Transcript of In Search of Truth: Dreams with Rodger Kamenetz (S2:E5)

Amy Frykholm: Welcome back to In Search Of, where we go in search of voices and perspectives that inform and expand a life of faith. I’m Amy Frykholm and on this season of  In Search Of, we’ve been in search of truth.


This week, we enter a realm where some would say no truth exists. We’re talking today about the truth of dreams. I talk with poet, essayist, and natural dreamworker Rodger Kamenetz who, since I met him more than fifteen years ago, has been a personal inspiration and guide, especially in the realm of what he calls “natural dreaming.” His book The History of Last Night’s Dream captivated me and he tells his own story in this book of grappling with his own dreaming, but also with the dreams of his ancestors, and with dreaming as an essential part of spiritual experience and religious tradition. 


Rodger’s a poet and an essayist, well-known for his book The Jew in the Lotus about a historic meeting between a group of Jewish rabbis and Tibbetan Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama. He founded a network of natural dreamworkers, which you can find at and in the show notes for this episode.


Welcome, Rodger, to In Search Of.


Rodger Kamenetz: Thank you so much for having me.


AF: Rodger, I have to say that when it comes to my interest in dreams and dreaming, you are my most important mentor. You and I met many years ago, if you remember, at a writing conference.


RK: Mm-hmm. 


AF: And we almost immediately started talking about dreams, at least as I recall. And there were some really unforgettable moments for me in those conversations. And then it was a lot of years later when I was having some really troubling dreams that I contacted you and I was a little bit too terrified to tell you the dreams I was having. So I decided to tell you a dream that I thought was kind of a nothing dream. Like, okay, well let's not go to the hard stuff. Let's do the easy stuff, right? And the results of that conversation about this nothing dream, this dream that I thought was nothing, had a really profound effect on my life. And so it's really an honor for me to welcome you here to share your approach to dreaming with us.


RK: Well, thank you. Happy to be here. Always to see you. It's always a joy. 


AF: Well, take us back a little bit, if you would, and tell us how you became interested in dreamwork, why it became important in your life. 


RK: You want the long story or the short story?  


AF: I usually like the long story. 


RK: Okay. When I was born, now…[laughs] ‘cause we were all dreaming in the womb. You know that. And that's fascinating. There's rapid eye movements in the developing fetus at a certain stage, which really suggests something interesting that maybe instead of viewing dreams as a comment on waking life, maybe dreams are a preparation for waking life.


Skipping ahead. Yeah. I had, when, as a kid, I had sort of scary falling dreams and they were repeated. I remember those. Later on when I was in college, I thought, oh, I'll start writing down my dreams because, might be fodder for poetry. I had a very utilitarian attitude, you know, which I think a lot of us in general in our culture suffer from. “What is the use of something?” That's an infection of our culture. Everything is about its use. 


So later on, that led to some terrifying dream where I tried to steer my car into the oncoming traffic just on a lark, ‘cause I had what they call lucid dreams. And that was terrifying. And the dream kind of exploded and so did I.


So I stopped writing them down. But then years later I had a dream of, after my grandfather died and he spoke to me, in a voice not really his. And that became the root of my first book of poetry, The Missing Jew, the voice of my grandfather coming in a dream. Seems later, Terra Infirma, when I wrote that book about my mother, it was also based on a dream. So these dreams, at least from my experience, as you related in your own case, certain dreams come to haunt us, bother us, terrify us, or just move us deeply.


So skipping ahead, after I wrote The Jew in the Lotus and had met with the Tibetans and in that meeting between rabbis and the Dalai Lama, it was very striking how the Tibetans used techniques of contemplation of images, and they consider themselves the people of the dream, as in a way the Jewish people are people of the dream because of Joseph and Jacob, the great avatars of the dream, right? We have these archetypal figures who… one's associated with the dream as revelation. And the other, the dream is interpretation. 


Skipping ahead, I got curious about that. I met with a dream teacher, a visualization teacher named Colette Aboulker-Muscat in Jerusalem, who is an heir to an old kabbalistic tradition, of the Kabbalah of Light, as they call it, from Girona in Spain. And then I met a former postman who taught me everything he knew about dreams, which was quite a lot. His name was Marc Bregman. And that got me into the dream work.


