My Dreamwork Method: Steps Five and Six


FullSizeRenderAfter my last post about the six-step method I use to work with dreams, Amy wrote with a question,  “The thing I struggle most with when helping others are steps 5 and 6. I can help people substitute meaning language in place of symbols, but it seems there is a kind of leap for many people when trying to apply this to everyday experience. Many people struggle to recognise the truth even when laid out before them. Do you have any advice here?”

This is something I’ve always struggled with too, so I’d like to illustrate with an example from my own life.

In my early years of dreamwork I had a few dreams about weak, sickly trees. In one, a sapling had been almost totally uprooted by strong winds.  In another, I was checking on a weeping willow I’d planted next to the canal behind our house. The tree was standing in a watery swamp and the leaves were limp and brown. The ground was so muddy that the roots couldn’t take hold and my precious tree was about to topple over.

These dreams were very troubling.  Was I like these trees?  Maybe sick and about to die?  A bit fearful of the answer, I pressed on with my usual dreamwork method. As always, the hardest parts were Steps 5 (creating an emotional bridge between dreams and waking life) and 6 (reflecting and acting on needed changes.)  I just couldn’t understand how any of this applied to my thinking or living. I had no idea what I was “doing wrong,” let alone how to change it.

What did these dreams have to do with my emotions? Did the symbol of the weeping willow mean I was deeply sad? I had endured much sadness during my nine-year-long “dark night” experience, but that was behind me at the time of these dreams and I had no conscious awareness of being sad. I was doing regular dreamwork, writing my first book, and feeling on top of the world.

Another thing; willow branches are known for their flexibility, but what could be wrong with being flexible instead of rigid? So why was Dream Mother giving me these disturbing images?

I assumed the problem must be with the roots:  my connection to the underground.  I must need a sturdier standpoint and firmer grounding in the unconscious. But how did this relate to my waking life? Where/how/with whom did I need a stronger standpoint? What did that even mean?  And how could I acquire a firmer grounding in the unconscious?  What exactly about me needed to change? It was all so puzzling that I eventually gave up trying to understand, although I never forgot these dreams.

At the time, I had undergone so much growth that I thought I was surely becoming a mature oak! But now I smile at my naivety. I was a mere sapling struggling to survive in the early stages of a journey that would last a lifetime.

The tree represents the Self. In alchemy it was the central symbol of the opus, the great work of healing and transforming the psyche:

“…the tree may represent not only a place of awakening to new life, but also of suffering—mythic suspensions of sacrifice, ordeal, suicide, execution and reversal. A treasure guarded by snakes or dragons at the tree’s gnarled roots alluded to the difficulty of achieving the goal, the extraction of the self from the tangle of unconscious factors.” (Taschen, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, p. 130.)

Transforming oneself is no carefree romp in the park. It requires intense, on-going study of an inner development that follows laws the ego can neither fathom nor predict. Twenty-two years later, I can see the part of me that was then, and almost always has been, profoundly sad.  And I see how I’ve acquired a far sturdier standpoint and firmer grounding in the unconscious. But I still struggle making the waking life connection with new dreams….partly because I’m still not always attentive to my feelings, and partly because a great deal of unexplored territory remains in the ocean of my unconscious.

It’s difficult to bring light to our unconscious selves, and our natural fear and inertia make this task intimidating. But it’s the Hero’s Journey and it’s the only thing that will ultimately satisfy a soul hungry for maturity and meaning. So here’s my advice:

Be patient with the questions. You will receive answers when you’re ready for them.  Keep on keeping on with your chosen practice (or perhaps add a new one), gaining tiny insights step by step until they start paying off big. With commitment and perseverance, this will happen…maybe not until after midlife, but I assure you, the wait is worth it!!

Note: Special thanks to Amy Campion for inspiring this post, and to Susan Scott for another delightful synchronicity:  She recommended Taschen’s, The Book of Symbols to me after reading last week’s post, but only today when writing this post did I realize it was the same book my daughter gave me for Christmas!!

