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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Nightmares: How to Heal Them

In honor of Halloween and All Souls Day, I decided to write about nightmares tonight–what they might mean and how to free yourself from them.  (Nightmares are simply dreams that scare the dreamer.)

KIDS’ BAD DREAMS. Speaking of childhood, the dreams kids tell their parents were found to be more violent and scary than adults’ dreams.  In fact, kids who read scary books 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.

ADULTS’ BAD DREAMS. As for adults,  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 these 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. Now, use any of the following techniques…

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 draw the images from the dream each time the dream occurs.  This nearly always ends nightmares.

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.  More on that in a future post…

The Celts believe that at the end of October and beginning of November, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest.  May you peek behind the veil and find the wisdom waiting there…

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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Water Dreams

Now, here’s a dream from my mailbox and some general ideas for creative dreamers about what it might mean:

I dreamed there was a huge tidal wave and it was wiping things out miles and miles from the shoreline… I was running from the wave, trying to keep ahead of it. I was miles from the shoreline. Just when the wave would ebb back to the beach another big one would come and I would have to keep running…

Tidal waves dreams are actually pretty common, even amongst people who don’t live near the ocean! What do tidal waves mean? You could check your handy dream dictionary to find out. But, sadly, dream dictionaries are written by people who know little or nothing about dreams, and have just made up compelling meanings for various dream images.

Water is the only dream element all dream experts agree upon. It has represented the same thing across time and across cultures, and as such, it really does seem to be an archetypal symbol.  Water enables life and renewal, and psychologically, it symbolizes unconscious emotions, feelings we aren’t aware of. Creative people actually remember more dreams with water in them than those who are less creative. Creative people translate the unconscious as they create; this process seems to make its way into their dreams…

So, dreaming of a tidal wave suggests the dreamer is overwhelmed by feelings which come in “waves.” For this dreamer, just when one goes, another one comes crashing down, and they encroach far upon the “ground” (the foundation of the psyche). It seems to her like they are wiping everything out–and overwhelming emotional crises do that.

Action of dreamer. It might be helpful for the dreamer to consider what she does when feeling overwhelmed. Here, she runs. This makes sense; most of us would try to run in such a situation! But this is the dream world, and the dreamer created the situation in which she finds herself. She might explore what else could be done with waves of feeling.

Now, if you were threatened by an actual tidal wave, what could you do? List as many things as you can, as fast as you can, without editing any (creative brainstorming). Build a boat? Snorkle? Dive under the waves? Find a vehicle and move inland at a faster rate? Get behind a large wall? Get help? Trust your ability to swim?  In a tidal wave situation, you are safer at sea!

Dream coping and waking coping. Remember that water represents deep, unconscious emotion, so the way we interact with water in dreams may indicate how we cope with feelings when awake.  Each of the possibilities listed above requires a different kind of coping with feelings (diving into them, versus finding a way to quickly move away from them through distraction, versus staying on their surface),  and might be less exhausting than running.  Imagine yourself doing one or more of those as vividly as you can. See if you feel differently (calmer, more relaxed) after having done so.

Naturally, if this were a real situation, you’d have to act immediately to save yourself! But, since it’s a dream, and you gave it to yourself, consider it a gift, showing you something about the way you characteristically might cope with being overwhelmed.  Try exploring some new options. You might find something that works or feels better!

Next time, in honor of the season, I’ll write about scary dreams, what they might mean, and what to do about them.  For now, time to refresh my tea cup, build a fire, and listen to the rain…

May you have a lovely day, and sweet dreams!

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…Remembering More Dreams

Greetings, dreamers, and thank you to those who wrote such kind comments!

Autumn is in the air, with the leaves beginning their bright wave across the trees. Today, I am sipping some coconut creme tea as I write. Millions of people are dreaming at the moment, and hundreds of thousands will remember a dream when they awaken. Will you remember your next dream?

