I. An Unattended Dream is Like an Unopened Envelope
Why do we have dreams? What do they mean? From where do those images come? Why do some dreams recur? Why do we have nightmares? How can we eliminate disturbing dreams?
Akin to imagination, night dreams are a universal human phenomenon which unites all people across the barriers of age, sexual difference, racial background, social and historical circumstance.
Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptians, Australian Aborigines and Hawaiians, Hebrews and Christians, Arabs and Malaysians all regarded night dreams as messages from the invisible reality to our conscious awareness about our physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual well-being.
Moses Maimonides said "Tell me what your dreams are, and I will tell you not only what you are, but what you are to become."
A night dream comes with a purpose of aligning us with the present moment and showing us- to us. When looking into a dream we are looking into a mirror. In our waking life when we look into a mirror we see quantities of ourselves; that is; one nose, two eyes… In the dream life we look into qualities of ourselves represented by characters in the dream. Any person, place or event in the dream holds tremendous significance for understanding ourselves. Nightmares are simply messages from the deepest part of ourselves to our consciousness calling for change. If unheeded, not only may we continue to suffer from the unpleasantness of a “bad” dream, but we run the risk of perpetuating negativity in our waking life.
By uncovering the language and symbolism of dreams we can learn about:
1. Our relationship with the world and ourselves around the time of the dream.
2. The “global” issues (physical and emotional challenges) that we face in our lives.
3. The condition of our body at the time of the dream.
4. Our unconscious beliefs.
5. How to solve our problems.
First I will focus upon the subject of how “to work the dream” in order to gain insight about our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.
Here are some basic guidelines in “working the dream. You, in a dream, are qualities of yourself that you identify with. Other characters are the qualities that you consciously do not identify with. If you remember a dream upon awakening, make time to work on the dream, preferably right away. This is because the dream might be informing you about something that needs to be addressed during the coming day.
The first three questions you ask are:
1.How do I feel upon awakening from this dream? Determining your feelings about the dream will give you a sense of whether or not the issue brought up by the dream is resolved. For example, if you feel puzzled, the dream may be informing you that there are things in your life you are not aware of. If you feel happy or relieved upon awakening, perhaps some issue in your life was resolved and the dream reflects the change.
2.What was the setting? The setting speaks of where you are in your inner life. If you were traveling, the dream may speak about your journey in life. If you are in a hospital, the dream may be telling you something about being ill, or possibly recovering. If you are in the school, it may be about education, learning lessons in life. If you are in a foreign country, you are in a place that is foreign to you. Ask yourself how you feel about this country, why this particular and not any other country, what is the first thought that comes to you when you think about this country? That will tell you how you feel about being in this new place .
3.If this dream was a story, what title would I give it? This will reveal the general theme permeating the dream.
Remember, the meaning that you attribute to different events, places, or people in your dream is strictly individual, since each person has a unique personal history, attitudes, appreciation, and dislikes. Answering the questions above will immediately give you a sense of the issues with which you are dealing. Work on small segments of a dream first, identifying what qualities of yourself you experienced and how they related to each other, then see if there is any analogy (points of similarity) between the events of the dream and your waking life.
Here is an illustration of “working a dream” of L., a 36-year-old mother of an 11 month-old and 6-years-old sons. L. remembered a dream in which she was visiting a prison. There, in a cell she found B., an old friend from college whom she had not seen for ten years. B. pleaded with L. to get her out of prison, but L. said “No, no, I can’t, don’t tell anyone you know me.”, and ran out.
Upon awakening L. felt sad, guilty, and ashamed. The setting.. spoke for itself. The title L. gave the dream was “Betraying a friend.”
P.R.: Within 1 to 72 hours around the dream have you felt like a prisoner.
L.: Not really, I have so much fun with my little boy. He is such a blessing...
P.R.: What is the first thing that comes to you when you think about B., what kind of a person do you remember her to be?
L.: Oh, fearlessly independent and very creative.
P.R.: So, continue please, there is a fearlessly independent and creative quality of yourself that is in prison…
L.: This quality is pleading to me to get my spirit of independence and creativity out of prison. I don’t want anyone to know that I have anything to do with this quality. Though I feel guilty about it I can not help it to be free…
At this point L. had the “aha” experience. Yes, she is happy to have the second baby but she also has no time for herself and for doing things that she likes. Often she feels lonely, trapped, and unable to share with her husband about her feelings because “he works so hard so I could stay with the children.”
