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 SigmundFreud, 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 dilemmas. Let’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!
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”
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.
Original title: “Broken Glass”
New title after dreamwork: “Picking Up the Pieces”
Original title: “Earthquake”
New title after dreamwork: “Rebirth”
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!
“Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.” ~X-Files
The Ancient Practice of Dream Incubation:
In ancient Greece, the Dream was honored as a resource and physician’s guide for healing all manner of illness, both physical and spiritual. The Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius, would oft-times give a “prescription” for his patients to go to sleep in the sacred dream temples in order to have a healing dream. When they got there, the patients would ritually cleanse and purify themselves, set a healing intention about which they would like to receive the dream wisdom, and then sleep the night there, often in the company of many others who were also seeking a healing. Then at night, the temple priest or priestess would set loose small non-venomous snakes among the supplicants, which then would slither about and were thought to whisper the healing dreams into the ear of the sleepers. In the morning, if the supplicant had a dream, the priestess would help the to interpret it.
Nowadays, snakes are generally no longer part of the prescription (lucky for us!). But the rest of the ritual can be easily adapted in the privacy of your own bedroom. The core of the practice is to spend a few quiet moments before going to sleep to write down the question, the dilemma, or the issue that you would like some guidance on. You can have your own personal “Q and A” with your dream guides. Spend a few minutes, or more; but try to end with as specific a question as possible. The more specific your question, the easier it will be to see how it is answered in the dream. If you want, you can also spend a little time cleansing yourself or your room to prepare a sacred space. A salt water bath, or lighting a candle or incense can help to clear the psychic space for answers to come through. If all goes as planned, you get free dream therapy every night! You can get your dreams to work for you with these simple steps. Then, when you awake, write down the dream on the same page as your question, so even if it is not clear to you right away how your question is answered in the dream, you can easily go back and remember what you were asking.
My most powerful experience with incubating a dream was when we were getting ready to adopt our daughter from China. When we originally got the referral (that’s adoption language for “your baby is waiting”) she was about nine months old. We had thought that the baby would be somewhat younger. The head of the agency said to us “If this isn’t the right baby for you, we can give you a different referral.” What a decision to have to make! After looking at my husband, I said “Can I go home and dream on it?” The director agreed, and that night I went home and wrote in my dream journal that I needed an answer to come through clearly and unambiguously, and right now! (You know how dreams can be– I didn’t want to have to decode too much symbolism to figure this one out.) I was very bossy with my dream guide, since there was so much at stake. I woke once or twice in the night– no dream yet. But in the morning I had my answer.
So – before sharing the dream I received, here is the background material the dream is referencing that you need to know in order to “get” what I immediately knew on waking. For our anniversary that year my mother-in-law had given us a garden shed to store our tools in, and the labor of the guy to build it. The spot for it was under our deck (our house is on a hill, so the yard slopes and our deck is high up.) As he began to put it in, he discovered that it wouldn’t fit under the deck. But he told us “No problem, I can dig down, and put a foundation in and it will fit just fine”, which is what happened.
OK—So here is the dream I received:
We were putting in a tool shed, and it was bigger than we expected, but it was just right and fit just fine.
Couldn’t get clearer than that! Our “just a little bigger than expected” baby is now almost 15 years old. We dug down and put in a great foundation.
Let me know your experiences with incubating dreams.