The Art of Dream Interpretation – by Dr Helena Daly
The Art of Dream Interpretation
by Dr Helena Daly
Coming to understand dreams and symbolic expression requires an approach that the western mind is simply not used to. Here in the west, people want to know what something means as soon as possible. Now! Well, that is not how it works with dreams. Coming to understand what dreams mean is a slow, energetic, and intuitive process, so it is vitally important to allow this organic process to unfold over time, and to just let it unravel itself. Dreamwork is soul work, and soul is very sensitive to the rational world, so any attempts to understand too early or interfere too quickly destroys the process.
Think about it this way. Dreams offer a bird’s eye view on any number of life situations, activities, relationships and challenges, as they happen, in retrospect and with a view to the future. The dreamer is given different angles/perspectives on life lived, past and present, and personal and interpersonal dynamics at play are bought to light. One practical example that comes to mind to help illustrate and demonstrate dreams’ retrospective and prospective functions is driving. Working with dreams is like looking in car mirrors as you drive along on your way. When we look in the rearview mirror, we can see a fair bit back into the distance and what is directly approaching behind us. We also see when we are about to be overtaken, which sometimes happens without much warning or when we haven’t been paying attention! Equally, when looking straight ahead on an open quiet or busy road, we see what currently is (actual), but also different possibilities (potentials) of what could be and might be at any given moment, and further down the road into the future too. And let’s not forget the blind spots and looking into that side mirror, as well as over your shoulder! Dreams are superb at reflecting back to us blind perceptions in the hope of increasing our awareness and expanding our consciousness, while arming us with as much insight and guidance as possible to help navigate our way through life’s situations and the misty, uncertain paths we sometimes find ourselves on.
As mentioned in my previous blogs, the most important element in working with dreams is to really want to, and to commit to the process. The artistic capacity for symbolic understanding and working with dream images can be developed by anyone and, before long, dreamers will intuitively know how to follow the lead of their dreams. Dreamers will come to trust the inherent wisdom and higher guidance that comes through the inner world and unfolding process. Equally important is the fact that only the dreamer can fully interpret their own dreams. A good therapist will skillfully facilitate and guide this process along and help the dreamer unlock meaning and messages. Big transpersonal dreams carry a particular importance, and so all dream details would need careful review and phenomenological details explored, such as vividness, lucidity, motion, archetypal material, subtle intuitive energetics, sensations, and powerful emotions. If a dream is unsettling, it needs careful, prolonged thought and reflection.
What allows us to develop deeper understanding is resistance. The power of resistance can never be underestimated, for dreams bring forth the spirit of truth, and not everyone wants to see or hear the truth! But dreams will always come in service of health, healing and wholeness, and so it is vital to hold an open, receptive attitude, and not the ego’s perspective, which only leads to misinterpretation.
Now there are many ways of working with dreams, from indigenous to contemporary and through creative, expressive approaches, and how these are drawn upon and applied—if at all, depends on personal, familial, and cultural attitudes held towards dreams. While dreams are largely subjective in nature, they possess a vast inter-subjective perceptual field, so when talking about dreams and their importance, it is necessary to address dreaming phenomena and events from within cultural contexts and predicaments.
Indigenous traditions, rooted in dream culture, are the living embodiment of how to work with and hold dreams. Native dreaming practices view and honor dreams as central to their collective and religious life. Dreams play a profound role in providing insight and guidance and in discerning directions to take. Visionary aspects of dreaming phenomena are actively cultivated in the hope of bringing about healing resolution and transformative change in the world. Rituals are central to dreaming traditions and developing a relationship with dream spirit, ancestors and the archetypal powers that be.
In today’s contemporary world, C.G Jung’s psychological, symbolic approach to dreams is fairly well-known and commonly drawn upon in the psychotherapy world. Dreams are viewed as a direct expression of the current condition of the dreamer’s inner world, depicting an honest self-portrait of the psyche’s actual state and understood as carrying a compensatory function in relationship to consciousness. This approach, however, does not always connect with the body. From within dreams, visceral forms of consciousness are transmitted through the subtle body (the energy body), and important perceptual and affective information received through sense, intuitive energetics and emotion. This vital energetic communication is received above and beyond more conventional and rational ways of understanding, and it is really important that these forms of embodied knowing are worked with and integrated along with psychological understanding. Healing happens through the body, not the mind, and dreams serve a huge therapeutic role in this respect. While it is naturally important to gain insight and come to meaningful psychological and emotional understanding, it is more important to let the body talk and work with the natural healing energies that come through the subtle, dream body. Memories, deep emotions (like buried grief and pain) and traumatic underpinnings are held at a cellular level in our bodies. This subtle energetic presence can lie dormant, as if dead, for a really long time. Yet so often, it is stuck and begging for release—a healing release that does come through dreams in a bid for freedom and conscious expression.
