Episode 370: A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste with Kelly Sullivan Walden

Episode Summary

Throughout our conversation, we go through Kelly’s background and how she became the “Doctor Dream”. We discuss how magical generating empathy through vulnerability can be, what inspired Kelly to write about dreams and nightmares, and we learn an innovative way of looking at tragedies.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. We are so excited to have you with us. We’re honored and grateful that you’re with us. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host. We have a special guest with us today — none other like we’ve had before, especially in the topic that we’re going to discuss. As a dream expert, she is a regular guest on many national talk shows, including Doctor Oz, The Real, Coast to Coast, and Hallmark’s Home & Family. She’s decoded dreams for celebrities — there’s a long list of them. She has done so exceptionally in this area. Welcome, Kelly Sullivan Walden. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Steve, it is such a blessing to be with you. Thank you so much for having me. I love the name of your podcast ‘Becoming Your Best.’ You and I are definitely cut from the same cloth, so I’m excited to be with you. Thank you for having me. 

Steve Shallenberger: And I feel the same way. I’ve been looking forward to this. Kelly is an award-winning, bestselling author of ten books. A dream expert, certified clinical hypnotherapist, inspirational speaker, and workshop facilitator, she also holds a doctorate degree in interfaith studies. Her unique approach to dream work led her to consult with thousands of individuals from Fortune 500 executives to celebrities to stay-at-home moms. So we have so much going to learn from this. And we were talking before we started about Becoming Your Best and how important sleep is to become your best sleep. Now, we’re going to see a whole new dimension of it today in our discussion. And I know we have the rapt attention of our listeners because they’re going to want to hear all about this. So, Kelly, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you, and how in the world did you end up doing what you’re doing? 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: I think we all have a sacred path. And if we pay attention to the signs and pay attention to our dreams, and just pay attention, then we’ll be led to where we’re supposed to go. And sometimes it’s not where we think we’re supposed to go. Sometimes the best ideas that we have come from what we’ve seen around us, what we have seen other people do, and it’s what we’ve been taught. So, I definitely sought out to have a very different path. But my own personal dreams have been very vivid, loud, colorful, and instructive over the course of my life. And I thought this was something everybody did. I didn’t think there was anything special about it. But there was a moment when I was having a conversation with my literary agent in New York City at a cafe in Washington Square, and she said, “I have an instinct that instead of the book–” I was working on a very different book, she said, “I think you should write a book about dreams.” And I about fell over because I thought, “Lady, are you kidding me? Why would I do such a thing?” She said, “In every conversation we have, I’m always telling you my dreams and I love the way you make me feel when I’ve told you my dream. I always feel good about myself even if the dream is horrifying and scary. I really think you have a unique approach to dreams and I don’t know that there’s anything else out there like it.” So, with her encouragement, my husband’s encouragement, and the encouragement of many of my clients, I had become a certified clinical hypnotherapist. I started to explore my philosophy on dreams and it became a book called “I Had the Strangest Dream: The Dreamer’s Dictionary for the 21st Century.” And that book kind of took off like wildfire, and that led to me being in the media as Dr. Dream, and it led to the next book and the next book. Now, five Oracle decks, I’ve been saying four Oracle decks, but literally, just a minute before we got on the call, I just received the pre-publication copies of my next Oracle deck, which I’m really excited about. And I have a brand new book out right now called “A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: The Art of Transforming the Tragic into Magic.” And it ties into dreams because I have a very specific way I help people get over their nightmares and move through them. It turns out that the same system applies quite elegantly to the challenges that we face in our waking lives as well. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, there’s so much to talk about here. First of all, let’s talk about your new book, A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste. What’s that about? Give us a little background on that. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Sure, I’m happy to. Well, kind of like you, I’m in the problem-solving arena. Some people that have difficulties, people that are going through challenges, gravitate to me because I have a bag of tools that is as wide as the universe and it keeps getting bigger every day. And I want to help people and I want to help myself as well. I realized, though, that when I simply preach the tools that I have without context, without how I use them, without the story behind the story, the behind-the-scenes story of how I screwed up how I fell apart, how I did everything wrong, fell in the mud over and over again, and had my really difficult, tragic experiences but then found my way through, it seems that people get more from my strategies when I give them that context. So, this book is different than my other books that are much more self-help-y. This book is a memoir, hybrid self-help. So, there’s a system that I use called OGLE, which is the way to really look at your challenge or your nightmare. It’s a process, it’s an acronym that I can share with you in a moment. But it also has 30 very personal stories, most of which most people never knew about me about some of the trials and tribulations I’ve lived through, like the loss of some dear ones, a near-death experience, a hot air balloon crash in a wild animal sanctuary, just a few feet away from the lions, and dog bites, and being attacked, and all manner of things. But there’s this protocol that I have that transforms the state of victimhood into a state of being victorious. So, I use that with dream work, but I also use that with people that are going through a difficult time in their waking life as well. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a wonderful background. It’s sounds like a fun book. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: It’s fun. Woman’s World Magazine named it the most inspirational self-help book of the week this week, and Aspire Magazine named it in their top 10 most inspirational books. So, it’s touching people personally. This book is having more of an effect on people than any of the other books that I’ve written. It’s like I’m really letting people into the deeper chambers of my heart that I have here too far left, very closed and private. But it’s kind of like I’m practicing what I preach, living from the perspective that I have no shame in my game, and none of us should. Even the things that we think are the worst things about us, the most difficult things about us, once we share them, once we work with them can end up becoming the access point to how we really create intimacy and depth in our relationships and in our lives. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, people appreciate it when you’re vulnerable when they share who you really are because it helps all of us relate and say, “Hold it. We’re all in the same boat here. We’ve got problems.” 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Yeah, exactly. I think we could maybe divide the world into two categories, not men and women, but maybe those who are very comfortable wearing their pain on their sleeve and those who aren’t. And I would fall into the category of the ones who aren’t. I typically have kept my pain and my difficulties to myself. Just a very few people would know these things, and then I present to the world the put-together version of myself. And I feel like it’s a symbol of my own growth that I’m able to step into this more inside-out view and not being worried if people find out things about me. I’m learning through the writing process, as you know, there’s magic in writing, there’s a process and there’s an alchemy that happens. It’s one technique that I recommend that people do, whether they share their story with the world or they simply share it in their own personal world, writing out the stories that are the most haunting can actually shift them around. And it’s the way that we can do that with nightmares as well, by really looking at them, and then we can figure out the best way to flip it around because we’re meant to become victorious over whatever we’re going through — nightmare or whatever challenge gets thrown our way. 

