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This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Friday, May 3, 2013


How night dreams can help us

"Dreaming is a universal and well-documented human phenomenon.  It has now been proven conclusively that not only do we dream every night, but we must dream in order to maintain a healthy psychological equilibrium.  This fact did not escape the ancients, who devised sacred places, rituals, traditions and guides, all designed to employ dreams as one tool to foster a degree of healing for those suffering physically and mentally.  Most people are very familiar with those nocturnal nightmares that command our attention in a dramatic and disturbing manner.  Other dreams are less frightening, but no less perplexing.  What meaning do they carry for one's life?  How is one to understand their cryptic symbolic and often seemingly nonsensical language?  Can they really bring a sense of healing to someone who is hurting?  At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the advent of modern psychology, C.G. Jung was rediscovering the scientific and therapeutic value of dreams."  Howard Tyas, Jr., D. Min., PhD
I come to dream work with an assumption that dreams are good, that they are there to help us, that they can serve a positive function.  Dreaming is built into us; it is in everyone's sleeping experience (though some people are able to remember more than others), so I think they have been incorporated into our psyches to serve a purpose.  I think that the overall purpose is one of balancing or regulating our psychological functioning. 
One example of this is compensatory dreamsThis kind of dream occurs when, in some aspect of our life, the balance has dipped too heavily in one direction.  One simple example would be of a person who has committed to an overload of work dreaming that he is running freely on the beach.  
When a person is encumbered by a very dark problem in their life, they may have a dream of flying in a light-filled sky.  An investigator once interviewed nuns about their dreams and found them to have an abundance of dreams about sexual activity while living a chaste life.

These are examples of how our own unconscious is trying to balance out our outer life; I see it as an effort toward health.
                                                                                                                            Art piece at Montalvo Arts Center
We can learn about ourselves by examining our dreams.  My approach to dream interpretation is Jungian so I subscribe to his notion that archetypes can be expressed in dreams.  For example, if you are a woman and an important male figure appears in your dream, it may be an image portraying some aspect of your animus (your inner  masculine side).  Thus you can learn about a part of yourself that may ordinarily be difficult to see.  Ask yourself, what qualities does this character in your dream portray?  Maybe you need to  be more assertive in your life and this character shows you that you have it in you.
Sometimes dreams contain signs---I once had a dream that literally had a sign, posted by a road that had a message written on it!  Other times, the unconscious expresses itself, less directly, through symbolism (this is also used in Sand Tray work in therapy).  It's best not to look at some one's list of the meaning of symbols to help you interpret your dream.  While we all are subject to being led by archetypal patterns, at the same time, we have our own symbolic system.  Thus, it will be more fruitful if you were to ferret out for yourself the personal meaning of the symbols and actions that appear in your own dreams.
The meaning doesn't always come easily but it is still beneficial to put some attention on your dream.  In so doing you encourage and validate your own unconscious self.  You will learn to trust yourself more and enlarge your sense of self-acceptance.
You can do this by thinking about what you recall of the dream and uncovering your own personal associations to its contents, by drawing the images therein or, by noticing the feelings the dream provokes.  If you have the materials, you can fashion your own dream symbols in clay.  If you have a cooperative group of people, you can act out a dream.  I was once  in a training seminar, led by a therapist who used psychodrama in his work (Peter Morfin, MFT), where we did this with cases---the trainee would set up the scenario where he/she was stuck with the case; we would act it out and spontaneously develop the next step.  It was a remarkable experience!
You can have a dream journal or just put a little effort into trying to remember more of your dreams.  Working with your dreams can be elaborate or just the simple matter of pondering  them a little.  Either way, I think it is therapeutic.
Dreams are a rich, individual, and uniquely personal resource.  Dreams are a way to tap into your own wisdom.  This post is an introduction to the idea of working with yourself this way.  I talked about two parts of dream work, the balancing nature of some dreams and the ability of dreams to reveal to us, parts of ourselves.  There are more.
If you are interested in learning about Jung's approach to dream interpretation and his theoretical approach, Man and His Symbols is a wonderful book.  Full of illustrations, I would suggest you get the hardbound copy.

Do you work with your dreams?  Or, has this post make you think you might?  Has dreamwork been enlightening for you?


  1. Dreams are interesting to me as a former client and also a current psychology student. I refer to sometimes when I have a vivid dream that I'd like to explore. Usually it helps me get started being able to give me an idea of what the meaning could be.

  2. For those interested in dream work, I very highly recommend Sarah Arvio's book of poetry "Night Thoughts". It is revealing, intense, touching, and beyond beautifully written. In part, it's a series of poems dealing with years of intense dreams and visions that she had as a young woman. The poems, when read together, build up a incredible web of symbols and experiences that have deep meaning to her. The poems are followed by her explanations of and free associations around these symbols, as well as reflections on her time spent in Jungian analysis.

    I'm a new reader and I'm very happy to have found this blog. Paula, I'm so sorry to hear about your illness. I wish you the best for your recovery. Perhaps this book is something you'd enjoy reading while you're recovering. All the best.