And, after a while, after the book came out, I was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and the main point about that is that a lot of people came to me to talk about their dreams. And really over the last 15 years, I've had this incredible privilege of just spending hour after hour listening to people's dreams. I think you mentioned that dreams, a lot of people think of dreams, other people's dreams as somewhat boring, and I understand that attitude, but it's, for me, they're just an endless source of fascination and then deeper, I think, wonder at this capacity we have, all of us, to spontaneously produce these powerful images that can move us so deeply and return us to our heart, to our soul.


So, that's the long version. 


AF: I bet you there's an even longer version. 


RK: Well, probably, yeah. Sorry. Yeah, it was, yeah, that was long enough. 


AF: Well, I wonder, just maybe tell us a little bit about the book, The History of Last Night's Dream, which you came out with in 2007.


RK: Right. So that book came after I met Marc, and around 2003 I started working with individuals. And then after the book came out, I began working even more and I separated from Marc's group and started my own group essentially, of practitioners. That happened in 2014. 


And I think the book was very ambitious. It tried to give a history of dreaming, from the Book of Genesis to Jung and Freud and beyond, and it touched on the rabbis and the church fathers, and so the role of dreams in early Christianity, for instance, and the Book of Acts, and the both the power and perhaps the fear of dreams that runs through our Western traditions, but especially Judaism, Christianity.


And then the second part was my own journey in dreams. So the two books were kind of, the two halves were sort of married together. And that was really a remarkable journey. And that I'm still on. 


AF: Do you feel like, you mentioned how your own dreaming, your own engagement with dreaming has deep roots in Judaism.


RK: Mm-hmm.  


AF: How important is religious tradition or one's own religious tradition in how a person approaches their dreams? 


RK: Yeah, that's a really important question. I mean, there's no have to. I just find, you know, for me that language, the Jewish language, is deeply inculcated in me from childhood and so yeah, naturally it's a reference point, but dreams themselves are not belonging to any particular religion. I would say the dream experience underlies all religion. And so in that sense, it could be accommodated with whatever religious language you speak or don't speak. 


And I work with people of all sorts, but ultimately, even though they might come to me originally for what we call psychology, for healing, for therapy, and dreams really do provide tremendous healing by bringing us to a depth of feeling. The practice deepens to what is generally called spirituality.


And I wanna point out that the word spiritual really in its origin has a lot more to do with imagination than we often think. And I prefer the term “imagination” to describe what going on here because it's somewhat neutral and also it's related to poetry, which of course, I'm a poet.


At the root, we spontaneously create images when we sleep. And these are experiences of imagination that in themselves, even just without doing anything, just noting our dreams, it's so remarkable that we have this gift in each one of us, and we don't value it. We don't say, hey, wait a minute, I'm a person who dreams. We take it for granted. There's no wonder about it. Or there's no, oh yeah, I had a dream last night. And maybe it'll make you laugh.


But no, I mean, if you explore it more deeply, it's like, well, how could it be that such a… I mean, I couldn't have thought of that on my own. How could it be that this just presents itself within me? So there must be something in us that is a source of spontaneous imagination. And to me, that leads us to the sacred.


AF: I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about your approach to dreaming. How do you go about this process? What are you looking for? What's unique about your approach to dreaming? How do you do it? 


RK: Yeah. I don't know if it's unique or not. You know, Ezra Pound said “go in fear of abstraction.” Well, I would say, you know, as advice for writing poetry, and I would say go in fear of interpretation. So what I mean by that is, immerse yourself in the experience of the dream. Treat the dream experience seriously and notice it more deeply. So we focus on the sensual and felt experiences and dreams, and we put aside the storytelling of the dream point of view.


So in every dream there's a dream point of view, which is, familiarly called “I,” but it's not, “I,” like you say, you know, “I was in a restaurant” in my dream. Well, you weren't, you know, the person saying that wasn't in the restaurant. There's a character in the dream that you identify with, right, but who has very different potentiality.


So there's an I and there's the dream surround. And what we focus on are moments of encounter that are full of feeling, encounter with things and persons or forces, which, only after we wake, we call images or imagos. In the dream they're not, you know, if you see a lion in a dream, it's a lion. It's not an image, it's not a symbol, it's an experience.


