The Healing Power Of Dreams

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a reoccurring dream. In a dark, drafty house, I’m searching for somewhere safe just to be. As I roam from room to room, panic rises inside me. I pass strangers who appear comfortable there and don’t acknowledge me. The homes are never the same in these dreams, but they are uniformly inhospitable and filled with people who don’t see me.

A few weeks ago, the reoccurring dream progressed to a new dream. It truly felt like it had changed. The old one must still be rattling around in my psyche, however. Over the weekend, the old dream invaded my waking life.

After learning of my father’s mysterious illness, my brother and I traveled to see him at the hospital. We had agreed to stay at the home of my stepmother and Dad which I haven’t done in decades. I have visited them both alone and with my family, but have always rented a hotel. This time it made the most sense to stay there in light of Dad’s condition. Plus, it was two days. I could do anything for that short a time.

When I walked into the bedroom where I’d be sleeping, the past came flooding back. There were no sheets on the mattress and none left in the room for me to make the bed. A suitcase full of someone else’s belongings lay open on the floor, a crumpled tissue beside it. In a corner stood a baby changing table with random detritus stacked on top. In the bathroom, the toilet had not merited even a cursory swipe in advance of our visit.

These people are dealing with a medical emergency—only the hopelessly tone deaf would expect fresh flowers on the night stand. The general neglect of the room, however, echoed the state of every space I’d occupied as a kid with these two in charge. I asked for the sheets, pushed past the disturbance it caused, and turned away from the feelings stirring inside me.

Throughout the weekend, I remained cheerful and positive for my dad, found solace in reconnecting with my brother and stepbrother and grounded myself in nature. When my daughter arrived on the train—her plan was to stay only one night—it became difficult to manage the triggers. My precious child. Here.

Comments thrown out like invisible grenades detonated everywhere. If your daughter gets upset about the bedding, she is a spoiled brat. Watch out, Liz is so judgmental. I really wanted your Nana’s Burmese sapphire, such a shame it was stolen when she died. I’m not paying for breakfast. It’s a hassle for me to take your brother to the airport.  

As a child in their care, I was left to meet many of my own basic needs, as were my three siblings. I got a job at thirteen to buy clothes. The younger ones left and ended up couch surfing. And far worse. Our family faced hard times.

There was only one incongruity: the youngest among us lived like a doted-on only child. Every heart’s desire from Toys ‘R Us filled his shelves, always with more on the way. Granted, he was due some compensation for going without a father. Only the four of us received none for having no mother. The message that came through harmed us all.

My stepbrother now has two sweet children for whom his mother bakes homemade pies. She rents a vacation home across the street from them for long stretches, allowing her to assume a major role in their lives. My daughter Jane got to hear all about it at dinner, a quizzical expression on her face. My dad and stepmother came to visit her once when she was born. They never returned.

For two days, I held it together. Dad was doing much better and it seemed the worst was over.

When the weekend came to a close, Jane and I drove South to drop my brother at the airport, then North into holiday traffic out of town. Olivia Rodrigo’s angsty lyrics poured out from the speakers and summoned the flood of emotions I had suppressed. I ranted and railed. When I had exhausted myself, I couldn’t apologize to Jane enough. It’s the worst when someone doesn’t check in before they drop their awfulness into your unsuspecting lap. Worse still when it’s your mom who allegedly flew in to take care of you. It took both of us by surprise.

When I got home to Miami a day later, I opened this week’s materials for Martha Beck’s class. Dream Analysis. A dream is full of symbols that are actually parts of the dreamer that haven’t been fully integrated. It was high time I unified all parts of me instead of running away from the ones that hurt.

In class, we were invited to share a dream to be analyzed. The only dream I remembered was the reoccurring one and the new dream that had replaced it.

“Elizabeth, do you want to share your dream?”

I usually jump at the chance to do this work, but I felt spent.

“If no one else wants to go,” I said.

I described the reoccurring dream with the dark house, then the new dream: my colleagues in this program had gathered at a sparsely furnished retreat center, situated in a lush, wooded area. Large plants in blue ceramic pots were the only decoration in the space which was equipped with everything we needed. The wide rooms were filled with natural light. Martha Beck lead the training only it was very physical, few words were spoken. As we practiced some kind of wrestling, everyone got sweaty and dirty. We were all happy.

At the end of the retreat, Martha asked us to gather all the plants and leave them in one spot so the staff could pick them up to deliver them wherever they were needed next. As we left the center, I spotted a car full of gangsters, silently leaving their place, promptly at checkout time. My colleagues and I all piled into a white van that took each of us to our destinations.

To analyze the dream, first, you identify the symbols:

Old House

Retreat Center

Potted Plants

White Van


Martha Beck

Then the dreamer gives three adjectives for each symbol:

Old House: cold, scary, lonely

Retreat Center: spacious, light, neutral

Potted Plants: Wandering Jew, growing, oxygen-producing

White Van: purposeful, competent, focused

Gangsters: fearsome, brooding, leaving

Martha Beck: excited, accepting, open

Now here’s the woo part, so stay with me so you don’t miss the magic:

The dreamer then speaks as if she is the symbol and communicates the symbol’s purpose, how it wants to help, and the message to the dreamer.

Old house: my purpose was simply to shelter the people. I was not capable of providing warmth, comfort or anything else. My message is that it was not your fault that I am this way, it is simply my nature. There are other homes better suited to your needs.

Retreat Center: I am a space to learn and grow. You are free to be yourself here.

Potted Plants: I am here to allow you to breathe, to make things beautiful, to help you feel at home and to bring ease.

White Van: Don’t overthink your direction. Let it be easy, allow yourself to be guided.

Gangsters: We hold all the trouble, we aren’t as scary as we seem, we are going away now and you will be at peace.

Martha Beck: in those dark moments, a benevolent force greater than anything loved you and has always loved you. You are meant to be exactly where you are, doing exactly what you are doing. You have everything you need.

At the end of the session, my tear-streaked face broke into a smile. I am the Wandering Jew who will go where I am needed. I have faith in my direction and trust that everything’s going to be okay. I am home.

And so are you.



WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a reoccurring dream? Do you keep a dream journal? Are you open to learning the message in your dreams?

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