The Creative Art of Engaging With Our Dreams

“May morning be astir with the harvest of night…”

(John O’Donohue)

Welcome dreamers,

A few weeks ago we spoke (read?) about using the resource of our dreams to enhance our creative process.  In this post, I’d like to expand on some of the ideas from last time, and provide some “how-to’s” to work with several methods.

Let’s start with story.  Our dreams usually come though with some kind of story line.  It may be a very short story of a sentence or two, or at times a full-length narrative. We can examine our dream story both for it’s personal meaning (for healing, problem solving, spiritual questing, etc.) but also as a story in and of it’s own right.  What is the major plot?  The dynamic tensions between the characters?  The sources of conflict, and how/if they are resolved?  Is there an inner or outer journey involved?  These types of questions and use of other literary devices can both provide the basis to turn our dream story into art, and to re-create the story of our own lives as metaphor or road map.  

 By re-writing our dream story: re-structuring dialogues between characters, resolving tensions in the dream, adding in resources our dream characters need right within the dream story itself, we can create new and more satisfying endings.  Instead of turning left at the crossroads in the dream, what would happen if we turned right instead?  Instead of drowning when the ship capsized, what would happen if we were able to call our dolphin allies at that moment to carry us to safety?  These new journeys can then become part of our new life story, and/or the basis for our art forms.  We remember that the Gestalt perspective on dreams tells us that everything in the dream is an aspect of ourselves, so when we make shifts in our dream story, we are making shifts in our self-story simultaneously.

Rabinowe states (in IASD’s Dreamtime, Winter 2006), that “Each dream is a microcosm, a living network of interacting images.  Each dream holds a simultaneous reflection of the body, the soul, the waking life and the unconscious that can be understood on multiple levels. Out of this realm of mystery and paradox, a wellspring of inspiration (can) open up…”

The most important indicator of the meaning of our dreams are the emotions felt within and just following the dream. The emotional resonance of the dream within the context of our own life provide the core of meaning that makes this “My Dream”, as opposed to “Anyone’s Dream”  (i.e. Green St. is the street I grew up on, Mary Smith was my college roommate, Snowball is the name of my cat who died last week).  You may have associations to the word Snowball such as cold, wet, fun, messy, etc., but if my strongest association is to my beloved cat and loss, that is the core of meaning for my dream.  And if people dream about a ship going out to sea, one may feel hopeful and excited, another may feel anxious and distress, and a third may feel seasick- each of which provide a different meaning to the core image.

What happens then when we work with the core emotional dream state- can we play with shifting or changing or enhancing it?  What if we re-write our dream changing the core emotion from anxious to anticipatory – that slight shift can open up whole new worlds for us.  What then happens to our musical composition, or our dance piece- or our lives- if we play out a different emotional tone?  What if we changed the setting; and instead of having the ship go out to sea from Boston harbor, it left from Hawaii? Or we replayed the dream scene as if we were feeling hopeful, instead of despairing- what would happen then?

We feel emotions in our body- that is why they are called “feelings”- because we feel them.  What happens when we tune in to our physical response to the dream- what do we notice?  Where in our body to we have the sensation, and what does it feel like?  (i.e. jumpy, peaceful, tight, hard, soft, warm, tingly?)  How does tuning in to our emotions and sensations in the dreams inform our poetry, our dance, the characters lives in our novel, the decision we have to make about that project at work?  Dance these emotions in your body, act out these sensations; let them move through you physically; when you embody the emotion you discover new dimensions of it.  Engage your friends, your family, your dream circle to act out a scene from your dream.

We had great fun one time with one of my members ubiquitous toilet dreams, as she gave us roles of being the toilet bowl itself, the pipes, the water flushing, the sticky handle…and then we added some WD40 to make the handle flush more smoothly and invited a plumber into the dream to clean the pipes out. Each person then spoke from the perspective of what they were representing- the voice of the toilet bowl, the voice of the handle, the voice of the new plumber, etc. The dream flowed much more smoothly after we acted it out and added in things that the dream seemed to need!  (Those who are interested in this kind of body/mind work can look up related links on Focusing, Somatic Experiencing, Sensory-motor  Psychotherapy, and psychodrama).

The images of our dreams provide perhaps the richest source of visual arts. Draw the images; paint them, collect found objects that call to you while focusing on your dream, and then make a collage or shadow box of them.  Go out to find found objects to create a scene from your dream; find different objects to represent different characters, locations, emotions.  (a yellow or crumbling fall leave to represent the passage of time, a stick stuck in the ground to represent feeling stuck, a smooth stone to represent calm peaceful feelings, a spray of bittersweet to represent your parents, shells, tree bark, flowers, feathers, twine, bottle caps, whatever your neighborhood provides) …let yourself be surprised.   Rabinowe reminds us that the most important aspect of translating a dream with found objects is the serendipity of what you find.  Sit and contemplate what you have created.  Then feel free to write, draw, create a dialogue between the objects representing the characters, or emotions, or landscapes in the dream; speak with the voice of one of the objects you have chosen.  Let the images you have chosen speak to you from this visual form to provide a new dimension to your dream and your creative process.  And most of all- enjoy the process and the delight of the dream and creation.

Sweet dreams!

Linda Yael