The Spirituality of Dreaming: Unlocking the Wisdom of Our Sleeping Selves

By Kelly Bulkeley. Broadleaf Books, 2023. 244 pages. $28.99/hardcover; $26.99/eBook.

Most of us human beings spend about a third of our lives asleep. What happens during this time of sleep? Does everything shut down? Or are there other realities in us that turn on during sleep? What do dreams tell us about our lives?

Kelly Bulkeley is a psychologist of religion with a powerful specialization on the topic of dreaming. He has written many articles and books on dreaming, and this newest book focuses on the impact of our sleeping lives on our spirituality. He is quite clear that our minds function one way during our waking hours and quite a different way during our sleep, and his writing is definitely dedicated to understanding what goes on mentally, physically, and spiritually in our sleeping hours. Sleep is not inactive but another set of activities altogether.

His intention with this book is to encourage us to bring to life our dreaming capacities and to recognize the spiritual power that this aspect of our consciousness offers. One of the contributions of the book is to scan the many cultures in the world, both past and present, and to review how we humans have processed dreams over centuries and around the globe, an activity that offers another realm of spiritual discovery. For Bulkeley, dreaming is definitely a spiritual practice. He clearly believes that dreams can be a significant part of our spiritual lives and that the visionary gift of dreaming contributes to our individual and collective health and awareness.

While there is no mention of Quaker faith in the book, I found myself frequently thinking about Quaker applications. Bulkeley writes about dream-sharing groups, during which I pictured small, dedicated groups in Quaker meetings or at Quaker gatherings and conferences sharing dreams and speaking about their meaning. I also imagined various types of vocal ministry evolving from our dream experiences. And throughout the book, I wondered how dreaming may have contributed to Quaker writings on emotional and spiritual truths. A recent development on this point can be found in the February 2024 issue of Friends Journal in Marcelle Martin’s excellent article “Quaker Dreams: Inner Pathways to Wisdom,” which looks at the long history of dreamwork among early Friends up to modern day. Turns out dreams were an essential element to the beginning of Quakerism, and many Friends recorded “divinely inspired dreams” in their journals with careful discernment.

Bulkeley’s writing is not preachy or dogmatic. But he is very clear that all human beings have the capacity to dream and to benefit from capturing, studying, interpreting, and applying the messages in their dreams. The dream journey is part of our wholeness, spiritual path, and healthy living. We are better, fuller, more compassionate people when we pay attention to the wisdom of our dreams.

Tom Head, a member of Chico (Calif.) Meeting, has moved to California after a 41-year career in Oregon at George Fox University, specializing in international economics; he is now professor of economics emeritus. He continues to be active in the Friends Association for Higher Education, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Western Friend magazine.

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