Monday, October 29, 2007



Tapping into the soul of your dreams
By JAMES D. DAVIS | Religion Editor
October 29, 2007
Life is but a dream, the old song says. Rodger Kamenetz would say, dreams are but a life — yours. And to awaken to your predicaments, even your own soul, he suggests you row your boat gently down the stream of consciousness.

It's the theme of Kamenetz's new book, The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul. His research into dreams in the Bible led him to seek out dream workers of several religions. And he offers ideas on what dreams may teach.

Kamenetz, professor of English and religious studies at Louisiana State University, will speak this week in Miami Beach and Coral Springs. He offered an appetizer by phone.
Q. You've said that dreams tell the truth about ourselves. How do you mean?

A. A dream shows us our predicament in life, which many times we're not willing to heed. There's always a point in a dream, a feeling or an opportunity for feeling.

As an example: A woman dreams she's chained in a basement, talking to Bob Barker, the game show host. Her son comes down and gives her a kiss on the way to high school. I asked, why didn't she ask her son to let her go? She realized she felt numb, trapped in obligations, doing things for others. And she accepted it. She felt she deserved to be chained. The dream is a warning, trying to get her to feel the predicament and to decide what to do about it.

Q. Your book seems to turn things upside down. You imply that we're somehow more aware when we dream than when we're awake.

A. Yes. A dream is a template that stamps out all kinds of behaviors that play out in waking life. It gives you a vivid image to work with and to feel into the situation.

Another example: A man dreams that a long needle is being inserted into his knee, and he didn't feel anything. And he was proud of it. He's numb to his own pain. That speaks to his relationships. If he doesn't feel his own pain, he can't feel yours.

Q. Who gives us the dreams? Prophets and shamans said it was God or other spirits.

A. I believe dreams connect us to the world of the soul, God, angels or the psyche. The primary dream that tells us that is the [biblical] dream of Jacob's ladder, between heaven and Earth. Instead of saying there's an earthly reality and a spiritual world, that dream says they're all one, and they're connected. You can go up and down the ladder.

Q. So the soul, God, angels, the psyche, they're all the same? Are dreams simply ourselves talking back to us?

A. Dreams give us core experiences, but different religions have different vocabularies. I personally can't say for sure whether it's all "in here" or "out there." All I know is that these numinous figures are a profound experience. People ought to experience dreams for themselves and decide what words they want to use.

Q. Is there a danger in relying on dreams? Many people seem to distrust them.

A. I think the fear is a huge factor, and it's driven the whole tradition of interpretation. I think every dream is a profoundly beneficial message, but we have to understand what it's saying.

Q. How do you think society would change if everyone tapped into their dreams?

A. How would society change if people felt more deeply?

Q. OK, go with that. How would it?

A. I'd like to leave it at that. I believe we're often pushed by our lives to lose track of feelings, of what's most important to the soul. We've seen the result.

It's interesting that a lot of people think it's great to be godless. I wonder if anyone thinks it would be great to be soulless? Dreams enrich the soul, inform the soul, lead us to the soul.

James D. Davis can be reached at or 954-356-4730.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Spirituality and Practice

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat from Spiritual Practice begin their review:

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of the international bestseller The Jew in the Lotus and the National Jewish Book Award-winning Stalking Elijah. He is a professor of English and religious studies at Louisiana State University. Those familiar with his writings know that he is a bold explorer of spirituality, and he continues that quest in this erudite work. This time he focuses on dreams. Along the way, he must learn the true power of images, downplay the significance of interpretation, and only then enter the dream world as a realm of the soul. The teachers he meets have much wisdom to impart, and he is open to receive their lessons. He also ponders the predominance of the word over images in the Abrahamic religions.

You can read on


It was great to talk with Mark Steiner, a radio interviewer who does this very unusual thing, he actually reads the book!


Later that night I gave a talk at Johns Hopkins.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Los Angeles Times

The History of Last Night's Dream

Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul

Rodger Kamenetz

HarperOne: 272 pp., $24.95

IT'S palate-cleansing for readers: Rodger Kamenetz, author of "The Jew in the Lotus" and "Stalking Elijah," writes in this fascinating book that words, too many words, stand between us and our dreams. We must learn to think in images, the language of dreams. And if we overcome our obsession with interpreting dreams, we can access the truths they offer. ("The usual emphasis on interpretation overshadows the possibility of direct revelation.") But first we must accept what's revealed: "[O]ur dreams have a difficult job precisely because they come to remind us not only of what we have forgotten, but of what we have forgotten we have forgotten." Kamenetz takes us through the history of our attempts to understand our dreams, relying a great deal on purely Jewish texts, like the Zohar, but also on Genesis, the Gnostic Gospels and many others. His teachers -- among them an 87-year-old Algerian mystic called Colette and a postman/astrologer/dream-therapist named Marc Bregman -- show him ways to bring dreams to the surface, such as Freud's method of free association. Bregman teaches him how to focus on images in the dreamscape and feelings around the dream's events. A dream's ability to reveal the opposition in your life -- the person, pattern or thing that keeps you from being happy -- is, Kamenetz writes, "a strange miracle."



