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Geoff’s Giftings for April, 2023

By April 1, 2023May 7th, 2023No Comments

Dear Readers and Writers,

This day is a gift.

What role have your dreams played in your life and poetry? If you consider your entire dream life, beginning with the first dream you can recall., what comes to your heartmind as you review this dream history? 

I’ve always attended to my dreams. During an especially intensive fifteen years of “night school,” I journaled every dream and vision I had, jotting down a title for each. Keeping this discipline allowed me to distill and designate the most compelling images, words, characters, interactions, sensations, emotions, possible precognitive and other paranormal elements, transcendent moments, or overall felt senses of my dreams. Titling them helped me remember them and what I found most impactful about them. It allowed me to discern recurring dream-themes.

I was generally still only half awake in the night as I first dashed down these titles of the dreams that had just welled up from the shadowy shallows and imaginal depths of my psyche. In the morning I went on from there to record the dreams themselves for later exploration.  I collated all these dream titles and called the fifteen annual lists of “Strange Gates.” It’s spontaneous material I still learn and sometimes write from.  As I read and energetically revisit certain dreams, associations arise and twine, bringing a felt sense of flow and greater neuroplasticity. They sometimes give rise to a new poem. 

I worked with selected dreams at home with my wife Leslie, in the dream groups I led as a psychotherapist, and as a member of groups led by others. In addition to focusing on key images, I paid a lot of attention to my experience of what the Jungian Arnold Mindell called my “dream body” and to the emotions in my dreams. I used iterations of Jung’s formative practice of Active Imagination, Gestalt Therapy “chairwork,” Hal Stone and Sidra Winkleman’s Voice Dialogue, and found especial value in approaches similar to what Ken Wilbur has called the 3-2-1 Process. 

You can apply the 3-2-1 approach to more deeply “own” any aspect of a dream, for instance a place, a table, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door…anything projection or dissociated perception you want to put under the light of Awareness to understand in yourSelf. Face it. Talk to it, ask it questions if you want. Then become it and re-own its energy by letting yourself feel what it feels and express what it wants to express.

Here’s an excerpt from Wilbur’s description of that process :

A crucial aspect of any integral practice is a way to be profoundly honest with ourselves about our shadow, or unconscious, or false self, or dishonesty, or disowned self. The 3-2-1 Process is a simple and effective tool for working with the shadow — any part of ourselves that we unconsciously repress or deny.

The 3-2-1 Process uses shifts in perspective as a way of identifying and integrating shadow material. “3-2-1” refers to 3rd-person, 2nd-person, and 1st-person — the perspectives that we move through in this exercise.

Each part that we disown is at first an aspect of our “I” or 1st-person awareness. But, for whatever reason, that aspect poses a threat. So we push it outside of ourselves, often onto someone else. It’s important to note that the aspect can be positive or negative. We can disown both lower and higher aspects of ourselves. In either case, we project it as you . . . but not me. “You are angry.” “You are being selfish.” “You are worthy,” etc. In other words, we displace it from a 1st-person I to a 2nd-person you.

To sum up, dissociation proceeds from 1st-person to 2nd-person to 3rd-person: 1-2-3. 

The reversal of dissociation thus goes from 3 to 2 to 1. Hence, the 3-2-1 Process. 

which is Face it (3), Talk to it (2), and finally, BE it (1).

—Wilbur, et al, from the website

What are some of the ways you’ve worked with dreams? Have you already recast any past or recent dreams or intriguing, partially remembered dream-fragments as poems?  Here’s an optional prompt:

Write a poem inspired by a dream.  

My below ” Dream Tree Poem” arose out of a sudden intuition, which was immediately followed by a tragedy, which was itself soon followed by a powerful dream in which I heard and saw most of the words of the poem. Here’s what happened:

2000: My friend, Dr. John R. Locke, was the Founder and Director of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Arkansas. A tremendous teacher beloved by many in our community, he was a scholar, a poet, a translator of Rilke and other poets and a dedicated practitioner of Buddhist meditation. John was a man of manifold sensitivities and a mentor to many younger people, including me. 

I rarely called John, but on August 28, I felt a sudden unaccountable urge to be in touch, and phoned his number at the University of Arkansas. I was greeted by a secretary in the faculty office who told me in a hushed, highly agitated tone that John was in his office with a disturbed student advisee. 

At this point, I heard a loud gun shot over the phone.

The entire campus community and John’s large circle of friends were shocked and deeply grieved by his sudden death. I subsequently wrote a poem for Dr. Locke myself, an almost exact transcription of a dream-vision in which the poem appeared as a lofty, luminous tree with a column of words on its trunk. I clearly heard these words intoned as I read them in the dream. The words and powerful arboreal image allowed me to ground myself after this tragedy, and to feel something of the natural seamlessness of life and death: 


(In Memory of John Locke)
This is written as a tree
completely swathed in gauzy
energy rears its bare limbs
and climbs up through the filmy
blue solution of the sky.
In this kinetic photograph,
the nimbus round the branches
flames like ever-burning fuel.
A narrative is heard that’s
also written, consonantal with
the plunge of tree trunk,
thus: “In friends, the Higher
Life is fed by those who die,
and that life lasts as
it adds life to all those
friends who still live on.
Can the tree itself  be
strengthened by the joy in
this exchange?  I don’t know,
but…” Here the words fade
out, but in the living image
“those who die” are present
as dead branches on the tree.
The whitish incandescence
licks round them undiminished
on the page.  Then suddenly
the dream’s completely gone,
leaving only native joy.

I hope all the above serves your own process of opening and creative expression.

Until we meet again, here’s a mighty fine dream poem by Wendell Berry:



In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.”

Please Touch the Earth with Love,

Geoff Oelsner