Dreaming a New Life
Forty years ago, during my twenties, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, she was intelligent, from a well placed family, lovely figure, and she wanted to be my partner. But there was a problem. I was married with three children. The result – conflict.
I struggled for months to restrain my passion for my new love. My fear, barely recognised at the time, was that if I let go my control my marriage would be smashed by what I would do, and so would my children. So I allowed myself no hand holding, no kissing, and definitely no sex.
The stress of restraint was such that travelling to work one day, and thus nearer to my new love, I suddenly found it hard to breathe, and a continuous ache in my chest began its entrance into my life that lasted for years. Medical examination showed there was nothing physically wrong. My doctor told me I had been working too hard and suggested I take a tranquiliser. The thought of surviving emotionally using something that deadened the way I responded to life didn’t appeal to me. So I started a quest for healing to deal with the chest pain and the depression that arose in what felt like a loveless life.
The search for healing led me on a long journey of discovery. During that quest my ‘New Love’ married someone else and we are still friends years later. My quest has been successful, and many treasure uncovered. One of the most precious of these, and one of the healing tools in meeting what I was facing, was my discovery of the world of dreams.
This new relationship with dreams started very slowly. Most experts at that time were saying you needed to interpret a dream – remember this was the sixties. Interpretation was fine for ideas, for thinking clever thoughts, but it made not one jot of difference to my pain or depression. Fortunately, as I have so often heard since, I hadn’t been exposed to the idea that depression was incurable. So my affliction of physical pain and my affliction of depression were like touchstones telling me what didn’t work. But those touchstones, when I moved on from interpretation to exploration of dreams, showed me that dreams worked – really worked.
The way dreams worked for me wasn’t by thinking about them or analysing them. They worked when I used them as a doorway to enter a deeper previously unknown dimension of myself. I have at times likened this to lifting up the floorboards or going into the cellar, and discovering what foundations the house of my personality is built on, and how all the apparatus of life is wired up. Once I learned to enter that place in myself, usually called ‘the unconscious’, I could begin to see what circuitry had created the depression, and what cross wiring had brought about the psychosomatic chest pain. It took work, but I could gradually restructure myself and correct the circuitry. In that way I saw that the chest pain had arisen because the enormous amount of emotional and sexual energy I had restrained had turned inward. Instead of a positive loving expression of passionate feelings it became personally destructive, like a knife wound. My depression had different causes. It was like a projector putting a distorted picture on a screen. The energy or light of my fundamental core self had blockages or filters put in the way of the light flow. In more direct terms events in my earliest years had led me to block off the full flow of my feelings, desires and anger – the full me. The shadows the blockages caused were what I experienced as depression. As the blockages were removed the depression faded.
In this exploration of my inner structure I saw that some things were cross circuited. My ability to love, for instance, had been damaged early in my life, setting up vulnerability in my emotions – my chest. So when the big challenge came regarding love the vulnerability became an open wound. Some things we carry go deep, and this one had level upon level.
Because of these powerful life changes, my observation over many years is that dreaming is vital for survival and health. I believe dreams arise from the very core process that gives us life and preserves health. Our core processes are an expression of life itself. They may be largely unconscious, but that doesn’t mean they cannot flow into our awareness. As with animals that move, and even experience bodily changes with the seasons without having a conscious mind, or watching the news on TV, I believe we also, at our deepest levels, are linked with changes the earth and heavens move through. The process behind dreams is always trying to get us ready for such changes to help us move with what is happening.
In past cultures life was often extremely difficult. In the Inuit (Eskimos) tribes for instance, the elderly knew that if there was a bad winter when food was short they would need to walk out into the frozen night to die, so the younger in the family could survive. Such tribal people often used their dreams to help them hunt in the right place to avoid such starvation. We may not need to go out with a bow to hunt our food, but when we face the unknown, the outreach dreams can give us, the depth of understanding of our life situation, are still often more helpful than any everyday skill we may have acquired.
