Holding Gently: A Transformative Dream


For years dreams have been an important source of meaning for me. Sometimes a certain dream seems to have an enduring message that continues to apply to various life situations and contexts, or it seems to map to an existing mythology. I’d like to share the story of one of those special dreams that I had several years ago, and some of the meanings I’ve found in it.

In the dream, I was walking along a dirt path in a natural place, with tall green grass, trees, and a lake nearby. I found, on the ground in front of me, a duck egg, cracked open lengthwise with almost half the shell missing. The duck inside took up most of the shell and looked embryonic, wet. I picked up the egg and cupped it in my hands to get a better look.

At first I felt disappointed, as though the duck would never make it, and that it was too bad the egg got broken. But then, the duck started to develop in fast-forward, cupped in the palm of my hand in the broken shell. Warm light energy surged up into my hands and through the developing duck. I didn’t do anything, I just kept my hands still, open and extended, gently supporting the egg. The duck began to wiggle and emerge. It dried off and its feathers were fluffy, fuzzy, and bright white, with some tall, frothy black feathers sticking out from its head. It no longer looked like a duck. This small, lively, unidentified bird leapt out of my hands and went straight to its mother, a large swan-like bird next to the lake. I felt hope, amazement, and excitement.

What stayed with me was that I was had not been required to do anything; in fact there was no effort I could have made that would have produced this unexpected outcome. My job was just to gently hold and support without grasping or crushing the egg. With that alone, a tremendous surge of life force came forth to bring the small, vulnerable bird into a lively state. And the outcome may have been different than expected (it was not a duck!) but it was beautiful and full of life. The baby was able to return to Source, its mother, in a warm safe nest next to a life-giving lake. It felt like I had been a surrogate mother to this tiny creature for the time it was in a precarious state, but ultimately, it did not belong to me, and was not mine to own or control.

The dream had an unmistakable Ugly Duckling theme, reminding me of a message related to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale[1]: don’t come to conclusions too soon on how something may turn out… including yourself. I realized that when I was struggling with my own progress in some way, I could picture myself as that tiny duck in the egg[2]. I could be kind to myself and ensure I received the support I needed to fully develop. The same idea can be applied to supporting others on their growth paths, too. When new life is coming forth, it is a fragile and precious time that must be protected.

About a week after I had the dream, I was reading Florence Williams’ book The Nature Fix [3], a wonderful exploration of how nature supports wellbeing, health, and creativity. I came upon a passage making reference to J. R. R. Tolkein reportedly drawing inspiration for Middle-earth symbology from the Finnish creation myth, the Kalevala, in which “the world is born from the cracked egg of a diving duck.” What a synchronicity[4] . I was filled with wonder. The story in the Kalevala was new to me: I looked it up and found a story of water-mother, nesting duck, broken eggs, and unexpected transformation. This is part of the story from Rune I, Birth of Wainamoinen[5] :

And the eggs fall into ocean,
Dash in pieces on the bottom
Of the deep and boundless waters.
In the sand they do not perish,
Not the pieces in the ocean;
But transformed, in wondrous beauty
All the fragments come together
Forming pieces two in number,
One the upper, one the lower,
Equal to the one, the other.
From one half the egg, the lower,
Grows the nether vault of Terra:
From the upper half remaining,
Grows the upper vault of Heaven;
From the white part come the moonbeams,
From the yellow part the sunshine,
From the motley part the starlight,
From the dark part grows the cloudage;
And the days speed onward swiftly,
Quickly do the years fly over,
From the shining of the new sun
From the lighting of the full moon.

How powerful it is when something broken becomes transformed. People and cultures have many different names for how they describe that which provides healing and creation – for some it is energy, for others, God, the Great Spirit, Divine Source. The common thread to me is love. This underpins the name Organizing Force for me. I envision the Organizing Force as the love that emanates from a Source that is both the sum of all and within all. This is what I turn to in seeking wholeness and meaning. Whatever we may call it, it is possible to experience this great love, offer it to others, and also open to how it might come through us creatively.


Colorful Painting of a bird
Claudine Desrosiers – Série poème végétal. Techniques mixtes sur papier. (Plant poem series, mixed media on paper).


After the dream, I began to find hatched bird eggshells on the ground surprisingly often. I would hold them in my hand in just the way I did in the dream, and take in the reminder to hold gently whatever was in my life at the time, including myself. And to know that healing and transformation can happen in unexpected ways.

