Tag Archives: dreams

When to give up

Often, the only way to be absolutely defeated is to give up. Where there is life, there is always scope for trying again – however long it takes to do that. There is something heroic about refusing to give up in face of all setbacks – but only if you come out on top at the end. At what point is it wiser to admit defeat and turn your energies elsewhere?

At what point do you say ‘this is never going to work’? I’ve blogged before about the question of what our dreams cost other people. Chasing your dreams can really take it out of those around you, and if someone else has to pay against their will for something you want to do, pushing on is a lot less heroic and a lot more toxic.

Sometimes, admitting defeat can be a beautiful, liberating thing. We tend to treat failure as something awful and to be avoided, but I’ve come to think of it as a much more interesting thing. As an aside, I must thank Mark Townsend for The Gospel of Falling Down, which re-framed the notion of failure for me. Sometimes, giving up is wonderful, releasing energy into other areas of life.

This weekend, the Stroud Five Valleys walk will take people on a gruelling hike around the area, raising money for a good cause. I’ve managed it a couple of times. This year, I’m not trying. I’ve given up. I feel good about that. It feels like a wise choice, putting my bodily wellness first. I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to prove anything by trying to do it.

It’s when we admit failure that we make room for other people to get in and have a go – and quite possibly do better than us. It’s when we admit defeat that we stop pouring energy into things we can’t make work, and might start looking at what we can do more effectively, instead. When we give up, we’re giving ourselves permission to acknowledge that we are tired, worn out, under resourced or otherwise unequal to the task. Owning your limitations can bring great emotional relief. We all have limits, and we won’t know where those are until we’ve tested them. Once tested, we can make informed decisions.

The dreams we have when we don’t know what we can do, or how anything works, might not be our best dreams. Plugging away at a dream we can’t manifest may be stopping us from finding a better dream. Using experience to inform our intentions is a good idea. Going back to the planning stage and rethinking can give us a better plan with better prospects. There is nothing inherently magical or sacred about our ideas that mean we have to hang on to them no matter what.

There are so many forces that are so much bigger than us. Ultimately, life is a journey towards death. It does us good to learn when to yield and accept. Sometimes there is more grace, more wisdom and more benefit in knowing that you are beaten and letting it go.


Working dreams

One of the important things to bear in mind if you’re doing dream interpretation, is the relationship between your dreams and your actual life. Recently I had a dream in which I was trying to fold a complicated table and needed to work out what to say about it on social media. It was not an exciting dream. It was simply a bringing together of some of the things in my recent working life as my brain tried to figure out what goes where. How I do social media work or support for various outlets has become a question in recent weeks. The one thing that doesn’t need a social media plan is the furniture, but that’s dreaming brains for you!

Sometimes our sleeping minds are indeed doing the work. I’ve noticed repeatedly that when life gives me a lot to process, I crave more sleep. Some things are difficult to do consciously and need the free run of an unconscious mind to reconfigure in. Big life changes, radical rethinks about who I am, dramatic changes to important relationships and other major life events take some getting to grips with.

I spent the summer dreaming mournfully about one of the entitled men in my life. My feelings of guilt and responsibility kept surfacing, along with my desire for things to be entirely other than they have been. However, a few final revelations towards the end of the summer helped clarify things for me and my dreaming mind started telling me completely different emotional stories from that point. I’ll be surprised if I get any more mournful longing, because I appear to have worked that through.

What the dreaming work has allowed me to do is make a space for emotions I can’t usefully express anywhere else. I’m trying out ideas about how things are and could be, and pushing my waking mind to look at things it hasn’t been keen to square up to. That which we’re trying to avoid or protect ourselves from can show up in dreams, demanding attention. In my experience, this is where a lot of nightmares come from. But at the same time, a nightmare can be a useful part of the process, allowing me to process something I just can’t tackle when awake. Sometimes I have to go through a lot of these to get to a place where I can think consciously about the problem.

Dreams like these don’t benefit from interpretation. They aren’t some kind of finished product waiting to be made sense of. They’re a work in progress, and it’s often better to just let that run as a process – paying attention to it but not trying to tidy it into neat meanings. Sometimes when you let dreams happen in this way, they will take your waking mind somewhere totally unexpected, and that can prove very helpful indeed.