Steve Shallenberger: Such an interesting dynamic, Kelly. I guess people sometimes are private on purpose and think, “Oh, well, others aren’t interested,” or “This would be too embarrassing.” But the fact is when people share, they actually make such a deeper connection with others. And I think they grow themselves that also help others feel more comfortable to grow. So, what have you found, Kelly, is the best way you’ve just gone through? And I mean, now, publicly in your book, of being quite private, to be able to cross the bridge and at least feel comfortable enough to share these things? How can you do that, that you just get comfortable in your own skin? 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: The technique that I use over and over again in my book is called OGLE. And I think when we go through a process when something is painful and difficult, it’s hard to be able to share about it in those moments. There’s that saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. So, when we’re in the thick of something that feels tragic, we don’t have a sense of humor about it, we don’t see the blessing or the beauty about it. There’s an article that I referenced in the introduction of my book. There’s an article in Time Magazine that said that it typically takes between three to nine years to get over a difficult loss, a traumatic loss. And who’s got that time? Life is still wanting to live through us. So, I found that there’s a way to be able to expedite the process and not have to pour pink paint over it. Shall I share the OGLE formula that I talk about? 

Steve Shallenberger: Let’s hold on just a second because I can hardly wait to hear about it. So, let’s go back and just talk about deciphering nightmares. What’s your experience there? What have you learned there? How can they be a help? And then you make the jump also in the real world, as evidenced by your book how do you take that crisis and turn it into an ally? So, kind of a big question. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Well, the first thing is to follow in the footsteps of Einstein, who basically said, “Either nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.” And he believed that everything is a miracle. He also said that we can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created the problem. And he also said that the most important question we can ask is, “Is this universe friendly?” And according to his calculations, by the end of his life, he determined that yes, the universe is friendly. So, with all of that in mind, if it’s good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for us. That means that everything that is happening to us, whether it be exactly what we hoped or whether it be the exact opposite, we have to consider that it’s happening for our good — it’s not happening to us, it’s happening for us. Everything is a gift. So, a nightmare is just like that. What if our nightmares are actually a gift in disguise? They’re trying to help us to course correctly. They’re helping us to vent out the feelings that we’ve repressed. There’s that saying, “What’s repressed must express.” And it’s a pretty healthy way to do it. If we can express it in our dreams, then we don’t have to go around yelling, screaming, and breaking things in waking life and getting arrested, and having people file restraining orders against us. If we can get all that angst out in a dream, it has to come out somewhere. So, a dream is actually a really tidy, elegant place for it to come out, and it’s our perspective when we wake up. And I always tell people, the first thing you should say to yourself when you wake up from a nightmare, as strange as it may sound is, “Yay, lucky me!” Because that means that there’s some growth happening and there’s something trying to be released. And for the people that are fond of doing laundry, it’s kind of like if you throw in a lot of muddy clothes goes into your laundry machine, it’s going to bounce around, it’s going to make a lot of noise because you’ve loaded it up with a bunch of stuff. But it’s trying to help clean it, it’s bouncing around, it’s making a lot of racket, but it’s trying to help you process things out so that by the time the cycle is complete, you’ve got a nice, clean outfit to wear and all is well. So, our dreams are attempting to do that.  