Between living and dreaming

there is a third thing.

Guess it.

-Antonio Machado

“He wants us to write about whom we love,” the teen girl says to me in her clear voice. I feel her urgency. We’re walking together down a sloping path, with long firm strides. In the dream I know in my bones who “he” is – the One who loves us, who shows up in my dreams in many forms. Holding this inside is a hurt. I show my writing to the girl, feeling uncertain. She takes it and says “Yes, that’s it!”

I woke up excited, feeling her voice in me, desiring to live her words. My dream teacher Rodger Kamenetz supported me as always to listen, to bring the dream alive. I loved this dream practice but it faded eventually, or I did. I struggled. I tried “just do it” but this felt hollow. The gap between dreaming and living ached in me. Thoughts, stories, self-blaming looped around in the space.

The aliveness in dreams longs to live and breathe in us, but some of us get stuck. We may have been hurt or wounded, hold trauma in our bodies, whether known or unknown. We may have learned to leave our bodies and our own experience, and need a way back. We need support and compassion. We need help.

Dreams offer help in a natural way we may overlook, a way both soulful and practical: Your own inner guides will help you learn how to learn from your dreams, how to practice. Certain dream moments offer contemplative practices that are simple, embodied, and doable. You don’t have to know anything. You only need to follow, and you can begin now.

Such practices are evolving from the dreams and sacred encounters of other dreamers, and these affect me. These practices are unique and specific to you, the dreamer, and your images will always be the most potent for you. Often they feel profoundly universal as well, and connect you to others and to the natural world. Sharing them feels natural. For me, to “write about whom I love,” is to write of this.

I feel one of these practices just now, and I need it in this moment. As I write, I feel desire to share so intense it’s painful. Doubts rise up, and my mind tangles. I know this place of desire, fear, and then constriction. I stand up, take a step. I feel into my dream moment with a man standing close, rivers branching around us. “See yourself standing on the ground,” he says, looking down at our feet, so I look. I hear his voice: “Know you are with all the tributaries of the Mississippi River.”

As I write each sentence I feel into this dream, and I can return. I pause and breathe. Just the sensation of my feet touching the floor evokes the moment. When doubt comes up, it’s ok. I listen to this man.

Nothing else in my experience helps me the way these practices do. All are unexpected gifts. For me this began with dream presences touching places in my body, bringing awareness here. As this happens for you in your dreams, try to stay a little longer in these moments and see what comes up.

With Rodger’s guidance I followed dream gestures, movements, voice, and gaze, and my dreams brought more. I wasn’t always awake to these, and I needed help even to see them. We all have our blind spots, and perhaps we are most blind to how deeply we are loved, and how we are needed to live this in the world.

Pain and trauma in dreams helped me understand why I hid and stayed silent. I dreamt of imprisonment, of my legs nailed to the floor. I dream of being paralyzed, of ropes around my neck. Other dreams brought healing and support. I dreamt of dancing with boys and running with freedom, of men and women encouraging me to speak. I dreamt of words alive and radiant with color, moving through space. Still I struggled. I felt many moments of desolation. I don’t really understand it. I just know out of this pain and need came help. My dreams helped me move, they moved me.

Over a year ago a teen girl came to me in a dream. I’m standing at the end of a long line, apart – a familiar place:

Now I see a teen girl before me, very tall with long legs and arms and big eyes. I see I’m last, feel anxious but then I relax, space back here with her. She holds out her hand and says firmly, “I’m Pada. I’m the girl. Hold onto me and I’ll take you.” I give her my hand and she takes it very firmly and pulls me along with long strides. I feel relief and desire to go with her.

This moment with Pada the girl became a turning point for me for the simple reason that I followed it. Based on the dream moment, Rodger gave me a dream practice, and this time I never stopped doing it. Many times a day I would physically enact this encounter, just as it happens. I did this from pain and need, because it was the only thing that helped, that took root and lasted. Healing unknown to me was stirring, and my body and feelings knew enough to do this one thing. Finally I listened, because I had to.

Over a year later I hear this girl’s voice flowing into me, feel her gaze holding me. I feel the visceral pull of her hand, the mutuality between us, the flow of energy in both directions. I feel her long strides and I’m moving, alive and awake. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t need to know.

She began to pull me out of my paralysis and towards my desires. I needed this dream and this girl with a desperation that woke me up. She became my companion, my teacher, the One who loves me, and has shown up in many forms since. Where I’m hesitant and doubting she’s grounded, with a steady gaze and a firm voice. She’s not a static image or words on a page but real, a sensory-feeling experience, alive and evolving, ever fresh, who flows into my waking life, who remembers me when I forget.

As will happen in your own dreams and in your own way, this girl is helping me recover qualities I thought of as outside myself. Many fixed stories had sprung up and become prisons. “I’m quiet and shy. I don’t belong. Better to stay silent and apart.” A lot of “I” in this isolated lonely place at the end of the line. Pada the girl showed up, announced herself, gave me direct instructions, and began pulling me onto the path.

We speak of being touched and moved by feelings, and in dreams we are touched and moved by dream beings, who help us open to feelings. Where are your stuck places, your fixed stories? Do you feel a place in you that longs to move or perhaps is beginning to stir? Every dream will bring you a chance to open, to awaken, or show you what gets in the way.

For most of us, unlearning is needed. Early on I dreamt of prisons, constricted in small bleak spaces. Then the unexpected began to happen: The prison door stood open, but I found reasons not to leave. In one dream a man in the cell with me takes off running through the open door, as I stand watching. He takes pains to show me my path to freedom, but I stay put. My story this time? The prison guard might get mad.

