Dreamwork recipe A four-step approach to working on your own dreams BY MACHIEL KLERK reamwork is a life-enriching experience—plus, it can help you become more successful in your daily life. By working with your dreams, you will gain a deeper insight into themes that run through your life. You’ll get clues about the relationships you engage in, your vocation and your health issues. Your dreams might even inspire you to come up with some New Year’s resolutions. This recipe is a very good starting place. Over time you can deepen the work in several ways. We will be adding tools and techniques in future columns.
Let’s start! First, make sure you have a paper and pen by the bed, and remember to ask for a dream while drifting off to sleep. Lie still for a moment upon waking from a dream to help improve recall. Record your dream in the present tense, as if it were happening right now. After you have written it down, try the following:
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Identify the elements Symbolism of the elements Interpretation Follow up
A recorded dream Here is a short dream reported to me by a middle-aged woman: “I am walking in a forest, and I encounter a wolf. The wolf looks at me as if he wants to attack. Somehow there is a garden chair behind me. I decide to sit at the same level as the wolf which hopefully calms him down. While I try to sit, I fall in the chair backwards. Immediately the wolf jumps towards me, and while lying on the ground I lift the chair up with my legs between the wolf and me. The wolf bounces off against the chair.”
Identify the elements List the separate elements, leaving space for writing down the symbolism in step two. Start with the location: What is the stage, the territory where the dream is taking place? All the characters such as persons, animals and monsters. An element can also be a sound, a taste, a color, an object. Also note the story line and specific situations. With this dream, the list of elements might be: forest, wolf, garden chair, situation—I want to sit down to be level, be more calm, and when I fall I get attacked.
Symbolism For each element ask yourself, “What associations do I have with this image?” If you have multiple associations, take the one that clicks for you. Other people might come up with different answers, but because this is your dream, go by your first ideas. In the case of the middle-aged woman, her associations were the following. Forest: unknown territory, place for a pleasant stroll This dream wolf (very important to stay with this specific dream wolf): aggressive, killer instinct Garden chair: place to sit, rest in the yard or garden. Situation: I want to sit, level with the wolf, show non-hostility, and when try to sit and I fall, I am more vulnerable, and I get immediately attacked.
Interpret the dream Jumping over steps one and two is the most common shortcut people make, and then they get stuck.
In step three, you read the dream, replacing all the elements with your symbolic representation. For example: I am walking ‘in an unknown territory, for my pleasure’ where I meet an ‘aggressive, killer instinct’ that attacks me when ‘I want to show that I am not hostile, and fall in that process.’ Next, take a look at your daily life. Do you recognize the dynamics? It’s often not easy to recognize how the dream dynamics show up in inner and outer life. It takes practice, so don’t give up too fast. Once you discover the areas where these ideas, emotions, feelings and themes are operating, you can begin to work with them. The most profound changes are usually achieved on the inner level. The true reality of the psychological realm becomes most prominent when we realize that everything we do—every action, every relationship—ultimately emerges from our psyche. Some people who never bring the contents of the psyche to a conscious level may end up in similar relationships over and over or perhaps having repeated jobs “go bad” because their unresolved conflicts keep playing out—the same theme with a different person or situation. The middle-aged woman with the wolf dream explained during the dreamwork that she had just met a new potential partner. It was a new territory for her, and she was hoping to find pleasure, fun and relaxation. On the evening before this dream she had two intense conflicts with him. She reported feeling very shaky and unsafe. This dream gave her a clear picture of her date’s aggression, not necessarily on a physical level, but more so on a psychological level.
Follow up Continue to engage with the dream’s images. If the dream characters were real, what would you say to them? Make at least one step in a new direction. Artistic expression involving the dream images can be healing and helpful. Draw, dance, make music—any way you creatively express yourself is valuable. u Machiel Klerk, LMFT, is a Jungian-oriented therapist with a private practice in Salt Lake City and founding president of the Jung Society of Utah. WWW.MACHIELKLERK.COM, MACHIEL@MACHIELKLERK.COM.
In the next months, Machiel will be working with readers’ dreams. Email your dreams to MACHIEL@MACHIELKLERK.COM—If yours is selected, he will help your work on it free of charge, and it will be featured in CATALYST, keeping your name and personal information confidential.