Dreams You Don’t Remember

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.            –Emily Bronte

Some mornings, before I’m fully awake, I lie in bed swimming in a sea of dreams. Their images (a cup, a pew, a panting dog) float around me in nets of narratives but then dissolve as I climb into consciousness. Every rare once in a while I can pull one into the air. Once I realize I’ve done this, I repeat the dream to myself until I can reach pen and paper. Even if I have no idea what the dream is about, the fact of harvesting the dream feels significant. I’ve heard you, my remembering seems to say. The gift of you, I’ve received.

Most of the time, however, I break the surface of sleep, breathe, and look back with regret. Those intense encounters that happened while I slept, the objects shining with significance, the action that somehow worked on my interior, all sink beyond retrieval. I move through my day vaguely aware of having traveled someplace strange. Conversations with dream people echo under real conversations. Sometimes I’m listening to the radio or talking with a friend and a chance word will bring back a dream sequence, fully formed, almost as though what happened the night before has been lying in wait for this moment. Then the secret life of dreams intersects with ordinary life. I’m left humbled, wondering exactly what it might mean.

The pleasure of the dreamer, Isak Dineson wrote, rests in the awareness that in dreams “things happen without any interference” from our side, altogether beyond our control. Pleasure, yes, and terror. Something entirely other exists inside each of us. Dreams are a muted beacon signaling an alternate reality.

I try to remember my dreams because I need them to help me heed this other realm. When I do catch an image, write it down, and wonder about it, silent gifts percolate into my days, not because I can interpret the dream but because I can’t. The mystery of the dream’s presence grows. A Catholic sister I knew taught that dreams are an intimate, private form of scripture. Each dream is unique, composed just for you, written on your being. I’m sure she would have agreed with Aeschylus, who believed dreams, even the awful ones, always work toward our healing:

In our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart
And in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

My dreams are scriptural because they are oddly wiser than me. They know me and change me into a truer me, even when I don’t remember them.   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew



Ever since Marilynne Robinson said something audacious, offensive even, to an audience at the Key West Literary Seminar, I’ve been pondering where authors find their sense of authority.  A big thanks to The Other Journal for publishing this essay of mine, “How the Light Gets In.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“Write for the love of it. Let go of others’ expectations and your self-serving ambitions and your well-meaning desire to do good or create art or make a difference. Show up at the desk. You have to love to be moved by love and to move others with love. So you consent to love.”


Registration is open for Wisdom Ways’ fall programming!  This season I’m bringing back spiritual memoir workshops and introducing two new opportunities to form writing community.  All you lonely writers out there looking for colleagues, check these out:

Third Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m.: Wisdom Ways Writer’s Circle: Tending Writer and Writing
September 17, October 15, November 19, and December 17.

In this facilitated small group modeled after spiritual direction groups and Quaker clearness committees, the circle will magnify our listening and hold us accountable to the creative source. Unlike traditional writing groups which focus exclusively on the text, we will attend the aliveness moving within both writer and text.

Friday, November 19, 7:00-9:00 p.m.:  Writers Unite!  Building a Writing Community

In this evening for creative writers, Lisa Brimmer, Michael Kiesow Moore, and I  will share the wide range of possibilities for forming writing community and offer advice on what makes groups or partnerships sustainable.  Participants will get to know one another in a series of small-group conversations, connecting around shared genres, levels of experience, interests, and location. We’ll end with social time so participants can exchange contact information and formalize plans.

Saturday, September 28, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Writing the Sacred Journey: Introductory Workshop in Spiritual Memoir

Spiritual memoir is the practice of listening deeply to our life experiences through the creation of artful, true stories.  We come more alive when we accept how our experiences have formed us and when we form something of what we’ve experienced.  By writing memories with intention, we can find holiness in the details, patterns that unify our sense of self, and deep personal healing.  By crafting our stories to engage the inner life of readers, we can participate in transforming our world.

Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

September 13: Making Connections
Just as contrasts in flavor make an exciting dish, great writing often emerges when we bring together disparate subjects.  We’ll experiment with this, conjoining memories from different eras of our lives and making leaps between objects and ideas, belief and doubt, narration and reflection.  Making connections across difference on the page can strengthen our capacity to do the same in our lives.

October 11:  Writing as Contemplation
In the city fields
Contemplating cherry trees…
Strangers are like friends

Contemplation, as the Buddhist priest and poet Issa illustrates, is a field of intimacy, and writing is one entrance.  Guest writer Kyoko Katayama will share observations about writing as a mindfulness practice and lead us in writing exercises that encourage deep listening, responsive creating, and open-hearted becoming.

November 8: Embodying Holiness
Our bodies are trustworthy sources of memory and wisdom.  Together we’ll write from our bodies, about our bodies, to our bodies, and with our bodies as a practice of welcoming the Spirit.  We’ll also delve into sensory description as a literary technique that invites the reader deep into our experiences.

December 13: Becoming the Stranger
We use the metaphor of a journey to describe the soul’s path because the risks, challenges, and surprises of spiritual growth are so similar to travel.  We’ll write memories of leaving home, visiting new landscapes, and becoming the stranger.  We’ll also explore how and why writing becomes a spiritual journey.


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