I was lucky enough to learn about dream analysis at a pretty young age, so I’ve got a few years practice under my belt. There are many ways to analyze the contents of your dream, and images will hold different meaning for different dreamers. I don’t necessarily want to tell you that my way is right, but I would like to share with you how my work with dream analysis has helped with my writing. I believe that dream analysis has taught me to trust my subconscious and its ability to assemble images to tell a story.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” Henry Miller
When I’m writing I often get an urge to include an image (This story about recovery from addiction needs some benches from Expo 86!) or a motif (This story about female violent offenders needs rushing water!) and in the moment, I seldom know why. But I don’t question. In it goes, to be analyzed at a later date. Not acting on this impulse has resulted in mini-blocks, that kept me from projects for weeks, sometimes months. That’s much worse than just deciding that the impulse was wrong, and cutting the image later. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me though. Usually I read through later and find the connection to the theme pretty quickly, and it’s pats-on-the-back all around. How clever you are, subconscious! Archivist of my days, filmmaker of my sleep. Let’s have a beer to celebrate.
So, here’s how I analyze a dream. It’s easy. I didn’t make this method up, but I’m afraid I no longer remember the name of the book I got it from.
As soon as possible after waking, I write down everything I remember from the dream. Then I draw a line lengthwise down a sheet of paper. I break the dream up into images, and list all of the images down one side of the paper. One the other side, I write down what each of those images means to me. I’m not a fan of dream encyclopedias, unless I’m really stuck on an image. I prefer my own interpretation, since it’s my dream.
So for example, let’s say I dream that I’m at my family’s old summerhouse at Shuswap Lake. I’m doing math homework, and when I’m done, I go para-sailing.
one side of the page would look like this:
1. our old summerhouse
2. Shuswap Lake
3. math homework
And on the other side:
1. Freedom, happiness, sun. The only time of the year I felt happy and pretty. My first boyfriend. Suntanning. Swimming (the only sport I was ever good at)
2. Comfort. Feeling more comfortable in water than on land. Adventure. Minnows and snorkeling. Sitting on the dock with my sister practicing fly fishing in the evening, even though there was nothing to catch.
3. Feeling inadequate, stupid. Not applying myself, or trying to apply myself and failing. Hopelessness.
4. Showboating, showing off. Looking down on others. Wanting to be seen. Fear.
If you’re looking for messages from your dreams (it’s a popular exercise to ask your dreams a question before bed) sometimes, a narrative may show itself. Keep at it! And remember, sometimes the most upsetting dreams have the strongest messages. It might be hard to relive them, but it might really be worth it.
You may also feel a little bit weird exploring your dreams like this, like some kind of astrology nut or gypsy fortune-teller, but hey you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else by analyzing your dreams. You don’t have to tell your empirical evidence-loving friends what you’re doing. It’s not like your dreams are going to send you messages not to leave the house on any given day (if they do, seek help) you’re just entering into a dialogue with them that may help your creativity.
So, there wasn’t some defining moment where I was like: “Eurika! I’m in touch with my subconscious!” I’d say that over time, I just started to listen to what it was telling me. After a meditation retreat, I blogged about my weird and vivid dreams and let people laugh or share their own. I kept a dream journal. I even shared bits of my dreams on Facebook, and I still do. I gave my subconscious a bit of space on the page, and it responded with a little creative inspiration for me.