Shamans and Sages: The Why, the Who, and the How of Dreamwork

I do not know whether I was then

 a man dreaming I was a butterfly,

 or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

Zhuangzi

 

Welcom dreamers!

In two days I am off to the annual conference of the International Association for The Study of Dreams (www.IASD.org) in Berkeley, CA.   I will be presenting about the GAIA method of dreamwork (Guided Active Imagination Approach*) that I developed to use with scary dreams, nightmeres, and trauma.  I’ll post more details  about this method later this summer.  If you are interested before that, I have wrtiten an article published in January 2012 by “Dreamtime Magazine”, the  journal of the IASD.  I’m sure to come back from the conference with lots of excting new dream ideas from my colleagues!  This post though, offers several ways of working with dreams, appropo of the concept of change in our psyches after doing “dreamwork”, discussed last time in the post on dreams being like EMDR.

Dreams come to us in the service of health and healing, says Dr. Jeremy Taylor.  Depending on your source, there are two essential questions dreams ask of us.  According to Sigmund Freud, the main question is “What are your dreams about?”  According to the other granddaddy of dreams, Carl Jung, the main question is “Why?  Why is this dream message here?—and why now?”  Freud and Jung are two of our sages of dream life–they originally recognized the importance of paying attention to our unconscious.  Freud, the founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.”  Jung was a student of his, and further developed analytic psychology.  Their rift occurred as Jung moved more and more into the psycho-spiritual and mystical realms.  The recent film “A Dangerous Method” compares and contrasts their works and looks at the importance of one of their most famous patients, Sabina Spielrein, who was a gifted analyst in her own right.  Although the film is pretty sensationalized and sexualized (from my point of view, anyhow), it still provides an interesting and entertaining look at the difference between their two styles.

Both Freud and Jung, practicing in the 1900’s, followed the historical precedence of the shaman or analyst as the expert.  Since ancient times, shamans in indigenous cultures were revered for their ability to interpret dreams.  Much of their power lay in their skills of dreamwork and their ability to read the signs to foretell the future.  (In Judeo-Christian tradition, Joseph was a kind of shaman:  His skills at interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams of the seven fat and seven lean sheep lead to stockpiling grain so as to prevent famine during the “lean sheep” years).  Connection with the spiritual realm, whether you call it God, Nature, Gaia, The Universe, Higher Power or The Force is one powerful aspect of dreamwork.

Some call dreams the night language of the soul.

Inside or Out?

Shamans practiced dream re-entry (journeying into the dreamworld itself to gain information or effect change) and what is called soul retrieval (entering into the spirit or dream worlds to retrieve lost parts of the soul of their patient.)  Their interpretations carried the weight of religious canon, and the supplicants were expected to follow their advice without argument.  Some dream practitioners today, particularly those who have a Jungian bent, use the techniques of dream re-entry to help the dreamer to work inside the dream, to make more sense of it, or even to make changes in the dream and bring the dream to a better resolution.  Since we are the authors of our dreams, at least on some level of our psyche, we all have the ability and the right to “go back inside” to figure things out or make changes to secure a more fortuitous outcome.  Often this is best accomplished with the assistance an experienced dream worker who can function as a guide.  But even on your own, if a dream ended on a distressing or unsatisfying note, you can ask yourself “What other ending can I create to better resolve this dream issue or dilemma?  Who or what can I introduce into my dreamscape to change the outcome”—and then do it as a conscious exercise.

Fritz Perls originated a system of work called “Gestalt”.  In this experiential way of working with dream material, every person, and even every object in the dream is representative of a part of yourself.  To use this style of dreamwork, you start by telling the dream in the first person.  You notice what stands out, then “become” that part of the dream and speak from the first person as if you were that person or object.   You can then have a dialogue between the parts, or between yourself and the parts, and go back and forth between the part and your waking realities and dilemmasLet’s say, for example, you had a dream about a leprechaun who stole a pot of gold and secreted it away in a cave.  The gestalt perspective would invite you to ask, “What is the leprechaun part of me? What is the gold part of me?  And what is the hidden cave part of me?”

Your responses may vary, but perhaps they may be: the trickster part of yourself, or the Irish heritage part, or the entertaining part, depending on your view of leprechauns.  The pot of gold may be your inner gifts, your own inner value, something shiny and precious, or trouble with finances or lack of abundance, since the dream goes on to say it was stolen and secreted in a cave.  What then would be the cave part of you?  Is there a part of you that feels it needs to be hidden? Or protected? What are you keeping hidden?  What precious part of you feels stolen or hidden away?  And, how can you reclaim this treasure?  What are the conditions needed in your life in order to safely retrieve it from the cave?  Obviously, this line of questioning can go on for quite some time– until you can actually answer the questions you or your dream buddy are raising, and feel that “aha” of “I’ve got it” in your bones.  This can bring a whole additional perspective to that “butterfly dreaming” quote at the beginning of today’s blog!