DAVID VAN BIEMA, TIME's religion writer, has a great interview with me on their website. Here it is. You can find the whole thing also by clicking TIME Interview

In 1994, Rodger Kamenetz helped shift the spiritual center of liberal Judaism. His book The Jew in the Lotus combined the chronicle of a delegation of Jews visiting the Dalai Lama with an investigation into the possibilities for meditative mysticism in a Jewish context. The avid curiosity it provoked helped launch a thousand Kabbalah classes. Kamenetz's follow-up, Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters, won the National Jewish Book Award. But his latest offering, The History of Last Night's Dream, diverges in content and tone. TIME's David Van Biema wondered whether he was straying from his fan base.

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TIME: This is even further from institutional Judaism than the last two: it explores a way of looking at dreams that involves elements of the divine but, as you put it, has "no fixed ceremonies, no creeds or beliefs." How Jewish do you remain? Are you doomed forever to push the envelope of the faith?

Kamenetz: I don't think I'm pushing the envelope so much as re-opening it. Historically, the rabbis are split on the question of dreams. None of them denied their power. A majority emphasized the anxiety and fear a dream produces, and a minority stressed their prophetic potential. There's a very mainstream saying, "A dream ignored is like a letter unopened." Meanwhile, I just gave a talk at the local Jewish Community Center, and the place was packed. So thus far, they love it. And I absolutely remain Jewish.

TIME: You write that Judaism isn't alone in an ambivalence to dream work.

Kamenetz: The dreams of Jacob or Joseph in the Bible are unmediated religious experience, and both Judaism and Christianity preserved mystical dream traditions. But direct religious experience is threatening to organized religion, which often mediates it with a rabbi or priest. Mainstream rabbis essentially closed the book on dreams by the sixth century, and Church fathers established that only certain saints have the discernment to determine which dreams are from God. The dream is exiled.

TIME: Your book describes your introduction to, and then immersion in, a new kind of dream interpretation. Only it's not really dream interpretation, is it, at least in the classic Freudian sense?

Kamenetz: Freud "interpreted" dreams by treating them as intellectual riddles whose details, once processed through free association, exposed hidden wishes. But the method I learned from Marc Bregman, a teacher in Vermont, uses the feeling in the dream to guide you. You identify a dream's strongest feeling — or what should be the strongest — what Bregman calls its "belly-button." And you consciously revisit it several times in the course of your waking day.

TIME: What do you mean "should be" the strongest feeling? Can you give an example?

Kamenetz: Many people start out numb to it. I now teach Bregmans method myself. A client told me she had dreamed she was chained in the basement and chatting with Bob Barker, the game show host, when her son came down the steps. She gives him a little kiss on his cheek and he leaves. The belly button was being chained up in your own basement, but she wasn't able to feel it. I said to her, "Gee, you were chained in your basement. When your son came downstairs, why didn't you ask him to let you go?" For homework, I asked her to revisit that image.

TIME: What happens from there?

Kamenetz: Your dreams change. Initially the belly-buttons help establish the dreamer's predicament — the situation you are trapped in or held back by. Over time, a character appears in the dream I call the Opposition, the essence of your destructive or self-destructive behavior. A child or children begin to show up, who are your own essence, or your soul. Eventually the dreamer develops what Bregman would call an "allergy" to the Opposition, and as it fades, adult male or female figures appear called archetypes, or the animus and anima. A very powerful, beautiful, profound and loving relationship develops between the child and the archetypes. Some people also dream an even more powerful male figure called the father.

TIME: Some of this vocabulary sounds familiar. Is this Jungian analysis?

Kamenetz: Carl Jung, in the years after he split from Freud, developed an adventurous dreamwork, but he eventually abandoned it because he thought it might lead some people to psychosis. Bregman follows in Jung's original spirit, but there are big differences and Bregman avoids the pitfalls Jung worried about.

TIME: And it affects your waking life?

Kamenetz: We've found that if you change the way you behave in a dream, you can change the way you behave awake, making better choices as you begin to recreate the kind of relationships that evolve in your dreams. In my case, one aspect was learning how to be a student. I've been teaching for 27 years, and do you know how hard it is to shift from thinking you're the teacher in every damn moment to realizing that you can be the student? That came out of my dreamwork, and students have come up to me and said, "Gee, you're a much better teacher."

