Dreams are like personal messages that a close, well-knowing friend brings to you nightly. They visit, speaking another language, as if saying, “At your service! Here’s the coded info!” telling their creative tales in riddles. Why ignore them? You can’t remember them, or forget them too quickly? You don’t believe they have important things to say? Don’t understand them? Research shows that our dreams guide all of us. Deidre Barrett (see Resources) cites various musicians, scientists and athletes who’ve been proactively influenced by their dreams. Simple tactics can help you remember your dreams, and make sense of them. Dreams can feel like they are taking you into the wilderness, yet you don’t need to be overwhelmed there. Start by going on a few treks. Try using some of the nine ideas below to begin unraveling the messages from your nightly film-shorts.
1) Keep a dream journal beside your bed. Set a journal, or even a spiral notebook, at your bedside with a pen. Before going to sleep, remind yourself that you’ll reflect upon and write down whatever you remember, even if it’s simply, “There was something about a high school party,” or “A woman dressed in white was in my house.” Your Dreammaker, some uncanny entity within you which composes your nightly dreams based upon thousands of options and data in your brain, will be reinforced to help you remember more of your dreams if you tend to them. Training is involved. The more you revisit dreams, the more clear, vivid and easy to reconjure they’ll become. It doesn’t take much time once you get in the habit of recording them. Make sure to replay them in your mind, as soon as you awaken, or you’ll lose important parts within minutes. They truly are like film shorts, or fascinating chapters in your own book. As you record more of them, you’ll notice patterns and themes. Add fun to the process, and mutually share dreams with your partner or children every morning at breakfast. Telling dreams is a fun form of storytelling, and discussing what dreams mean will build connection with your loved ones.
2) Notice details. Right now, while reading this paragraph, close your eyes and see the room around you in your mind’s eye. Let the colors be vivid, notice placement of furniture, details like the movement of a person, candle flame or the curtains shifting in the breeze; listen to any sounds, inhale deeply and take in any aromas; feel your skin, notice what you’re wearing, how your body feels – supported? Agitated? Relaxed? What are you feeling? Calm? Interested? Antsy? Observe where you are in the room, and note every detail you can as if you were writing a novel. Next, open your eyes and see how you did. Placement of the lamp was different than you thought? Just notice, without judgment. You’ll transfer this mindfulness skill to dreamwork; as you reflect upon your dream when awakening, try to remember every detail you can as you write it down. Particulars are all clues, all part of the riddle. Below, you’ll see why. Over time, you’ll remember more specifics.
3) Writing your dream. When making your dream entry, record or dictate it in the present tense. Change paragraphs when something new occurs. Allow room at the top for a title. Jot down your emotions, where they occurred. At the end of your entry, recap what you are feeling now. Then quickly go back through the dream entry, and put a box around each important object, person(s), place or element in the dream. For example, highlight “water,” “bridge,” “bus,” “mother,” “crying child,” “purple,” and “Grand Canyon,” “lions,” “tigers,” and “bedroom window.” Next, write a title at the top which sums it up, like a chapter in a book, such as: “Lions and Tigers Jumping Through my Bedroom Window.” This will help you get to the meaning of the dream, and remember it later. At the bottom, leave room to work the dream, or to add commentary about what was left unfinished or unanswered – you’ll come back to that later.
4) Interpreting a dream. There are many methods for dreamtending, decoding and understanding a dream. Here are just a few.
a) What part of my waking life reminds me of this? If your dream is about being lost in Croatia, ask,” In what part of my life do I feel like I’m in an unfamiliar place without direction?” Perhaps the answer is, “At my new job.” Then, maybe the dream is nudging you to ask more questions about how to do things, even though that’s uncomfortable for you. If you dreamed of being at war, alone, no soldiers around you, ask, “Where in my life do I feel like I’m in a battle without help?” Then sit with it, allowing challenging feelings to accompany that thought, giving consideration before making a change. Go for what “clicks,” whatever feels like it’s the clearest or most resonating message. Next, apply the message, as if it came to you as advice from a close friend. Understanding dreams is fun, yet allowing them to impact your daily world is the real task for a brave dreamriddle-solver.
