Friday, June 24, 2016

A Gaping Wound

If you've been reading this column for a while you might enjoy trying your hand at interpreting this dream. Read the dream, come up with your own thoughts, then read what the dreamer told me she thought it meant.

The Dream: I look down at my right leg and it has an ugly gash—the edges are ragged. Bugs crawl out of the wound. I am very upset and begin to hope it's a dream—I think it is—I don't feel the pain that such a nasty injury would cause. Finally I manage, to my relief, to awaken myself.

The Dreamer's Interpretation
: I've been going through a difficult time with my boyfriend, but I've been trying to ignore the problem. The dream got me to ask myself in what way I've been wounded, and how have I deadened myself (not felt the pain). Something is bugging me and needs to come out. I need to wake up and think about what's going on in my life.

Carla: Did you get it right? Guess what? It doesn't matter. The important thing is not whether or not you interpret the dream the same way the dreamer did. The important thing is what you'll learn from your own projections.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Things Don't Go Together

What does it mean if your dream has put some things together that surprise you, that, for example, strike you as incompatible? Dreams often do this, so their incongruities can be a good place to look for the key to the dream's meaning.

As an example, let's take a look at this dream that a fashion designer friend sent to me. She dreamed she was working on a heavy wool sweater with a frilly lace collar. She could have looked at this as inspiration, but her reaction was: “I would never do that!” Therefore, the garment her unconscious has created is showing her an internal conflict. But what is the conflict? How might she go about figuring it out?

She started by thinking about the different aspects of her dream creation. First, there is the sweater part. What color is it? It's red: for her that indicates anger or passion. How does she feel about the look of the sweater? She thought it was heavy and stolid.

Then on to the lace collar. What stands out about that? The collar struck her as incompatible with the sweater.

Finally, does she like this thing? Does her opinion of it change during the course of the dream?

Once she has asked herself these questions she could synopsize the results. “The sweater is red; I am angry. My anger has to do with something traditional, just like the body of the sweater. The frilly lace tells me it's rooted in femininity. I thought the whole idea of putting these two elements together was stupid at first, but after a while I concluded they worked together better than I thought they would.

"I was passed over for a promotion at work. A man got the job. Traditionally, men are promoted more than women. I was angry about that and didn't think I'd be able to work with the new designer. But the dream is telling me that this might work out better than I thought.”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Can we Learn from the Dream Ego?

The dream ego is the character that you play in your dreams. It's like you, but then it isn't. You might have heard, or even said, “I don't know why, but I was following this frog around (or sewing capes for giants, or going to Mars, or visiting a gangster . . . .) In other words, your dream ego often does things that are very far from anything you would do in waking life.

Aha—that's food for thought. To puzzle out the dream ego and its bizarre behavior, ask yourself some questions: What are the characteristics of the thing the dream ego is interacting with? What is it doing, what am I doing? What is the outcome of our interaction? Here's an example:

Characteristics: Take a look at the thing you're interacting with from the point of view that it symbolizes something that has meaning for you. For example, if I dream about following a frog around I'd think about frogs. Do they represent the natural world to me, or do I see them as aimless hoppers? Are they foot-loose and fancy free or merely without an anchor? As creatures that go through readily identifiable stages—egg, tadpole, etc. —do they represent changes I'm going through? Do I expect frogs to turn into princes?

Its Action: Is this creature or thing that I'm interacting with purposeful? If so, what is its purpose? In the case of the frog example, is it leading me somewhere or trying to get away from me? Does it have a reason for its action? If it doesn't, could I imagine one for it?

My action: What does my response to the thing say about my state of mind? Okay—I'm following this frog around. Am I being led by something irrational, perhaps? Or is it rather that I'm following a natural force?

Outcome: Do I get somewhere, following this frog? Did my dream ego react in the same way that waking life me would have reacted? How are we the same, how are we different? Am I happy or frustrated? Does anything surprise me?

Above all, dream work is a quest. If you're willing to take the time to look at your dreams you'll discover your own inner treasure, the philosopher's gold.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kiss of Death

This dream struck me as macabre, and I hesitated to foist it upon you, dear reader. But, as so often is the case, I discovered as I worked on the dream that it had a helpful message.
The Dream: I am kissing my husband. He looks old, like an aged Clint Eastwood. As I awakened I was thinking of a cafe, with all the patrons' faces showing their mortality, like a roomful of living skulls.