These realizations enabled L. to become aware of the issues she was facing and to make changes in her life that would benefit her and her family.
Now we’ll talk about how to recognized physical and emotional challenges that you face in your life, and how to understand the condition of your body at the time of the dream.
As you begin working on your dreams always bear in mind that nothing in the dream is accidental and everything and everyone is first and foremost a quality of you. After you answered the first three questions (see the previous article) you may have a good idea of the message of the dream. The dream may reflect the changes occurring in your inner and/or outer life, or it may reveal conflicts that you are facing. In the first case, recognize the changes and see if they correspond with what you want in your life. In the second case, the conflicts must not only be understood but also “corrected” by going back into the dream, and then anchored with specific actions in the waking reality (read about making corrections in the next article.)
As you look for analogies between the events of the dream and your waking life, remember that the dream usually reflects something that happened in your waking life within 1 to 72 hours around the time of the dream. The theme of the dream may also be reflective of the totality of your life.
Pay particular attention to red flags, which usually come with a purpose of attracting your attention to the most important aspect of the dream. A red flag means that something in the dream is out of place. For example, you are your age, an adult, and you find yourself in your elementary school. You feel embarrassed because you are a grown person and have to study with children. This dream may be calling your attention to discomfort about having to learn something that feel you should already know.
Another example, you receive your monthly electric bill that is usually under a hundred dollars and it is $1100. You are shocked and outraged. This dream may be showing that you are overspending your energy without realizing the price that you must pay and also the conflicting feelings you may have about working so hard (for the meaning of numbers see below.)
If you find yourself in a dream speaking on the phone with a friend (who you know to be a very rational person) and you just can not hear him. The dream may be informing you that you started having a hearing problem but do not yet have conscious awareness of it. It may also be telling you that you are not capable to hear the rational quality of yourself. As you look at what is happening in your waking life around the time of the dream you may easily figure out whether the first, second, or both interpretations are applicable.
B., a 28 year-old newly married patient of mine had a dream in which a rodent made a house in her basement and started killing little kittens that lived there. Responding to a question “What is the first thought that comes to you when you think about kittens?” B. shared with her fantasy-image of her two children playing in the garden with little kittens. After considering a possible message of the dream B. decided to see her physician. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Often in a dream we encounter quantities and numbers. They are of great significance.
A patient, C. after proposing to his girlfriend had a dream in which he was picking seven roses for his fiancée and two men in a store were giving him advice. Understanding the numbers (2 men, 7 roses) helped C. to realize and address the ambivalence he felt about marriage.
1- unity, oneness;
2- conflict, divided mind;
3- synthesis after having been divided;
4- construction, home, marriage;
5- creativity, love, sexuality;
6- reunion, health, construction at higher level;
7- ambivalence, possibility of growth and contraction or distraction;
8- something from past that hasn't being resolved;
9- completion, it's 3 on higher level;
10- perfection in everyday life;
13- coming to oneness after being separated;
14-connectedness with others;
15- fulfilling all the possibilities;
16- death, rebirth
17- difficulties finding a way;
20- trouble in marriage or relationship;
Larger numbers are simply to be reduced to one digital number by addition.
In this chapter I will focus on the meaning of colors, how the dream reveals one’s belief system, and how to make “corrections” in the dream if change is necessary.
Akin to images, numbers and quantities, colors are an innate language of all human beings. Colors appearing in dreams may be reflective of one’s physical and emotional functioning.
When there is “too much” of one particular color, it might b an indication of an imbalance in a particular physiological system. For example, a person dreaming of a bright red sky may be receiving a message that there is a problem with his/her cardiovascular system. And yet, it may also be a sign of him/her being very angry. Only the dreamer can intuit which interpretation is right. It depends upon the context of the dreamer’s life.