Here are some basic steps that can help guide the art and practice of dream interpretation, complete with some rules of thumb and general principles.
STEPS AND PRINCIPLES
- 1. Making Associations
This step entails making personal associations to what is being shown in the dream. The unconscious mind speaks through images and symbolic expression particular to the dreamer’s life, and so when worked with, waking connections are made. Often, the dreamscape can be rather dramatized and exaggerated to help get our attention and deliver a message!
- 2. Inner Dynamics:
These are symbolized by the dream situation. It is Important to find the part of our inner selves that the image represents. Personal associations may also be amplified through archetypal and mythological motifs.
A simple example is an image or dream scene that shows the dreamer engaged in let’s say, dishonest or manipulative behavior. This serves to bring to light some inner dynamics that the dreamer may not be fully conscious of. The dream attempts to make this behavior more conscious and invites reflection. This is a form of shadow work where darker aspects seeking conscious integration come forth—a necessary part of healing work. When consciously engaged with, unconscious acting out and repetitive cycles are reduced, resulting in changes in daily living, ways of relating and behaving. For it is here on the inner level that life patterns can be changed most profoundly, and consciousness raised. And this is precisely why dreamwork is so powerfully transformative.
- 3. Interpretation (some rules of thumb)
This involves taking step one and two together and considering all aspects of the dream. When taken as a whole, meaningful interpretation unfolds. It always helps to ask questions like: What is the central message being communicated to me? What is it advising?
Here are some things to consider along the way:
- -The opening scene of the dream is important. It shows the present situation and where the dreamer is at.
- -The ending is also important because it shows where the flow of energy is aiming, and the direction sought or indicated. This can be known through the motion of the dream, and the ‘felt-sense’ or subtle feeling.
- -Dreams will always reflect back certain perceptions of what is going on, blind perceptions, and show what is and what could potentially be.
- -Symbols can point us in new directions and bring forth unrealized potentials.
- -Dreams portray a personal truth. Look at the setting and ask: What part of myself is this dream showing/addressing? What does this particular dream figure say about me? Is it known or unknown? It may be showing an aspect of personality or lifestyle that we are not fully conscious of and may be fighting. Realizations and coming to meaningful interpretation often comes through “aha” moments—when something clicks. When this happens, inner knowing generates energy, releasing an energetic resonance felt from the inside-out.
- -Places depicted in dreams may represent a level of consciousness—an emotional environment/circumstance or sphere of influence we are under. For example, a symbolic house may be represented, the deeper meaning of which has yet to be revealed. Or it may be a psychological environment that is representing our egoic self. Hotels and corridors often reflect transitions we are in or currently moving through. And then we have more natural settings that may show an instinctual part of ourselves, or a landscape more mythical in nature that represents higher spiritual consciousness.
Some principles for validating interpretations:
- -Choose an interpretation that tells you something you don’t know
- -Avoid interpretation that is ego-inflating
- -Avoid interpretation that shifts responsibility away from yourself
- -Learn to live with dreams over time, fit them into the long-term flow of life (some big dreams affect and direct our lives for years, and the full meaning is only known over time)
- 4. Ritual (honoring dream)
A ritual is a physical act that expresses in condensed form our relationship to the inner world of soul. When a dream registers physically and is expressed through behavior and action, it also registers at the deepest levels of soul. Consciously performing a symbolic act is a force for deepening experience and embodying meaning. Rituals affirm the message of the dream and psychically represent inner change being called for by the dream and help to consciously shift attitudes and habits in daily life.
Through these acts, psychic energy is constellated which helps open out the flow of communication between waking and dreaming dimensions. Some examples of this in action would be bringing into your living environment something from the dream that serves to represent the energy and power, such as a stone, a bird’s feature, a specific fabric or color from dream, or a recurring symbol which could be drawn or painted and put on a wall.
Dream rituals are very powerful as they are custom made from the raw material of the dream—from our inner self. Even a small ritual act can generate a significant charge of constructive energy in the world and reshape our circumstances in unexpected ways. Try it!
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 Approaches to Dreams; 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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