Part 2 of DreamWork: A Soulcentric Approach

DreamWork is 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. 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.

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 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.

Continuing from Part 1 of DreamWork: A Soulcentric Approach, where we began to learn about the soulcentric orientation to dreams set forth by the depth ecopsychologist Bill Plotkin. The main principle of the soulcentric approach—which can be challenging—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]

Lagunitas-Creek-canopyAs James Hillman critiques a typical psychotherapeutic approach to dreams in which Freud’s via regia (royal road) to the unconscious “has become a straight one-way street of all morning traffic, moving out of the unconscious towards the ego’s city,” we choose, with Hillman, “to face the other way” and enter the twilit wilderness of soul.[2]

A soulcentric approach to dreaming therefore asks us to refrain from interpretation as long as possible in favor of simply sitting with the imagery, to be in the other world from which it communicates. Note that imagery in dreams can be visual (a densely forested riverbank), auditory (the girl carefully repeated, “We’ll float down the Sleeping River”) or even kinesthetic (my body leaned to the left, a little unsteady, when the old man looked at me). To allow a whole other reality—neither fake nor pretend—to emerge through the dream is essential, generating a genuine respect for its reality and radical difference from our dayworld (middleworld), ego-driven agenda. This opens a possibility for the dream to act as a divine power to transform the ego, to deepen our authentic belonging to an awe-inspiring world. “In soulcentric dreamwork…we want to know about the soul and its desires and about the relationship between ego and soul. We’re not so interested in better understanding the ego’s place in the dayworld.”[3]

One of the simplest soulcentric tactics is to tell the dream out loud at least twice, to another person or perhaps to a tree, a houseplant, a room in your home. Plotkin advises the dreamer to move very slowly through the dream, to savor the experience of recounting, and to tell it in the present tense, which helps our consciousness return to the dreamworld. Notice your emotional states in the dream, and share every little detail which emerges. This simple act alone can expose so much, especially if you and any listeners can just be with the miraculous existence of the dream itself without any intellectualizing remarks or observations. Again, the orientation is to allow the dream to work upon the ego, rather than the ego upon the dream, inviting dream consciousness to seep into the dayworld of ego. The impact is typically less intellectual, and more emotional, spiritual and even somatic (bodily), which might later ripple into a more intellectual understanding or insight.

Plotkin enumerates several soulcentric strategies on pages 136 to 139 of his book Soulcraft, and one final one I will mention here is to enact something—in an ethical, conscientious manner— from the dream in the waking world. Dreams can be very responsive to dayworld enactments, rituals or embodiment (though one can never know what to expect, if anything, in response). If we understand dream to be one way that soul communicates, then we may understand our enactments or ritual embodiments as conversations with soul, whether we imagine the conversation to be with a crucial element of our unique identity, and/or the anima mundi, the soul of the world.

To give an example from my own life of ritual dream enactment, in March 2013, I had a series of dreams about a river and the orisha (deity) Oshun, who is of West African origin. I knew nothing of Oshun prior to these dreams, which bore deep numinosity (a sacred quality), and came as a tremendous blessing during a frightening bout of serious health issues. In one of the dreams, a priestess of Oshun is smiling with such welcome as I move toward her as would an initiate, and she gestures to a large body of water, inviting me to go forth, to enter the world which in that moment is luminous with beauty.

The Navarro River

In reply to these dreams, I ritually welcomed Oshun—incidentally, a river goddess—into my middleworld life by learning about the lore (pataki) and powers surrounding her, constructing an altar to her, performing various ceremonies in her honor and examining how sexuality, abundance, generosity, celebration, joy and exuberant play—all within the domain of Oshun—manifested (or did not) in my life. I was richly rewarded by this often painful exploration which took me on excursions into both the underworld and upperworld, miraculously cultivating a first-ever sense of self-worth, a sense of being worthy of the divine.[4] Because of the self-esteem which Oshun gifted me through welcoming her into my life, I was able to respond to a series of synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) which unexpectedly brought me to live next to a river (!) in rural Mendocino County, California.

My ability to respond to new, soul-satisfying opportunities required loosening fear’s grip on my life and it was thanks to Oshun’s many blessings that I said yes to risking it all in October 2013 and quit my job—an occupation I had been itching to leave already seven years (yes, seven years!) earlier—to embark on a wilderness underworld journey[5] in the American Southwest which confirmed so much for me but also presented me with the then-massive challenge of embodying what had been revealed. I could no longer refuse the recognition that I was completely suffocating myself by clinging to the material security of urban areas. I unclenched my white-knuckled fists and opened to an unfamiliar future—“before it’s too late,” as Mystery sang out to me unequivocally during my journey.

The priestess in the March 2013 dream had sweetly suggested that I am prepared, I am ready to enter the world in a new way—and what beauty there is! What beauty I am able to perceive, to create, to share! Yet that new way of belonging could not come without real loss (my job and its idea of security), grief (saying goodbye to a beloved community), fright (no guarantees), self-confrontation, and running into walls erected by human society to keep soul at bay, to keep the divine locked away…and so learning how to negotiate the middleworld maze.

This example demonstrates the Work necessary to DreamWork (and soul work), as in showing up for a conversation and being willing to take risks, to let go of old notions of security and safety which no longer serve ourselves or others and to surrender to evolution’s transformation. It is often a playful undertaking as well, to be open to creative possibilities and to experiment for the joy of it, with a curiosity about what could emerge. This story is just one of many—some far less sweeping in scope but no less impactful—instances of allowing the imaginal realms to overflow from dreams into waking life in support of growth, wholeness and a greater sense of belonging, purpose and meaning.

In the final part of this DreamWork series on the soulcentric approach to dreams and dreaming, we will consider the reality of a dreaming Earth, a cosmos in which all beings participate in dreaming.

Get a chart reading from 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] James Hillman, Dream and the Underworld (NY: Harper & Row, 1979), 1.

[3] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), 131.

[4] My personal transits at the time included transiting Neptune square natal Sun-Mercury, and transiting Uranus square Pluto focused on my natal Moon-Pluto conjunction in Libra.

[5] After seven years on a spiritual path, and almost four months of intentional psychospiritual preparation, I gathered with two guides and eight other supplicants to Mystery in a two-week descent into the deep psyche via the natural world, which culminated in a four-night solo vigil perched atop a semi-arid wilderness ridge, witnessed by buttes and mesas, lizards and cacti, exposed to wonders both inner and outer. With only water to drink and wild Mystery to guide me, there I lamented and prayed, and begged for a vision, for my way of helping my people, of helping the Earth Community. I am grateful to the support and skillful motivation provided by Animas Valley Institute.

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