Dreams Show the Way

Dreams Show the Way

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The creator of Somatic Experiencing shares about a powerful dream that changed the course of his life.

A dream, circa 1980: I am in a small room where I meet a man with a luminous presence. He wears a black robe, with purple sashes over his shoulders that flow down the front of the robe. He seems self-contained and deeply contemplative. The man approaches me slowly but deliberately. He is carefully holding an aged wooden box with a domed lid and two brass straps binding its girth. It is sealed shut with an ornate brass latch.

We face each other in silence. He then gently holds out the box, offering it to me. I take it and cradle it in my arms. He conveys, without words, that I have been tasked to carry it through a door leading into another room. At the far end of that room is a cast-iron safe with a combination lock. I understand that it is my responsibility to open the safe and place the box there—for “safekeeping.”

Upon waking from this dream, I found myself deeply puzzled. So, as is my custom, I focused on the different images in the dream and then noted my body sensations and feelings. As I concentrated on the image of the box, I was delighted to recognize that it was like the treasure chest from one of my favorite childhood books, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. But what, I wondered, was the dream trying to tell me? What was I missing? But no matter how much I thought over these questions, I could not come up with any answers.

Later that week, while attending a party in Boulder, Colorado, I met a young woman named Elaine. After some polite chitchat, we established a feeling of personal connection. Our exchange evolved into a serious discussion of books, music, spirituality, life, and the work I had been developing.

I felt comfortable enough to recount my recent dream to Elaine. She seemed particularly interested in having me describe in detail the man who had presented me with the chest. In beautiful calligraphy, she wrote on an index card the name and phone number of a Tibetan lama living in Berkeley, California. He had been a spiritual teacher of hers. I folded the card and placed it in my wallet.

A year or so later, I was in Berkeley teaching while staying with my friend and colleague Anngwyn at her house in Strawberry Canyon. I was searching for something in my wallet when the card with the lama’s name fell to the ground—seemingly a lucky “accident.” I picked it up, chuckled, and decided to chance a call to the number on the card. One of the lama’s students answered, and I asked to speak with the lama. Timidly I inquired if he would be willing to meet with me. He kindly agreed, so I promptly called a cab. Twenty minutes later I arrived.

I told him that Elaine, his former student, thought the work I had been developing might share common ground with Tibetan Buddhist traditions. As I described my theory and practice, the lama listened attentively, poured another cup of tea for the two of us, and nodded gently. Finally, he said, “What you’ve described has much correspondence with the Kum Nye* tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.” However, he went on to explain, that the principles I had outlined were “more universal than one single tradition,” and had evolved from many healing methods used throughout the world over the ages. He added one last thought: that this enduring wisdom probably originally derived from Celtic Stone Age religions.

Later that day, I made haste to the Berkeley University library and began researching information on Celtic Stone Age religions. There I discovered an image of Newgrange, a temple built in 3200 BCE, well over five thousand years ago. To enter the inner sanctum, a visiting pilgrim must pass a guarding stone inscribed with paired vortices. From the image, it seemed there was also a third vortex, perhaps indicating the holding awareness of both vortices.

The image instantly revealed to me the meaning of my dream. I now understood, with total clarity, that my task in this lifetime was to help keep this ancient wisdom alive—to keep it in a safe place. The significance of the dream image, in which I placed the treasure box in the safe at the back of the room, was now apparently clear. My life’s work was in uncovering the code: finding a current biological and neurophysiological understanding of healing and transformation. This repackaging of ancient, preliterate, shamanic knowledge, and the recapturing of its universal wisdom, would allow this knowledge to remain relevant in today’s world dominated by scientific thinking. I was, it seemed, entrusted with the task of keeping this perennial treasure safe for current and later generations.

*The main tenet of Kum Nye is that, for the skilled practitioner, all the universe is to be found within the felt interiority of the body, in the form of more and more subtle physical sensations. In Somatic Experiencing, similar levels of sensation are evoked in the “renegotiation” of trauma.

From An Autobiography of Trauma by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. © 2024 Park Street Press and Sacred Planet Books. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.

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