For more of this kind of approach to dreaming, check out my book Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming

Dreams of houses

What we dream, and what we daydream can tell us a lot about what we want and where we are in life. I’ve been house hunting in my dreams for some years now. At the moment, I live in a two bedroom flat. Possibly in the future I will be able to change this. Most of my ambitions revolve around being able to live somewhere different – because much as I love this flat, it doesn’t really do what I need.

I dream about having more space – currently the living room is also the dining room, studio, writer’s shed, study space, storage space and spare bedroom. It would be easier to do all the things if we were a bit less cramped. I can sit half a dozen people before it gets uncomfortable and we can’t all sit at the table to eat, then. I daydream about a kitchen big enough to take a kitchen table where I could gather all of my friends and feed them.

I would love to have more space for creatures, and space to accommodate other people at need. Or perhaps permanently if they want to. I want to be able to take in friends who find themselves between homes, or otherwise in awkward straits. I want to be able to do something similar with cats. I want to be able to make a sanctuary, a haven, a place of respite and comfort for myself and others.

I would love to have a garden, where I could make homes for wild things, and grow veg and fruit, and just sit out. I have daydreams about orchards, and donkeys, and beehives.

When I dream at night about houses, it all gets a bit surreal. One had a vast basement full of antique furniture and pianos. Another was permeable, and was in a wood but the wood was also in the house, and there was a totoro – a Japanese wood spirit. This would definitely be a house to live in, and I crave those more permeable spaces where you aren’t quite inside or outside.

The daydream of a house is much more than a building, it’s about relationships and what can be shared. It’s about who I want to share such a space with, who I picture sat at the kitchen table, and how I want to live in such a space. I don’t believe that I can make it happen by simply wishing it so, but if I know exactly what I want, I have a better shot at moving towards it.

Contemplating failure

There’s a lot of positivity culture out there to tell us we can have anything and everything we want. We have to be positive enough, never give up, keep visualising the glorious outcome. It doesn’t take into account that failure is a very real part of human experience. We will all fail sometimes. Being realistic about how and why we’ve failed and what the implications are, is really important.

We can fail through lack of knowledge, experience and skill. It can mean that we just have to pick ourselves up and have another go. Many things require patience and perseverance, and will not come to us quickly just because we want them. Recognising the work involved, and recognising that we may fall short makes us better able to deal with reality than going forth with relentless positivity.

The timing may be bad. We may be unlucky. Things beyond our control may wreck our plans. We may not have the resources to achieve what we wanted. We may need to change tack and study, or practice, or rethink in some other way. These are all common events. They do not represent a failure to be positive enough, and simply being positive won’t deal with them.

How do you tell when you really should give up? How much time and money and energy – yours and other people’s – should you pour into something before you’ll admit it’s a bad loss? When is it time to accept that a dream isn’t viable? There are only personal answers here. A consciousness of failure can help us shift our goalposts to more appropriate positions. When I was a teen, I wanted to be a famous and important author. Experience has taught me to accept that if I can make ends meet and some people like my stuff, that’s probably as good as it can get.

I could dream about one day climbing Everest, but this body is never going to be equal to it. I doubt I could get up even the smallest mountain these days. No amount of positive thinking is going to enable me to run long distances, either. When do we decide what’s possible and what isn’t? When do we give up?

One of the big questions here is around how chasing the dream impacts on others. Imagine the person who goes full time with their dream but earns very little, and whose family has to support them. Imagine that they put little time into their family or friendships, expecting emotional and practical support while they follow their dream. How long can that continue before the dream itself needs questioning. A year? A decade? It’s important to consider what we’re asking other people to sacrifice for the sake of our dreams. Are we making other people put their lives on hold for us? Are we killing their dreams for the sake of our own? Are we making them pay unfairly?

If your efforts and failures and aspirations only really impact on you, then how you live your life is really no one else’s business. Most of us don’t exist in that kind of isolation. Dreams need putting into context, and I think one of the most important measures for failure and for recognising the need to give up, is how much the unrealised dream is costing other people.

Unsolicited interpretations

People are quick to try and help each other by explaining things. Whether that’s symptoms, or symbols we dive in and offer our take on it. When that’s unsolicited, it can often be problematic. Unsolicited medical advice from people who KNOW that if you just ate this particular fruit the cancer would go away and that if you went for a run every day you’d stop being depressed. One of the problems here is that people mistake the fixing of small, easy things for the fixing of much bigger ones. This is especially true with mental health where minor problems can indeed be eased with a bit of nature, but serious depression cannot.

