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The Dream Belongs to the Dreamer
A Hands-On, How-To, Step-By-Step Guide To Understanding Your Dreams
By Velva Lee Heraty
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Velva Lee Heraty
All rights reserved.
Understanding the Challenge
The first challenge to my traditional style of working with dreams led to the creation of the Subjective Symbol Immersion Method. It was a defining moment for me, one I thought about for months before my theory evolved. Here's what happened.
One day a client, a young female flight attendant, said these wake-up words to me:
"I don't think that's what it means, Velva."
What? I thought. Of course that's what it means. I know what I'm doing. I continued to question her challenge, yet was committed to hearing her out.
"Really? Well, OK, I'm open. Help me out here."
"I think it means I need to find a new job. One that lets me stay home with my kids."
Now, I don't remember the dream but I do remember realizing she was right. In her world that's exactly what the dream meant. I was thinking too much by the book, being too objective and theoretically focused. Too narrow and clearly working outside my client's frame of reference. I wasn't honoring her world, I was honoring the world of clinical theory and practice. After that session I remember thinking, "Well, it's her dream." From that day forward I began to look at dreams differently. It wasn't easy.
At first, most of my clients didn't want to do the work. They didn't want to put the time and effort into something they felt so confused about. Something too mysterious. They would say to me words such as, "You're the expert," and, "You know better than I do." I realized I had an entrenched therapeutic model I had foolishly set in stone. Now that's not so bad as clients, like all of us, need predictability. However when it came to dream symbols I realized it was important for all my clients to put their own personal interpretations on the table first. I felt that this approach was like giving them seeds and a shovel, not a free meal. I believed that once they mastered this therapeutic task they would feel more confident and do the necessary digging into their own unconscious to find their own answers to the dream puzzle.
Another change I made was to call myself a Dream Facilitator, not a Dream Analyst. That was helpful for new clients who didn't have any previous experience working with dreams. I also talked about the new, more personal and subjective model to my current clients. Looking back I realized about half of them were able to switch over. Most who did were in the two advanced therapy groups and were able to process the change as a group, thus getting support and encouragement from each other.
Eventually I began to teach this model to my fellow clinicians. It was then I needed to give it the overarching principle of self-discovery. This principle, so vital to personal growth that it fuels the fire of the True Self, is the goal (gold) of all successful depth-psychotherapy. I also felt it was time to find a descriptive and safe container to put this treasure in.
Jungians use the Greek word temenos to describe the sacred space of the therapeutic relationship. A relationship bound by integrity, honesty, and trust. The word can also be used to describe a safe container either real such as an urn of ashes or psychological represented by a core value with principles and boundaries. It was time to find a temenos for my method but first it needed a descriptive name.
I'd like to say that I got the name from a dream but no such luck. I struggled along, like all people do with new ideas and inspirations. I rejected many names. Not only did it have to include the theory without explanation and lots of words, but it had to sound right too. I remember the first word I picked was the word subjective. Subjective means personal. The word personal seemed overused and could have sexual vibes so I didn't want that word to color my process, but the word subjective worked and it could cross over into both lay and clinical populations. It was also the opposite of objective, which meant cold and impersonal. I liked it.
Next I thought about the dream and how to make the dream process manageable. What is it about a dream that clients can get their hands on? Now some dreams can be very long and detailed, with lots of shifts. I had to keep it simple or the process, the training, and the therapeutic hour would turn into endless days. What to do?
Suddenly I thought of the word symbol, a word meaning something that represents something else, like the American flag represents patriotism. I knew that all dreams are symbolic and have at least one important symbol. So, Subjective Symbol something. That sounded right. But what about the symbols? What was I doing with them? More importantly for the process, what should be done with them? How could I make understanding symbols the primary goal yet include my pet theorists as well, especially Carl Jung?
That took a lot of thought. Eventually I selected the word immersion since that was basically what I was doing. Taking the client's subjective dream symbol and immersing it into an exploratory set of theories, especially Jung's. The next word was easy. It was a method so I chose the word method. Thus Subjective Symbol Immersion Method (SSIM) was born.
Next, I needed a guiding principle. One that drove home the subjective aspect of the dream and described the safe container it was in. One that was clear and not open to misinterpretation or challenge. Here I got lucky and didn't have to struggle so long.
The phrase, the dream belongs to the dreamer, was born over a dinner table in a popular restaurant called the Basil Leaf Cafe in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago during a discussion with my friend and colleague Dr. Steve Batten. I recall Steve saying something like, "Right, it's their dream," and my responding, "Yes, the dream belongs to them, not me." Bam! There it was, "The Dream Belongs to the Dreamer." Another defining moment.