So this is why we put a… not totally against interpretation. We put it to one side for as long as possible and immerse ourselves. Okay. How close were you to the lion? I had a dreamer once tell me I could feel his breath on my face. Okay. What were you feeling in your body in that moment? My heart was pounding, terror. So these intense moments of encounter are where the healing, the medicine and the dream, that's the site for the medicine. 


And so putting aside our story, the ego or the I is a story making mechanism and it is mechanical and everything we see, it's like, is that a threat to the ego or is that helpful to me? Do I like this? Do I not like this? “What's in it for me” is sort of the ego's question. And so everything, even inside the dream, the habit of the ego is still there for a long, long time. 


You know, someone's driving along and they see something miraculous. A nine foot tall giant lying by the curb. Did you stop? I asked. Oh, no. I was on my way to work. I was in a hurry. Well, in the dream, you're not on your way to work, right? So, you know, the habits of the waking life point of view filter into the dream and contaminate it. But what we can do is, okay, let's stop the dream there. Let's see the giant, what do you feel seeing this naked giant, happened to be a naked nine foot tall giant? Okay. Get the feeling. Could you get out of the car? Okay. Some people can do this, some can't in the beginning, but then you can really deepen and experience the feelings that were there for you and the dream, but that you might have done a drive-by and missed. So that's part of you. 


AF: You can kind of like redream?


RK: Absolutely. 


AF: You redream it even as you're thinking, right?


RK: Yeah. My motto is: I don't interpret dreams; I bring them to life. And as much as possible, I don't interpret. I'm not saying interpretation is totally avoidable. It's what the mind does. But can we put it aside and just deepen our experience of the dream? And then we begin to notice more carefully the difference between feeling and reaction.


 So often we're not living in our feelings. We don't know how we feel. Dreams can help us learn how we feel in the ordinary sense. You know, what are you feeling? But also, how do we experience feeling? How do we experience, in the body? What does it do to us when we're really in a feeling?


And our primary distinction, which I learned originally from Marc Bregman, was feeling versus reaction. So a feeling is a whole body experience, like sorrow or pain or joy or terror, even disgusted is a feeling. But a reaction is usually feeling plus story, like guilt, “if they knew what I did.” So there's always some other people involved. There's a story, or like shame, if they could only see my, you know, if they saw me naked. We don't get to the underlying feeling because it's covered over by a reaction that also includes a story. So we try to tease that out, question the story, and go back to the feeling that's the basic of it.


AF: So then in that case, what do you make of truth in relation to dreams. What kind of truth is available in a dream? And how do you read that?


RK: Well, the truth is the truth of feeling to begin with. Feelings are how we know the truth of a moment. But only if we can discern the difference between feeling and reaction. That's what it comes back to, right? ‘Cause you're not really feeling something… Well, let's put it this way: the deepest feelings of wonder, awe, terror are on a continuum. I call them a harmonic. Some would say a spectrum, but I prefer the musical analogies. They're on a harmonic and we can feel them with greater or less intensity. 


And clearly it's fundamental to spiritual experience to be able to feel awe. And that means we often have to be able to feel terror. Right, and fear and wonder, they're all on the same spectrum, right? Or harmonic. If we can't feel those things or don't allow ourselves to feel them, then we're not in primary imagination.


So in primary imagination, we have these experiences that have a sense of awe or of great joy, of great love. And when we're not in primary imagination, when we're in the waking life, profane, we don't have those experiences. So we have to have a certain kind of consciousness and our dreams immerse us, potentially bring us to that place and allow us to experience it, and then give us a template so that we can begin to live with awe and wonder and pain and terror in waking life. Notice that a lot of the feelings that are fundamental are ones we tend to want to avoid, right? 


AF: Yes, yes, definitely. 


RK: Right? But I don't view feelings that way. They're all necessary. And if we try to cut out some feelings… “oh, I like this feeling, I don't like that.” It's like trying to play a piano with only the black keys. We need all the keys. We need the whole range. And when we start to shut down, avoid certain feelings, we end up dampening all of them. Right? 