Sweet dreams,

Linda Yael (www.lindayaelschiller.com)

 

Title and Re-Title: How Dreamwork Can Be Like EMDR

Von Franz reminds us that when Jung spoke of the transforming nature of dream work he said, “It is not understanding the dream that brings about transformation, but the intensity with which we engage the images.”

I had a Eureka moment a few weeks ago.  We’ve long known that working on our dreams can be therapeutic; we can get insights into our world and ourselves when we grapple with the images that we channel at night.  What I recently discovered, however, is that the process of engaging with the dreams can actually be similar to the type of reprocessing work that is done in the body/mind modality of EMDR.   EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing; a body/ mind therapy that helps people reprocess upsetting and traumatic events.  What follows is how this works with dreams.  I call the dream process “Title and Re-Title”- you will see why.

Titling the Dream

One of the best ways to capture what Ernest Hartman calls the Central Image (C.I.) of the dream is to give it a title.  The C.I. usually contains the core of the dream: the center of the dream’s energy or power, or the main theme is held here.  I advise dreamers to let the title emerge spontaneously, not to think about it too hard.  Just let the title rise up from your unconscious as you put your attention on the dream as a whole.  If the title surprises you; even better- that means you’ve tapped into something your deepest self knows, that is about to emerge into your consciousness as well.  The title usually reflects this Central Image.  Sometimes the place in the dream with the most energy is clear to us; sometimes less so.  We often start our dreamwork by asking for the title; it then serves as a signpost pointing the way to something that we want to be sure not to miss in the dream.

While working on dreams in my own dream circle a few weeks ago, one member titled her dream  “Things Are Unclear”.   After we worked on it for a while, my friend Marcia asked “So, would you give it a different the title it now?”   Sure enough- the title had changed from “Things Are Unclear” to “Diving”.  The feelings in and about the dream changed too- from “I feel foggy, this doesn’t feel so good and I don’t understand what it means”, to “Oh, now I have a new perspective; I can dive down into that water and discover what is there for me”

EMDR

Suddenly I had a Eureka moment: “OMG-This is like EMDR!  The negative cognition in the first title got transformed to a positive cognition in the second title, and the negative charge is off the emotions.”  So- what does that mean, for those not familiar with EMDR? The standard EMDR protocol has people identify the problem they want to work on along with the concurrent negative belief or cognition they developed about themselves. They then identify the positive belief about themselves that they would rather have be true, in light of the problem they are grappling with, but usually isn’t yet.  The protocol continues with identifying the emotions, locating where in the body they are held, and what the level of distress is on a scale of 0-10.  This discussion begins the desensitization process; taking the edge off the material by discussing and sharing it.  Once this set-up is completed, a series of bilateral stimulation sets that activate the two sides of the brain are done: this adds the reprocessing part. The bilateral stimulation to the brain is usually done using eye movements, following some one’s hand or a light on a bar with the eyes from one side of the field of vision to the other (bilateral auditory tones or tapping can also be used as an alternative).

This accelerated form of therapy can often allow people to reprocess traumatic memories in a much shorter time than they otherwise would have needed to get the same insights, shifts in perspective, and relief from strong upsetting feelings.   It is important to state that only professionals who have received specialized training can responsibly practice EMDR. (For more information on EMDR, see www.EMDRIA.org, or Francine Shapiro, the founder of the method.)

The Re-processing Re-titling in the Dream

Back to the dreamwork.  We “reprocessed” her dream as we discussed it, offered ideas, and made suggestions, “aired it out” by using a number of different methods of dreamwork. (some I have already blogged about, like Gesault, associations, symbol meanings; others I will talk more about in  upcoming posts)   The energy of the dream shifted from a negative to a more positive stance.  In EMDR speak, she had reduced her distress level in the dream, and felt more strongly about the new positive  beliefs and options the dream work uncovered..  It is worth noting, I think, that REM sleep has been compared to EMDR in several scholarly articles, since both involve eye movements and unconscious processing. (if you are interested, you can read the research by Robert Stickgold in Nature Neuroscience, 2007 and in  Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2008).  Brain scans have shown that the same parts of the brain are used in both REM sleep and in EMDR.

I tried out this method of “Title and Re-Title” several more times in the dream circle I facilitate.  Here are some of the “titling” shifts that occurred after the dreamwork (by “dreamwork”, i mean that the “aha” moments occurred, the connections with life were made, and the plans to address the issue raised in the dream somehow in waking life  had been articulated).  Watch what happens to each dream after only about 15-30 minutes of work on it.

 

Member 1:

Original title: “Broken Glass”

New title after dreamwork: “Picking Up the Pieces”

 

Member 2:

Original title: “Earthquake”

New title after dreamwork: “Rebirth”

 

Member 3:

Original title: “Dark Energies”

New Title after dreamwork: “Claiming My Power”

 

The original titles all contain the “Central Image” of dreams that were associated with distress for the dreamer, as obvious by the titles, while the new titles all reflect hope, opportunity, or some kind of growth.  It seems that something powerful is at work here.

 

Try out “Title and Re-title” with your dream buddy or dream circle or therapist!

 

May your dreams bring you healing,

Linda Yael