Working with Our Dreams in the Spiritual Life Part II
Following my earlier article looking at how to work with our dreams, detailing the initial stages of recording all the detail of the dream and then building up all your associations with the dream symbols, we now move on to the later stages, towards understanding any meaning the dream has to convey to us.
3. Dialogue with your dream
There are many creative ways we can prayerfully dialogue with our dreams to help unlock their meaning. The important thing to always bear in mind in this work is that dreams have come for our good and growth, however difficult or even frightening they may initially seem. Some dreams may let aspects of our Shadow emerge which we fear or want to reject, but we need remember that the Shadow always carries with it the very thing that is lacking from consciousness - the very thing that has been 'missing' and is required for further growth and healing. One Jungian analyst always told me that there is nothing to fear in working with dreams and our unconscious, if we approach the work with courage, compassionate curiosity and openness. The frightening monsters of yesterday can become the friends and allies of today.
Usually, unless in the company of a trusted counsellor or spiritual director, you need to be alone to do this inner work. You should be able to explore your hidden depths, and let out your raw feelings as they come, without worrying that someone is watching and listening to you.
Also, spend a few minutes in quiet meditation before embarking on any inner work. This not only helps us settle in an open, prayerful and relaxed space, but also helps us rest more in our deeper self rather than our more narrowly focused
Here are some creative ways of being with your dream to start to allow any meaning to emerge:
Do an imaginative Ignatian Contemplation on the dream: read the text you've written out until you feel invited into it. In a relaxed, calm and prayerful state of mind (perhaps following a period of meditation) enter the dream. See what is to be seen or could have been seen. Hear what is said or could have been said. Do the same for touch, taste, smell. Let what happens unfold.
Do a symbol meditation on a dream symbol. Close your eyes and clear a space in your mind. Let the symbol be alive to you. See it, touch it, hear it, smell it. Let the symbol speak to you about its qualities and any insights or feelings it holds for you.
Talk aloud with a dream figure. Ask, 'What have you come to tell me?' Ask any questions that seem relevant. Let the character answer, don't be tempted to think you know what they might say, rather listen with an open heart - they may surprise you!
Dialogue on paper with a dream figure - let you imagination take you wherever it leads.
Draw, dance or make a model of the dream in collage or clay.
Do lectio divina with your dream. Read the text of the dream all the way through. What words, phrases or sentences stand out to you? Hold these, listening in the silence, until moved to respond in prayer.
Pray/ play with your dream for periods of 20 to 30 mins. Be gentle with your unconscious. If you treat your inner self with reverence and gentleness, s/he will open a world of treasures, by the grace of God.
Take it gently - Remember :'A dream is an intimation of my mystery, not the solution to my problems.'
Dreams belong to the realm of imagination and creativity, so approach your dream as you would a poem or painting, a passage of sacred writing or a message from someone who loves you: slowly, dwelling with every image and feeling, savouring the tone, letting it sink in. Relate to your dream in non-rational ways, drawing and painting, dialoguing with different symbols, dancing the energy of the dream, allowing whatever needs to to arise from the dream experience.
During this creative work, see how what emerges within you connects with the various associations you have already collected in step 2 and see which one's begin to 'click'.
Remember that this is a new area of experience, not to be approached or judged by rationalist standards; that dreams speak this unfamiliar language of symbol and image.
4. Try to discern what the message of the dream is.
'A dream that has not been interpreted is like a letter that has not been opened.' Talmud.
When we have creatively lived with a dream for a while it will usually release its meaning. Dreams can be seen as messages coming from the core of our being - the True Self where God lives in us, and reveal things we are not conscious of in waking life. The awareness of what a dream has to say to us is often called the 'click' experience, where we have that 'aha' inner sense of sureness that we have found the meaning. It's important to learn to trust this inner sense.
A single dream can express several truths at once, and can refer to several aspects of our lives through the same images or symbols. Sometimes an individual can explore a dream and feel she or he has found the meaning in the dream. Then re-reading the dream six months on or a year later, another level of meaning becomes apparent.
One reason, however, why we may close ourselves to the true message of our dreams is fear. It is frightening to think that our dreams have meaning, for they might compel us to consider all kinds of unpleasant or surprising facts about ourselves. An encounter with our unconscious, or God, can be an agonising, relentless dialogue, which we may wish to avoid.
When we have an inner sense of the 'message' a dream conveys, we will want to make some sort of response to that message, a response that goes beyond just the intellectual understanding we have about the dream. We may ask ourselves, 'How best can I honour the dream that has been sent to me?'
So, the fifth and final stage of our working with the dream is vital as we seek to honour its message to us in some form of practical response or ritual, as I explore in my final article in this series: 'Working with Our Dreams in the Spiritual Life.'
For further reading on dreams:
Morton Kelsey : 'Dreams: A Way to Listen to God.'
John A. Sanford : 'Dreams: God's Forgotten Language.'
Savary, Berne & Williams : 'Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Judeo-Christian Way of Dreamwork.'