b) BE the important parts of your dream. Go back to the words you’ve put boxes around in your dream entry. Write one down, then BE that person, place or thing, and freely jot down whatever they are saying. For ex: “Old man in tuxedo: I’m formal, giving advice, full of myself. I think others should listen to me, but they’re ignoring me, laughing among themselves.” Go to another object: “Champagne glass: I’m fragile, see-through, I’m fun- I contain a bubbly beverage; I’m frothing over in Jerry’s glass but Sue isn’t even drinking a sip of me. I feel precarious, lighthearted, overly important to Jerry but dissed by Sue.” This playful enactment can help you get to the heart and soul of not only what your dream is trying to tell you, but more importantly what you can do differently in your waking life. See the value? Something might suddenly click, and you’ll understand things you didn’t notice before then decide what to do about them.
c) What is the primary nature of this dream? Does is feel like a warning dream (showing you what you’ll become or what might happen if you stay in this place in your life)? A wake-up call to action? A spiritual dream? A reminder, to complete or revisit something? A nudge, to do something you haven’t done in a long time? A mirror dream, showing you who you really are? A scary dream, to get your attention? Ask what the theme of the dream is. Research shows, the purpose of most dreams is to prompt you into awareness and action.
d) Active imagination. Allow yourself to meditate on the images, narrative, objects or people in your dream, simply observing what happens next. Exert as little effort as possible upon the images, and let them unfold. You may be surprised, and learn more about what they want to say to you, dreaming the dream onward. Use this type of meditative reflection to finish a dream that ended abruptly, or to create a different ending to a dream than what was presented. Explore other techniques, such as amplification, art therapy with dreams, writing poetry from a dream, etc.
e) Dream reentry drumming. This is a technique I learned from Fariba Bogzaran, PhD. around 1995. It’s fun, and clients love it. You’ll need to do it in a dreamwork session. While you sit, relaxed, receptive to a specific dream, I’ll drum 3-4 beats per second while your brain thereby accesses the theta waves which kick in during REM sleep, and you’ll reenter a dream of your choice. This enables you to relook at a person or situation, to see it differently or change it. It’s a helpful tool for trauma work, the treatment of depression and anxiety, altering body image, making decisions, and countless other specific issues.
5) Recurring dreams. Some dreams will present themselves to us in varying forms repeatedly until we understand their message, and do something about it. In my experience, we will continue to have recurring dreams unless we “get” their important meaning, and apply it to our lives. One of my clients dreamed of being buried under stuff for years: underground, beneath rocks, under pillows, marshmallows, etc. until she finally addressed her feelings of being unimportant, found her voice, and started speaking up. She decided that recurring dreams of feeling “underneath” things meant that she needed to come out in life, voice her opinions, be heard, even at the risk of creating conflict or being disliked.
6) Nightmares. Dark, looming dreams come to us making a big statement, as if to say, “Pay attention here! This is important!” Or, “Danger! Watch out!” Perhaps, “Learn from this! Don’t let this happen again!” Even though vivid nightmares can be disturbing, they, too, come in our service after trauma or difficulty. Dreams sort of have a mind of their own, wanting us to change our lives, to look at what we’re missing. View nightmares this way too. Perhaps you were in a car accident, and your recurring dream is of being on the Interstate and hit from the rear due to a sudden traffic pileup ahead. Your dream may be visiting you as a reminder to stay focused, being more aware of vehicles around you, vigilant, keeping distance for your own protection.