I need to repeat some of that because it is not a popular statement supported by most of the scientific community. Dreams arise from the process that gives you life. They are part and parcel of the action in you that spontaneously makes you breathe faster when you run, or perspire when you are hot. They are an expression of the process that constantly regulates your body and mind in its attempts to keep you functioning.i But mere functioning and survival isn’t enough. The process goes beyond rebuilding and clearing out past trauma and pains in order to become healthier. The action of life in us presses to grow, to expand, to thrive and become more than we are at the moment. Beyond that too, dreams are often a helicopter ride surveying our life situation. From that wider perspective we can see possible dead end directions, traffic jams of delay, and ways we can take to meet our needs. Survival is not enough! We need to thrive and move with the times.
Dreams hold a mirror for us to look in. In the mirror we see what we have created of the life and love that flows through us. For in dreams we see the beauty or the tragedy, of what we have formed with our gift of life. The mirror of dreams is a way of checking the heights and depths of our being, seeing if all is working well, and in that way we can see how true we have been to what we know within us is our best.
In the mirror of my dreams I was shown clearly what I had done to the love that was innate in me, and how I had badly used enormous energies within me. Being able to see those things I could heal the damage I had unwittingly caused myself, or that had resulted from childhood experiences. An easier love became possible, as well as a greater flow of my creative potential.
Recently I asked other people to write and tell me how they survived great change or difficulties in their life. Sandra, one of the people who replied, wrote:
Through my dreams I have met perhaps the most devastating events in my life, creating both loss and change. Also, my dreams created the ability to really see, know and love.
For years I had a recurring dream/nightmare of not being able to open my eyes. They were stuck shut and no matter what I did I couldn’t open them. Eventually, in large part due to my dreams, I learned what I was unable to open my eyes to. For over 40 years I had lived my life unaware of my childhood. I had very few memories of home and family, but knew it was a life of poverty and parental abuse, and I was always aware of these things. But at some point I began dreaming of things I had not been aware of, things that I eventually learned indicated sexual abuse. – Sandra
What may be the most important fact here is that through her dreams and her efforts to understand them, Sandra was able to see and know what she had previously been blind to. In her case it was the painful and abusive facts of her childhood. Such hidden experiences are the ‘circuits’ as I called them above, that produce the most awful effects in our waking everyday life. But dreams also open our eyes to creative and extended dimensions of ourselves we might otherwise remain unconscious of.
Dreams encompass the largest and the smallest. They portray to us everything from the health and well being of the cells in our body, to our unconscious impressions and intuitions about the people around us, the society and world we live in, and the meaning of our existence. They bring to our limited everyday personality its connection with the hugeness lying under the surface of who we presently know ourselves to be.
As an example of this, a man I was working with told me that he had dreamt he was walking with a long-standing friend. They came to a river. The friend crossed the river but the dreamer could not cross and woke very disturbed. He found later that the friend who appeared in the dream had died at the time he had dreamt of the river crossing. The dream not only showed him that deep within himself he knew his friend had died, even though consciously he was unaware of it, but it also told him that the friend, in ‘crossing the river’ of death, walked on into another form of life. Without the correct awareness of his friend’s death, the information about life continuing would not have been so impressive. That is just a tiny instance of how subtle dreams are.
As children we have all had dreams, not perhaps the dreams of the night. But the ‘dreams’ of childhood, whether of the day or the night, are often direct expressions of core potential and wisdom. Such dreams impelled us toward something or away from something. As the years passed, those dreams may have become covered by the debris of experiences, opinions of other people and events. And you know inside yourself what it is like to live in the absence of those dreams, the emptiness left when you have lost that light, that urgent guide toward the future. For they held in them the passions and loves that give meaning and purpose to each day. Those dreams may have been pushed into the night, and to find again that bright guiding light, you can open the door of the night to allow your dreams into your waking.
So, is it enough to dream without being aware of what is implied by your dreams? Well, is it enough to love without giving that love to others? Is it enough to create without making that creation real in the world? Is it enough to want a child without bearing it? It takes our own movement toward what is offered from within to bring it fully into being. Our dreams are also an invitation to live in worlds beyond our present imagination, but an invitation that you might neglect.
Exploring your dreams
Dreams are a language, a language that frequently appears foreign. This is because the dream is seldom in words. It expresses itself in images and drama, and really we understand that, otherwise we would not get such a kick from films and theatre. So the first step is to wonder what your dream is expressing in its drama and its action. What is taking place? Is it love, anger, avoidance, building something, or a relationship? Whatever it is put a name to it.
The following dream was told me by Lorraine during a phone-in I did on London Broadcasting Company.
