I want to focus specifically on dream work because it is something I am doing more frequently. I find it fascinating and extremely insightful. And, well, we all dream. Everyone dreams and that includes animals. Carl Jung proposes that this would not be the case if it did not serve an evolutionary purpose. (fun fact, if you google “how do we know that…” one of the top things google will guess that you are searching for is “how do we know that dogs dream”) For now, I’m asking you to trust me that they do. Our dreams must give us something to learn, to keep us alive and safe and to grow.
So they help us grow and they also help us discover new things. Every dream has some new information coming from the depths of our unconscious, trying to make itself known. In a recurring dream or a nightmare, it may be that the lesson is of deeper importance or greater urgency and the unconscious is trying that much harder to get your attention. This is what I have discovered to be true about dreams as I’ve learned more about how to work with them. I would be weary of any person or book that declares they will interpret your dreams. Rather, it is a process and a practice and there are ways to be in relationship with your dreams, to treat them as guides and teachers.
When you are in the sacred space of sleep, your ego is on break and your unconscious comes out to play in the dark. The unconscious is a world of symbols and archetypes, of emotions and questions and longings and infinite potential. This energy of the less tangible and less logic-based things in life uses people and symbols that we attach meaning to in our waking life, to create stories that we can use. These stories are our dreams.
Anyone with a broken heart or goal or desire that has not yet come to fruition can tell you that the internal, intangible world is very real and the brain, soul and heart aren’t always on the same page. So dreams can be a bridge between our unconscious and conscious selves that can keep us moving forward when we cross them.
In our waking life, we can look at the themes, the symbols, the archetypes, the emotions and the questions present in the dream to learn something and grow. Jung proposes that everything in the dream is a symbol that holds information about yourself. Each person in a dream is representing a facet of yourself…a quality you want to garner, a shadow quality you need to work with, a quality that will help you with your current life circumstances and so on.
It is common for people to have a dream about someone they just randomly saw the other day and say, “Well, obviously that person was in my dream as a coincidence of seeing them the other day.” Jung would argue otherwise on behalf of your unconscious. We potentially see hundreds, maybe thousands of people a day. Your unconscious seeks opportunities in the real world for synchronicity because those things can then grab your attention and be studied as symbols. It’s as if your unconscious is scanning your experiences for the right symbol to use and when it finds it, boom it edits it into your dreams so you have the opportunity to work with it.
So here are some primary things you can start doing:
Before you go to sleep, focus on your desire to remember your dreams.
When you do remember them, lay in bed and go over the dream again before moving.
Write the dream down and give it a title.
Describe the themes that you see in the dream.
Record the emotions and energy you felt.
Think about the questions that the dream is posing to you.
Identify the symbols in the dream and record what you associate with them.
Keep a journal of dreams and look at them in a series of 10 for patterns that occur.
In certain cases, you may want to draw your dream or move and act it out to dig deeper into the sensations and messages.
Keep asking yourself how this relates to your life experiences…What is familiar? When have you felt this before? How does this make you feel now? What new perspective is being introduced? What is the invitation from this dream?
This is plenty to start with. Other practices for getting in touch with your emotional and unconscious world within can also help.
First, acknowledging that this part of you is alive and working on your behalf all of the time. Focus intention, perhaps in meditation, through writing or wandering in nature, on your desire to notice and nurture your unconscious world. Also, while I don’t rely on dream dictionaries, there are a myriad of books out there that can help you to learn to work with your dreams.
Here are a few recommendations of books that have been helpful to me:
Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams to Tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious, by Jeremy Taylor
Dream Symbol Work: Unlocking the Energy from Dreams and Spiritual Experiences, by Patricia H Berne and Louis M. Savary
Man and His Symbols, by Carl Jung
I also recommend seeking out dream groups, a dream practitioner or a therapist who offers dream work or deep imagery work, retreats and workshops. I learned so much about dreams from my vision quest and the month-long transformation retreat I did in the Amazon, in addition to my personal practice.
Dreams are personal. It can be so helpful to have someone guide you through the process and dream work in a group setting can be extremely powerful as well. I have made major life decisions based on dreams and gained many insights. I occasionally have lucid dreams and even literal dreams that have come true the next day. There is a whole world of possibility for those courageous enough to explore. Happy Dreaming!