Many of us struggle to deepen our relationship to where we live and where we travel. This has become increasingly difficult as commercial monopolies have attempted to make all places as standardized as the recipe for a mocha latte. As a dream researcher and a trained archaeologist, I have been working on a tool kit that can strip away this surface plastic-wrap and help discover the stories behind where we live and dream.
At first glance, admittedly, the topics of dreaming and archaeology seem incompatible. But metaphorically, both are ways of knowing that dig into the past and uncover information below the surface of everyday awareness. These two ways of knowing are more than metaphorical excavations into the mystery of the human heart, as they can also teach us validating truths about the places we visit.
Dreaming at Ometepe Island
In 2006, I visited Ometepe Island, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. I was volunteering to record petroglyphs –ancient rock art that was pecked onto basaltic boulders in centuries past by a number of pre-Columbian cultures. Ometepe Island has one of the densest petroglyph concentrations in the world. The art is beautiful, full of spirals, circles, and abstract meaders, as well as animals and human figures. The entire island is sacred ground, topped by two enormous cone volcanoes.
After the day’s fieldwork was over, I spent my evenings sitting at petroglyph site close to the hostel. The site was a collection of 20+ petroglyphs on a dozen or so boulders. During my first visit, I was immediately drawn to a large spiral image on the edge of the site. It beckoned me to sit with it awhile. I did so, and the rock drew me into a quiet contemplation that I engaged in almost every day for the next two weeks.
These sittings taught me how to dream about the stones. And then the dreams taught me how to see the rock art. At the end of my trip, it’s no exaggeration to say I was a better archaeologist and I felt intimately connected with the ancient art of Ometepe Island. This process is powerful and simple and I’m ready to share it, even though I feel like the effects of the practice are still unfolding in my life. I’m still learning.
Archaeodreaming: the process
- Sit at a place and breathe. Be quiet, grateful, and watchful. Journal if you feel like it.
- Meditate/re-member this place before bed
- Go to sleep and record your dreams in the morning
- Look to your dreams for new clues about the place
- Go back to your place and remember your dream
- See if anything clarifies, especially an action
A dream of seeing
In the dream,
“I see a pecked petroglyph – a long meander that I follow with my gaze. It’s not on a rock, just an image of a line that snakes around, coming into being as I follow it. Also, there is a strong feeling of texture, as if I am tracing it with my finger. But there is no dreambody– the best I can describe it is as if I am ’seeing‘ the texture, or feeling the vision. It is synesthesia.”
Ten days later, I’m in the field, looking for fresh petroglyphs to record. The sun is straight overhead and the boulders I’m looking at have no discernible markings. Then I had an impulse to touch the stone with my fingers. I run my fingers over the rough stone and then suddenly detect a smooth spot in a slight depression. I follow it as it runs in a tight circle. Miraculously, a spiral motif suddenly appears to my eyes as my fingers find its contours. It ripples into view like a mirage.
Only later did I realize that this waking moment mirrored the dream I had the week before. I believe this sort of occurrence is more than coincidence, but a kind of cognitive tuning made possible through my daylight meditations and my nighttime dream incubations. These sorts of things happen all the time, but we’re usually not aware of them. By enacting the process of archeodreaming, however, this anomaly—and many others—became consciously available to me.
The opportunity of not sleeping well
Dream incubation is especially easy when we are traveling and sleeping someplace unfamiliar. A convenient effect of sleeping someplace new is that we do not sleep as well, and have more awakenings during the night. Sleep researchers often disregard data from the initial night of a sleep lab session for this same reason – it’s called the “first night effect.” This first night also brings a greater chance of having night terrors, insomnia as well as sleep paralysis, highlighting how important feeling safe is to our sleeping minds.
But you can use this effect to re-assert your dream intention every time you awake during the night. Have your journal close by, and write out your wish to dream of this place I am at now. You may even luck out and go straight back to sleep into a REM dream with lucidity, where you can focus your intention directly in the dream realm. Here our human frailty reveals itself to be a sensitivity we can develop and augment by.
When awakening, journal those scraps of dreams and the emotions that accompany the imagery. Who showed up? What architectural features or landscape imagery emerged?
Integration of Night and Day
The next day, bring this dream with you as you walk the land again. This essential step integrates the waking world with your dreaming. An opening emerges between these ways of knowing. In between, the spirit of place and its mythic resonances come out into the open. These stories are alive and we participate in them, consciously or not. But to bring them out with clarity and purpose provides the intuitive wellspring from which “psychic” insight and synchronicity emerge.
My meditations and dreams on Ometepe Island showed me how biased my worldview was as I looked for meaning and understanding at this ancient sacred site. Among many of the insights, most important was the embodied truth that I was looking too hard. I literally had the opportunity to come back to my senses.
Author Box: For more about how Ryan used nature meditations and lucid dreaming while investigating prehistoric rock art, check out his chapter “Dreaming with the Stones,” in the new anthology Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled, edited by Craig Chalquist, PhD. Ryan also edits DreamStudies.org and is the author of Sleep Paralysis.