Wellness

This Is Why You’re Having Unusual Quarantine Dreams

by Michaela d'Artois

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Wellness

This Is Why You’re Having Unusual Quarantine Dreams

Are your dreams like an episode of Game of Thrones? Yeah, same.

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.

MD

How did you get involved with dreamwork?

CB

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.

MD

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?

CB

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.

MD

For those who have never heard of dreamwork or ever delved in, what are some of the basics of dreamwork?

CB

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.

Profound anxiety and fear can be great catalysts.”

MD

How can we tap into our dreams and use them to our advantage in waking life?

CB

You can start by keeping a dream journal. I’ve seen time and time again how the deceptively simple practice of journaling your dreams upon waking leads to deeper, more profound dreaming, and even increases recall. In addition to writing down the content of your dreams, you can start jotting down people, symbols, tropes, emotions, and themes that recur across multiple dreams. Make charts & diagrams if that’s your thing! If you struggle to get beyond the linear narrative of the dream, you can use tarot or the I Ching to unlock your unconscious and open new pathways of deeper personal meaning. There’s a book by psychologist Robert Johnson called Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth that I recommend to all of my patients who want to start engaging with the symbolic messages of their dreams and seek their counsel.

There is also a particular class of herbs called oneirogens (from the Greek óneiros meaning “dream” and gen “to create”) that coax the muses and enhance dream states. Oneirogens can be taken to enhance dream recall, promote lucid dreaming, and increase REM sleep. As dreams have been thought to bear messages from both the gods & the unconscious, you can imagine the importance of knowing how to gracefully navigate the dreamlands. You can find a guide for using my most cherished oneirogens in the Botanarchy Journal.

MD

What do you think our quarantine dreams say about our connectedness as a whole, and how can we use this to our advantage?

CB

The processing of COVID-induced existential tumult — like everything we are handed in life — happens beneath our conscious awareness, and dreams do all the heavy lifting. With a casual glance we may all seem to be wildly different creatures inhabiting wildly different realities, but these differences are culturally-imposed. Though traumas, genetics, and experiences have shaped & molded our nervous systems and how they respond to stresses, we all have the same processing core, and right now it’s managing a lot of anxiety & fear. No matter how deftly we navigate these states, they still hijack most of our subterranean emotional bandwidth. Profound anxiety and fear can be great catalysts, and if we lean into the discomfort and work with the shadowy material in our dreams, we can shift its density and notice that something else emerges on the other side.

Interview courtesy of Carolyn Barron, L.Ac.

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