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Music, Mystery and the Dreaming Process

Music, Mystery, and the Dreaming Process

By Amy Mindell

Originally published in the “Dream Network, a Journal for Exploring Dreams and Mythology”, Vol. 21, #1, 2002, pp. 7-11,

(Numbers refer to the Notes below)

When I was a child I learned to play the guitar and piano, and loved to sing and dance. As a little girl I used to twist and frolic to the rhythms of rock and roll, “Oh shake it baby now, twist and shout!” As I grew up, music and movement became my lifeline; a home I could return to in order to find meaning in an everyday world. Today, whenever I feel confused about what direction to go, curious about the world, or upset by something that has happened, I find myself spontaneously sitting at the piano and letting the music carry me like a magic carpet to lands of greater perspective, to my inner dreams and deepest yearnings, and to my sense of connection with others. However, for the first forty years of my life I was unable to find the thread to my own inner songs. I don’t really know what suddenly allowed me to begin to write my own music a few years ago but I do know that it has something to do with my growing openness to, and my fluidity with, my dreams and my dreaming process.

There is something so inexpressible, so deeply stirring about music and the creative process, that I am utterly grateful each time a piece of music comes through me. Sometimes a song has begun with a dream image, sometimes a slight body sensation, at other times a faint tune that has unfolded into a melody. There have been times when I cannot track what has happened. It has felt as though the piece of music was always here and I simply allowed it to manifest through notes and chords.

Therefore, I am shy to try to describe my process of writing music in any clear or defined way. However, in my work as a process worker (1), a form of therapy and conflict resolution developed by my partner and husband Arny Mindell, I have found vocabulary for this ineffable experience. This understanding has helped me and my clients gain an even deeper access to the creative process. Perhaps I can share some of these concepts here.

The Dreaming Process

A central idea in process work is that we do not only dream at night but we are dreaming all the time, throughout the day as well. The source of these experiences is what we call the dreaming process. The dreaming process is like a wellspring that continually generates dream-like experiences whether we are asleep or awake. Spontaneous movements and gestures, body symptoms, and flickering experiences are some of the ways that the dreaming process manifests in everyday life. If we follow and unfold these occurrences, they actually mirror our nighttime dream images. When I tune into this source of dreaming in all of its manifestations I tap into a fountain of creativity and expression.

Levels of Experience

In order to understand the dreaming process more, let me describe various levels of experience.(2) One level is called “consensus reality” and includes such things as the way I identify myself, my profession, my weight, my height, my body gestures, the sound of my voice, music that I can notate, etc. These are things that most of us would consent to, or agree upon. A second level is what we call “dreamland”. In this realm lie deeper feelings, our dream images and dream figures. An even deeper level we call the “essence” or “sentient essence” level. This is the area of subtle tendencies that occur before something manifests as a visual dream image, an identifiable feeling, or an exact tune or melody. In Taoism, this realm would be called “the Tao that can’t be said,” that which arises before it can be named. Aboriginal people call this the area of the “Dreaming” which gives rise to all other levels including the material world. In process work, this is the level of the dreaming process.

The dreaming process is the deep source from which all the other levels arise. We can visualize it as the underground roots of a tree from which the visible portions of the tree emerge. In other words, as the essence begins to express itself, it appears as flickering experiences that catch our attention such as something suddenly catching our eye, a fleeting feeling in our bodies, or a quick sound that grabs our attention. When these experiences further unfold, they express themselves as identifiable feelings and the images and figures of our nighttime dreams. In other words, dream images first appear as very slight tendencies and sensations that then unfold into dream figures and images. In fact, if we notice these slight tendencies during the day, we can often predict the dreams we will have at night. When dream images further unfold, they appear in consensus reality at times as disturbances such as body symptoms, spontaneous gestures, slips of the tongue, etc, or, if we follow this unfolding with awareness, they appear creatively in such forms as song, art, and dance. These levels are not really separate but part of a fluid spectrum. By joining the flow of dreaming along this spectrum we can gain access to a great deal of inspiration.

Heaven is Open

Let’s think about my experience of creating my song Heaven is Open. When Heaven is Open began to unfold I felt a tremendous relief. It was as if something inside of me wanted to write this song for many years and finally gave birth to melody and words. The process of writing the music began with both a dream and a flickering body experience.

About a year and a half ago, I had a dream in which I was feeling a bit down and was sitting by the ocean. In the dream I laid back and let the water carry me. When I awoke I wrote down my dream and went about my day as usual. A few hours later I noticed a very subtle and strange feeling in my chest, a slight sensation as if my chest was moving backwards, expanding, and opening. Since the sensation was so faint and didn’t make sense to me, I was going to ignore it. However, I decided to stay with it and meditate upon it. As I did that, I suddenly had an image of gold pouring down from heaven into my chest. At that moment I began to hear the beginning melody of Heaven is Open. I then remembered my dream images from the night before. I sat down at the piano and the song poured out like melted butter: “I thought I was empty, at the edge of the sea, I lay down and rested and let it carry me. And heaven is open, each and every day….”(3) (You can hear this song on the music page of this website.)