And then what happens is, instead of feelings, so for instance… well, one of my jokes is the cure for anxiety is terror. When you are in anxiety, there's always a story element about the future. What will happen if, you know, someone breaks into my house? There's a guy outside. What'll happen if someone breaks into my house? And so often in a dream, there is a guy outside and he does wanna break into your house, but he's an angel. You just don't realize that, right? Because you're applying your waking life thinking. And the angel comes with terror. Just like Rilke says, every angel is terrible. So we need to experience terror to encounter the angel. 


And the angels in our dreams are called by fancier names. By other, you know, Jung calls them archetypes. You can call archetypes, if it makes you feel better. I think they're angels. I think that's what we mean by angels, actually. 


AF: In your experience, do people tend to come with very individual vocabularies of dreaming, or do you find yourself drawn toward collective understandings of dreams? I mean, how does that work for you? 


RK: Well, there's both. I mean, in one sense, every dream is as personal as a fingerprint. And yet, as you work with people, and when you spend your 10,000 hours that I've spent, you start to see patterning that is more universal, thematics, what I would call arcs of the dream, progressions of the dream. 


So, and I could give some examples, but basically another way of talking about this is there's a horizontal timeline element to our development. Who am I? Who are my parents? Where did I come from? Who helped me? Who hurt me? Who am I with now? Where is it all going? Right? And that's the horizontal, and you can picture it as a timeline and dreams will use that material, but they're not about that material. They use that material the way we make a cake out of ingredients like eggs and flour and so forth. But the vertical is where time stops and you're just in a state of tremendous depth of feeling. It could be terror, it could be wonder, it could be love, could be sorrow. 


So when those moments happen, when we let them happen, when we stop driving past the giant, right? Get out of the car, stop controlling everything. Then we can have those encounters and they change us and can heal us. We also can develop relationships with these figures. They can become our friends, our teachers. Sometimes they appear as our friends and our actual teachers. Sometimes they appear after they've died. They continue to teach. I've had that experience. 


So, there's a whole arc over time. It's not just a momentary encounter with a teacher, but you might say, a developing relationship, often delivered with great humor. And even just a knowing, understanding of what kind of wretch you are, you know, what kind of instruction you need. They don't always, they're not goody goodies necessarily. They can be rebuking you, right? But in cool ways. 


AF: That's kinda what makes it a little bit terrifying to tell you a dream is that, you know, you get the feeling that you might be mocking you or you might be terrifying you. It's a risky process, in my experience. 


RK: Well, I don't promote any single, you know, say theology of the dream. You can take it any way you want, but it just, when you have this experience and doesn't happen right away, most people are so habituated to their conditioning and to their reactivity that their experiences and dreams are just episodes of reactivity.


And it's hard in the beginning when I work with people to say, yeah, you're in a reaction here. You're not really in a feeling. And then try to show them what it is. And if we're lucky, can we get to the feeling? Sometimes we can dig underneath the reaction, re-experience the moment, and at least get a hint of what it's like to live a life of feeling instead of a life of reactivity.


AF: Hmm. And you've done some experimenting around trying to turn dreams into poems. 


RK: Mm-hmm. 


AF: And I wonder if you could talk about that process, like what, what happens in the attempt and what have you learned in your experimentation with that? 


RK: Yeah, so a couple of recent books, Dream Logic and Yonder, are really where I began to explore this. I was exploring prose poetry, ‘cause of all the forms of poetry, prose poetry is really closer to the dream experience, because the way it depends on movements of images that are intuitive rather than logical. Hence dream logic. And I was guided by my admiration for poets like Russell Edson and the Frenchman Max Jacob, who was Picasso's roommate early on. 


But what I found was that it doesn't do to write a poem based on a dream, then you're using the dream. I mentioned that earlier. Yeah, no, that's no good. But rather, what I found was that since I already had the habit of writing down my dreams, as soon as I woke, or in the middle of one night, I said, I think I'll just write a poem instead. But I was in the flavor and the perfume of the dream in that mind state of deep imagination. And the poem came out and, you know, I began that as a practice. And, you know, it was a great way to start poems. 


AF: So a poem is not a dream written down. It's not like that. It's not a transliteration. It's something else. Some other form.


