The Stuff of Dreams

A visit with dream shaman Mary Elizabeth Marlow.

Benjamin Cohen

Dreams take us beyond our linear mind, our thinking mind, to the realm of the soul,” explains Mary Elizabeth Marlow, author, dream shaman and transpersonal teacher. “From that realm we get wisdom and guidance.” Dreams, she says, are designed to illustrate a lesson, perhaps to reveal when something we’re doing isn’t working.

Marlow, who grew up in Front Royal and spent the first half of her career as an English teacher in Richmond and Newport News, leads dream shaman circles one evening a week for six weeks in her Virginia Beach home. Seated around her cozy living room in a quiet neighborhood near Rudee Inlet, six to eight participants share dreams—one at a time—and work to uncover their messages.

A handsome woman with shoulder-length silver hair and an aura of serenity, Marlow first asks each person to recite a dream from beginning to end—with eyes closed—and then repeat it. Next, she asks the dreamer to describe how she felt during her dream—afraid, anxious, happy or relaxed? She invites the dreamer to draw the dream, which helps reveal motifs and metaphors. (“Stick figures are fine,” she says.) Then, using her intuitive abilities, Marlow guides the group to a deeper understanding of what their dreams might mean in the context of their lives. “Any dream that comes is a gift. We can lessen the pain and struggle of life if we listen to our dreams.”

One participant dreamed he had received a new pair of glasses. When he put them on, the world looked different. In the discussion that followed, the man revealed that he was having issues with his son. The glasses, Marlow suggested, could be a metaphor encouraging him to try to see things from his son’s perspective. “He listened to the dream and responded with a decisive shift in perception,” she says. Ultimately, the man reconciled with his son.

“All life is metaphor,” she says, “not just in our dream world, but also in our waking world.”

Charges for her services vary. The dream group costs $150 for six sessions; individual counseling starts at $100 per hour.

To discover the messages your dreams are sending, Marlow suggests keeping a dream journal beside your bed to record your dreams when you awaken. Give each dream a title, draw a picture of it, Marlow advises, and let go of judgment.

Marlow certainly did. As a 5-year-old, she envisioned her future as a world-renowned teacher and lecturer in a dream. When she traveled to Europe to speak about dreams years later, Marlow experienced a sense of déjà vu. Why? She’d been to these places before—in her dreams.

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