Interpretation: As what Jung called my animus, my husband stands for the part of me that goes forth with energy and purpose into the world. As time goes on, this part of me diminishes; will it die? And what about my absolute mortality, the one we all share? In a sense we are all living skulls. These ideas felt very negative and off-putting, to say the least.

But as I worked on the illustration, one part of me was thinking of the idiotic things we humans waste our time on, and I began to have the realization that a sense of mortality might encourage me to look at my life's purpose and to focus on what's important. A little prayer popped into my head,
 Thank you for my time on Earth. Help me to use it wisely.
 This prayer felt like a gift.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Walk Through the Past

Sometimes it seems as if a dream evokes our distant past, when our potential lay buried deep within our ancestors. The Dream: I am walking through a European city and see sections of town that have facades from prehistoric times. I'm intrigued by this and sorry we don't have this sort of antiquity in America. Then I think, “Perhaps we do.”

Interpretation: This dream was triggered by a talk with a friend about ancient goddesses. The dream got me to thinking about our links to the past. For women, mitochondrial DNA from our mothers stretches back unchanged into distant antiquity and provides a link with our ancestors who, through us, live in modernity.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It's All in My Head

Sometimes it seems as if the unconscious is our private cheering squad, trying to tell us the things we need to know. It helps a lot if we learn to pay attention.
The Dream: A man tells me that his shrink thinks his sexual difficulties are all psychological. He resists the idea, but I say, “Maybe they are.”

Interpretation: I thought this little dream was meaningless until I applied it to my life situation. In this case, sex (libido, the life force) stands in for life. My life at the moment feels very tense due to my anxiety over some medical tests and the 10 people that are coming to dinner later. But actually—nothing is wrong at the moment except my own anxiety. All my worries are in my head, and they are making my enjoyment of life impossible.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Short Course on Dream Interpretation

The more I've worked with dreams the more I've come to believe that what we have to learn from them is highly personal. Images that mean one thing to me will mean something entirely different to you. What I'd like to offer you today is a way to look at dreams that will help you uncover their meaning for yourself. There's no getting around it--you have to do the heavy lifting. To help you do that, here's a list to consider as you work to unravel your dream: triggers, characters, images, action, conflict and resolution.

The triggers: The first thing to look at is what is going on in your life at the time of the dream. Some event, or something that you saw, heard, or read, has triggered this dream. A dream is often about how you feel about the people and events swirling around outside you. Sometimes these churn up feelings from long ago or unresolved personal problems. Once you figure out what might have triggered the dream, think about how you feel about the issue. Your dream might offer a new way to see it. If you can't nail down the trigger, don't despair. Move on to the characters.

The characters
: Look at the dream from the point of view that all the characters are a part of you. The conflict that they are having is not a conflict between you and the people who appear in the dream, but between conflicting parts of the complicated person that you are. Ask yourself what the players in your dream represent. Make a list of their most obvious characteristics, and do this for the dream ego (you, in the dream) as well.

The images: Look at any images in the dream. What does each one mean to you? Write down the images and list your reactions to them.

The action: Look at the action in the dream. What are you doing? How do you feel about it? Is it something you enjoy, or does it make you unhappy or uncomfortable in some way? Is it something you normally do? Does it have symbolic value? For example, if I am planting a garden I might think of it as creating new growth for myself. Then I'd ask myself if I am doing that in waking life. If not, what is stopping me? Does it have anything to do with the characteristics that I share with my dream adversary?

The conflict
: What is your dream adversary doing? If his action destroys your action (he's messing up your carefully planted garden, for example), then you have the privilege of looking directly at an inner, unconscious conflict. That's progress!

The resolution: Finally, what does the conflict represent? What is one character (one aspect of you) trying to get another to do or to stop doing? How do you feel about it? And how does it turn out? Has the dream conflict been resolved? Or has it been put on hold?

Whether or not you feel you've resolved the dream's meaning or issue, going through this process will help you get to know that most mysterious being, yourself.