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: The more we live our lives in such a way that we want to live our lives in such a way that we would have sweet dreams, we want to not load ourselves up with a bunch of resentment during the day, unforgiveness, anger, and we don’t want to eat a bunch of stuff that isn’t healthy for us because all of that makes it so that our nightmares, our dreams are going to have to work overtime for us. So, the first thing is to just recognize that our nightmares are on our side and that they may be helping us to feel the things that we haven’t given ourselves permission to feel in our waking lives so that we can release it so that we can come back to, as you said at the beginning of our conversation, something about the balance for the successful people. In order to do that, this energy needs to go somewhere. So, part of it is to just see these things are not happening to us because we’re bad, we’re wrong, it just means that we are humans living in a very intense and sometimes difficult world. What we can do, though, here’s one big secret. This I normally save for the end, but I’ll just share it now because. The idea is that a nightmare isn’t over just because you woke up; you can go back into the dream and finish the dream so that it completes itself to your liking. In other words, the dream ain’t over until you, the dreamer, are empowered. There’s research that’s been done at Harvard, at Walter Reed, all kinds of really prestigious medical institutions, that we can do this thing called imagery rehearsal therapy, which means in our waking state — we don’t have to be a lucid dreamer to do this, we can do this just as we are — we can imagine that we’re back in the dream that was so difficult, but we imagine that we are lucid in that dream; therefore, we get to be the director. If it was a movie, we write the script, we’re the director, we’re the clothing designer, the lighting designer, we can change it, and it doesn’t end until we are empowered.  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: For example, the monster that’s chasing us, we put it behind bars, and we say, “Why are you chasing me? What kind of gift are you trying to give me?” Or we shrink the nemesis to the size of a pea and make ourselves 10 times bigger, the size of the Empire State Building, we look at that little nemesis and we say, “Aw, you’re so cute. Oh, you’re just trying to communicate something to me.” So, there are ways to be able to work with the nightmare and help ourselves become empowered. So, the way OGLE fits in — O stands for what’s offensive about what’s happened. This is where you give yourself permission in your journal, in your conversation with your friend or therapist. You get to say, “Wow, that dream was really scary. It frightened me. It made me nervous. It made me feel insecure.” Or this thing that’s happening in my life, getting the tax audit, so stressful, or whatever the thing is, you acknowledge what is offensive. So you don’t gloss over that, you have to give yourself permission to feel what you feel. And then you move to the G, which stands for what’s good about this. And this is where it takes a little bit of creativity to say, “Well, what could be good about this?” For example, a nightmare that somebody has, where somebody’s chasing them, perhaps what’s good is it’s an aspect of themselves. Everyone in the dream is an aspect of ourselves. And what we resist persists — so, maybe the part of us that’s chasing us is an aspect of our own power that we have shunned. So, maybe what’s good about the nightmare or good about the difficult thing in our life is that there’s some kind of blessing trying to come in and maybe we just weren’t able to see it. The L is for the looking glass. And the L for looking glass is about perceiving everyone and everything as an aspect of ourselves. Carl Jung taught this about dreams, but it’s also true in life. So, whoever is challenging us in our lives is a part of ourselves. And then the E is for — I think you’ll appreciate this — elevate. How will you make yourself better? How will you do better with regard to this situation or with regard to this dream? So, that’s OGLE. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, is it normal to have really weird dreams sometimes? Like who even comes up with these things anyhow? Sometimes when I think about my dreams and they are so bizarre. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: I totally agree with you, Steve.  