I also realized there were two other guiding principles within the Subjective Symbol Immersion Method that needed to be recognized and honored. They too evolved over time and I began to incorporate them as applications to the process along with the dream belongs to the dreamer. They are:
1. Don't literalize the dream. Dreams are symbolic, not literal.
2. Don't moralize a dream. Dreams are neither good nor bad, they just are.
I suggest you write down these three principles or reference points while learning this method. You'll see how much easier dreamwork becomes once you do.
So, what exactly does all this mean to you? How can you implement these guiding principles in the dreamwork process without a professional? I will show you how and throughout the learning experience, if you stick to the guidelines, you too will gain the confidence needed to trust yourself to understand the messages from your inner world. It's time for you to now take possession of your dreams.CHAPTER 2
The Three Guiding Principles
The first principle, the dream belongs to the dreamer, means that it is your dream and yours alone. You must treasure it completely and guard it as fiercely as you would a vital body part. It is, after all, a segment of your True Self. Practicing this principle will help you go deeper into your unconscious for answers, rather than give yourself away to a symbol book or another outside source. If you can do that, if you can honor your dream and take possession of its symbols, you will be rewarded in ways you cannot yet imagine. Trust the process, take that leap of faith, and watch how the real dream sessions in this book will demonstrate that truth.
Symbol books, although somewhat helpful on an archetypal or stereotypical level, can never, and I mean never, tell you what your dream and its symbols truly mean to you on a personal, subjective level. A level that allows you to understand who you are and implement the changes needed for personal growth.
At a conference on trust, noted researcher Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D., encouraged attendees to see in his words, "Psyche as a house where dreams come as guests through the unconscious. Welcome them as you would an invited guest. And trust the process."
Unfortunately, the mainstream therapeutic process, determined years ago by the emerging psychoanalytic (Freudian) field, became established as a doctor/patient model. To this day it remains a doctor-patient relationship in many therapeutic practices. Practices where the analyst/doctors are in the know and patients are expected to rely on them, not themselves, for answers. With the advent of higher education, self-help, and psychological research available to all, that's not a realistic therapeutic model in today's world.
In the early years of psychoanalysis, a patient lay silently on the couch while the expert, out of sight, encouraged the patient to meander through his or her unconscious. Today, most patients don't lie on couches, but the belief that analysts have all the answers to dreams and patients don't is still there to a surprising degree. The truth is, the patient is the only one that really does have the answers and it is up to the analyst/therapist/ counselor to ask the right questions. Questions that help the patient decode his or her thought processes, especially when it comes to dream symbols. Those questions will be scattered throughout the book and outlined for you in a step-by-step section in the Dreamer's Toolkit.
To compound the problem, that old belief led to books by dream "experts" who convinced themselves they knew what every symbol meant and dictated definitions. This practice led to more depersonalization of the dream symbol and a disconnect for the person seeking their personal truth and a deeper meaning through dreamwork. If we follow Gendlin's advice and ask ourselves, "What is the gift the dream is bringing me?" a new, deeper response will occur. It's a serious question and one that cannot be answered by a symbol book. It can however be answered by using the Subjective Symbol Immersion Method (SSIM) created for just this purpose.
Another way to look at personalizing your dreams is to imagine the dream as your best friend (it is). After all, it comes from your deepest truth and don't we look to our best friends to tell us the truth, the whole truth, even if it's something we don't want to hear? Just imagine on the most profound level what it would be like for you to learn the truth about that job you didn't get or the person who left you without honestly telling you why. All the consolations of your family and friends couldn't make a dent in that reality. You would finally know your vulnerabilities and have a way to strengthen them. You'd be free to go about the necessary changes, or not. Changes that would help you be more authentic, more self-accepting, more who you were meant to be. What a relief that would be! It's a relief just knowing it's doable and that you can do it. Wouldn't you like to know how? That's what this is all about. It's a way to tell you how in an easy, user-friendly way. You'll find the first lesson in understanding the importance of the primary symbol in Julia's upsetting repetitive dream.
Don't literalize the dream, means everything and everyone in the dream is symbolic. This is particularly important if you have a sexual dream and are afraid to share it or experience shame about it. One client dreamed of having sex with his sister and after doing SSIM he realized it didn't mean that at all as a matter of fact, it wasn't really his sister in the dream but a dream figure that resembled her. Other dreamers learn they are taking on the dark sexual energy of someone they are close to and experience the dream as a warning dream.
If you are riding in a car, you are not. You are taking a journey and the car represents that journey. You can't fly, you aren't a bird nor a fish swimming under water yet many people have those dreams. The person you loved and lost didn't come back from the grave yet many dream of them. A childhood friend can represent lost innocence, not the actual child who is now an adult. These flying, swimming, lost love or child dreams are meant as messages to the dreamer to look at something about those things, not the things themselves. So, guiding principle number two is don't literalize the dream.
