Read an Excerpt
Understand Your Dreams
By Alice Anne Parker, Katharine Farnam Conolly
H J Kramer and New World LibraryCopyright © 2001 Alice Anne Parker
All rights reserved.
Over the past thirty-eight years, I've worked with thousands of dreams — my own as well as other people's. And after talking with scores of clients, I've concluded that there are three basic barriers to satisfying dream work.
The first barrier is obvious and all too familiar: not being able to remember dreams in the first place. If this is a problem for you, begin by writing down any dream — or dream fragment — that you remember, from any time in your life. Follow the basic steps for processing dreams that I will outline in the next few pages. The simple act of paying close attention to a dream, even one from your distant past, is often enough to stimulate a new pattern of increasing dream recall.
But what if you can't ever remember any dream? There is still hope! Instead of recording a dream, record one of your early memories as if it were a dream. Start by recalling a childhood memory — if possible, choose one that resonates with strong emotions — but even a dimly remembered early event will do. Just one or two images, plus the feelings associated with them, will give you plenty to work with. Then, by processing this memory using the basic techniques that follow, you can open a door to the fascinating (and sometimes very practical) messages waiting just across the threshold of your waking consciousness. In most cases, once you have given careful attention to a dream or dreamlike memory, you'll find yourself recalling dreams on a more regular basis.
Now for the second and most common barrier to dream work: not being able to understand the dreams you do remember. In this section, I'll be providing you with some basic tools for unfolding the many levels of meaning that most dreams offer you. The index in the second part of this book will give you a head start on making sense of even the most impenetrable dream symbols.
The third barrier to dream work may be the most serious of all: most of us simply don't have enough time to record our dreams. No matter how dedicated you are, the pressure of getting kids off to school, the interruption of morning phone calls, and all the demands of your daily rush are there to interfere. With even a few minutes of delay, vital details of a dream can simply evaporate. One of my clients complained of leaving her dream notebook on a corner dresser instead of conveniently close to her bed. By the time she crossed the room, it was too late — the entire dream had faded from her memory.
How can you hope to make sense of what you can no longer remember? Even if you catch your dreams and remember them well, you still need some effective — and fast — way of getting them down before they slip away. The following Three-Step and Eight-Step Methods will help you both remember and understand your dreams.CHAPTER 2
The New Three–Step Method
As I mentioned in the introduction, I recently read a review of Understand Your Dreams on an online bookstore's website. The reviewer loved the book, but wanted a faster, easier way to get to the meaning of a dream. She found the Eight-Step Method to be thorough, but too time consuming for everyday use. I had to agree, as I often use a shorter method myself.
I'm very pleased to include it here. I believe this new, quick, and easy method will become a tool you use on a daily basis. Most dreams, even big important ones, can be unfolded by asking and answering three questions. What's more — you don't need to write your dreams down. Just ask yourself the three questions and most dreams will open up for you.
For years I've been telling people to write down their dreams. I've changed my mind. To use the Three-Step Method you don't need to record your dream. Of course, this is not a new rule to be slavishly followed. You will probably want to record memorable dreams. However, you may find you can uncork dream meaning while you're still lying in bed, or over your morning coffee, or even while you're driving to work — without ever writing a single word.
My husband and I share dreams while we're moving through our morning chores — making breakfast, feeding our dogs, Pearl and Ruby, and our aged Siamese cat, Patty Hearst, or while gathering the daily egg from Mrs. Fluffy, our pet chicken. One of us recounts a dream, while the other listens and asks questions. But even if you don't have a handy partner to give you feedback, you can run through the questions on your own, usually in a few short minutes. Here they are:
Step 1: What is the theme of my dream?
Step 2: How do I feel in my dream?
Step 3: When do I have these feelings in my waking life?
It's that simple. However, it's the crucial first step that makes all the difference.
I'll use a few short dreams as examples of how to use the new Three-Step Method, starting with a weird and wonderful food dream recently sent to me by a contributor.
I'm driving my car, leaning out of the window and scraping up blacktop, which I am eating. It's delicious and crunchy, like the crust on savory brownies. I have a feeling that it's not good for me to eat so much of it, but it's so tasty, I can't stop. When I look in the mirror my eyes are red from eating the blacktop and I'm worried about being able to see the road.
Step 1: What Is the Theme of My Dream?
