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The Hypnotic Use of
Experiences Without the Flatlines
The Things You Can Do with a Good Dream
When I died I had an overwhelming experience of calm
and peace. I was floating above the ocean and felt absolute harmony with
everything around me.
The light is so bright. I feel like Iím floating.
There is a lot of loving presence here.
My parents are worried about the ship sinking, about
the storm. They just woke me up. Weíre leaving the cabin. People are
running. My mother and I lost my dad in the crowd. Iím off the ship now.
I seem to be floating up in the air. My mother is next to me, we must
have died. We fell into the cold water getting into the lifeboat. I can
see my body sinking in the ocean. I was trying to touch my body, but it
was too far away and everyone disappeared. [Pause.] My grandmother is
there! She took my hand! Now sheís guiding me, telling me to come with
her. Momís up there with her. I see the Light now, a big sun. Iím so
happy to be with my grandmother again!
When I died I saw my funeral. . . .Then I proceeded
to float up and I found my wife. She was very excited to see me. I had
an overwhelming experience of feeling loved. All of my sad thoughts had
left me and I just filled up with happy ones.
If you have previously read about near-death experiences,
these descriptions will have a familiar ring to them. For more than three
decades now, researchers have provided us with fascinating glimpses of
life-after-life that sometimes occur in individuals following a heart attack
or other life-threatening crisis. Triggered by potentially fatal situations,
survivors report incredible tranquility and peacefulness as they float out
of the physical body into an intensely bright light where they are typically
greeted lovingly by others: deceased relatives, spirit guides, angels,
religious figures, etc. When the experience lasts long enough, these
survivors engage in a non-judgmental life review often accompanied by
significant insights. Despite the fact that the experience is over in a
matter of seconds, most report profound, durable, life-altering aftereffects
of a positive nature.
The descriptions above are not from people who have
suffered a close call with death, however. What they are describing took
place in my office during psychotherapy sessions. Unlike traditional
near-death experiences in which the heart often stops, these people were in
no distress. They were all sitting or lying comfortably on my couch.
Waking dreams provide a vehicle that enables people to
experience many of the phenomena associated with a true near-death
experience, but without any of the life-threatening risks. The varied case
studies that follow, with their extensive transcripts of actual waking
dreams, demonstrate a variety of ways that I have used waking dreams to help
people resolve problems ranging from the specific to the existential.
Transcripts, of course, are limited in their ability to convey the emotional
richness that is so integral to the experience. Nonetheless, as you read
each of the case studies I hope you will increasingly sense the
transformative potential of waking dreams.
Aided by straightforward hypnotic techniques, my clients
experience vivid dream-like imagery during the psychotherapy session in
which they become the main character in a fictional life. The life of the
dream character may include insightful parallels to the clientís own life
such as Dorothy experienced in The Wizard of Oz, but the true power of the
waking dream typically begins when the dream character dies. At this
transitional moment, clients typically report the first of many of the
characteristics associated with a true near-death experience. Floating out
of the body of the dream character and into the Light, most clients meet
what they describe as spirit guides or other non-physical beings whose
function seems to replicate that of the figures who present in a true NDE.
Among other things, waking dreams usually include a
non-judgmental life review, an opportunity to release faulty beliefs and
feelings of guilt, reunion with loved ones, and transforming experiences of
being loved unconditionally. Unlike a true NDE, an important part of this
experience is a meeting between the dream character and the client in which
the dream character offers the client support and guidance for his or her
own life struggles. The process often concludes with an assurance that the
guides and/or the dream character will remain available to the client in an
ongoing relationship, assisting, coaching, and supporting the clientís
efforts to change.
Throughout the book, I refer to these after-death beings
as "spirit guides" or simply "guides." In doing so I wish to be pragmatic
without being presumptive. It is certainly possible that these guides are
merely creations of the clientís imagination, just like the dream character
and others who appear in the waking dream. Because both their function and
the emotional responses that their presence elicits seem analogous to
similar encounters described in true NDEs, I chose a label descriptive of
Waking dreams allow people to work on a variety of
Sometimes they discover previously unrecognized faulty
assumptions about a problem.