Finally, don't moralize about a dream. Everything is symbolic therefore neither good nor bad. Symbols and Shadows are simply present in your dream as messengers. This is important if you have a sexual dream and take it literally, leading you to judge yourself and others because of it. Don't! Doing so will impede your progress and may even keep you from learning a vital truth. In addition, when you finally recognize your Shadow, that great source of suppressed energy and creativity, you will need to embrace, transform, and integrate it to be whole. That will be very hard to do if you judge it.
In the next chapter you will meet Julia and join us in her dream session. Pay attention to the process and see what tools were used by both Julia and me to help her discover her transformative truth.CHAPTER 3
Finding the Primary Symbol—Julia's Dream
I often tell my clients that repetitive dreams-dreams that present the same symbol over and over again-are like a nagging mother, a mother that keeps at you to wear your warm hat or boots until you do, just to stop her nagging. Once you personally interpret the dream symbol from a repetitive dream it will never come back, just like your mother stopped nagging when you finally put your hat and boots on.
The following dream is a good example of what I mean about nagging dreams and what can be learned from them. In this repetitive dream we're using the Gestalt approach; that is a method where the dreamer imagines becoming the symbol in the dream. It is a method you'll learn more about in following chapters. Here's what happened.
A colleague called me one day with a referral. She had a client who was having an upsetting repetitive dream and asked if I would see her. I agreed and a week later a middle-aged woman, let's call her Julia, appeared at my door twisting a hankie in her hands. She looked terrible. Dull grayish hair, bags under her eyes, and defeated body language told me she was in trouble. I imagined her repetitive dream to be a nightmare, one that woke her up screaming. I took her arm and led her to the couch. She sat down and wept. She told me that she didn't sleep and didn't even want to go to bed anymore, then added how grateful she was to see me as she was at the end of her "emotional rope."
"I'm glad you're here, Julia. Anne (her therapist) told me how upset you are and how much trouble you have sleeping."
"It's been a nightmare for me. My life is on hold. I just can't believe this is happening to me." She muffled a sob.
I took her free hand. "Tell me the dream."
She looked up, eyes filled with both exhaustion and tears, and said, "I dream of a ringing phone. The phone keeps on ringing and ringing and ringing and no one answers it."
I could barely contain my surprise. "That's it?"
"Yes," she replied, "that's the whole dream. It never changes."
After my initial reaction I was relieved to know that the ringing phone was the primary symbol, as that part of the process can take time. "OK. Let's get to work. How old are you in the dream?" (That is important to know as it sets the time frame for the buried issue and trauma.)
"My age. The age I am now."
"Where are you in the dream?"
Julia paused a minute, then replied, "I think it's my house but I'm not one hundred per cent sure."
"Is anyone else in the dream?"
"No, and I don't see myself in the dream either. I don't see anyone or anything but that ringing phone. It's madness."
"OK. That's good. That's very helpful. Where is the ringing phone?"
"I don't know. The phone is sort of floating in space, just ringing and ringing."
I told her that the primary (and only) symbol was the phone and we would be working exclusively on how to understand what that symbol meant to her. I explained to her that it is not really a ringing phone but a symbol of something else, obviously something very important since the dream is repetitive, and bubbling up from her unconscious demanding attention. I checked the time. Forty minutes to go.
Excerpted from The Dream Belongs to the Dreamer by Velva Lee Heraty. Copyright © 2013 Velva Lee Heraty. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author, xi,
Chapter I: Understanding the Challenge, 1,
Chapter II: The Three Guiding Principles, 7,
Chapter III: Finding the Primary Symbol Julia's Dream, 11,
Chapter IV: Our Theoretical Guides A Brief Introduction, 19,
Chapter V: To the Heart of Your Dreams, 23,
Chapter VI: The Primary Symbol, 31,
Chapter VII: Deeper Work with Symbols, 37,
Chapter VIII: The Subjective Nature of Dreams Bill's Dream, 43,
Chapter IX: Rest and Review, 51,
Chapter X: Archetypes, 57,
Chapter XI: The Primary Symbol as an Archetype Tom's Dream, 63,
Chapter XII: Archetypes and Dream Themes, 73,
Chapter XIII: The Shadow Transformed Amanda's Dream, 77,
Chapter XIV: The Hero's Journey Peter's Dream, 89,
Chapter XV: The Far Shore, 101,
Reference I: What's Your Dream I.Q.?, 105,
Reference II: Glossary of Terms, 113,
Reference III: The Dreamer's Toolkit©, 121,
Reference IV: Dream Momma's Art Gallery, 133,
About the Cover Artist, 141,