Steve Shallenberger: Should we worry about that? 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: No, we should worry if we don’t have strange dreams. I like to say ‘it’s strange not to have strange dreams.’ The part of the mind that’s doing the dreaming is not our logic, reasoning, or willpower. Thank God, the dreams would be so boring otherwise. The symbolically thinking part is more of the abstract aspect of our thinking. The muscle that it takes in our mind to decode a dream, that muscle actually lends itself to our out-of-the-box thinking, our ability to think more intuitively and with our deeper senses. So, the muscle actually gives us the ability to problem solve in our lives much better. We think out of the box. We think more symbolically instead of so concretely. It’s strange not to have a strange dream. We just have to look at it through the lens of how is this symbolic and what do these symbols mean to me. 

Steve Shallenberger: And I love what you’re saying. I don’t think I discovered this until just a few years ago that if I had a disturbing dream, I could go back in and rearrange it. And I didn’t know that was possible, and then it let me feal at peace. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Yes, exactly. We’re meant to do that. I’m so glad that you discovered this. Some people think, “Well, the only way to do that is to reenter the dream, meaning to go back asleep and pick up that dream where it left off.” But that’s not always easy to do. Some of us are able to do that, but it’s absolutely not cheating for us to simply think about that dream. If we can remember the nightmare, we remember the dream, even if it’s a positive dream, we can re-enter it in our waking state because it’s like a memory. It’s like as if we remember a happy moment that happened last Valentine’s Day or whatever it is, that just by remembering it, literally, we’re building a bridge to that memory and we’re reconnecting with it, we’re bringing that past experience into present time. And in fact, with dreams, the more we remember a positive dream and put ourselves back in it — or reconnect with a dream that left us feeling disempowered, a nightmare — but finish it from our memory; the more we do this, it’s as if we’re connecting the hemispheres of our brain, the right and left hemisphere, and giving ourselves a more whole-brained experience, which ultimately, simply put, makes us smarter. 

