This June I’ll be presenting the Friday night keynote speech for the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) in Virginia Beach. As I was reviewing my archives for ideas, I ran across this post from five years ago. Although I won’t be addressing this in my speech, (titled “Dream Theatres of the Soul”), I’m prompted to share it here again, both as a reminder for those who already work with their dreams, and as a useful aid for those who don’t but want to. There are many helpful ways of working with dreams, but this method works best for me.
Step 1: Prepare: Place a notebook and pen or pencil beside your bed where you can easily reach them. Before you go to sleep be very intentional. Ask the Dream Mother three times to bring you an important dream and help you remember it. Intentionality is probably the most important step. Don’t forget it.
Step 2: Describe: If you wake up with a dream in the middle of the night, jot down a few key images and actions to trigger your memory in the morning. As soon as you can, flesh it out in your dream journal with a full and rich description. Give the dream a date, number and title. Write in the present tense to keep the dream more immediate: “I am at a party,” not “I was at a party.” Note as many details — setting, colors, objects, actions, people, directions, etc. — as you can. Most important, record every emotion and where in the dream you felt it.
Step 3: Examine Symbols: Begin with the first symbol (activities as well as objects and their descriptors) and record your personal associations to it. Ask yourself: If I saw this symbol in a play, poem or film, what would I think it meant? Dream example: “I’m driving a big, old, outdated car down a dark and winding road. I’m going too fast and want to put on the brakes but I can’t reach them. I’m afraid I’m going to crash.” What would be the first symbol or activity you’d work with? Driving. What are your associations to driving? Steering? Big, outdated car?Dark and winding road?Going too fast?Brakes?
Step 4: Restate: After you’ve noted your associations to the symbols, briefly summarize the plot from beginning to end, substituting your associations for the symbols. This used to be a recurring dream of mine, so here’s my summary: My ego (the “I” in the dream) is in charge of my journey (driving down a road). The way I’m traveling (car) is outdated, impersonal, and mechanical (I’m in a machine), and unconnected to the natural world (I’m surrounded by a bubble of steel and glass, not walking out on the road). I’m unconscious (in the dark), going too fast for comfort, out of control, and afraid.
Step 5: Create an Emotional Bridge: Dreams are pictures of emotions. Look for connections between the emotions in your dream and your recent waking life. (This is very important: these connections bring valuable insights that lead to increasing self-awareness and self-knowledge.) List the emotions your dream ego felt in order of their appearance. Ask yourself: What is the most dominant or disturbing emotion? (Fear: of being driven, of not having any control over my life, of crashing.) What triggered this emotion? (I try to stop, but can’t.) When have I recently felt this way in waking life? What does this say about the current status of my waking life?
Step 6: Reflect: Consider what actions or changes might be called for in light of the information you acquired about yourself. Ask: Do I want to change my rushed and fearful way of living? What steps could I take to instigate change? Record your insights and intentions so you will remember them. If the dream feels especially important create a private ritual to honor it and the Dream Mother.
A final note: Keep at it, but give yourself some slack. You don’t need to work with every dream. Once a week–more if you can, less if you can’t– select a particularly puzzling or compelling dream and spend some time applying this method to it. Then congratulate yourself for the important work you’ve done and enjoy the wonderful new insights you’ve gained. I hope you’ll let me know if these suggestions help.
Photo credit: I took this photo in the museum at Epidaurus, Greece, the location of the ancient Center for Healing.