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Exploring the Secrets of your Soul
by Marilyn C. Barrick, Ph.D.
Interpreting Symbols and Metaphors
What about brief snatches of a dream or seemingly mundane dreams related to waking-life experiences? How do we interpret them? How can they help us in our daily life?
Life and dreams are leaves of the same book.
Sometimes our dreams help us handle the feelings and impressions of the day that we haven't processed and may not even be aware of consciously. They allow us to discharge unpleasant and unacceptable feelings about ourselves or our circumstances.
At other times our dreams may be showing us a mixed blend of our positive and negative aspects, thereby giving us a truer picture of who we really are and allowing us to experience our more positive and creative sides.
When we interpret our dreams from these points of view, we understand that each person, object, place and event in a dream, or even a brief snatch of a dream, symbolizes an aspect of our own life. Thus, we dramatize our hopes and desires, fears, regrets, victories and defeats. Our dreams allow us to express all of who we are and all of who we may become.
A contemporary approach to dream interpretation, a combination of classical and modern methods, has the dreamer identify and then role play each element of the dream. This approach allows the more hidden parts of our consciousness involved in the dream to surface.
We focus on each dream element as a part of our conscious or unconscious self that is seeking expression. As we do this, we begin to see how these parts interrelate in the dream and how they impact our waking life. In this vein, Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, believed that dreams are a way of integrating the disparate parts of our personalities.
In our dreams, all the parts of our self become players in a drama staged by our Higher Self and our soul. The purpose is to offer us a special message or lesson that we need to learn in order to resolve a problem in our life or fulfill an aspect of our soul's destiny. Sometimes the dream reveals attitudes or motivations that we have taken on unconsciously from our childhood family.
Three Unique Mother Dreams
As we look at the following three dreams, notice how each one is presented in imagery unique to that dreamer and how both positive and negative aspects of the dreamer are represented.*
Christy. This young woman's dream glyph revealed a conflict about how best to fulfill her inner sense of spiritual direction: "I'm watching a woman who is looking for a job in the presence of a psychoanalyst. She is sitting in a chair filling out a form. She writes that she is supposed to do heavenly deeds. The female psychoanalyst communes telepathically with me and says, 'How can anyone write down "heavenly deeds?"' I want to defend the woman and what she has written, so I say, 'Heavenly deeds can be very humble.'"
Christy's associations to "heavenly deeds" revealed her inner desire to do God's work on Earth. She identified with the woman looking for the job and defended her desire to do heavenly deeds as being "humble," implying that the analyst might think it prideful.
The presence and comment of the analyst implies that at some level Christy is worried that she is crazy and prideful. The condescension of the female analyst was reminiscent of Christy's mother and her rebuking attitude.
It also represented Christy's own ambivalence about her desire to do heavenly deeds. Thus, the dream represented Christy's inner conflict and her sense of insecurity about standing on her own and pursuing her soul's spiritual mission in the face of her mother's disapproval.
How did Christy summarize her dream message? "I need to get beyond reacting to and internalizing my mother's attitudes. I need to get on with my spiritual work. To do this, I need to transform the shadow [analyst/mother] part of me,** trust my inner guidance, ask Almighty God to keep me humble, and find a loving way of helping people."
Ginny. This client had a very different set of symbols, although her central issue was also her relationship with her mother. Ginny dreamed about sharks. She awoke feeling trapped, claustrophobic and panicky.
In her associations she saw sharks as cold, calculating killers, and immediately realized, "That's my anger. I can get that mad at my mother." She remembered looking at the shark's face and thinking, "I know I'm going to die."
Ginny was identified with the terrorized victim side of herself who could not get away from her own sharklike anger. Her dream message was, "My anger and vengeance can kill me."
In our session she resolved to stop playing victim, to face her anger and work on transforming it. Her vision was of changing the shark into a dolphin, which equated with positive power and grace.
To reinforce her resolutions, she began a daily spiritual ritual, affirming, "I choose to surrender my anger. I ask God for forgiveness. I forgive myself and I forgive my mother. I accept God's gift of positive power and grace." Of course, it was not as easy to do as to say. But Ginny understood that she was psychologically killing herself with her anger.
In her daily life she has put into practice what she learned from her dream. She is making her own decisions. She is getting to the point where she can listen to her mother attack a decision she has made and stand up for herself. Now she is working on being somewhat gracious in the process. And she feels good about her progress.