Steve Shallenberger: No, how have you found, Kelly, is the best way to use OGLE? How do you get into the habit of using that? And I like the fact that we’re talking about our subconscious, our sleep. First of all, that’s my first question: How do you get in the habit of using it so it’s a productive tool? And then, stepping forward, how do we take that crisis into an ally? 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Great questions. So, the first step to working with a dream is to make sure that you remember a dream and you write it down first thing. So you’re you have to give your dreams priority in the morning, it has to be the very first thing you do as you wake up recording that dream; otherwise, it’s as if it never happened, it kind of disappears. So, first of all, we have to do that. So, working with our nightmare in our waking state, that was the question. So, here’s what you do: The first thing you do is write down the dream exactly as it was. I have a jet-set formula. I call it jet-set, it’s a way of decoding a dream. I’ll put that off to the side for a moment. You get in the habit of transforming your dream by doing it on a regular basis — write down your dream every day. Every single day we wake up, there are three to nine big dreams that we have every night, so at least write down one of them. I’d say a very simple thing that we can do because a lot of us are on the run and not everybody has a lot of time to focus on dreams, you at least can do a little bit of journaling, which is to ask yourself what was this dream trying to tell me? And why this dream? Why now? And the secret is to go into the feeling tone of the dream — the way the dream made you feel. Ask yourself, “Where in my waking life do I also feel this way? Or am I afraid to feel this way?” And then we can recognize that this dream is helping us to solve that problem. That’s kind of a simple way of putting it. But in our waking lives, let’s say something difficult happens. One of the stories in my book, for example, is about when my purse got stolen when I was in Colombia. And I was there doing a service project. My purse had my laptop in it, it had my passport, it had my wallet, all my money, all my identification. So, it wasn’t just an annoying little pickpocket moment; it was devastating because I couldn’t travel from one country to the next, I couldn’t even prove my identity. I had about five different partial books on that laptop that weren’t backed up. And it was all the money I had for the journey. It was like, “Oh, my God!” Some people might say it’s a small crisis, but it was big deal for me at the time.  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: So, it would normally take a long time to recover from that or to come out of that victimhood. It literally took a few hours once I practiced OGLE on this. So, here’s what I did. Normally, ogling is to kind of be lecherous, it doesn’t have a good rap. I think I’m recreating it. It’s about really perceiving what’s happened. So, the O stands for what’s offensive about this. So, I gave myself permission in my journal to write everything that I was upset about. How dare these people steal this from me? I’m left feeling unsafe. I don’t have any money, how am I gonna get by? In this country, I’m here to help and that’s the thanks they give me. It makes me not want to be of service — blah, blah, blah. I gave myself permission to just be mad, sad, hurt, and angry, and get it all out. And then I moved to the G. G is for what’s good about this. And of course, my first response is “Nothing. There is nothing good about this. Period. End of story.” And then, of course, I pick up my pen and I write what could be good about this. What could be good is “I’m going to be here for a month, and maybe it’ll be good for me to be away from technology for a month,” because I am kind of addicted — my laptop in my right hand, my cell phone in my left. I’m kind of attached at the hip to my devices, so maybe I’m going to learn something about what it is to not be so attached. Maybe, I don’t know. Sometimes you don’t know what’s good. What’s also good is they didn’t kill me. They took my purse, but I’m still alive. Oh, yeah, there’s that, because some people don’t live to tell the tale. So, you see the point. So, there are other things I could add to it. But the L for the looking glass, here’s the hard part, the L for the looking glass. How am I just like the offending party here? And I had to ask myself, where do I steal from my own inner well?  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: For example, all the time I spend on my phone or on social media, how is that stealing from my life force, from my creativity, from my connection with spirit, with the universe? Maybe I’m the thief that steals some of my best ideas and I don’t do anything with it. Maybe I’m the one that’s squandering. I don’t know for sure, but even if it’s just a speck of the same behavior that they did that I also do, this is where the healing really starts to kick in because I stop, in that moment, othering them, they stop being separate from me. And all of a sudden, we enter into this unified field, and I am just like them. Even if it’s not to the same degree, there’s a healing that starts to happen in that moment. And then the E is for elevate — how will I now elevate my situation as a result of having gone through this? And immediately, I thought, “Well, it would elevate my life, my soul, my purpose if I could practice being more present with the actual humans that are in front of me, instead of virtually all the many friends that I don’t really know. What about giving actual eye contact to the people that are flesh and blood in front of me? And maybe that’s how I will elevate this.” By the time I came home, Steve, a month later, I am telling you, I did not want to buy a new laptop or a phone. I come into such a deep place of peaceful, blissful, contented enoughness. I had never felt more enough than I did after I wasn’t completely tied into all my electronic gadgets. And it was interesting because I didn’t do any work while I was gone. Normally, in order to prove my enoughness, I have to work, work, work. And during that month, I did nothing, and yet I felt so full. So, I got to give that back to me. So, the elevate on that was life-changing, it was profound. This is how we can OGLE our circumstances and our crises that we experience by day and we can also use that same formula with regard to our nightmares to transform them so that we come back to, like you talked about that, that deep peace and ease that is our inheritance. And nothing external is going to give it to us. We get to give it to ourselves today, Valentine’s Day, and any day that people are watching and/or listening to this, we’ve got to give it to ourselves. 

