This is the second of a two-part article on dreamwork using the metaphor of fishing. We have caught our dream-fish and held it tight so it does not slip through the fingers of our mind. Now comes the really interesting part: How to prepare and cook our dream so that it provides nourishment for our hearts, minds and souls.
Lay out the fish
Our dream-fish lies fresh in our minds-eye. We examine it carefully to see what we need to do next. This is when we write down the dream. Do not underestimate the importance of capturing the dream in words. Written words are two-dimensional markings, but they have the power to resonate deep inside us.
Find a title: naming a dream makes it easier to remember and gives it a focus or theme. As the images and action are laid out in black and white, the dream starts to gain life again. Putting pen to paper uncovers vivid, sharper details; fuzzy images gain in flesh and texture and odd associations pop into our minds. We are looking to get a sense of the dream: Are we dealing with a bony sprat, a nice piece of sole or a massive tuna?
Prepare the fish
Once we know what kind of fish we’ve caught, we prepare it for cooking. Different dreams need different prep. For surface and personal dreams we ask a few simple questions to get our bearings:
- What is the feeling of the dream?
- How active or passive am I in the dream?
- Who and what are the main people and images?
- How does the dream end; is it finished?
A surface dream does have much to say: it often tells us we are stressed, over-stimulated, unsettled or bored. The action and images are lifted from real life and tend to repeat; there is little resolution at the end.
A personal dream is more substantial. Our feelings can be all over the map: terror, joy, calm. We may be passive observers or totally embroiled in the action. The space may be empty or filled with crowds of people. The dream ending can range from abrupt to satisfying to horrific. Asking the questions and reflecting on the answers invites the dream to unfold its meaning.
What about big dreams, those monsters of the deep? We know them by their hard-to-describe atmosphere and compelling images. They require a different kind of investigation:
- Is there a numinous, magical or mysterious feeling to the dream?
- Are there shapes such as squares, circles and spirals obvious or hidden in the dream images?
- Does the dream include symbols of transformation such as birth, death, marriage, sex, ingestion and excretion?
- Is there a familiar or unfamiliar person who has a striking aura or force?
Once you understand the archetypal nature of the dream, you know it will take time and patience to discover its purpose. Thinking back on my own big dreams, I feel them resonating inside me but still don’t know their exact meaning. They are transpersonal, more than personal, and I recognize them as timeless and somewhat fathomless.
Cook the fish
There are myriad ways to cook a fish, endless way to extract the meaning and sustenance out of a dream. Simple methods produce excellent outcomes. When I have limited time, I appreciate my dreams—hold the images in my minds-eye and enjoy their otherness and creativity, like works of art. Think of this approach as dream sushi—no cooking involved!
If you’ve prepared the dream by asking the questions above, use the answers as your guide. Be curious, persistent and attentive to the faintest inner suggestion. Then try the following approaches:
- Reflect on the images and people in the dream: Who or what do they remind me of?
- Ask yourself: How does this dream replicate the way I am in my waking life?
- Assume every part of the dream is a part of your self: How am I treating those aspects of my self in the dream and in my life?
- Talk out loud to the people and objects in the dream: Why are you here; what do you want from me?
- Create three different endings to a dream: I can fly away; confront my attacker; turn him into a mouse!
- Use active imagination: Get quiet and imaginatively reenter the dream. Allow the images and events to become vivid and clear; follow whatever happens without judgment.
Dreamwork is exploration and experimentation. If one approach does not work, try another; the only limit is your ingenuity. My preference is to shift into a receptive, less cognitive state of mind. I invite the dream into this empty space, turn it over and over and allow it to tell me whatever it wishes.
Enjoy and digest your fish dinner
Like a good meal, dreamwork leaves me replete and satisfied. Almost always there is some left on my plate: I seldom ‘finish’ a dream by extracting every calorie of meaning. I like leftovers. With a meaty dream, I will return to it again and again to take another nibble. Commonly, I won’t know the full import until later. The dream is digesting, slowly giving up its nourishment as it integrates into my consciousness.
Some dreams are somewhat indigestible. We all fear bad dreams or nightmares. Their shocking energy makes us want to back off—but they are real treasures if we can stay with them. A recurring dream—like hiccups—tell me something is stuck. My unconscious needs my attention to untangle some issue it can’t deal with. A little work, the dream digests and it never repeats. If I cannot make head or tail of a dream, if it is too rich and stodgy, I ask for clarification: Please give me a simpler dream, one I can understand!
Resting after a dream-meal is beneficial, but sometimes postprandial (after dinner) action is called for. A fun activity is to do a dream-quest: search for images and objects that resemble or resonate with the dream. You dream of purple boots; now your mission is to find images and actual boots that resemble them. You might even buy a pair! Similar to a quest, if a familiar person appears, make an effort to talk to or contact them. Follow any prompt towards action but remember that dreams are symbolic: they seldom reflect the actual experience of another person.
We fish for dreams to enrich our inner lives. Like all worthwhile endeavors, it takes time, effort and attention—but the results are intriguing, inspiring and enlightening. Every night we plunge into the depths. There we are transported by extraordinary vibrant experiences we call dreams. Why would we not pay attention? Captured and lifted into the bright world of consciousness, dream-fish nourish our souls.