Dream Interview Part I: Writers and Dreamwork


Writing this blog has introduced me to some wonderful people. Shirley Showalter is one whose inspiring site is filled with fascinating information and practical tips for memoir writers.  Recently she requested an interview, and what began as fodder for one post quickly grew into material for a few more! Here’s my answer to her first question.
Q: You say on your website: “My life is a dream; my dreams are my life.”Also, you’ve recorded over 4,000 dreams since 1989 if I remember correctly. I can see how helpful it would be to be guided by dreams as a writer. But many of us, myself included, do not remember our dreams very often. Can you provide suggestions on how to become more conscious?
A: As of today, the number of recorded dreams is 4,355!   I know it sounds like a mind-boggling undertaking, but really it’s just been a day-by-day, step-by-step thing that I did several times a week when I had the time and energy, or when I felt the need, or when I remembered enough of a dream to be curious about it. Of course, I didn’t work on every one of these, and I’ve had several in between that I never even recorded, plus lots more I simply couldn’t remember.
At first I was worried about not capturing them all in writing so I could keep coming back to them. But our psyches are always trying to communicate our soul’s purpose and desire to us via our dreams, and I learned to trust that if the messages were important enough, they’d return in other dreams until I “got” them.
All my books but the first, which was an outgrowth of my dissertation, are essentially memoirs, and dreamwork has been invaluable to me in this endeavor. Writing has always been a deeply satisfying means of expression for me, and when it’s combined with working on my dreams it’s my fundamental “practice” that brings enormous meaning to my life and helps me tie up all the disconnected threads of my personal history.
Especially helpful in this regard is the fact that since my college days I’ve had a habit of jotting down my day-to-day activities and appointments on calendars, and I’ve kept them all. Likewise, when I started working on my dreams I dated and numbered them. Having this dual, inner world/outer world record of my life to return to when writing my books has been invaluable.
So my first suggestion to memoir writers about how to become more conscious would be to keep some kind of written record of what’s going on with you both inside and out, including a dream whenever you remember one. It may not feel important now, but years from now having this information could add powerful layers of meaning to your writing.
Having a regular practice of some sort is also essential to becoming more conscious. You’ve simply got to take time every day to pay attention to your inner life, even if it’s only a few moments a day. The major obstacle to this, of course, is the extreme busyness of life in today’s world, so it’s imperative to carve out at least 20 or 30 minutes every day when you won’t be distracted by kids, telephones, music, computers, or television so you can write undisturbed, or do whatever else you’re drawn to: writing, of course, but also body work like dancing, massages or yoga, or regular talks with a wise friend or psychotherapist.
But as far as I’m concerned, regular meditation is the Queen of consciousness-raising. Initially, I was reluctant to take the time to meditate so I made a deal with myself.  I could only start writing if I meditated for at least 20 minutes every weekday morning first! This worked wonders and also brought more balance to my life, because I left evenings and weekends free for my husband and children.  More next time.
The photograph is of two perfect peonies from my mountain garden!
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0 Responses

  1. Wonderful peonies, Jean ! 🙂
    But what I actually stopped by to say is, wow!, that’s a lot of dreams. If my maths is correct, it must be nearly 200 a year. Now, I’ve been recording mine for the last twelve years, but on average manage to remember only 20-30 dreams yearly, although this number is on the rise (but slowly). Do you use any special techniques to remember them?

    1. Thank you, Argenta. They were especially gorgeous this year.
      Yes, for the first several years I recorded at least 300 dreams a year, but it’s tapered off and now I often remember only 30 or 40 dreams a year. I always keep my dream journal and a pencil beside my bed and whenever I wake up in the middle of the night I’ve trained myself to ask myself where I just was before I move or get up. The body helps us remember the images if we don’t move, but once we do, the spell is broken and it becomes much more difficult to remember. Taking a few minutes to write down a few words, events and images helps enormously, because no matter how convinced I am that I’ll remember in the morning, I rarely do.With the prompts I’ve written down in the night, I can usually flesh in the whole dream without much trouble in the morning.
      I’ve also found that if I have to wake up to an alarm and hit the shower right away, I lose my dreams much more quickly than I do when I wake up normally. Again, it helps to stay in bed until I remember, then I get up and start writing! The act of writing itself will often trigger further images and memories.
      Thanks for writing, and good luck with your dreamwork,