Pauline. Another client, Pauline, highly resented being on the receiving end of her mother's power plays but had a different dream symbol to represent her anger. She described her dream: "I pulled up in my vehicle in a large parking lot. A big black truck pulled up beside me, between my vehicle and a cream-colored wall. I realize this is the playground area of a school I attended as a child. I get out of my car. All of a sudden, I see it rolling backwards, out of control."
For Pauline the car is her power, her mobility. The scene of the dream is a school she had attended as a child, which had a large paved area where the children used to skate and play. The presence of the black vehicle was ominous--reminding her of how she felt when her mother became angry. As she said, "I'd be scared, frustrated and angry myself."
The wall, solid and lighter in color than everything else in the dream, represented her light side, her fun side. She said, "In contrast to the black truck, it's like seeing the light. The black truck represents what I have taken in of my mother's anger as well as my own, and it's sitting between me and the light."
The car going backwards, out of control, represents Pauline's power and mobility. "When I get angry," she said with a sigh, "I'm going backwards and out of control. It's the most destructive part of me." In this dream she emphasizes her anger by showing it to herself in two ways: as the car moving backwards without her in it and as the big black truck coming between her and her light, fun side.
Pauline had an important realization: "I suppose my not being in the car and the black truck being driven by someone else means I'm abdicating my responsibility. Which is true. When something frustrates me these days, I either fume or let 'er rip! It goes back to not expressing anger as a child because my mother wouldn't allow it. I remember being very frustrated with my parents when I was attending this school but I couldn't express it."
In Pauline's family only her mother and father were allowed to get angry. When Pauline got out on her own, she realized how frustrated and angry she had been, but she didn't know what to do about it. Through the dream and the interpretation of it, Pauline is bringing these old feelings to the surface so that she can resolve them and move on.
I asked Pauline what she thought the dream's message was. After thinking for a moment she replied, "I am abdicating responsibility for my mobility and power. I am going backwards and allowing a truckload of anger to get in the way of seeing the light and expressing my fun side. I'm saying to myself, 'Lighten up!'"
Her therapy homework was to do exactly that: get into the driver's seat of her life and lighten up instead of engaging the old momentum of anger. Seeing the light was a twofold message for her: (1) the need to transform her anger and frustration through invoking spiritual light and (2) the need to see some humor in difficult situations.
All of these clients had similar issues. But they dreamed about them differently and dealt with them in their own unique, constructive ways. Individuality is our most precious asset. Your dream is your own drama. Your way of processing it is unique to who you are, and your solution will represent your own soul's creative bent.
A Humorous Approach to Power and Mobility
Did you know that your soul and Higher Self can be playful when trying to get your attention and guide you to a deeper understanding? We tend to think of dreams as being rather serious in nature. But while the message may be quite serious, the dream imagery can be playful or humorous.
Debbie had a need to claim her power and mobility in a positive way. She also has a remarkable sense of humor, so she played out her drama in a humorous way:
"I'm almost to the top of a mountain that has a dome-shaped top. I still have to cross a chasm, so I rig a rope ladder to get across. Then I'm looking up at myself crossing the chasm on the rope. I'm thinking, 'This is dangerous. My admiring such a feat is not warranted.' Suddenly the rope ladder dissolves, and I'm slammed against the mountain. A man pulls me up, feet first. I decide the whole thing is stupid and stomp down the mountain. Native American warriors are at hand. At nightfall, I sneak into their camp and steal two chickens and one rooster. I try to put the chickens back, and then I wake up."
Debbie's associations brought out the following picture: She is uneasy that she will get out of balance when she tries to cross the chasm, the deep valley of the unconscious. She is venturing over dangerous ground. The dissolving rope ladder indicates that her link with protection is weak. Being slammed into the mountain is a dramatic confrontation with reality. The man pulling her up, feet first, is her masculine side showing her in a comical way that she is upside down in her thinking and needs to lead with her understanding (feet often symbolize understanding).
When she decides the whole thing is stupid and comes stomping down, she is annoyed and aware that she had been doing a false-heroism stunt, representing a daredevil consciousness that she herself realizes is dumb. She needs to get her feet back on the ground, which she does symbolically by stomping down the mountain.
