Dreams can provide answers to questions we have yet to ask, and raise questions we have yet to formulate. A dream can be understood differently over time with images revealing richness of meaning based on context. According to Gregory Bateson, a scientist who lived at Esalen in the 1960’s and ’70’s, meaning is a function of context. As the circumstances and events of our life change, images can take on a different significance. For instance, the mysterious image of a snake biting the fourth finger of the left hand can be understood differently when the dreamer learns that her husband is having an affair.
A dream can show us things that only become clear after events have progressed and our understanding has changed. As our ordinary mind catches up, so to speak, with our previously unrecognized knowledge, providing an answer to a question we did not even know we were asking. This larger awareness is providing extra-temporal understanding to information to which we would otherwise have no access.
Jung taught that the way to approach a dream is from a place of not knowing. At the outset of the work, the therapist doesn’t know what the dream means and the dreamer doesn't know what the dream means either. The therapist helps the dreamer find what is important in the dream, but the meaning of the dream comes from within the dreamer. Therapist and dreamer work together to establish significant connections between the imagery of the dream and her life. There is no interpretation without the participation of the dreamer.
Of course dreams are useful in therapy because they tell the truth about the dreamer. Confronting the truth about oneself and accepting it without being defensive about it or frightened by it is the essence of psychological healing. Dream images derive from the feelings we have about issues that are of some importance to us. Feelings don’t lie; they simply are. The images of the dream convey the source and context of these feelings in relation to our present as well as our past. When read correctly, dream images tell us who we are instead of who we think we are. They speak to us about our actual impact on others, not about what we would like to think that impact is. In short, dreams are honest, no-nonsense assessments of the immediate predicament in which we are at the time we dream the dream. There seems to be an honest aspect to our being that uses the dream to register our emotional temperature as well as to point to important causes and possible outcomes. This accounts for the healing potential our dreams hold for us.
If our developmental spiral becomes compressed into a circle where we repeat patterns without sufficient understanding, and we are unable to make changes, these cycles can feel repetitive. At times, we may need to go back and recover abandoned aspects of ourselves. At other times we need to forge ahead into unknown territory using the wisdom gleaned from our past experiences.
Although we cannot change our past, we can change our understanding of it in a way that informs the choices we make now. In order to continue our development, we need to consciously harvest our life lessons.
Aligning our conscious awareness with the curves of the spiral is the work of psychotherapy. Often, shifting the cycle requires both letting go of something old and grasping something new. Dreams offer information to help correct the limitations of our waking awareness and give us access to the richness of the creative matrix of the psyche.
Dream analysis facilitates the integration between our sleeping and waking selves. By relating to dream images as guides, we can inform the scope and direction of our lives. Dream work offers an important avenue in our quest for wholeness.
Spring comes every year, but each leaf is different every time, just as each daffodil and tulip pushing its way through the soil is different than the one that appeared before. The soil in which the roots of the tree and the bulbs of the flowers live nourishes their emergence into the light. Without human awareness this panoply of nature continues but does not necessarily nourish the roots of our experience.
Dreams quite literally arise through our bodies via our imagination into our awareness. Carl Jung said that a dream untold is like a letter unopened. Our opportunity is to receive and interpret the images that emerge from deep within us so they can inform our daily life.
Ancient wisdom supports contemporary research on dreams. In ancient Greece, Aesculapius, the founder of modern medicine, worked as a healer. The origin of the symbol of the caduceus, two snakes entwined around a staff, is attributed to him. Individuals seeking help would come to his healing center, which was called the Asklepios. There they would incubate dreams that might contribute to a cure or alleviation of their symptoms. Once received, dreams could be interpreted in a way conducive to the treatment of the imbalance causing the problem.
Many ways of addressing illness can be suggested by the richness of dream imagery. These images emerge from the individual's own psyche. Research has supported the use of individually derived images (as opposed to generic images) in facilitating the healing process. For example, in the process of healing cancer, white blood cells consume and eliminate foreign cells. A general image for this process might be tiny creatures coursing through the blood stream eating affected cells. If an individual were to dream about two warring native American tribes, that image could be represented by 'braves' from the two tribes engaging in battle.
With the assistance of the therapist, images from individual dreams can be related to collective patterns which then provide a context for individual expression. As dream images are understood through dialog and included within the stories that inform our lives, we become stronger and better able to deal with the difficulties we face day by day.
Everyone dreams. The difference is whether you remember your dreams or not. Get to bed a little earlier than usual. Shifting your sleep schedule often helps.
Avoid taking unnecessary medications before bed. Antihistamines and certain other medications can inhibit recall. Vitamin B6 is thought to increase recall. Drinking extra water before bed may prompt you to wake up following a dream segment and achieve recall.
As you relax to go to sleep, suggest to yourself that you will remember your dreams. You will need:
Alternative: Use a tape recorder and transcribe dreams later.
Everyone dreams. The difference is whether or not you remember your dreams. Dreams can provide answers to questions we have yet to ask and raise questions we have yet to formulate.