SITUATIONS AFFECTING DREAM RECALL. Some situations increase or decrease dreaming. Of course, you have to sleep to dream! Fevers often produce more vivid dreams, as do some medications; check with your physician if you are concerned about that.  Depressants like alcohol suppress REM sleep (the stage of sleep in which we most often dream), so when we stop using them, we have a REM rebound, and more vivid and scary dreams.   Apart from all that, what kinds of people remember their dreams?

CHARACTERISTICS OF DREAM REMEMBERERS. At Berkeley, when I was working on my PhD, I launched a large study to help figure out what kinds of people do and don’t remember their dreams. Up until then, psychologists thought that maybe people who were unstable, introspective, or anxious were those who remembered their dreams most often.  That idea got into popular awareness through films and articles, and people began expressing wariness about their dream life. They wondered if they had strange dreams, did that make them strange people? Maybe even mentally ill? If so, wouldn’t it be better not to remember dreams at all, and instead, just sweep those strange things under the bed and get on with the day?

In order to find out what kinds of people remember their dreams, I measured dreamers’ introspectiveness, introversion, gender, anxiety, creativity, emotional stability, intuitiveness and other things and compared all that with how frequently the dreamers in my study recalled their dreams.

Here is what I found. Because other researchers have since found the same results, we can be pretty confident that people who remember their dreams once per week (the average!) or more have a positive attitude toward their dreams, and, to a lesser extent, are creative, and were fantasy prone as children. It turns out that wanting to remember your dreams as a result of feeling good about dreaming is the most important personality factor in whether or not you will remember your dreams, and people who remember them are no more or less crazy than anyone else!

TIPS FOR REMEMBERING DREAMS. Want to remember more dreams? Since you’re reading this, you probably have a positive attitude toward your dreams, which means you remember more of them. Beyond that, the most effective method is to (drum roll…) set your alarm clock for a random time during the night. When it goes off, voila! Another, much kinder way to recall dreams is to place a dream journal and favorite writing implement beside your bed before you fall asleep, date it with tomorrow morning’s date, and say to yourself (or your sleeping partner) “I will remember my dreams tomorrow morning!” Three nights of this tends to work for almost everyone.

Some people hate to wake up enough to write their dream down. If that’s you, you could try speaking into your smartphone or another hand-held recorder, or get a light pen so you don’t have to turn on the light to write.

You could also remind yourself during the day of your intention to remember. In the elevator, every time you pass a mirror, whenever you find yourself feeling calm, you could say, “Tonight, I’m going to remember my dreams!” Making a commitment to share your dreams with your partner, friend, pet, or housemate creates motivation. Sticky notes placed in surprising locations also help.

Congratulations! You’re about to remember more dreams!  Next time… a tidal wave dream interpreted…

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Sleeping better…

Greetings, dreamers!  I’ve received a few dreams from you via email to drtonay@veronicatonay.com, and I’ll comment on one in the post after this one!

Since my last post, I’ve given another dream workshop at the enchanted Rancho La Puerta spa in Tecate, Mexico.   A week at The Ranch is renowned for rejuvenating all aspects of yourself; it was just named world’s best destination spa by the readers of Travel and Leisure magazine. Something magical happens each time I go there. This time, I was particularly struck by the barn owl resting for days in a palm tree just over the bridge to our casita.  We’d look up every time we crossed, and there she would be, a lovely blue, tan, and white, peacefully resting, and sometimes tilting her head at us. In a dream, she might represent wisdom at the threshold…

During the workshop, two questions people always want answered are “How do I sleep better?” and “How do I remember more dreams?” Here are my answers, in two parts and posts.