Steve Shallenberger: Great answer. I love that. I am always amazed at how fast these podcast shows go. We’re at the end. What final tips, from all of your experience, Kelly, would you like to offer to our listeners today? This has been such a wonderful podcast, so many great ideas, tips, and thoughts, and we’re just scratching the surface. So, final tips. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: I would say in addition to paying attention to your dreams because they’re giving us vital wisdom to help make our lives better and to help us become our best selves. And also using the OGLE formula whenever anything even slightly irritates you, annoys you, or all the way to something that is sheer heartbreaking. But here’s what I’m writing on today. This is something that is personal for me. Hopefully, this is something that will help you. I just posted this in a TikTok video. I noticed that one way that we all feel in despair is to have this very long laundry list of what the universe should give to us, our partner, our family, or the people in our lives. They should give me these things and they’re not giving them to me, and I’m pissed and I’m angry. But if we flip it around to Universe, “Whoever you are, how can I serve you? What do you need from me? How can I make your life better today?” That tiny little switch, ‘Universe, how can I help you?’ I mean, it sounds a little arrogant, like who am I? I’m just a little shrimp over here. How can I help the universe? But asking that question definitely switches. There’s something that switches at least in my own brain from ‘give me, give me, give me’ to I’m now the giver, which makes me feel full, and it puts me in a much more dreamy, overflowing, and abundant place. So, that’s my personal AHA du jour. 

Steve Shallenberger: What a great way to end. And how can people find out about what you’re doing and about your work?  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Thank you, Steve. They can go to my website, which is I’m on social media. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and all that stuff. I have a retreat coming up in June, in Costa Rica, Luxury Dream Retreat. And for people, when they purchase their spot to go to the retreat, there’s a self-love kind of Valentine’s Day package that I’m offering that’s worth $888, and it’s a luxury dream kit. So, if you sign up between now and the end of February, or just mention Becoming Your Best, I’ll offer that special package to any of your listeners. 

Steve Shallenberger: And when is that going to take place?  

Kelly Sullivan Walden: The Retreat is in June. It’s June 6 through 11 in Costa Rica. 

Steve Shallenberger: People may listen to this podcast again in the future. So, stay tuned, because Kelly may have others that she’s going to be doing once this one passes, right? 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Yeah, absolutely. Just go to and that’s the hub for all the things I’ve got going. 

Steve Shallenberger: It sounds so fun, though, what a great place. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: It’ll be very dreamy, that’s for sure. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, we’ve loved having you as a guest today, Kelly. 

Kelly Sullivan Walden: Thank you, Steve. What a wonderful host you have been. And I feel so honored and grateful to be in your world. And thank you so much for your wonderful questions. This has been a great way. We’re recording this on Valentine’s Day, and whenever this is going to go out in the world, but it was a perfect thing to do. So, thank you so much. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, we wish you the best and all that you’re doing. Thank you for being with us. And to our listeners, we’re so grateful that you could join us. We’re honored. And this has been a fun podcast. I know it stirred some thoughts. It has for me, and hopefully, it has for you as well. And we wish each one of you the very best. You’re making a difference in this world. We’re grateful for you. We wish you the best today and always. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader.

Kelly Sullivan Walden

Award-Winning Dream Expert

International Best-Selling Author, Inspirational Speaker, Celebrity Dreams Analyst, Creator of the OGLE Method

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