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Full Length Reviews
Pathways (Washington D.C.)
Seeing in the Dark
Reviewed by Claire Douglas for THE WASHINGTON POST
Sunday, January 7, 2001
In his fascinating, well-organized and lucid book, Marc Ian Barasch carries us along with him on a brave night journey through the dream world. He challenges the doubting reader with impressive charts of this realm and logs centuries of prior research and discovery. It is a courageous task, as many of the charts he uses belong to times and value systems that do not conform to Western scientific experimental psychology. If you want your science to be businesslike and hard, or, as William James wrote in his textbook on psychology, the researcher to be "studying the elements of the mental life, dissecting them out from the gross results in which they are embedded, and as far as possible reducing them to quantitative scales," this is not the book for you.
Healing Dreams is a book for readers who can let go of preconceptions, immerse themselves in the vast lore of dreams and, above all, can savor stories of other people's experience. That dreams can be precognitive and serve both as warnings and point to cures, comes as no surprise to depth psychologists, who continually heed both the outer and inner realms of their patients' psyches and pay serious attention to their dreams. Nor will it come as a surprise to anyone who writes down and ponders his or her own dreams. We learn just what Barasch wants to share with his reader: that we are much more evolved, interconnected and subtly knowing than our little egos would have us believe. We also come to apprehend that our dreams come in various sizes and levels of importance, and can have a wisdom far beyond the personal ego's.
Barasch, the author of The Healing Path and Remarkable Recovery, starts Healing Dreams with the story of his thyroid cancer and what came about through his patient pursuit of and obedience to the clues to his own healing presented in his dreams. He eagerly enters the imaginal world of dreams in a way that required him to commit the "subversive" act of taking his "dreams seriously -- enough to act on them, to live by them" and thus to obey their teaching "to live truthfully. Right now. And always."
The cancer and its healing are a leitmotif throughout the book, as Barasch, using his own big dreams as an example, separates the healing dream from the more mundane variety. He describes the big dream, or healing dream, as an "impactful, transformative, titanic, transcendent" one with "a singular intensity of purpose: to lead us to embrace the contradictions between flesh and spirit, self and other, shadow and light, in the name of wholeness."
From here he goes on to explore as much of the vast realm of dreams as he can (the manuscript was originally, he confesses, more than 700 pages long). What Barasch salvages is packed into 11 chapters that never fail to capture the reader's interest thanks to Barasch's own enthusiasm, his profound research and his poet's eye for the heart of the matter. The chapter "The Dream of the Body" is especially full of intriguing stories, particularly of cancer survivors and the way dreams figured into their healing. It is followed by a survey of "Dreams of Personal Calling," which illumine the struggle to find a vocation in life. A chapter on dreams and how they can help relationships comes next, followed by equally compelling chapters on healing past wounds and on compassionately attending to our own dark, or shadow, sides. The chapters on dreams and spirituality make trail-blazing contributions to dream research.
Barasch also offers a remarkable interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism's ancient system of dream yoga as a spiritual practice. It was first brought to Tibet 1,300 years ago and codified as the Yoga of Dream State by one of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, the tantric master Padmasambhava. It was and is still used by Tibetan monks and nuns as a vehicle for awakening and enlightenment.
Tibetan dream yoga separates dreams into three major categories: ordinary dreams brought about by the day's concerns or by past experience and proclivities (karma); "clear light" dreams that combine spiritual teachings, visions, healing and kundalini-type vital energy openings; and lucid dreaming, in which one is aware one is dreaming and so, in the dream, can continue one's spiritual practice, grow in awareness of bardo (life change) states, and prepare for death and dying. (This latter form of dream yoga differs from New Age-type lucid dreaming, which is characterized by typically Western ego-driven themes and controls and alters what the dream psyche presents rather than developing that material as a means for spiritual growth.)
The Tibetan dream yoga system further subcategorizes dreams into those of events that occurred while still awake but that need more attention; "message" dreams of people alive or dead; dreams showing forgotten parts of one's psyche now emerging into consciousness; symbolic dreams and ones with archetypal content; dreams that contain precognitive elements, omens or warnings, or might otherwise be termed extrasensory; and, finally, radiant dreams of great spiritual teaching or blessing.
The spiritual component of the book as well as its sometimes poetic intensity add a depth to a subject that is all too often treated as a sort of parlor game. Healing Dreams, based as it is on over 15 years of research and on a profound personal investigation, is saved from both the Scylla of New Age psychobabble and the Charybdis of a true-believer's pomposity by the quality of the author himself. In these days of journalistic sensationalism and excess, Barasch remains an honest reporter with a respectful tone of gentle inquiry into the mystery of his subject. It is clear that he has grown and deepened along with a book that is as wise and healing as a dream.
Claire Douglas, a Jungian analyst and clinical psychologist, is the author of "Translate This Darkness" and the editor of "The Visions Seminar" by C.G. Jung.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
PATHWAYS (Washington DC) review:
Healing Dreams: Exploring the Dreams that Can Transform Your Life
by Marc Ian Barasch
Riverhead. 2000. 335 pages.
