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Every night our dreams speak to us in the language of symbols and metaphors. Translating our inner musings, our thoughts and feelings, into images as we sleep, they provide us with ongoing feedback about the state of our being. Some dreams gently encourage us towards greater understanding of ourselves. Others, considered nightmares, more vigorously rattle us into paying attention to their urgent messages.
Because dreams are uniquely personal experiences that take place within the context of a life, there are no fixed single meanings to the metaphors they impart. The meaning of a dream depends entirely on our personal associations to its imagery and can only be understood from our particular frame of reference at the time. Unlike the concepts of our rational mind, dreams reflect back to us from the non-linear world of our subconscious psyche. Thus, it’s not unusual for them to have multiple levels of meaning.
In doing dreamwork, we learn to follow the thread of images and feelings within a given dream. A visceral sense of recognition, what those in dreamwork circles refer to as “the AHA reaction,” will validate that we’re headed in the right direction.
Dreams provide us with the opportunity to know the truth of who we are beneath the appearance of who we think we are. Dreamwork gives us tools for that purpose.
Basic Dreamwork Tools
ENCOURAGING DREAM RECALL
The initial requirement to understanding one’s dreams is remembering them. It helps to wake up slowly, preferably without an alarm and to stay in the same position one was in upon waking. Then, before engaging in any mental or physical activity, one should gently focus back to the imagery of one’s last dream. No matter how small and insignificant an image may be, it is the first step to penetrating a dream’s meaning. Over time and with more attention given them, dream recall becomes easier and more detailed.
KEEPING A DREAM JOURNAL
Once a dream is remembered, it’s good to write it down immediately in a dream journal, which is best kept right beside one’s bed for easy access. Also to be noted in the journal would be any feelings or memories brought up by the dream and any significant life events occurring at the time of the dream. Giving titles to each dream can be helpful, as can underlining key words and noting significant images and associations to those images.
SHARING DREAMS WITH OTHERS
Because we tend to have blind spots regarding our dreams, it can be helpful to have a dream buddy, a dream consultant, or a dream group in which to discuss one’s dreams. Unexpected issues and emotions may arise during the discussion of a dream. This requires a mutually respectful attitude between dreamwork participants, one which honors the dreamer’s process regarding the dream’s meaning.
* Dreamwork is not a replacement for psychotherapy and should not be substituted for professional treatment. Serious mental health issues require more attention than dreamwork can provide.
USING ART TO EXPLORE DREAMS
When given the opportunity to express themselves creatively with crayons or paint on paper, most young children will not hesitate to dive in wholeheartedly. But by age seven, usually due in part to the influences of acculturation and conformity, this delight in uncensored, spontaneous self expression begins to dwindle and is slowly but surely replaced by self-consciousness and doubt in one’s artistic abilities. By the teen years, a rather tyrannical critical voice, that claims to be the expert on all things creative, moves in to take control. Imposing himself as an authority to judge and dismiss all that is not perfectly hip and hot, this collectively agreed upon critic leads one to believe he is the destroyer of illusion, when in fact he is truly the destroyer of joy. My intention is to help people remember what life feels like without him.
Taking the plunge into free creative expression requires only one thing: the willingness to begin. The task is to show up in the present moment with whatever you are feeling moved to express and to allow the process to take you wherever you need to go. Keep in mind that the purpose is the creative experience itself, not the finished product.
As one begins this process of creative exploration, one may come up against resistance and fear. Strong emotions and uncomfortable memories may arise, as well as ingrained patterns of self-doubt and self-criticism. Proceeding in spite of these obstacles, one can reclaim the right to challenge them. By embracing the feelings that come up along the way, one can release blocked energies, and empower oneself to paint freely from the intuitive spirit within.
Background image by: Beate Bachmann from Pixaby