I later learned of a Sanskit term related to the concept of holding gently: aparigraha. The gist of this term is non-grasping, non-possessiveness, non-greediness. I encountered this idea in books by Tosha Silver[6], who elaborates on ways of incorporating it into all parts of life, and allowing ourselves to be transformed through it. This is a powerful practice to release the suffering we cause ourselves through trying to relentlessly control outcomes. This is not a call to passivity, but an opening to new possibilities beyond those that our own ego clings to.

I do not pretend to understand the mysteries of the universe. Yet I will never cease to be fascinated by how humanity’s stories converge around common themes. I’m grateful for the duck egg dream and its lessons. It was a unique experience of the energy behind transformation and creation that left me with a new feeling of aliveness, interconnectedness, and awe. I welcome the chance to hear your stories of how you might have similar experiences in your life and work, and how you might also find meaning in dreams.

[1] See https://andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheUglyDuckling_e.html for a translation of The Ugly Duckling from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre.

[2] The books and coaching of Judith Orloff, MD have been very helpful to me in learning to work with my dreams. See Orloff, J. (2017). The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Sounds True; and Orloff, J. (2010). Emotional freedom: Liberate yourself from negative emotions and transform your life. Harmony.

[3] Williams, F. (2017). The nature fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. WW Norton & Company.

[4]A concept developed by Carl Jung describing “meaningful coincidences” in which events occur that have no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. See Jung, C. G. (2010). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle.(From Vol. 8. of the collected works of CG Jung)(New in Paper). Princeton University Press.

[5] Crawford, J.M. (1888). The Kalevala. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/kveng/kvrune01.htm.

[6] Silver, T. (2016). Outrageous openness: Letting the Divine take the lead. Simon and Schuster.

All photos by author. 

4 thoughts on “Holding Gently: A Transformative Dream

  1. What a beautiful story and reflection on the meaning of the dream for you, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing your heart and thoughts with us here. What an encouragement you offer in giving us a glimpse of the hope that transformation can bring when we are open to letting our suffering and vulnerability enter our awareness. And when we release the control we want to have on our circumstances.

    The themes of brokenness and transformation have led my life for the past 10 yrs, giving meaning to my pain and hope for my future. Learning to trust the Loving Force in our world, and not grasping for control, have helped me to let go and watch beauty and creativity spring up in the very places where my life was broken. I now like to consider myself a “Wounded Healer” as coined in a writing by Henri Nowen. What a privilege it is to be entrusted with fragile and wounded hearts, in my line of work as a mental health therapist, and to sit with them, sometimes in silence, offering them a safe place to feel and to heal.

    I have a recurring dream that is similar to yours in a way. In the dream, I have given birth to a baby girl. I love her deeply and my soul is delighted to have her entrusted to my care. Then I get distracted and busy. I forget about my baby and I forget to nurture her. When I remember her, I feel deep shame and fear and guilt about leaving her vulnerable and alone with no way to nurture herself. I look for her frantically and hope she’s still alive though I know she can’t be, since it’s been a number of days since I last breastfed her. Then I find her, and she’s thriving, several months older than she should be, and developing ahead of schedule. She looks healthy and happy!

    What I take from this recurring dream, is that I don’t need to feel so ridden with guilt when I fail to be all that I want to be in the lives of others. I feel assured that there is a Loving Life Force that is undergirding the nourishment of those in my life and that I don’t bear the full responsibility of the growth and development of people who cross my path. (The metaphor breaks down in caring for an actual baby…..but then, I never actually forgot any of my own children, ever.)

    Here is a quote from the Hebrew scriptures, a verse that has been a great source of encouragement to me when I myself have felt abandoned and neglected. It is found in the book of Isaiah, chapter 49, verses 15 & 16.

    “Can a mother forget the child at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Even if she could forget, I will never forget you! Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

  2. Janine, thank for sharing your beautiful dream and the ways brokenness and transformation have shaped your own life and work. There is such wisdom in your comment about not bearing full responsibility for the growth and development of those who cross your path. An author I respect, Judith Orloff, talks about the importance of allowing others the dignity of their own path rather than over-helping. Amazing and surprising things can come forth when we “hold gently.” Thank you for sharing your experience with this.  ~Elizabeth

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