When Dreams Speak Mindfully

Bunny Left side 072813In all the ways I have considered present moment awareness, I do not remember wondering whether or not my dreams were mindful. In fact, dream speak has never been on any kind of awareness meter for me, until recently.

“The moment is all you ever have and it is enough” is what I heard myself say in a dream. It brought me right into the present for immediately, I was awake. Certainly, I am familiar with that sentence as it has appeared in a number of blog posts and is the second sentence of my Twitter bio as well.

Thoughts may not be tangible but they are powerful, although like bubbles, they float to the surface and burst—every time. Maybe the closest we come to reality is being in the moment. While I am somewhat curious about what I was dreaming—I have never remembered–I am more curious about being jolted into mindfulness.

For a few months now, I have been sitting meditation through two flares, which has made the entire experience—physically and emotionally–different from any previous. Meditation helps me distinguish between qualifying the flares and immersing myself in them.

In other words, it is not a matter of how I am feeling but that I am feeling what is occurring in each moment. The idea that the moment is the only reality that I am experiencing opened up possibility after possibility for me, and eventually, found its way into my dreams.

There is a lojong slogan in meditation instruction that says, “regard all dharmas as dreams,” which Pema Chödrön explains as “regard all thoughts as being the same as a dream [for]…as we sit in meditation, we could begin to realize that we create everything, all our thoughts, with our mind” (Chödrön).
Bunny right side 072813
In meditation, rather than letting the thoughts trample all over me, I try to witness them for the transient dreams they are, first flaring and then, fleeing. If I do anything more than witness what is occurring, I attach to the thought, giving it life. This is when the “what ifs” and thus, the story, begin. When we attach to the drama of any thought, we have completely left the moment.

Pema Chödrön advises using the word “thinking” whenever we find ourselves attaching to a thought during meditation. As we utter the word in our mind, the story that once gave life to that thought vanishes. Immediately, we are present, as if awakening from a dream. With the thought gone, we return to a light emphasis on the breath and resume our role as witness.

As this exercise works so well for me during meditation, I use it post meditation as well. The practice is the same, including the breath. Regardless of what is occurring, no-thing is bigger than the moment; I find this particularly helpful in moments of physical and emotional discomfort.

“In our everyday lives, we are run around by these thoughts that we make so solid with our mind and our thinking. So when we say, ‘regard it all as a dream,’ we lead ourselves toward something that many people have discovered throughout the ages about the nature of reality: it’s not as solid as we think” (Chödrön).

More and more, I stay with what is occurring in the moment rather than going off with a thought. It is a shorter and more scenic trip. Also, impermanence seems more a friend than I ever thought possible.


All quotes are from How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends With Your Mind by Pema Chödrön, Kindle version, May 2013.

18 thoughts on “When Dreams Speak Mindfully

  1. This was so helpful, Karen. Thanks so much for sharing it with me late last year. I’m definitely going to get Chödrön’s book. I’ve been meditating since the beginning of the year. I’ve only missed 2 or 3 mornings and I’m only averaging about 8-10 minutes per day, mostly guided, but I’m working up to more. Thanks again!


    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Kelly. Glad you have found meditation and think you will enjoy Chodron’s book. Eight to ten a minutes a day of meditation is what suits you in this moment. I mean that seriously. It is that you go to the stillness that matters, I think. Good for you. If you have a chance, do let me know how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen,
    This post was custom-made for me. This morning I had a tough sitting. Lots of distractions and impatience. Now I realize that I was attaching to thoughts and getting lost in story. Thank you for the reminder.
    I love how you “awakened” into mindfulness from a dream. It seems like a multi-layered awakening. I wonder if the Buddha dreamed? Thank you for sharing the nature of dreams and mindfulness. Like I said above, I needed this reminder.
    {{{hugs}}} Kozo


    1. Meditation is chaotic, isn’t it? It is so infrequent that I am not wrestling with “monkey mind” but my day does not ever really begin if I do not sit meditation so I would rather sit than not, just as you would. That mindfulness visited my dreams still thrills me, and I wonder if my dreams are more layered now. Sometimes what I remember from them is. Thanks, Kozo!


    1. Ain’t it the truth? I have noticed that meditation helps me focus my fiction, almost as if I am able to sit down into the story. Details seem more immediate, which is not always helpful but always interesting. Thanks, Adrian!


    1. Meditation really does lighten my heart, Beth, and in ways that continue to amaze. It is not always easy sitting meditation but the physical stillness of it really has an immediate effect on my body, and I like to think it is affecting my mind as well. Thanks, Beth!


  3. Another wonderful post – and again, thanks for sharing your journey with us. Dreams, I think, blend reality with intangibility; they are there absolutely when they happen; and yet, when we wake, they are gone, and even if remembered, only a pale shadow remains, like something caught out of the corner of the eye. It’s true for thoughts, too, sometimes; and perhaps we are best to experience and savour them in the moment, before they vanish.


    1. I agree, Matthew, for reality is the moment, whether we are dreaming or awake, and once the moment is past, whatever we retain is a shadow of it, with some parts of it clearer than others. Like you, I expect we are better off savoring them as they occur. Thanks so much, Matthew.


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