Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Wisdom of Dreams

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

What did you dream last night?  Every night, our dreams offer us a chance to evolve and grow if we pay attention to them.  In fact, they are absolutely essential to our creativity, health and wholeness as individuals and as a society.  The wisdom of the dream lies in the unconscious, the parts of ourselves that we can’t yet see, but on a deep and cellular level, our bodies and hearts know to be true.  What remains unconscious can block or arrest our psychological and spiritual growth or worse be projected into the world with sometimes harsh results.  Winter’s continued call for sleep, rest and reflection is an opportunity to learn from our dreams and to create more wholeness and vitality in our lives.  

My informal knowledge about dream interpretation comes from the work of Jeremy Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister, founding member and past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.  He worked for 35 years using dream interpretation as a tool for nonviolent social change in such places as residential group homes for schizophrenics and San Quentin Prison.  His life and body of work leaves behind an inspiring legacy of confronting and addressing such evils as racism, sexism, violence and environmental destruction – through dream interpretation.  Here are his basic assumptions about dreams:  

  1. All dreams come in the service of health and wholeness.
  2. No dream comes just to tell the dreamer what he or she already knows.
  3. Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meaning his or her dream may hold.
  4. The dreamers’Aha of recognition is a function of previously unconscious memory and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work.
  5. There is no such thing as a dream with only one meaning.
  6. All dreams speak a universal language of metaphor and symbol.
  7. All dreams reflect inborn creativity and ability to face and solve life’s problems.
  8. All dreams reflect society as a whole as well as the dreamer’s relationship to it.
  9. Working with dreams regularly improves relationships with friends, lovers, partners, parents, children and others.
  10. Working with dreams in groups builds community, intimacy, and support and begins to impact on society as a whole.

To fully understand our dreams, it’s best to have other people to share them with.  There is no special training or education needed to listen and explore the symbols in your personal mythologies.  The most important thing to know is that the only person who has the authority to determine a dream’s true meaning is the dreamer.  The dreamer’s “Aha” moment of recognition is the only barometer that the dream’s message has been delivered.   Dream groups build community and generate multiple perspectives, but even one person, such as your partner or a psychotherapist, can help. 

Here is an example of how one woman participating in one of Jeremy Taylor’s dream groups, learned of a potential health crisis through her dream.  

A woman dreamt she was at her home and a party was going on in her basement.  She goes down to join them but has a purse with “rotting meat” in it that she is afraid will offend the guests.  She keeps trying to close the purse.

The dream group suggested that the “rotting meat in the purse” could be indicative of uterine cancer.  The woman initially dismissed the idea as ridiculous, but she couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something was wrong, so she went to her doctor who found nothing.  Not satisfied, she pressed for more scans.  Finally, a sonogram showed a thickening of her uterine wall which did in fact turn out to be a rare, extremely aggressive form of uterine cancer.  The woman had surgery and survived.  (Story found on pages 13-15 in Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill by Jeremy Taylor.)

If you cannot find a dream group, here are some useful techniques to encourage dream exploration on your own:

  1. Draw the dream.
  2. Separate out the emotional narrative from the content of the dream.
  3. Re-enter the dream in waking state.  Take a different role in the dream.
  4. Embody and act out the dream physically.
  5. Find the image or situation in the dream that carries the greatest energy for healing and bring it forth into waking life in some concrete or expressive form.
  6. Make a mask of one or more characters in the dream and wear it while “being” that character.
  7. Pray and meditate while focused on your dream.
  8. Look up images in a dream symbol dictionary.
  9. Rewrite the narrative adding the phrase “part of me” to each of the images.
  10. Dream more.

The first challenge in dream interpretation is actually remembering your dreams.  Having the intention to dream AND a supportive place to share your dreams can actually increase dream recall.  Science tells us that all of us dream about 4-6 times per night and even animals with “eyelids that close” dream.  For tips on how to remember your dreams, watch this TED talk called Dreaming On Purpose, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odNc2MshuWI The best time to recall dreams is when you are in the transitional stage of consciousness in between being asleep and half awake.  But that time is short lived, about 3-5 minutes, so grab the dream journal you left by your bed and write furiously.   

February is like that transitional stage of consciousness for the Earth.  Seeds are starting to awaken under the ground and sap is rising in the trees.  Does the Earth dream?  I think it’s possible that the Earth dreams through us.  And maybe, by paying attention to our own dreams, we can awaken from our collective slumber and courageously and creatively act to ensure her survival.

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping anxious and depressed teens and women connect to and live in harmony with their true nature.  Heather is passionate about using mindfulness and Eco-therapeutic approaches to restore balance, reduce isolation, and create a greater sense of wellbeing. She can be reached at Heatherhilltherapy@gmail.com or 215-485-7205.