I recently had the following dream:
I’m at a large educational institution, I have a sense that I am in the 3rd year of a 4-year program. I am with a tall man, who is my classmate, colleague, and friend. We are approached by another man. He is smaller, younger, and he looks frail and unwell. When I see him the phrase ‘failure to thrive’ comes to mind. He asks us for help. He can’t find the rest of people in his year (he is not in the 3rd year like us) and this has made his health situation quite desperate.
We sit him down in a chair to care for him and try to figure out what is wrong. My friend puts an arm around him for support, and I take his pulse. It seems okay. He has a hand on his stomach, so I ask him if he is nauseous. His answer is unclear. Then he looks at me and says: “I feel like I’ve lost an oak tree.” The emotional impact of this statement wakes me up.
I have many associations with the oak tree– strong, huge, durable, wide-spreading, very long-lived, able to host and sustain a community of living beings, a world tree, a mother tree, sacred to the druids and many other peoples, offering the best tight-grained wood for making liquid-containing barrels and liquid-repelling ships… among many other associations. What might it mean to ‘lose’ such a thing? Apparently, it would leave you in rough shape, like the poor man in my dream.
But how would this apply to me? Should I take this personally or collectively, or both? (This orienting question has, in the past few years, become one of the first things that enters my mind when I wake form a dream). Which lens should I use to look at the dream? If I look through the personal lens, the dream might suggest that I am suffering from a loss of connection to community which is weakening and sickening me. If I take the collective lens, it could be pointing to some serious loss that all (or much of) humanity is experiencing, leaving us in a weakened state so that we cannot thrive.
I usually try to answer this question not by thinking about it, or ‘interpreting’ the dream, but by re-entering the dream to experience it more deeply. So, I went back into the dream to spend more time with this suffering man. I could feel his loneliness, his desperation at being isolated from his group, and his fear about what the future would bring. I let these feelings land in my body for an extended time (this is one of the great benefits of re-entry dreamwork– simply that you can give yourself more time to have the felt experience of your dream). As I did this, I felt more and more that this was a collective dream more than a personal one. It seemed to be saying that all of humankind has become sickened because it has lost its oak tree.
But then– what do? What can be done? Collective dreams depict collective problems, which are, by their very nature, huge in scope. It is relatively easy to respond to a personal dream; once we have understood what it wants from us, we can react accordingly, making a change in our attitude or behaviour. But collective dreams are harder, they often lead to the demoralizing impasse that so many people feel about the massive collective problems that we face in our world today– what can one person do in response to a world-wide crisis?
I would recommend beginning with the scene and the conditions that are presented in your dream. In my dream the man is sickened and scared, and this is compounded by the fact that he has lost touch with the group he belongs with. What would you want to do in such a situation? What I would do is offer to help him find his classmates. So, I re-entered the dream a second time; this time not only to experience it more fully, but to dream it forward into a new dream. The three of us got up, and, with my friend and I supporting the weakened man on both sides, we began the search. He suggested we go outside, and search for his people in the forest. We found them gathering around a huge oak tree, a true mother tree, a tree that seemed to be at the epicenter of a whole community of beings, including all the human beings who were now seated around it. We sat down with the group, the weakened man greeted his classmates, then lay down on flat the earth, breathing deeply and beginning to relax. His fear was ebbing away, and his vitality was slowly beginning to return to him.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but I believe we should not turn our back on wishing and hoping, not in our imaginations, not in our dreamwork, and not in our awake-world responses to the many crises that we are now besieged by.
For me the climate crisis is the most urgent crisis of them all, if only for the reason that we need a viable planet to live on while we try to tackle all the other crises. I, like so many of us, have been grappling for many years with the question: what can I do in the face of climate change? Many of my responses have involved trees. I plant trees, I grow trees, I give away trees, I support an organization (Treesisters) that is re-foresting widely in the sub-tropics and tropics; and more and more in the last few years, I dream about trees. And–I have noticed that more and more of my dreamwork clients are also dreaming about trees in the last decade or so. It seems very likely to me that the trees of the world are trying to communicate with us, and more urgently in recent years as our environmental situation becomes ever more precarious. I have no doubt that trees (and other non-human beings) can communicate with we humans in a variety of ways, but one of the most prominent and accessible ways is through dreams. When we are asleep and dreaming, we are in a state where can receive an enormous bandwidth of information, a lot of which is filtered out, denied, and ignored by our ego structures when we are awake.
I would like to step up my efforts to gather these tree-dream communications. I have collected dozens of tree dreams already, but why stop there? Why not hundreds, or thousands? So– here is my request, my invitation to you: if you have had a tree dream, or if you have one in the future, consider sharing it with me. I will collect these dreams and consider the collective voice that is being expressed through them. And, in the not-too-distant future, I will share my findings with you, and with whomever is interested in listening. Let’s look for our missing oak tree before our time runs out.