Each time I sing this song, I feel that deep sense of openness to something greater than myself. My chest expands, I drop my everyday self, and I am taken by the wings of eternity. Where the song actually came from is a mystery to me and hopefully always will be. It flowed from the unfathomable essence of my experience. I do know, however, that by noticing a fleeting body sensation and then connecting to my dream images, I was able to catch hold of the dreaming process, let it unfold into melody and words, and finally share it in everyday reality with others.

Songs of the Land

When I was a child, I loved to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” For me, the plants and the ground were full of dreams and songs. I twirled around the trees dancing and singing and imagined they sang back to me in partnership. Throughout time, many peoples have said that the consensual, material world originates from dreaming and that the basic essence of the earth and the universe is sound. Australian Aborigines say that the material earth manifested from the Dreaming and that legendary beings sang the world into existence. These songs or songlines, invisible pathways that flow throughout Australia, recount the creation of the land.(4) Sufi mystics understand the universe as an immense, vibrating medium.(5) For Pythagoras, the pitch and rhythm of music was a microcosm for the mathematical laws of the universe.(6) Likewise, from my limited understanding, quantum physics teaches us that the basis of all matter can be understood as vibrations or waves.(7) This of course, is the basis of music as well.

Over the past few years, I have had a few experiences in which I felt that I heard the sound of the land. I remember taking a walk in the beautiful mountains of eastern Oregon a year ago. As I walked I thought I heard a faint sound coming from the mountains. I listened closely to what seemed to be a rhythmic beating of a drum. It sounded to me like a war march. As the rhythm reverberated inside of me, I started to walk to its beat. Eventually, I began to hear the first words of another song. I heard, “Standing on this mountain, far away from our home, fighting for our freedom, on this land that we roam…” The song further unraveled and when I returned home I wrote down the music and the words.

About a week later, I was reading a book about the plight of the Nez Perce Native Americans who inhabited that very land years ago and who were forced to leave it by the US army.(8) They were chased to the Canadian border where they were finally overcome. I was startled to read that many of the images in the song that I had written down closely followed the story of what had occurred. I feel shy to talk about this since I am not Nez Perce. However, this music came through me while I was listening to the mountains and I tried to step out of the way and let it express itself. I realized that the land itself carries history and dreams, the stories of ancestors, if we listen to its songs.

Kermit’s Dream

It seems to me that some songs come to me in a very humorous way. One night I dreamed that the famous Muppet puppet, Kermit the Frog, was singing to me about his own dreams. Kermit was in a frustrated state and was terribly confused because he dreamed that he had transformed into a dog! Kermit had begun to wonder who he really was! When I woke up, Arny and I had a good laugh about the dream and I found myself writing “Frog Song” which is about the impermanence of life. (You can hear this song on the music page of this website.) I’m grateful to Kermit for imparting such wisdom and to the dreaming process for its endlessly generous gifts.


1 For an introduction to Process Work see my Metaskills:The Spiritual Art of Therapy, New Falcon, Tempe, AZ, 1995/Lao Tse Press, Portland, Oregon, 2001, Arnold Mindell’s River’s Way: The Process Science of the Dreambody, Penguin, London, 1984 and his Working with the Dreaming Body, Penguin/Arkana, London 1984/Lao Tse Press, Portland, Oregon, 2001.

For more on particular process oriented methods for connecting dreams and music see Chapter Eleven in Arnold Mindell’s upcoming Dreammaker’s Apprentice, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, VA, 2001 and for more applications of process work with music see Lane Arye’s, Unintentional Music: Releasing Your Deepest Creativity, Hampton Roads, 2001.

2 See Arnold Mindell’s Dreaming While Awake: Techniques for 24 Hour Lucid Dreaming, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, Va., 2001 for detailed descriptions and examples of these various levels of experience.

3 Heaven is Open can be heard on our website,

4 Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Cape, London, 1987.

5 See the beautiful book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Shambhala , Boston and London 1996 for more on the connection between sound, the universe, and mysticism.

6 Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed, W.W. Norton, New York, 1980, p.7.

7 See Arnold Mindell’s Quantum Mind: Journey to the Edge of Psychology and Physics, Lao Tse Press, Portland, Oregon, 2000 for more on the basis of quantum physics and its connections with psychology.

8 Diana Yates, Chief Joseph: Thunder Rolling Down from the Mountains, Ward Hill Press, NY, 1992.