Our dreams want to help us align our inner and outer worlds and help us learn to be in relationship with ourselves and each other from a more deeply connected place of wholeness…of soul. This is true throughout our entire life including the very young.
Part of childhood is a growing awareness of the strong presence and importance of their dreamworld, how much they are affected by their dreams. While they may be less able to articulate what is going on for them in their lives, less able know what they are feeling, their dreams come as wonderful allies that can help them learn to express and be with the full palette of human feelings: love, joy, fear, pain and even grief.
As the adults in their lives we can offer the support that is needed. It’s never too early to welcome, explore, and support what is going on each night in our dreaming world. We can help children learn that it’s okay to feel their fear and pain and that they can still be able to function and make choices. It can feel counter-intuitive to say ‘feel your fear’ but the truth is fear is one of the core feelings of being human. As we deepen our capacity to feel and be with the wide range of feelings we have as humans we deepen our capacity and depth to be present with whatever arises throughout our lives.
Dream – I go outside and my dad is in the tool shed. He’s really crabby and yells at me, “Get away from me!”
This dreamer, Ana (name changed) was age 7 when we explored this dream together. After Ana told me her dream I asked if I could ask her a few questions about it; she agreed. I asked her, “How was that for you when your dad yells at you to get away in the dream?” Ana said, “I feel really bad. It scared me.”
Once she had that connection to feeling, I let her feel into that a bit. I didn’t try to make it go away. Then I asked where else has she felt this in her life…feeling bad and scared. I thought she might mention something at school or with friends and her answer surprised me. “No one gets crabby and yells at me like that.”
So this was something different, something else the dream wanted her to know. I asked her, “Does your dad get crabby and yell at you?” She said, “No, my dad never yells at me like that.” I asked her again how it felt to be yelled at in that way, especially by her dad. Ana said, “It really hurt my feelings.”
So there was indeed something else afoot in this dream. How potent it is to know that even at the tender age of seven our dreams want to reveal something to us about ourselves. Dreams come to us and can hold up a mirror on how we are in the world. For a child dreams can help show how they are learning to be in the world…patterns we are forming…ways we are being conditioned. Once we have awareness of what is happening we can also become aware that we can make choices…to continue or to find ways to change.
I slowed the whole thing down and said, “Ana, you trust your dad and so I wonder…is there any way he is being crabby in your dream to show you something about how you might be with him and other people? Do you get crabby sometimes and yell at people…tell them to go away?”
Ana said, “No…well, maybe…sometimes…yeah I do.”
After a few moments, she added, “That must make them feel bad.”
We sat there quietly and not much more was needed. I could see how this little girl got it. In helping her experience how she feels when spoken harshly to, her dream helped reveal how others might feel when she was crabby and yelled at them. Most of us don’t want to be that way but we are unconscious of it, caught in the habit of it and our dreams help us be aware of that. The choice of what we do about it remains with us.
Would Ana be crabby again and yell at people? Of course…just as all of would do and yet something had changed. There will now be a light of awareness in that moment…a connection to the other person knowing how it is they might be feeling…an empathy…where different choices can be made.
What often happens instead is that we push feelings off, repress them, judge them, blame others…all which can build into physical and emotional symptoms that can make life miserable and less rich than it could be. Waking up with a difficult feeling as did Ana or the feeling of terror from an intense dream won’t be the last time a child feels fear and as the adults in their lives we have the opportunity to help them build some skills for being with the myriad feelings of being human, including fear, hurt and pain. We have the opportunity to encourage children to keep alive in them this relationship with their deepest truest selves.
In feeling her own pain, Ana was able to feel the pain of another. She knew through her dream experience the visceral feeling of hurt in her own heart. This can seem too much for a child to feel and yet here was her dream inviting her into this way of knowing. When we have a trusted relationship with our dreams we come to also trust that ‘too much’ is really ‘so much.’ Our true self…our soul…wants so much to be in alignment with us…from before our first breath and beyond our last breath…
In exploring a child’s dream it is understandable that we might want to explain the dream, perhaps make light of it, especially if it is a scary dream. With good intentions we may say, “It was only a dream.” Here, too, we have another choice.
“When we say, ‘Oh, it’s only a dream’ we are in a way saying that their feelings aren’t real and for the dreamer these feelings are very real and they want to be able to speak about them. When children have frightening dreams we want to help and often tell them it’s just a dream. What might it be like to instead invite them to share the dream, step into it with them and reflect back that yes, indeed, that dream moment is scary and to stay with the fear and explore where else they might be feeling fear in their lives. Feeling fear is part of being human, and dreams, especially for children, can carry big fears. We can help them begin to learn that one can both be afraid and still be able stay and respond. We want to keep the conversation open so that children feel they can come to us with their dreams.” (Heyen – Dreaming into the Mystery – page 31)
(Original Art by Jeremiah Morelli)
Mary Jo Heyen is a certified Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with clients in person, phone or video conference. Learn more about her work with dreams at www.maryjoheyen.com.