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"Living Our Dreams"
by Hallie Austen Iglehart
From Womanspirit: A Guide to Women's Wisdom by Hallie Austen Iglehart

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Reading Was Discussed: June 7, 1993
Present: Colleen M., Catherine C., Kalisa, Maria B., Grace S., Aileen C., Robin Z., Karen M., and Cathleen M.

Dreams are the myths of the psyche. So begins the first line of a poem by Hallie Austen Iglehart as she looks to the world of dreams for clues to the meaning of existence in these nihilistic postmodern times. Women at this month's session agreed with her that an imbalanced emphasis on rational, analytical, scientific modes of thought results in an "estrangement from our inner selves."

Dreaming is one of the few ways many Westernized people ever experience nonlinear reality—and even that is compromised. Boxed into nine-to-five regimens, alarm clocks (the domestic version of the factory whistle) rudely disrupt our dreams and make morning reflections on them a weekend luxury.

One woman called our attention to an article she read about an Amazonian tribe who began each day by sharing their dreams and applying the ethereal insights to their "waking" reality. Then television arrived, and overnight its fabricated reality displaced the communal coherence dreamtime dramas had brought to these indigenous people's lives.

In a similar vein, she added, listeners of contemporary music used to conjure their own dreamscapes. With the arrival of eMpTV, however, synthesized, assembly-line visuals are now mass programmed and imaginations short circuited.

One woman lamented that "we have lost our personal poetry." Given television's capacity to undermine creative thinking, some women wondered to what degree it also invades our dreaming. To counter the maw of ever more potent technologies (such as virtual reality), women acknowledged that nurturing dreamtime is essential.

Recognizing today's spiritual bankruptcy, several women viewed collective dream interpretation as part of a global healing process. As Iglehart suggests, "When we share our dreams with one another, we reach a closeness that transcends the usual physical, psychological, and social separations." Appropriately, each of us shared a memorable dream and welcomed the group's commentary.

One woman wondered how to properly interpret our dreams since our thoughts have been so distorted by patriarchal constructions of reality. For example, we're told that snakes symbolize phallic sexuality, yet for thousands of centuries snakes were considered sacred goddess images. Regardless of the interpretations attached to dreams, Iglehart believes the goal of dream work is "to integrate [our] conscious and unconscious selves into a free, healthy whole."

One woman who studies Zen questioned any separation of the conscious from the unconscious. She explained that most earth-based peoples do not conceptualize reality in such divided terms. Another woman marveled at how accessible the unconscious is to non-industrialized cultures. The door to their dream world seems wide open; the Westernized one barely ajar.

Our discussion of dreams inevitably turned to other examples of altered states of reality. Women shared their personal adventures with deep breathing, rebirthing, meditation, clairvoyance, shamanism, guided meditation, and out of body experiences. One woman brought up the intriguing work of Terence McKenna, the ethno-botanist philosopher. He postulates that ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms by pre-Paleolithic humans expanded the consciousness of our species. He claims these "trips" helped account for a cerebral evolution of colossal proportions leading to our dramatic divergence from other primates.

Another woman once read that animals are also known to consume substances to alter their consciousness: horses seek out locoweed; robins, juniper berries; and cats, catnip. Several women were opposed to using substances merely to get high. Although they expressed a greater acceptance when used for ritual or spiritual purposes, they still felt that foreign substances—organic or otherwise—ignore the power of the human body. We've barely begun to tap its miraculous potential to induce altered states of consciousness.

Most women felt that ecofeminists instinctively embrace the dream worlds, recognizing them as legitimate and awe-inspiring. Iglehart writes that since ancient times women have been associated (rightly or not) with the night, the moon, darkness, the netherworld, emotions, intuition, and the psyche. So, hey sisters, unplug those alarm clocks and TV sets. . . . It's dreamtime!

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