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Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Back to basics Q&A #2: First steps in working with dreams

  • John Tenniel, Cheshire cat in Wonderland

    What are the first steps we need to take to work with our dreams?

First, consider your feelings on waking. Those feeling will be your first and best guidance on the nature and meaning of the dream – whether it is negative or positive, literal or symbolic, urgent or important or trivial.

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Then, do a reality check: compare the contents of the dream with your waking life and compare the situation and behavior of your dream self with that or your everyday self. If you are running away from something in your dream, where may you be running away from something in regular life?

Ask, of any dream: is it possible that any part of this could manifest in the future? Dreams are constantly rehearsing us for challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. If you feel that a dream may portend an unpleasant future event, you may be able to work with that dream to avoid that unwanted possible future.

A good game to play is to ask “What part of me?” is each of the characters and elements in a dream. However, we also want to remember that dreams are transpersonal as well as personal, so that your deceased grandmother in your dream (for example) may not only be a part of you that is like Grandma or carries her attitudes – but your actual grandmother making a visitation, which is the kind of thing that goes on very frequently in dreams.

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What if we need help in understanding our dreams?

Learn how to share dreams with a friend in a mutually helpful way. I have invented a simple four-step technique for doing this that I call the Lightning Dreamwork. We start by learning to tell our stories to each other simply and clearly. We ask each other a few essential questions (“Feelings?” “Could any of this happen in the future?”) then we offer mutually empowering feedback by saying, “If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such”. Finally, we encourage each other to take action to bring guidance and energy from the dream into regular life. I explain this technique in my book The Three “Only” Things.

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Is there such a thing as a right and wrong interpretation of dreams?

What is always wrong is to tell anyone else what their dreams (or their lives) mean, or to let them do that to you. We must become authors of meaning for our dreams and our lives. In our efforts to understand our dreams we often get it “wrong” because the dream reflects a situation that hasn’t developed yet, and we fail to look carefully enough at how the dream may reflect something that is developing in our world but is not yet manifest. We may also get it “wrong” by failing to discern whether a dream is literal, symbolic, or an experience of a separate reality.

What else do beginners need to know about working with dreams?

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Dreams require action. If we do not do something with our dreams, we will not dream well. The action might be as simple as asking Auntie Google to help you research a funny word you remember from a dream. You might decide to wear the color red because you were flaunting it in the dream and woke up feeling full of juice. Say you dreamed of an old friend; you might want to contact that person or be ready for someone resembling him or her to show up in the future. Your action might be to do something creative with the dream, to turn it into a drawing or a collage, a poem or performance. As we grow our practice as active dreamers, we’ll want to learn how to go back inside a dream, through the technique I call dream reentry. In any Active Dreaming process, the final and essential step is to come up with an action plan to embody the energy and guidance of  dreams in regular life. We don’t want to let them vanish like the Cheshire cat, leaving nothing in our world.

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