RK: Well, I'm writing an essay about this and, you know, sometimes a poem will actually appear in a dream. I mean, you know, I had a dream where a dead friend came and he was holding what seemed to be a book of my new poems, although I hadn't written it yet. But that's also something writer's dream about. Right? 


And it was weird because the cover was on the back of the book and the blurbs were on the front. And that object, just meditating on that object itself, you know, is like, huh, am I one of those people who are so concerned about the praise and the promotion that the cover is actually on the back and the blurbs are on the front? I could feel that I got that, you know, no words.


Later on in the dream, I was holding the book and reading it, and there was this poem. And in the dream experience, it was so beautiful, and I was reading it out loud, and as I read it, the words were rising into the air and it was wonderful. And when I woke, I could only remember one line, which was a great tease. The line was, “we only see only as we cross.” And given this was from a friend who had died, it was really quite a powerful single line.


So, of course Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan in a kind of dream state, drug state. He had a better memory than I did, and very remarkable. One of his great poems that, you know. So we poets are puritanical and think, oh, you have to work hard and you know, you can't be that easy. But sometimes we do dream poems.


AF: Although even if you had that one line, then you have to start to build around it.


RK: Oh, I did, I wrote a poem. And I wrote an essay about the dream. So it's all working together, but yeah. Right. Yeah. Right. But I think to answer your question, even that experience is different from, you know, using the materials in some conscious way or writing a poem about a dream.


It's all fine, but that didn't work for me. This other method worked much better, to write in the mood of the dream.


AF: In the feeling of the dream, 


RK: Not even, just like in the state of consciousness that Tibetans called dream-mind. They speak of body-sense-mind, which is, you know, sensations and feelings in your body, just being present. But dream-mind is another kind of consciousness and to enter into that consciousness naturally. And then kind of when you wake up, we're still in it for a little bit. If you don't like rush out to do some errand or pay attention to the news and the radio or whatever, you just stay there for a little longer. You can just stay in that consciousness and it's a very creative place.


Notice that nothing we're saying has anything to do with interpreting a dream. I'm talking really about the experience of the dream itself.


AF: I think a lot of times when I'm trying to remember a dream, I feel it dissipating. It feels like a crumbling city, you know? Like I reach after it, and then it's already gone, and then I just try to cling to one image that I can bring back to the page or something. You know, I feel like I wanna keep something, you know, and it just always feels like it's fleeing in front of me. So it's hard for me to imagine that moment that you're describing of like, oh, I'm just gonna stay here and I'm just gonna feel this. 


RK: I think if you recover even an image, that's wonderful and yeah, you can just stay and feel it. And if the more deeply you feel it, the more likely you are to remember it. So I don't have any standard... people have too strict a standard for what they consider a dream to be, for me. If it's an image, if it's a word, if it's a face, just cherish that. It doesn't have to be a complete novel. 


AF: It seems like a lot of your work has been focused on that question: what is the role of the imagination in spiritual life? 


RK: Because we suffer from a lack of imagination. People often come to their traditions with a kind of rigid, inhibited, you know, they're looking for rules and laws of behavior that are very strict instead of recognizing that all religions originate in creativity, in imagination. I mean, that's how I read the Book of Genesis. It's about creativity. 


The creative in us manifests as dreams, as poems, as art, as imaginative forms of kindness, as relationship, and paying attention. I mean, it emerges in memory, how we remember; it emerges in perception, how we perceive, right? So, you know, if you think about it, the word imagination obviously has something to do with images, right? And if you think about it all of our experience is of images, right? A perception is actually an image that's taking place in consciousness. So is a memory, and so is a dream. 


So by learning to move fluidly between these experiences of images and taking them in more deeply, by which I mean, which is a form of contemplation. We live a life from moment to moment that's full of God. I mean, put it that way. 


AF: So that makes me think that the dream work that you do is a form of contemplation.


RK: Absolutely. It's absolutely. That is what it is. So when we work with people, we always pick a moment of encounter, if we can find one, where there's a deep feeling and we bring it to mind again, and we feel it.


That moment of seeing the lion close to you, it's terrible. It's terror, but it's very deep. So we go back to that moment and visualize it and feel the breath on our face. 


AF: I was thinking, I would tell you a dream and we could see how some of this stuff works in real time. If you're up for it.