HURTING SLEEP. Many pesky substances interfere with sleep: caffeine (for 7 hours!), various prescription and over-the-counter medications (any ingredient with “phrine” at the end, particularly), antidepressants and other psych meds, alcohol (the biggest offender because it prevents REM sleep, hence the vivid, rebound nightmares many who abuse alcohol experience once they stop).  Watching TV or using your computer or exercising during the two hours before bed stimulates your brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.  Depression and anxiety both interfere with sleep. Hormonal changes women in midlife experience can make falling or staying asleep challenging, too. Taking sleeping pills regularly is risky, and actually interferes with the four stages of sleep we typically experience several times a night (and most people do not dream when taking them).

HELPING SLEEP. There are some substances that actually help with sleep.  Potatoes (a baked potato eaten an hour before bed is a natural sleeping pill), turkey, and warm milk all contain amino acids which prepare us to fall asleep.  There are lots of teas which help, too:  the Yogi brand makes Bedtime tea and Cold Season tea, both of which contain valerian and skullcap.  Some people react strongly to them, so start with half a cup first. Celestial’s Sleepytime tea is a classic, and it is much milder than the above. Warm epsom salt baths are very relaxing and sedating, due to the magnesium in them which is absorbed by the skin (magnesium supplements and calcium supplements have a similar effect; check with your doctor before taking those).  Baths which are too hot are likely to wake you up, though, so aim for comforting, but not hot tub, temperature.

Some actions that help invite sleep include cutting out all of the substances and situations which are likely to stimulate you from your nighttime ritual.  “What nighttime ritual?” you ask.  Ah. Imagine some small actions you can take before bed each night to calm you, that you could make into something you do every night:  light a special candle as darkness falls, pray or meditate or do your own equivalent (journal writing, dancing, singing, writing poetry, drawing…), have a special cup of non-caffeinated tea or warm milk, and reflect upon the day.  Of course, we can all come up with things that annoyed, irritated, upset, and disappointed us. Advertising encourages us to do so (and then to buy the things they say will make it “better”).  Bah! Avoid that tide, and instead, consider what you were grateful for that day. Maybe record it in your journal so you can refer to it later, when things aren’t so clear.

For more sleep help, please click on “My Dream Books” to your right, then scroll down, and on the left side of the page, you’ll see a Sleep Tips link!  Next up… how to remember more dreams!

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Welcome, Creative Dreamers!

I envision this as a place where people from all over can visit, have a cup of tea, and explore their dreams…

Feel free to submit a dream, and explore dreams by other visitors by clicking the section to the right, “Dreams, Interpreted.”  Comment upon posts or dreams by clicking on “comment” at the end of the list of links at the end of each post!

Over three decades, I’ve heard so many dreams, each one of them as unique as the dreamer, and each a potential door  into the unknown territory of the self. So many dreamers have emailed, asking questions, or just wanting to share a recent, troubling, funny, or perplexing dream, which  left me seeking a place to share what I’ve learned, in hopes of helping those from far and wide I can’t meet personally!

Dreams are the one unifying experience we all have, on average 5 times per night, no matter who we are or where we live, and whether we remember them or not. In our dreams, we are each creative — we create an entire world out of nothing but our minds, our memories, and our own creative spirit. We make movies, instantaneously–tens of thousands of them–throughout our lives. We make up the characters, create the setting, develop the plot; we are the director, the producer, the casting agent, and the set builder. Even when we dream of people we know or places we’ve been, they are never exactly as they are in real life. In dreams, we are always recreating our waking life experience, imposing ourselves on it, revealing our conceptions about the world, others, ourselves.

We are all creative in our dreams.

I’m glad you dropped by for a cup of your favorite beverage (Vosges’ Parisienne hot cocoa is what I’m drinking at the moment).  Have a lovely day, and sweet dreams…

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Hello world!

SONNETS TO ORPHEUS:  II, 12 (stanza 1)

Desire change. Be enthusiastic for that flame
in which a thing escapes your grasp
while it makes a glorious display of transformation.
That designing Spirit, the master mind of all things on earth
loves nothing so much in the sweeping movement of the dance
as the turning point.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Br. David Steindl-Rast, all rights reserved

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