Marc Ian Barasch's Healing Dreams is more than a brilliant treatise on dreamwork. It is a spellbinding psychological adventure, a tour-de-force by one of the finest writers of the boomer generation, whose life was upended at the peak of worldly success by a dream that dramatically announced his thyroid cancer. Since then, 'abducted into the realm of the Dream' and 'cast away in a far country from which Iíve never quite returned,' Barasch has immersed himself in a cleansing fire of spiritual renewal, pursuing the quest for meaning and understanding wherever it leads. Had he not done so, we would have been deprived of an extraordinary body of work.
This is the final volume of a landmark trilogy on healing; any of Baraschís three books on its own could mark the crowning achievement of a stellar career. Yet his journey continues, expands, deepens. In his 1991 debut work, The Healing Path, the former magazine editor recounted the story of his cancer dream and subsequent explorations through the thickets of conventional and alternative healing. In an early foreshadowing of the integrative medicine movement, he demonstrated through his own case and others that neither alternative nor conventional medicine has all the answers and that rigid ideological adherence to either one is fraught with peril. In Remarkable Recovery, Barasch and co-author Caryle Hirshberg delved further into the mysteries of healing, chronicling the stories of people who had come back from the edge of the abyss, outliving their grim diagnoses and surviving their 'terminal' illnesses.
Now, in Healing Dreams, he ranges adroitly across equally mysterious terrain, drawing on the dream traditions of Western psychology (especially Jung) as well as the native Dreamtime cosmologies of Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Baraschís Yale education was not wasted; his ability to grasp, digest, and synthesize the academic literature is remarkable. But this is no mere literature review; it is a first-hand report from the front lines of consciousness.
As defined by Barasch, Healing Dreams are 'big dreams' that 'stop us in our tracks . . . tell us that weíre not who we think we are.' These dreams 'may shock us, console us, arouse us, or repulse us. But they take their place alongside our most memorable life events because theyíre so vivid and emblematic. Some are like parables, setting off sharp detonations of insight; others are like gripping mystery tales; still others like mythic dramas, or horror stories, or even uproarious jokes. In our journey from childhood to age, we may count them on one hand. Yet once they have flared in the soul, they constellate there, emitting a steady, pulsarlike radiance.'
Contrary to the genre of dream interpretation (which dates back to dream manuals of the early Egyptians) in which lists of symbols and their meanings are the basis of dream interpretation, Barasch strongly encourages us to look beyond a mechanical, fill-in-the-blanks approach, to do the work necessary to divine what the dream means to the dreamer. Often, he asserts, dreams 'require us to live our questions rather than furnish instant answers.' Healing Dreams prod us to redress imbalances, overturn mistaken priorities, and grow toward wholeness. Such dreams, he declares, can never be fully interpreted. 'Sometimes we are not meant to solve the mystery, at least not right away. Rather it means to solve us.'
In keeping with the Talmudic tradition, in which a dream is said to have at least 24 possible meanings, Barasch believes in applying multiple methods of interpretation to a Healing Dream, as its richness can rarely be fully appreciated from just one or two. A single dream can be both literal and metaphorical, psychological and spiritual, historical and prophetic.
Healing Dreams has chapters on the 'underground' of medical practitioners who use their patients' dreams (or their own dreams about their patients) as guidance in their therapeutic decision-making processes; on dreams of personal calling which point the way toward a meaningful lifeís work; on dreams that clarify friendships and love relationships; and on dreams whose meaning is for society as a whole, rather than just the individual dreamer. Many cultures incorporate these varied functions of dreams into their world view. Barasch feels strongly that ours would be strengthened were we to do so as well, teaching children the importance of dreams from early childhood, and setting aside time for recalling, sifting through, and sharing these with others.
The chapter, 'Healing the Shadow,' stands out as the strongest. Originally defined by Jung, the shadow is the part of the personality that lies outside the sphere of consciousness. It is, Barasch explains, comprised of 'those hidden parts of ourselves that do not fit our conscious idealsóour shameful wants and embarrassing lacks; our venom and our vanity.' Drawing on sources as diverse as Kahlil Gibran, Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), the Sufi Ibn al-Imad, the Tibetan sage Naropa, the film Natural Born Killers, Kazantazkis' The Last Temptation of Christ, and a dream in which Lyndon Baines Johnson saw himself as the aged and infirm Woodrow Wilson (!), Barasch makes a powerful case for confronting, even embracing, the shadow. 'People who consider themselves spiritual often equate the good with what is beautiful and harmonious, forgetting that there is such a thing as an ugly truth. An image the ego finds most bitter may be the best medicine for the soul.'
In this book filled to the brim with insight and revelation, the single most mind-expanding passage for me was this one: 'A patient of Jung's once described an otherworldly dream heíd had of a gigantic construction site where people of all races and creeds were erecting a complex of buildings that reached to the sky. Jung promptly informed him that they were building ëthe new religion,' one which would supersede the sectarian approaches to God that had dominated human history. He had been to this place himself, he explained to his startled patient, adding that this great work would not be completed for another five hundred years
Dr. Daniel Redwood practices chiropractic and acupuncture in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health and Contemporary Chiropractic, and Associate Editor of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. A collection of his writing is available at www.drredwood.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2001 by Daniel Redwood