Once identified, these faulty beliefs fall away. As this
happens, new solutions quickly emerge. Consider the example of Matthew who
had long perceived power as a kind of magic that only women have. The only
way he could have power, therefore, was to be in a relationship with a
woman. As a result he became depressed and anxious whenever he was in
between relationships. In one of his waking dreams he saw himself as a young
girl, Antoinette, who spent the rest of her life in a convent as a nun. By
the time of her death she had become the Mother Superior. Comparing the
characters in the waking dream with his own life Matthew noted:
When you asked me to look for people in the nunís
life I realized I couldnít . . . I knew the father in the girlís story
was a parent in my life, but I didnít know which one. Still donít. But
then I had a set of thoughts that went, "Oh, if itís my father, and he
really had this kind of power, what I saw then was a man who was so
afraid of how he would misuse power that he wasnít going to let himself
have any." And thatís stupid. Power is just another form of magic. You
donít have to be consumed by it. Itís another form of energy. Itís not
that big a deal.
What she [Antoinette] saw earlier was Ė itís a
kinesthetic experience, how the hell do I put it into words . . . okay,
"Magic is external to me. You go out of yourself towards it, grab
something outside of yourself, and try to get incorporated by it." She
found that God has to subtract from Himself to create an emptiness into
which the magic can enter. The cabalistic statement is, "God created
nothing in order for there to be a space into which He could enter." God
subtracted from Himself. What she got was a kinesthetic of, "You let God
into you. That creates a space into which the magic enters." The magic
is an energy exchange between you and God Ė to be prosaic about it. [I
interjected, "Did, you get that in a kinesthetic way?"] Oh, yea. Oh,
yea. I was flooded with light.
Then, a minute later, he found another faulty assumption.
In the waking dream the young girl had gone through a period of intense
loneliness as a teenager in the convent.
That was the shift in me about . . . Ahhh! This is
relevant actually. Two years ago, a woman told me something which I
heard, and knew she was absolutely right, but didnít know what to do
with it. She said that I confused loneliness with missing God.
The nun had the experience (of the loneliness) which
is why I said I thought I was in exile. I thought I was like being put
in "time out," and He has to take me out of time out. Itís only a
separation. I got it. . . . Oh! Heís been waiting for me to come back!
People can safely try out a new solution in the virtual
reality of the waking dream, modifying it as needed.
As an analogy, consider the main concept of the 1993
movie Groundhog Day happening in a trance-induced virtual reality. In the
movie, the main character finds himself trapped in a 24-hour time loop.
Every day when he awakes it is the same calendar day. Each day he
experiments with different ways of resolving his problems, drawing on his
successes and failures from the previous attempts. When he finally works out
a solution he truly likes, he gets out of the time loop.
One client, a middle-aged professional woman, Emily, was
wrestling with whether to risk shifting the focus of her work to an area
that held much more appeal for her, but that might alienate her from much of
the conservative community where she lived. In one of her waking dreams she
was a professor, Winston, and the administrator of a seminary. As the dream
went on she narrated:
Iíve called in another one of the professors,
Gilbert, because of pressure from influential parents of some of the
students. The parents are complaining that this professor has been
filling their sonsí heads with things they donít want them to think
about. He is questioning and promoting questioning in the students. He
is arguing with me because he knows from our prior conversations that I
agree with him. But I donít give in. I tell him if he doesnít stop, Iíll
let him go. These people are too important. They give too much money to
us. I canít ignore them. His reaction is surprising, because he looks at
me with sadness, almost pity. Iím embarrassed and furious. He leaves,
and soon after leaves the seminary.
I find it ironic: the seminary continues to struggle
and yet he prospers. Gilbert starts his own small school. Only the
brightest, most open-minded students seek him out. Even though he
doesnít have the most money, he still seems to prosper. Meanwhile, I
donít grow and the seminary doesnít grow. I realize too late there was
nothing else in my life, so I retire from the seminary on a small
pension. Iím very bored and bitter, and I feel like I sold it all. I
just sold out my life. I sold my potential for financial security, but
all I bought was boredom.