TIME: This seems very new-age.

Kamenetz: Yeah and the New Age folks complain I'm too intellectual. I don't think that the theological vocabulary is as important as the experience. We don't want to get hung up on, "Wait, if I experience this, does it mean I need a new religion?" Dreams are at the foundation of all religions and I find the work done by Bregman and his group, North of Eden, bears a remarkable similarity to some ideas in the Kabbalah, which honors dreams. Many of the Christians involved are comfortable with the idea of the animus as Christ or the Father as God.

TIME: Your best known books might be called participatory spiritual journalism. You were a searcher but you maintained a certain objective distance from the material. But you describe your own experiences as an apprentice teacher of Bregman's method and talk of "we" rather than "they." Given this shift, do you think you could go back to writing the other kind of book again?

Kamenetz: No. I couldn't. You'd have to say, "He finally found something. God knows, he was looking long enough."

Friday, October 12, 2007


Last night we had a great turnout at the Cabildo, the historic Louisiana State Museum, right in the middle of the French Quarter at Jackson Square.
I had a dream party - Nathan Rothstein leader of NOLA YURP, Mark Yakich a new poet and painter in town and Jana Napoli, the creator of the FLOODWALL, all shared their dreams as did the wonderful Rosemary James who was the great host of the event for the Faulkner Society. I had a little too much "new Orleans Rum"-- dind't know we were making New Orleans rum, but it didn't seem to affect the performance. I read from Chapter 8 of the book.
The whole idea of people sharing their dreams together is something I'm feeling even more strongly after this event. Because dreams are how we access our inner lives, and on the inside, we humans are much more alike than we know. The same conflicts, rage, violence, lust, and also great hidden beauty can be found in our dreams.. and when we share them, the old barriers that divide us of race, religion, gender begin to break down. I got a glimpse of that last night and it's something I hope to pursue.. We are doing a WORLD DREAM PARTY at the Gold Mine Saloon on November 1.. and we'll have poets and writers form all over the world
(via internet) participating..


It was a rainy evening in Chicago but we had a lively discussion about dreams, including some great questions from a group of high school kids.
ShapiShap, who I met and signed a book for wrote a comment on his blog:
He writes:
I appreciated his comments, and particularly enjoyed the Q&A, because this author/poet had some firm opinions regarding reality, and seemed to become a bit frustrated with the audience for not getting the point.

If you've ever been to a book reading, you know the kinds of off-topic, absurd, painfully blurry questions/comments people make. Apparently this poet/author either wasn't familiar with this phenomenon, or he just wasn't having any of it. It even got a little heated, to the point where he had to insist to one guy: "Okay. You know what? We've got no quarrel here. Mazel tov. Next question?"

Well maybe.. actually as I remember it the guy asked me what was the connection between my new work and The Jew in the Lotus, and with meditation. I answered him that my curiosity about visualization and dreams in Tibetan Buddhism led me to wonder about the same in Judaism. He didn't seem to accept this. I had the sense that he liked meditation and was wondering why I was moving into dreams. I just said, dreams are working for me, if meditation works for you, wonderful.. mazel tov.

I have a lot of fans of the old work and sometimes they don't want you to change...

Monday, October 08, 2007


There's a nice article out on the front page of theCHICAGO JEWISH NEWS
The author interviews several local rabbis on the subject of dreams in Judaism to supplement her interview with me. Thoughtful and intelligent piece:

DREAM WORLD: Author Rodger Kamenetz wants Jews to revive the power of dreams in our lives
By Pauline Dubkin Yearwood (10/05/2007)
Think hard: Did you dream last night?
Maybe a long-gone relative or friend came to visit you in your sleep.

Maybe the whole thing was just a feeling that slipped out of your grasp as soon as you entered the mundane world of being awake.

Or maybe it was one of those nonsensical visions where you're eating tomatoes for breakfast on a boat with Bob Dylan, who is actually your mother, while your dog performs a magic show and then turns into Brittany Spears.

To Rodger Kamenetz, even such a dream is fraught with meaning.

Meaning-yes. But not exactly the way Sigmund Freud, the 20th century's most influential interpreter of dreams, envisioned it. Whereas he interpreted dreams, Kamenetz suggests a way of "uninterpreting" them that he says can lead us into spiritual realms that Judaism once explored but no longer does.

The latest book from the spiritually questing author of "The Jew in the Lotus" and "Stalking Elijah" is "The History of Last Night's Dream" (HarperSanFrancisco), out this month. In it, Kamenetz explores the history of dreams and dream interpretation from Genesis to Freud and Carl Jung, explains why he believes that we-as human beings and as Jews-have lost the power to connect with and learn from our dreams, and takes the reader along on visits to several individuals who have made dreams the focus of their spiritual life.