Debbie respects the way Native Americans live close to their instincts and to the earth. She also has a warrior spirit in the positive sense of forging ahead and not being deterred by anything. Her stealing the chickens and rooster from the warriors and trying to put the chickens back is a humorous message to herself. The rooster symbolizes her "cock-a-doodle-do" masculine daredevil strut. It's combined with "I'm not keeping the chicken part of myself."
Shorthand dream message: "Neither a chicken nor a daredevil be!"
Debbie realizes she has a certain pride in being macho that can lead her into dangerous territory. She has made great strides in reclaiming her power and effectiveness in constructive ways. This means being in touch with her instinctive warrior nature while keeping her feet on the ground. That translates to being daring but not daredevilish, thinking things through before leaping into them, and avoiding unnecessary risks. It's a big agenda for her. Her sense of humor, though, is a major asset. While she often takes two steps forward and one backward, she laughs at herself and keeps on going.
Is Every Dream Worth Analyzing?
Some people tell me they don't think their dreams are worth analyzing because they either have no clear content or make no sense. Yet dreams are almost always a message from you to you, and it is something you want to know. I believe all dreams can be analyzed fruitfully. Some may just take more digging than others to uncover the message.
As an example I'd like to relate a therapy session with Mark. He told me he did not put a lot of stock in dream analysis, and all he could remember about his dream was that it took place at night. I began by asking him, "What does 'night' make you think of?" He said, "It's dark."
"What does 'dark' make you think of?" He said, "Unknown."
I asked him to keep telling me what each association made him think of until he ran out of associations. Mark's entire series of associations to the dream were "night," "dark," "unknown," "shadowy figures," "scary," "helpless," "victim," "I'm not in control."
By the end of the chain of associations he had arrived at the concept most personally relevant for him. The issue for Mark was "control." To another person, "night" might have meant something entirely different.
I asked Mark to look at the parts of himself that the dream associations might represent. He told me that when he thought of "dark," he thought of "danger." He put "danger" and "shadowy figures" together to mean his negative shadow side, a part of himself that he didn't like because it could act out in a violent way.¹
"Unknown" had him stumped for a bit, but then he said, "Well, I don't like the unknown either. It's actually kind of scary. It's like shadowboxing. You don't know who your opponent is. That must be why the dream makes me feel kind of helpless and victimized."
He was getting excited now as he began to get the full understanding of this brief glyph of a dream. He said, "A part of me is scared of being a victim of my dark side, scared of what my tendency to violence can do to me. If I keep behaving that way, I could end up in jail. That's where my temper could land me. And I'd sure feel like a victim then!"
Mark's dream was all about how he was victimizing himself through playing out his dark side. His own violence had reached the point that it scared him. He had come up with the associations and thereby had come to understand what this dark side was doing to him.
Mark went on, "Now I'm thinking about that 'I'm not in control' thing. I think that applies both to my violent side and to my victim side. I'm telling myself that whether I'm being violent or feeling helpless, I'm not in control of my life. So now what do I do about that?"
I asked, "Could the violence represent your out-of-control power side? And the victim, your soft side that gets the worst of it?"
Mark looked thoughtful. "Yes, that would fit. You remember my dad was always in a rage and my mom always playing victim. I suppose that fits in, too. I don't think I learned positive ways to handle tough situations."
I responded, "How about you as a man today? How would you want to handle a tough situation that both scares you and triggers your violence?"
Mark was quick to respond, "I'd want to stand up for myself in a strong way without losing my cool."
"Okay," I said, "what would be a strong way of standing up for yourself without losing your cool?"
Mark was silent for a few moments. "Okay, I've got it. I know what this dream thing is all about now. My boss has been on my case to get this project finished, and I've been dragging my feet because I'm not sure he's going to like the way I've approached it. I've been alternating between feeling belligerent toward him about it and worrying about the way he'll react when he sees the results."
I asked, "How do you feel about the way you approached the project?"
He responded, "I feel good about the work I've done. But I'm not sure he is going to like it. Okay, okay, I get it. I'm either going to have to stand on what I've done and make the best presentation I'm capable of, or I'm going to be running out of time on it anyway."
"Mark, what would it take for you to trust yourself on this one and let the chips fall where they may, whether the boss likes it or not?"
"I might do just that. Maybe that's what this dream glyph is trying to tell me. I'm shadowboxing with the unknown of what the boss is going to say. And the only way to make it known is to make the presentation. If he likes it, great! If he doesn't, I guess we aren't on the same page anyway. If he wants to fire me for that, so be it."
