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  • Writer's pictureLeo Lobbestael

The Presence Lab: Trauma As A Form Of Dream

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Have you ever woke up from an intense dream and thought "oh thank goodness that was only a dream!" I think it is quite common to feel relief from the experiences of our dreams. Yet what do we really know about our "sleep", our "dreams" and being "awake"? Do we know the answer to these questions?

In certain wisdom traditions such as Buddhism dream takes a different form than what we can understand from science. Science often sees a dream in terms of its physiological or psychological origins. But if you have ever had a lucid dream or practice dream yoga you will see that science may not explain everything, dreaming is a profound experience in the exploration of human consciousness and there is nothing about it that makes it "just a dream".

Sure we should not worry about our dreams or be concerned about the content of the dreams we are having but if we lean into them and start to trust them, a certain interesting thing can happen where we begin to see all of life as a sort of dream, not just our night time adventures. We begin to see that waking up, not only from sleep takes a tender, loving courageousness, it does not mean reaching for our third cup of joe.

Presently in psychology, there is a variety of ways that people "conceptualize" or make sense of these deeply challenging events that impact every part of our being that we describe as traumatic. In a very basic summation: From a cognitive Behavioural Perspective Trauma can be understood through the way we think and behave; if we change we think we can change the way we behave and feel in the world. From an Attachment perspective trauma and our resilience grows from the relationships we have with our primary caregivers ( often our parents) at a young age. From a Somatic and Neuroscience perspective trauma is a natural and physiological response to stress that is not metabolized by the body; the nervous system begins to shut down and the body and emotional memories freeze in the body. Healing from a somatic and neuroscience-informed perspective is not focused on your thoughts but on "thawing" the frozen or immobilized physiological and emotional experiences to support an individual back to wholeness.

I practice Somatic Psychotherapy and see the world more in line with the somatic and neuroscience vision of trauma. However, the one thing I have noticed in my healing that has been helpful is leaving room for the ineffable in my personal growth. The more I try to "corner", "control", or "point a finger" at the problem my nervous system seems to fight me. If I try to know "it all" or identify the cause as something specific I find my body pushes back. Leaving space for the unknown is key for me. This unknown area has allowed me to stretch my healing beyond what I have called my body and mind to something that is connected to a larger experience of life. This is why for my self I have started to see trauma as a form of dreaming.

Dreaming is an area by any measure that goes deeply into the ineffable. Keeping room for an experience greater than something just limited to my body or mind is something more akin to what I experience when I drop into a dream in particular a lucid dream. Staying humble and saying I do not know exactly what happens in dreams but If I learn some tools I learn from my dreams and become less reactive to my night-time experiences. Perhaps if I open myself to this I can also then open myself to saying I do not know exactly what is going on with trauma. Perhaps there are dimensions of reality that none of us understand completely but by learning some tools we can surrender to what is happening in the moment and let the "dream" play out more fluidly than me saying it has to do with a thought, a frozen experience or any other ideology.

Although it is true what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Attachment Theory, Poly-Vagal Theory, and Somatic Therapies say about trauma are true; your thoughts are impacted, your emotions and behaviour are impacted and your physiology does become frozen. For me, humbling is necessary to really surrender ourselves to the wisdom that lies just below the surface of the suffering. A humbling is necessary to see just beyond what we know now and learn from the thing we are trying to get away from. If we just want relief and we do not want to actually look at it and even learn from it then the bad dream may continue and we may lose an opportunity to "wake up".


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My work is grounded in compassion, empathy, neuroscience, and ancient wisdom traditions.

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