1. The first step is to establish a relationship with your dreams as messengers from the unconscious. Perhaps you have always ignored your dreams or devalued the messages from this part of your psyche. But most cultures of the world have used dreams as healing tools, and Freud and Jung, the great genius/explorers in the mapping of the human psyche, proved the great value that dreams have for us as conduits to instinct, buried memories, and the unconscious. If you have avoided this area of your reality, you may have to convince the unconscious that you do value its feedback and that now you are willing to listen. If you approach dreams with respect, humility, and receptivity, you will build a constructive relationship with your unconscious.
2. Before you go to sleep, actively decide that you want to remember a dream, that you are open to whatever the unconscious presents to you. If you are currently struggling with a particular problem or issue, ask for a dream that will address it specifically.
Put a pen and paper (or tape recorder) and a flashlight by your bed, and make the commitment to write down whatever fragment or dream that you remember. Then go to sleep. If you awaken in the middle of the night with a dream, write it down immediately. Make brief notes that you can elaborate on later. Many assume that they will remember a dream only to find the next day that it has flown.
In the morning, don't get out of bed or talk to anyone until you have taken some time to reflect on your dreams. Without editing, write down whatever you remember, including fragments. Sometimes a fragment is like the tail of a fish -- if you take hold of it firmly, the rest of the dream may follow out of the watery depths. And even if you don't remember the rest of the dream, the fragment itself can often be a rich source of insights.
If you have trouble remembering your dreams, be patient. Don't give up. Some friends and clients have had success with writing on paper or even in the air, "I want to remember a dream tonight." Or you can work with a guided imagery exercise in which you close your eyes, imagine yourself going to sleep and having a dream, and then awakening in the morning with a clear memory of the dream.
3. Later, record your dream in a dream journal. Referring to your notes, write the dream in the present tense as though it were unfolding now. Then give it a title. Writing the dream down in a special place gives it importance and sends the message to the unconscious that you are taking its messages seriously.
After you have recorded your dream, take some time to reflect on it. Prepare for the unexpected: admit your ignorance. Approach the dream humbly setting aside snap judgments. Remember that a dream works on many levels at once: a dream can never be reduced to just one meaning. You may feel baffled, disturbed, and even resistant -- all this is natural in working with dreams. Your task at this point is simply to just sit with the dream images and let them work on you. After a lifetime of studying dreams. Carl Jung confessed that they remained a mystery to him. He did not feel confident that his way of working with dreams could be called a method. However, Jung did feel certain that something always came of meditating on a dream, turning it over and over for a period of time.
4. To begin exploring what needs resolution in a dream, ask questions of the dream and of the dream figures. Here are some sample questions to pose to the dream:
What am I doing or not doing in this dream?
What are the significant actions in this dream?
What are the feelings in this dream?
Who are the dream figures in this dream?
What are the issues, conflicts, and unresolved situations?
What possibilities for healing are present?
What questions does this dream raise for me?
What images stand out?
What associations come up for me with each image?
What is being wounded and/or healed in this dream?
Does this dream have a relationship to other dreams?
Do any situations in my daily life come to mind as I reflect on this dream?
What new choices does this dream suggest or inspire?
Here are some sample questions to ask of the people who appear in your dream:
What do you want?
What do you want to show me?
Do you have any messages for me?
What is your gift?
What do I need to do to develop a relationship with you?
Where do you want to take me?
5. Look for threads connecting this dream with other dreams. If you find yourself dreaming regularly about a similar theme, in your dream journal read carefully over all the dreams in that series. Perhaps an early dream in a series introduces the issues to be explored in subsequent dreams. Or maybe a later dream offers critical information that was missing in earlier ones.
6. As you move through these steps, remember that a dream can never be reduced to just one meaning. If you feel confident about any one interpretation of a dream, stay open to other possibilities as well. Writer/psychologist James Hillman insightfully writes, "If we think back on any dream that has been important to us, as time passes and the more we reflect on it, the more we discover in it, and the more varied the directions that lead out of it. Whatever certainty it once might have given shifts into complexities beyond clear formulations each time the dream is studied anew. The depth of even the simplest image is truly fathomless. This unending, embracing depth is one way dreams show their love."
7. Other methods will help you explore your dream further:
* Dialogue with dream figures or images.
* Adopt the persona of the different people, animals, or objects
in your dream and reexperience the dream from that perspective.
* Paint or draw the dream: sculpt a dream image.
* Act out your dreams.
* In your imagination, go back into the dream and redream it.
The following exercise will show you how to reenter your dream.
Exercise: REENTERING A DREAM
When you have a dream about one who has died, write it down. Take a few minutes to recall the most significant or vivid part of the dream in which this person appeared. Then, close your eyes and reenter the dream by placing yourself in that environment. Even if you didn't notice any smells, sounds, or textures in your original dream, experience this place now with all your senses. Look around you. Touch, smell, listen. Continue to explore this environment with your senses until you feel fully present in your body. This will help you move from your memory of the dream to an experience of it in the present.
Next, pay close attention to the person's expression, movements, and dress. If the details seem vague, focus, as you might through the lens of a camera, on one small part of that person. As you concentrate on this part, other details may become clearer. Then expand your focus to include the whole person.
It takes time to develop your inner senses; you may not be able to see images clearly the first few times you work with imagery exercises. Even without gleaning any details of the person, you'll be able to sense his or her presence. Be aware of what you are feeling.
To create an opportunity for interaction, approach the person directly. You may want to ask the questions listed above as possible queries of your dream figures.
In the following days, look for ways in which you can express the dream images you created when you were asleep. For example, after Elva had her dream about marrying herself in a Hindu ceremony, I encouraged her to create a ritual based on the dream. She enlisted two friends and conducted a ceremony based on vows she had written for herself; these reflected a commitment to a more loving and accepting relationship to herself. Another client who had a powerful dream about a lion felt inspired to buy a shirt with a lion's head painted on it. Wearing this shirt brought out the lion in him -- it actually made him feel more courageous and energetic. In this way, a dream is a call to wake up and live more fully.
This article is excerpted from the book:
The Infinite Thread: Healing Relationships beyond Loss
by Alexandra Kennedy.
About the Author
Alexandra Kennedy, M.A., is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, California, and author of Losing a Parent. She has led workshops and lectured on grieving at universities, hospices, churches, and professional organizations. She is a faculty member at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension. To obtain information regarding workshops and lectures, you may go to the website www.alexandrakennedy.com or write to Alexandra Kennedy, P.O. Box 1866, Soquel, CA 95073.