The dream world is a fascinating place, and working with dreams is a powerful way to connect with our friends and loved ones.
Doing dream work has been a part of my emotional, professional and spiritual life for over 40 years. It's helped me become aware of the deeper issues in my life and to expand my consciousness and acceptance of both the positive and negative parts of myself.
It's also let me help other people do the same for themselves. That, for me, is the real value of dream work. Not just to understand the meaning of a dream or to resolve current circumstances, but to make a deep connection within myself and with others.
Dreams are not only about remembering relationships — they actually change and enhance them too.
This happens by clearing the negative blocks within you as they manifest in dream content and by sharing your dreams with others in your life. I did with my daughter after having the following dream ...
I am with my adolescent daughter in a strange city at night. Suddenly she runs across a busy street into the traffic. I’m scared and scream at her. Then we get in my car and attempt to drive out of the city. We get lost. I come to two barricades and a one-way street going the wrong way. I’m frustrated but confident we will find a way out eventually ...
I say to myself “This is a dream (which it is)," "I can change it (which I do)." I see three blockades I encounter as the “3 poisons” in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition I'm studying while on retreat that week — ignorance, aversion and attachment. The night I turned the wrong way recently down the highway comes rushing back to me. I start shaking and then say again “This is a dream.”
I also recall other times in my life when I ended up in dangerous situations and I kept saying “This is a dream” and let the anxiety and aversion finally dissipate.
I recognize my attachment to my daughter and my difficulty letting go of her as a child. I acknowledge that she's a competent adult and a mother of her own daughter.
I imagine watching her cross the street to adulthood and feeling at peace. Saying “it’s OK,” rather than screaming after her to be careful.
I can trust her to leave the nest and go on to create her own life separate from me. Now I see that I'm also crossing my own barriers. I'm learning to trust myself to be careful and mindful as I grow into the latter part of my life, and forgiving myself for the mistakes of the past.
The blockages are my path to healing and enlightenment, not something to avoid or ignore. They are “dream helpers,” there to alert me and expand my awareness for my own well-being and for the benefit of others.
I feel a wave of gratitude for my family and my teachers, thankfullness that we're surviving and thriving in the face of all the obstacles out there in the world.
I return from the retreat and call our daughter and tell her about the dream. She's just getting home from work, playing with her daughter and their dog as she begins to prepare dinner for the family.
She tells me about their financial pressures as her husband prepares to have his wisdom teeth extracted. I tell her how proud of her I am and how much I trust her to handle it all. I also tell her we will let the tooth fairy (our bank!) know to leave something for those teeth.
We're able to lighten up about it all and end up laughing as her husband comes home from work and joins in the fun.
A simple method of working on dreams that I've developed involves translating the dream into “dream language”.
Rephrasing the dream in a way that focuses on everything in the dream representing parts of yourself, created by you. The dreamer, who's the writer, producer, and actor of all the parts of your dream play or movie. This is based on the Jungian notion that all aspects of life exist in every human being, positive and negative alike.
In this sense, we're not in the universe — the universe exists in us.
Dream Language is a present tense language. Start by telling or writing down the dream in the present tense, as if it is happening now. That makes it come more alive for both you and the listener, and may even help you remember more of the significant details of the dream.
Next, add the phrase “I have me” to the beginning of each new sentence or phrase to emphasize that you're creating the dream rather than that it is just happening to you. Translating the dream in this way makes it clear that we are responsible for what happens in our lives, both in our waking life as well as in the dream stories we make up.
Lastly, add the phrase “part of me” to all the nouns in the dream, enabling you to “own” each part of the dream as a part of yourself and your own perceptions or projections.
For example — in my dream above I said, “I have me get scared about the daughter part of me crossing the street part of me; I have me confront barriers part of me,” and so on.
Pay particular attention to your feelings in the dream, especially at the end of it, as they are a guide to your deeper consciousness. After you've translated the dream, give it a title. It helps give it even more focus. I gave the dream above the title “Crossing the Street,” which helped me see that “it’s OK,” and “I’m OK” to take risks, move on with my life, and trust others I love to do the same.
The ultimate dream work, according to my Tibetan Buddhist Bon teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is the state of lucid dreaming. That's when you're being aware that you're dreaming while dreaming.
While lucid, the dreamer has choice and power and can control the mysteries of the unconscious mind in the moment. Becoming lucid is facilitated by saying “This is a dream,” in both waking and dreaming life.
“Realizing that waking life is actually the same as a dream … and that whatever we experience is due to the influence of karma” (T.W. Rinpoche, p. 91.)
According to this philosophy, when lucidity in the dream state is fully developed, “we'll also be preparing ourselves to attain liberation … after death” (p. 17).
Whatever way you experience your dreams, there are a multitude of gifts to be received from them. We spend nearly one-third of our life asleep, with a significant amount of that time in the dream state. Why waste it? This is valuable time that we can learn to remember, respect and use to create connections for the benefit of ourselves and others. Learning the language of dreams, like any other new language, takes time to develop and master.
I hope that sharing my dream and dream work techniques will motivate and help you to work on your own dreams.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (1998), The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications.
Koch-Sheras, Phyllis and Lemley, Amy (1995), The Dream Sourcebook. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group.
Koch-Sheras, Phyllis and Sheras, Peter (1998), The Dream Sharing Sourcebook. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group.