When it comes to interpreting signs and symbols, it only works if you share culture. Most signs are open to multiple interpretations. Owls can mean Blodeuwedd, or Athena. Ravens go with Odin, and The Morrigan. Jesus and Dionysus both claim the wine. Black cats are lucky or unlucky, depending on where you live. Personal symbolism further complicates things – your mother archetype in a dream will mean different things if you mother is horrible, or dead, or has been missing for years, or is likely to wake you up with coffee at any moment.

In many ancient Pagan cultures, the business of interpreting signs and dreams belonged to the priesthood. I think this is because it is a job that confers authority. The power to tell a person what their symbols mean is a considerable power. Used badly, it is the power to wipe out personal difference and deny personal experience. It’s the opportunity to force cultural norms onto someone resisting them – we don’t care what your mother was like, you’ve dreamed about the archetypal mother who is good and kind and bountiful.

The symbolic language we use in our sleep is personal. It draws on images and experiences from waking life, from the books and films we choose to encounter, and from how we think and feel about things. We have nightmares about the things that frighten us personally, not the things our cultures consider symbols of fear. To impose a meaning on someone else’s symbolic experience is thus to impose a certain authority over them. The pushier we are, the more we claim to have absolute truth and rightness, the more we risk reducing the person whose symbolism we have the ‘answers’ for.

The desire to interpret is one to watch closely. Fair enough if it is your job to interpret, or someone has asked you to – that’s a considered relationship. Rushing in to offer unsolicited interpretations is a whole other thing. I notice this on facebook where I sometimes post dream content – usually because I think it was funny, or odd, and primarily to entertain. Sometimes I ask for suggested interpretations and sometimes I don’t, but I get them either way. People who know nothing much about my life can be very confident about what my dreams signify. None of them have ever considered that I may have withheld details, or matters of context to avoid embarrassing someone else, for example. Interpreting an un-discussed, unexplored dream is not a good way to do it. The person whose symbol it is must retain the right to decide what the symbol means for them.

If you feel the urge to interpret – be that symptoms or symbols, check in with yourself about why that is. Do you want to seem clever? Do you need to feel more important? Do you want to show off a body of knowledge? Do you believe that symbols all have straightforward meanings that apply to all people in all circumstances? I think we’re often well motivated when we pile in – we want to help and believe we can, but belief that we’re helping doesn’t mean we’re actually helping. If you want to help someone, don’t try to steal their authority. Offer them possibility ‘it could be’ ‘it might’. You can share your insight without imposing your reality. Just because your ravens mean Odin doesn’t mean their ravens do. Perhaps they’ve just been to the Tower of London. Perhaps Raven is their animal guide. Perhaps Bran is trying to talk to them. There’s always more possible answers available.

Songs of Dreaming

Dreams, both the sort we have at night and the sort we nurture by day, have always been important in my life. As an author, I’m a semi-professional daydreamer. I look to dreams for inspiration and insight, for healing and transformation. I try to nurture my deliberate, waking dreams, but I don’t always do so well with that. I’m not aware of many songs that evoke anything of the power and magic of dreams. These three do, and they’re all written by Bill Caddick. I love these songs, I sing 2 of them.

Cloud Factory. (A cover)


Unicorns (performed by Bill Caddick) with a few words about the inspiration behind the song.

John O’Dreams, performed by Rachel Ries & Anaïs Mitchell


I have memories of nightmares from earliest childhood, and they’ve been a frequent, dramatic feature of my life ever since then. I’ve had times in my life where I feared going to sleep because I’d had runs of ferociously bad dreams. In my twenties, my entire dreaming experience gradually narrowed down to a handful of fairly banal bad dreams, and for years, that was all I had.

I’m prompted to write this today, having woken from an intense set of nightmares. It’s been a week of unusually vivid, complex and difficult dreams, but last night’s were the first to take a nightmarish aspect. Death, violence, grief and loss, pursuit and threat – all the things, with no kind of narrative coherence and fantastical landscapes the like of which I have never seen for myself.

Dreams always tempt us to ask why they happened and what they mean. I think nightmares especially incline us to seek the comfort of an easy explanation. From the consumption of cheese through to something downright Freudian, the impulse is to rationalise. One of the most frightening things about dreams is how much of our time we spend in these mad states doing irrational things for no obvious reason and often suffering terrible consequences. Surely it has to mean something?

