Sunday, July 29, 2007
Carl's Steps for Dream Processing
STEP (1) Identify the key elements of the dream, keeping in mind that they will be symbolic, i.e. not exactly what they appear. Let what interests you guide you, because the opinion for what is important about a dream can vary between people and even between each time you think about the dream. Certainly a dream contains many elements, including characters, objects, places, actions, expectations, and feelings. Compare your own recurring dream patterns, but also be willing to let similar dreams carry different messages. Notice what’s different or striking within your own style. I’m very focused on narrative, so I tend to remember the story of a dream from start to end, but I also have standout scenes of me responding to one key element before moving on.
For a recent real example, I was in the middle of a strange logical sequence with some other characters (details of which I won’t go into here), when a certain pleasant ex-girlfriend suddenly walked toward me. I was very happy to see her, but also focused on the situation, so we just hugged and then I said goodbye before hurrying on. I can easily decide now that she represents an important, real, and possibly neglected relationship with someone or something, but exactly who or what I can only speculate. It may be best to not leap too quickly to conclusions, if we want to evaluate the range of possibilities.
The fact that dream elements typically are not what they seem may be a source of continuing consternation and confusion, but the reason why dreams are indirect and symbolic is a powerful one. If things were only presented directly, we would have our usual daily reactions (even more so because we’re only semi-conscious in a dream) and we wouldn’t do anything different. Dreams are trying to get us to think outside the box, to learn something new, to help us grow. For a contrived example, suppose we were in a rut of distrusting and disliking every employer, but it would be to our great advantage to start seeing a new boss more as an ally. If we meet the boss directly in an office dream, we might easily react with fear or anger. But if we see an old friend in the boss’s office, or if we glimpse the boss at a friend’s house, then after some initial puzzlement we can interpret the symbolism for a new relationship potential with our employer. If they are really more friendly and trustworthy than we consciously allowed, what better way to discover this opportunity for ourselves than in a dream. Usually this re-evaluation for new meanings and lessons happens after we wake up, but advanced lucid dreamers can become sufficiently awake in the dream to do some re-interpreting on the spot (much as we can stop to think and change our minds about a situation during the day).
Remarkably, even if we never work with our dreams consciously, the images alone have subconscious impact. Our minds will actually update and heal themselves via dreams, which is why a good night's sleep prepares us for a new day. I'm convinced that even nightmares are by nature positively cathartic and releasing. If we choose to see a scary dream as a literal threat and hope to block it out, all the while expecting the worst is yet to come, then it's our conscious fault for not interpreting how the dream has really already helped.
STEP (2) Choose a source for the dream element, an anchor behind the image. The possible source worlds are Outer (the people, places, and events of our daily life), Inner (modal selves, including the emotions of different ages, situations, and archetypes), and Other (realities beyond the physical, including raw dreamland itself of which we usually aren't aware, and the transcendent natives some may call spirits, angels, extraterrestrials, etc).
For example, that old girlfriend of mine with the positive aura could be symbolizing someone from my outer world daily life (more likely someone recent than the old girlfriend herself), or an inner nonphysical self such as my anima, or maybe even a spirit guide from another plane of existence altogether. The anima by the way is the feminine self, which Jung thought was only in men, but I think we all have, in balance with the inner masculine animus. The Inner world is particularly rich and fluid, allowing for both long term formations (the oldest becoming archetypes) and short term self-observations (such as seeing a little child to represent your innocence, creativity, and enthusiasm in a recent situation).
I believe there will be one focussed anchor for each image, even when the possible source worlds are defined relatively and interconnected complexly. If we dream of an image that we decide is anchored in a person from our Outer world, then to some extent we are encountering our memories and feelings for them (that's still our own Outer world but admittedly moving toward Inner), and to an unknown extent we may actually be connecting live with another consciousness (that would tap Other worlds, since another mind is not just a part of our own daily life but another being's universe altogether). If you’re on good terms with a living candidate anchor then it can be worth checking in, to see if they had a dream or synchronicity in their own life that corresponds to dreaming of them. In my case, this particular old girlfriend is both a positive memory (providing good associations for dream symbolism) and a distant support whom I can contact. I’m really not carrying a torch for her and she knows it; she understands that, like family and childhood friends, her face has simply entered my dream vocabulary. So when I do occasionally call her to say I had a dream of you, she usually has no clear synchronicity to offer, but she’s happy to chat a bit.
