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Decoding your dreams

For thousands of years people have believed that dreams contain important messages from the unconscious sent to guide both the individual and the group. It is therefore no surprise that current scientific research shows dreaming to be as necessary to our psychological and physiological wellbeing as exercise and a healthy diet.

How to remember your dreams

Your attitude towards dreams affects your ability to remember them. “It was only a dream,” is a common expression used to dismiss dreams as being of no importance. If dreams hold no value for you why would you want to remember them? On the other hand, seeing dreams as friends or teachers - there to guide and inform you - encourages your unconscious mind to generate ever richer and more vivid imagery. The more positive attention you pay to your dreams the more you will be able to remember.

There are several practical things you can do to help you remember your dreams:

  • Keep a pad and pen by the bed to write them down when you wake up.
  • Alternatively, use a small tape recorder.
  • Drink a glass of water before going to bed so that your bladder wakes you up during the night and you can capture any dreams you might have been having then.
  • Take time in the morning to wake up slowly instead of jumping out of bed straight away.
  • Allow dreams to percolate into consciousness by slowly shifting your position in bed when you awake - on your side, back or front. This helps you recall the dreams you had while sleeping in different positions.
  • Jot down key words rather than full sentences - it is not necessary to capture a whole dream, a fragment or a feeling will do.

If you read books about dreams it lets your unconscious know that they are important to you. You are then more likely to recall them. Telling yourself before you go to sleep that you are going to dream that night can also help. The more you train yourself, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.

How to work with your dreams

Taking your dreams seriously allows you to work with them in a variety of ways. Here are a few suggestions:

Keep a dream diary. Write the dream out as fully as possible.  As you do this other fragments may emerge. Give the dream a title. Write down any interpretations or associations you might have with the dream story, characters or imagery. Note down your feelings about the dream - feelings you had during the dream and feelings you have as you write and reflect on it. Reviewing past dreams from time to time allows new insights to appear.

Share your dreams with partners and friends. Describe the dream as it happened rather than trying to interpret it. Give your listener the flavour of it rather than the analysis of it. Just sharing your dreams with others in this way can deepen your personal connection with them. If you are asked to comment on someone’s dream, rather than making definitive or absolute statements about it, use a phrase like, “If this were my dream this is what I would think about.”

Elaborate on your dream. Draw or paint the characters and objects in your dream. Make a clay representation of some character or aspect of your dream. Go back into your dream and allow your imagination to take it forward. What might have happened next if you hadn’t woken up?

Dreams and the Psychology of Selves

The theory of the Psychology of Selves says that your psyche is made up of many different parts or selves. You can recognise this in such expressions as, “A part of me feels quite disturbed by the dream I had last night, but another part of me thinks I’m stupid for letting it bother me.”

As you grow up you are encouraged to embrace the selves that align with the norms of your particular family and culture. These are called Primary Selves. For example there is the self that might have you work hard to please your parents and teachers - a Pusher; or the self that has you be logical and reasonable - the Rational Mind. To identify with them you have to hide away the opposite selves - in this case the Easy Going and Emotional selves. These are called Disowned Selves.

When you sleep your selves show up in your dreams. All the characters and objects, the landscapes and actions that feature in your dreams represent different parts of your psyche - both Primary and Disowned. Understanding what they have to tell you can greatly impact your waking lives - helping you deal with issues and showing you a way forward in your personal development.

Voice Dialogue and dream work

The Voice Dialogue technique enables you to talk to your different dream selves directly, hear their concerns, and find out what they want and need from you. Let’s say in a dream you are being chased by a lion. You feel terrified and run away, climbing up a tree to escape. On a branch of the tree you see a monkey laughing.

All the characters in the dream - the “you”, the lion, the monkey and even the tree have information for you. In a Voice Dialogue session you can find out what each of the dream characters have to say. The facilitator will first ask to talk to the “you” in the dream - this will usually be a Primary Self. When speaking as that voice, you may find out that it is, for example, your Pusher self that has you work hard. You discover that it is a very powerful force in your life and keeps you safe by ensuring that you earn enough money to live and get approval from your family and friends.

Next, if it feels appropriate, the facilitator could ask to speak to the lion. As a general rule, whatever it is that is chasing us in our dreams represents a disowned self. Here the lion may be the part of you that is easy going, doesn’t like to work all the time and wants to kick back and chill out. It never gets a look in and is a bit angry and frustrated by this - that’s why it is chasing you. It just wants you to notice it and to listen when it tells you that if you don’t ease up and relax you will get sick.

The facilitator might also speak to the monkey and as a result you find out that this is a detached and playful part of you that thinks life shouldn’t be taken so seriously and is laughing at the drama of you being chased by the lion.

Speaking as your dream characters in this way gives you the awareness and the opportunity to embrace and consciously integrate different aspects of your personality and find the gifts that they bring.

Themes and motifs

It can sometimes be helpful to generalise about the meaning of dream images. For example: cars can represent the way we move through life (fast, slow, in control, out of control); houses - our situation in life (big, small, things hidden in the attic, basement); water - our emotions (flowing freely, held back, deep, shallow); falling - we are too up in our heads or too spiritual (from high buildings, towers, mountain tops); cataclysms - very basic changes in our life (earthquakes, volcanoes, nuclear war).

However, dream images are very personal and often when you do a Voice Dialogue session the meaning of the dream turns out to be very different from what your rational, logical mind might analyse it to be. An interesting question to ask is “who is interpreting this dream?” Your Rational Mind will interpret it one way, your Spiritual self another and your Sceptic yet another! Speaking directly to each dream character circumvents these kinds of biased interpretations.
Recurring themes and motifs in dreams usually mean that you are ignoring something in your life that you should be addressing. Nightmares can indicate that some aspect of your psyche is being disowned or deeply buried. This is what is going on when children have nightmares about being chased by monsters, spiders, bad people, etc. These dream images are the aspects of their personalities that they are having to suppress in the socialisation process. So, for example, if their family wants them to be a pleasing, good little boy or girl, then the monster that chases them will represent the selfish, uncaring part of their personality which has to be buried in order for them fit in to their family and culture.

A treasure trove

Dreams give you accurate, non-judgmental feedback and impartial guidance about how you are living your life. They show you where you are stuck and how to get unstuck; where you are out of balance and how to get back into balance; what aspects of your personality you are disowning and how to embrace them. Once you learn how to decode your dreams, you have a treasure trove of information and wisdom relayed to you nightly.

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