Here are the colors associated with bodily functions and emotions:
red- cardiovascular system, sexual energy, fury;
yellow- urinary system, energy, fear;
blue- thyroid, spiritual energy, detachment;
orange- liver, female strength;
green- gallbladder, growth, envy;
gray- brain, guilt;
violet- emotional life;
white- lymphatic system, purity;
dark black - death;
shiny black- rebirth, life;
A patient, A., dreamt of visiting his mother’s grave. Everything in the dream was just like in his waking life except that he was dressed in all gray, a color that he never wore. His work on this dream helped him to identify and address tremendous guilt about his relationship with his mother, which he had carried for years.
Dreams often reveals unconscious beliefs that govern one’s life. A patient, D. who was a chronic procrastinator, described a dream in which he found his friend, a talented inventor, crying out: “It just doesn’t work, I am a loser, I tried it eight times.” (Remember the meaning of 8—an unresolved issue ). D. recognized that the friend in the dream represented his unconscious belief: “No matter how hard I work, I will fail.” D. finally understood that his procrastination was only a symptom of his fear of failure.
L., a 28-year old woman who sabotaged any relationship with potential for marriage and/or children, reported a dream in which she was a young musketeer walking proudly on the streets of Paris. On one of the corners she encountered a prostitute who was pleading for money in order to feed her children.. The young musketeer dropped a few coins in the woman’s hand and walked away in disgust. L. recognized the young musketeer as the independent, proud, adventurous, and generous quality of herself. She identified the poor prostitute as being a reflection of her belief: “Once you are a mother, you are no longer free. You do anything for your children at any costs to yourself.” This realization helped L. to understand the reasons for her behavior in relationships.
So far I have discussed understanding the dream as it relates to your waking life. But understanding the dream is only the first step. The next step is making change.
If the dream clearly indicates that there is a physical problem, the best is to have a physical check up. If the dream shows emotional conflict, the conflict needs to be addressed.
Our night dreams are reflective of waking life. As waking life changes so do the dreams. By “correcting” a problem in the dream we can stimulate the change in our waking life. To make a correction in the dream you do not need to go back to sleep. The “correction” can be successfully made as an imagery exercise.
To make a correction, sit quietly in an upright position, close your eyes, and manually state your intention for the exercise. For example, if in the dream you were captured by enemies, you state: “I am doing this exercise with the intention to find freedom.” Then, go back into the dream to the moment of greatest distress and use your will to make a resolution to your liking. In the example above you can kill your captors, you can bring police and put them in jail, or you can make piece with them. Never preplan how you will act before the beginning of the exercise. Do what feels right in the moment. Remember, in the world of imagination everything is possible.
The following is a complete case illustration of working the dream.
A., a 36-year old clinical psychologist who had been studying imagery and dream work with me, reported a dream and a subsequent correction of the dream that he did.
In the dream A. found himself working in a laboratory on a project of creating some sort of special food to end the word’s hunger. He knew that the pressure was on to quickly finish the work. The experiments were done on human subjects, and more and more subjects were required. Suddenly A. found himself strapped in a chair with electrodes attached to his head. His head hurt. A. started pleading with the chief researcher explaining how immoral their actions were. At first the chief did not want to listen, but then A.’s uncle appeared, a few researchers sided with A. and his uncle and the debate started. Debating was permitted in the laboratory. The two “camps” were equal in the art of debating. No solution was in sight and A. woke up.
In his waking life three months before the reported dream A. got engaged to a woman he had dated for two years and with whom he was “very much in love.” Shortly after the engagement A. started having light but frequent headaches. A. said that though consciously very happy, he could be unconsciously fearful about marriage, which was “a headache to consider”. A. was instructed to write down a question every night before going to sleep: “What do these headaches tell me about me?”
A few nights later A. had the night dream presented above. Upon awakening A. started “working the dream”. He asked himself the first question “How do I feel after awakening?” The answer was: “Concerned, unsettled. The debate was not resolved.” The second question was: ”What is the theme of the experience?” And he answered to himself: “It was about food, and the means of providing food to the world I dwell in.” The third question A. asked himself was: “What is the setting?” The answer was: “Laboratory. A place for learning, for experimentation. Experimentation with human subjects who are in demand.” The fourth question was: “Is there an between what I just experienced in the dream and my waking life?” At that point A. had an intuition about the connection between providing food, the pressure that everyone in the laboratory was under, the need for more subjects and his waking life.