Then the following dream came:

A young woman is showing me and others a square space where I feel nervous and rushed, long black bars like smudges that look scary and make me feel trapped. Now she says we have plenty of time, and the space grows larger. She shows me with her hands, moving the bars, opening up the space. I feel relief and can breathe, it’s true and real.

As I practice the moment now, it’s as alive and real as when I first felt it. That rushed nervous place, the tightness of not enough time or space, the bars of my mind, I still know well. Do you?

I see the bars smudging, feel this young woman showing me how to open into the spacious moment. This helps me feel in a tangible way I am more than my stories, my doubts, my thoughts. When these come up, as they will, I can practice opening, and the stories lose solidity. This gesture breaks up old patterns better than my thinking ever did.

I love this practice – it’s so simple. Maybe you could try it. You can stand or sit, or lie down if you need to, feel the support of the earth underneath you, take a few full breaths. Now see your dark smudged bars, whatever these are for you: a place where you feel constricted by thoughts or stories. Stay with this for a few full breaths.

Now feel a supportive figure with you, from a dream or from your life. Breathe and let of any tension in your body. With this presence, open the bars, open your arms wide, feel your heart opening, feel the stories dissolving. Feel the space opening up inside you and all around you and stay with this.

If you have a practice such as yoga or Qigong, you can bring your dream moments into the practice, and bring the practice into your dreamwork. Any contemplative, spiritual, or bodywork practice can interweave beautifully with dreams, deepening both. For me, dreams integrating with other paths is gold, all tributaries of the mighty river.

These dream gestures are relational and deepen my waking life relationships. When I’m feeling closed off or shut down, a gesture helps me open and feel supported at the same time. Gestures are a language deeper than words, and your dreams know the ones you need. You are not so much doing, as opening to the intention of your soul, keeping your heart open longer.

Footsteps are at the heart of practices I return to most, feeling my feet and the support of the ground and the figures who appear. Feeling grounded is a primary way to return to our bodies, to the ground of our being. No dream brings this more alive for me than this one:

I’m with others in a car riding to school. I’m silent and feel apart. As we walk into the school I feel cold and hungry, forgot my books. I feel a sense of desolation. The dream continues: We go in, hordes of people. I feel lost, feel misery and pain. I walk back outside and gaze at my bare feet walking on the ground. I have the thought, just be where I am, see what happens. Now I’m seeing a large group of men and women engaging with one another, lively. I feel a lift in spirits. I walk into their midst, say the word help, like a prayer. A man steps in front of me and is so tall I’m seeing his waist. I look way up and see a gigantic African-American man with long hair, beaming down at me. His face is so black, radiant with actual light shining from it, huge smile. He says with a chuckle “I can help you.” I feel inside his radiance, feel awe and joy.

This way of being with my dreams became more conscious and intentional with this dream moment and my need of it. Over and over I returned here. It’s part of me now, in my body memory. Over time, the felt sense of this moment deepened and became part of my walking, my breath, the ground, gravity.

In the dream there is a turning. I turn around and walk out. The turning comes in the place of standing in my brokenness. I stop hiding and fighting it. I reach the end of my own resources. A turning moves me, a returning. I don’t know where I’m going. I ground down into the feeling of pain and desolation. I see my feet on the ground and I feel the ground under them.

A thought rises up from the ground, from feeling, up through my body. A different kind of thought: Here I am. Let’s see what happens. From here people show up. I feel need for them. Now I’m walking towards. I speak this need. It’s not dramatic. I don’t cry out. I just say “help,” a plain and simple prayer. He shows up. I am not so much doing as finally letting go and receiving.

I could never describe the love radiating from this giant man’s face, the luminous darkness so intensely alive, his divine laughter. This is a real place, as real as the ground under my feet, real in my body. He walks with me as I walk around in the world. I see his shadow at times. The towering oaks where I live remind me.

And I forget, every day. This is true too. What I now understand deep in my being, is that even this is a gift. This last dream brought this home.

I’m pausing beside a street waiting for a man, hoping he’ll come to walk with me. I feel anxious. I step out into the street and feel alone but in a moment I see him at a distance. He comes and walks beside me and I feel so happy. Then a whole group of men comes and walks all around us and I feel joy. This happens many times, the whole sequence. The moment before he comes feels excruciating, so much pain. I start to feel faith, I know he’ll come. I keep longing, praying for a time when he’s always with me.

Here I feel alone, but something has changed. My body and my heart remember this man, even when I can’t see him. I feel the pain of his absence, and it hurts. What happens is a shift, a change.

I take a step. Feelings flow, and my body knows what to do. The street feels empty but comes alive, and the man responds. He shows up. The flow goes both ways. When he appears… maybe you can imagine how this feels.

The last part of the dream feels close to the way these practices work. The events recur, but not as a repetitive loop. Instead time slows down and opens, and feelings deepen, just as these dream practices stay fresh and evolving. I feel in my bones how these soul rituals grow faith and trust in my own experience. They help me stand on the ground of my own being in a way I couldn’t before. I don’t want to miss this experience any more. It’s real, true, and worth sharing.

Marian Gay is a Natural Dreamwork practitioner seeing clients, and offering her contemplative approach to dreams. Visit her at  She will be doing a presentation on dreams contemplation and presenting a workshop with Rodger Kamenetz at The School for Contemplative Living on March 24 and 25. For more information go to