dream catcher

This post was originally published in Psychology Today.

I have been simply, truly, and totally amazed by dreams for the past 40 years. In 1992, it led me to study with Jungian analyst, Dr. Arnold Mindell, which meant leaving my career as a management consultant, moving across the country, and studying full time for over five years to develop a level of mastery in understanding them (although perhaps no one fully understands dreams as they come from the unconscious and, by definition, cannot be totally known). While I have had literally dozens of teachers of dreams and read even more dream books, I have learned most from hearing thousands of dreams, honoring them, meditating on them, feeling them, moving with them, bowing before them, letting them twist and contort me, and offering interpretations to others.

This is the first in a series of posts where I will offer two or three dreams, my analysis, and my suggestions to the dreamer. If you are like me (a huge assumption), reading specific dreams and hearing their interpretation may intrigue you, spark your own insight, or begin your own love affair with the life of dreams.

What If You Can’t Remember Your Dreams?

Every time I teach about dreams, someone asks, “What if I don’t remember my dreams? What if I don’t dream? What if I wake up and the dreams go away?”

Commentary: Everyone dreams; some cultures believe that everything dreams including animals, rivers, trees, and the earth itself. Not remembering dreams is common. Sometimes this happens because people “live” in “normal” reality so much that their consciousness disavows dreams and dreaming; sometimes because the day-to-day is so full that no space or place is made to hang out with the night’s dreams; and sometimes for reasons unknown to me.

Suggestions: Before you go to sleep, ask yourself, the spirit, your pillow, your stuffed animals, or whomever you pray to, “Tonight, help me remember my dreams.” This helps build a friendly atmosphere, a kind of welcoming to your dreams, the dream world, or the “dream-maker.” Further, take more time waking up, slow down, stay open and dreamy a little longer—your dreams may sense your invitation and reward you with an image, a feeling, a smell, or a memory.

Even if you remember the smallest snippet, write it down. Dreams are holographic—that means that each snippet of a dream is connected to the whole. If you “pull” on that snippet, like pulling a thread, the whole dream and its meaning will still unfold and reveal itself.

You may also consider dreaming more during the day—use your imagination, play, and stay close to your body and feelings. This will make the consensual/“normal” world a little less dominant and bring the dreaming world a little closer.

Lastly, try making up a lie about yourself. It’s fun and often contains information that would also be found in your dreams.

Dreams Can Show How We Are Stuck In Old Patterns and How To Change Them

Dream 1: “I am co-coordinator of a community event. I receive an email from a neighbor who has been here for decades with details about how to coordinate the event. The woman admitted she was burned out on the role of coordinating as she passed a lot of the responsibility to me. However, I was also in my own world, writing and looking at photos of myself through an artsy, cloudy lens that I had to really see beyond to see me. I liked what I saw. I had been intently and contently reading a book on the side of the road when friends arrived. One friend did not give a normal social greeting but instead launched into a story about himself. I don’t mind despite his annoying ways of communicating.”

Analysis: While the dreamer is willing to accept responsibility for social events and tries to be socially appropriate or “normal,” another part of her has been taking on this role for years, working the details, and is burned out. Another part of her would rather focus on herself (the photos) and not be pulled away from her own reading and writing—her own learning and her own voice. This is why the dreamer is disturbed by the friend who is less socially appropriate and more interested in his own story and talking about himself. She is learning to orbit around her own story, her own interests, her own learning and less around others.

Dreams often show “us” (the one in the dream that you think is you) as disturbed by others who represent parts of ourselves. In this dream, the friend who is burned out and the friend who talks too much about himself are disavowed parts of the dreamer. The dreamer needs to learn more about these parts of herself and support the way they would act, feel, live, and view the world.

Suggestions To The Dreamer: Stay close to your own world, that’s the place to be—your writing, your creative or “artsy” life. Hold it close; follow it like a loving disciple. The social world is good too, but can be tiring, demanding, and pull you away from where your more deeply pulled. You may need to be a little less socially appropriate with others in order to make this shift.

Dreams Can Show Us Our Next Step In Life

Dream 2: “I was at the house of a friend with whom I had a split with a year ago. We were very close and then, boom, we cast each other out of our lives. In the dream, her house is big, new, and barely furnished. My great big deerhound was with me in her backyard. She had two pools: a wading pool and an Olympic pool. My dog was having fun in the wading pool and we were laughing at his joy. Then he jumped into the Olympic size pool with no warning. It had steep sides, no way for a dog to get out. I ran outside. I was on a little ladder reaching for him; I couldn’t get him! I grabbed his face, the hair on his muzzle and just yanked. He’s huge so I could only get so far with him, but I got his head above water.”

Analysis: Dogs often represent instinct and loyal friendship. Marie Louise Von Franz, one of Carl Jung’s most famous students, said that when you dream of a dog, follow the dog—meaning the dog is usually doing what you are learning to do or doing unconsciously.

What does the dog have that the dreamer needs to learn? The dog is big, huge; the dog gets out of the wading pool and jumps in to the big pool, the Olympic pool.

One theme of the dream is the contrast between what is big and what is small. The house is big. The dog is huge. The dreamer feels small and is frightened of the big pool but not the small pool. Perhaps she was not ready then; we don’t know. But eventually she will have to jump into something big, be that big huge dog by becoming more fearless or recognizing her fear and jumping in anyway.

Suggestions To The Dreamer: Jump in, follow your instincts, take on something that you think might be too big for you and don’t be afraid to compete. You are bigger than you think. I know it’s scary as hell, but I think you are up to it! This “task” may have been a dream for a long time, something that seemed unreasonable or undoable. Your old friend has a quality that you need to accomplish this. What is it? It’s time to own that quality even though you had reasons to disconnect with it in the past.