Honoring Our Dreams

As members and guests munched on snacks, music played in the background, setting the stage with “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” sung by Tony Bennett and K.D. Lang, followed by Robert Goulet singing “Dream the Impossible Dream – The Quest.”

Tanya Atwood-Adams introduced our topic. Dreams are the succession of thoughts, images, sounds or emotions that our mind experiences while we are sleeping. Dreams can bring new insights to apply to our lives or to clarify our life goals and aspirations. Some people wake up laughing after a dream. Others are like artist M. C. Escher, who commented that he did not use drugs because his dreams were frightening enough.

Tanya reminded us that dreams are common to peoples of all cultures and religious traditions, but that each society views dreams in different ways. Some feel that dreams are powerfully significant; others do not. Some regard dreaming as divine; some regard it as demonic. Still others perceive dreams as simply a curiosity. Tanya then called on eight audience members to read short descriptions of the views held by various cultures:

Africa: the Gola artists of Liberia credited dreams with artistic inspiration, and the Ashanti of Ghana hold that dreams have more reality than the waking life.

Ancient Rome viewed dreams as divine messages; Greece viewed dreams as a source of healing and as a way to communicate with spirits and ghosts; the Orient viewed dreams as messages from the Creator.

In India, three thousand years ago, the Hindu scripture, The Upanishads, described dreaming as a higher state of consciousness than the waking state. “Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” – Kahlil Gibran

The Kalapato Indians of Central Brazil place great importance on their dreams, and acknowledge that profound changes occur in dreams as a result of psychological changes and stress in a person’s life. They believe that dreams reveal an individual’s life, motivations, and fears.

Native Americans, in general, give dreams credit for creative inspiration and spiritual guidance, and acknowledge that unconscious desires are expressed in dreams. Dreams of shamans and warriors were considered vital for predicting future events. The Ojibwe considered dreams to be actual experiences, not just fantasies created in the mind, and they link dreaming to specialized occupations such as healing. The Cree of North Quebec rely on dreams for creative inspiration. The Zuni of New Mexico only share good dreams when they come true, often many years later. Most of their discussion of dreams is about bad dreams.

Tibetan culture holds that dreams can be analyzed in different ways – for religious purposes, for divination, or for medical purposes. Traditionally, dream studies include practices to purify and strengthen the chakras.

In the Qur’an, the Jewish Torah, and the Christian New Testament, dreams serve as a vital medium by which God communicates with humans. Dreams offer divine guidance and comfort, warn people of impending danger, and offer prophetic glimpses of the future. Although the three religions differ dramatically on many other topics, they find substantial agreement on this particular point: Dreams are a valuable source of wisdom, understanding, and inspiration.

Tanya summed up these diverse attitudes by saying that ideologies separate us; dreams and anguish bring us together. Then she introduced our first speaker.

Deborah J. Welsh, Ed.D.

Deborah is a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist, Board Certified Dance Movement Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice at the Full Circle Center for Creative Arts Therapy and Mental Health Counseling. She is also a Dance Therapist at the Hutchings Psychiatric Center. In addition to individual, couples, family and group psychotherapy with a Jungian orientation, her work emphasizes creativity and connecting with the unconscious through dreams and the arts. Throughout her more than 30-year career, Deborah has conducted many workshops, seminars, and celebrations on themes including experiences of the sacred, yoga, and healing from trauma. Deborah’s favorite dance partners these days are her young grandsons.

Deborah said she appreciated Tanya’s readings, because she had intended to give this background but now she did not have to! Deborah does not want to divide dreams into good or bad; dreams are dreams, and some people believe that they may or may not hold meaning and value. However, it is generally accepted that dreams connect us to a deep part of ourselves, the unconscious.

Marcel Proust said that if dreams seem to be dangerous, the cure is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time. Dreaming can happen all the time; sleeping dreams and waking dreams are both real and valuable. However, the ego is less active during sleep, making the workings of the unconscious seem more distant from who we believe ourselves to be in waking life.  And, though dreams are symbolic, they are a clear connection to the unconscious.

Freud held that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious.” We connect to this unconscious in various ways. The ego tends to think that the unconscious is the enemy.

To C.G. Jung, the Self is the experience of wholeness, the totality of the psyche, unity, that connects us to a higher level of being that many consider to be God. It is this wholeness that is being brought to our attention in dreams.

Many cultures consider dreams a connection to the divine – not just a personal experience but something from outside ourselves that connects our humanness to that which is beyond us. Dreams can give information, messages, or orders. Sometimes dreams foreshadow or predict future events. This is not necessarily bad, but gives the dreamer information. Dreams can be forms of wisdom.

Dreams are symbolic, but we must connect these symbols to our own experience, and if possible to the collective – that is, to our larger culture or world, and to the archetypes that are universal and beyond time. Dreams may be subjective, the unconscious working through the day, and may give symbolic information about repressed feelings. Common archetypal symbols such as flying, falling, being attacked, and sex are known to happen throughout the ages and people of the world.  Dreams are a way that we connect to each other, to humanity.

It is possible to invite dreaming through meditation, prayer, or guided imagery. This moves us closer to daytime dreaming or active imagination. Because the ego is nervous about letting the unconscious have its way, a conscious effort may be necessary. This can be done in four steps. First, we lower the control of the ego by creating a sense of safety and trust in which to address the contents of the unconscious. Second, we invite the unconscious to come forward. Third, we give the unconscious a form through drawing, dancing, or any other artistic endeavor. Then we invite the ego back to ponder the worth of what has been revealed. Fourth, the hardest and most important step, we assimilate the material into ordinary life. We must determine what the message was, and what must be done to accommodate this information in our lives. Thus, we transcend the boundaries that exist within ourselves, between the conscious and the unconscious.

