The term “conditioning” in Natural Dreamwork refers to all of the habitual patterns, behaviors, reactions and ways of being, conscious and unconscious, that we have developed to cope, survive, and protect in a world where trauma, sacrifice of self, and lack of support prevents us from opening to deeper, more vulnerable feelings and soulfulness.

Often, we may feel we “know” what our issues are, we may know our history of trauma to which we continually react, or we always feel something just doesn’t seem to work out for us and we are not sure why. We feel we can’t get to our deepest desires, or maybe we don’t even know what those desires are.

Dreams want to help us get to our soulful nature, the part of us that can feel deeply and know our own intuition by virtue of a strong connection to our felt experience and an openness to our vulnerability through those feelings. They do this using some essential functions such as revealing and invoking. A stripping away, like an onion to reveal deeper and deeper layers, and the invocation of feeling in our dream bodies so that we may “know” on a deeper intuitive level our own inner truths. I think of this as the promise of the dream.

If we agree that the dream has an intention of healing and restoring inner balance, then we must recognize the importance of working with our own unconscious patterns. A true warrior of the dream, understands and does not shy from this work. In fact, she celebrates when darkness is revealed, when the light shines brightly on a particular pattern that has eluded us. She revels in the opportunity to be with these moments, to truly recognize them in herself with compassion and tenderness for the wounded self that manifested them. She honors how they have helped her survive, cope or function in the world with a new understanding that she is not that behavior, only that the behavior has had some free reign in her but now she begins to see a larger picture and perhaps some new possibilities. The dream rarely presents us with a dilemma without offering us the possibility for change or to at least work with the raw materials that will allow for the alchemy to occur within. These raw materials are, naturally, the deep feelings that open us to the greatest gifts of our inner journey.

In working with others, I have noticed there will be moments where clients will feel shame about their conditioning or wish that it weren’t “there.” Or, there may be a tendency to jump to the place of opening, the deeper feeling or to even try and be with the conditioning as if it were soulfulness. These moments can be painful, difficult and bring up many thoughts and feelings. If we jump over the conditioning to get to the “good” feelings of the dream, we will find that the conditioning continues to remain hidden with free reign, or we will continue to hit the painful place of acting out and feel only the spiral of shame or guilt. Sometimes, our conditioning feels good as can sometimes be true with righteous anger, competition, care taking, feats of strength, isolation, etc.

In a recent set of my own dreams, there are two moments that show on the one hand, my conditioned experience of the inner masculine and, on the other, the possibility for remembering the truth of the true energy of the soulful boy in me. In the first dream, I am on a mission as part of a military operation and end up in a knife fight trying to defeat an enemy agent. I feel strong, powerful and with purpose in this dream. There is fear but also determination and skill in the knife fight. Even when he wins and I am wounded, my mission prevents me from feeling the pain.

In a dream next to this one, I see a boy of around 6 with brown skin and loose curly dark hair hunkered down partially behind a huge tree. He has a large striped bright green leaf that he has carved in fine and gorgeous detail and is showing it to me. He and his carving are amazing and beautiful.

What would it be like to know better the creative part of myself that wields the knife for precision and beauty vs the part of myself engaged in the knife fight? This is a different kind of strength and sense of self and one that I am learning to embody more while needing to recognize where in my life I am in the knife fight or believing there is an enemy agent that I need to hunt down. To fully appreciate this moment with the boy and what I am growing towards, my work is to feel the pain of how I have had to survive and how I continue to be wounded in the mission/fight energy. Even when we have worked with our dreams and particular pattern for many years, we can view the reminder as helpful rather than castigate ourselves for forgetting.

To truly understand the gift of surrendering into the love we must first really know, with compassion, the depths of our control issues. To truly know love, we must feel the pain of loss. We do this by allowing space to really feel those moments in the dream where we are driving the car (I once had a client who lifted the car Fred Flintstone style to maintain control), cleaning, directing and caretaking others, on a mission, feeling responsible for that which is not ours to carry, etc.

Take a moment now to close your eyes and feel into the moments from your own dreams where your conditioning has been on full display. Receive those moments with compassion. If you feel shame or guilt, allow that to dissolve into simple aversion or allow the pain of regret for how the conditioning continues to move in you. Aversion, as a feeling, is helpful to us when we know that it is simply our own growing intolerance to the conditioning that seeks to keep us tightly in its grip. Take a moment to allow for some compassion for all that comes up. My soldier has served me well, but perhaps it is time for me to allow this part to recede a bit so the boy can come out from behind the tree.


Laura Smith-Riva is a Natural Dreamwork Practitioner and Priestix of the Green Mountain Druid Order in Vermont. She works with dreamers from many parts of the globe and in her personal work is interested in the connection to the natural world through dreams and vision work and offers expressions of her journey using art, poetry and prose. Learn more about her work at