by Jack Stull
“The dream shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, and not as he would like it to be, but as it is.“
-- Carl Jung
Dreams. We all have them. And by “dreams,” I don't mean our hopes and aspirations. I am referring to those strange stories that we experience during the night when we sleep. Some of us may rarely remember our dreams. Some of us may remember them, but then have no idea about what to do with them. We might say: “I had the strangest dream last night,” but then carry on with our day without giving it another thought. I have learned from my many years of working with my dreams and the dreams of others that these strange, nightly occurrences are really worth paying attention to. They are, indeed, precious gifts that can profoundly impact our lives, if only we take the time to learn how to unwrap their significances.
Just like our bodies, our psyches are constantly striving for wholeness, balance and health. Dreams represent one of the ways that our psyches accomplish this. If we have an imbalanced attitude that is causing unnecessary suffering, our dreams will point it out. If we need to embrace another personality trait that will make us more effective and functional in the world, our psyches will show us in our dreams. If we are caught in an unhealthy situation and are not seeing it for what it is, our dreams will let us know about the truth of the situation. Our psyches—deeper selves, souls, the unconscious, whatever you want to call it—will show us what is going on. Carl Jung, one of the pioneers of dream analysis, wrote:
“Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations.”
Establishing a productive, lifelong relationship to your dream life is a fairly easy task. The first and most obvious requirement is that you actually remember your dreams. In order to remember your dreams, however, you must really want to remember them. I often encounter people who say they want to remember their dreams, but then after talking with them further I discover that they have some anxieties about it. If these anxieties about connecting to the unconscious are strong enough, they can block off the channels of communication and inhibit dream recall. So the first step to remembering your dreams involves being honest with yourself. Ask yourself: “Do I really want to remember my dreams?”
The second step involves demonstrating this want through symbolic acts. Doing something in your waking life like buying a nice dream journal, finding a good book on dream analysis (not a dream dictionary), joining a dream group, or seeing a dream specialist will help demonstrate to your deeper self that you mean business. Lastly, before going to sleep, focus on your desire to remember your dreams and place your dream journal next to your bed. This will send the signal that you are ready and receptive. When you do have a dream, make sure to write it down in it as soon as you wake up. Follow these simple instructions, and before you know it you will be remembering your dreams on a regular basis.
Uncovering the Meanings within Your Dreams
Once you are remembering your dreams, it is time to work with them to unwrap their significances. Because the dream objects and scenarios are mostly a product of your own psyche as the dreamer, their significances lie within you. This means that uncovering them is just the simple matter of writing down your associations for each object or character, scene by scene. Your associations include anything you spontaneously think or feel about the dream objects. Ask yourself: “Who does this dream character remind me of, either in my life today or from my past? What is this object to me? What does it remind me of? It also helps to write down the definitions of the dream objects in your own words. For example, if you dream of a hammer, you might write something like: “a simple tool for nailing things together.” As a symbol, then, the dream hammer might have something to do with “nailing together” or uniting different qualities in your psyche, or building some aspect of your self that is sturdy and long lasting. As you write down your definitions and associations for your dream objects and characters in each scene, think about how they relate to the immediate situations in your life. As you do this, the significances will begin to emerge.
Let's look at a very simple example of a short dream fragment to see how powerful and revealing the work can be. Say someone dreams the following: “I am driving around in an old, blue Lincoln Town Car.” This dreamer has the following association about his dream car: “My father drove around an identical Town Car, although it was red. While the color red reminds me of violence and anger, the color blue reminds me of peace, calmness, and tranquility. My father used to scare me with his violent temper, and I used to be afraid of getting in the car with him.” Here we see that the car has to do with the dreamer's father, and especially his fear of his father's anger. Recently, this dreamer has been worrying intensely about being angry like his father because he wife is about to give birth to his first child, a boy. He has been afraid that he will treat his boy like his father treated him. The dream would have a very different meaning if the car in the dream were also red, but the car is blue. So the dream is showing him how he is like his father in significant ways (how he “gets around” in the world), but that he is very different in regards to anger. In other words, the dream is reassuring him that he is not an “angry man” like his father and needn't worry.
Carrying around such a fear no doubt would have caused an imbalance in this man's relationship with his own child. The dream, then, provides him with the opportunity to let go of this fear so that he can be his spontaneous, natural self with his boy, resulting in a healthier frame-of-mind and a healthier child. The dream also leads him to realize that he shares some good qualities with his dad that he was completely rejecting because he was afraid of being angry. As a result, he begins integrating these qualities that he needed to be more effective and functional in the world. He also feels much closer to his dad because he now can embrace their similarities, helping him to begin healing that relationship. This simple example illustrates how profoundly transformational a single dream can be, even a dream fragment, with the potential to fundamentally affect our lives and our relationships to the people around us.
Every night, we have the opportunity to open ourselves to these precious, mysterious gifts we find in the depths of ourselves. So buy yourself a dream journal and write down your dream and your associations when you wake up. You might be surprised by what you discover. You might also get hooked on dreams.
For the past ten years Jack Stull has been facilitating dreamwork, mostly one-on-one and sometimes as a group facilitator. His undergraduate degree was in depth psychology from Antioch University Seattle, and he completed his master's degree work in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. As a dreamworker, Jack provides a safe, compassionate and nonjudgmental presence for the exploration of your dreams.