What Can We Learn From Dreams
Hope you enjoy my short article on Dreams that appeared on the One Idea Away website.
What are dreams?
Dreaming can be seen as a psychic self-regulating function that produces images and experiences of what has been unconscious to our waking “ego” attitude. Dreams can also provide us with information about how to achieve greater balance and wholeness, and how to realize our True Self.
What is the language of the dream?
Since dreams occur when the ego is “asleep”, the dream’s language is less cognitive/rational, and more symbolic – like a fairy tale, a parable, or a myth. Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, tells us that these symbolic forms provide a “secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation.” When this opening occurs in dreams, its energy can have powerful transformational effects.
Who is the Dreamer?
After working with dreams for over 25 years, my experience is that when the “ego” is out of the way in sleep, we have greater access to a universal wisdom that can help us become more whole, more wise, and more conscious. Fortunately, as humans, we are biologically programmed to need to sleep each night. How wonderful if part of that purpose is so we may tap into an intelligence that is far greater, and wiser than our present self!
How can we use dreams with ourselves and our clients?
Here is an example of how a powerful dream helped a client achieve a lasting breakthrough.
Diana, a 32-year-old client, had a difficult childhood that left her with intense feelings of self-loathing and inner self-talk that told her she was stupid, unlovable, and would never amount to anything.
After considerable work that helped her begin to care for herself, and at times separate from the tortuous voices – even naming them as “gremlins” who carried hurtful messages from childhood, Diana had the following dream:
I’m running on a path through the woods. It’s dusk or dawn, and it’s fall. The leaves are beautiful on the trees.
Some people wanted to come with me, but I said no. I felt like a long-distance runner. The woods were dark, really dark, but I feel wonderful, really exhilarated.
When Diana brought this dream to the session, she was glowing. She said that the dream had given her a new sense of herself that she had never felt before. As we explored each aspect of the dream together, she told me that although there was still some darkness, she felt strong, had found her path, and felt a oneness with nature, her own true nature.
We laughed together about how she had said “no” to those gremlins! They were not allowed to come! The dream had given her a new capacity to put even more space between her and their destructive messages.
And finally, Diana talked about feeling exhilarated in the dream. This too was a new experience. As she described how it felt in her body, she joyfully declared, “Now I know what that word actually means!”
Diana really blossomed after this dream. It was also something we could go back to if the old gremlins reappeared.
“Can you find that path in the woods?” I would ask. Our eyes would meet, and she would begin to smile. I could see the transformation take place in her, and often experienced it in myself as well. Eventually, Diana was able to access it on her own. But it was the dream that provided the powerful breakthrough experience that led the way.
With another client, a powerful dream also helped her move past her life crises. Donna, at 60 years old, had just passed the three-year mark from her battle with breast cancer when her beloved husband, Jason, died suddenly from a heart attack. Her grief was palpable, and many sessions were filled with tears, memories, regrets, and fears of going forward alone. Then Donna had the following dream:
I’m walking beside a person wearing a long robe. It’s dark, and he has a hood that is mostly covering his face. There’s a battlefield around us with fire on it. People are running.
This man and I are walking peacefully. I ask him “but how will I know?”
He responds, “you’ll just know.”
There is a huge explosion, and everything is gone except this man and me. Then I understand, and say “Oh, I see,” and feel I will be all right.
When Donna told me the dream, a new calmness and serenity appeared in her. She said she was a bit in awe of this figure, who seemed to radiate that “peace that passes all understanding.” “I’m not a religious person,” she said. “But this was the phrase that came to mind as soon as I woke up.”
“What was it that you understood at the end of the dream?” I asked. Donna responded, “This new awareness that I would be all right. It was amazing. I feel ready to move forward now.”
And so she did. And in a new way. As we explored her options, she quit her 9 to 5 job, became a certified grief counselor, and also volunteered at Hospice. “I’ve found my calling,” she told me happily.
The cloaked man’s essence stayed with her for some time. I also taught her how to use active imagination, a technique created by Jung to help continue the dream dialogue. By taking several relaxing and centering breaths, Donna was then able to feel into that final walk, and continue their conversation, learning more about him and how to maintain that “knowing and peaceful’ sense. It was the dream, and Donna’s continued work with its guiding figure that ushered in her new and more deeply authentic way of being.
Most dreams are not so grand, but each dream does offer pieces of psyche that can be integrated into consciousness. One good thing to remember is that every character in the dream is a part of the dreamer. Be interested in them, and even enjoy playing and dialoguing with them – even those parts that initially appear ominous or frightening. The dream is helping to uncover your journey to greater understanding and wholeness.