Approaches to Dreams – by Dr Helena Daly
Working with Dreams
by Dr Helena Daly
The dreaming world is as vast and deep as the ocean and is as open as space itself. Upon awakening, some dreams rise to the surface like the ocean’s froth and are washed away with the blink of any eye—while other dreams wash through the body, leaving ripple effects. Yet others leave slithers—delicate threads that when taken hold off, gently unravel hidden aspects of the dream. This is why it is so important to lie as still as possible on coming out of sleep and to greet the mornings light and messengers of the night in attentive silence.
When it comes to working with dreams, there are as many different approaches as there are types of dreams! We have ordinary dreams which include what I sometimes call recycling types of dreams; these come to help clear out our days’ activities and interactions. More insightful dreams then shed light on what is going in our lives, within our psyches and the interpersonal dynamics that are at play. Then we have non-ordinary dreams. These types of dreams are deeper dreaming events that include transpersonal, archetypal and psychic dreams (precognitive, telepathic, prophetic), lucid dreams, revelatory health-related dreams and highly creative dreams.
Given dreams multiplicity, not to mention our unique personalities and different cultural shaping and conditioning (for better or for worse), it is a good thing indeed that we have at our disposal different ways of working with dreams. One size cannot and does not fit all. These range from ancient and indigenous practices and methods to more contemporary approaches that include psychoanalytical, psychological, symbolic and somatic ways of working with dreams. And of course let us not forget, there are a whole host of expressive, creative avenues through writing, painting, poetry, as well as dance, movement and collage—all of which help embody dream meaning and significance.
There are countless examples of inspired works of art, highly creative ideas and information, transmitted through affective, visual and auditory perceptual sensing and seeing in sleep and dream. One famous example is the physicist Niels Bohrs who had a dream in which he conceived the model of the atom. It was through this dream that the foundation for modern atomic physics was laid.
Another example is none other than Mozart who was believed to have received entire pieces of music in sleep before setting notes to paper, reflecting acute auditory perceptual sensing. This type of perceptual transmission is also known as eidetic hearing and clairaudience. Other incredible examples include Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein which came through a waking dream in the middle of the night, and surrealist artist Salvador Dali who used sleep as creative inspirations for his incredible paintings. These creative souls all worked with the higher spiritual intelligence that comes through dreams—with subtle phenomenal manifestations and messages, and potent, undiluted raw energy. And in doing so, we have been gifted concrete works of art though word, sight and sound, that for a great many people touch the heart and raise the spirit (and continue to do so).
Then there are more psychological approaches that take a depth perspective. Before briefly describing this though, it is important to acknowledge the work of Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who was responsible for resurrecting dreams from no-man’s land and bringing them above ground, having been buried alive during the age of reason and then separated from their natural spiritual grounding. Thanks to Freud, dreams’ importance gained prominence and became widely known within the public domain as the “royal road to the unconscious”. The psychoanalytic method of “free association” became a fundamental tool for helping unlock dreams underlying meaning—a process known in depth psychology as making “waking associations”.
The Jungian approach is a psychological, symbolic way of working with dreams that holds at its center a deep trust in the autonomous healing capacity of the human psyche. It is a depth perspective that views the origin of dreams as lying within us, compared to the psychoanalytical perspective that holds dreams are disguised statements of sexually based fears and desires. This profound insight into the natural healing waters that reside within the depth of our own being, to the physician within, came through Jung’s own deep personal dreaming experiences and his intensive work with his patients. Out of this grew his deep awareness of the spiritual dimension of life and the religious function of the psyche, upon which the foundation for his dream theories and concepts were laid.
Jung’s dream theory is known to many people, lay and professional, young and old. It includes a personal conscious mind (personal psyche), an unconscious mind, and larger collective unconscious mind (objective psyche) within which lies a storehouse of psychic energy—energetic patterns known as archetypes. When activated in deep dreams, their effect is felt throughout the whole body. This inner transmission carries a powerful, transformative effect that influences and affects the personality and shapes consciousness. When these powerful inner events occur, dreamers often feel an instinctive sense of direction for their lives which can result in huge changes and transformations.
I have had many of these types of dreams, which not only proved tremendously healing but also changed the course of my own life and informed my doctoral dream work every step of the way. I still marvel at the guidance, instruction and editorial assistance I received during those difficult but highly transformative creative years. And I am still guided today!
The depth approach to dream work is very valuable as it works with unconscious processes (which dreams so beautifully bring before us), and which are often in direct opposition to conscious ones. Dreams will often startle us into a sort of rude awakening, before any inner-outer gaps result in more serious psychological and emotional difficulties (like depression). A simple dreaming example would be if someone is outwardly living their life in such a way that is in direct opposition to inner knowing and truth (keeping up appearances, so to speak); a dream may come that feels like a major slap in the face. Its subtle yet powerful effect serves to get our attention and wake us up the reality of a situation that is not serving us well. In this sense, dreams serve an important compensatory function. They bring forth the egos’ perspective helping highlight the dominant waking attitude—a psychic alert, if you like—one that seeks to restore and maintain psychic balance in the name of health, healing and wholeness.
The psychological, symbolic approach then is a vitally important one and, when used with bodily-emotive approaches that help access and integrate emotion and sensation in the body, the long-term effect is truly transformative. While the therapist plays an active role in the art and practice of dream interpretation (based on client dynamics, biographical details, life events and so on), it is important to remember that only the dreamer can fully and completely interpret their own dreams. This comes from the inside-out, through intuitive-energetics and bodily resonance. It is an inside-job. The role of a good dream therapist then is to serve as an inner companion and guide, helping the dreamer unlock the meaning along the way.
Carl Jung saw his task as helping his patients reconcile with the two million year old person that lives inside all of us. Our difficulties, he tells us, stem from having lost contact with our instincts and the age old wisdom that dwells within us, and which can be accessed through dreams. By going within and working with our dreams, we open out what the ancients call “the way”—a way that is unique to each of us because we all have our own path in life. When we consciously choose to follow the lead of the dream and allow the path to unfold, visible concrete signs appear in the outer world, helping guide and direct the way forward.
If you would love to learn more about Dr Helena Daly, then make sure to check our her page. Additionally, make sure to read her previous articles on Silence speaks, dreams, my very own guru; dreams, death and dying; Synchronicity; the benefits of dreamwork, and the art of dream recall.
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