RK: Well, you, you are the one taking the big risk, but… 


AF: Yeah, it feels risky.


RK: Yeah, it is risky. 


AF: Yeah, but what the heck? Here we go, right. In this dream, I am leaving a writing conference, and I have a feeling that a lot of things happened at this conference, but I can't remember any of them.


So to leave the conference, I have to back my car down a steep driveway. And I think the car might be some kind of, like, old school sedan. Like I used to have a Plymouth Volare that I drove. I know, you're picturing me in a Plymouth Volare. But I had it when I was young. But I don't think it's quite that big. I don't think the car is quite as clumsy as this Plymouth Volare that I had when I was young. But it's still a big car, and I have to back it down this very steep driveway. 


And as I back down the driveway, I lose control of the car. It even flips over a couple of times, I think. And I feel the sensation of spinning and I think to myself, well, at least I have my seatbelt on, so I'll be okay.


And then the car keeps going and I hear a crunch and I hear shattering of glass and as the car hits another car across the street (there's a car parked across the street and I hit that) and I'm still going backwards. There are people who are watching. Nobody can help. Nobody can stop the car. And I keep thinking that the car will stop on its own. Like it'll hit some obstacle and it'll just stop. But it doesn't. 


And then, and it feels kind of like the worst thing keeps happening, like as I'm back in the car, down the street and then. The car is now backing down a wide, tree-lined street, and it's still outta control. I see a fork in the road, and I think that what I have to do is try to steer the car uphill so it will stop.


And then I'm at the neighbor's house where I crunched the car and we are standing in the garage. My perception is the neighbor is an angry man. He's strange to me. He's angry about me crunching his car, or he's angry anyway, and I think there's also a woman nearby, but I don't get the feeling that she's angry.


RK: Mm-hmm. 


AF: And I'm surprised that no one has called the police. And I think that I need to do that. I need to call the police. So I take out my phone, but I can't figure out how to open it. I can't figure out how to turn it on, like it might be dead or I've forgotten how it works. 


And I'm trying. I'm trying. And now I see that the phone is actually a cucumber. I try to, and I'm still trying to open it even as it's a cucumber, right? It ends with me trying to open the cucumber. 


RK: Wonderful. And how do you feel about that?


AF: The cucumber opening? I feel frustrated. 


RK: Right. 


AF: I can't open it. I can't, right. You know, I keep trying, like, to pry it open and try to open a cucumber. 


RK: Well, you can't. I mean, obviously, you're trying to do something absurd, so they're not letting you have any control. 


AF: No.


RK: The dream is not right. You can't control the car and you have all these schemes and plots to control the car. None of them really work. And in the end, you're trying to call the police, turn yourself in, and no, you're not allowed to do that either. And so there's increasing frustration.


In the beginning you said you were at a writer's conference. 


AF: Mm-hmm.


RK: How do you know that? Does the dream start in the writer's conference or does it start in the car?


AF: I feel that it starts in the writer's conference, but that all those people or conversations or whatever was happening there are just gone. 


RK: You don't have any memory. 


AF: Can't recall them. I can't. No memory. 


RK: So what's the first vivid thing you remember? The car. 


AF: The car in the driveway, right?


RK: I'm gonna suggest that it's possible that this is an example of story-making that… you didn't actually experience the conference, but that you kind of fill that in ‘cause there's a blank spot there. You know, like, where was I leaving from? But the dream really starts at the head of a driveway backing down. 


Now, well, there's so much to think about this, but do you have experiences of that, of backing down driveways? Like you live in the, you know, where it's icy and cold sometimes. 


AF: Yeah. 


RK: Is that an issue?


AF: Not here. But when I lived in South Dakota… The house that I'm backing down from in the dream reminds me of that driveway. It was a very steep driveway with a twist at the top. So I lived there when I was maybe, I don't know, 16. I lived in that house. 


RK: And is that when you started driving?


AF: I think I had started driving before we lived in that house. 


RK: Oh, really? So actually the feeling in the car of backing down a steep driveway, you can't really see exactly where you're going. What do you feel in that? If you just stop the dream there, as the car's starting to go down the driveway, what does that feel? Does that have a feeling?


AF: Fear? 


