"To Sleep, Perchance to Dream."

So spoke Hamlet in a play written four hundred years ago. Dreaming is not new. From thousands of years ago, we have the story of Joseph interpreting the dream of Pharaoh - from Pharaoh's dream of seven fat cattle followed by seven starving cattle, Joseph understood that Egypt would have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of failed crops. Pharaoh took the interpretation seriously, appointed Joseph to collect the surplus crops for seven years, which then served as a foodbank for the seven lean years.

Many people have difficulty understanding the language of dreams, and leave it aside, quickly forgetting their nighttime adventures as they rise into the activities of their day. Yet everyone understands having a dream for one's life - a direction, an aim, a goal. When Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "I have a dream," it was a goal for the whole world. A dream then is something not yet realized in physical manifestation, yet something which is potential, still floating, not yet down-to-earth, something toward which one can journey. People speak of their 'dream house' or their 'dream job,' and it shows that they have an image in mind toward which they are moving, or at least toward which they are yearning.

Some dreams can predict the future, some dreams can give health advice, some dreams can alert us to challenges that need to be faced. Some people feel as though they've been in 'night school,' learning and experiencing in many new ways. And some dreams can just seem to be tangles of confusing imagery and sound.

The great scholar of ancient history and mythology, Joseph Campbell, said that dreams demonstrate that there is a two million year-old wise person living in us. This person has the wisdom of all humanity, but doesn't speak our language. To hear this person's wisdom, we must learn the language of dreams.

People hope that there might be a simple book to guide them in interpretation of dreams - an encyclopedia wherein you open to an entry for 'cattle' and find the simple guidance: "This means the state of the nation's food supplies." This example makes it plain, does it not, that such simple definitions will not work. Dreams have their special language but, for the most part, this language is special to each of us personally. We need to develop our own dictionaries and encyclopedias for understanding the language of dreams.

An example. Marc Barasch, author of Healing Dreams, and a good friend, had a series of dreams that involved unrelated and troubling images with the common theme of his neck. He went to the doctor and asked for tests. The doctor did preliminary tests and found nothing. The dreams continued with heightened intensity. Marc returned to the doctor and demanded more thorough tests. The doctor reluctantly agreed. The tests showed up an early cancer in his throat. Because of early treatment, Marc survived the experience, and then became devoted to dreams.

We too can learn to identify the language of dreams. In this very brief guide, we make a beginning. Beyond that we recommend various books that can guide you further. And there are excellent dream therapists that can teach you more about this world the gate of which is in you.

One more comment about Hamlet's musings - to sleep. Isn't it astonishing that we sleep? Some people view it as a waste of a third of our lives. Some people view it as only a time for regenerating the endocrine system, that is, a daily healing of the stresses of daytime activity. Others view sleep as the platform for our dreaming, which if healthy and active deepens our innermost being, helps us mature, and is therefore a key part of our waking life seen as a whole - the whole day includes both sleep and waking. We can ignore the land of sleep and just let it do its healing work, or we can learn more about it. Here we consider the possibility of learning more about it.

In an "Island Dreaming" workshop at Healing Dreams Retreat, we would have three nights to dream, and the days to prepare in Nature. This way of working in series allows us to coax the dream world out. It also gives us time to speak about dreams and share them with one another during the waking hours.