Natural Dreamwork with Mary Jo

on not turning sharks into dolphins…

In one of my Dream Circles, where I work with dreamers exploring together what their dreams may be trying to teach them, a participant was excited to share a recent dream where she was in water surrounded by sharks…“And I woke up in terror. So I went back and changed the ending…I went into the water and changed all the sharks into dolphins who swam around happily and I was so relieved.” 

I was about to ask her to do something differently with her dream…to trust the images of sharks and the feelings that image carries…and to trust her dream’s intention.

When working with dreams, do my fellow Natural Dreamwork practitioners and I ask dreamers to change things in the dream?  A qualified, yes, we do.  We step into the dream with the dreamer and ask them to consider another choice…to stay…to leave…to speak…to not speak…to wait…to feel…always to feel if possible. The dream brings us to places and ways we are stuck and wants to help us heal into those places…and it’s not easy. There is a lot in each of us that needs healing…places we’ve been hurt and wounded…and our dreams help us understand what it is we may be doing that keep us from healing into these places.

What we don’t do is ask the dreamer to change anything other than their own behavior or perspective in the dream. We don’t ask them to re-enter the dream and change the dream. We don’t want them to change, as some dream practices suggest, sharks into dolphins, monsters into munchkins. We trust the dream as it is gifted to us.  The one variable in the dream is our ego, our persona, what we call the dream ego.  The dream shows us how we have been conditioned to believe certain things about ourselves, to behave in certain ways that may feel safe…how we are relationship with ourselves, others and the world. And then the dreams help us feel into how we have lost connection to the very truth of who we are…and then they help us learn how to repair that.

Maybe the whole gift of the dream where the dreamer is confronted with sharks is to feel fear in that moment…to not disrespect the dream sharks, who have swum all the way up from the unconscious to evoke that fear in us. By turning them into benign dolphins, we miss the gift carried in the image of sharks. Many of us have learned to shut down our feelings and so the dream brings sharks to help us access our fear…to feel it more deeply.  And when we feel our fear all the way through we get to feel our love and our joy all the way through.

Back to our dreamer…with the presence and support of the dream circle, I asked her to go back to the moment of being in the water, surrounded by sharks…to feel her fear rising and to stay…to not turn the sharks into dolphins…to instead take a breath or two into the fear. She did…she immediately felt her fear. We could see it in her eyes and hear it in her breathing. When she was there a few moments…could be with her fear, I asked if she knows this kind of fear in other places in her life.  An immediate yes…she is on several committees for causes she is passionate about but feels surrounded by stronger voices that feel aggressive. When she does speak she feels attacked for her what she says..and so stays silent…and even shuts down…on her relationships with the group…and her relationship with herself. Underneath the fear was pain and sadness…a recognition of how she has let herself be silenced…even in the place of great passion. The dream didn’t tell her what to do. It asked her to feel her fear, to become aware of how she lets it silence her. She realized that she can ‘be afraid and still speak what is true for her’ and this felt new for her.

When we can stay with the sharks…take a breath or two…feel our fear…we can then be led to the other sharks in our life, either the ones inside of us or in the outer world. To re-imagine them as dolphins is just another clever way of avoiding, of shutting down what wants to be known and felt. We are trying to manage the dream like we learned to manage our life and the gift of the dream is denied.

If you can, next time you have a dream with something scary or challenging, try to return to that moment…don’t leave…don’t change it into something tame…take a breath into it and feel into whatever arises for you.  Whatever it is, it wants you to know about it…it wants you to feel it…and in feeling it we can heal it…that is the gift in the dream.

Mary Jo Heyen is a Natural Dreamwork practitioner working with dream clients either in person, phone or Skype. You can read more about her work at