Keeping a dream journal allows you access to what Freud called the “royal road to the unconscious.” While I am not a Freudian, he did have a point. By trawling through your dreams you can get in touch with what you’re really thinking and feeling. In addition, dream work allows the conscious and unconscious parts of your mind to work in concert.
As we navigate through a divorce it’s natural to have lots of confusion and cognitive dissonance (inner conflict). By paying attention to our dreams we can bring these disparate parts of ourself together, which leads to a greater feeling of wholeness and peace.
It’s easy. Just get a notebook and keep it next to your bed.
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to remember more than a snippet of your dream to reap great benefits. Once you start remembering little bits of your dreams your dream recall will improve, and you’ll start remembering larger portions.
Please do not invest in a dream dictionary or an encyclopedia of dream interpretation. These are fairly useless, as your dream comes from your unique unconscious mind and its meaning is only related to your life. There are images in our collective unconscious (a Jungian term meaning the inherited part of the unconscious shared by all people of a given group or race) that may be symbolic shorthand for a particular concept, but we don’t need to focus on that now.
The easiest way to look at a dream is to use a technique from Gestalt Therapy (developed by Fritz Perls). You simply take any image from your dream, no matter how tiny–it could literally be a grain of sand–and write about it as if you were the thing itself. For example: “I am a grain of sand, I’m basking in the sun on a beautiful day. The ocean washes over me and I am cleansed.” I won’t go on, but you get the idea. In your journal, you would go on. You would take the concept as far as it could go and then mine your writing for anything that could be a message from your unconscious.
Your unconscious mind is always trying to help you. A simple way to show this is the way it will order your hand to pull back as fast as possible if you touch a hot pot. You don’t consciously think, “Gee, that pot is really, really hot. If I touch it I will get a bad burn.” No, you unconsciously pull your hand back.
Milton Erickson, MD, the father of modern hypnotherapy, spoke of the unconscious mind’s way of working to protect us 24/7. By examining our dreams we get in touch with this trove of useful information. The more we know about what we want unconsciously the better decisions we can make in our waking life.
Another good technique for uncovering the meaning in our dreams is to remember that the dreaming mind loves shorthand and will often us a visual image rather than tediously spelling something out. Let’s say that your mother has just come to live with you and you’re feeling overwhelmed. You love her and are happy to help, but with the kids, dog, house, chores, and your job, you are running on fumes. Consciously, you feel really good about taking her in, but you start to have acid reflux. You remember you dreamt you were carrying your mother on your back. You weren’t upset in the dream, but she was heavy. This helps you consciously get in touch with the sacrifice you’re making. Once you’re in touch you can ask the kids, and maybe even your mother, for more help. Suddenly, no acid reflux.
It’s crucial to pay attention to what emotion you had in your dream. Sometimes, we can dream of something that might seem scary but we weren’t scared in our dream. Conversely, we might dream of something benign and feel anxious upon awakening. By getting in touch with our feelings we can better understand the significance of the dream. Again, the same dream can mean completely different things to different people. Your emotional reaction in the dream, or after waking, will help you figure out what it means to you.
One helpful trick for better dream recall is to resist the urge to move when you first wake up. I know this is hard, but the minute you move your body it shakes up your mind. By staying still for 10 seconds and paying attention to remembering your dream, you can hook onto a little snippet and dredge up another image, or two.
Your dreams can give you an extra boost during this stressful period by reminding you of inner strengths, abilities, and talents. It’s easy to forget those during trying times.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang