Tag Archives: dreams

We are the House of Dreams

One of the great things about teaching workshops is that you get to meet some very talented, interesting and likeable people. With the kind of workshops I do, such as ‘Writing the Tarot’ and ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’, most of the people who come also have a real sense of adventure.

Cue Paul Farrington, a keen traveller and talented young writer and photographer, who has done a number of courses with me now. At the last workshop before Christmas, Paul brought me a present, and here it is – a large print of a photo he took in America.

Dream house photo by Paul Farrington
Dream house photo by Paul Farrington

I’ve been contemplating this picture over the holidays – how we can see the outside in wonderful detail, but we can only imagine what lies inside that spacious interior. The dark windows reveal nothing; they only reflect back the world outside.

We are the House of Dreams – the outer life so clear and familiar, the inner world often caught only in glimpses, or sometimes completely ignored. Dream-recalling and creative work of every kind are keys to getting right inside, having a proper look around and making yourself at home.

That’s the great joy of writing for me. It enables you to inhabit more of your Self. Dreamworking does the same thing.

Thank-you for following, commenting, tweeting and sharing on facebook throughout 2012, and may your 2013 be rich with wonderful dreams and writing.

A third award for the House of Dreams!

I’m absolutely delighted that ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ has been nominated for ‘The Sunshine Award’

sunshine-award[1]

The Sunshine Award is ‘given and passed on to bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.’

‘Positively’ and ‘creatively’ are two of my favourite words!

Acceptance of the award comes with the following instructions:

  1. Acknowledge the person who gave this award in a blog post.
  2. Do the Q&A below.
  3. Pass on the award to 10 deserving and inspiring bloggers, inform them and link to their blogs.

So first of all, my thanks to the lovely Carolyn Hughes – do check out her phenomenally popular blog The Hurt Healer which is always thoughtful and beautifully written

Second of all, here’s my Q&A:

1.Who is your favourite philosopher? Hmm…  I don’t really have one. I do like Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ and Susan Jeffers’ philosophy of ‘Whatever happens, I’ll handle it’ though

2. What is your favourite number? 4

3. What is your favourite animal? The owl – it knows the secrets of the night

4. What is your favourite time of day? I find they’re all enjoyable in different ways – it’s one of the benefits of insomnia that you get to know the full 24 hours really well

5. What are your Facebook and Twitter accounts? Facebook Jenny Alexander Author Twitter @jennyalexander4

6. What is your favourite holiday? Camping in the far North of Scotland and the Northern Isles – breath-taking scenery, wonderful wildlife, absolute tranquillity

7. What is your favourite physical activity? Walking in wild places

8. What is your favourite non-alcoholic drink? Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

9. What is your passion? Writing and dreamworking (no surprises there then!) I love teaching workshops too

10. What is your favourite flower? Nasturtiums, geraniums and roses in the summer, Michaelmas daisies in the autumn, snowdrops in the winter, primroses and daffodils in the spring. Impossible to narrow it down any further!

Gorgeous geraniums in Barbara Hepworth's garden in St Ives
Gorgeous geraniums in Barbara Hepworth’s garden in St Ives

So now my nominations, in no particular order:

1. Toko-pa Artist, musician and dreamworker – a gentle, thoughtful blog and a beautiful voice

2. Writing Sisters Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers – creative inspiration from a Christian perspective, quotes and beautiful illustrations 

3. Abi Burlingham Engaging and varied articles about a writer’s life

4 The Artist’s Road One of my favourite blogs about the craft of writing, by Patrick Ross

5 recovery network: Toronto Fresh perspectives on ‘mental illness’

6 Poetry Therapy News New blog by poetry therapist Victoria Field – poetic inspiration and thoughtful commentary

7 Wright Story Visually delightful blog about all kinds of creative activities

8 Brain Pickings Weekly Brilliant selection of articles and quotes about fascinating topics every week

9 Help! I need a publisher! No-nonsense, practical and inspirational blog about writing and being published by the Crabbit Bat

10 A Nennius Blog Award-winning author Susan Price talking about life and writing, with help from the legendary Blott

Once again, thank-you Carolyn for nominating Writing in the House of Dreams – it will wear the Sunshine Award with pride 🙂

Which blog would you nominate for being positive and inspiring?

‘Your dreams were trying to kill you!’

My complete conversation with award-winning author Susan Price – she of the vengeful, spurned daemon – has gone live on her blog today. It’s got darkness and daemons, death and delight… all the stuff you’d expect in a chat about writing and dreaming. Take a look!

Plus the added bonus with Susan’s lovely blog, you get Blott 🙂

What’s the explanation for ‘deja vu’?

‘Deja vu’ means ‘already seen’ or ‘seen before.’ It’s when we feel a strong sense of recognition in a new place, as if we’ve been there before but can’t remember when.

It can occur even in places we know for certain we have never visited in the past. We may actually find that we know the layout of the rooms, or what’s round the corner in the road.

Often, ‘deja vu’ is accompanied by a strong emotional reaction to the place we recognise – perhaps a warm sense of belonging, or a feeling of sadness, or a desire to get away.

A scientific explanation of this phenomenon is that it’s some kind of blip in the brain – a disturbance in the electrical activity which causes a momentary illusion that we’ve seen the place previously when in fact we’re seeing it for the first time.

A more metaphysical explanation is that ‘deja vu’ is connected with past lives – we recognise a place because we were there in a former life. But how could that account for feelings of ‘deja vu’ which arise in a modern environment?

Larking around outside the old Town Hall in Wimbledon – part of a shopping centre now

Years ago, I revisited the town I grew up in, Wimbledon, with an old friend from school. Before the visit, I dreamt I was walking from my childhood home into the town centre, and when I got there, I was surprised to find the old Town Hall was now a shopping centre.

When we arrived, I found the town centre was exactly as I had dreamt it. You may say I must have heard about the redevelopment in the media or something, and simply forgotten. But this sort of thing happens quite often, in relation to places which have never been in the media.

Five years ago, I wanted to move house, and I was looking at cul-de-sac bungalows within a certain area. I happened upon the house I eventually found quite by chance, on an evening out – it was in the wrong place, but I viewed it on a whim, and as soon as I walked in the door, it just felt like my house.

Recently, reading back through some old dream diaries, I discovered that I had dreamt I took a detour on a house-finding mission, to view a little miner’s cottage in the middle of a terrace on the edge of the moor – I had actually dreamt about this house.

I don’t know if there is a definitive explanation for ‘deja vu’, but my own experience suggests that when we feel we have been in a place before, we have – in our dreams.

Have you ever experienced ‘deja vu’? What do you think is the explanantion?

What are the best writing prompts for daily practice?

The idea for this post was suggested to me by a comment about a previous article ‘Do you have a daily practice?’ 

lyndart wrote, ‘I have difficulty giving myself permission to let those creative juices flow… Any suggestion for a topic?’

Trees

You can use any random word such as ‘trees’ or ‘motor-bikes’ or ‘dinner-time’ for a writing prompt, and there are many sites which offer a fresh suggestion every day. I do this myself for warm-ups with groups, giving a random word and asking them to write freely about it, keeping the pen moving on the paper even if at times they find themselves writing things like, ‘I have absolutely nothing else to say on this topic, I don’t know why I’m doing this,’ until their mind finds its way back to the theme.

But the very best prompts for daily practice are the ones you come up with for yourself because, like dream images, whatever emerges spontaneously from your own relaxed mind will have emotional resonance and personal significance for you right now, whether it’s immediately obvious or not.

To find images which are active in you at the moment, sit comfortably with your notepad or laptop, close your eyes and take a few slow, steady breaths. Clear your mind. 

Think of an object – the first thing that comes to you. Don’t censor or try to find something ‘better.’ Write for five minutes, stream-of-consciousness, without pausing. Change direction when one stream runs out, allowing yourself to go where your thoughts take you, even if you stray from your starting-out point.

If you prefer, you can write a list of the first five things you think of, then choose one from your list to write about. You can write for ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes in this way if that’s your daily practice.

I love… my garden

Another way of finding prompts that have particular resonance for you is beginning with a phrase such as ‘I remember’ or ‘I wish’ or ‘I love’ or ‘I hate’ because these will take you immediately into areas that you care about.

I often use this kind of prompt in workshops, especially about childhood, which is the living root of every life. I give a topic such as ‘my mother’s kitchen’ or ‘my childhood bedroom.’ I’ve written about this on the wonderful girlsheartbooks blog, ‘What was your favourite toy when you were little?’ 

