Working with dreams

Dream images are a lot like art images in that both come to us from our unconscious mind to teach, reveal, heal, or process something. Today I'm sharing three easy ways to engage with your nighttime dream world in your waking life. First, if you are a person who has a hard time recalling your dreams once you are awake, it may help to add a peaceful ritual to your bedtime routine, whereby you turn off the lights, light a candle, and set an intention to bring your dreams into waking consciousness the next morning. You might even invoke a dream at night by asking for clarity around an issue in your life. In the morning, set aside about five minutes of quiet (even if this means waking before the rest of your household) to scribble down any notes or doodles about what you remember from the night before.

Ultimately dreams symbols are unique to the dreamer. For example, one person may think fire is destructive while another might find fire to be cleansing. Dream decoder books totally run with the idea that one thing equals another, which drives me bonkers because it doesn't empower the dreamer to interpret her or his own dream. In my view, the meaning the dreamer assigns to each symbol in a dream is the most important place to begin the exploration. After the dreamer's associations have been explored, it may then be enlightening to tap into what the collective unconscious views these symbols to mean, to see if it lends any wisdom. For that second phase, I like to look at archetypes, symbols, and cultural associations.

Recurring dreams often happen when we still have not addressed the issue being presented, so they come back to us, calling louder and louder for us to pay attention. With recurring dreams, sometimes the story or symbols in the dream can shift, but the emotional intensity, quality, and often the overarching meaning stay the same.

Three simple ideas of working with your nighttime dreams:

1) Tell  the dream to your therapist or a trusted person from start to finish without interruption. Re-experiencing the story in the present moment while it telling can allow you to gain mastery over it and give you a new perspective on it. This can happen with a therapist guiding you to be alert to your body's responses and wisdom during your retelling, and by having a compassionate witness for the process.

2) Express the dream non-verbally through art. You might choose to make a book or cartoon panels about the story or perhaps set up the scene in a sand tray, with the supportive presence of an art therapist. You don't always need to unpack the meaning of each literal dream symbol and bring it into consciousness necessarily; working with the emotional quality of the dream may be quite helpful in itself. You can bring out "loose" art materials -- meaning ones that are really formless and open -- like watercolors, fingerpaints, or clay -- and trust that what needs to be expressed will be expressed through the art. Loose art media allow the spirit the opportunity to process unconsciously. This involves a degree of just trusting the process since it won't always look like it's directly accessing the dream content or characters. You will likely experience shifts in the dream or your response to the dream as you engage in this process.

3) Take the dream further in your waking life by asking yourself what happens next. You might imagine what you would have needed in the dream in order to solve the obstacle in the dream, if it did not play out in your sleep in a satisfying way -- maybe a tool, a shield, a magic power, a special uniform, or a vehicle, etc. Enjoy creating this item as an art project, as it directly accesses your inner resources and allows you to spend time creating your own solution. You can get creative with ways to further the dream and access all of the things your waking mind has at its disposal. After accessing resources in some way, you can tell the new story with its new ending, either by journaling or retelling it to a trusted person.

Wishing you rich, juicy dreams tonight!