We have similar attitudes to life, and in our waking existence, the experience of horrors sends us off in search of meaning. Why did it happen? What brought us to this point? What does it mean? Can there be a reason for this? Religion and novels both owe a great deal to the human desire to have incomprehensible things tidied up into viable narratives. If it makes some kind of sense, we might have control over it, and we might be able to save ourselves. In dreams, as in life, the reality we experience isn’t tidy or coherent, yet we, as humans have this peculiar desire to try and make it all make sense.

There’s no particular reason why I had nightmares last night. Some of the threads I can trace back to people I’m worried about, historical experiences and recent reading matter, but that only explains what I’m drawing on, not the nightmare itself. Put in its context though, in this run of dreams that have been intense and more incomprehensible than is usual for me and something else suggests itself. Something big, and as yet unnameable is shifting in my head. Something I have no words for, and maybe as yet no proper concepts. A big upheaval in how I see things and understand things. It may be some time before that transition shows up consciously and starts to make sense.

Dreams are at least in part, functions of the mind. In much the same way that physical sensations are functions of the body. Not all body sensations show up at time or point of cause – the low blood pressure headache, and the muscle ache from exertion are not things you can make sense of by looking at what was happening when the pain started. There are plenty of symptoms which, on their own don’t mean much, but when aligned with other symptoms, have very specific meanings. Dreams are often like this, in that taking one dream on its own, out of the context of your wider dreaming, is not a good basis for analysis.

So while the contents of last night’s nightmare were really disturbing, I am not feeling that disturbed this morning, and I’m not picking over the precise details. I’m seeing that nightmare in the context of the last week or so, seeing how the visual vividness and emotional intensity connect it to other dreams, and that some kind of unconscious process is happening. When that process is feasible for me to handle in a more conscious way, it will start making itself known. It could be that it already has, that elements of the nightmare will prove relevant in time, but I’m not going to try and force a meaning today because I know that would be counter-productive.

If this approach to dreaming appeals to you, do check out my book, Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming

Dreams, meaning and the things we don’t want to mention

There’s something about the human mind that inclines us to look for patterns. We infer faces where none exist. We’re really good at seeing patterns of causality, when faced with coincidences. This is, in essence, where all superstitions come from, and why we end up with lucky socks and obsessive compulsive disorders, sometimes. The ability to find meaning is of course also the basis for all science. Let’s pause a moment and enjoy the beautiful irony that superstition and science may both depend on the same human qualities!

Post a dream on a social media site and in minutes, someone will try and interpret it. We can’t resist. Surely, amidst all the weirdness, there must be sense and significance? Surely those bizarre happenings must have symbols in them, and once we get to the symbols the madness will turn back into coherence. You can easily see the benefits this could confer as a life skill, but dreams are not regular life. I remain suspicious about the degree to which intelligible meaning can be squeezed out of the strangeness that is dreams. I think we risk reducing the dream to something less than its splendid whole when we try and make it mean something.

The sharing of dreams is also a partial process, and that’s very human, too. I’ve shared two dreams publicly, of late, where I have changed the whole impression the dream is likely to give by deliberately missing out some details. It’s tempting to skip over the embarrassing, awkward bits to get to the funny anecdote. It’s advisable not to name the people involved, frequently. Or why it was that we didn’t have any trousers on in the first place. And what we were doing, exactly, that meant this obsessive fixation with doors that won’t lock properly really came into focus.

Usually (at risk of too much information) the unlockable doors in my dreams are on toilets. A recent occasion where they weren’t raises interesting thoughts for me around ideas of boundaries, privacy, personal space and secrets. And there it goes again, that all too human urge to make sense of a dream, coupled with the equally human urge to withhold from you all of the most private and secret parts. Without the unwritten content, no one else has a shot at making sense of it – and of course that’s deliberate too, because while I might be interested in what you think about the possible symbolism of unlockable doors, I don’t want you dwelling on the symbolism of what I was trying to lock in, or out, or why.

There are all kinds of things we can do in response to our dreams. Looking for meaning is just one option. There’s a lot we can learn just by looking at which aspects we want to draw other people’s attention to, and which bits we will never admit to. Secret urges of which we will not speak. Things that do not sit well with our waking personas. Images of shame, guilt, lust, and all the other vices that we wanted to tidy away and find, awkwardly, that really we haven’t.

Pagan Dreaming… in case you want more of this sort of thing.

Strange dreaming

There’s a lot going on in my head right now that isn’t consciously available to me. I can tell because last night I dreamed about competitive neo-nazi rabbits and marmalade, and on waking it is impossible to articulate what the connection between rabbits and orange jam was. This isn’t a one off. All of my dreaming lately has been vivid, colourful, complex, and rabidly incoherent. My normal dreaming tends towards more narrative, so I know from the change that something entirely different is happening in my head.