Soon after this comment in her narration of the waking
dream, Winston died. Following his death, I invited Emily to revisit the
decision Winston had made that day in the seminary office when he and
Gilbert had argued. I suggested she implement an alternative decision and
notice what difference it made.
It was not very satisfying to have power over sheep.
I have to learn to be true to myself. (If I changed the decision) Iíd
leave the seminary with Gilbert and start a new one. In that setting I
see myself having a challenging, vibrant life, growing and learning and
teaching. We took a lot of financial risk Ė and social risk. Weíre very
unpopular with the majority of the people, just as he really was. But
the best and brightest learned from him and would have learned from me,
too. They soak in knowledge like a sponge, never depleting mine but
enhancing it, teaching me in return.
Now, five years since that waking dream, Emily is well
into the transition in her own work. She is still valued by her traditional
referral sources despite having become much more open in her pursuit of this
new direction in her career. The fear and apprehension that had plagued her
for some time have gradually abated as she has given herself permission to
pursue her true interests.
In waking dreams people can develop abilities and
relationship skills they currently lack.
A recently divorced woman, Donna, brought her two
children to see me for some help dealing with the fallout from the breakup
of the family. In one of her individual sessions she had a waking dream in
which she was the wife of a Southern plantation owner in the pre-Civil War
period. In her dream, Donnaís husband had died young and left her with two
children to raise and a plantation to manage. As she explored the remainder
of Donnaís life in the dream, she experienced the confidence and competent
manner in which she managed the plantation. She noted with some humor that
the other plantation owners in the community, all men, did not take kindly
to the undeniable truth that she was more successful than they were.
Following her death in that dream, Donna had a strong sense that her own two
children were with her to help her remain aware of her own competency as she
deals with the stereotyped expectations of some of her professional
colleagues in the traditionally male-dominated field in which she works.
Sometimes in a waking dream people experience a problem
from an opposing perspective.
This is particularly helpful for clients who have felt
"victimized" in some way by life. Emily (see number 2) had not only been
looking to move in a new direction professionally, she had also remained
somewhat "stuck" following the death of her long-term partner. Previously
she had experienced a number of other losses in her life. In her grieving
over her partnerís death she wrestled with the unfairness that she always
seemed to be the one who was left behind. In one of her waking dreams her
partner appeared in the role of a spouse. In Emilyís role as the dream
character, this time she was the first of them to die. Floating in the Light
she decided that it was no easier to be the first to die than to be the one
She had had to deal with other losses as well. As the
owner of a small business, Emily had suffered quite a financial loss when a
trusted employee embezzled funds. She experienced the other side of this
relationship in another waking dream in which Emily saw herself as a young
man, Clark, who wanted to join the military. In the dream his mother was
opposed to this. Over a period of about twenty minutes she related the
following events in her dream:
My mother inherited some money from her parents and
sent me away. She shouldnít have done that. She couldnít make me go, but
bribed me with money to go and find another type of work. She wants me
to go to other countries and export things back to our country. The
money is a temptation and I take it, but I donít look into anything
productive. It is my first time out from under her watchful eye, and I
have a good time [smiling]. I drink a lot, go to whore houses, become
friends with seedy people. Iím just too naive to know theyíre around
just for the money. I donít know much about the world . . . Iím sick. I
have no money left. All of my companions that I thought were friends are
gone. Iím homeless. A lady finds me and takes me in. She feeds me, and
nurses me back to health. She has an apothecary shop. She tells me I can
work in it. She teaches me what the different herbs and roots and teas
do. Once again I abuse the power she gives me. I find out which ones
make you feel good and I start taking them. I become addicted. She has
to make me leave. Iím homeless again. This time the illness is from
withdrawal . . . I get on a ship and hide. Iím dying. What a waste. I
didnít have enough courage to do what I wanted to do. I never connected
with anyone. I used two very good opportunities and destroyed myself
with them, and hurt the people who were trying to help me.
