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Field of Dreams

Dream interpretation: Is it psychology, spirituality, and/or science?

I almost never remember my dreams. As soon as I even verge on consciousness, they're gone. Sometimes I lie there scrabbling for their scraps, those frayed bits at their ends. But even then....

So when I interviewed dream researcher Ryan Hurd this week, I felt the way nondrivers feel when interviewing NASCAR stars or the way childless people feel when interviewing parents. (Wait, I've been and done those too.)

Hurd finds great significance in the plotlines and imagery of dreams, and offers useful instructions on his Dream Studies website for accessing, recording, interpreting, and honoring them. (In the latter case, one might carry out a promise or act implied in a recent dream, or create a ritual or artwork based on the dream.)

A graduate of John F. Kennedy University's Consciousness and Tansformative Studies Program -- which offers a Dream Studies Certificate -- Hurd believes that those narratives unspooling in our sleeping lives bear potent wisdom, even warnings, for our waking ones.

Where do dreams come from? And what about anecdotes such as the one he posts at his site in which a woman's recurring dreams about a certain spot on her breast compelled her to seek medical attention, which led to a cancer diagnosis? Some in the burgeoning dream movement point to angels, God, or spirit guides. Hurd casts his gaze elsewhere.

"I'm going to hold up my Unitarian Universalist shield and just say there are things about the natural world we don't understand yet," Hurd tells me. "I'm into the experiential part, not the where-does-it-all-come from part. I'd rather teach people how to take what they have available to them and develop it into resources for making life choices."

He laments that Western culture renders us "unititiated and untrained" in interpreting dreams, which he believes reveal underlying anxieties and issues and, yes, even as-yet-undetected physical illnesses. Nightmares in particular "are trying to get our attention. Maybe the message came across too casually the first time, too blasé. So now it says, 'Okay, I'm gonna bring in the big guns this time.'" He has suffered with nightmares himself. On his website is displayed his painting of a hairy, elongated, pointy-snouted creature, half-weasel and half-serpent, who haunts his own dreams. "It was like I was on a horror trip from which there was no escape. It affected my daily life and my choices and I had to get it under control." Recurring nightmares were "my 'sacred wound,' I guess you could say."

Having kept dream journals since he was a teenager, Hurd had earned a BA and spent years working with archeologists, excavating North American ruins, when he decided to earn an advanced degree in dreams. Unsurprisingly, almost no schools offer courses on that subject, much less degrees: "The big universities won't even look at it," Hurd sighs.

"My big goal is to make Western culture into a dreaming culture. The United States is anti-dreaming, because dreaming is irrational. We're fighting the Enlightenment on this issue, but dreams bring out all these ways of knowing that are just as valid" as those of which society approves. He cites a centuries-old Iroquois ritual during which tribespeople acted out their unnerving dreams - even if those performances entailed breaking tribal taboos, expressing violent urges, or revealing untoward lusts. Such rites served to "air the dirty laundry in order to reduce its charge and prevent unconscious acting-out that could escalate if left unchecked," Hurd writes. "I wish dream-sharing was a mandatory start before every meeting of the United Nations, by the way. Hey, I'm a dreamer."

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