I was hearing just a bit of the old belligerence there and commented, "I wonder if you would get further if you just stuck to making a terrific presentation of the idea you believe in--instead of second guessing what the boss is or isn't going to say and then getting kind of belligerent about it ahead of time?"
Mark laughed, "Okay, you've got me there. I'll let you know what happens. It's kind of surprising what a brief dream glyph can bring up, isn't it?"
"One more thought, Mark," I said. "I think you are going to need to team up the positive masculine and feminine sides of yourself in order to pull this off. To me, positive teamwork could mean the balance of empowerment and compassion. If you were to claim the empowerment of the victim and some compassion on the side of the dark controller, you would have a winning team."
Mark was quick to retort, "Does that mean I'm supposed to have compassion for the boss?"
I responded, "I don't know. You tell me. Is he really the dark controller? At the very least, you could have some compassion for yourself by lightening up a bit."
He loosened up again, "Well, actually, the boss is under the corporate gun to get this project off the ground, so I can understand why he's been on my case. I have been stalling a bit. Okay, I'll give it a go at being diplomatic and let you know what happens."
Mark made his presentation, went back and forth with his boss in his most diplomatic way, and scored a victory. The project flew and so did Mark's self-esteem. He told me afterward, "So much for dreams not being worth analyzing. I'm going to pay very close attention to those dream glyphs from now on. Maybe I'll start remembering more of the details. That could be very interesting."
As Mark's experience demonstrates, we can gain profound personal insights when we analyze and understand our dream messages. Even a brief glyph can be rich in information and guidance.
I view every dream as being a message from the different dimensions of who we are--the archetypes of the unconscious; our subconscious motivations, thoughts and feelings; superconscious inspirations; and the hopes and dreams of our soul and Higher Self. The dreamer is meant to understand and apply the dream's message in waking life.
In Mark's case, he needed to empower himself in a threatening work situation. At the same time he also needed to be compassionate toward himself and both forthright and compassionate with his boss. He ended up doing all three.
I believe that the third of our life we spend sleeping is very much a creative process once we understand it. We show ourselves the breadth of our motivations and attitudes, unresolved issues, emotional victories and defeats, thought patterns that aren't congruent with who we want to be, and patterns of behavior that are problematic in some way. Our soul, hand in hand with our Higher Self, becomes our coach, instructing us to look at the good, the bad and the ugly within--and to do something about it.
Yes, indeed, this kind of work does take practice. But it is worth it! Dream work provides a viable route to claiming our higher qualities and getting acquainted with the person we are meant to become. In so doing we gradually transform ourselves and enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. By the way, did I tell you? Mark got a raise!
Two Levels of Interpretation
A useful approach in dream interpretation is to analyze a dream on two different levels. First, a dream represents actual happenings in our lives, as when we go hiking in the woods and dream that night about making it to the top of Mount Everest.
Second, the dream also serves to spotlight an aspect of our life that we are overlooking, neglecting or mishandling. For example, climbing to the top of Mount Everest might be a metaphor for a sense of insecurity about making it to the top in our job. In the dream, our desire to make it to the top gets fulfilled.
Thus, the same dream may be understood on the level of its obvious content or interpreted on a deeper subjective level where it becomes a metaphor to express underlying feelings, motivations and attitudes toward life.
We often do our emotional homework through our dreams. During the day, we may be too busy and preoccupied to attend to our emotions, so at night we dream about them. And we may resolve emotional tangles that could have disrupted the next day. When we pay attention to the emotional content of our dreams, we have the opportunity to resolve our deeper feelings and recover more quickly from life's emotional crises.
A Past-Life Experience
When we investigate our dreams at the deeper level, we find that our emotional reactions not only go back to childhood but may also relate to a past life.
For example, Melissa, a client of mine, was working through some very difficult emotional reactions. Her dream glyph was seemingly benign but actually loaded with emotion. Her associations revealed elements of happenings from early childhood (one level of exploration) and neglected emotions that were more difficult to understand and resolve (a deeper level of exploration that took her back to a major past-life experience).
Melissa described her dream: "I'm crawling through a tunnel of bright white snow. I come to an area where there are mounds of snow. I can barely squeeze through. I get to a place where it's a wall of snow. I can't go any further. I turn around to go back. And then I wake up."
