Dreaming Violence into Peace: A 3-Part Series
I woke up one night in 2014 from a terrifying dream in which I was trying to deter members of my community from allowing a nuclear bomb to be delivered and exploded in our midst. It was one of those lucid dreams–strangely real.
Please be aware as you start reading that there are graphic descriptions of violence in this post. I had this dream while sleeping safely and comfortably at home in the pastoral backwash of central Virginia in the early 21st century United States. I do not want to scare or offend anyone, but I do want to bring home the fact that the violence in our world, both past and present, affects each and every one of us in profound and often invisible ways. As a healer specializing in trauma transformation and educator in higher education and other realms on the outer and inner dimensions of violence, I am deeply concerned about the escalation of war in the Middle East and other areas of the world–including in my own country. If we are to stop this or at least make sense of it so that future generations do not make the same mistakes, we must each be brave and face the truth.
Therefore, I hope you will read on even if some of it is painful and horrifying to read. In the end, I suggest how we can take action in our own lives both individually and in community. I invite you to walk with me hand in hand as I work to transform the wounds of our ancestors from millennia of violence and abuse in all forms.
A week after the first dream, I had another. In it, I was trying to save the lives of a group of women whose husbands had gone on a violent rampage against them and other members of the community. I led them into a small storage shack to hide and instructed them to be quiet. One of them had a baby in her arms whom she held closely to her breast to keep it from crying. She did not succeed and one of the women’s husbands started pounding on the door and demanded that we come out. When we did not respond, his pounding became violent as he tried to break the door down. In desperation, the women and I decided to emerge at a run. When the door opened, we saw before us a pile of dead bodies. The men had sliced off the faces of the corpses so that all that only a bloody, mangled mess was left of their human identity. Someone lit the bodies on fire just as a few of us succeeded in running away.
There was no time to stop and mourn. Our lives were in danger. Two women and I jumped into an unlocked, parked car and drove off. After many miles, we drove onto a rough road cutting through woods. The car ran out of gas and we got out. One of the women said, “Come! Let’s go this way! I know a safe place!” We followed her into an underground tunnel. I said to her, “You’re leading us to that place on the other side of the river, aren’t you? There are caves there.”
She nodded in the affirmative. I said, “We will find cover there from radiation when the bomb is dropped.”
I jolted awake and thought to myself groggily as I lay in my comfortable bed: “We must be going to war.”
A few weeks later, the news reported that a terrorist group named ISIS beheaded James Foley, a 40-year-old, independent American journalist. Later, journalist Stephen Sotloff was also beheaded after a message was given by him–suspected to be scripted by his captors–that he, too, would be killed if President Obama does not stop military operations in Iraq.
About a week after the second dream, I was visiting my father and stepmother in North Carolina. At the dinner table, my stepmother asked me what I thought about ISIS. At first I did not understand what she meant, but then I recalled what I had been hearing on the airwaves about the beheadings and the group supposedly responsible for them. I told her I didn’t have an opinion at the moment, as I had not been watching television nor reading papers. She was shocked and told me I should be “ashamed” of myself for not being aware of what is going on in the world.
At first, I felt guilty–she was right, I should be paying more attention. But then I thought of my dreams and I said, “I don’t have to read papers or watch the news. First, I always hear what is going on from friends and family–just like you are telling me here. Second, I already had glimpses of what was about to happen in my dreams.”
It is not uncommon among spiritually-minded people that we go on “news fasts” or refuse to tune into the mainstream media. I admit that I have always disliked mainstream television news reporting and newspapers. I find the reporting to be fear-based and not as unbiased as it purports to be. Over the years, I have found other ways to keep in tune and in touch. The first is to read well-written and researched books on world history and current events. The second is to find what I consider more reliable sources online related to specific events and topics when I feel it is important to be in the know.
I therefore choose when I open the door to physical, concrete reality, and when to keep it closed. This helps me maintain peace in my day-to-day life so I can do the hard work of healing the traumas of clients and teaching about violence. Violence is not going away anytime soon and there are in any given day hundreds and thousands of acts of violence and other forms of abuse of the human body and mind, of animals and the planet. Closing the door for periods of rest is not for me, therefore, denial–it is a form of deliberate self-care. There are many ways to glimpse into this dark reality other than those in the physical realm.
And I know I can always rely on my dreams and visions.
From the early 90s to around 2005, I had many similar dreams and visions in waking states of violence–much of it going back into the brutal history of the European continent and its 5-centuries-long genocidal expansion in the Americas. Hence, I am not unfamiliar with the opening up of my individualized consciousness to our collective, human experience. It was from these visions and experiences that I learned directly and viscerally the ways of the healer–the one who is able to open up to his/her own body, mind and feelings the suffering of others and, by conscious, intentional movement of the mind and body, gradually transforms and heals the wound.
Since those first two dreams prior to the events of early September, for the next several months, I continued to have similarly violent dreams at least every 2-3 nights. They were highly detailed and seemed to show me events that were happening to people in the present somewhere in the world. In them, I was usually trying to help or save someone or a group of people, but due to the intensity of the will to harm, I was mostly unable to.
As the dreams continued over many weeks, I took notice and asked myself why now–why was I once again finding myself steeped in my dreamworld in the bloody stream of human violence?
The most obvious answer to my question was that the already long, ongoing war in the Middle East is rapidly escalating an even larger, perhaps more cataclysmic, worldwide war–dare I say World War III? I was thus “tuned in” to the mounting atmosphere of fear, hatred, anger, and will to revenge moving through the collective body. Then the intensity of the worldwide response to this event and the rapid movement towards greater acts of violence continue to bleed through my self-imposed “retreat” from ingesting daily such news and my dreams continued.
Eventually, the dreams, which had been about people I did not know, began to have characters from my own life. In one, I was trying desperately to save a dear friend and her horse. Then in what seemed to be the final dream a few nights ago, I watched helplessly as my beloved Great Pyrennees Dog, Sym, was killed by a wolf. In this dream, the fear and helplessness we feel in the face of violence on a massive scale was expressed symbolically in a fight between a wild and domesticated animal. It was an archetypal mirror of how we tend to perceive of ourselves and our loved ones as the innocent victims of the out of control, dangerous and vicious perpetrator.
Thus, in answer to my question, I knew it was time again to speak out more widely on about what I know about violence, its individual and collective sources and effects on our individual and collective psyche, and the pathways to transformation. We are teetering on the brink of the most horrific and bloody war this world has perhaps ever seen.
And we have a choice. There is a clearly marked pathway to peace that mystics and teachers have spoken of going back as long as human beings have populated Mother Earth.
I will end this reflection here and will continue in the next edition of my newsletter. In the meantime, foster a collective dream of peace and goodwill–and, more concretely–imagine non-violent responses to violent conflict. Do it not only for those of us alive now, but, as my Native American friends and teachers say, for 7 generations hence. There is a way. I know.
Read on here for the next edition of Dreaming Violence into Peace, Part 2: Nina Simone, “Mississipi Goddam” and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder