Understanding Your Sacred and Secular Dreams


A “Big” dream is one that strikes you as important, unusual, or extraordinary. It’s one that screams out at you, “Pay attention to me!” A “Small” dream on the other hand, feels routine, common, and unimportant. Clearly, big dreams are more significant than small dreams. Clearly, big dreams are more important than small dreams.

Or so the common thinking goes.

Most approaches to dreamwork separate dreams into “spiritual” dreams, populated with divine messengers, inspiration, and transformational “ah-has,” on the one hand, and mundane, secular, “common” dreams on the other. Freud called common, everyday dreams “day residue,” and that remains as good a term as any to describe dreams of losing your keys, getting attacked by wild dogs, having a loved one abused and not being able to help them, taking a test and having your mind go blank, showing up in public naked, and all other distressing experiences that cause you to wake up stunned, confused, embarrassed, helpless, or ashamed.

It seems obvious enough that such dreams are transparent reflections of fears, doubts, confusions, and multiple incompetencies; the sooner you can forget about such stressful disturbances the better. As we were taught since the age of thee, “It was only a dream. Go back to sleep.”

Psychology since Freud has said, “Look at these dreams! Yes, they are day residue, but they are telling you where and how you are stuck!”  C.G. Jung developed the term “shadow” to refer to disowned aspects of ourselves that rumble around in our “personal unconscious,” creating conflict, until listened to and accepted. The term “shadow work” has been expanded on by Ken Wilber and integral psychology to refer to any work that is intended to dissolve internal conflicts.

Integral Deep Listening (IDL) takes a different approach. It does not distinguish between spiritual and secular dreams, day residue and non-day residue, symbolic and literal dreams, shadow and non-shadow, archetypal and personal. Why not? It is not because such distinctions cannot be helpful or meaningful. They can be both.

Because IDL is a “phenomenological” method, it encourages the suspension of all assumptions in favor of simply listening to what this or that interviewed dream character or personification of an important life issue  has to say. All of these distinctions about dreams are indeed assumptions. When you take the perspective of this or that interviewed dream character, such distinctions tend to be of lesser importance, if present at all, strongly implying that they are projections by your waking identity onto your dreams rather than accurate descriptions of dreaming itself.  It’s the difference between a child’s picture of their house and a Google maps version. Both are “accurate;” one has an accuracy that is subjectively true and honest to one person; the other has an accuracy that provides, shall we say, greater objectivity. You can have both as long as you don’t confuse the two.

Unfortunately, such confusion is exactly what happens in most writing about dreamwork. People think their personal experience of spiritual and day residue dreams means that there really is a distinction between the two; people think that because they are in conflict with characters in their dream that there really is internal conflict; people believe that because they see fires as representative of heat, light, or out of control anger or passion, that dreams really are symbolic; people believe that because they have a visitation by deceased aunt Eleanor or Jesus that the dream really was literal.

Anyone can discover for themselves, through becoming dream characters and answering questions about dreams from their perspectives, that these categories do not generally apply to dreams as seen from the perspectives of those elements that are intrinsic to the dream.

Humans make distinctions in value, ethics, and quality. Life itself, consciousness itself, is much less likely to do so. Life uses anything and everything to grow, to express itself. It sees all experience as an opportunity to express its abundance.

Every now and then a dream comes along that spells out this point in a way that grabs your attention. This one came for me when I was about twenty-four, some seven years before I started to recognize what I have written above. At the time I had this dream I was still very much a believer that the distinctions between spiritual and secular, symbolic and literal, conflictual and non-conflictual dreams were real and helpful. I was sure it was indeed a “big” dream:

There was a king, like of England, vacationing on an Island. His leg was propped up on a stool because he had broken it somehow. It had a white plaster cast on it. He was holding audience by torchlight with subjects on this island. In the middle of this audience archers in boats crept onto the island from behind and surprised the king with raised bows. He had to either turn over the wealth of his realm or be taken prisoner.

The king thought: “People think I’m wealthy, because I’m king, but I’m not. My family lost its wealth in my grandfather’s time.” Not knowing what to do, there was a suspenseful moment in torchlight, with the people watching the king to see what he would do. Then one of them happened to look at the king’s leg and shouted, “Look at the king’s cast!” Some of the plaster had worn off, revealing the warm golden hue of gold.

The king thought, “What was this? How could this be?” Then it dawned on him: In his grandfather’s time the kingdom had come under siege. To protect the wealth of the kingdom the king must have had all the gold taken to the royal foundry and forged into the shapes of common, everyday implements – spoons, forks, knives, chairs, doorknobs, chairs, and covered with natural alloys so that they looked like humble objects – and secretly distributed throughout the households of the common folk of the country in order to keep the wealth of the Kingdom safe.

