A Path to Healing
Our dreams are portals to other layers of consciousness and sources of wisdom. When we attend to and work with our dreams, we have access to healing and knowledge beyond our conscious daily minds. There are many ways to work with the multiple layers of meanings that our dreams can provide, and one method is based in the ancient mystical teachings and practices of Kabbalah. Many books, amulets, tarot cards, poetry, prayer, works of art and sources of divination are based on the mystical and practical studies of Kabbalah.
Kabbalah Healing and Inner Gaze
The word kabbalah itself means to receive. It is received or transmitted knowledge from the source of the Universe. In ancient times our biblical ancestors lived in tents in the desert, and tents can be seen as a metaphor for looking within, to gaze with our inner eyes. Dreaming through the lens of kabbalah invite us to attend to our own inner light through this gaze. Author and mystic Catherine Shainberg reminds us that in Genesis 1:2, just before the creation of the world, the “…Spirit of God hovers over the darkness.” One of my favorite words in Hebrew is from the line, merechefet, meaning hovering. It sounds to me like the flapping of wings as I say it out loud. (Try it! And move your wing/arms as you do so for the embodied effect.) Shainberg teaches that as our own consciousness hovers over us nightly as we dream, we too can make order out of chaos, and co-create our own world. Dream healing allows us to realign ourselves with the inner blueprint of our soul path, that at some level we already know. Through deep dreamwork we sift through the rubble of our dreams and nightmares to find this inner gift – the light within that was always there.
This inner gaze speaks to the shamanic roots of kabbalah as we seek both our daytime visions and the night visions we call dreams. The biblical priests were the early shamans of our tribe, and they channeled the names of God. The priestly blessing of making a lattice with our hands and fingers, the same gesture that Spock used on Star Trek to mean “live long and prosper,” is a mudra to channel the divine and a ritual of transformation. According to the commentator Rashi, the original purpose of it was to get rid of nightmares. Derived from the Song of Songs, 3:7-8, the 60 letters in the blessing correspond to the 60 soldiers that surrounded King David as he slept to protect him from night terrors.
Aspects of Kabbalah
Practical Kabbalah, known as Kabbalah Ma-aseet, refers to the kabbalah of doing and action in the world. Mystical kabbalah is known as Kabbalah Merchava, with merchava meaning chariot. This visionary and mystical layer of kabbalist practice is based on the visions of Ezekiel in the bible, who saw a Chariot descend from the heavens with inscrutable angels and messengers and beast of many kinds at the four wheels. Here Kabbalah takes us to ascendence of the spirit to the heavenly realms to experience oneness with the divine. It shares this concept with Christian Gnosticism.
Kabbalah is the study of creation, of the divine, of the cosmos, and the function, structure, and dynamics of the universe. On a personal level, it is about the journey of our own Soul. Personal Kabbalah takes us on our soul’s journey to human nature, life, death, reincarnation, love, destiny, and service. It focuses on our individual relationship with the universe and our reason for being here on this plane. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is a map offering pathways to spiritual enlightenment and transformation at personal and universal levels based on a system of triads and of balance.
Tikkun: Repairing our Brokenness
Other key kabbalistic concepts include the concept of divine sparks and of fallen or broken aspects of the divine in the world below that must be re-united with the divine above. This is tikkun, or repair of the lost or broken parts of ourselves, and is a key part of kabbalistic healing and of healing through dreams. Barak Obama used the phrase Tikkun Olam, meaning “repairing the world” at his inaugural address to America.
Kabbalah teaches that the path towards healing is paradoxical – it often starts with a brokenness, a broken-openness. This corresponds with the Japanese art of Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with gold. It contains the message that both the vessel and we ourselves are more valuable for having been broken and repaired than never broken at all. The Star of David, consisting of two triangles superimposed upon each other, one facing up and one facing down represent this idea of “as above, so below.” We unite the divine and the worldly aspects of ourselves to be whole.
Kabbalah and Other Mystic Paths
It has been said that mystics of all religions often find more in common with each other than they may find with their parent tradition. We find common themes across both eastern and western wisdom traditions of an experiential connection with the divine, of creation, of parts within unity, and of essential unknowingness. Psychoanalyst and dreamworker Carl Jung was aware of this, and his mystical themes trace their arc from alchemy though Gnosticism, through the Chinese golden flower, and find their oldest roots in Kabbalah. Knowledge gleaned from the Dead Sea scrolls may point to similar origins of Gnosticism, Kabbalah, and Islamic Sufi traditions.