I asked Melissa for her associations to her dream. She responded, "I could get claustrophobic in a place like that but I didn't feel that way in the dream. It reminds me of how as kids we played in this big drainpipe near my house. It was a hiding place. We'd hide from our parents. We'd get to the end and crawl back the other way. It was fun."
For Melissa, hiding from her parents was like being in her own secret place. It was also like hiding from God, for the bright white snow symbolized the bright light of awareness. The snow also represented a frozen emotional state at the subconscious level--being almost paralyzed by fear, feeling out of touch with her emotions and unable to control their expression.
Melissa fears being overwhelmed by her emotions so she freezes them. The wall of snow indicates that she is blocked; she can't go any further. She has to go back to resolve her issues. The main message is that unless she thaws her emotions, she can't go forward, and turning around to go back through the tunnel is going backwards.
The positive aspect of going backwards means to retrace the origin of her fears and wake up to a problem. Interestingly, at this point Melissa wakes up and remembers the dream.
As we worked through her associations, Melissa realized the dream was more than a dream, that it symbolized a past-life experience in which she separated herself from her spiritual origins. In her words, "I think this whole thing goes back to when I left off from God in ancient times and felt alone, abandoned and separated from God. Just thinking about that scares the living daylights out of me.
"I realize my sense of separation from God is coming to the surface. In a way I'm glad, because I want to resolve it. But I don't like feeling it. I'm going to bring this whole thing to the surface, get through it and really surrender it, instead of just thinking about surrendering it. I'll need to open my heart and soul to God instead of hiding out in my snow tunnel, which really isn't so much fun after all."
Anima and Animus Projections
Let's take a look at our masculine and feminine sides--which we all have. Carl Jung described the masculine and feminine within us in terms of specific archetypes: the anima (the feminine component of a man's personality) and the animus (the masculine component of a woman's personality).
In our dreams these archetypes portray the other side of ourselves. In a woman's dream, the male characters represent different aspects of her animus, her masculine psychological tendencies. In a man's dream, the female figures personify dimensions of his anima, his feminine psychological tendencies.
The anima and animus appear as dream characters who express unrecognized attributes or psychological patterns. We learn a lot about our hidden nature by observing and interpreting these appearances of our inner "other half."²
Here is a dream of a young man, Jonathan, which exposes his dilemma about how to handle his unbridled passions. They are a product of both his negative masculine self (his shadow) and his feminine side (his anima). In addition, Jonathan has an issue with boundaries and a pattern of getting into codependent relationships (where each person reinforces the dysfunctional behavior of the other). Consciously, though, he is earnestly seeking a genuine, loving relationship.
Jonathan described his dream as follows: "I am on a beach with two women who are like sisters to me. They are fishing. I'm watching them. A different woman, one I've been attracted to, walks over to me. She kisses me and invites me to come with her to her car.
"There's another guy in her car; he's in love with her. She's going after both of us, and the other guy is really hurt about it. I ask her to drive me back. And I tell her I don't like her being unfaithful like that. She turns it around and blames me for all the relationships I've ever had. Then I realize I am blaming her for my problems in past relationships that haven't worked out.
"When I woke up, I decided to write letters to the ladies I have dated who were unfaithful to me. After I wrote those letters, I realized I had actually created these problems myself because of my expectations and illusions and not keeping my boundaries. So I burned the letters instead of sending them."
I asked Jonathan to free-associate to the people and elements in his dream. The fishing experience represented good moments from childhood where he felt calm and centered. He said, "Fishing is like magic to me." The women fishing represented his positive feminine side (positive anima) that had no agenda. He doubles this positive side in his dream to emphasize its importance.
Being kissed and invited to the car of the seductive woman represents the wayward passions that Jonathan has projected onto the women in his life. He associates the car as a place to make out and realizes that he has expended a lot of sexual energy at the expense of his soul and spirit.***
The woman who invites him to her car represents the negative face of his anima. On the one hand she seems to be inviting and loving. On the other hand, she is actually blaming and unforgiving when she doesn't get what she wants. The man in the car represents his lovesick, dying-to-be-loved wounded masculine. This is a passive shadow side and represents his unruly passions and lack of boundaries.
Jonathan told me he enjoys being adventurous in relationships. However, he gets himself into trouble by being overly sympathetic and trying to take care of his girlfriends instead of respecting their ability to take care of themselves. Due to his eagerness to please a woman, he ends up giving himself away. She gets dependent on him; he ends up taking care of her. Then the relationship ends up in codependency instead of being one of mutual give and take. At that point Jonathan wants out.
