I have found it is helpful to have a consistent approach to dreams. Perhaps my dream mind also found it helpful, because the more I worked with my dreams in a specific way, the more information I seemed to get. I feel that the waking ego, the dreaming ego, and the unconscious mind learn to work together to provide images and information that can be understood, and that this work leads to a more satisfying life.
Dream working involves using your dreams for some practical outcome. In psychoanalysis, dreams are used to explore the unconscious regions of the mind. The intention is to discover the causes of mental distress or illness and resolve them. In analytical psychology, the unconscious realm is thought to include far more than just the source of an illness. Dreams include mythological references that connect us to larger, even universal values. The mythic dream could also be the source of information about the meaning of your own life.
In cultures around the world, dreams are shared with others as part of daily life, and the dreams' meanings may have a broad social impact. Literature is filled with examples of dreams. For examples, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, dreamed of notable Roman citizens washing their hands in blood that flowed from Caesar's statue. She took this as an omen, yet Caesar did not heed her warning.
Psychoanalysis and many other methods of dream work include interaction with other people. You will find that you can keep a completely private dream journal…and derive personal benefit from it. You may also find that sharing your dreams enriches the experience.
The exercise below outlines one approach to working with your dreams. It will serve to examine the contents of dreams, provide a structure for organizing their images and characters, and evoke their meaning…You will probably find that you don't need this form after a while, but it may be very useful for expanding your understanding of dreams when you start the journaling process.
- Recording the Dream
It is important to record the dream exactly as it occurred, to the extent that this is possible. Because dream details fade over the minutes or hours after awakening, it is essential to record the dream immediately.
You may find that you remember more than one dream, so you can either record any that you remember, or the one that stands out as the most significant.
Record the dream without any editorial comments. Become a trained observer of your own dreams. Don't analyze them as you write, or edit out inconvenient content. By the same token, don't obsess about every tiny detail of pattern and color. Simply record the places, characters, and events.
A "just the facts" approach will insure a good beginning. Later you may find yourself imitating the narrative styles of particular dreams. A storyteller does not always record his tale in the first person, nor is a fairy tale told the same way as a detective story. Not that you need consciously parody William Faulkner at 3:00 AM. Rather, allow the spirit of the dream to imbue your words when it will. Stream of consciousness is, after all, not just a name for a writing style; it is the narration of dreams. I find it helpful to tell all dreams as though they are happening in the present, since in this way I seem to re-enter the dream and remember more.
After you have recorded the dream, begin to examine its contents. The intention is not to judge or edit, but rather to consider them in an open-minded fashion.
- Main Characters
First consider the persons known to you. Record how you know the people. You may want to note whether these people were acting like themselves in the dream, or if they seemed to be out of character. Then consider dream characters not previously known to you.
- Main Features of the Dream
Your dream is like a drama. The stage setting and historical period influence the way the action unfolds and offer insight into the deeper meaning of the dream. Throughout the dream you may identify buildings, costumes, peculiar speech, or other factors that tell you when and where the dream takes place.
You may also want to consider the time of day in the dream. Some black-and-white dreams may at first seem to take place at night because they are dark, but may really be occurring in the daytime.
- Action, Scene, and Characters
Which of these dream elements dominate the dream? For instance, if you were lost in a castle, the scene is paramount, whereas if you have a conversation with someone, character is more important; if you are in a battle, action is key. You may have already recorded these items, but a list is sometimes helpful when you examine the dream. You may be able to make connections that were not obvious in the narrative.
- Symbols in the Dream
Note the symbol and its usual associations…Ask yourself if the symbol is familiar to you (e.g., is the tree in your dream a particular tree you have seen?). If it is not familiar, note your feelings and why it is symbolic in the context of the dream.
- Personal and Archetypal Significance
Everything in a dream has some personal significance. Otherwise it would not be in the dream at all. You may not grasp the significance immediately, but later you may see how an odd item fits into the larger picture of your dream life.
Some dreams contents also have the same meaning for people in different cultures and historical periods. These archetypal dream elements connect you to a larger collective mind… Jung expanded on Freud's concept that memories are repressed in the unconscious to include memories that have never been conscious, but that are part of a larger, mythic, cultural consciousness. When you dream on this archetypal level, you may at first find the dream content fantastic, but later you may come to understand how your dream life reflects or incorporates information that is shared cross-culturally…
- Type of Dream
…[I]dentify the types or type of dream your dream seems to fit. Consider how the types are appropriate to your present circumstances. Is the dream in which you're standing beneath a waterfall symbolic of your past life washing away, or is it a clue that the roof over your bedroom is leaking?
- My Feelings During the Dream and When I Awoke
Sometimes you feel a certain emotion during a dream, while at other times you seem to be observing, rather like watching a movie. Some dreams evoke little or no feeling within the dream, but you feel strong emotions upon awaking. Sometimes you don't remember the dream, but you awake with strong emotions. These variations can be significant, as they indicate the relative intensity of the dream message and the intensity of its impact on your conscious mind. What is the outcome of the dream? Does your dream self get what it wants or needs? Is the dream incomplete or pointless? Does it even have an ending?
- Later Thoughts or Feelings
Later on you may develop an insight about the dream or your feelings may change. The act of considering the dream content can surely change your attitude toward its contents. Great fear in a dream, for example, may cause you to consider some factor in your waking life that otherwise might have been ignored.
Excerpted from Dreams: Working Interactive, by Stephanie Clement, PhD and Terry Lee Rosen