The book of the Zohar is the primary spiritual and mystical written commentary and comes from Lurianic Kabbalah which began in Spain in the 13th century. Jung owes most of his connections with Kabballah to the work of Isaac Luria. The major Kabbalistic ideas that concerned Jung were those that had parallel ideas in alchemy and Gnosticism, namely the notion of a divine spark of life contained within humanity, the concept of a Primordial man who contains within him/herself the confluence of opposites, and the theory of divine unifications.
The PARDES: Healing Dreamwork though a Kabbalist System
As mentioned before, our dreams are multi-layered. Dreams are not unilaterally determined; that is, they do not mean just one thing. The many layers are simultaneously true. It is not a case of either/or but, rather, of both/and. I have created a system of dreamwork based on the mystical tradition of the Kabbalah called the PARDES system. When we read the Torah and other sacred texts, the teachings of Kabbalah invite us to read them through four layers of ever-deepening understanding by utilizing the system of the PARDES. The word PARDES translates as orchard in Hebrew and is also an allegory for the Garden of Eden; our first orchard. In addition, the word itself is an acronym for the four layers at which we read the Torah.
The four-tiered system of the PARDES in Kabbalah corresponds to the first letters of each word in the acronym. “P” is the first letter of the word P’shat, which in Hebrew means simple or basic. Both in dreams and in sacred text, this is the literal story line. “R” is the first letter of the word Remez, which means hinted at. This layer is what we quickly associate with when recalling our dream or reading the text. “D” is for Drash, which comes from the root of the word Lidrosh, to chase after or pursue and may not be literally contained in the dream or text itself. It means to expound on. When we delve deep into the dream or the text, using a variety of methods of exploration, we are exploring on the Drash level. Metaphors, puns, or plays on words may be part of this layer. Finally, “S” is for Sod, which means secret or hidden. Here we may find layers of the dream that reference many sacred texts, sacred geometry, sacred landscapes, or connections with angelic beings or departed relatives. This also can be the transpersonal layer, where we dream not only for ourselves and for our world, but of worlds and dimensions of other time and space.
Here is an example of a nightmare to demonstrate how to delve into the hidden dream depths. My client Joann had a dream “My house is on fire.” That was the whole dream as she first reported it. She experienced, as expected with a dream image like this, fear and its henchmen panic and anxiety. That would comprise the first or simple layer of inquiry (P’shat): The nightmare story and the accompanying emotions. Questions help us get to the next layers.
To follow possible hints (Remez) to get to this second layer, I ask for more detail and inquire if she is inside or outside the house in the nightmare, and if she recognizes the house from anytime in her life or not. It will make a difference as to the meaning of the dream if this is her current home, her college apartment, a childhood home, or something else. Each option will have a different layer of meaning and association for her. Her perspective and relative safety also change if she is inside or outside of the house. At this level I am checking in with the dreamer about things that were already contained in the dream, but that they forgot to mention or didn’t notice when they first reported it. When she told me that she was inside the house and that it reminded her of her college apartment, we could then place some of the roots of the dream into that period of her life. As we move into the third layer of pursuit (Drash) and examine potential meanings of a house on fire in her late teens and early twenties, the questions become oriented around that time of her life and its connection to her current life.
At this third layer we look for deeper associations, metaphors, puns, and plays on words. We follow the associations to elements that were not necessarily contained in the original dream, but that the dream may have been pointing toward to help us connect that period of her life with her present-day life. I ask if the possibilities of burning with love or burning with passion for something resonated. Was she burning mad about something then? At this time in her life in college, was she learning of something new that lit her up, that caught fire in her imagination? By stretching out the possible metaphors, Joann was able to access meaning and emotion beyond her initial responses. She had studied anthropology in school and was lit up by the idea of ancient connections of peoples across time and distance and recalled learning how the acquisition of fire helped to change the lives of hunter-gatherers to farmer-householders. She did not however go on in her career to pursue this work as an adult and missed the sensation of being fired up by her work or studies. So, in one way a house on fire was a positive for Joann, something she missed feeling. So, although she woke with a fear response, that was not the only truth for her in the dream. Fire is often a two-edged sword — both a tool and a danger.
This thought brought her to a transpersonal layer as well (Sod), and she resonated with current issues of climate change, the heating up of the planet, and the danger to current and subsequent generations. Now she was full circle to her studies of people and civilizations. A final question for her to ponder about this dream was then, “What does this dream want from you? What is the dream asking of you?” Sometimes the dream or nightmare comes with a message or an invitation for us and is inviting us to do something for ourselves or our planet. This takes us back to the personal layer of practical kabbalah. She went home to think about where she needed to re-engage with her passions and get fired up to take action in her life.