Rodger Kamenetz on Dreams and the Soul by Donna Freitas
Rodger Kamenetz is the bestselling author of The Jew in the Lotus and Stalking Elijah. His new book is The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul (HarperOne, Oct.). A poet and professor, Kamenetz teaches English and religious studies at Louisiana State University alongside his wife Moira Crone, also a writer. They live in New Orleans.
RBL: What is the spiritual significance of dreams?
Kamenetz: They are private revelations, the foundation of religion—and they are available to all of us. The locus of religious experience is in the psyche. The mystics—the raw experiences they talk about—they are in our dreams. And with dreams you are addressed with your language and images, with a soulful dimension added to the message. It's the same message that a spiritual teacher might impart, but it's done in such a personal way that you can't escape.
RBL: Where do dreams come from?
Kamenetz: I think they are the divine within. Every religion talks about soul, the inner voice, conscience, the God inside us. Are dreams the beginning of that voice connected to God? Certainly that is what people always thought in the ancient world. We've lost that belief today.
RBL: You say the way we typically interpret dreams now—by turning images into words—is harmful. Why?
Kamenetz: I think we need to live with our dreams for a long time, soaking in their images and dramas. Eventually we probably need to interpret, but I am suggesting that we immediately resist interpretation—it holds us back from the power of the dream. And we dream, but then dogmatic religion comes in and says no—you can't have your own private mystical interpretations. Dogmatic religion has killed our ability to encounter dreams as individual revelations.
RBL: How are dreams "like being alive twice"?
Kamenetz: We spend one third of our life asleep. It's rich—full of images, feelings, experiences that challenge our waking and consensual reality. Dreams challenge our definition of reality.
RBL: What is your most memorable dream of late?
Kamenetz: Recently, I saw a very ailing Fidel Castro and apparently his wife. I was in my old neighborhood as a child. I was very surprised that Fidel was my neighbor. It was funny, Castro's wife asked whether I'd like a cup of S.O.S. Maybe I need more help. I told her yes.