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  1. What is dreamwork?  
  2. Dreamwork is a direct involvement in our dreams.  
  3. The intellect has limitations in working with dreams. 
  4. Techniques of dreamwork.  

What is dreamwork? "Dreamwork" is a dynamic approach to dreams, in contrast to the intellectual technique of interpretation. In dreamwork, we confront the emotions and psychological energies of a dream -- and then we can resolve and integrate those psychological dynamics without needing to know what the dream "means."

Dreamwork is a direct involvement in our dreams. In contrast, interpretation requires that we translate the dream into intellectual knowledge and then we search for a way to translate that knowledge into action -- but dreamwork takes us straight from dream to action. This action might include an artistic portrayal of the feelings, or a wakeful deed (such as a career decision) which is suggested by a dream. Even if the dream doesn't propose a specific action, we come to understand its message more thoroughly by performing dreamwork -- although this "understanding" might be on a level which is more intuitive than intellectual (and therefore more likely to resolve the emotional thrust of the dream).

The intellect has limitations in working with dreams. When we use the intellect (in dream interpretation), we might not be using the best tool for working with dreams.

  1. The intellect relies on the detailed recall of an entire story-line in order to make sense of the interactions of characters in the plot; dreamwork can proceed from a single image or merely a feeling, so we can process a dream even if we don't remember all of it.
  2. The intellect attempts to use left-hemisphere logic to translate right-hemisphere dream scenarios into words (and we can't ascertain how much value is "lost in the translation"); dreamwork uses the right hemisphere, so we are working in the same realm as that of dreams.
  3. The intellect is frequently satisfied with "understanding" a dream without acting on it to resolve the emotional discord; dreamwork is acting on it.

Techniques of dreamwork.

  1. We can express dream images and feelings through such activities as visual arts (painting, mandalas, sculpture, photography, collages, or drawing with pencils, crayons, chalk, or ink), writing (poetry, music, stories, spontaneous prose), crafts (embroidery, weaving), drama (alone or with other people to portray additional dream characters -- as explained below), dancing (or simple body movements), symbolic rituals and ceremonies (in which we use physical representations of the dream-symbols to express our feelings toward them), and "active imagination" (which is described elsewhere in this book). Test these various media to discover the ones in which you feel most articulate (not necessarily the most talented or skilled), and be willing to match a certain dream to a particular medium.
  2. We can use dream drama. In a wakeful dream drama, other people play the roles of the characters who appeared in a dream. We start by reading the entire dream (or just a part which we want to explore), including the dialogue, setting, and emotional content. The actors then put on costumes or masks which express the character they are portraying -- and they play out the dream, repeating the dialogue emotionally (and perhaps improvising as they develop their character and its feelings). The original dreamer can change the plot as it progresses, in accordance with any new feelings or insights which occur. If the actors seem to be genuinely sensing their roles (and not merely rendering their characters superficially), the original dreamer them, "What do you represent?" or "Why are you in my dream?" At the end of the drama, the actors will describe the emotions which they felt when they played the role; these explanations might help everyone to understand the dream (and its characters) more profoundly. The dreamer, too, can share any new ideas which arose as a result of the enactment.
  3. We can use these guidelines for dreamwork.
    • Don't be concerned with the "artistic" quality of your dreamwork. The purpose is to express and contemplate a dream, not to create a masterpiece, or to impress other people. However, some prominent artists (painters, musicians, writers, etc.) have incorporated elements from dreams directly into their work. For example, William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, said, "A good part of my material comes from dreams. A lot of it is straight transcription from dreams with some amplification."
    • Don't be analytical. Because this is a right-hemisphere exercise, disregard the left hemisphere's appraisals, judgments, censorings, and system of logic. Instead, indulge your spontaneity, playfulness, passions, freedom -- and a desire to regenerate the state of mind which you experienced during the dream.
    • The images don't have to be exact duplications of the dream images. Start with the general topic and emotion of the dream, and allow your artwork to evolve, without trying to maintain a specific focus. As the dreamwork creation develops, it might bring in other images and feelings (including those which we are feeling during this wakeful state). As we re-live the dream, new images might emerge if we remember more of the dream, or if the plot becomes altered, or if it goes beyond the point at which we woke up. Accept these revisions and add them to your dreamwork; if they arise spontaneously, they are as valid as the original dream. If our dream was a nightmare (or otherwise unfavorable), we might change it intentionally -- perhaps by drawing the monster, and then putting a beautiful golden color around it, and then drawing it again to see whether it has gained a friendlier appearance.
    • Examine another character's viewpoint. Let it tell the story from that perspective, and use those images and feelings in your dreamwork. Virtually all elements in a dream are representations of the dreamer, so we can work from the standpoint of the main character ("me"), other people, any animals, and important objects (as opposed to mere "props").
    • Attend to your creation. Part of dreamwork is the creative process, but we can gain additional information about the dream by contemplating the resulting artwork: display the drawing (for example) and let your imagination and feelings "study" it to gain more insight. For the purposes of display, we don't have to use our own drawing, for example; we could exhibit a magazine photograph which reminds us of the dream. Let the symbols become a part of your wakeful life until you feel that you are finished with them. Some kinds of artwork can be kept permanently in our dream journal.
    • Dreamwork can be utilitarian, not creative. If a dream suggests that our financially irresponsible lifestyle is causing psychological turmoil, we gain little by indulging an artistic action such as drawing a picture of money. Instead, we might need to make a budget and pay our bills.
    • Know your psychological limitations. Because dreamwork invokes the energies of a dream, it can be disturbing, particularly if we are recalling a nightmare. If the work upsets you, you might want to do it with the guidance of a therapist or friend.

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