It’s true what they say about these being unprecedented times. With heightened stresses and newfound sources of anxiety, the collective consciousness is sharing a lot, between economic fears, health scares, and anti-discrimination protests. We are also sharing another commonality: unusual quarantine dreams.
As we all maneuver our new normal, we must tailor our wellness regimens to our current reality so as to best care for ourselves. That’s why we turned to the woman who has righted our Qi time and time again: LA-based acupuncturist, Physician of Eastern Medicine, and owner of Botanarchy, Carolyn Barron. We jumped at the opportunity to pick Carolyn’s brain about how we can use the practice of dreamwork to understand these wacky AF quarantine dreams we’re all having.
How did you get involved with dreamwork?
Like all good stories, it found me. I had a very profound dream when I was 19, in which I was reciting T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” over the body of a lover who was recently deceased. When I awoke the next morning, I could recite the poem from memory (it’s very long) and I received a call a few days later that she had passed away. I was forced to figure out ways to interact with this dream, extract wisdom from it, and understand its very presence and purpose in my life. Of course there’s an entire branch of psychotherapy that deals in these very questions, but I was young, broke, on a college scholarship, and from a blue collar background with no access to these things. I went to the library and got Montague Ullman’s “Working With Dreams,” Castañeda’s “The Art of Dreaming,” and probably eight other books. Soon I was keeping a dream journal, stumbling through teaching myself how to lucid dream, and having dialogues with characters from my dreams.
What are some common themes of quarantine dreams you’ve been seeing come up for people since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and what do they mean?
The dreams that most of my patients have been sharing recently are meaty: epic, sprawling, phantasmagoric tales that read like an episode of Game of Thrones (when it was good). While I can’t speak to what they mean on an individual level (that’s for you to do!), I can speak with an intuitive inkling to what they might mean collectively. Since the arrival of the virus and the cataclysm that ensued, we have been treading liminal waters. Life is suddenly brazenly nebulous, indefinite, indeterminate, threatening our sense of equilibrium, and failing to give us the comfort of containment & certainty that we so deeply crave. We have been plunged into a new world: it looks familiar on the surface but our maps don’t work here and the rules are completely different. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not only the emotional content of our new daily reality, but it’s also the plot of our grand stories, films, and fables. There’s a sense that we’re all embedded together in a grand saga, and the pandemic has brought us to a mythic battleground where battles of good and evil are waged externally and internally on the daily. And while pre-pandemic we might have felt somewhat insignificant and disempowered when it came to exacting meaningful change, folks are waking up to how much their actions mean in this world. No one is insignificant, and we hold great power to sow both discord and heroism through our gestures.
For those who have never heard of dreamwork or ever delved in, what are some of the basics of dreamwork?
Dreamwork is really just a process of meaningfully engaging with your dreams, or ‘befriending the dream’ as my alchemical healing mentor Lorie Dechar likes to say. Dreamwork is not looking up the symbols of your dreams in a dream atlas. It is a process of becoming familiar with your inner world and offering a non-interpretive approach to the dream that is open-ended, exploratory, and above all, yours and yours alone. It takes note of not just the dream itself, but the feelings evoked in a dream, the mood upon waking, the emotional landscapes in the dream, and the broader concepts permeating the dream. Dreamwork can be anything from keeping a dream journal, using active imagination or plant medicine to dialogue with dream visitors in waking life, integrating dream wisdom into your life using ritual, using herbs for lucid dreaming, or more esoteric practices like Tibetan dream yoga and dream divination. These are things that shamans, physicians, alchemists, priests, and scientists have been engaging in since time immemorial.