One can become quite esoteric in identifying anchors. For example, I may speculate that my ex-girlfriend's soul sent the dream message while she remained unaware. That degree of psychic involvement seems unlikely except from the most significant of current others, which she is not. Even dreams of deceased loved ones are only in the most special of cases actually coming from their spirits, and you'll know when that happens from clues like tremendous emotions, increased lucidity, lasting impact, and a context of symbols for the afterlife (I often see a graveyard nearby for example). At another extreme, I've had lucid dreams where I turn to a stranger who seems aware and ask if they are a fellow dreamer. If they answer yes, I try to exchange names and addresses for when we wake up. They usually give me something a bit too general or bizarre to be located. I've no doubt that dream introductions are possible, but until I find one of these people I'll just consider that I was talking to an inner self or perhaps a non-physical guide, despite the appearances of an outer world person I've yet to meet. When life does bring me synchronicities of new people to exchange ideas with (as life often does), they usually don't much remind me of those lucid dreams either. Some dreams may present longer term puzzles that aren't worth losing sleep over.
STEP (3) Choose a destination for the dream element, the world to or about which it carries a message. Again the possibilities are Outer, Inner, and Other. The destination of a dream element may be the same as its source but not always. If a message is for the outer world, then the dream element is contributing to a synopsis of recent events, a kind of energetic or truth view, for your further information. I think many dreams are like this, because we need help understanding the important points of what has just happened to us in the complexities of life. If speaking to our inner world, then the dream element is illuminating personal aspects that we really can't see in daily life, such as our hopes and deeper feelings and essential selves. An inner world message often holds advice to act upon, since it can be precognitive or prescriptive about our potentials. Lastly, if carrying an other world message, then the dream element is present to instruct us about navigating new realities, such as how to go out of body to explore non-physical planes of existence.
Other worlds are the realm of mystics, and may be of little interest to most practical people. But when we're open to other world instruction, dreams can actually become confusing to a whole new degree, because we're stretching the metaphors of logical physical images to cover things that have much less to do with daily physical life. Better to chew it over now though I say, than to become totally confused when we arrive in the afterlife. I'm not an advocate of leaving all the answers to religious leaders, although I find some like Emanuel Swedenborg to be more clarifying than others.
A classic example for shifting messages is a body of water, which can take on strange new properties when it no longer represents a fluid or refreshing place in our daily physical life, nor even a pool of emotion from our inner world, but in fact a non-physical energy stream that can literally carry us to other worlds if we have the nerve to jump in. To some extent all three categories of interpretation may give useful insights, but in combination with other dream elements only one message may increasingly fit, such as after we meet a spooky ferryman wearing a dead friend’s jacket (okay that’s awfully dramatic, but you get the idea).
STEP (4) Categorize the benefit(s) of the dream, from a combination of how it makes you feel spontaneously as well as from your deliberate analysis. There are many types of dreams, and some major benefits include: healing/integration, problem solving, catharsis/release, lessons/advice, strength building/practice, and the sheer joy of exploration. For example, seeing the old girlfriend just plain made me feel very happy and connected with humanity, appreciating how many good people I have known, so that sounds like a healing/integration type of dream. If I proceeded to have sex with her (I didn't) that could be a catharis/release, because many dreams are experienced just to get something out of our system, such as fears and desires. If she was doing something in particular (she wasn't), that could be a clue to further symbolism.
STEP (5) Take safe and conservative actions on your dream interpretation, keeping an eye out for your agendas and biases. When you put it all together, steps 1 through 4 can give you a total perspective that can be most satisfying, but you also don't want to get stuck and miss a deeper or unexpected meaning. For example, I know I'd prefer to interpret an old girlfriend to be a real spirit guide of mine with whom I could converse in meditation, but that's because I'm so into other worlds, sometimes at the expense of the physical. Most people might think an old girlfriend was someone in their daily life, to whom they might even say: guess what, I just had a dream about you! But by staying open and mapping out more of the dream in which she appeared, I realized it was more likely that she represented a creative tender side of me that I'd been barely acknowledging. The dream was reminding me to return to a beloved state of being that would embrace me like an old friend in the midst of busy life.
It can be distressing to realize that dreams are so fluid that not only are there no universal symbols, but even personal symbols can change over time. There are some dreams in which I'm certain the old girlfriend is anchored in a spirit friend, speaking to spirit world things. But if I tend toward escapism, then I'll have a bias against dreams in which that old girlfriend is "only" sourced from an inner side of myself, with the message to look for more of a feeling in daily life and build upon it with responsible action. In the context of the larger dream narrative, I ultimately decided that the old girlfriend's appearance was anchored in my joy of writing, which I'd been putting off lately. So after some pushing, I slowed down enough to immerse myself in this essay for hours.
STEP (6) Look forward to your next dreams, see how they do or don't connect with the dream you've just interpreted. If you really get a dream right, you may find that the next night of dreaming either builds upon the theme greatly to fuel you that much further, or is suddenly more mundane and forgettable. In the latter case, this can happen just to signify that you got the message, now act upon it without further distraction. In general, our dreams and dream helpers continually update themselves in response to what we have just done and are likely to do next. Dreams are pragmatic, they want to get us more involved with our lives, they're not big supporters of escapism and entertainment.