To continue go here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007



Perchance to dream
The stuff of dreams takes Rodger Kamenetz on his most recent spiritual journey
Sunday, October 07, 2007
By Susan Larson
Book editor

From deep in your dreams -- you know that feeling. You wake, shaking off that other, altered world, slowly returning to the present reality, nagged by memories of something that happened while you were sleeping, something important -- there, just tugging at the edges of your brain. And then you get up, or move, and it's gone. You missed it; all that's left is the abiding sense of an answer there, just out of reach. How can you recapture what you've lost? How to understand what those fleeting images meant for your life?

In his most recent spiritual memoir, "The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul," Rodger Kamenetz takes readers deep into the dream, drawing on such rich sources as the Bible (remember Jacob and the ladder?), Freud (who got that famous dream of his patient, Irma, all wrong, as Kamenetz sees it), and even his own dream world (where the mysterious Book of K de G will linger in readers' minds, even as they chase their own dream images).

Kamenetz did not dream his dreams alone -- no, he chased them around the world. The first, and most revelatory, stop in his dream quest was his study with Colette Aboulker-Muscat, whose Jerusalem porch was the setting for a daily gathering of dreamers, learning meditation and healing techniques, which Kamenetz joined during the summer of 1995. There Kamenetz would have to re-acquire that primary human gift, the ability to create an image, from such traditional images as sweeping piles of leaves to find a single green leaf and place it against your heart, to experience the greening energy. Aboulker-Muscat used her work to heal, to comfort terminally ill patients.

Sitting there, with other dreamers, Kamenetz felt connected to a long history, as he writes: "We students were learning the language of images together, dreaming in company, our eyes closed, sitting on a small concrete bench while she guided us, and the light came through the purple bougainvillea and the smell of white jasmine filled the air. We were dreaming in Jerusalem where, two thousand years before, merkabah mystics had first closed their eyes and dreamed their way into heaven."

Kamenetz's quest for dream knowledge takes him to the work of Jewish mystics and rabbis, as he searches for the revelation dream, lost in contemporary Judaism. He goes back to that original dream book, Genesis. He re-examines the work of Freud, and finds it wanting, a power play of interpretation involved to dispose of dreams, to tidy up those powerful images. He meets Tarab Tulku, a Tibetan master living in Copenhagen, known for his work in "dream yoga." Kamenetz chases the dream until he finds his most influential teacher, a Vermont postman named Marc Bregman, whose work in bringing dreams into the world will transform Kamenetz's own life, teaching him to abide with those dream images, to work with them.

This is how Kamenetz sets readers on course: "Here is an outline of the path as I understand it. First you must encounter your predicament, and see your opposition; this is the first gift of the dream. Then you can find the essential image of the soul; this is the second gift. Finally, as the child you explore this imaginal space and learn from the archetypes; this is the third gift.

"These are the three great gifts of the dream: to discover your pain, to see your soul, and to explore its realm."

Bregman confounds Kamenetz's expectations: a postman by day, he draws his clients' astrological charts (which horrifies Kamenetz), often uses phrases and words idiosyncratically or incorrectly, but then, cleanly and directly, cuts to the chase with Kamenetz's dilemma -- he has lost his father. Shaken, Kamenetz moves on, determination growing, until he feels his way toward his father, his true self, learning to love his father better in his dream.

To read this book, as always with Kamenetz, is to undertake a pilgrimage, just as readers of his earlier works -- "The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India" and "Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters" -- have. Like those earlier travels, this is a journey filled with unlikely teachers, surprising insights, an exile, a return.

Central to the quest is Kamenetz's dream of the Book of K de G, a giant blue book that blocks his way. How to read it? How to decipher its message?

This is a dream, as Kamenetz points out, that "fits his life like a glove." "The devout believe that a book can change your life. So do I. It may be one book for me and another for you; it may be poetry or physics, philosophy or history -- but we believers in the world are all, one way or another, people of the book. For us, books are holy. They are how souls travel, how the spirit of one person enters another. Who ever says, 'My life was changed by a DVD?' We still say, though: a book changed my life."

The Book of K de G, once read properly, changes Kamenetz's life. "The History of Last Night's Dream" may well change yours. Kamenetz's fierce honesty and unflinching self-revelation inspire both admiration and awe and sympathy and a sense of kinship. We are all dreamers, are we not? This smart, funny, and revolutionary book is filled with compassion for our dreaming minds, for the ways in which they reveal ourselves to ourselves, for the ways our dreams, nighttime or waking, can carry us back to love and so to God.

. . . . . . .

Book editor Susan Larson can be reached at or at (504) 826-3457.




By Rodger Kamenetz

HarperOne, $24.95