The key with daily writing practice, as with all creative endeavours, is pleasure. Writing about themes and topics which have personal resonance is always pleasurable and over time, it will deepen your understanding of yourself as a writer.

Have you got any suggestions for good writing prompts? Please share!

If the doors of perception were cleansed

To round off my blog birthday celebrations, here is ‘the one that got away’ – an article about my spiritual path of dreams which was published on another blog earlier in the year  

When people talk about dreams as spiritual experience, they usually seem to be thinking in terms of what Jung called ‘numinous’ dreams – that is, dreams which have an unmistakably spiritual quality, inspiring awe and wonder, and often bringing revelations.

These ‘big’ dreams do indeed feel like wonderful gifts from outside the self, and they stay vividly with you across the decades, lighting your life. But dreams which feel quite ordinary can also be a doorway to profound changes in consciousness.

 

For example, I once dreamt I was having coffee with my neighbour. I was fully aware that I was dreaming – lucidity is very common in experienced dreamers.

Normally, in lucid dreams, my waking ‘I’ might be there as an observer or commentator, and occasionally if I didn’t like the way things were going, I might intervene and change the action of the dream.

But this dream didn’t have any action at all. It didn’t have any narrative to distract me – I was just sitting there, drinking coffee, and I was bored. There was a silky cushion beside me, and I ran my hand absent-mindedly across it. I noticed how smooth the fabric felt; I ran my fingers along the hard ridge of the trim.

I thought, ‘Hold on a minute – this is a dream!’ Since nothing much else was going on, I went on testing the evidence of my senses and yes, I really could smell the coffee; I really could feel the crumbly biscuit between my fingers and taste its light vanilla on my tongue. I could hear my neighbour’s voice, talking to me. I knew it was a dream, but it felt exactly the same as ‘real’ life.

 

When I woke up, I could feel the quilt resting lightly across my body; I could see the light from the gap in the curtains ribboning across it; I could hear my husband’s gentle breathing and smell the warmth of our two bodies. But now I knew that my mind could create a whole different reality which felt as real to my senses as this one. So the senses were unreliable witnesses, and waking life a reality no more substantial than the dream.

When you read back over old dream diaries, you will also find that seemingly ordinary dreams can be precisely predictive, and you may find so many of these that it’s impossible to dismiss them all as flukes and coincidences.

According to our normal understanding of time, it should not be possible to predict the future, but the experience of predictive dreaming shows irrefutably that it is.

So gradually, actively engaging with dreams can dissolve the narrow rational and materialistic viewpoint, through which we normally understand life. In the words of William Blake, ‘man has closed himself up, ’til he sees things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’

The practical, experiential path of dreaming can lead to a falling-away of ideas and illusions, and open you up to the mind-blowing reality. ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’

        

Why would an author want to write a blog?

This week, I’m celebrating a whole year of Writing in the House of Dreams.

I asked fuelyourblogging – a really useful site for bloggers – for an end-of-year assessment, and they said

Your blog is a great example of balancing both a personal focus and a focus on others with similar experiences. As a writer, I see a lot of value and insight on your blog that I can use on my own path, so I’m engaged right off the bat.

The personal stories add that unique perspective people look for, as mentioned above.

Keep up the great work!

Woo hoo! *happy dance*

‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ has a hundred fantastic followers, including some who bring in lots of casual visitors through tweeting about my posts and sharing on facebook (special big huge thank-you – you know who you are!)

But writing a blog is undeniably very time-consuming, and for an author that’s time doing your normal work, but without getting paid. So why would an author want to write a blog?

The short answer is, because it’s a whole new adventure in writing. It might take time away from your work-in-progress, but it doesn’t take away any writing-time.

The time I spend writing my blog makes the writer-in-me feel happy because

  1. It have total creative freedom – there’s no pressure to try and make what I write here attractive to a mass market
  2. I get instant feedback from readers – this has given me many insights, especially through people sharing their personal stories
  3. It brings me the generous gift of guest posts from some fabulous interesting people
  4. Its reach is global – I have readers from every continent, some of them reading my blog in translation
  5. It engages me in the blogosphere as a reader – I’ve discovered some great new writers and had lots of interactions on other people’s blogs
  6. It makes me engage more fully with networks such as twitter, linkedin and facebook – which I enjoy

I’m going to tweet and fb one of my fave posts each day this week, as part of my blog birthday celebrations.