The king then said to the archers, “I have no wealth. It is everywhere, distributed throughout the kingdom.” Now the archers and the people did not know what to do. For the archers, taking the king hostage would do no good; he had no wealth. The people did not know what to do. The wealth had given the king the power to rule. Now he had none. What should they do? Dethrone him? They now had all the wealth they wanted or needed; they didn’t have to depend on him for anything. To decide what to do with their king, they considered not whether they feared his power, since he no longer had any, but whether he had been a good king or not. They decided that he had, and he continued until his death to be their King.

The mythic completeness of this dream is unusual. Certainly, from a waking perspective, it is a “big” dream. It is quite easy to say that the King symbolizes oneself and the dream is about the conditions under which self-rule is acceptable. It is also easy to say that the dream is not literal because Kings don’t wear plaster casts. It is also easy to treat the dream as a teaching parable, as I did at the time, to understand the point that fear of loss is based on a misperception of a lack of abundance. Such understandings can be helpful, useful, and true, like the child’s drawing of their home.

But what happens if you look at the role from this or that character in the dream? What happens to all these distinctions? Here is an interview, not of the King, his subjects, the archers, or even the gold. These are relatively obvious choices. But what if we choose a relatively insignificant, mundane, and  secular character, the king’s plaster cast? What then? Even though the dream came from a totally different time and place in my life, will it still have any relevance for today? Let’s find out…

What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?

Editing and publishing.

Staying clear and happy.

Remembering to identify with emerging potentials that generate a grounded expansiveness.

Tell me a dream you remember.  It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand. 

See above.

Why do you think that you had this dream?

I don’t remember my life circumstances at that time. However, I have always taken it as a statement that wealth is so ubiquitous, like air to breathe, that I easily overlook it and so get into fears of scarcity.

If this dream were playing at a theater, what name would be on the marquee? 

The Right to Rule

These are the characters in the dream, beside yourself…

King, Archers, subjects, island, plaster cast, gold, king’s leg, boats, bow and arrows, torches.

If one character had something especially important to tell you, what would it be?

The Plaster Cast

Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor?  It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are this or that character in your dream and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind.  If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!

Plaster Cast, are you a character in Joseph’s dream?


Plaster Cast, look out at the world from your perspective and tell us what you see… 

I am wrapped around the broken leg of the king in this dream. I exist to protect it while it heals.

Plaster Cast, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?

 I am made out of gold, covered with white plaster dust. 

Plaster Cast, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?

I like that I am quality stuff, but that it is not obvious. I also like that my quality stuff is everywhere.

Plaster Cast, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses?  What are they?


Plaster Cast, what aspect of Joseph do you represent or most closely personify?

I am quality that never dies because it is in all things. I am quality that is abundant; I know no scarcity.

Plaster Cast, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change?  If so, how?

I like being myself.

(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)

Plaster Cast, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing?  Why?

Confidence, 0-10. Why?      10 I have nothing to fear. I am not just this plaster cast; I am this gold which is everywhere.

Compassion, 0-10. Why?    10 I am available to everyone, all the time, to use in whatever way they wish. How compassionate is that?

 Wisdom, 0-10. Why?          10 I know my worth.

Acceptance, 0-10. Why?     10  What is there not to accept? I don’t care who uses me or how they use me.

Inner Peace, 0-10. Why?    10 I am never stressed out because I have no fear.

Witnessing, 0-10. Why?     10 I witness the dramas of humans but I don’t get caught up in them.           

Plaster Cast, how would Joseph’s life be different if he naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?

He would never experience scarcity; he would be one with abundance.

Plaster Cast, if you could live Joseph’s life for him, how would you live it differently?

 I would look for, see, and experience abundance. I would look through the appearance of scarcity, question it, and see the abundance that is actually there, regardless of circumstances.

Plaster Cast, if you could live Joseph’s waking life for him today, would you handle Joseph’s three life issues differently?  If so, how?

 Editing and publishing: No different. He’s more focused and productive in this area than he has ever been. I would only say that the more that he writes as if he were me, the more creative his work will be. 

Staying clear and happy: This is a very good goal; I fully support it.

Remembering to identify with emerging potentials that generate a grounded expansiveness: That would be me! another very good goal! 

Plaster Cast, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Joseph’s life?

No, those are fine.

Plaster Cast, in what life situations would it be most beneficial for Joseph to imagine that he is you and act as you would? 

Whenever he feels afraid, worried, or anxious. Those feelings are based on scarcity of something. I don’t do scarcity. So becoming me is a natural antidote.

Plaster Cast, do you do drama?  Do you get into playing the Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer? If not, why not?

No. I’m having too much fun!

Plaster Cast, What is your secret for staying out of drama?

I make sure I have a good time! 

Plaster Cast, you are imaginary. Why should  Joseph  pay attention to anything you say?

I know who and what I am.

Plaster Cast, why do you think that you are in Joseph’s life? 

To show him his worth; to show him that appearances and woundings don’t matter. To show him that in the context of my abundance there is no adversity.