I’ve studied dreams and sleeping since my teens. Most of that has been an informal working with my dream experiences and attention to how dreaming relates to my life. I’ve poked around a bit in the psychology of dreams, and the science of sleep. Alongside that I’ve had exposure to dream interpretation books. I’m not a big fan of dream interpretation books – I think they’re reductive, and that personal symbolism is a far more complicated thing. I think there’s a lot more to dreaming than pulling ‘meanings’ out of it, as well, and that most dreams are not in the least bit prophetic.

So, why the neo-nazi rabbits and the marmalade? I suspect the rabbits are Nazis because of what I was reading last night. The rest of the features, if teased out and examined to see what they might represent, offer me nothing. No stories emerge, no powerful emotional associations, no coherence whatsoever. Nothing about this dream even suggests to me that it needs interpreting. I don’t think I’m trying to tell myself anything important right now, I’m chewing. I’m breaking down old concepts and investigating new ones, and the side effects are random because I clearly don’t have a symbolic language for this as yet, much less words I can use consciously.

How do we make radical changes to ourselves and our thoughts? If you’ve always felt or believed something, then changing it by a process of deciding to believe something else is very hard work. Beliefs send out roots and suckers into our minds, they connect to other things, and grow stories that keep them in place in our lives. You don’t just uproot and discard something like that in one go. Equally you don’t grow new concepts easily when you have no language for them, you don’t rework the stories you have without some upheaval. Possibly you do become able to change your thinking overnight. Or over many nights, more accurately.

One of the things that dreams can do is allow us to think what is otherwise, quite literally, unthinkable. By chewing on something in our dreams we can create new symbols and narratives that can gradually become available to the waking mind.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, I have a book out this summer, full of such approaches to dreaming.

Dreaming a future

Lives are made of choices, and the small, day to day ones often shape the larger issues and inform the options we have. Who we are is fashioned from one hour to the next in the small details of how we choose to live. Our dreams are a part of this. What do we aspire to? Where do we see ourselves being this time next year? What are we moving towards? What are we trying to leave behind?

We live in a culture where the selling of small dreams is an everyday issue. Adverts don’t just offer us specific products, but try to imply a whole lifestyle that we are to desire. And what are we desiring? A certain kind of body shape, sofa, kitchen arrangement, a holiday. A nice, well behaved and clean looking child, a partner who brings flowers… It pays to stop and think about the casual daydreams.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming small. Having just the right thing can make worlds of difference. The slow cooker, the wok, a ball of yarn, the right mattress… Knowing how those small dreams fit into the totality of your life is important. At the moment I’m dreaming a wormery to deal with kitchen waste and a bin to grow potatoes in. Small dreams that relate to a much bigger idea about living lightly. In our little dreams we are building the shape of our choices. When the opportunity to dream big comes along, the small dreams will help you birth the big ones.

In magical practice, will is everything. Will without a grand plan can get you into all kinds of trouble, though. Toddlers tend to have a lot of will coupled with entirely short term thinking. Left to their own devices, this combination can prove fatal! Will must be shaped by intent – clear, well considered intent that will hold up to challenges and scrutiny. You can’t work magic of any sort with a half-arsed plan in which you’ve not invested much attention. All of this also depends on self knowledge. If you do not know yourself, you will not know what you want or need, what methods of chasing it would suit you, and if you get there you may find it wasn’t it anyway.

Paying attention to the small dreams helps develop self knowledge. What do you crave? What are you missing? What are you working for? It’s also far too easy to get into the trap of running hard, working hard, and that becoming an end in itself. Get too tired and downtrodden and there may be no space for the idea of working *for* something, you just crawl from day to day. Survival replaces living, and none of us would aspire to that, if we recognised the choice.

The tougher things are, the easier it is to have no time to create even the smallest dreams. However, this is the time when a bit of dreaming is most important. It is the dreaming that will help us spot better opportunities and see a reason to go for them. It is dreaming that helps us hold a sense of self not wholly dependent on our most immediate circumstances. In terms of getting through a crisis, that can make all the difference.

Look after the small dreams. Give them time and space to grow. Let them show you something of who you are and where you want to be. If your dreams turn out to be full of other people’s product pitches, you can choose to lay them down and try some other vision.