Dreaming and creating dream related artwork with Barbara Herbin, UK

What do dreams mean to you?

Dreams are a bridge between my waking or conditioned mind and my unconscious or unconditioned mind. Dreams are memories of experiences in the unconditioned mind, which is not bound by space or time. The language of the unconditioned mind is the language of myth and poetry, of metaphor and analogy. The messages it tries to communicate are often not understood by the waking mind because they cannot be taken literally; they are symbolic. This is the language utilised by all ancient teachings and religions to impart important truths and sacred knowledge. 

Not all dreams are the same. Some show us psychological truths about ourselves. Others are energetic or psychic experiences, such as astral travelling, going into the future or past, tapping into knowledge that is unavailable to the conditioned/waking mind. Having studied my dreams and paid attention to them has enriched my life and literally opened up new dimensions. Working with my dreams has deepened my understanding of reality. It has helped me see myself more objectively and to feel greater empathy towards other people. My dream experiences have confirmed that we are all connected at the deeper levels of mind, there are no separate minds or selves at this level.

When did you start keeping your dream journal and why? What motivates you to record your dreams every morning?

I began recording my dreams in 1995 when I joined a dream group. I had been having very vivid and unusual dreams which I believe were triggered by my Qigong practice. Then synchronistically I saw a flier advertising a dream group so I joined to try to understand what my dreams meant. I find dreams fascinating, even the more mundane ones, because I know they are meaningful.

Over the years, you’ve been active in many different dream groups. Do you find dream groups helpful? In what way? Do you prefer local or online groups? Why?

Yes, its very helpful to share dreams with others, listening to their interpretations helps me understand my dreams better and I enjoy working with other peoples dreams. It also connects me to other people in a more real and meaningful way. Dream content cuts through the superficial, social  mask of personality and the real emotional issues that the dreamer is struggling with are laid bare. People are often unaware when they share dreams just how much  of their inner world they are exposing to public scrutiny. Yet this results in real empathy and brings people closer together. 

I have been in both local and online groups and the most important thing is the enthusiasm and interest from the people that form the group. Its nice to meet up in the flesh every week, and this would be my ideal scenario, but dreamwork can also be done online.

You live in London. Do you find that people in England and London in particular are interested in dreams? Are there many dream groups available locally that people can join?

I honestly can’t answer this question as I have no idea. All I can say is there aren’t any local dream groups that I’m aware of, it isn’t easy to find one. When my original group ran back in 1995 for several years we advertised throughout London, but very few people responded, and people came and went. Later on I joined the Dream Network UK, a small group of dreamers and academics, but unfortunately that is now inactive.

I know you as a thorough and particular dreamer who is very determined to get to the bottom of your dreams. Do you think it is important to understand our dreams? What is your favourite method in working with your dreams?

It is important to me to understand my dreams. This cannot be forced, insights come by themselves and in their own time but there is a discipline of working on the dream that helps to trigger insights. Its very similar to an author who has to have the discipline of sitting down to write every day, which in itself isn’t inspiring, but by following this discipline inspiration will eventually flow. There are various dreamwork methods and techniques that can be used and I am open to trying and using anything. There is no one right way to deal with dreams, just keep an open mind and to try to expand and explore the dream with all of its symbols and associations; then usually insight starts to arise, themes are noticed, or a juxtaposition of opposites. The Tao Te Ching says “In order to contract, it is necessary first to expand,” and this definitely applies to dreamwork. Its helpful to zoom in on all the details of the dream and also to zoom out and try to see the overall picture, going back and forth between the two. I have literally worked on and come back to a dream over a period of 10 + years, gaining more insight until finally the penny dropped and I really understood what the message was. That was very satisfying and when it happened I knew with complete certainty that this is what the dream meant, and could summarise it in one sentence. Its not possible to do this all the time and maybe not with all dreams. On the whole I have to be content with gaining some insights or inkling into the meaning of the dream.

What book(s) have you found particularly helpful for your dream work?

The first book I read was in many ways the most helpful as its full of practical techniques, it is “ The Elements Of Dreamwork” by Strephon Kaplan-Wiliams and is one in a series of “ Elements” books. The author is very opinionated and I know some people found his tone annoying but it offers lots of practical methods. I would recommend any book by him, and also books by Gayle Delaney, Jeremy Taylor and Montague Ullman.

You are also a fine artist. How do you see the relationship between dreams and the arts? Why do you create dream-related art? Would you like to share one of your dreams and related drawings/paintings? 