Following Clarkís death, I suggested Emily do a life
review and notice what she learned from this "wasted life."
I have to learn to give as well as to take. I was
supposed to learn that but I didnít. It was too easy and felt too good
to take. It was too much work to give anything back. I also learned that
I need people Ė real connections with people, not superficial but real.
Love is much more important than feeling good.
I tell myself, "Now youíve got to come back as the
people being hurt because you have to learn what thatís like. Learn what
itís like to be on the other side."
Subsequent to this waking dream, Emilyís anger at the
employee who had embezzled from her subsided considerably, and continued to
abate in the months that followed. She still pursued legal avenues to the
situation, but was able to do so from a much calmer perspective.
Once a new solution is clear, many clients establish a
cue based on the waking dream that serves as a self-generated reminder to
use the new solution when that particular situation occurs again.
One woman, Jane, generated the idea of hearing her dream
character whisper "purple" in her ear whenever she began acting jealous
around friends or colleagues. While I monitored this over the next several
months, she reported that not only had she heard "purple" on a number of
occasions (reaffirming how much of a problem this behavior had been), but
that many of her friends had commented on the positive shift in her
interactions where jealousy was concerned.
Clients develop new insights into current relationships
based on relationships between the characters in the dream.
In one waking dream a young woman, Betsy, saw herself as
an old man, Stephen, sitting on a park bench. His wife had died, and he had
no contact with his two grown sons.
I never really got along with them. I have money and
donít know what to do with it. I donít want to give it to my sons.
Betsy noted that Stephen seemed very resentful. She said,
"He was just disappointed. Nothing went the way he wanted." Following his
death, she reported the following discussion with him:
Heís telling me to do something with my life. Donít
be like he was. Heís very sad now. Heís crying. He wasnít very nice. He
never gave time for anyone. He was very selfish. He realizes this now.
He was the middle of three children. He didnít really
get along with his brother and younger sister. He never really connected
with his mom and dad. Both parents died when he was 17. He moved out and
started on his own. He never kept in touch with his brother and sister.
He lost a bunny when he was little. He loved that bunny. He put all his
love in that bunny and it died. He didnít care for anyone else after
that. He tried to love his wife; she just got annoying.
Heís telling me to love as many people as possible.
It is sad when you go to your funeral and no one is there except your
sons Ė out of obligation. Heís telling me to call all my brothers and
sisters and tell them how much I love them.
I suggested that Betsy ask Stephen what he would have to
give up to let go of feeling so unlovable. He told her he would have to let
go of his pride. Given the choice between being proud and alone or risking
love, Stephen accepted my invitation to have his wife join him there in the
Light. The client then reported:
Sheís very happy to see him. Heís shocked! He thought
she hated him.
I suggested that Betsy allow herself to experience this
firsthand instead of from the third-person perspective. She continued:
Iím very happy. Itís a nice feeling. She loves me,
she really loves me. Someone really loves me!
I then invited Stephenís parents to join him. Smiling,
There they are! Theyíre hugging me. They love me,
As we explored metaphorical connections between the dream
characters and people in her own life, Betsy reported a number of parallels
like those found in The Wizard of Oz. Stephenís parents were representative
of Betsyís aunt and uncle; Stephenís aunt and uncle were representative of
her own parents. When Stephen was a child these relatives had been nice to
him, but had moved away and he had missed them. There were more connections.
His wife in the dream was a parallel to one of the Betsyís grandmothers. His
two sons in the dream were a parallel to two of Betsyís sisters. Two more of
her siblings were represented by Stephenís brother and sister. Finally, a
teenage girl whom Stephen had befriended as an old man in his neighborhood
had personality traits of one of the Betsyís nieces. As Betsy ended the
dialogue with him in this waking dream, I asked if he had any other messages
for her about all these people gathering together there in the Light with
him. He told her:
Stay in contact. Why? Because they love you.