A. realized that though happy about his upcoming marriage he was “secretly” worrying about how he would provide for the couple, since his fiancé was a student and did not have an income. He was thinking about the ways to expand his practice, was more reluctant to see patients with low income at a reduced fee, and generally was more concerned about how much he earned and getting more “subjects” rather than how much he was helping his patients.
The “two camps” (2—conflict), A. realized, were: the chief’s camp-- a quality of himself that is demanding, unscrupulous, and hungry for success; the uncle’s camp--(A. said that for him his uncle was always a symbol of uncompromising dignity and honor) a quality of himself which has faith and always knows what is right. A. recognized that he was making an error of predicting the future that “it won’t be enough”, and another error of responding to the “Pavlov’s bell” of social conditioning that he must provide for his wife. A. realized that he was facing two conflicting and equally strong pulls; one toward living in the moment, having faith, and being true to his love and the other toward fear of “what if”, and the desire to protect himself from possible danger/hunger at all costs.
After his insights A. decided to make a correction. He sat in an upright position, closed his eyes, breathed out three times, and mentally stated the intention of doing the exercise: “I am doing this exercise with the intention to be true to my love, and to live in the present.” A. entered his dream at the point where correction was needed. A. found himself strapped in a chair while the “camps” were debating. Using his will A. freed himself from the straps by kicking those who attempted to stop him. More people joined him and his uncle in subduing and arresting the chief and a few of his loyalists. Then the laboratory was blown up and the researchers decided to teach people of the Earth how to provide for themselves. Then A. exhaled once slowly and walking out of the mirror opened his eyes. The whole exercise lasted no longer than 30 seconds.
As a result of working with the dream and making a correction A. “knew in his heart” that he did not doubt his desire to marry the woman he loved, but that he was challenged by fear. He made a decision to “witness” his thoughts and to use his will to dismiss any concerns about the future as lies. A. also decided to discuss his financial concerns with his fiancé. Within a week the frequency of A.’s headaches diminished and disappeared.
The wicked queen looks into the mirror every morning and asks the same question: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Like the queen we all have an opportunity to look into the mirror of ourselves- our dreams. And once we do, then we are free to choose how to act upon what we see.
“Is that so, I have been asked?” “Are the dreams really that important? “
Well, unlike logic, philosophy, psychology, and other sciences based on the workings of the intellect and are man-made, the ability to dream is an inborn apparatus, just like respiration, digestion, and illumination. Since every inborn function has proven to be essential to our very survival (people can live without philosophy or psychology but they can not live without breathing), it is only logical to conclude that dreaming also has its purpose for our survival as a species. While the inborn physiological functions assure our physical survival, the inborn mental functions such as will, imagination, and dreaming help us to survive emotionally and socially.
Kilton Stewart characterizes the Sinoi People of Malaysia, who view dreams as guidance from the inner realm to the waking life, as a society with “absence of violent crime, armed conflict, and mental and physical disease.” For Sinoi the characters and forces in a dream are real. First and foremost they are reflective of different qualities of one’s own Self. When the images in the dream are threatening, the dreamer must fight with them. If the dreamer succeeds in winning the dream battle, the spirit of the adversary becomes a servant or an ally.
In Talmudic literature people are also advised “If one had a dream that caused him anguish, one must go back, and turn it to good.” Similar understanding of dreams can be found in virtually every culture, though not all have kept up with the tradition of “attending” the dream.
Sometimes the issue or issues in our inner life are so important that our unconscious sends messages over and over again. This is when we have repetitive dreams. The messages are often an invitation to deal with an issue. For example, if you find yourself getting lost in many dreams, you may be consciously unaware of the need to make a decision or “to find your way”. If you dream of doing something tedious, you may like wise be unaware that it’s time to move on. If you dream that you speak on the phone but can not hear the person with whom you speak, the message may be that you are not listening or can not hear what the world is telling you. And yet, it also may be a message that you are developing a problem with your hearing. When the dream involves any problems with bodily functions simply notice how you feel. Trust your intuition. Remember that a repetitive dream is only a call for attention.
A nightmare is another call for attention, but with greater urgency. Something frightening is happening in your inner life whether or not you are consciously aware of it. There is a conflict that must be addressed. The questions to ask upon awakening are “What qualities of myself do I see?”, “How do they relate with each other?”, “If this dream was a story, what title would I give it?” If you can answer these questions you may get insight into the issues you are facing in your inner life at the time of the dream. But even if you do not understand the full meaning of the dream it is still beneficial to make a “correction” of a disturbing dream.