I am not really a fine artist just an amateur one, I am interested in finding out more about how art can be used to heal. So this is about art therapy, where the process is all important, as opposed to creating an impressive work of art to hang on a wall. Art can be used to work with dreams in a different way, to bypass the logical left brain and tap into the right brain. I begin by painting a scene or symbol from a dream, and then go on to spontaneously paint another picture following on from the first one, then maybe two or three more. Each picture is a development of the previous one and all are created spontaneously. Working like this seems to shift the energy in the dream symbols, to free it up. No artistic skill is required, anyone can paint like this, its not about creating works of art for display, its about exploring the dream imagery and energy in a non verbal way.

This is one example. The initial dream was short and not very visual:                                                     
23/9 1997 
Title: Overlooked Church Where Baby Dictates She Should Die

I’m on a beach with a group of people, we’ve come on a day trip and earlier we visited a town. The beach is very flat; with firm sand and I want to stay here on the beach for a while but the others want to go back to the town and the shops. I’d rather stay on the beach, but they are going back so I have to go with them. I’m looking at some buildings like a tourist and a woman is telling me about this church which tends to be overlooked by people - not many people visit it. The front of it is near the sea. I see it from the side, it’s not that big; it is a rectangular shape with a very high ceiling/ roof and a big gold cross on the wall with a few wooden square shaped seats near the cross. She says the church is worth seeing - something about the architecture, but not many people bother with this. There’s a story connected to this church. A group who worshipped here were a bit fanatical and a young woman was killed by them. Then I see another young woman holding a small baby, she’s dressed in long white robes. The baby is speaking or rather channelling information, something is speaking through the baby. Some kind of church leader is talking and asking the baby questions. They ask the baby what to do with this other woman - she’s got to be punished and then I see the baby and its mouth very clearly, it says “dying” several times. The baby has dictated she should die and so they will kill her.

I didn’t do any artwork on the dream until May 2009. I began by painting the gold cross on the wall to the right and then the brown chairs to the left. I then painted the young woman figure in white robes holding the baby. I placed her between the chairs and cross, though in the dream I didn’t see her in the church I only heard the story. She turned out to look almost like a man and the long white robes made me think of a vicar. The baby was black and had white eyes and open mouth with a red outline. I wrote in the word “dying” repeatedly to form a chain of words which ended up forming a head - the invisible entity that the baby was channelling. At the end of the chain of words was a silver sword with blood dripping from it and I then painted a pool of blood on the floor. The blood stain seemed to symbolise guilt and bloodstained footprints led away and up across the chairs. I felt I had blood on my hands, that I was guilty and so drew round an outline of each of my hands and painted them in red - holding up my hands as an admission of guilt? In-between the hands is the dead woman - she is an outline in black - the opposite of the woman holding the baby who has blonde hair and is wearing a white robe. The latter is standing on top of the former as she lies in the pool of blood. I noticed that the silver sword mirrors the gold cross. I painted in the chairs which are square i.e conventional and represent the congregation who do what they are told blindly. 

I painted the second picture a few months later. As I looked at the first one I “saw,”  that the red corpse that was lying buried under the feet of the white robed figure, needed to be resurrected and come alive as an equal to the white figure. I also “saw” that the silver sword and gold cross should merge as one (masculine and feminine) or come together and that the baby and disembodied spirit should also come together.  All these pairs belonged together and the hands would pick them up and place them together. I called it “The Resurrection Of The Feminine.”

It wasn’t until March 2012 that I continued with a third painting.

I knew that there would be a further merging of the pink and red energies, this time into one head. I also wanted to depict the disembodied head or include it in some way but with a positive message of living not dying. The main part of the head turned out to be a mixture of pink and red, rather like the yin/yang symbol with curved lines. Contained within the red area was a pink drop like shape and within the pink area a red one, as in the y/y symbol. The title is “Red And Pink, Gold And Silver Energies Combine To Produce Life.”

Finally in June 2013 I painted the final picture, called “The Human Body On Three Levels.” Pink is the flesh, the red lines are blood or meridians. Silver and gold form the aura. The painting shows how the four colours in the previous picture are combined to form the three levels of the human body, energy field and bigger surrounding aura.

Overall I think the message of this dream and subsequent artwork is about resurrecting and listening to my intuition and instinct, my natural vital energy that has been repressed by social conditioning with its expectations to do what I think others expect of me. The opposites need to come together and to work together, which brings me back to dreams as a bridge between the conditioned and unconditioned mind.