Not only did the dream provide Betsy with an intense
experience of feeling loved by so many people, it also let her experience
the consequences of the alternative in the form of the lonely, bitter man
sitting on the park bench. Notice how the dream took advantage of many
different relationships from Stephenís life, bringing the essence of those
people into many different relationships in Betsyís own life. Love is not
just between soul mates. It is a feeling we experience internally that can
arise from any relationship we nurture.
Clients often explore metaphysical, existential, or
spiritual issues in waking dreams, typically following the death of the
One of Emilyís (see number 4) other waking dreams
provides an example of this. In this dream she is a young woman, Tarea, who
grew up in a gypsy community in Europe in the 1800s. At age 16 she became
pregnant by her motherís boyfriend who subsequently left. She gave birth to
a son who became very special to her: "I never cared so much about anybody."
One day when her son was four years old, men on horseback rode through the
camp to run them out of the area. Her son ran out to see what was happening
and was killed by one of the horses. Until she died some 25 years later she
never let anyone get close to her again (despite the efforts of several
people who sought to help) because, as she said, "It hurts too much." On her
deathbed, Tarea laid waiting for the darkness to come, but instead she said
the Light came. With it came understanding:
I blew it. I know now that no matter how bad it
hurts, itís all worth it. Love. I just wasted so much. Iím going to have
to do that one again.
People tried to comfort me, tried to help me. They
tried to get close to me sometimes. But I never allowed it.
I suggested Tarea and Emily meet and talk with each
Itís all worth it. Thatís what sheís sharing with me
now. Thatís why she came back. She says to never close the door. Itís
too hard to re-open it.
We worked with the metaphor of the door as Emily had
experienced it emotionally in her own life.
Thatís a scary thought to take it down; then you
canít close it.
Asked about the benefits of keeping the door open or
taking it down, Emily remarked:
(Itís about) understanding more about love, purpose, all of it. Itís like
being on the other side, millions of tiny sparkles. Itís wonderful. Itís
not something that can be put into words. Itís so beautiful! Itís not
scary here. Whatís scary is what I have to go through to get here.
Itís all worth it. Everything is worth it . . . You
have to receive if you give it. You always get back . . . If it was
easy, if it was all easy, there wouldnít be much point. How could I
learn if it was all easy?
This last point routinely becomes a gateway to what is
often one of the most significant aspects of the therapy process. I believe
our culture continues to value an emphasis on the five senses at the expense
of an additional way of knowing: our intuitive sense. Facilitated by the
guides and dream characters in a series of waking dreams, my clients
re-learn how to recognize intuitive moments in their daily lives, and to
again trust the accuracy of those intuitions. Perhaps facilitated by the
unconditional love they experience when in the presence of their guides,
they also learn to better differentiate fear-based thoughts from intuition.
As they increasingly recognize and value ordinary hunches in day-to-day
living, they find they can more easily sidestep or defuse situations that
previously would have felt stressful. Life becomes more playful, more
intriguing as "coincidences" are increasingly understood as more literally
linked to their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
As you read their stories, I hope their messages will
have a similar effect for you. Pay attention to places in the book where
something that you read seems to strike a resonant chord in you. Resist the
temptation to just keep reading. Pause for a moment and sit with your
feelings. Instead of trying to analyze their source, imagine giving yourself
permission to turn a dial that allows you to experience these feelings even
more intensely. Play with the possibility that it was no coincidence that
you had the reaction you did to what you had just read. Invite your
intuitive sense to elaborate on the message being conveyed by what you are
Most people who experience an NDE encounter some form of non-physical
being or guide. As will be evident throughout the book, I personally believe
that every person has one or more such guides who are available during life
and not just after physical death. Whatever your beliefs about the form and
function of guides, you can use unexpected moments of intense feelings as a
kind of "affect bridge" to help you and your guide(s) communicate better
with each other. Similar to leaving a message on a close friendís cell phone
without focusing on how the message actually gets there, imagine sending a
message to your guide that explicitly gives him or her permission to use
this window of opportunity to offer you guidance, suggestions, or support.
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