In early August, 2023, I prepared to attend a retreat with other Natural Dreamwork practitioners. I would be meeting my colleagues in person for the first time after getting to know each other by Zoom before and during the Covid years. We planned to work with each other’s dreams using the 5-D technique of acting out the dream, bringing their moments to life in all dimensions, including the dreams’ emotional and spiritual medicine. The 5-D approach is similar to psychodrama or Gestalt therapy, in which participants embody aspects of another’s lived experience, except instead of a life situation or internal conflict, 5-D dreamwork embodies the interactions, images, and figures within each other’s dreams.
I was excited to experience this form of dreamwork for the first time. As an expressive arts therapist, I experienced other Gestalt approaches that bring to life and dialogue with imagery, so I was expecting the 5-D work to feel somewhat familiar. Yet, I anticipated that the fully embodied 5-D work would be much more vulnerable than a Zoom dream session in which I can feel somewhat shielded by the laptop screen. I would be moving through the dream with others who would be witnessing, and interacting with me within my defended places, my struggles, and the places that need healing. My biggest fear was not that I would be too vulnerable. I worried that I would freeze up and not let my colleagues in, though I know them to be very wise and compassionate dream guides.
We were to select and send in advance two possible recent dreams, from which those facilitating the 5-D session would choose when it was each participant’s turn to work on a dream. I readily selected a dream in which a man pointed a gun at my chest as I stood in a line of people. I expected this would be the dream the facilitators chose to work with. I also included what I considered to be a less directly challenging dream, a softer one, in which I was trying to choose the snuggliest kitten from a litter. I expected this dream to not be chosen. But I thought that if we did, the world would lead in the direction of me finding the courage to wall away from the patched kitten and finally pick the best and fluffiest companion, breaking free from my habitual pattern of “making-do and doing-without” which, in life, has led me to stay too long in under-nourishing relationships and situations.
As anyone who has experienced Natural Dreamwork could probably guess, what I expected to happen was not what the dreamwork opened up for me. The facilitators of my session, Rodger and Kezia, chose the upholstery kitten dream, which proved to open up a profound outpouring of grief and shame related to being the scrappy, wounded, imperfectly repaired one who often has felt rejected by those I love for not being soft and fluffy enough, as in compliantly comfort them at my own expense.
Experiencing 5-D dreamwork first hand with my Natural Dreamwork colleagues truly was an experience of entering sacred space and soul time together. Participating in others’ dreamwork sessions always offered healing to aspects of my own life. Even more so, my own personal 5-D session during the retreat was indescribably impactful.
As we brought to life the upholstery kitten dream, I started out in my defended ego, determined to reject the kitten that was wounded and patched with rough upholstery fabric. This stance became harder and harder to stay in as my colleague Jan played the role of the patched kitten, looking up at me with pleading, loving eyes, and meowing with such longing. Then, Rodger and Kezia suggested I switch roles and act out the part of the patched kitten, speaking aloud how I felt. I spoke about feeling unwanted, hurt, alone, and about having to live as the scrappy one, with no one who consistently has had her back throughout adult life. I quickly, yet with deep trust in the group, began to openly cry. I felt able to speak to them from deep within the place of my core shame. I knew myself to be in a roomful of people who saw me as dreams always see us, through the eyes of the soul. I felt a place deep within me that had been hurt and hidden away for so long being witnessed and loved.
In the 5-D session, I was able to accept and choose the vulnerable scrappy kitten in front of my fellow witnesses who loved that part of me too. This dreamwork session helped me accept my own rough, wounded, and vulnerable self who learned at an early age to “make-do and do-without.” This expression was how my furniture store owner father described his approach to life. It is from a Depression Era saying and it is how he responded, through restriction and self-denial, to his own needs, and to my needs. (Take note. My wounded father sold furniture. Furniture is covered by upholstery.) This way of surviving, bequeathed to me in childhood, has helped me develop practical, self-reliance with which to navigate life’s imperfect hardships. But it has also limited me, made me confused about having needs within relationships, made me too ready to do-without when more is truly needed. I can too easily feel shame for having needs. I too often feel unworthy.
As I began to see the upholstery kitten with compassion, my shame and need for healing were also witnessed by my wise Natural Dreamwork colleagues. The roughest, most wounded, untouchable, patchwork place in me, long hidden underneath shame’s defenses, felt touched intimately by an energetic field of compassion that came from the group and from within me simultaneously. This healing energy resonated through me even after the dreamwork session ended. I returned home feeling saturated with a dose of time-release medicine. Following my art therapist instincts, to literally hold onto this sensation and continue to reactivate it, in the weeks following the retreat, I found a scrap of upholstery fabric and hand-sewed a small, humble kitten-shaped pillow from it. I can hold this pillow and remember that surviving as the scrappy, wounded, rough-in-places critter that I am makes me more loveable, not less.
Now, three months after this retreat experience, I find that the healing experience of the 5-D session continues to have an enduring effect. I still feel validated to be in the world as the scrappy, wounded, imperfect, survivor that I am. I feel more clarity about not being falsely soft or snugly in a people-pleasing way to caretake others who expect me to “make-do and do-without” to be in a relationship with them. I feel authentic courage and freedom to be myself, seeing my patched places of “rough upholstery” as sites of beautiful healing.
I am walking up stairs and see an artist friend sent me a text with a video of a litter of kittens running around. She is inviting me to come see them. I enter an art studio. A poet friend and my artist friend are both there and greet me. The kittens are here too. The studio becomes my house. I realize that the dog is not bothering the kittens as I feared she would. So I can have a cat again! I want to keep one of the kittens from this litter while giving the rest away. People have arrived and now each kitten is associated with an adult. I am going from kitten to kitten looking for the snuggliest one. he first snuggly kitten has upholstery fabric for fur. I feel sad for it. I kept looking for a softer one. I ask, “Does anyone have a snuggly kitten?” A couple people call out, helping me. I go to one, a male kitten, who is very snuggly. The man with him tells me the kitten is named Toby. I check out the kitten with a woman nearby. This one is also snuggly. She tells me it is named Abby. I can’t decide. Could I keep both?
Artwork by Liza Hyatt
Liza Hyatt, ATR-BC, LMHC is a certified Natural Dreamwork practitioner, board certified art therapist and licensed mental health counselor in Indianapolis. For more information about spiritual growth through dreamwork with Liza, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Liza on the About Us page of our website.