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Your All-Purpose Tool for Peacemaking through Dreamwork

Nov 25, 2023

Last week in my Lectio Divina circle, we were given a set of four short lines: one from Psalms, one from a gospel, one from the Quran, one from Thich Nhat Hanh.

The idea was to hear peace wisdom from an array of spiritual paths in light of the conflicts across the world, especially in the Middle East. The line that resonated for me was Thich Nhat Hanh’s It is with . . . being peace that we can make peace.”

I dropped into the lovely contemplative quiet and immediately encountered my inner rager. This is the part of me that is angry, fearful, and blaming. It’s the part of me that feels a huge surge of energy, but is powerless to do anything but despair, demonize, and denounce. It can appear whenever conflicts clash, and people suffer. 

So, I welcomed it.

While welcoming my “rager” may sound appalling or counterproductive, I’ve learned it is the best way to begin “being peace.” As Swaady Martin, Founder of Tounche and current Wisdom Tree Collective student states it, “I must do the necessary inner work to help dismantle the roots of conflict within myself.” 

We all have people, groups, situations, or attitudes that set us off. Those situations—often people—are our “shadows.” They show us something we don’t know about ourselves and probably don’t want to see. But to “be peace” we must learn from these shadows, as they reveal exactly what is not at peace within ourselves. 

I’m sharing here a piece I wrote a couple of years ago that seems useful now: a way to work with our shadows whether they come up in waking life and/or in our nighttime dreams. Here I focus on how our nighttime dreams offer wisdom for daily living.

This is the one tool you absolutely must have in your “soulwork” toolkit. It’s like your Swiss Army All Purpose Survival knife. It is the phrase, “I am that too.”

You probably already have it in your pocket.

I want to offer a blade-by-blade review of how to use “I am that too” when you feel a rush of disturbing energy, whether in waking life or when you wake from a dream involving shadow energies. Remember that all parts of your dream picture parts of you, the dreamer.

  • The upsetting element—perhaps a person, animal, place, or a natural disaster—is most emphatically part of you. And it is asking for attention, NOW.
  • Because to be whole, and to mitigate crisis or misfortune, and to be the person you are called to be in the world for yourself and others, you need to integrate the essence of this dream image into your conscious living. Now is the right time. This will seem dangerous, mad, foolhardy, and wrong.
  • To bolster your conviction, recall who Jesus hung out with: the misfits, the marginalized, the ill, the poor, the overly emotional, the bothersome, the relationally challenged, the rulebreakers, and a few dullards. That’s the sort of person you’re looking at when you encounter the “shadow” in your dream: a part of you that needs to be seen, wondered about, understood, gently heard, and accepted at the table.
  • “I am that too,” is a simple mantra or breath prayer that you can use to remind yourself that whatever you dream is part of you. Your main job is to acknowledge that you have that characteristic going on in yourself.
  • Stay with this challenging otherness. Get to know it: learn to recognize when it starts to make you angry, disgusted, or fearful. Trust that there is some needed truth for you here. There is a flip side to this energy. Give it time to arise. Try a different kind of seeing. For instance, if you have a dream character who is controlling, you may find that it is manifesting the shadow side of your own untapped leadership. A cruel monster may be the shadow side of your own unacknowledged anger and its power for transformation.*
  • Then see what happens. Over time, you will find you have more compassion for yourself, and you also become more expansive in your understanding and merciful in your responses to others. Especially the ones who are most troubling to you. 
  • Clearly, the blades of this Swiss Army Knife are not for stabbing the enemy. They are for carefully cutting your attachment to your negative projection. This will free the person in front of you, whether in dreamlife or waking life, from your crippling judgment on them. And it clears you to be your more whole and loving self, so that what comes through you is genuine and compassionate.‚Äč

We are in a state of multiple emergencies, including wars, wildfires, storms, and heatwaves, political turbulence, systemic racism, violence at peaceful protests, economic instability, and the general upheaval of life as we thought we knew it.

To many of us, it feels like a time of emergency. It can also be a time of emergence. Of new capacities in ourselves, of space for the Other, and of the wild surge of knowing that way down in the psyche, in the imagination of God, there is a kind of unifying force field that holds us all.
Carl Jung talked about the necessity of doing this kind of soul stretching, claiming that the fate of humankind depended on every one of us doing our inner work.   
Shadow work is hard, it’s never finished, and it often feels nearly impossible. I struggle with it all the time. Dreams help us learn it. They offer us an amazing chance to practice over and over this strange, richly powerful, deeply humbling work of saying, meaning, and finally understanding through the disturbing emergence in a dream: “I am that too.”

Heartfelt gratitude to each of you who is willing to stay with the otherness.

Deep dream blessings,

—Laura Huff Hileman, Director of Programs in Dreams & Spirituality at Wisdom Tree Collective

*See David Richo, How to Be an Adult for a clear, simple guide to shadow transformation. 

Photo credit: Photo by Patrick on Unsplash

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