All of this relates to Jonathan's childhood relationship with his mother. She has always been his best friend, and he has always tried to support her. As a child, he would forgo his own desires in order to meet her needs. In his adult relationships with women, he is unconsciously driven by the same need to please the mother. This carryover from childhood essentially results in his mother being a hidden partner in his adult relationships.
Yet when Jonathan forgoes his own desires to meet the needs of the woman in his life, it backfires. He feels trapped into meeting her needs. He doesn't really want the woman he's in love with to be so dependent on him, yet he unwittingly sets it up by pleasing her and ignoring his own needs and desires. Jonathan wants to resolve these dynamics so that he can create a healthy, lasting love relationship with a woman.
What is Jonathan's dream telling him? In the first place, he is showing himself that he needs to understand and transform the unbounded passions of his masculine and feminine natures.
By implication, as he maintains his boundaries and takes responsibility for his own thoughts, feelings, and actions in his relationships with women, he will come closer to being the man he really wants to be. He will reclaim his anima projections and avoid taking too much responsibility for a woman he loves. Then he will be able to do his part in nurturing a genuine heart-and-soul connection with a woman.
Jonathan clearly wants to establish such a relationship of mutual respect and caring. He is also serious about mastering his passions. Although he is a well-balanced person in many ways, his passions have been his Achilles' heel.
He is making progress on reclaiming his anima projections. And he is trying to be totally aware of what he is doing when he projects his own issues into a relationship with a woman. He is working on getting to know a woman he likes for who she really is instead of for who he wants her to be.
Jonathan is also taking responsibility for himself by harnessing his passions instead of allowing them free rein. His growing awareness and self-mastery are gradually transforming his tendency to oversympathize and get stuck in thorny relationships.
Dream Analysis: Four Stages
As you may notice from the examples I have given, dream analysis as I do it is a four-stage process: exploration, insight, direction for change and action plan.
First we explore the dream. The dreamer free-associates to each of the dream elements, experiencing and labeling the feelings.
Because dreams connect waking events and past memories, they can only be understood by processing them thoroughly. When we free-associate to the dream images and the emotions aroused by them, we reactivate the drama so that it can be restructured.
The exploration stage, then, proceeds through three steps: revisiting and retelling the dream, associating sequentially to the dream images, and re-experiencing the emotions.
Concepts about dreams have changed a lot from the ancient belief that they were external and sent by gods or demons. Today, therapists believe dreams reflect the life issues and thoughts and emotions of the dreamer.
Consequently, there is purpose in the dream. The dream may be highlighting conflicts to be understood, insights to be gained, linkages to be made to either current happenings or past experiences.
At the insight stage, we put together what we have learned about the conscious and unconscious self through the dream. The raw material for this stage is the initial dream, associations to the images, whatever emotional arousal is attached to the images, and the links to present-day or past situations.
When we go through the process of exploring our dream images and associations to them, we gain insight. We discover underlying attitudes, motivations, and disparities between our values and behavior.
As a result, we may tap into our higher consciousness and pursue an understanding of the more enigmatic or symbolic aspects of the dream. This search often brings to awareness higher hopes and dreams that are opposed by ingrained character traits or habit patterns.
Thus, we can analyze and understand our dreams as representing many different levels of our being: We may simply accept a dream as an interesting inner experience. We may look at its connection to past or present happenings in our lives.
We may investigate the "players" in the dream as nuances of our surface personality or the depths of our character. We may consider how a dream relates to our spirituality--the inner dimensions of our soul and Higher Self. And there is always interplay back and forth between exploration and insight.
As you go through this process of self-analysis and seek to gain insight into your dream drama, ask yourself, "Why am I giving myself this dream? What is the dream message?"
Direction for Change
Insight without action would be sterile. Based on our self-analysis, we change our perspective. A new direction either appears naturally or evolves out of ongoing inner reflection or a discussion between the dreamer and the therapist.
The dreamer may decide what kind of changes he or she wants to make in handling particular circumstances. For instance, the dreamer may want to change attitudes, mind-sets, emotional reactions and behaviors as implied in the dream.
The last step is to create and follow through with an action plan. My clients tell me that the benefits of dream analysis and following through with an action plan are very real. They have been able to change patterns of behavior that have held them back or created major problems in their lives.
