A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens up to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul long before there was the conscious ego. __Carl Jung
My role as a spiritual director and workshop facilitator is to provide an opportunity for people to learn how to go within and know themselves, and their connection to the Divine more fully. One way of doing this is to help them make sense of their night visions and how their dreams relate to waking life.
Most of my adult life I have explored my dreams as part of my spiritual journey, as a result it has given me a deeper understanding of myself, enriched my connection with the Divine, helped me navigate through the grief of my son’s death, and given me peace of mind.
When we look around us and see how real everything looks we are sure we are awake. Right? However, when we think about it, we also believe that we are awake and everything is real when we are dreaming. I once had a dream about my son who came to me in a dream after he had died. I wanted to see if he was real or just a figment of my imagination so I grabbed onto his shoulder and found that he was solid. In my dream I was convinced that I was awake and that he was really alive.
Many cultures and religions such as the Aborigines, the Native Americans, Judeo-Christians and the Tibetans believe in the value of dreams to the extent that they base their waking lives on what they learned from their dreams.
The essence of Tibetan dream yoga, for instance, as is taught by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu in his book Dream Yoga, shows us how the Tibetans practice spiritually while sleeping. They believe that our perceptions in the waking state are as unreal as in the sleeping state, and that all life is here today and gone tomorrow. This way of being with dreams helps them develop greater clarity, self-awareness, and the ability to stay present in the moment.
Another example of how other cultures value the dream information comes from the Aborigines. They believe their soul travels in other dimensions while their body sleeps, and that they are able to talk with their ancestors while dreaming. In the morning they gather around and tell their stories, and live by what they learn from their dreams.
Personally I am drawn to the work of the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Much of our Western way of interpreting dreams comes from his work. Jung believed that dreams reveal our innermost thoughts and feelings, and that the primary purpose of dreams is to integrate our conscious and unconscious lives. His terminology is extensive, but due to the limitation of this blog, and to keep it simple, below are thirteen guidelines that can help us to better understand our dreams.
13 Suggestions for Working with Dreams
1. Stay in the position you are in when you awaken, and notice what arises: feelings, bodily sensations, inspirations, memories, etc. Do this each morning for a week or so before attempting to remember your dreams.
2. Keep a pad and pencil by your bed with a small dim reading light nearby, a penlight, or a light that can be attached to the pad.
3. When you become aware of a dream, silently review the dream in your mind, and then write as much as you can remember on the pad even if it is only a fragment of a dream. Include any feelings and thoughts that arise. It is also helpful to name the dream.
4. Later, record the dream in your journal by writing the dream in the first person as though it is happening in the present moment. Write down any images that you remember: the characters, surroundings, feelings, dialogue and actions of the dream. Note that images can be persons, places, landscapes, colors, animals, objects, atmospheres and moods.
5. Underline the images, and write down what you associate with the images. In other words, in order to find the symbolic representation of the dream images ask yourself how the images connect to your inner dynamics. For instance, if there is a purse in your dream you may associate it with your identity, whereas to someone else it may mean extra baggage, or may symbolize security. Or a dog may mean, “man’s best friend” to you, but for someone else, like my husband, who was bit by a dog, it may symbolize fear or pain.
6. Look for something that you don’t already know. Dreams are efficient and are usually showing us where we are off balance in our life. They can express many levels of truth. For instance, if we dream about our Aunt Ester, on the subjective level we might associate her characteristics as stubborn, controlling, talkative, and yet kind. You may realize that through the image of this person the dream may be telling you that you have been overly controlling lately. On the objective level the dream may be telling you something about your relationship with your Aunt Ester. It is helpful to try to understand the dream on the subjective level first.
7. A way we can tell if what we associate with the dream image is accurate to what the dream is trying to tell us is what Carl Jung would call an “Aha” experience. This is when our association to the dream image seems to click, or it feels right. For instance, in the example in number 6 of the dream regarding Aunt Ester the dreamer had an Aha experience when she realized that she had been so frantic about facilitating a fundraiser that she was trying to control every detail rather than letting others help her. After working with her dream she was able to trust others to do their part without micromanaging.
8. Look at the structure of the dream; often dreams are like a play; they set the scene, play out the situation, and then come to a conclusion. Pay attention to the feeling tone of the initial situation and notice anything that seems off, then see how the dream changes, and how the dream ends. The dream doesn’t usually tell us how to solve the problem, but it will show us different scenarios so that we can understand the situation and ourselves on a deeper level and make our decision based on what we find.
9. See what characteristics the people in the dream have. Often the characters in our dream have traits that reflect what is going on within us, as is shown in numbers 6 and 7. When paying attention to our dreams, rather than projecting our own shortcomings upon others, we can eventually see how our problems are a lack within us. Remember that the dream is not interested in judging others it is interested in helping us to come back to our true self.
10. Look at the dream in the context of what is going on in your life at the time. What is happening in your waking life? It is helpful to write your dreams as part of your regular journal so that you have a record of what is going on while awake and can understand more clearly what the dream is trying to express.
11. Learn what your personal symbols mean. For instance, when I dream of a child who I am responsible for but am neglecting, my dream is usually telling me that I am not taking care of my self in my waking life. Or, if I dream of an owl, for me it often means that some one has died or is about to die.
12. If the meaning of the image is not clear after looking at our personal associations then what Carl Jung referred to as amplification may be helpful. He realized that the content of his and his client’s dreams often had a universal meaning that he called the Collective Unconscious. So, amplification refers to using shared human experiences, or universal symbols that come up in myths, religions, fairytales, films, clichés or anywhere the human situation is being played out to expand the meaning of the dream or the dream image. For instance, seeing the color blue may mean to one person sadness or depression, “I‘ve got the blues.” Someone else may think of the element of surprise “out of the blue”, or the nursery rhyme “Little boy blue”, or to another blue may symbolize Our Blessed Lady who is normally seen wearing blue, depending on the context and content of the dream, and what is happening within the dreamer.
13. Sometimes it is helpful to share our dreams with others individually or in a group in order to gain further insight. Dream group participants have the advantage of hearing others reflections and perspectives on a dream. When we listen to another person’s dream it then becomes our dream also. Anything we say is our own projection onto the dream. So in sharing our thoughts regarding the dream of another, it is helpful to preface what we say with, “If it were my dream” or, as Jeremy Taylor would say, “In my imagined version of the dream.” Also, remember to be respectful of the person sharing the dream, and keep what is said confidential or at least non identifiable.
Unraveling the dream is an adventure well worth the time and effort it takes to investigate. By exploring the possibilities, without judgment, and honestly evaluating the dream we can allow the dream to guide us to a more authentic and integrated life.
For further study I recommend the writings of Robert Johnson’s book Inner Work, Jeremy Taylor’s book Dream Work, Elsie Sechrist,s book Dreams Your Magic Mirror, and Carl Jung’s book Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Love and Peace,
Learn more about spiritual direction and my workshops and services by visiting my website at www.exploringthesacredmystery.com.
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,