Dreaming Can Provide You a Map.

February 19, 2022

Dreaming Can Provide You a Map.

May 29, 2023

As Americans become more and more drawn to traditional and integrative methods of healing as well as to altered states of consciousness, I believe we are poised to embrace a variety of dreamwork practices as methods for growth and healing.

The ancients believed dreams were a gift of the gods sent in order to direct humans in their lives. In the 5th century, Asclepian healing sanctuaries were scattered throughout Greek, Egyptian, and later Roman worlds. There, healing was thought to come about both through the worship of Aesclepios and due to dreaming, which was considered to be medicine of the soul.

Dreaming is an important part of human experience in virtually every culture on earth. Within the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, including mysticism and shamanism, we find references and documentation regarding dreams and dreaming going back throughout recorded history. Many of the earliest human communities included a shaman who not only served as a healer, but intervened between the living and the dead using dreams and visions. These shaman/mystics can be considered forerunners for what we experience today as modern medicine.

Dreaming as a resource for growth and healing has not been scientifically studied to any great extent. However, using the waking state as the point of reference from which to compare other states of consciousness may not be scientifically reasonable. Over time, we are beginning to understand the ways in which the brain creates an alternative or virtual reality while we are sleeping each night. We ponder what products might result if we could use the same creative abilities while awake or in a state of dual consciousness. There may be many aspects of the state of dreaming that we are not fully grasping, much less utilizing in the best way possible.

The pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung viewed dreams as a symbolic portrayal of the self, as well as the actual situation in the unconscious. He saw dreams as creatively producing new information for the waking mind. After nearly two decades of practice and research in both psychological trauma and dreamwork, I am more convinced than ever that Carl Jung was right when he proposed that what we do not bring to consciousness we will label as fate, and that we can use our dreams as a map that guides us to peaceful clarity of purpose.

Perhaps the most distinctive element in Jung’s dream theory is his hypothesis that some dream images are derived from collective or archetypal contents rather than from the dreamer’s personal experiences. Archetypes are living psychic forces. They are inherited with the brain structure and if we entertain them with equal status to conscious or waking reality, they can become energetic guides as well as outlets of creative expression. As archetypal psychologist James Hillman stated it, dreams show us how to be plural. Dreams containing archetypes can be concerned directly with the psychic life of the dreamer and true wholeness can be achieved through the integration of these archetypes.

These are exciting and transformative times and neither the current maps nor the old fears are serving us. Jung regarded dreaming as a creative process – one that produces new information for the conscious mind. He also believed that the study of dreams would not only enhance one’s understanding of oneself but also of mankind as a whole.

I believe it is bold participation with creative visions or dream images, mixed with faith and wonder, that holds the value and the potential for growth in both experiences. Our work as elders is to shed illusions and reclaim archetypal energy for ourselves as a resource.

During my doctoral research, during which I interviewed dreamers from around the world who were confronting life-threatening illnesses while practicing dreamwork, I made a few discoveries of value. The first is that the more you work with and honor your dreams, the more you begin to develop a relationship that widens your awareness and can serve you in your life and relationships. Additionally, you develop a certainty regarding a world beyond the visible that is not arbitrary. You understand and marvel at your own capacity to interact with that world.

Finally, most participants described their coming into relationship with the dream realms as life-changing. They all shared a deep sense that the meaning in the experience is not transitory, is healing, and is outside of ordinary waking consciousness. Wherever you find yourself in your life right now, you do not have to live the rest of your life in the same way. Whatever you seek among the best aspects of being human, you do not need to understand it in advance. Your dreams will guide you to it.

Tips for Dreamwork

1. To begin with, try waking as slowly as possible. An alarm clock shatters the hypnagogic state, which is those moments between sleep and wakefulness when our ability to recall dreams is strongest. Even if you do not think you can remember a dream, take just a minute to see if there are any feelings or images you can describe. Following this simple step may cause an entire dream to come flooding back. Write it down or record it.

2. At the beginning, it is essential to establish a relationship with your dreams; therefore, never disregard anything that you recall upon waking, even if it is only one image, a sound, or even a color. Write everything down as a way of establishing a dialogue. Because dream images often make no sense, you may want to dismiss them as weird or meaningless. However, dreams can be quite coherent once we take the time to learn their language. Dreams are not literal but speak a perfect communication composed of symbols specific to the dreamer. This is not meant to confuse us but is the native language of dreams.

3. Before sleep, set up a habit of incubating a desire - starting with the desire to have a dream and remember it. Softly or silently speak this desire to yourself as the last thing before you fall asleep. Aim to “feel” the desire and stay with it for a few moments as the last thing before you sleep. We can think of dream incubation as intentional dreaming. Many artistic, conceptual, and concrete creations and innovations have been born out of dream incubation, with varying degrees of intent. Einstein had a dream as a teenager that influenced his theory of relativity, and Nikola Tesla dreamt of the wireless transmission of electrical energy. We also owe penicillin, insulin, and the invention of the computer to dreams.

MEA alum Dr. Katherine Lawson combines Mind-Body Medicine research with a deep understanding of psychology, spirituality, and neuroscience, bringing clients a more meaningful approach to life, work, and relationships. She supports leaders, organizations, and innovators, guiding them to new levels of creativity, self-knowledge, fulfillment, and productivity.

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