STEP (7) Be flexible in your process and build your own style of dream interpreting. That's how I distilled these steps after all, which may or may not fit for you. I'm not even sure how well they fit for me, since associations for dream meanings don't just come in neat little sequences. The seven steps coalesced more as an afterthought structure for collecting and organizing my intuitive impressions. But I do rather like the dream model of a dreamer catching views of a communication that goes from someplace to someplace, using symbols. The dreamer can then participate as little or as much as they choose, when dreams are like nerve signals making adjustments within some greater mind, and indeed we don’t have to remember our dreams for them to have unconscious purpose and benefit. Everyone dreams; people get sick if they don’t.
A majority of dreams by my estimate are combinations of Outer and Inner worlds addressing (and thus modifying) recent Outer world events, i.e. our images for people and selves, speaking to the truths of what has happened the previous day. This would fit with the advice of many dream therapists to consider the people in our dreams to be sides of ourselves, and also the idea that dreams largely help us to finish processing the personal loose ends of daily life. When we clear up our waking reactions, we can be ready to witness more advanced dreams that go directly to our Inner worlds, acquainting us more deeply with inner selves and the potentials they hold for us. We can change our current life choices profoundly when we're anchored on inner selves; we may even find connections to past and future lives, such as those that manifest the opposite gender through the anima or animus . Eventually we become ripe to see dreams that go clear to Other worlds, complete with guides showing us the ways of alternate/higher realities.
Wordplay and Reality Filtering
For a July post to my blog, here's some recent email with a new friend. It started when he sent a list of quotes that began:
The One You are looking for is the One Who is looking.
- Siddha Yogi Guru Mai
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our
freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth
- Viktor Frankl
Everyday is a gift; that is why we call it the present.
.... there were many more quotes but, perhaps significantly, i skimmed the first two and reacted to the third, writing back:
Up late writing, saw your quotes email, here's my devil's advocate contribution.
Everyday is a gift; that is why in German gift means poison.
- also unknown
ie. I'm expressing my cynicism for the profundity of puns which can cut both ways. Plus angels fly because they take themselves lightly.
My friend wrote back that he didn't get my quote, so I further explained:
>> Everyday is a gift; that is why in German gift means poison.
> I don't get it. Can you explain?
It's just true. It's called a false cognate, or a false friend, das Gift
means poison. Language is full of coincidences that can be construed to be
profound. It's fine to make interesting quotes that get people thinking,
but when people start believing that words have absolute power and meanings,
such as fundamentalists who obey the Bible based on a translation that was
designed to make them think a certain way, then I take issue. For example,
most Christians condemn channeling as demonic based on a few poor
translations of the original lines that were intended to make people less,
not more, vulnerable to manipulators who claim the authority of spirits. In
fact of course the Bible is full of channeling and spirits, father son and
holy ghost is at least three right there. When John was in the spirit and
wrote Revelations, which God knows too many people take too literally to
justify endless wars and killing, what spirit was he in? What spirit are the
quoters in? For another example consider the Bible Code craze, people who
like to find and believe in coincidental arrangements of words in the Bible,
when you can do the same trick with any text. I just watched this brilliant
religion debunking Australian show "John Safran vs. God" who used the lyrics
of Vanilla Ice to predict 9/11 better than the Bible. It's not just
Christians who do such nonsense of course, but they're natural for me to
react to because I have fundamentalist relatives (and past lives I suspect).
I also observe New Agers (ie. done this myself) who go gaga when they notice
a little synchronicity of language, they hold onto a passing thought like
it's a truth for all time. It all comes down to the brain being on the
lookout to prove its point of view, and language as a primary tool of
filtering reality - so I like to rebel by reminding people that there are
alternative perspectives. Hence, gift can mean poison or present in the
greater play of words. A narrow view could say oh, if gift means poison in
German, maybe that predicted something bad about Germans, like Hitler! Yeah,
that's just more Bible Code effect. English came from German, so there must
be tons of curious interplays that mean nothing in themselves. The
present/poison dichotomy is just a favorite that I picked up on because my
heritage is German. What people need to notice is not what they think, but
what they do with what they think, because what they think is never
absolute. Googling das Gift I see there's a musician named Adrian James who
last year made a goth influenced album called Das Gift full of German
English bilingual angst. That's funny, I did the same thing in the late
1980's, not as well as he did of course, and I rarely make music any more. I
guess I've found another connection for myself, but I think I'll stop
thinking about such thoughts now, because I've got other things to do.
I just went on a tangent to have a little fun in reacting to your email
By the way, what is your approach to dream interpretation? Do you have some
articles on line that you can point me to?
The last line I added because I did write for hours in my journal yesterday to condense my approach to dream interpreting, after having a fascinating/confusing mix of lucid and symbolic dreams this week. Perhaps I'll make another blog entry to summarize this next. And as for the goth album, I later found some clips online and they weren't really my style (they may have been 20 years ago), so it was fine that I dropped the connection following when I did.