What exactly is the theme of a dream? You could think of it as the realm of the dream or the field of the dream, the internal theme or premise that underlies the action — what the dream is really trying to tell you underneath all the action and details. For example, "the falling dream" — one of the most common fear dreams, shared by humans everywhere, during every period of history — is probably not warning you to stay away from high places. Instead, it appears at a time of opportunity, a time when something you've hoped for and prepared for is about to happen, and you're just not sure you'll make it. The key action word, falling, and the feelings associated with it, will point you towards the central theme, a fear of loss of control.
In order to discover the theme of a dream you might ask the question, "What is this dream about?" But it's actually more than that. A better question would be "What is this dream really all about?" The dream theme is not the events, nor the characters, nor even the relationships. It's the internal core, the essence, the story behind the story you tell when you recount your dream.
To identify the dream theme or territory, it usually works best to start with the action or the action words and look them up in the Basic Dream Images. This dreamer is driving his car. Driving and cars in dreams almost always represent power, our ability to get where we're going. But the dreamer is also eating, so the dream territory has something to do with how he nourishes himself. Put these two together and you might identify the dream theme like this: This dream is about something I'm doing to nourish myself that I'm afraid isn't too good for me and which may affect my ability to reach my destination.
Another simpler way to state the theme of this dream, would be to say — This dream is about my power and how I nurture myself.
For some of us a very few words will be enough; others will prefer a more complex, detailed statement about the dream theme.
Step 2: How Do I Feel in My Dream?
This dreamer might say he was really enjoying himself at first, then had the feeling that what he was doing wasn't good for him, but he still couldn't stop, even though he was worried about not being able to see the road. In the dream he has a sequence of feelings, and it is important to identify each feeling in turn.
Step 3: When Do I Have This Feeling in My Waking Life?
To answer this question, you must step away from the activity in your dream for a moment and think about your daily life. While imagining how you felt in your dream, think about when you have these same feelings in your everyday activities or at certain times during your life. Remember to identify these feelings in the same order you felt them in your dream. You should be able to quickly identify several possibilities or maybe hone in on one distinct time that you feel or have felt this way.
The question to ask our dreamer would be "When in your waking life do you feel there is something you enjoy that isn't good for you, but that you just can't stop, even though you're worried it will prevent you from reaching your goal?"
Here we will have to speculate. In his waking life this dreamer could actually be eating something that he feels is not good for him, but that he loves and continues to indulge in, even though he fears it is detrimental to his health in some way.
Looking up two crucial images from the dream, Mirror and Eyes, could lead to another possibility. Mirror is associated with Identity, and with the question, What am I ready to see? Eyes are associated with Vision, Consciousness, Clarity. The questions to ask when eyes are important in a dream are What am I aware of? and How do I see the world? These images might suggest that some appetite he overindulges, which affects his consciousness and clarity, may prevent him from achieving a goal of greater awareness.
Only the dreamer will know if the three questions have been accurately and adequately answered.
How will you, as dreamer, know when it's right? You'll feel it. You'll have an aha experience — when the dream opens up for you, offering its insights and advice.
Let's go through the steps with a few more short dreams. Here's another with a common theme:
My husband and I have almost reached the top of the stairs. Suddenly, the dark woman races up behind us and stabs me in the back.
Stairs, elevators, mountains — we seem to spend a lot of time going up and down in dreams. If we're going up, the dream is usually talking about larger awareness, greater consciousness, achievement; going down, we're moving into the territory of the unconscious self, exploring the roots of issues or attitudes.
What does it mean when you say someone has stabbed you in the back? You've been betrayed.
This dream theme might be described thusly: This dream is about my feeling that just when I've almost reached what I most aspire to, I'm suddenly betrayed.
When I asked this contributor what she felt in the dream, she replied that at first she was filled with a "marvelous sense of fulfillment" — the height of her ambition was about to be realized. Then, she added, just as she took the last step, she was "stopped cold by betrayal."
I asked if these feelings were present in her waking life and who the dark woman might be? She replied that she believed herself to be at the very threshold of creative recognition, which filled her with wonderful exhilaration. She believed the dark woman represented her fear that, once again, she would be disappointed. She added that she believed this inner self might sabotage her and prevent her from realizing her potential.
