In the epilogue to his latest book, Healing Dreams: Exploring the Dreams That Can Transform Your Life (Riverhead Books), Marc Barasch relates the story of his editor trying to envision a simple sound-bite promotion for his book. The editor asked, “How would a healing dream help the average person be effective in their daily lives?” Barasch was, in his own words, “flummoxed” by the question.
He had spent years researching the subject, through his own dreams as he dealt with cancer, through interviewing countless people who had received dreams of Great Mysteries, and through in-depth scholarship on the vast spiritual traditions pointing to dreams as a channel by which God might speak and redirect our ignorant and sleepwalking lives into the pursuit of wisdom. Yet the editor wanted something simple to explain it all to the consuming public. Barasch said he was reminded of the saying that when a thief meets a saint, all he sees is the holy man’s pockets. Later, when the editor had a dream about struggling to land an extremely large fish, Barasch suspected that the fellow had finally gotten the idea: dreams, and healing dreams especially, take us beyond our narrow categories and concepts into a much larger world. As he puts it, healing dreams don’t come to make it all better, but to help us live the truth.
I know from my experience that it is difficult to take a healing dream and turn it into a nifty formula for rescuing others. In the inaugural issue of this magazine I told the story of my initial experience with a healing dream, one that led to a recovery process from alcoholism. At the time, there were many invitations to turn my experience into some kind of dream formula for treating this common disease. But I knew it was not possible. What I had experienced was my story, and other people would have to find their own. The best I could do was to develop an approach for how a person might put themselves on the path of a healing dream. Although many people found my dream incubation approach helpful and had a transformative dream experience (for their accounts, see http://www.creativespirit.net/henryreed/dreamquest), even more people found the approach a dead end. But isn’t that the way it should be? If spiritual healing, whether from a dream encounter with a wondrous being, or through some other experience, is in fact a gift from some higher order of being, then can we reduce it to a formula? If prayer worked every time, and worked exactly as we were hoping, it would be more of a mechanical response than the intervention of Spirit. Whatever or Whoever Spirit may be, it should have as much, if not more, choice of action than we do. As Barasch illustrated so well in his earlier book, The Healing Path: A Soul Approach to Illness, healing doesn’t simply restore us to the way we were before, it transforms us. To reflect his revelation, I titled the column for Venture Inward I wrote about that book (all these columns are archived at http://www.creativespirit.net/henryreed/ bookreviews), “If There Is To Be a True Healing, We Will Not Survive Intact.”
I appreciate Barasch’s new book for the rare and worthy achievement it is. Through beautiful, even poetic language, integrated with the grounding influence of the facts from the lives of those he interviewed, he gives us a glimpse of a holy World Order that inspires us to try to empathize with something that we can not fully understand. In that sense, Barasch’s book is the next best thing to a personal encounter with a healing dream itself.
Among the various types of healing dreams he explores, he includes his experiences with the “Dream Helper Ceremony.” Perhaps the most far-flung export from A.R.E.’s summer camp, where it was first invented, Dream Helper involves a group of people volunteering to donate their dreams to help someone in distress, doing so without knowing in advance the nature of the person’s problem. What began as an attempt to put a spiritual spin on traditional dream telepathy experiments soon evolved into a potent healing ritual that many people have used to their benefit (for stories of Dream Helper and how to do it yourself, see http://www.creativespirit.net/henryreed/dreamtelepathy). On the basis of his dream helper experience, Barasch draws two important conclusions about healing dreams. First: if you want to have one yourself, offer to have a healing dream for someone else! That’s the closest to a healing dream formula he offers in the entire book. Two: there is some kind of living, spiritual fabric that unites all of us with a life beyond the physical and to which we have an important relationship, acknowledged or not. Healing dreams, he has discovered, come to pull us back from the abyss of isolationism into a more conscious relationship with that unifying life-force. There’s more to a saint, in other words, than what can be found in his pockets.