I used to host regular dream groups. We did not so much set out to analyse our dreams, but we played with them by engaging with their images, characters and objects. Sometimes we enacted scenes to widen associations and deepen our insights. While there is some excellent literature on working with dreams, a lot of it is boring, misleading and superficial. For me, the main purpose of valuing dreams lies in befriending the unconscious and the bringing to light what is timely and meaningful.
When we have no obvious explanation for events, dreams may bring subtle messages, offering glimpses of dynamics usually hidden from our awareness. A staggering 90 percent of personal and collective psychic dynamics trigger and compel our actions in life, and for good reason. The self-regulating psyche protects us from too much awareness. When encouraged, respected, and left to do its work, much like the immune system, the psyche can encapsulate runaway viruses of the mind by blanking out anxieties and obsessive thoughts, unless a trauma results in an ongoing inner storm. The processing of traumatic experiences is vital for the health of the individual, the family, the tribe, and our collective psyche. Something equally important to consider is that as adults our natural childlike curiosity about life may have become flattened by engrained habits and obsessive needs for security and control, both diminishing the meaning of our lives.
Note: Each embedded link here will not lead you away from this post but bring up a fresh page.
In an earlier blog post Joe Linker’s comment led me to an article by Oliver Sacks on altered states in The New Yorker where Sacks pointed out a long tradition of ceremonial drug-use to stimulate the brain. Drugs certainly relax jaded attitudes by activating the senses and bringing insights and fresh perception. Sacks, and many like him, were admiringly fearless and creative, before there was a clamp down on drugs and they became illegal.
In dreams as in trance, induced or not, the mind can kick up imaginal representations of feelings, and metaphors. We shift to another realm, escape the logical structure of time and also tap into the collective psyche. We may hit a T junction, one path leading to an illuminating visionary state and the other to a schizophrenic state of confusion, which is why science sticks with rationality and is generally not keen on the imagination. The question as to what pulls us towards Heaven or Hell has no easy answer, yet all inner state, when approached with respect, patience, and most of all, wisdom, can have a healing and effect on our personality, and, in instances, as we know, result in significant works of art.
Freud’s iceberg metaphor illustrates that our individual psyche swims like a mountain of ice in a vast sea, only to reverse into its fluid state once its coherence dissolves back into the sea. As a simple and more intelligent map of various unconscious states I prefer the egg diagram by Alberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis.
Active imagination is a gentle way to befriend the unconscious and build bridges towards consciousness and daily life, and a way to explore dreams without messing with the dreamer’s unique meaning. I share here some practical tips:
You can ask for a dream, especially when you feel stuck and ponder a question. You might even write the question on a slip of paper and put it under your pillow.
Try not to move your head after noticing a dream. Place holds memory.
Have a notepad and a soft pencil next to your bed, maybe a microlight, so you can scribble down a memory facet before fully crossing the threshold into waking. Even a single image, phrase, number, colour or feeling can act as a key for recalling a dream later on.
To catch a dream – try disrupting your sleeping pattern with an early alarm clock setting.
Experiment with your head position while sleeping – north, east, south or west.
Towards understanding dreams:
The psyche does not care about logic. The meaning of a dream may however unfold like a seed when we attend to its poetry and rhythm.
Ask yourself … how do I relate to the characters or objects of a dream? What feelings and sensations are evoked? In what context did the dream arise? How does it relate to my present situation?
Write a story or make sketches of the images. Tiny fragments can offer connections via free associations.
Give a voice to the characters and objects appearing in the dream. What do they want? Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings. Such dialogues can reveal surprising insights.
Change the script, create a different outcome, face down a fear or a shadow and follow through to what wants to happen. This approach can move a dream to a different level of understanding.
Ask yourself: Where does the energy want to go? What is emerging?
‘Dreams express the voice of the soul; they are our contact with our deepest self, our inner substance. The mere act of recalling, experiencing and consciously honouring our dreams connects us with our real selves and awakens previously unavailable levels of creativity and vitality, even without interpretation.’
Carl G Jung
And if the subject of dreams interests you, here are some more links:
Edward C Whitmont was a Jungian psychoanalyst, who deepened my understanding of the psyche through his exceptionally clear writing. His books may be out of print, which would explain why they’re so expensive: Dreams – a Portal to the Source and The Symbolic Quest
Other excellent authors to look out for, apart from Jung, are Anthony Stevens, Private Myths – Dreams and Dreaming, and Marie-Louise von Franz – The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.