Remember, a night dream is not only a reflection of what has been happening in your life till the moment of dreaming, but also a blueprint of what is to unfold in your life in the days to come. Do you like what you see? If you do not, make a correction!!! You have an opportunity to chart your life from within your inner world. Understanding of a dream is only half of work. The other half is making a correction if needed.
TO MAKE A CORRECTION:
Sit quietly in an upright position,
Close your eyes, and
Mentally state your intention for the exercise. For example, if in the dream you were lost in a dark tunnel, you state: “I am doing this exercise with the intention to find the way the light.”
Then, see numbers
5,4,3,2,1,0, see 0 elongating and becoming a tall mirror.
Step into the mirror and into the dream at the moment of greatest distress and use your will to make a resolution to your liking.
After completion of the correction, go out of the mirror, look back and see in the mirror the last scene of your triumph, and open your eyes.
In the example above you can make a torch, break the walls of the tunnel, bring a helper- someone you trust-to guide out of the maze. Never preplan how you will act before the beginning of the exercise. Do what feels right in the moment. Remember, in the world of imagination everything is possible. By finding a solution to a conflict in your dream you chart the course to problem solving in your waking life.
The focus of this chapter, the last in this series on dreams, is on children’s dreams. Researchers find that children begin to dream as early as at the age of three. These dreams are generally very short, and other characters carry out most of the dream activity while the dreamer remains a passive observer. There is an opinion that before the age of six a child’s inner world is intricately connected with the emotional world of his/her mother. The child’s often interrupted sleep and frightening dreams may be reflective of mother’s emotional distress.
At the age of five and six, dreams double in length and there is an increase in physical and interpersonal activities within the dreams, though the dreamer most of the time remains passive. Around this age children begin to report dreams with animals, monsters, and frightening figures which threaten their life and or lives of their relatives.
Just like adults’, children’s dreams, are “mirrors of the soul” that reflect child’s emotional development. They are also a stage upon which different qualities of the dreamer are displayed. And finally, they are an opportunity for parents to look into the drama of their child’s inner development and to be a gentle teachers and guides.
We are born with some character qualities and some we develop through our interaction with our environment. Regardless of whether one believes in genetic predisposition or experience that comes with us from our past lives, the fact remains that children are different from the very first days of their lives. All these qualities, impulses, and beliefs unfold in the child’s inner life- night dreams. Contrary to the common perception of dreams as always being reflective of one’s waking life, the waking life, in truth, is often a reflection of inner life of which night dreams are a part. That is, first we may have an opportunity to observe our potentials in a night dream, and then they are “lived out” in our waking life.
So, when children encounter a monster in a dream, it is their own fears or impulses they are facing. If a disturbing dream wakes them up parents should not dismiss the experience as “Oh, it’s not real, it’s only a dream”. The best way to transform the frightening images and fears of the dream into life enhancing forces is to teach a child how to make corrections within the disturbing dream. By utilizing will within imaginary exercise children are practicing the “muscle” of will and imagination for addressing issues in their waking life.
Alex, a six-year-old son of an eight months pregnant woman reported a reoccurring nightmare in the last three months. Since the nightmares started Alex began wetting his bed and acting out in school. In the dream Alex and his mother were attacked by a monster who was trying to open his mother’s belly and to take away the baby. Alex’s favorite cartoon character happened to be Spider Man. I told Alex that in the world of images anything was possible. He practiced first by imagining that I had two noses, that he was ten feet tall, that by becoming Spider Man he could make his way to another building without an elevator. Then, I asked Alex to close his eyes, become Spider Man, and go back into the dream with an intention to protect his mother. Alex defeated the monster, put him in a cage, and sent the cage by UPS to prison. The nightmares never came back.
Who was the monster in the dream? Was it Alex’s own fear of losing his mother to the new baby, was it his unconscious desire to destroy the newcomer, was he sensing his mother’s vulnerability and did not know how to protect her? Was it none or all of the above? We do not know. We do know that as he defeated the monster and sent him to prison the quality of his waking life changed drastically. Alex’s behavior in school improved and he stopped wetting his bed.