Plaster Cast, how is Joseph most likely to ignore what you are saying to him?

Getting busy with other stuff.

Plaster Cast, what would you recommend that he do about that?

He has to make a plan and an effort to remember me.

Plaster Cast, why do you think Joseph had this dream?

To teach him the universality of abundance. To teach him not to judge people, objects, or conditions based on appearances.

Plaster Cast, why do you think (some dream event happened) or (some character) was in the dream?

I agree with him in his assessment about symbology vs. literal, big and small dreams, spiritual and secular experiences. I don’t look at life in those terms. It’s all simply abundance to me. When you know I am here but do not attempt to possess or control me, you gain the right to rule. 

Plaster Cast, why should Joseph pay any attention to what you have said? Aren’t these just a projection of Joseph’s own wishes and projections?

No. At the time Joseph had this dream he was very much into the reality of scarcity. And yes, he has grown into this position. It is real to him now, at this point in his life. But still, I am me. I am not a projection of Joseph’s wishes. He is a projection into the world of me, one expression of abundance.

Thank you, character! And now a couple questions for Joseph: 

What have you heard yourself say?

I am a projection into form of the quality of abundance! 

If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?

Get over yourself! From the perspective of life, you’re another dream character! What’s real is that you are a manifestation of the abundance of the universe!

Look back over the interview and list the specific recommendations that were made:

Know that you are quality stuff, regardless of appearances.

Your quality is not limited to “you.”

As abundance, you know no scarcity.

Be available to everyone, all the time, to use in whatever way they wish.

Don’t fear and you won’t be stressed out.

Look through the appearance of scarcity. Question it. See that abundance is actually there, regardless of circumstances.

Stay on course with publishing. Be the plaster cast to be more creative in writing.

Stay clear and happy.

Remember to be the plaster cast to generate a grounded expansiveness.

To stay out of drama, make sure you’re having a good time!

Make a plan and an effort to remember plaster cast.

When you know that abundance is always here, everywhere, regardless of appearances, but do not attempt to possess or control that abundance, I will gain the right to rule.

I am a projection of the abundance of the universe.

From the perspective of life, I am another dream character.

So how does one assess such a crazy interview? Here’s one way:

On a scale of 1-10,

how relevant does it feel like it is?  10

how useful does it feel like it is? 10

Rather than feeling like an “ah-ha,” this interview feels more like an awakening to a knowing of what was always already  known. Was this a big dream or a small dream? Well, a plaster cast looks pretty insignificant, even if made out of gold. But this plaster cast scores tens in all six core qualities. So if a plaster cast scores tens and I interview Jesus and he scores say, an average of eight, who is more spiritual?

Notice also that the plaster cast doesn’t see anything as symbolic, real, mythic, big, or small. Now that could be because I don’t do so and it is a part of me. However, I believe it is the other way around. I learned that attitude from doing interviews; this character is validating that attitude.

What are the implications of an interview like this?

There are many, but one that is important to me right now, because it stimulated this posting, is that the common dreamwork categories mentioned at the beginning of this interview are called into question by both this character and the methodology, IDL interviewing, that disclosed its perspective.

As always, you do not have to accept these conclusions. You are free to do your own interviews and draw your own conclusions.

Every night before you go to sleep read over the recommendations you choose to work  on. Score yourself 0-10 on how you did on each. Read the interview over several nights a week to incubate a non-drama alternative reality in your dreams.

Find a partner or a support person, like another person who you exchange interviews with or an IDL Practitioner. Exchange emails. Send a report each week on how you have done on applying your recommendations. Don’t worry about perfection; just focus on making a game out of doing better!

Applying Recommendations for Life Change from Your IDL Interview

This is important because we change what we are aware of. We don’t change what we’re not aware of. Simply increase your awareness of something and it will tend to change in the direction you want it to: increase or decrease.

It’s also important because it’s the way you test IDL. Does it bring lasting, positive changes to your life or not?

1) Make a list of the recommendations in the interview.

2) Choose the ones that you want to work on.

3) Make a weekly chart to track your application daily, before you go to sleep.

4) Operationalize them.

(Write them in a way that change is measurable so that you can test the method. What will be done differently? When?

Are you eating more of this, less of that? Are you thinking different thoughts? Are you feeling different things? Are you talking/acting in different ways to certain people? When? How? What is different?)

5) There will be some items you can check off if you’ve done them before  you go to sleep.

6) Other items need to be rated on a zero to ten scale. How did you do? Rate yourself without criticism.

7) Make it into a game with a partner. Have fun!

If you only do a bit of this, no problem. You can come back to this format with successive interviews and over time, you will improve your ability to monitor your application of your recommendations.

Leave a Comment

For more information, contact joseph.dillard@gmail.com. While IDL does not accept advertising or sponsored postings, we gratefully accept donations of your time, expertise, or financial support.