  2. Thank you for writing about this connection! I have had a similar journey with my dreams. My mom was a Jungian analyst and dream therapist, though that outcome came to her a little later in life. Prior to the more structured training and certifications that brought her there, the two of us were frequently on parallel journeys in our relationship with the unconscious. Back in the 80’s I introduced her to Tarot cards and the i ching, and she introduced me to the writings of Karl Jung. Great trade, both ways! : )

    1. A great trade, indeed! They’re all portals to expanded awareness and self-knowledge. I’ve often wished I had a mom who was an “inner archaeologist,” but I think that just having the powerful gift of her love was enough to embolden me to do my own digging. Thank you for stopping by! Jeanie

  3. Mmmmmm, peonies, one of my very favourite flowers. My dreams have been vivid and detailed all of my life, some of them compact and emotional, some great epics in technicolour with casts of thousands. I have recorded my dreams for long periods and not recorded them for long periods. I can remember encouraging my daughter to tell me her dreams if she wanted to and now she tells me of the dream stories she hears from her own children. It’s a special way to connect and an entryway to discussions beyond the mundane. Thanks again for your wonderful blog.

    1. Hi MrsDaffodil. Thanks for your comments. I often hear artists express more interest in their dreams than many others, and they almost always report that their dreams are vivid and detailed: exactly as you describe. I suspect artists have “thinner boundaries” between the ego and unconscious than others.
      I know that Billy Joel, for instance, has often dreamed a new song, then simply wakes up and writes it down, and sure enough, it becomes a hit!! Likewise, I understand that Robert L. Stevenson dreamed a chapter a night of Treasure Island, then wrote it down the next day. I love that! What enormous gifts creative people give us, simply because they are fascinated by, and pay attention to, their dreams! Jeanie

    1. Thank you, Victor. Creative thinking and living do come from doing your research, and dreamwork and meditation are deceptively subtle forms of research with the power to change lives. Love you heart to heart too.

  4. Jeanie,
    I love your peonies. I love and miss the mountains! Peonies are my favorite flower! What a beautiful photo!
    I so agree that mediation is the “Queen of consciousness – raising.”This last year and a half I had several severe shocks in my life and with each bombshell I felt drawn more deeply to mindfulness/meditation. Guess I was a hard nut to crack – it took some serious blows! 🙂 Previously, I found it difficult to take the time. However, this last year and a half is teaching me how profound and life-changing mindfulness/mediation is, just as you expressed. I agree with something I read recently that mindfulness (including being present with the difficult stuff) is a profound act of self-love. I find that when I take the time to be mindful, my life falls into order and via synchronicity, I discover exactly what I need to learn and grow, or answers to questions I have. I love it when you say that meditation is a “subtle form of research with the power to change lives.” YES!
    I also pay attention to, record and work with my dreams! I am wondering if you received dreams guiding your writing, or, did you ask a question and seek guidance and your dreams arrived to offer you help and guidance.
    Thanks for your inspiring writing, posts and replies! Love, Sandy – P.S. I am ordering your book. We received a gift card from Barnes and Noble. I can’t think of a better gift…your book!

    1. Hi Sandy,
      Thanks for your helpful comments about meditation. It’s difficult for people who’ve never tried it to understand its value, or how it could be an act of self-love. (I love that.) You’ve explained that beautifully.
      I don’t remember ever asking for dreams about specific questions. It was more that when I was writing The Bridge to Wholeness, in which I was trying to discover how the events of my life shaped my psyche—both my conscious and unconscious selves—I would write down my dreams in the morning and work on them a bit before I began to write, and there would be a unique twist on a theme I’d been writing about that I hadn’t thought to address, or else a dream would highlight a theme I realized I needed to address. The guidance was subtle, I really had to pay attention to see it, and if I hadn’t been doing that I would have missed many layers of meaning that brought more depth and integrity to my book. It’s very obvious to me that the unconscious cooperates with the conscious self to the extent that it pays more attention to the unconscious.
      Sandy, you are a dear for taking the time to comment here and order my book. I hope you find helpful meaning for your life in it. Thank you.
      Jean Raffa, Author Blog: http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/ Email: jeanraffa@aol.com Fan: https://www.facebook.com/jeanraffa Follow: https://twitter.com/#!/jeanraffa

  5. My life completely changed when I began to meditate. It was, not to be overly dramatic, EARTH SHATTERING. So, yes, overly dramatic. I opened to spirit and I could not say no, though I tried.