So gather round, dear friends, grab a glass and help yourselves to a slice of virtual cake… and thank you for coming to the party 🙂

Dreaming the faceless ones

I first discovered the concept of archetypes in the early seventies, when I was starting to try and understand my dreams. At that time, there were few books about symbols, and most of them were not very accessible to the general reader.

My symbols dictionary gave ‘archetype’ meanings for some symbols, which I found completely puzzling. Why did some symbols have two definitions, and which one should I apply to my individual dream?

Because my dictionary only offered archetypal meanings for certain symbols, I thought some symbols were archetypes and some were not; it was only a decade later that I began to understand the archetypal as a layer of meaning behind everything. Just as behind every object in waking life there are layers of personal symbolic significance, so beyond that there are layers of group/cultural/universal meaning.

Jung said you could not understand archetypes in a theoretical way; they were ‘pieces of life itself’, which you could only understand through direct experience. My first experience of archetypes was in my dreams.

I thought of them as the faceless ones, because they seemed to have no individual identity, they were generic – an old man, an old woman, a baby; a doctor, a teacher, a guide. These dream figures had a different quality about them – I felt drawn to them because of their mystery.

I gradually understood that these faceless figures represented the pure spirit of , say, wisdom or adventure, healing or learning. Meeting them showed me how the archetypes worked in more ordinary dream figures – if I dreamt about a friend who was a doctor, for example, he would be appearing both as himself, as what he personally represents to me and also as the universal figure of the healer.

The faceless ones gave me experience of archetypal energies at work in my dreams, and this layer of meaning brought deeper resonance to every dream experience, and every part of daily life.

The encounter with the archetypes is a spiritual experience, and I’ll be exploring that idea in my post next week.

Depression, dreams and the creative life

A few weeks ago, I heard author Matthew Johnstone talking about his experience of depression on the BBC World Service, and it got me thinking about the link between depression, dreams and the creative life.

Strikingly, Matthew said he would not change anything – his depression was part of him. Rather than try to kill the black dog, he had learnt how to tame it.

Matthew Johnstone’s book

In the West, we treat depression as an illness, a malfunction in the brain which needs to be cured with chemicals or brought under control by psychological explanations.

Depression challenges all our cultural values. It makes us antisocial in a world where naturally solitary types are labelled ‘poorly socialised’; it makes us still, in a world of manic activity.

Depression stops us from having what we want – which boils down to happiness – and we believe we should always be able to get what we want, because this is a secular world. Without God/fate/mystery, we expect to have control over our own lives.

Nobody would choose to feel depressed, but that is precisely the opportunity depression brings. It brings us to a standstill on our chosen track and, by stopping us from having what we think we want, it opens us up to something new and unexpected. It makes our life bigger.

It’s a well-documented fact that people dream more during periods of depression. Often these dreams are particularly vivid and memorable; they release a torrent of new images which, if we pay attention, can open doorways into new places of the mind, and inspire new directions in life. The loss of these life-giving dreams may be one of the most harmful side-effects of antidepressant drugs.

Many writers label their depression as ‘writer’s block.’ Suddenly the story they thought they had all planned out is stalled, or they can’t find any ideas for the next one. But this is the gift of the black dog for writers – it forces you to be still and receptive, so that new insights and inspirations can come in.

Writer’s block is simply impatience, which means literally the inability to tolerate suffering, delay, toil or vexation (from the Latin word meaning ‘to bear’)

Depression can feel dark and frightening, like a big black dog, but kicking him will make him mean. Don’t try to kill him, but don’t underestimate him either – if he hangs around your house, you need to tame him.

I think the black dog is a special danger for children and young people, before life has given them the perspective of time or put support systems in place. That’s why I wrote my children’s book, ‘How 2B Happy’, in which the very first principle is that we can’t be happy all the time; we have to accept unhappiness. But we can deal with it, and discover what gifts it brings.

In my last two posts, I’ve been talking about synchronicity, and needless to say several blog posts on dreams and depression have come to my attention this week. Toko-pa has written a passionate piece here, in which she talks about ‘the intelligence of our melancholia’ http://toko-pa.com/2007/03/08/bleed-joyfully-a-fresh-view-of-depression/#comment-497 You might also enjoy this piece from ispeakindreams http://ispeakindreams.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/the-beauty-of-our-dreams-healing-within-dreams/

Has a period of depression ever led to a breakthrough for you?