RK: Mm-hmm. 


AF: There's a real fear of anxiety or a feel of inadequacy. Kind of like a fear of, “other people can do this, but I can't.” 


RK: Okay, so notice this right here. This is what we're saying. That reaction is a feeling plus a story. So the feeling is fear, but the anxiety has this story which piles on with all this stuff about, you know, you're inadequate, you're not a good driver, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right? 


AF: Other people can back down the driveway. Yeah. 


RK: Wow. Oh, really? Oh, interesting. So what begins to happen as you work dreams is you start to, the first thing we try to do is separate, to say, well, what does it feel like just to be backing down the driveway? Can you just stay with the feeling and drop the narrative?


You know, the linear, horizontal narrative, which is, but you could call it story or you could call it, you know, “Amy's same old story” because it's a very familiar story that you've probably reiterated many times in your life, maybe many times in the last week or the last day. I don't know. It's this narrative that always confirms itself. I call it a self story because it's a story about the self, but it's also a story that the ego generates about itself. 


All the stories our ego tells are not good stories. Sometimes the ego is very happy generating a story that says, “I'm a schmuck. I'm no good.” Right, right. So that's your story here. 


AF: Yeah, right. But the feeling is like my heart is racing to my throat, right? I'm trying to manage the mirrors. I'm trying to get the car in line, right? 


RK: But even there, let's just say, even there, you are trying to do something to manage the feeling and this dream is showing you how you handle fear.


And like, is there anything I can do to make it a little better? You know, can I adjust this or that? But that's not dealing with the real issue. And then the story comes in and says, yeah, this has happened before, it'll happen to me again ‘cause this is the way I am, blah, blah blah. So why is this happening and so forth.


None of that is the same as simply just being in the feeling. I'm in a car, it's rolling backwards and I'm gradually understanding that I absolutely have no control, which is what happens, right? 


So just feel that for a minute. It's rolling back, it's rolling down the hill and now it's rolling down the street. Just let go. I have no control here. What does that feel like? That's the reality. I have no control of this thing and I'm terrified. My heart's pounding. 


AF: My heart's pounding. I feel the spin, you know, like when I flip over a couple of times… 


RK: Uh oh, the car flips over. 


AF: Yeah. It flips over twice or something.


RK: Okay. So feel that now. Feel the car flipping over. You clearly have no control. There's nothing you can do, right? There's no story in that moment. That's the relief. There's absolutely no story there. There's no longer a story about inadequacy or mistakes you've made, or what other people think, or what other people can do. In that moment of terror, story is reduced to a minimum. 


That is what I would call… I say that a dream is a poem disguised as a story. When we dial the story down to zero, the poem emerges. A moment of terror. Okay? So this terror is in all of us, and it's in you. The dream brings you to that terror, and that's the important gift of the dream because we hide from our terror. We avoid it. We plan, we make, you know, we try to keep in control, right? The great thing is you're losing control. 


This is good. It's tiresome to be in charge all the time. It's tiresome to have to rely on yourself. And this story you tell yourself is also a bit tiresome because it's not true.


You talked about truth in a dream. The truth in your dream is the feeling of terror. The story is the conditioning, which is some way you've learned to avoid the terror by making it about, “oh, that's me again, being incompetent.” Right, right. Well, I know you and it's a false story. I think you know it's a false story.


But it’s your way of responding to the terror, and it turns the dream away from the immediacy of the physical and emotional moment to something else, to the history or whatever. Or the other way it works horizontally is relationally to these imaginary people who are all always on top of it and always in control and always perfect. Right? Like, where are those people, cause I've never seen any of them. 


AF: They're watching me drive this car backwards, right? 


RK: So now that is what I call, there you are self-shaming. Shame always needs an audience, whether it's a real audience…


AF: That's wonderful 


RK: …or an imagined audience, but it requires an audience. But actually in the moment of terror, the car is spinning, flipping over. There's no audience. You're just terrified. And if I were working with you, I would just ask you, gently, to dwell in those moments of terror and see how they are for you. Bring them to mind. Just stay in them and see if you can develop what I would call a... 