7) Don’t use a dream dictionary. Please please please. Flying dreams can mean one thing to a person who likes to fly, and an altogether opposite thing to someone scared of planes. You’re unique! Do your own work- what does this object, person or place mean to you? You’ll get so much more clarity asking questions this personal way. There are dream themes, however, and these often have similar meanings from person to person. You’re being chased? – can mean anxiety; lost your phone? -perhaps you’re unable to communicate. Water is often about emotions, or the unconscious. But let your dream images speak for themselves first. BE water, feel it’s wetness, the rush of the force, imagining that you ARE that powerful element. Why might you, Water, be in this particular dream right now? What’s the role of water in this dream? How do you impact other objects or people in the dream? What are you trying to say to your waking self? Or, perhaps you dreamt about a snake? BE the snake, undulating gracefully under rocks, through rough terrain, able to shed your skin, hissing as you speak. Then sit with your experience, asking, “Where do I need snake energy in my life?” Or perhaps, “How am I too much of a snake?” There is a plentitude of encoded, deep material in some dreams; if you want help with images that feel esoteric, use a symbol dictionary, or work with a dream therapist on archetypes, gateway dreams and any elements which hugely impact you.
8) Grow your desire to know yourSelf. If you want to do deep work, dreams are one terrain and your work with them is like being a gardener interacting with the soil and what’s germinating. Or, it may feel like going for a hike in the wilderness to begin dreamwork: daunting. Yet you only need basic tools: your pen and pad are your boots and backpack. Aspiration to understand and learn from different parts of yourself gets your legs in gear. The wilderness is where your dreams will take you, and you’ll grow in amazing and unforeseen ways out there. You can make quick progress on self-awareness with dreamwork partly because your own Shadow (the exiled parts of yourself) and other selves within you will present themselves via images in your dreams. Knowing and integrating your various “parts” can have immeasurable benefits in living a vital, authentic life, so dreamwork is one way to do that.
9) Introduce your unconscious to your conscious Self. Every day your conscious, waking Self is aware, tending to your emotional, physical, intellectual and soulful experiences. Simultaneously, your unconscious Self, deep within, is working out those experiences behind the scenes. The unconscious, or Dreammaker, wants to help you sort things out, so puts together dreams hoping to guide the more “awake” You with their messages. While you are alert and working on healing from a break-up, your dream images might be intuitively supporting and leading you, as if trying to say, “Watch out, you haven’t gotten over that heartbreak yet, and this girl looks undependable.” Integrating your conscious and unconscious Selves can feel solid, and help you to make better decisions, protecting you from re-injury.
Dreams come from your personal database, with an inner storyteller weaving riddles and tales for you about your own life. They can help you solve problems, can nudge you into wellbeing, and will guide you into discovering and becoming who you are. You don’t have to climb a 14-er or become overly focused upon dreams to listen to their insights, suggestions and wisdom. Just start writing them down and work a few of your dreams. View them as riddles, and play around with their possible meanings. Apply what you learn. Take a couple of hikes; you’ll make some tracks in the wilderness of the dreamworld.
~Pamela W. Brinker
Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.
Resources: Hall, Jungian Dream Interpretation; C.G. Jung, Man & His Symbols; Gayle Delaney, Living Your Dreams, and Sensual Dreaming; Patricia Garfield, Creative Dreaming; Karen Signell, Wisdom of the Heart: Working with Women’s Dreams; Deidre Barrett, The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams For Creative Problem-Solving-and How You Can Too; Kelly Bulkeley, Big Dreams; Alan Siegel, Dream Wisdom; Hillman, Dream Animals; Robert VanDeCastle, Your Dreaming Mind; Robert Bosnak: Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming and A Little Course in Dreams; Robert Moss: Active Dreaming, and Conscious Dreaming; Jill Mellick and Marion Woodman, The Art of Dreaming; Zweig & Wolf, Romancing The Shadow; Zweig & Abrams; Meeting the Shadow; Arnold Mindell, Dreambody, and Working With the Dreaming Body; Bob Schwartz, Internal Family Systems Therapy.