Image credit:  Alchemy’s Philosophical Tree;  engraving, ca. 1470 C.E. There’s more to see at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t fit it into the photo I took from Taschen’s, The Book of Symbols. And I like it this way.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Thank you for this post Jean and for sharing your own experience of the tree dream. It’s extraordinary how the dream/s so accurately represent the inner world even if no connection can be made to outer life at the time. It’s hard work for sure. The 6 steps help – I’m asking the dream Mother 3 times every night and this is producing ….
    What a lovely synchronicity re Taschen’s book! A lovely gift indeed. Mine was also a gift from a dear friend.

    1. “It’s extraordinary how the dream/s so accurately represent the inner world even if no connection can be made to outer life at the time.” This is exactly what makes dreams so fascinating to me: To know that something in me KNOWS me when I don’t even know myself! And keeps trying to show me! It still blows my mind to know I have such a wise, loving and trustworthy inner guide.
      There does seem to be something special about 3, doesn’t there? I’ve heard that sometimes a Buddhist master will refuse to answer a student’s question. If the student persists and dares to ask again, s/he will be refused again, perhaps more forcefully; but if the student dares to ask a third time, the master will answer it because he knows it comes from sincere need.
      I’m loving “our” symbol book. 🙂

  2. Hi Jean
    Thanks for this blog. I believe Jung used to encourage his patients to “assign” a colour to the emotions in a dream. I’ve actually found, on occasion, this to be useful as it seems to provide a “way in” to the message of the dream. I agree that the unconscious is a treasure trove of wisdom about oneself. As I have often said, it’s a whole lot “smarter” than me. When writing, it’s wonderful when the words come and you’re not sure just where they are coming from.

    1. You’re so welcome. I love the color idea. I’ve never heard of that, so thanks for providing another helpful piece of the dream puzzle! I can’t wait to try it out!

      1. I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but since dreams “speak” to us in images, why limit ourselves to colours? Perhaps we could interpret them by imagining not only colours but shapes, shadow and light patterns and textures that the dream “provokes”,

  3. Thank you so much for that alchemical description of the tree. I must admit when I thumb through a book called Alchemy – The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art by Johannes Fabricius – a ‘sort’ of dictionary (?) one might say…I rarely feel I have a grasp on what I am sensing. I think I’ll try to connect that symbolism with personal experience i.e. dreams or maybe even images in drawings. I also very much appreciate how you have related your ‘steps’ or ‘journey’ along this path. It creates a tremendous sense of sympatico to see (in a sense) this symbolic world through your eyes for a few moments. And a wonderful way of teaching.

    1. I’m so glad you’ve returned to “blogville.” Your comments are making my day. I have a few translations of the old books on alchemy but confess to relying on interpretations by Jung and Jungians for my understanding. Robert Bosnak is one Jungian who has written two marvelous books about alchemy: A Little Course in Dreams, and a novel called Red Sulphur: The Greatest Mystery in Alchemy. I highly recommend them.

  4. Thank you so very much for this Jean, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it! Just to share a couple of wonderful synchronicities too: I came to check out your blog today because I had a dream about you last night, in which you were teaching me – and then discovered this post. I humbly feel I have much to learn from you! And my own puzzling dream that I mentioned in the comments of your last post had a surgeon opening my heart – I asked him three times what the surgery was for, and only on the third asking did he stop to actually consider my question. Though he didn’t answer it! He seemed to think the question made no sense 🙂

    1. Very cool! I’m delighted to hear about these synchronicities, and honored that you see me as someone you can learn from. Frankly, I’m learning from you and almost everyone who makes comments here. Your question after my last post nudged me into a “gray” area of dreamwork that I’ve long intuited and struggled with, but not clarified or put into words. So thank you!
      Your puzzling “heart” dream is beautiful. If it were my dream I would see it as very affirming. Simply put: My inner healer is opening my heart. Do you think that image could just mean (symbolically, of course) what it says? I associate the idea of opening my heart with opening to my honest feelings, especially tender and painful ones, and feeling more understanding and compassion for otherness. Perhaps there was time in recent days when you felt something like either of those things and Dream Mother wanted you to see and know and celebrate that? Could that be why the surgeon didn’t answer? Because he thought what he was doing was self-evident? 🙂
      Blessings on your wonderful dreamwork.

  5. Reblogged this on The Dream Well and commented:
    I am delighted to share this post from author Jean Raffa, who has some wonderful advice for those times when we struggle to make sense of our dreams and relate them to our own personal experience…

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