You know, in yoga they say stretch ‘till it burns, but actually what they mean is it hurts like hell. But you stretch and you stay with it a little bit longer and a little bit longer. And it's the same thing here. Can you stay in your primary feeling a couple seconds more, a little bit longer before you jump away to a story, a bad story about how you're no good, who needs that?


As you shift the energy to the feeling, the story loses its hold on you over time. That hasn't happened yet. You say, this is a dream about reactivity like I predicted. And you can see all your reactions and they probably are familiar to you, and you can probably investigate, yeah, when do I do that? When do I make it about other people? When do I blame myself? You know, you can sort of see your repertoire of reactivity and learn to separate from it a bit, not let it control you. 


One of the words you used was “out of control.” Out of control. And that's always seen as a negative. But what if what's happening is you, for a moment, are out of the control of your reactivity and your conditioning. You're free. And it's terrifying. But it's okay. It's okay to feel terrible.


At the end of the dream, they're just making fun of you. After all of that, like, you know, you crashed the car, you flipped over twice, somehow you escaped all that. You're still trying to… you know, now it's guilt. Another reaction. “Oh, I gotta report myself.” Well, the dream knows you're trying to report yourself. So it turns your phone… first it makes the phone hard to open, hoping you'll get the hint, “oh, this is not, I don't really need to do this,” but you don't. So now they'll say, okay, we're making it into a cucumber. So will she get it now? No, you're still trying to open it. You're still trying to open it.


We just get to see how stubbornly these reactions and conditioning stories have attached themselves to us, and they are not us. You know how you see an oak tree and there's some kind of vine growing on it and clinging to it. They're not really the oak tree; they're not really you. They're just so familiar to you that you think they make sense. 


So the dream says, “you think it makes sense to call the police right now? I'll turn your phone into a cucumber. Now what do you think?” It’s pretty funny. 


AF: It's really funny.


RK: But the dream's also making fun of you, making fun of your habitual conditioned way of life.


AF: Right. 


RK: And it's saying, could we try something else here? Maybe let go of this control idea and just feel what it's like to give into the moment. Even if it is a terrifying ride at times, sometimes it is. That's the truth of it. Right.


The car part is a thematic motif, actually is what I call it. So, driving a car is a motif in many people's dreams. Not everyone, some people live in New York City and never drive a car, but even those people often dream. So what is it about, in general? 


You know, it's about control versus fear. I'm driving, I'm in charge. That's the ego. Delmore Schwartz, the poet, said the ego is always at the wheel. So that's true. You know, I'm driving, I'm in control. So the dream says, oh yeah, how about this car? You're not in control of it. Other variations are you're in a car, but you're in the backseat and you can't see who's driving or you're in a car that's running itself. You're in a car that suddenly becomes a kid's car. So many different variations of the same theme.


So when I mentioned the dream about the giant and she told me she couldn’t get out of the car and stop ‘cause she’s on the way to work. Her means of control have to do with work is 100% the most important thing in the world and no matter what miracle I might pass by, I can’t stop. We’re driven in that way. So this thematic, the theme or the motif of a car, often bears on this issue of control. 


And you might ask yourself this fear, I don't know what the fear is about right now in your life. You had the dream last night? But if you dwell on the feeling of the fear, I guarantee if you just do that meditation, just meditate on the moment of fear. You don't have to schlep it out. Just do it for a few moments every day. You could do it in a morning practice if you wanted to. Over time, other feelings will come up and you'll understand.


What I try to do–this is really hard to do and I've only come to learn this, you know, over the last few years–is instead of viewing dreams from the point of view of life, I try to view life from the point of view of the dream. So knowing I am terrified, knowing how terrified I am, how much I try to be in control, what does my life look like from that truth, from that point of view?


AF: So thank you for joining me in this little adventure.


RK: Thanks for having me. 


AF: And thank you, listeners, for joining us today for this episode of In Search Of. You can email Rodger’s network at and visit them at You can also find this information in the show notes for this episode. And if you have ideas for scholars, projects, perspectives, that you’d like to hear on this podcast, please let me know. You can email me at Also, go to our website, to sign up for our newsletter and connect with us. Please follow this podcast and rate it on your favorite podcast app. This has been a production of The Christian Century, a thoughtful, progressive, independent magazine for today. We’ll see you next week. Until then, happy searching.