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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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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