My Mother asked me to go and buy some butter for her. A chain on my left leg prevented me from going very far. I look down the road and see my Mum, Dad and my four brothers in the back of a car. I wave and call and they drive right past me, going over the chain I am wearing on my leg.”
If we put words to what is dramatised in Lorraine’s dream we can say:
- Lorraine is doing her mother’s bidding.
- She is restricted in her freedom.
- She tries to get family attention.
- She is shown as being left out of family life. What we have done here is to simply say what was happening in the dream. So if this were your dream you would need to ask yourself if you feel, or truly are, restricted by your emotional connection with your mother. And does that indicate that despite trying to gain your family’s attention you still feel ignored? So the aim is to see how the drama relates to, expresses and unfolds, what is being met in your life. Then you need to be ready to look at that.Dreams seldom if ever merely reflect the events of what is felt or experienced in our waking life. What they do is to use the imagery and feelings of our life to describe something we probably have not been aware of, or even are avoiding acknowledging about ourselves. So once the dream drama is clarified, it is worth thinking about what it suggests. If this is difficult talk it over with a friend.In Lorraine’s case, whether the things shown in her dream are happening in reality, the fact is that her dream shows her feeling ignored, chained, and that she is attempting to please. So the next thing for Lorraine to consider is what she wants to do about the situation that will give her maximum satisfaction. This can be explored by imagining herself back in the dream and exploring various alternative outcomes.What this means is that in imagination she needs to alter the dream in any way that satisfies. With your own dream you would need to experiment with it, play with it, until you find a fuller sense of self expression or well being.
It is very important to note whether any anger or hostility is in the dream that is not fully expressed; or if there are resistances as you try to alter the dream. If there are emotions not fully expressed, imagine a full expression of the anger or other feelings. Because anger, hostility, or even love is sometimes socially taboo we often restrain it, even in our dreams. In expressing it in your imagination you are not in any way doing anything socially wrong. The aim is to imagine or even act it out physically without in any way doing it to others in the real world. Restrained feelings and desire can damage us internally, and also tend to leak out anyway into the way we relate to others. So it is really healing to acknowledge, express them, and understand their roots.
It may be that as this is practised more independence, anger, creativity or love is openly expressed in subsequent dreams. This is healthy, allowing such feelings to be vented and redirected into satisfying ways, and not turned inwards on oneself in a way
that damages health. In doing this do not ignore any sense of resistance, pleasure or anxiety. Satisfaction occurs only as we learn to be aware of and integrate resistances and anxieties into what we express. This is a very powerful process, so don’t underestimate it. ii
If there are resistances to changing the dream, these show there is a difference in what you want, and what you feel unconsciously, or what your core self wishes. If you can, relate to any feelings of resistance as if they are sources or voices of realisation and information. Do not push them aside, but let them unfold to see if you can understand where they are arising from and what their message is. Only then can you move on, having cleared a blockage within you.
Being your dream
No computer, however amazing, can yet do what you do in creating a dream. While you sleep you produce a living being such as a dream character that you can have a conversation with. In creating such a character, complete with background, you draw spontaneously on huge areas of your experience or memories – and of course your immense creativity. Think how much technology and staff it takes to create a film cartoon. Yet you do it each night and perhaps think nothing of it!
Behind each dream image lie enormous data, emotional responses and patterns of behaviour you may be unaware of. So remember that when entering into a dream, you are in a full surround virtual reality databank of fantastic information. You can tap that information just as you would with any person, by asking questions and prodding for a response. Even the trees and animals in your dreams are also enormous reservoirs of information, linking back perhaps infinitely with your potential, creativity and past experiences.
One of the easiest ways to access this vast information is to imagine yourself as one of your dream characters or objects. This may sound strange, and something you may not have done before, but it allows you to explore, rather than just think about, the huge and wonderful world of your dreams.
It doesn’t matter if the character you choose to ‘be’ is someone known or not, or whether they are young or old. The character needs to be treated as an aspect of your dream, and not as if they were the living person you might know in waking life. The same applies to something like a tree, dog or place.