Christine Carney

Christine is a graduate student in Engaged Humanities at Pacifica Graduate Institute, where her focus has been on mythology and depth psychology. She is also a Victim Advocate at Vera House. Christina’s primary interests are in dream work, creativity, ritual, and modern applications of mythology, particularly as they relate to trauma and suffering. She also has an extensive background in the arts.

Christina said that she was excited to be with us. First, because she has loved dreams since she was a child. She would tell her father her dreams and he would share his own dreams with her. Christina said that this was unusual because so many in the Western culture ignore dreams, but her father validated hers. She was also excited because she began to connect with Deborah. They shared their backgrounds and began to weave their presentations together.

Christina said that Depth Psychology has roots in mysticism and shamanism, and was first formulated and popularized in the West by Freud and Jung. A more modern theorist, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat, wrote Dream Tending. He advocates keeping the dream in the present tense and developing a relationship with the images in the dream. This is not a logical process because dreams can’t be analyzed. He counsels us to meet our dreams, to open our awareness of the details of the dream, to become present in the dream, and to connect with our body’s responses to its events and images.

Christina explained that Depth Psychology’s view of how to work with our dreams has progressed from Freud’s emphasis on Association, through Jung’s concept of Amplification, to the current emphasis on Animation, which retains the first two elements but adds to them a direct confrontation with the unconscious. To make this clearer, Deborah and Christina led us through an exercise. First we were to think of an image from one of our dreams, preferably an image that recurs over time. We were to connect with this image in a spirit of not-knowing, and explore the dream for five minutes. Deborah helped us to lower our ego consciousness and get comfortable. We were to shift closer to a dream state and gaze inward. As we noticed sensations in our bodies, we were to welcome what is. Christina advised that as we focused on our dream image, we should make connections with events or ideas in our lives, and let scenes from our lives emerge.

Next, Christina guided us in the state of Amplification where we were asked to correlate this image and the related experiences to universal or cultural expressions, old sayings, or metaphors. We did this for five quiet minutes.

Finally, we were asked to animate the image, interact with it and give it a life of its own. In this stage, we let the dream image connect with our reality. We brought our attention back to our bodies and noticed how the experience has changed us – what it made us want to do to incorporate the self-knowledge that the dream has given us.

Christina explained Jung’s concept of making dream knowledge manifest in daily life. He advocated using rituals or “gestures,” small symbolic acts that connect the body to the unconscious that has been made conscious. In Christina’s personal example, she treated herself to a pampering solo date with dinner and a movie in response to a terrifying dream.

Christina recommended keeping a dream journal, which may be composed of sketches, poetry, or reflections. This sets up a relationship with the images and lets something unconscious come out. She recommended that we learn about our own dream language, the threads and themes that run throughout over time. In her own dreams, for example, clothing played a key role for a while.

 It helps to bring the repeated images back into the dream and examine them in the context of the details, all of which are significant.

Christina also suggests finding a dream partner who can help you reflect on (but not analyze) your dreams. This should not be an intimate partner who may be an element in the dreams. Looking back at dreams over time may also reveal meanings that were not initially clear. Christina advocated curiosity because the more you honor your dreams, the more they can give you.

When asked about the sense of flying in a dream, Christina said that physiological changes do occur in the sleeper, contributing to this sensation. These embodied dreams seem magical. Another woman asked about very intense dreams that cause fear. Deborah said that this fear is real and embodied and we need to go toward that fear, invite it in, and understand it. Christina added that fear is the ego feeling invaded, and thus it is time to pay attention. Dreams are often about something that one is not consciously ready to address but that the unconscious insists must be faced.

When asked about prophetic dreams, Deborah said that we must take these seriously, but they are symbolic, not necessarily literal, even though as one participant said, they can “come true!” It is essential to relate to the dream and to explore its significance in as many ways as we can – for example to recognize such things as the cultural context and gender differences in dream symbolism. As useful as dream dictionaries may be, they are often taken too literally or dogmatically and the personal connection to the symbolic content is ignored or deemed incongruent with the “authority” of the dictionary. Dreams can alert us to actions, ideas, problems, solutions, needs, and wishes that we didn’t consciously notice.

Betty Lamb commented that the term “tending” our dreams was like tending a garden. We must tend ourselves so that we can blossom.

Deborah read the poem “The Dreame,”by Ben Jonson, that reflects on the sense of being awakened by a dream:

In closing, Deborah distributed her bag of colors: large, solid-colored lengths of sheer fabric. She asked us to move to the music of “The Dream,” a vocal form of the Jonson poem featured in the film Sense and Sensibility. We twirled and fluttered, enacted our dreams and interacted with one another, enjoying the freedom of the unconscious. 

Finally, we listened “The Power of the Dream” read by Tanya.

Resources, compiled by Christina Carney:

Aizenstat, Stephen (2009), Dream Tending.
Barrett, Deirdre (2001), The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving—and How you can too.
Warren, Jeff (2007), The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness.
Bosnak, Robert (1986), A Little Course in Dreams.
Dumpert, Jennifer – Urban Dreamscape: http://www.urbandreamscape.com/ and Oneironauticum
Estes, C. P. (1992), Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.
Harpur, Patrick (2002), The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: A History of Imagination.
Hillman, James (1997), Dream Animals.
Johnson, Robert (1986), Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth.
Jung, C.G. (1974), Dreams, from The Collected Words of C. G. Jung.
LaBerge, Stephen (1991), Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
Norbu, Namkhai (1992), Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light.
Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal (1998), The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep.