The Dream Themes You Struggle With are the Best Ones

Personalizing a theme (like “Space Travel” or “Solve the Puzzle”) to plant seeds for a future dream is a process in which you uncover its personal meaning and determine what details or specific events resonate. A theme is just a starting point, and as a starting point, it’s usually too vague and generic to make an impact on the subconscious mind.

Some themes are easy to personalize. The dream theme, “Safe Haven,” for instance, naturally evoked vivid imagery and rich details that resonated with me immediately. I’ve lived and traveled in many places that felt safe, and I’ve lived in places that scared me to my core. As a student at Berkeley, the crime rate on campus was common trivia. A student was mugged every weekend. I went through a phase in which I was obsessed with personal safety devices.

A fellow student and I traded stories about our experiences with safety devices that make noise. We both owned a small gadget which emitted a deafening noise if the pin was removed. My friend told me that one morning in class, the pin somehow came loose, and all 300 students had to evacuate the building. It was that loud. She could not find the pin and ended up chucking the device into the bushes as she fled. I was curious to learn just how loud this device was. Sitting alone in my apartment one afternoon, I carefully pulled the pin with the intention of popping it right back in. Unfortunately, I was shaking too hard to reinsert it, and it took some time to turn it off. After that, I was more afraid of the device than I was of being mugged.

I never felt truly safe on campus, but I also have memories of beautiful, compassionate havens. On a trip to Europe, for example, I was invited to stay at a retreat in the Netherlands called Venwoude, a serene space deep in the forest, filled with warmth and kindness. Before entering Venwoude, I’d discovered, to my dismay, that the Netherlands has no shelters for the homeless. The staff at a visitor’s center nearly laughed when I asked them where I could go. They don’t have homeless shelters, because they don’t need them. The entire country is, to some extent, a haven.

When I selected the dream theme, “Safe Haven,” you can imagine where my mind and heart drifted. Quickly to Venwoude.

The Theme That Stumped Me

Another theme, however, stumped me for weeks. The theme was “My Superpower.”

To personalize this theme, I contemplated what it would feel like to experience my dreams with a new skill or ability. Flying was the first power that came to mind, but I didn’t find it compelling at all. I’ve had so many dreams of flying. I’m not particularly good at it (I often start descending involuntarily after a short time), but it feels more like an ordinary part of dreaming than anything special.

In the dream world, a superpower must be exceptional, not just a transcendence of physical laws but something you usually cannot do even in dreams.

I imagined many more possibilities for My Superpower without hitting on a good fit: being really fast, really small, invisible on command, or having the ability to teleport. All of these appealed to me on some level, but on a deeper level, they failed to resonate. Can you see what they all have in common? It took me awhile to see it myself.

One night, I had a bad dream that gave me insight into the superpower that truly speaks to me. I was searching for a room in which I could feel safe. After wandering through a house that continuously shape shifted, I found a beautiful, cozy room. When I entered and closed the door behind me, however, people began to barge in.

I asked them to leave. Closed the door again. They just opened it again. So I locked the door. New doors would appear. I must have locked a dozen doors in a dozen different ways. Of course, the locks were useless.

Eventually, I tried yelling, “Get out!” But my voice was weak. The dream seemed to go on for hours. I mean, when I woke up, I thought it must be dinner time! (It wasn’t.) I grew more frustrated by the minute. I kept trying to yell. I kept trying to get everyone out. The sense of helplessness was overwhelming.

Finally, I managed to expel a reasonably emphatic “get ooooouuuuut!” I woke up mumbling it.

I got out of bed, still feeling frustrated and helpless, stumbled into the kitchen for some coffee. I was waiting for water to boil when it finally hit me.

The superpower I truly want, the one that resonates with my very soul, is anger!

Defending the Safe Havens

Not the kind of anger that seeks to injure. Not violence or destruction. The kind of anger I want is the kind that protects. I want to find within myself, in any dream, the power to defend my safe haven.

About 15 years ago, I had a vivid, lucid dream in which a figure approached me and said, “You must become angry if you are to reclaim your well-being.” I never forgot it. In fact, I’ve thought back on it often. I could not understand how becoming angry would help rather than hurt me.

Sometime later, I encountered the Buddhist concept of “compassionate wrath,” which describes a specific kind of anger. A protective kind. One that rights wrongs. Still, I could not find within myself a capacity to become truly angry.

My well-being got worse. My health deteriorated so much that I could no longer function, finally culminating in late-stage cancer. Every time I thought about the character in my dream telling me I must become angry (or else), I thought, “Welp, I guess I’m gonna die then.”

But something has shifted. At some point in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation, a conviction grew. I deserve to be alive. I deserve to have space on this Earth. I deserve to feel safe!

I don’t want to be really small… I want to be giant! I don’t want to be invisible. I want to be bright and colorful and loud! I don’t want to speed away into the distance or teleport away. I want to stay right where I am and defend the space I inhabit!

And when I yell, “GET OUT!” I want my booming voice to reverberate across the dream world, and everyone within earshot will fly out of the room like bugs under bright light.

What is Your Dream Superpower?

The task of personalizing a theme is a process of gaining insight into your deepest desires and genuine needs. The theme is a prompt, a launch pad, open to interpretation like a Rorschach ink blot.

What superpower deeply appeals to you? Whatever you come up with, imagine a dream in which that power is yours. How does it feel? Does it inspire you? Does it lighten your soul?

When you hit on it, you’ll know.

Sweet dreams.

Posted in The Process and tagged , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *