by Diane Linsley
Dreamwork is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I do it nearly
every day. I also enjoy doing it with friends and coaching clients.
Dreams can be very valuable for our personal growth because our
unconscious mind communicates with us through dreams, giving
us insight and inspiration for all aspects of our lives.
To get the most out of your dreams, you first have to remember them. As with anything else in life, becoming skilled at remembering dreams takes practice.
1. As you are waking up, lie still and allow your mind to relax and drift between the waking and sleeping states. If you already rolled over, go back to the position that you were in while you were sleeping. This helps your mind remember the dream that you were having in that position.
2. Ask yourself, "What was I dreaming?" Allow impressions to arise naturally. Were there any colors, sounds, sensations, emotions, objects or people in the dream? Once you remember a particular scene, ask questions like, "What was happening right before that scene?" See if you can go back further.
3. Once you have remembered as much detail as possible, review the whole dream in your mind, retelling it to yourself like a story.
4. Now, before you forget the dream, grab a pen and paper (they should be next to your bed), and record all the details. Don't try to analyze the dream until you are finished recording it.
5. Finally, you can analyze it, if desired. Or just let it rest in the back of your mind. As you go about your day, ideas about the meaning of the dream may come to you. I've had dreams that didn't make any sense at the time, but the meaning came to me weeks or months later. Of course, some dreams are nothing more than the brain processing and sorting information. Dreams don't always have to mean something.
6. Don't get stuck on dream dictionaries and other people's interpretations. The imagery in your dreams is often unique to you. Over time, you will recognize patterns in your dreams. When you dream about the same character, object or place again, you will understand what it means because of its past associations in other dreams. Over time, you will develop your own dream dictionary.
7. Sometimes it helps to look up the meaning of images. Try Googling, "dream meaning of _____."
Working with Dreams
One of my favorite ways to work with dreams is by using Voice Dialogue. You can do it alone, but it's easier to have someone else be the facilitator.
1. Get into a relaxed state. It may help to lie down. Close your eyes and visualize the details of the dream. Remember the feelings you had during the dream. The feelings are connected to the memories.
2. Notice who you are in the dream. Are you playing the part of your normal self, or are you acting like someone else? What is your role in the dream?
3. Who else is in the dream? Name all the different characters, as well as the different objects, including things we often overlook like clothing and furniture. It's possible that each of these things has a different meaning or role in the dream.
4. Speak from each of the voices in the dream, beginning with the voice of main character. Start by saying, "I am the voice of ___," then speak as if you are that person or object. Answer questions like, "What do you represent? What would you like to tell us about yourself? What is your message?"
5. When you are finished speaking from each of the voices, come back to the Aware Ego (yourself). How do you feel about the other voices now? What is the overall message of the dream?
Working with Nightmares and Disturbing Dreams
Most people try not to think about their bad dreams. But nightmares can be some of the most helpful dreams because they grab our attention. It's like the unconscious mind is saying, "This is important, so don't forget!"
Of course, when you wake up in the middle of the night with your heart pounding, it may be more important to calm your nervous system than to analyze the dream. My first aid for nightmares is tonglen. After a few rounds of deep breathing with tonglen, you may decide to go back to sleep and deal with the interpretation of the dream in the morning. Or you may want to record the dream on paper right now before you forget it. One way to deal with a nightmare is to rework the ending. Nightmares often end abruptly, and we are left with an anxious feeling of incompletion. I've reworked nightmares in two different ways. The first way is by actually putting myself back to sleep immediately with the intention of going back into the dream and doing things differently to achieve a positive outcome. Of course, this requires some skill, which I developed by practicing lucid dreaming.
An easier way to rework a nightmare is to simply imagine yourself back in the dream. Ask, "What do I want to have happen?" Then imagine it happening. The negative emotions might make you feel like fighting or fleeing. But imagine yourself turning and facing the danger with peace and confidence, knowing that nothing can hurt you in a dream. Then do whatever you feel inspired to do to cope with the situation. It could be something as daring as embracing your enemy or allowing yourself to go back into the disaster - surviving it and then transforming it into something positive.
Here's an example of how I reworked a dream that started out negative:
I dreamed that I was being criticized by a group of people in a social situation. I felt humiliated, and I wanted to hide. But then I became lucid by waking up inside the dream. I was excited to realize that I was lucid dreaming. So I grabbed the hand of the first person I saw and introduced myself, saying, "Do you know that this is a dream? We can do anything we want!" Suddenly, music started playing, a strobe light appeared, and we all started dancing on the ceiling. What a great ending to a bad dream!
In this example, I changed the dream from within the dream by becoming lucid, but I could have done the same thing after waking up by visualizing the dream with a different ending.
Messages from the Unconscious Mind
The question arises, "Isn't that an attempt to change the message or warning of the dream?" Each dream is a different case. This particular dream didn't seem to represent anything more sinister than my own self-doubts. The way that I dealt with it seems appropriate. Trust your feelings. You are the best interpreter of your own dreams.
You are in charge of your own life, so there is nothing wrong with taking charge in a dream and creating a happy ending. This is positive thinking and mental preparation for waking life.
On the other hand, nightmares sometimes signify that you need to let go of egoic control and allow the spiritual forces of the universe to transform your life. For example, I had several nightmares about fighting giant snakes right before I experienced my spiritual awakening.
The emotions in a nightmare can be so intense that we may wake up before we see the outcome. I've had some "lucid nightmares" in which I simply witnessed the dream without fighting or fleeing. Rather than trying to change the outcome, I watched the dream unfold - even though I was very frightened. I was able to stay lucid and hold myself in the dream state in spite of the intensity of the emotions.
At the scariest point, the dream changed itself, resulting in an ending that signified transformation - instead of the bad outcome that I feared. These dreams happened at critical turning points in my life. My attitude at that time was that I had exhausted my own conscious resources, so I was willing to allow my unconscious mind to guide me through the difficulty.
More Tips for Dreamwork
I spent the first 40 years of my life having chronic nightmares. Obviously, the unconscious mind was trying to get my attention. Once I started meditating and doing dreamwork, the nightmares became much less frequent. Because I was paying attention to the messages from my unconscious mind, it stopped screaming to get my attention. Meditation is a valuable tool for increasing awareness during both the waking state and the dream state.
Over the years, my dreams have changed as I've learned to trust my unconscious mind. The metaphors have become easier to interpret. Sometimes I am simply told by a narrator in the dream what it means. I can hardly wait to go to sleep each night, excited to have another chance to learn and explore.
There are many ways to do dreamwork. I've only scratched the surface in this article. Having a friend or coach with whom you can share your dreams is very helpful. My daughter and I often call each other to talk about our dreams. It helps to get another person's perspective, and we often have new realizations while we are describing our dreams to each other.
Try setting an intention before going to bed each night. This tells your unconscious mind that you are open to receiving information. Here's a good mantra:
"Tonight I will have many dreams. I will wake up in my dreams (become lucid). I will remember my dreams."
Meditating before going to sleep has been shown to increase the chances of having a lucid dream. Here's a guided mindfulness meditation.
For more information, see these articles:
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