To ‘be’ the person or thing, you need to sit quietly, close your eyes, take a few moment to relax and be aware of what you are feeling and what body sensations you have. You do this because your body, feelings and thoughts are your computer screen that will respond to or show you what is emerging. They are the monitor on which you will feel, see or know things about your dream. So when you are ready, imagine yourself as the character or thing. Really get into it. Be inside the dream person’s body. See what it feels like to be them, that shape, that temperament, having that viewpoint on life.
If you don’t get this immediately, try going in and out of the body of the person or the object slowly, and note the difference in what you feel and what you sense as them, and then back as you. Once you are in the person or thing describe who or what you are – in the dream remember, not as an outside person or thing – and what you are doing, seeing or feeling in the dream. Do the same if you are an object.
This takes practice, and you need to let yourself go a bit to play at it. It doesn’t have to be serious, because if you hit important things you cannot help them really grabbing your attention and sticking.
To go more deeply into this, as you take on being the person or thing and have finished describing yourself, notice what you are feeling in yourself. Give attention to what changes occur as you watch what is arising in your body, your feelings and imagination. This is a bit like watching a blank television screen, waiting for something to show. Watch until something relevant or promising starts to arise then observe it as it grows. After that, see how it explains you more fully, or helps you make clearer decisions about what you are dealing with.
I am talking to myself and getting great answers!
An example of this is given in the following description of David exploring a dream in which he sees an elderly couple in a flying summer house, rather like a big kite.
I was a bit anxious about working with the group as I hadn’t opened myself to them before. As I started though I felt okay and there were no hesitations. I told the dream and felt changes in my body and feeling state. I felt happy and laughing, and also a rising up feeling, an opening.
It was suggested that I be the flying summer house. So I imagined myself as the structure and this was a lovely feeling. I described myself as being well-built, built with skill and with strong material. Until recently I had been well fastened to the ground and a house. But I had felt filled with a lightness that had lifted me up. I had broken the connections that used to hold me anchored. There was something I felt deep in me about this that I wanted to communicate. It felt like a powerful feeling and at first came out only as a loud cry.
Before I could explore that someone asked me what had enabled me to fly. Because my feelings were now flowing I immediately felt it as something generated by the couple. It was love, a sort of love that wasn’t locked onto one person, one place. It was a love that had the sort of easy, laughing eccentricity of the couple. At this point I began to feel a lot of emotion. It was very powerful, to do with the beauty of being free and mobile and uplifted. The emotion was because a lot of my life I had been so trapped, and this new me that was emerging, breaking loose of old restraints, was wonderful to experience.
Carol asked me what it was like to be the couple, or something about the couple. I immediately identified with the man, saying something like – I am an old man. I have learned to love this one woman. Through the years of difficulty I have found my love for this woman. Through the changes of age I have found love, and the love has gradually changed me. It led to the death of love. But in its place something is growing. Something that is a finer love, a touch of the spirit. This was at the same time incredibly beautiful and painful. So much so at the beginning I could hardly breathe. Energy was pouring through me and my body was shaking and my breath going through many changes of pace as I felt my ability to love breaking away from old restraints.
As can be seen, David was deeply and passionately experiencing his dream. Not only did this clarify for him the changes going on in his life and relationships, but it also let loose feelings and energy that was, in itself, a force for growth.
That old dream about my T-shirt
There is something else that can help in understanding how to explore a dream. While at a business meeting with a web designer who was thinking of producing a site based on my book Dream Dictionary, he jokingly said, ‘Yes, but how can anyone know what their dream is about? It’s all guesswork isn’t it?’
He had on a rather faded T-shirt with a design on it. So I asked him what he thought it would mean if he dreamt about his T-shirt. He said he didn’t think it would mean anything. The next question I asked was where did he get the T-shirt and what memories were attached to it. He became very quiet and serious and wouldn’t really talk about it other than saying he got it in Los Angeles and a lot happened to him there. And whatever it was he wouldn’t tell me was what his T-shirt would have been commenting on in the supposed dream.
We have feelings, thoughts, memories or passions attached to every single thing we encounter, every object, every person, every place, and every creature, real or imagined. Even if it is boredom or disinterest it is still an association, a feeling, like a word in a dictionary, that your dreams might need to use at some time to express something. Most of the time, as with the web designer, we are unaware of what associations and emotions we have attached to the things around us and that appear in our dreams. We can sometimes generalise about such dream objects as a fork used to dig – thus there are valid dream dictionaries – but very often the associations are uniquely ours. That is why the technique of ‘being’ the person or thing is given. It helps to uncover those hidden associations and feelings.
