Dreaming with the Trees
What does it mean to dream with the Earth? To understand this way of dreaming, one must step out of Western thinking and learn the ancient ways of the indigenous peoples of the world. This takes time, patience, and a willingness to go beyond one’s comfort zone. To read more about what a shamanic approach to dreaming involves and how we might begin to dream with and for the Earth, go to the transcript of my interview with Kris Steinnes here. Or better yet, come to my workshop at the Women of Wisdom Conference on Sunday night, Feb. 17!
Here’s an example of what we can do with intention, skill and practice. A year ago, two shamanic colleagues were called to offer a healing ritual on behalf of the old-growth trees and the owls in Western Washington. They asked me and others to participate. We each asked for dreams and performed shamanic journeys to receive guidance about how to proceed. I dreamed:
I am with a group preparing for battle with an enemy. The preparations are quite rigorous. At first I’m not sure I want to go; then I decide I do and rush to complete preparations. We are in a large field encircled by train tracks on which a train is running. It goes fast around the track twice, and people run to keep up. At first I think we need to meet the train to go, and I run very fast. Then I realize the train is pacing people as they sprint to build up strength. We are all packing foods and liquids. There may be extended periods when we have to go without food. This makes me feel anxious. The liquids are in long syringes. I fold one up in my pocket inside a plastic sheath. Someone points out that I’ve likely wasted it; folding it will break the glass, and the liquid will leak out. I’ll have to get another one. We’re almost ready to go. There’s an energy of excitement and fear.
To understand a dream, I often do a shamanic journey and re-enter the dream while awake. I learned this technique from Valerie Wolf; it’s similar to methods described in Robert Moss’ writing. During the journey, I remained puzzled about the dream’s message. I finally realized that I was dreaming from the viewpoint of the trees. From the journey:
The trees are the beings at war. They fight by growing quickly; when they grow, they form rings (the train going fast in circles). The syringes represent the xylem through which liquid flows within their trunks. If these are broken, the liquid can’t flow and the tree dies.
I fly to the state park where we will hold the ritual. I talk to the owls and trees simultaneously. The humans have declared war on them, and they are fighting back in the ways they can to defend themselves and their kin. This is not what they want to do; they are peaceful creatures. But their whole way of life is threatened. The war is being fought right in front of us daily, and we can’t see the violence of it. The open space in the dream, which feels safe to me as a human, threatens both the trees and the owls. Humans seem to have this insatiable need for open space, space without trees. In the forest, different species compete with each other, and there is balance; each species has a place. But the open spaces consume everything and upset the balance. So the trees and the owls have to learn to fight in new ways. They are so grateful for our help. I see all of us in circle in the forest. A huge, tall tree spirit bends down to embrace us. I am moved.
What do they need from us? They need our energy to help give them the strength to survive and defend themselves. They need a buffer from fighting so that they can recover; it is terribly stressful for them. They need us to engage with the humans who are fighting them to help stop the war.
The women involved in planning the ritual then shared dreams, journeys and reflections via e-mail. In this vibrant exchange, among other things, we talked about the stresses that the trees face in getting enough water and nutrients as the climate changes and the balance of interdependent species is upset. Under extreme water stress, part of the tree’s xylem may collapse or cavitate and become unable to carry water from the roots to the leaves. Also, as the number of spotted owls decreases, the prevalence of flying squirrels, their prey, increases. This results in fewer truffles, one of the squirrels’ main foods, which then depletes the fungi available to help trees break down nutrients in the soil.
You can see the intricacy, accuracy and depth of the information loaded into the dream’s rather baffling images. It took a circle of us to understand and act on it. Dreaming can be a powerful source of guidance and inspiration as we face the challenges of restoring the Earth’s balance and well-being – and our own.
 From Suzuki, D and Grady, W. Tree: A Life Story. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books, 2004.