Greetings, creative dreamers! For the last while, I’ve been busy with my private practice, finishing up my long teaching career in psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, giving talks, making art, traveling into the wilderness, spending time dreaming with family and friends, and helping people with nightmares which have become more frequent in the past couple of unstable years, as well as people in disaster zones.

Nightmares are simply dreams that scare the dreamer. What might your nightmares mean, and how can you free yourself from them?

ADULTS’ BAD DREAMS. Those of us who have a lot of nightmares are more likely to: be creative (!), remember our childhoods well and to have been sensitive kids,  have experienced childhood neglect or abuse, be more concerned about death, be unusually affected by other people, and have difficulty protecting ourselves against hurtful feelings.  Many substances can cause nightmares (see Sleeping Better post), and if you are unusually stressed or grieving, expect more nightmares at those times.

In fact, nightmares are a relatively ordinary experience for most of us–not an indication of mental illness or weakness of any kind. Two-thirds of all adult dreams, all over the world, are bad dreams!

What to do about them? First of all, don’t work with any dream that causes you genuine terror when you remember it. For each of the following techniques, start by making sure you are in a safe place and won’t be interrupted for a few minutes. Sit quietly, close your eyes and imagine yourself descending a staircase. When you reach the bottom, you will find yourself at the beginning of the nightmare—before anything scary, or the scariest thing, happened. Then, try…

Relaxation (for recurring or very frightening nightmares). Imagine the dream from the beginning until just before becoming scared. Now stop. * Keep your eyes closed and visualize a place you’ve been that makes you feel very calm, maybe a place in nature. Once you’ve done that, consciously relax all your major muscle groups by taking an imaginary tour of your body. Keep imagining the relaxing place.  Once again, imagine the dream up until the point at which you become scared.  Stop.  Repeat from the * until you get through the entire dream (this could take days or weeks with a powerful, recurring nightmare).  Reward yourself after each session of imagining.

This is an extremely effective technique, but make sure not to continue to imagine the dream once you become tense! That will only reinforce the fear and make it more likely you’ll be more afraid, not less.  Relax (from the *), and perhaps take a break.

Each time you’ve completed this exercise, make sure to thank the dream images for meeting with you (communicating respect for your own unconscious!), and walk back up the stairway. When you reach the top, you’re out of the dreamworld…

Changing the image. This works well for almost any garden-variety nightmare, and can also be an additional step to the process just above. This time, remember the dream from the beginning, and when you reach the point where the scary image resides, simply focus upon it. As you watch it, it will change. Allow your own unconscious mind to present changes to the original image.  The changed image often gives clues as to the meaning of the scary image.  Stay relaxed throughout, but if you can’t, try the “relaxation” technique, above.

Express the scary image creatively. Think of the scariest moment of the dream, when you were confronted or threatened or attacked or chased by something or someone terrifying. Now, give the dream a different, positive ending.  Write a story (or tell a friend) about the dream, using the new ending. Or paint the images in the dream, perhaps bringing in a helpful character for a different resolution, or as the dreamer, doing something to ensure your safety or triumph. Make a collage, photo montage, or video of the dream. Anything you can do that externalizes the dream images and brings them into reality where you can consider and evaluate them will help heal nightmares.  For a child who’s having nightmares, ask him or her to tell you a positive-ending story and to draw the images from the dream each time the dream occurs.  This nearly always ends nightmares.

KIDS’ BAD DREAMS. The dreams kids tell their parents have been found to be more violent and scary than adults’ dreams.  In fact, kids who read scary books or view frightening video images are three times more likely to have nightmares than are other children! Children’s dreams are much more affected by reading than are adults’, so if you have a child in your life, you might want to put the frightening books away until they’re older. Protect children from anything other than “G” rated images. Their nervous systems aren’t developed enough to be able to process the stimulation, or to understand the storyline. Younger children confuse the story with reality, which makes their reality a terrifying place full of potentially non-human things coming at them.

BUT WHAT DO NIGHTMARES MEAN? Characters in nightmares often represent parts of ourselves that we have yet to acknowledge or accept. They present themselves as terrifying because we find their qualities so threatening to our sense of self, and we may dream of them when we most often need to express their qualities.  In dreams of being chased (the most common human dream), we are often chasing ourselves! For example, if you dream you’re being chased by an athletic, tireless, energetic character, that may indicate you need to work out a bit more. But not too much! A recent study from the UK of 1.2 million people found that exercising 2-6 hours per week was the amount of time most associated with positive mental health (tai chi, yoga, walking, cycling seemed to work best).

If you have dreams you’d like help understanding here, feel free to email me (see Welcome, Creative Dreamers post). Sweet dreams!

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Will it Work?

It’s hot one day, raining the next, seeds sprout, flowers bloom, then are tipped by late frost.  Our dreams stop-and-start, shake us awake, soothe us with beauty. It must be spring!  Time to tuck in with a pot of Laduree tea* (Marie Antoinette is a light, sublime and mysterious favorite, discovered in Paris last summer)… and to consider where we are in our creative process.

Laduree, left bank, Paris

Laduree, left bank, Paris

Inspiration came calling (stage one), you incubated new ideas and feelings and thoughts and plans (stage two), you sought illumination through your dreams to point the way (stage three), and you began your new project. Now it’s time for the last of the four stages of the creative process:  Verification, or… will it work?

Mimic the season of spring within your own mind.  Imagine your idea, plan, project as a plant just beginning to grow, breaking free of the soil in which it grew.  It takes time to tell whether or not this one will survive, or if you must enrich and till the soil, and then plant again.

Experiment with asking yourself, ‘what do I need to help this [plan, idea, project] grow?’  Before you go to sleep tonight and for the next few nights, ask yourself this question several times, as you drift off to sleep.  In the morning, write down any dreams you’ve had.  Remember, we have only 3 seconds once we open our eyes to remember a dream, so try to go over it first in your mind.  Consider your dreams a response to your question (for some dreamers, it takes two or three nights to remember something pertinent–don’t give up!).

Then, take action.  Verify!  If you do that thing or give yourself that experience, or receptively wait for that quality to appear, does it help your project grow?  Will it work? Keep at it, and eventually the answer will be yes!


Tarn Hows, England

(Feel free to email me with comments or questions; comments are closed, and I’m ignoring the ~15K spam-ish ones.  :)

*I receive no compensation from anyone for anything I say on this site

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Creative Illumination

Here it is, almost summer again.  Everyone seems to be atwitter (so to speak) with activity: preparing, planting, tending gardens inner and outer.  Incubation has ended. Birds feed their chicks, flying in flocks, chirping and calling to one another.  We’ve arrived at the next stage in the creative process, illumination.

Nothing interrupts inspiration more completely than tugging at the budding roots of the newly growing seed.  But if you’re able to wait, with hope, during the sometimes long winter of not-knowing-what-to-do (incubation), then you’re rewarded with creative energy and new direction.

Sometimes creative illumination comes as an idea, or an image that emerges from memory, or a feeling of waking up, refreshed and ready to go. Often, inspiration arrives in a dream we can’t shake, whose images haunt us.

Wait, watchfully, for a dream that evokes awe, wonder, surprise, or joy. Deeply and quietly consider the images within the dream: they may gently lead you into your next painting, story, play, drawing, sculpture, collage, or…who knows?

Until next time… sweet dreams!

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Leaping, falling, leaping again

With winter’s arrival, comes introspection. This is a dark, inward season, when our bodies slow down, our pets sleep a lot, and our energy quiets.

When we think of artists, we imagine them in the act of creating something. But there are several stages of creativity, and they’re all essential.  Most of the “creative work” during the second stage, incubation, is done unconsciously. We wait! We may even feel frustrated, or as if we’re failing or “not really doing anything.” But the psyche is hard at work, making new connections, searching our memories, joining them with our feelings, propelling us into our next creation. So, although we seem to be standing still, we’re actually moving forward.

Think of winter as an incubation time, during which you wait and trust yourself, slowly turning toward what’s coming from inside of you to inspire you. When you notice impatience or frustration, remind yourself that incubation is only a stage of the creative process, and without it, creative blocks arise.

As we incubate, and inspiration moves from the unconscious into our awareness, it often appears first in our dreams.

Here’s a dream from “Max,” a sculptor, who knew his next project would be a gathering of people, but he didn’t yet have its form. He had been in a long period of incubation, and the dream seems to welcome him into the next stage, illumination:

I’m at a party. I’ve been looking for it for awhile, after what feels like years of doing nothing. Everything is red and gold, decorated for the holidays. It’s an expansive room, like an atrium, with several stories open above.  The walls are painted gold, and there is lots of light. Everyone is leaping into the air, and floating there, doing somersaults, bounding around. It looks so fun! I leap, too, and it feels great. Soon, though, I begin to drop, slowly, to the ground. No one else is dropping this way. I’m frustrated. Why can’t I stay aloft?  I leap again. I decide I’ll just keep leaping.

Max’s dream reflects that process creative people know so well:  preparing by learning new skills or developing talents (preparation); a fallow period of “doing nothing” (incubating), followed by…inspiration (illumination)!  Even though Max battles the deflation and depression so many creative people do, here, he is determined to continue to leap into the air in that expansive “gold room” of the self, playing with his creative ideas (verification).

Happy new year, dreamers! Keep leaping…

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Water, waves, and warehouses: an interpreted dream

Happy summer, dreamers!  Since I haven’t posted in quite a while, today, a dream from the mailbox, and an in-depth interpretation:

Dear Dr. Tonay,

I had a dream the other night about somehow getting into water. I can’t remember where I was prior to that or the area I was in. Once I’m in the water I see a tidal wave from afar and I come into contact with an Asian woman and her young daughter. They were in a tiny boat and I was just swimming in the water.

The prior post, Water Dreams, describes what these dreams are typically about:  unconscious emotions, or feelings we aren’t paying attention to. Here, this female dreamer is “in the water” (immersed in feelings) and about to becoming overwhelmed (tidal wave).

All of a sudden the tidal wave was very close so I felt that I need to help the mother and daughter as well as save myself. I told the mother that we need to swim under this, and she seemed very scared. I turned to the little girl and told her she needed to hold her breath for a little bit.

This scenario is unlikely to happen in everyday life. Dreams like that often hold particular, important meaning, and can have a mythical quality–like a fairytale. The dreamer is alone, she sees others in the same predicament, there’s an impending danger, and then, she copes by instructing the others on what they need to do.

The obstacle is natural (ocean); my research found that natural obstacles are the most common obstacle in creative people’s dreams (they also have more dreams about water than do others). What the dreamer does to cope in the dream often mimics what s/he does in waking life when encountering an obstacle. In this case, she takes charge and focuses on helping others, something feminine people (male and female) tend to do first.

At a deeper level, the dream may also be representing the dreamer’s relationship with aspects of her self–a ‘foreign’ (unknown) woman and a little girl part of her own psyche, floating on the surface of feeling and afraid–possibly herself as a child, or a new, emerging, creative aspect the dreamer has been nurturing for about as long as the age of the dream child.

The moment we came back up to the surface I felt so relieved! All 3 of us swam in, to a dock where there were other people who had survived as well.  I saw everyone with a loved one and being so happy to find each other.

And it works! Nurturing others, and directing them about how to cope with their feelings (hold your breath, dive in and through!) enables the three to reach safety and solid ground.

I remember walking through a warehouse type of place searching for someone as if I had lost someone and I was seeing if they had survived. I felt very alone at that point and all of a sudden I woke up.

And now, the mystery… for whom is she searching; without whom does she feel alone? From the outward perspective, this could be a real person. It’s more likely, though, that the searched-for other is another, deeper aspect of herself she just began to explore when she dove under the wave.  Warehouses are where things are stored; sometimes, they represent memories and experiences from our past, waiting to be rediscovered or worked through.  This dreamer might want to imagine herself back in the warehouse as vividly as possible, and draw the space, or write a story about entering it.  Often, the unconscious will reveal itself when we use our dream images creatively. The more we know of ourselves, the clearer our creative spring will flow.

Well, the garden is blooming, a charm of goldfinches arrived last week, and a pair of nesting chickadees from spring returned to chirp and splash.  Have a cup of tea, and enjoy your summer dreams…

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Fall(ing) Dreams

Greetings, dreamers!  Autumn has arrived here, with the trees shedding their bright gowns…

It’s been a busy few months, and I’m heading to Rancho la Puerta again soon to give another dream workshop.  In the meantime, the word, “fall,” is on my mind.  Have you had a dream of falling?

If you only remember falling and nothing else, your dream is probably just a side effect of the biological experience of entering REM sleep, when our major muscle groups are actually paralyzed, to keep us from acting out our dreams and hurting ourselves.  That feeling is similar to the feeling of falling, and your dream may have just translated the feeling into an image (as dreams tend to do).

But maybe falling was part of a longer dream; often, we fall at the end, and awaken before we land.  Consider what happens just before the fall.  Does it echo anything within you, or an outside experience you’re grappling with? In that case, are about to ‘take a plunge,’ metaphorically? Are you considering taking a risk? Or is there some seeming danger in your relational or emotional life, something analogous to jumping over a cliff, or skydiving?  Is the plunging earthward a warning of overreach?  Have you been higher, more ungrounded or inflated than is wise at this time; is the fall a fall to reality?

Or is there something coming up that would bring a rush of adrenaline, then push you to the edge of fear, sending you hurling into exhilarating relief when you realize you’ve held yourself safe all along?

May the words of an old, wise friend help you to discern the meaning of your descent: will you fall, or will you dive?

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Scary Kids

Happy Spring, dreamers!  I’m enjoying the natural world as it unfolds its blossoms and surrounds us with a living metaphor for creating new plans, hopes, and dreams…

Last night, I was the guest of Esme Murphy on CBS’ WCCO 830 news radio in Minnesota. Several gracious listeners called in with dreams, ranging from striking images to whole nightmares.  Scary dreams can influence our mood the next day, and although they may lead us to feel unsteady and apprehensive, they often contain a message about something preoccupying us which needs attention.  Creative people tend to have more nightmares than average, so if we’re going to have more of them, we might as well make use of them!

In my mailbox last week was just such a frightening dream, from a generally happy young mother. She dreamed a young, unfamiliar boy was in her home. He had the same last name as she, and “he seems evil…he grabs my throat and starts to choke me.”  He “overpowers” her, and plays word games with her. She figures out he is related to her:

“I don’t feel comfortable repeating the conversation I had with him. It was like he was the devil playing games with me, and I’m not religious. What does this mean? It bothers me so intensely, I can still feel the crazy kid.”

Don’t worry!  These are not uncommon dreams. Creative people have three dream themes more commonly than do others, and one of them is more children.  What might kids mean in dreams?  Generally, they represent new aspects of the self. The age of the child often (not always) indicates how long the new quality has been around. How threatening the child is, suggests how willing or able we are to accept it (the more threatening, the harder the quality is to accept within us).

The dreamer feels related to this child (and has the same last name!), although she does not know him. He enjoys playing word games, he says things she is upset by or afraid of, and he seems to have something to do with talking (it is hard to communicate when choking, word games).

What if the child represents a part of this dreamer, herself? An emerging, masculine side that may have been “born” within her about 7-8 years ago, and has qualities so different from the way she typically sees herself, that they are presented in the dream as threatening, even dangerous?  It may be that, for the last several years, she’s needed to express a more assertive side, and the dream child does this in an exaggerated way.

Change is frightening. We humans don’t like it much. Even positive changes can be unbalancing. If you have a dream like this, consider what the dream child is like.  What are his qualities? What does he seem to want you to do? And why?  Are any of his qualities, in more positive form, something you are developing within yourself?  Consider what the child needs and wants; is there a way in which you could give this to yourself in a healthy, productive, less exaggerated form?

At the same time, is there something within you that is stealing your own breath (choking) and ability to communicate?

Consider your dreams of children as emerging, creative aspects of your own personality. What do they need? How can they be protected? Do they need discipline? Limits? Freedom? Tools?

Scroll down (or click the links to the right) to get help for ending nightmares. Until next time… sweet dreams!

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Dream Stories

Greetings, dreamers! The garden is a singing palette of blooms.  We’ve had a heat wave, most conducive to rose tea and a book on the patio. That book could be your own dream journal…

In my private practice, teaching, and with friends with whom I share dreams, I find that when we write down our dreams over time, they begin to create a larger story.  It’s as if each dream is a chapter, anticipating the next turn of plot, with prior dreams being the backstory.

For example, a man I know recently dreamed he was walking along a wooded path, nothing frightening or threatening or really very remarkable at all.  He looked to the left, and there was a smaller path, like something made by a small animal, winding through the undergrowth beneath the trees.  He awoke.

A week or so later, he dreamed he was in the woods, only now he was on his hands and knees, crawling through the brush, seeking something terribly important.  When he awoke, he couldn’t remember what it was, but was left with the feeling… Something…

He had several more dreams, all set in the woods, in which he was always alone, and on a journey toward something important, with an increasing sense of urgency. In the latest dream, a small but quick fox appeared ahead of him, which he began to follow.   It led him to the edge of a cliff before he woke up.

Consider your own dreams over a few weeks.  Look for similarities in setting, characters, and your own focus as the dreamer within the dream.  Is there a plot unfolding? Where are you going? How will you get there? What will you do next?

Your unconscious, the author, is writing your story every night, with no conscious effort from you at all.  Was that you, thinking you’re not creative? Have no more ideas? Are stuck? Take a look at where you are, where you’ve been, and what’s in front of you right now:

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m off to give a dream workshop at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.  Until next time, feel free to explore the links to the right and to scroll down for prior posts… Sweet dreams!

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Zombie Dreams

Greetings, creative dreamers! Winter is melting here, with warm days and blossoms appearing overnight on the cherry trees.  What dreams are you exploring as the days grow longer?

Last month, my former student, Michael, wrote:

“I am aware the winter solstice is a very powerful and meaningful time for the psyche (in terms of intuition, spirituality…). With this in mind, could our psyches be rigged to always go through their darkest period during this time, and then move into the light (in terms of rebirth, starting over…)?  Could this be why the winter solstice is very important and powerful?”

We turn inwards more in the winter: it’s cold, we’re inside more, it’s dark, our bodies slow down.  Winter is a metaphor, too (the winter of our discontent…), used to represent aging, solitude, death, or a chilly emotional life in dreams, literature, and art.  If you’re seeking inspiration, try writing about winter, painting ice and snow, using the season’s images to create something new. If you haven’t already, scroll down to read about water (frozen and otherwise) in dreams.

A few days ago, on Candlemas, we were halfway to the Spring Equinox. Another cycle created, doors opening, light creaking in… But before it floods across the floor, it’s time for zombies!

I recently finished teaching a senior seminar where we interpreted movies, books, art, and so on. We got to talking about all the ‘undead’ creatures showing up across genres these days. Along with the surging fascination with vampires (a later post), zombie fear seems to be growing.  We dream about what preoccupies us, so what does it mean when we dream of zombies?

Well, never before have we had so many external brains: so many “i’s” without an I (or an eye, for that matter!).  How is our cohabitation with all these machines affecting us?  Have we become more machine-like?  Studies suggest we in the U.S. have become more self-involved and less empathetic over the past couple of decades; we experience more stress, more stress-related illness, more isolation, more loneliness.  We are prescribed an unprecedented amount of psychotropic medication in order not to feel what we feel. Our culture increasingly elevates thinking and devalues feeling, as if feelings were bugs or viruses or worms rather than what differentiates us from our personal machines!

No wonder, then, that creatures, including zombies, appear to be increasing in frequency in our dreams and nightmares (for nightmare help, look to the right!).  After all, what is a zombie?  A walking, moving, undead thing that used to be human, but no longer has feelings.

Are we the walking dead we fear in our dreams?

If you are troubled by such dreams, take your zombie to tea.  Talk to it in your imagination.  Tell it you understand it’s coming after you in order to show you that you are in danger of not feeling, of becoming a zombie, yourself.  Show it your determination to remain human by noticing how you feel, and expressing your feelings to those you love.

Create something. Creativity requires feeling.  Feeling is the zombie antidote.

Until next time…watch for the light, and sweet dreams!

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Dreams and darkness

Greetings, dreamers!

We are approaching the winter solstice, the day that turns the dark to light for the next six months of the year…

Just as light is a metaphor, so is darkness: in dreams, the dark can stand for unawareness, confusion, unconsciousness, deeper feelings waiting beneath the surface.   When you dream of night or a dim place, consider…  what’s happening there? How do you feel when there? What are you trying to “see” (become aware of) within yourself, situations, and others?

Most often, our nightmares take place in the dark. (If you have one of these, take a look at the “nightmares” post for how to discern its message and move past such a dream.)  When we are scared of the dark, what are we really afraid of? What we don’t understand about ourselves is what frightens us the most.   Often, what we have a hard time facing is just what we need most.

Two thought-provoking quotes from Carl Jung for this time of year:

  • “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
  • “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light, but making the darkness conscious.”

Of course, then again, all hail the return of the light!  Spring is just around the corner…

Next time,  by request, dreams of zombies and other creatures.  Until then…sweet dreams!

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Dreams and light

The slanting autumn sun got me musing today about light, and the meaning of light in dreams.  I’ve noticed that when creative dreamers are struggling, stuck, blocked, frustrated, screaming, or banging their heads against the wall, their dreams tend to be set at night, or in dark rooms, or in other dim places.

Goethe’s last words (“do open the window so that more light can enter”) are used as a metaphor for understanding:  when we “let in the light,” we bring awareness to whatever is vexing us, inside or out.

Notice the presence and absence of light in your next several dreams.  For a hint about what you may need to bring awareness to in your life and self, explore where light is absent:  are certain places dimmer than others across several dreams?  Do they share a common theme:  a relationship, activity, or point in your life that needs more clarity and consideration?

Sometimes we have dreams in which the light is staggering.  We are transfixed by the brightness of the world —  the sun sprinkling the woods, tiptoeing over the waves. Do the places where there is lots of light have anything in common?  Those might be the “places” in your life and in yourself that you know most about and nourish you best.

Next time, dreams and darkness (it is October, after all!).  Until then, sweet dreams…

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Dreams and Labyrinths

Tonight, I was interviewed about dreams by Michael Dixon at WCCO radio in Minnesota.  As we closed, he mentioned he’d many times walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  If you have a labyrinth near you (and they are appearing all over these days!), you might consider taking some time and visiting one.  Labyrinths are not mazes–there’s one way in, and one way out (a metaphor for the path of life)–and they encourage a meditative, dreamlike state in even the busiest of minds.

If you’re looking for your next project, feeling stuck in your life, or just curious about your inner world, walking a labyrinth while holding the images from an important dream can be a wondrous experience.  If you’ve had a dream feeling or image that’s still puzzling or disturbing to you, hold it in your mind and watch what images and thoughts arise while walking the labyrinth.  Then, consider how both images/thoughts are related to one another; could it be that the image or thought appearing in your mind while thinking about the dream is what the dream image actually represented?  If you aren’t near a labyrinth, you can find them in tabletop versions, and if you’re so inspired, can even make your own!

Labyrinths have been walked for centuries by people of many backgrounds and for many purposes.   Karen Cross, whom I met when leading a dream workshop at Rancho La Puerta, has a beautiful and informative website about labyrinths; the labyrinth on her farm in Michigan is a classical Chartres labyrinth.

Labyrinths can help you find new insight and inspiration, and a sense of calm determination and clarity. Try it out, and let me know what you think.  As always, feel free to contact me here by commenting, or use the links to your right!  Sweet dreams…

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Food dreams

Greetings, dreamers!  Spring has arrived here, in her skirts of blossom and leaf, the birds crowding feeders for every last seed.  Spring is the archetypal season of creativity: time to rebuild, rejuvenate, (pro)create, and try new things!  Our appetites increase…

Recently, I was interviewed by Lynne Rosetto Kasper for National Public Radio’s The Splendid Table. The show airs April 23rd on NPR stations nationwide and by podcast.  We talked about the meaning of food in dreams–and how dreaming of food can actually affect weight and appetite.  Have a listen (at minute 25), and sweet dreams!

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Wars, conflicts, and dreams

Happy March, dreamers!  The chill is receding in my town, and everyone seems to be opening up, shaking off their contracted spirits, and beginning to twirl with anticipation of sunshine.  One cat is curled up around a cup of Imperial Jasmine Tea, with the scent echoing the white jasmine blooming outside my window, open to the dark…

My last post was a long one, an interpretation of a reader’s dream.  I’ll be interpreting one or two dreams a month from now on.  Feel free to post one, or email it to me, or to comment on the dream just interpreted.

On April 5th, I’ll be interviewed (taped) by The Splendid Table, Public Radio’s show on food and culture, heard on 260 stations nationwide.  Tune in!

Tonight, I’m thinking about the Middle East, and the wars appearing in clients’ dreams lately.  Although creative people rarely dream of conflicts involving other people (mostly, our dream conflicts involve objects or animals), the events of the world seem to be leaking into our unconscious more now than in the past.  In the 60s and 70s, people rarely reported any dreams about politics or national conflicts.  These days… there are more.

Are you dreaming of war and peace? Conflicts on a mighty scale? Consider the warring factions within may be presenting themselves to you at night.  Are two parts of you fighting over which will get control of your thoughts, feelings, or behavior? Can you envision them as two different countries of your own soul?  And what do they each stand for?  Which will prevail?  Is one side’s demands so outrageous, you can only seek to suppress it? Or can you reach a truce?

How the events of the world are echoed in our nightly, individual worlds…

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Attacker Dreams

Greetings, dreamers!

The weather has turned, here, from a strange heat wave to chill, thunder, lightening, and rain.  In the garden, the last heart-shaped leaf on our bright redbud tree dropped to the ground this morning. It’s time for a cup of cinnamon spice tea, introspection, and dreams…

Thank you for the dreams you send, little word paintings of yourselves.  Here are my tentative thoughts on some of those I’ve received recently, either via comment or email, about being attacked or threatened.  With introspection comes recognition of aspects of ourselves we may be less familiar with, and they can visit us in dreams, as we shall see!

Dreams of Attack on Family

By far, the most common dreams I receive are those in which the dreamer is being chased, threatened or actually attacked.

Dream One (Jessica): I walk out of my room into the hallway and hear this voice, “If you ever want to see your family again…” I wander down the hallway to my brother’s room and see bodies lying around on the floor and everywhere, but I’m not scared…I had the dream again, only this time the bodies are family members. The voice sounds like my dad.

Dream Two: (recurring, submitted 10/25/10, different dreamer) I dreamed that one day my sister and I were home alone while my parents were out eating dinner. Without notice, two burglars came into my house and killed my sister…

These dreams were enough to make me spill my tea! Dreams where someone comes in or breaks in and threatens or kills the dreamer’s family are actually most common amongst young adults making their own way out into the world.  It’s as if moving away from the family, either literally or in beliefs or attitudes, is so threatening it feels like death.

In the first dream, “someone” has come in and “killed” everyone, and the dreamer is unafraid (unlike how she’d probably feel in waking life!).  Remember, research has shown that our feelings in dreams are different from those we have when awake, and this is a good example of that principle.  Dream feelings can represent feelings we are unaware of having in waking life, and may need to become familiar with.  Perhaps our dreamer’s growing independence has changed her role in the family, her feelings about security, and self-confidence–nothing to be afraid of, after all. But her family has changed completely in her mind; the way she saw herself as a child is gone forever, which may have been represented in the dream “as if” they had died, rather than that she has become an adult, and sees her family from that perspective now.  Sometimes, parents have a hard time letting go of their maturing children, and their children can feel like they are hurting the parents just for growing up (and this can happen even when the “kid” is 35!).  Creative people often choose different roads than those of their parents, which can make their movement through life particularly difficult.

In the second dream, the target is the dreamer’s sister. The dreamer may want to ask herself what qualities of the dreamer does the sister share? Are those qualities things the dreamer is eliminating in herself as s/he matures?  Death is, as I discussed in another post, transformation in dreams–the “death” of the old self must occur before the new self can arise.  Since we create all the characters in our dreams, they are all a part of us.

Attacking the Self

Dream Three (Gladys): Someone comes out of my closet, their face covered with a black jacket, walking toward my bed carrying a knife. I hear my aunt calling my name. When the person hears my name, s/he goes back to the closet.

The psyche is often represented in dreams as a building, with many rooms.  To be “closeted” has made its way into speech as meaning hiding an aspect of oneself from others, as if in a closet. In closets, we store our clothes, the things we put on to hide and protect our bodies, or real selves.  So, in dreams, when someone comes out of a closet, pay special attention.  That character may be a hidden, important part of yourself!

In this case, the character comes out with a knife. It may be the character is a murderer–whose qualities, once recognized, are going to change the dreamer’s conception of self and othersthe character is going to give the knife to the dreamer (in case the dreamer needs to be more discriminating, or assertive, or self-protective).  The dreamer assumes the character is dangerous (who wouldn’t?!), but that may not be the case.  She might want to explore the idea that an unconscious aspect of herself may be emerging from hiding, and although that may feel threatening, it contain qualities she, herself, needs.  The closet character may have actually been wanting to give her the knife (representing, for example, the powers of discernment, letting go, cutting off, assertiveness, or self- protection). Try making a list of the qualities that character has, when you consider him/her in the dream, without judgment.  Sly? Crafty? Determined? Creative? Watch for an “aha!” moment, when you feel “that’s it!” That, then, would be the quality to start developing in your own, conscious self!

Dream Four (Marcus): I’m dreaming I’m lying down in my bed and some man kicks down my door and starts stabbing me. Right before I die, I look up at the killer’s face and it’s me.

Ah, yes. An aspect of yourself is always the one trying to “kill” you. When you integrate the qualities it embodies, your old self “dies” a little bit–that is, you grow and change.

If you are troubled by scary dreams, though, check out the post on nightmares to learn what to do to stop them!

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