By understanding themselves and putting that understanding into action, they live more authentic, productive and rewarding lives. When their behavior reflects who they really are, they feel a sense of integrity, a greater oneness with their soul and Spirit.
Using Dream Metaphors in Waking Life
Once we have an understanding of our own dream images, we can use these images as metaphors to bridge into other issues in our lives. Metaphors are particularly useful because they tap into our nonverbal imaging and give us a picture that symbolizes our concern.
For example, Nancy dreamed that she was playing blind man's bluff. Her associations revealed that she was avoiding a major area of emotional distress in her life. We later used the image of playing blind man's bluff to refer to her avoidance of any conflict that had a strong emotional component.
This helped her outwit an unconscious attempt to bluff her way through difficult situations where uncomfortable feelings might arise. She realized that she needed to experience her feelings and cope with them in order to move ahead. Thus, the phrase "blind man's bluff" became a metaphor in her therapy to signal avoidance.
Gary dreamed he was lost in the labyrinths of a cave high in the mountains. Everywhere he turned led to a dead end. He awoke still trapped in the cave. As we worked through his associations to the dream, he realized that the cave both trapped him and allowed him to avoid more down-to-earth issues in his life.
He realized that when he faced a difficult situation that he couldn't figure out, he would say, "I'm at a dead end." This negative metaphor ruled his life. Instead of trying a new perspective or mobilizing inner creativity, he would avoid the situation, essentially hiding out. The mountain cave dream symbolized his hideaway.
I asked Gary how he would change his mountain cave to make it a positive metaphor. He envisioned a transformational ending to his dream. He decided to keep the hideaway for strategic retreat purposes but created a secret opening to go in and out. The "dead end" metaphor became a "secret opening" metaphor. Now when he catches himself avoiding a difficult situation, he reminds himself, humorously, "Here I am, at another dead end. Where's the secret opening?" He essentially laughs at the old metaphor and figures a creative way out.
Roberta had a very disturbing dream about drowning and came to realize the dream was warning her she was overwhelmed and sinking into her unresolved emotions. Thereafter, whenever she began to feel she was "drowning," she knew it was an internal reminder to start "swimming," meaning to allow her emotions to come to the surface and to take some kind of positive, self-affirming action to tend to her own needs for comfort.
Once we train ourselves in the use of metaphor and imagery, we may find a metaphorical image flashing into our mind at the point that we need it. For example, another client, Dave, had a dream in which he and his regiment were being "called to arms," activated for duty in a war scene. This dream came at a point in his job where he had to stand up for himself under fire from his supervisor or get fired for staying silent. When Dave did stand up for himself in a firm but intelligent and diplomatic way, his supervisor was actually impressed. They worked out a solution that pleased them both.
Dave tells me that this scene has continued to flash into his mind at various points on the job when he needed to take action in a dispute. He still has a tendency to tell himself, "Just stay out of it. Don't get yourself in trouble." He laughingly says, "Each time that happens, my call-to-arms dream glyph pops up and keeps me from retiring from the battlefield when that would be exactly the wrong thing to do."
I find that people seek dream analysis for many and varied reasons. They may want to resolve symptoms or improve their mental outlook and emotional well-being. Or they may want to relate more effectively to others, to function more productively in their lives.
Above all, they want to discover their more positive and authentic self, which is hidden within. They pursue the understanding of their dreams as an avenue to an in-depth understanding of their soul and spirit.
We have explored a number of keys to the inner compartments of consciousness that hold the secrets of the soul. How can you follow through with these keys in your personal dream work?
In chapter 6, we will look more specifically at how you may help yourself remember, record and investigate your dreams. For now, I suggest you begin to keep a written record of the dreams you do remember, including your particular dream symbols and the way you tend to use metaphor in dreams and waking life.
You are a unique individual and have a special way of looking at life. Exploring and interpreting your dreams can guide you to the discovery of hidden talents, unknown virtues and better ways to create the life you want for yourself and those you love.
*I have changed the names, places and some of the details to protect the anonymity of the individuals whose dreams I analyze in this book.
**According to Carl Jung's teachings, the shadow archetype is the dark side of our human nature.
***In keeping with esoteric traditions, I consider the soul to be the feminine polarity of our spiritual being and the spirit the masculine polarity.
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