8th Nov, 2010

Getting Started in Working with Dreams

Getting Started in Working with Dreams

By: Judith White

Published in CoSozo Magazine: Volume 5, Issue 1

Dreams: God’s gifts to us nightly. Some we remember. Some we don’t. Some take concerted effort to recall. Others are easily and vividly remembered. What is our role in the process of working with our dreams? And why should we work with them?

Sometimes dreams point the way, showing us options in daily life that we simply hadn’t thought of in waking consciousness. Other times dreams can show us that what we are playing out in life is very different from what we think we are doing; dreams can show us the counterpoint, helping us to get a more whole picture, a more complete view. Sometimes dreams provide us a spiritual connection, leading us or communicating with us from a Deeper Source in ourselves or from a Larger Point of View, providing direction from the Core of Our Being/Self rather than from a more superficial ego/self. Dreams can inspire us with powerful and meaningful archetypal symbols, as simple and profound as a deep and numinous color of blue, or as moving as a voice speaking a message from the reaches of our Soul. Sometimes dreams can play out aspects of our interpersonal relationships, both our roles in them and our projections on others, giving us insightful discoveries to ponder. Dreams can even help us to resolve issues in bygone relationships after the other party is deceased, finally giving our souls much-needed rest and peace.

Also, in the realm of the living, we can be aided in re-processing family-of-origin dynamics. We may have thought we left home at 18, only to find out years later that psychosocially we never really left home at all. Then with a little luck and often a lot of work, we can find ourselves at a new level or a “second graduation,” often via a crisis and all the life lessons that can bring. And perhaps one of the most important roles that dreams play is in helping us to individuate, integrating the various parts of our personality into a more whole and functional Psyche, the developmental task of a lifetime.

Much more can be said about the potential role of dreams in our lives and our well-being, but how do we begin the work? What are the first steps in creating our own personal journey with dreamwork?

There are many tips for beginning to build a connection or communication with the Dream-Maker Self, but two of the main ingredients are holding a conscious intent and then demonstrating that intent. Of course, sometimes we are called to dreamwork without being aware of making that choice consciously. (Being called to listen to a dream can be a much gentler and easier way to learn about ourselves than some more externalized callings can be.)

So, make the decision about whether you are ready to begin or continue that kind of a working relationship with the Self through dreamwork. And show it by placing a notebook, pen, and light near your bed. If you wake in the night or first thing in the morning with a dream, write it down right away. Don’t wait. Write quickly, or slowly if that feels right, whatever comes to you, verbatim. Don’t worry about order; just write what comes. Write fragments or describe images or sketch. Just tune in and record. When you can’t recall any new details to add, review what you’ve recorded and see if that triggers additional dream memories. Be prepared to accept and record both pleasant and uncomfortable dreams; there is healing and guidance available from working with all kinds of dreams (i.e., all dreams are “good” dreams).

It works well to maintain your dream journal in a style that fits who you are, with a balance somewhere between flexibility and self-discipline. It is useful for processing the dream later if you give the dream a title and a date, and make a note of personal events occurring around that time. It can also be very useful if you note a) feelings that occurred in the dream and b) feelings that you had after waking, in reaction to the dream.

If it seems difficult to remember even fleeting images or fragments, you might try waking yourself up every hour and a half, the usual time between dreams. Some people report good results from eating spicy food or drinking a lot of water before going to sleep. It helps some folks to mentally incubate a topic for which they feel a need for guidance before dropping off to sleep. Some find it very helpful to list needs for guidance in their journal just before going to bed. Still others visualize their intent to write the dream; then upon waking they lie very still and listen within. Some people also report improved dream retention by stating their intention to remember their dreams prior to falling asleep.

It can also be beneficial to explore what resistances, defenses, or beliefs you have that might get in the way of opening to your dreams. Sometimes we just need a safe setting where we can feel comfortable with the exploration. Or we need enough quiet, calm space to be able to trust and open. On the other hand, dreams can call to us out of stressful periods of life in order to get our attention when needed.

If you’ve tried all these ideas and you are still having difficulty with recall of dream material, it can help to get in the habit of doing free-flowing writing in your journal immediately upon waking, while you are still under the influence of the dream state emotionally, physically, and cognitively—even though you may not be conscious of specific dream memories. Watch how this early-morning stream-of-consciousness writing responds to your listed needs for guidance from the night before, without your trying to make it happen. You will also be communicating your willingness and investment to the Dreaming Self, thereby inviting him or her to work with you. Often, dream recall begins to follow.

Then it is good to learn to do something constructive with the dream material you are given. In workshops or classes, individual therapy, or personal study, you can learn a variety of methods and approaches for working and playing with your dreams, so that you can find what works best for you. You can also learn about dream-actualization strategies and rituals. Often, beginning to focus on working with dreams will stimulate dream activity and recall, as if the Dream-Maker Self says, “Now is my chance to be heard.”

Wishing you dreams in health.

Judith White, MA LLP LPC


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