by Laura Huff Hileman
Tallulah Lyons graduated from the then-named Haden Dream Work Leader Program in 2000. I was fortunate to know her years ago through her daughter, my friend from grad school. At the time, Tallulah was a private special education tutor. We ended up as classmates in the Haden dream program. Now into her 80’s, Tallulah is still running dream groups in Atlanta. Tallulah is the author of Dream Prayers: Dreamwork as a Spiritual Path, and Dreams and Guided Imagery: Gifts for Transforming Illness and Crisis.
For years, Tallulah presented at the Haden Summer Dream and Spirituality Conference and the annual conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). Tallulah was a co-recipient of an IASD grant for her research and writing on dream work and guided imagery with cancer patients at Northside Hospital and Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, GA.
LHH – Tallulah! So delighted you’re here for our first Graduate Spotlight. Thank you! Tell us a little about yourself as a dreamer before you came to Haden.
TL – As a child, I felt no separation between the dream world and waking life. Life was how I imagined it. But I had terrible nightmares about Disney films – Bambi’s mother, for instance, and those gorgeous illustrations from my grandmother’s children’s classics, Heidi and Robin Hood, still show up in my dreams. I often played with clay, creating people and critters for the settings of my dreamscapes and acting out scenes.
LHH – You were a natural for embodied dreamwork.
TL – I was! Later, in the year or so just before Haden, I did more focused work, taking notes for my first book on dreams. Then one day I went out to my mailbox and found a flyer from The Haden Institute about the ream course. I remember standing at that mailbox – I had no idea what Haden was, but I felt like Moses at the burning bush! I saw what it cost but I said, “I’m doing this anyway.” I had to.
LHH – So we went through Haden together, and when you graduated, you were already deeply involved in dreamwork.
TL – I had a church group [at First Presbyterian, Atlanta] – churches were beginning to learn about dreams, and it was fairly easy to set that up. I had some notes for a book, but at that point writing it felt like another “had to” – so I wrote Dream Prayers, because I wanted to offer a simple model, saying “here’s my journey” and giving a picture of how dreams help us craft relationship with the Source, the Mystery, so others
could see how it might look. So I put that out.
LHH – I wish that were still in print. I love that book and I used it all the time. You moved so simply from dream to prayer, and wrote so clearly about complex Jungian concepts.
TL – Well, relationship was what I was trying to get across. The dreams are still showing me that is always the point.
LHH – Talk about the cancer clinic at Northside Hospital. Where did you get that idea?
TL – There was a dreamer in my church group, and she got a diagnosis of end-stage cancer. So we witnessed and companioned her through her end-of-life dreams. The dreams meant so much to her, and I was just blown away by how powerful the whole process was for us all. Soon after she died, I went to the director of the Wellness Center at Northside and told her the story and asked if I could start a dream group there. She was interested, and gave me a book describing the goals of the Wellness Center. I was to make a proposal that showed how a dream group could match those goals.
That proposal became my final paper in the Haden program. It was a pretty good piece of writing! She was just amazed, and hired me on the spot. We did groups, guided imagery, art, writing, clay – the support and participation was just fabulous. That dream group lasted for years and years, and I still keep up with a number of those people.
LHH – Any pointers for people who are taking dreamwork into new territory?
TL – One thing I always have to remember is to match the language to the audience. I did that on the proposal, and carried through with the language and experiences of healing and wholeness. Not much Jung, no faith language. It’s really important to be able to translate your work.
LHH – Then IASD grant came along….
TL – After a year or so, Wendy Pannier, who was associated with the IASD, found me and she was into the grants and the academic approach. We teamed up, got a grant from the IASD, and wrote a facilitator’s manual and a participant’s manual for cancer clinic dream groups. Throughout those years we’d take our research to IASD each year and present more about what we were learning. The first year I went I had an old-timey slide projector – everybody laughed but my slides were great.
Then I wrote my second book, this one for cancer patients and others in illness and crisis: Dreams and Guided Imagery. It was that “had to” feeling again!
LHH – And it was wonderful. Totally different angles than the first. You’ve served so many kinds of dreamers. What are some dreamwork practices that you’d name as really helpful, ones you’d suggest for us?
TL – So many different practices! Of course I started with the prayers – taking one little piece or feeling and writing the prayer from it. I’ve done so much dream art, like my Red Horse series. Lots with clay, which is so expressive. Now I use my sketchbook for dreams – I draw the dreams, get into the energies that way, and then they begin to speak. I put their words into thought bubbles, and as I meditate with the dreams, I color them in with colored pencils.
LHH – You dedicated an entire room of your house to the Red Horse, as I recall.
TL – Yes, everything in that room was about the Red Horse. You know, I’d just begun to dream about him when our cohort went up to Sky Valley Farm for that cookout and there he was – a big red horse! I touched him!
LHH – Synchronicities!
TL – Oh that happens so often! The continuity between dreams and waking life can be so strong. Long ago I had a series of frog-man dreams and to this day, when big things are happening or going to happen, frogs come into my life. We find this kind of thing happening, these images that show up in dreams and waking life, asking for attention and tending.
LHH – You were the one who taught me to really dive into the feelings in dreams. What can you say about dreams, feelings and discernment?
TL – Oh that’s the question, isn’t it? Dream guidance is not just about following the feeling.
LHH – Right! There are so many parts of us in the dream and the one who is so reactive is often the “me” in the dream, the Ego – the habitual attitudes that need to be transformed. We can’t just trust the Ego’s feeling to be the true perspective.
TL – It’s so easy to think you’re doing discernment carefully, all that work – but just rationalizing what you want and telling yourself you’re doing your discernment! (We both laugh: this is so true!) So I try to stay with my practices and stay connected to the Source. Try to stay balanced. Use dream imagery for my guided meditations. Be willing to be changed in difficult ways. And when I have that very particular “I have to!” feeling, I go for it.
LHH – What would you say to the new graduates in the dream program who want to start groups or a practice?
TL – When we’re immersed and connected with the Mystery, the opportunity will manifest somehow… something will open up and we’ll know it’s time to step in. My husband and I moved to this retirement center and I thought I was giving up dreamwork, that nobody would be interested. But I went to a discussion group and said just the teeniest thing about dreams in the conversation, and pretty soon we were discussing Jungian dream work for four weeks, and that led to starting a dream group here. Here! In the old folks’ home! It just doesn’t end, the invitations. Prepare to be invited.
LHH – But many of your invitations didn’t come in a gilt-edged envelope. You initiated so much work!
TL – Well, that’s true, but they felt like invitations! Like something opened up and it was just right to step in at that time. It’s a balance of waiting…and then knowing that feeling of “I really want to do this” or “I have to do this!” You keep talking to the Source.
LHH – Anything else you’d like to add?
TL – There’s nothing else in the world I’ve ever found that connects people like projective dream work. It’s instant. One dream is all it takes, and they all think “Ooooh! That dream is talking to me!” and it is. Such bonding. We are immediately One together.
LHH – It seems to me that nothing could be more important these days than seeing ourselves as One at soul level. Thank you so much, Tallulah, for all you’ve given so many people through your dream work, your writing, your art. Your wisdom.