“I have a new, blond puppy. She is adorable! I place her gently on the floor, and she very quickly makes her first, tiny poop. She looks proud of herself, and so am I. But now comes the training. I try to make sure to remember that she needs to be taken outside relatively frequently so that she learns where to do her business — I don’t want my cute new friend to become a nuisance because she soils and spoils my home. It’s her new home too. But this training thing is exhausting!”
As I worked with this recent dream, it occurred to me what an excellent image it is for the challenge and the benefit of doing dreamwork — or soulwork, for that matter.
Every morning is actually an opportunity for something “new” to be discovered. The unconscious offers up something for the ego to either discover for the first time, or it offers something that we may have forgotten; so it needs to be rediscovered by the ego and, thereby, integrated into consciousness. But it does take discipline.
In his book, A Spirituality of Living, Henri Nouwen says this about the importance of discipline: “If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life,” Nouwen asserts. “In the spiritual life, discipline requires conscious effort to keep every area in life from being filled up. It means creating space in our life for God to act and speak.”
When we get up in the morning, we may remember a dream from the night before. If it’s message for us is not to fall back into unconsciousness, we then need to make space to both write the dream down in our dream journals, while also creating enough space at some point in our busy days to actually do the work — to go back into the dream to listen to the images and symbols and associations that reverberate in our souls as they seek a place in our lives and in our relationships with God and with others.
The “inner puppy” in my dream has some “good shit” (sorry — I just couldn’t find a better metaphor). But if our own instinctual energies are to be creatively channelled, rather than spoiling our lives through impulsive or compulsive behaviors, we need to literally “train” these instinctual energies — loveable and warm and cuddly and adorable as puppies can be, they can either ruin a home or make it a wonderful place to be. It’s all in the relationship between master and young puppy.
When Sam, my rescue dog, came into my home, he was 7 years old and housebroken. But I took time to read and to learn more about dog psychology. We spent hours and hours alone together, usually an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. During this time, I gave up some things I cherished, such as riding by bicycle and that second cup of coffee, because I felt like this time between me and Sam would shape the rest of our lives together and enhance the joy of dog ownership. So, I placed a bag of hot dog bites in a plastic baggy, as Sam and I headed out into whatever weather visited us each day. Rain or shine, warm or cold, off we would go. During our routine, at least 20 minutes was devoted to training Sam in the usual exercises: sit, stay, lay down, and come. Work was slow, but oh so rewarding. Sam loved the hot dogs, of course; but I perceived that we both felt the warm, glad glow of a relationship that gave our lives deepened meaning and purpose.
I can’t think of a better image than this intimate relationship between master and dog for the joys and amazing inner journey of dreamwork. Yes, discipline is involved. We create space for our dreams and for the work it takes to notice our paths of individuation. And this work pays off, in small and great ways, as we feel more and more alive and as we notice the subtle hand of God shaping us and guiding our lives.