    1. It sounds as if making a commitment to listening to yourself, which, of course, is what meditation is all about, opened the floodgates to an inrush of potential that had been disowned and repressed for a very long time. Good for you for not saying no to who you truly are! I know that takes an enormous amount of courage. Whatever our gifts may be, they deserve to be heard and manifested. Thanks for reminding us of this. Jeanie

  6. I’ve just been discussing and thinking of the different ways that I use my own dreams as a therapist, in my work as a clinician – when I share them, when I dont, the various ways they guide me in the office, when I think they are about clients, when I think they are about aspects of myself etc.
    and I think the point you make is particularly salient: our dreams are always talking to us, compensating for us, balancing us – sometimes with our awareness, sometimes with out it. When there is a need for something to pass forward into consciousness our dreams will persist, and the same theme will emerge with different hats on, so don’t be too fearful that you will miss the import of a single dream.
    In my own experience -don’t understand how to work with dreams without meditation and active imagination – “day” dreaming is, for me the transitional space where I digest “night” dreaming.
    Thanks for a lovely post.
    just at the right time.

    1. I appreciate your comment! It’s very good to have this kind of affirmation from a practicing therapist. I’m so glad this post came at a time when you were thinking about these issues. The synchronicity of this is also a lovely affirmation. Thank you, Jeanie

  7. Thanks Jeanie for your reply. I love your expanded version of how you work with your dreams – Especially the part where you say …
    “The guidance was subtle, I really had to pay attention to see it, and if I had not been doing that I would have missed many layers of meaning that brought more depth and integrity to my book.” I love that!
    There is something about the subtly of it all and paying deep attention that especially thrills me. My husband and I are discovering that the long and slow reflective process (the subtle) delivers gold – often in the details in our writing (and in our lives)!
    I love your deep knowing from experience how our unconscious cooperates with our conscious minds when we are open to paying attention, listening and learning from our deepest inner knowing. I love how you are showing us with your life experience that when you honor your unconscious, it honors us in return with integral integrity, and connection. I just remembered that Jung sometimes wrestled with his inner world characters and he discovered meaning from that wrestling too.
    Thanks again for sharing Jeanie. It’s inspiring! Here’s to lighting a candle (meditation/mindfulness), then opening and waiting to hear our “small still voice” waiting to connect with us via dreams, daydreams, active imagination etc. and enriching our inner GPS system. Just as you said – “that subtle form of research with the power to change lives.” Yahoo!

    1. Thank you, Sandy. Yes, here’s to the rituals—whatever they may be—that open our eyes and ears to the soul’s buried treasures.

  8. I just found your blog a few months ago, and it’s wonderful. I can relate so much to the things you write about. Over the past few weeks, I read “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul.” Both were excellent! Reading your work has helped me tremendously in sorting out my thoughts. Thank You.
    Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to regain aspects of my personality that I’ve lost sight of in my single-minded focus on my studies. I have been yearning to rekindle a relationship with my inner child. This is especially important to me now that I have a child of my own. She is ten months old and so full of light.
    I wanted to share a dream with you. It was very brief, but it was the best dream ever. I had this dream the night that I began reading “Dream Theatres of the Soul,” and it made me feel like I was finally on the right track.
    ‘I wake up in the middle of the night to my daughter making sounds from her crib. This is not unusual. In fact, it happens every night. So I don’t even realize this isn’t happening in reality. With my eyes shut tight, I walk over to her crib to pick her up. Only this time, instead of reaching down into the crib to get her, I just put my hands about a foot apart at the top of the crib rail and wait for her to grab them. When she does, I am very surprised and a eerie feeling comes over me. As I hold onto her hands with my eyes still shut tight, I realize that it is not my daughter that I am holding hands with. Out of fear, I keep my eyes closed because I’m afraid of who or what I’ll see.’
    I truly believe that this was symbolic of a reconnection with an important part of my shadow. I feel like I’m now making productive steps to become more connected with my Self and with God.

    1. Dear Emerald,
      Thank you for telling me that my books have been helpful to you! I’m thrilled to know that. I love your dream; it certainly has a mystical quality about it, doesn’t it? Especially as it came on the same night you began Dream Theatres. This is, of course, no accident. I would agree that it points to a valuable connection you’re making with the unconscious: it’s reaching out to you, just as you’re reaching out to it! I believe this recognition is a major milestone on your psycho-spiritual journey.

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