predict and control outcomes, and if the soul is to communicate to us through dreams—or through the astrological chart—we must learn to attend carefully to the quality of our listening and our presence to the Sacred Other. Catalyzing soul in the world seems less about “being right” and more about “being present.”

A soulcentric approach is so appealing to me because it benefits not just individuals, but the greater human society and Earth Community. Discovering the creative depths of soul brings a deeper belonging, a properly humble gravity to one’s life and forges the ties that bind us in reciprocity to this planet. As Howard Thurman exhorts us, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because the world needs people who have come alive.” To come alive means to see Saturn—the harbinger of death, karma and “work” itself—in a very different light, and it is a curious fact that the more faithfully we live to our souls, the more Saturn is experienced as our ally rather than as mere grief, loss, endings and unadorned necessity. Saturn carries us closer to who we are and how we are to be of service, but only when Saturn’s energy is anchored within and able to relate to the middleworld from the stance of soulful belonging.

In our next installment of DreamWork, we will explore a few soulcentric strategies for listening to dreams and allowing the desires and messages of soul to enter our middleworld or dayworld lives.

Have your chart read by Erica Jones and learn more about her practice here


[1] Bill Plotkin: “By upperworld, middleworld, and underworld, I don’t mean geographical or cosmological locations but three realms of consciousness, or three domains of human life or identity, roughly corresponding to spirit, ego, and soul, respectively” (p. 43, Nature and the Human Soul). Astrologically, these realms roughly correspond to the planetary archetypes of Neptune, Saturn and Pluto, respectively, though their boundary lines are not sharply drawn and these archetypes may, as always, interpenetrate and appear in complex forms with any other planetary archetype. For example, the Moon may be easily associated with upperworld, middleworld and underworld, by virtue of its pervasive and often invisible presence throughout all domains of consciousness.

[2] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), 132.

[3] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 20-1.

[4] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2013), 13.

[5] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 30-1.

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