The Transformational Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul, by Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner
Inner Traditions, 9781620555149, 360 pp., 2017
To begin, The Transformational Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul by Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner will absolutely shift the way you sleep. From the first chapter, going to sleep each night becomes a grand adventure. Dreams hold new opportunities to receive insights from the the usually hard to reach places of your mind, and with this book, hitting the snooze button is encouraged!
Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner have collaborated the wisdom of their impressive careers and expertise in the poetic mythos of the mind to bring forth a true dream compendium for the curious explorer. Bridging Jungian psychology, poetry, and consciousness studies, this book serves as a guide to navigating the dream world. This book is an stellar compilation of the author’s experience dream tending, with an emphasis on the a historical and sociocultural record of dreams through time. The material presented stands as a testament to what one can learn from taking the time to cultivate a relationship with their dreams. The authors give tips for how to remember dreams, describe in detail their own dream workshop methodology, provide a plethora of real life examples of their clients’ dream work, and teach the reader how to connect to the imagery in dreams to gain immensely useful insight into one’s own psychological and spiritual life.
The Transformational Power of Dreaming is divided into two parts. In the first part of the book, the authors lay the foundation for understanding the importance of dreams and the place they hold in our waking reality. The book begins with a history of dreams in the ancient world. The authors describe the practice of recording and decoding dreams in many cultures, such as ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and in Indian yoga. From here, the authors describe the neurological basis of dreams, featuring studies of the effects of various frequencies on states of consciousness, the sleep cycles people go through each night, as well as information on REM sleep.
The section continues with the authors providing innovative ways to recall and record dreams when you wake. The process of dreaming communally is highlighted, such as when our dreams are meant to serve an entire group or culture. Finally, the authors’ share their experience of working with their dreams. Both have worked with very well-known analysts, such as Edward Whitmont, James Hillman and Dorthy Day, and have their our personal revelations about their processes.
Part two shifts focus to describe themes in dreams that are often overlooked within the dominant paradigm of Judeo-Christianity in Western culture. The chapter on precognition, telepathy and synchronies in dreams includes a section on women dreamers, such as Joan of Arc and, surprisingly, Harriet Tubman, who was quite clairvoyant. Artists and writers are featured who have been influenced by the dream realm, such as Mary Shelley, Albert Einstein, Hildegard of Bingen, and William Wordsworth. The authors show the way in which the power of their dreams made them choose unique life trajectories with conviction.
Lucid dreaming, or awaking within a dream is explored via a case study from Tom Verner, which shows that by becoming conscious in our re-occurring dreams, we can start to influence the outcome. The authors’ passion for poetry and dreams shows the impact both have on the imagination, and demonstrates that the two go hand in hand in coming to know our psyche.
My strong recommendation for The Transformational Power of Dreaming is due to the experience I had while reading it. At the start, I was continually falling asleep after only reading a few pages! It felt as though the book had its own magick to it and, with each chapter, I was entering a new reality of relationship to my own consciousness, through the worlds of sleep, mystery and dreams. While napping, my dream world seemed to be opening up. Believe me, falling asleep had nothing to do with the content of the book, which was absolutely captivating and strongly holding my attention. I truly believe the book serves as a catalyst to accessing one’s own dreams more consciously. (Maybe it was even my subconscious knocking me out to connect with me through my dreams, which I was finally ready to listen to!)
Inspired to peer into my dream life more actively, I decided to embrace the experience and kept a dream journal. Each night I was excited to go to sleep, and I found it was especially helpful to do a little bit of reading right before bed and set intentions for remembering my dreams, occasionally seeking guidance for a certain situation, as recommended.
I used the techniques offered, such as creating a poem from the dream, and found it immensely useful in gaining insight and awareness from what otherwise seemed like such a meaningless dream. By using the practices the authors describe, wisdom is gleamed in the most simple of dream experience. The engagement of my creative faculties through metaphor, imagery and poetry (the language of the soul) seemed to open my intuitive faculties to be more receptive to insight.
For the course of the whole experience consciously deciding to work with my dreams, I had the most vivid dream life I can remember. Oftentimes, my dreams are merely replaying usual situations from my life, but when actively practicing working with my dreams, as the books details, I had what I would consider my first mythical or archetypal dream. Up until this point, I had never understood The Red Book by Carl Jung, because I didn’t think most people dreamed in that manner. Well, perhaps it was devotion to the dream process, or the liberation of an aspect of my psyche through the authors’ focus on Jungian psychology as a core aspect of their dream work, but my dream life began to shift form with my commitment to the process.
I was able to gather so much insight from just a week of this practice, and I look forward to continuing it as a part of my daily routine. Yet, I had to admit the practice did bring up some unpleasant things. I had my first nightmare in years, to the point I was terrified to go back to sleep for a few hours. I worked on that dream for quite some time and am still trying to process the content. I can attribute that to Phoebetor, Ruler of Nightmares. Luckily, through the authors’ description of work with clients, I now realize that nightmares can actually be the source of powerful insight.
My favourite thing about the book was how the authors portray the process of dreaming as a holy experience. Dreams are sacred and this seems like a long lost narrative in traditional Western culture, yet one I would very much like to revive. I as left with a clear impression of the value of dreams, both creativity and literally, as the authors write about telepathy in dreams, precognition and synchronicity of events. It is worth the time to tend to our dreams, as whether we understand the connection or not, there is a world of insight to be found within our sleeping mind.
It is easy to overlook how much time we spend dreaming, often dismissing our dreams upon waking, if we even remember them. Yet in reality, dreaming is both an unavoidable and essential part of our human nature. The authors actually detail what happens to people who are deprived of dreaming in the book — they go into a psychotic state!
I also enjoy how the authors go into detail about their own background and process of becoming dream analysts. It is clear they have experience on both ends, being the analyzed and the analyst, which provides a sense of care and nurturance towards their readers. Larsen and Verner are both passionate about the topic, and compassionate towards the gentle psyches of their patients and readers. It was refreshing that a tenant of their analyst practice is to not interpret the dream for others, with the recognition that each person has their own associated symbolisms with images and dream content; rather, they are there to hold space and facilitate a dialogue to offer understanding.
As the authors remind us, “Among the Iroquois, big dreams indicated the most important of all wishes of the soul, and to neglect the wishes of our own soul could bring illness, madness or disaster.”1 Through reading The Transformational Power of Dreaming, I decided to start to honour my dream life. Great perspective is provided on how dreams can become holy, communal, and precognitive – all very different than the standard paradigm that dismisses our inner reality for the tangible.
The Transformational Power of Dreaming: Discovering the Wishes of the Soul serves as a reawakening to the mythic, creative and artistic imagery, often neglected in waking life. Stephen Larsen and Tom Verner are the perfect psychopomps to lead one on their journey. The magick of brining the conscious and unconscious into communication is an on-going process, and this book offers a multitude of methods to create that connection through dreaming.
- p. 86 [↩]