I suggested that she might take this dream a step further by considering the associations for Dark in the list of Basic Dream Images. These associations — Mystery, The unknown and unformed, and A place of fear or of potential — suggest another possibility. By asking herself the questions listed with Dark — For what do I search? and What seeks to take form? — she may discover an unexpected ally in the dark woman. A bad dream calls attention forcefully and irresistibly to the area that is ready for healing. By acknowledging and processing the fear the dark woman represents, this dreamer can open the way to the recognition she's hoping for.
Here's a more complicated, but fascinating dream in which the image of fear becomes a means of salvation:
I'm naked, floating in a sea of darkness, when something brushes my stomach and I intuitively know a shark is circling. I panic until the shark starts talking to me in an erudite manner, saying, "I can see you are in a bit of a predicament and I would like to offer you my services as a sleeping bag." I realize just how cold I am. The shark lowers itself vertically, opens wide, and holds me inside without so much as a nibble. I feel grateful for the gentle protection of this powerful ocean predator.
Another common pattern — dreams of swimming, floating, ocean, sea — water in all its myriad forms, usually speak to us about our feelings. The bigger the body of water, the more profound the feelings involved. And what about that friendly shark? A talking animal is a big deal in a dream. Here information is coming from the primal depths, the deepest levels of magical communication and natural wisdom. Let's look at this dream more closely, following the three steps.
What is the theme of her dream?
Here's where the list of Basic Dream Images will be a big help. If you look up Naked, you'll find the associations Exposed and Vulnerable and the question Where am I ready to be seen? The image, Ocean (the synonym for Sea), gives additional information as associations: Vast, limitless feeling. Sometimes an overwhelming emotion. Checking Shark would give you a further question, What powerful feeling is threatening me?
You might translate the dream theme like this: When it comes to deep feelings, I'm exposed and cold until I receive protection from the very dangers that I fear.
You will notice that the one line describing the dream theme is very condensed. When a dream is as powerful as this one, you'll probably want to go much further with it. For example, identifying exactly what kind of threat or danger the shark represents, considering just what it means that the danger in the dream is transformed after it is understood as potential protection, and that getting inside the threat is crucial to the change.
Another, somewhat simpler way of stating the dream theme could be this: Exposure to deep feelings has chilled and frightened me; now I'm ready to get inside my fears.
How does she feel in this dream?
She begins by feeling vulnerable and cold. She panics, but after accepting the shark's offer of help, she is grateful for its protection.
When is this feeling present in her waking life?
She might ask herself when in her waking life has trust transformed a potential threat into a means of protection.
Another short dream with a very common theme:
I was in this amazing house with many stories. I noticed beautiful furnishings that became more interesting as we climbed each floor. I had been to all of the floors except the top floor, the fourth. On the fourth floor there were spirits and I was scared. My counselor was there with me, but I left soon after that. She wasn't bothered at all.
Houses. We dream of moving in and moving out of our childhood homes, of houses and apartments we have lived in or never actually lived in, but which are as familiar to us as if we had lived there for years. Welcome to one of the great, most common dream subjects — the house of the self.
In this delicious dream, it's an amazing house of many stories. And it gets even better as the dreamer climbs higher to a larger awareness of who she is and how beautiful and interesting she is. Only when she reaches the portentous fourth floor does she get scared. Now this is a bit tricky. I looked up the number Four in Basic Dream Images and found these associations: Stability. Matter. Strength. Worldly effort. In someone else's dreams these might be crucial associations, but I know this person and I know she does a regular self-healing meditation that uses the chakra system. What is the fourth chakra? The chakra of the heart.
How is this as a statement of the dream theme? As I explore my true self, I'm amazed at my own beauty, at how interesting I am — until I reach the level of my heart, where I'm afraid.
It's impossible for me to leave this dream without commenting on the role of the counselor. This is a real person representing herself, of course, but she is also a projection of the dreamer's higher self, the part of her who knows and is comfortable at the level of the heart, where the spirits abide.
How does this dreamer feel?
At first she is amazed and interested. She becomes scared, but embodied in her counselor, we can see the potential for her to neutralize her fear — her fear is ready to be changed to a lack of concern.
When is this feeling present in her waking life?
We might assume that this dreamer is finding the process of personal growth to be a source of fascination and interest. With the help of good counsel, she is preparing to address her fears in order to fully occupy the house of the larger self.
Excerpted from Understand Your Dreams by Alice Anne Parker, Katharine Farnam Conolly. Copyright © 2001 Alice Anne Parker. Excerpted by permission of H J Kramer and New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.