To get behind the images of the people, objects, places and creatures of your dreams to find what your usually unconscious associations are with them, is to unveil an amazing wealth of information about yourself and what you know about people and the world, but might not have let come to the surface. It isn’t that the associations in themselves are revelatory, it is how the dream weaves them into something new and insightful that is astonishing. But even that is only the beginning. Like the hidden depth of an iceberg, an enormous amount of passionate feelings or sometimes pain lie under the associations and the dream theme. It is only when you can allow yourself to experience these intense pleasures and pains, these wonderful storms of insight and revelation, that you really meet your dreams. Then you also really meet yourself and realise what a really big, deep, amazing person you are.
To unveil this underbelly of the dream is to open a door into a vast world. If you enter that world by allowing emotional and physical responses to what is discovered; if you let all that touch and work in you, you will be greatly enlarged. You will grow beyond who you were. So let the unveiling begin. It will unfold insights and talents that enable you to more confidently meet what changes life and the future bring. In fact it may well make you one of the architects of those changes.
Below is a summary of the many different aspects of self and functions dreams can express:
- An expression of what is happening in the physical body. Some doctors consider dreams to show signs of illness long before they are evident in other ways. Women frequently know they are pregnant very early on through sleep awareness in a dream.
- A way of balancing the physiological and psychological activities in us. When a person is deprived of dreaming in experiments, some degree of breakdown in mind and body occurs. This type of dreaming can often be a safety valve releasing tension and emotion not allowed in waking life – thus nightmares.
- An enormously original source of insight and information. Dreams tap our memory, our experience, and scan information held unconsciously to form new insights from old experience. Dreams often present summaries or details of experience we have been unable to access consciously. Sometimes this is as early as life in the womb.
- A means of compensating for failure or deprivation in everyday life, and thereby enabling us to carry on despite setbacks and difficulties. They are a means of expressing the otherwise unacknowledged aspects of oneself. Such dreams are a move toward wholeness.
- A response to a conscious question or problem. This is sometimes used purposely to gain help, and is called ‘dream incubation’. The person clarifies a question then ‘sleeps on it’ watching for a dream response.
- In dreams we may be integrating new experience with what we have already gathered and digested. In this way our abilities, such as social skills, are practised or gradually upgraded.
- Dreams often stand in place of actual experience. So through dreams we may experiment with new experience or practice things we have not yet done externally. For instance many young women dream in detail of giving birth. This function of what might be called ‘imagination’ is tremendously undervalued, but is a foundation upon which survival is built.
- A means of exercise for the psyche or soul. Just as the body will become sick if not moved and stressed, so the mind and emotions need stimulus and exercise. Dreams fulfil this need if it is not happening externally.
- An expression of human supersenses. Humans have an unconscious ability to read body language – so they can assess other humans very quickly. Humans have an unimaginable ability to absorb information, not simply from books, but from everyday events. With it they constantly arrive at new insights and realisations. Humans frequently correctly predict the future – not out of a bizarre ability, but from the information gathered about the present. All these abilities and more show in our dreams.
- A means of solving problems, or formulating creative ideas, both in our personal life, and also in relationships and work. Many people have produced highly creative work directly from dreams.
- A presentation in symbols of past traumatic experience. If met this can lead to deep psychological healing. Such dreams are therefore an attempt on the part of our spontaneous inner processes to bring about healing change.
- In the widest sense nearly all dreams act as a process of growth or a move toward maturing. Some dreams are very obviously presenting internal forces or dimensions of experience that might lead the conscious personality toward a greater balance and inclusiveness.
- A way of reaching beyond the known world of experience and presenting intimations from the unknown. Many people have dreams in which ESP, out of the body experiences, and knowledge transcending time and space occur. This type of dream may indicate a link between the present person and people who had lived in the distant past; or between the dreamer and all existing life. Some of these dreams present powerful insights into how the human personality may arise out of processes in nature that precede our personal existence – language and inherited family tendencies for instance. They thus deal with the spiritual aspects of human nature. This extension of awareness often gives us experience of what is called ‘the meaning of life’. Out of it we become enriched and strengthened through personal experience rather than book reading.