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A Bedside Guide to Dreams

A Bedside Guide to Dreams

Book Summary by VirDella Denwiddie

Atlantic University

   Although there is plenty of anecdotal history on dreams and what they might mean or symbolize, we date our modern interest in dream study to Sigmund Freud, who was first to identify the subconscious as the part of the mind that stores memories and desires.

This identification became a major breakthrough in understanding how our dreams are linked to daily activities in our waking life. Freud's brilliant exploration of dream content analysis was unfortunately limited by his narrow focus on sexuality as the common lens for reviewing all dreams.

Despite this, Freud's work has been acknowledged as an important contributor in our understanding of the dream world.

Everyone dreams. Scientists have discovered that probably all healthy people dream, including infants. Through laboratory work, they've determined that the dream period is marked by observable rapid eye movement (REM) and that dreams take place on the average every ninety minutes.

They have also learned that dream deprivation can have profound effects on our psychological and emotional wellbeing.

In a laboratory study conducted by dream researchers William Dement and Charles Fisher of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, people were awakened whenever REM began, thus were not allowed to finish any dream. They were not allowed to dream for six nights, or to nap during the day.

In a control group equal amounts of sleep were denied, including non-napping; however, the control group participants were only awakened during non-REM portions of sleep. The study found that the dream-deprived subjects became more and more anxious and irritable and admitted making poorer lifestyle choices then normal.

For example, they drank and smoke more often and were more hostile and resentful than under normal circumstances. On the other hand, the control group, sleep but not dream deprived, showed no change in personality or behavior. Scientists concluded that dreams are critical to our psychological welfare.

Not many weeks go by when we don't either hear someone make reference to a dream which caught their attention or have one of our own. It is when we have the earth-shaking dream that hints of something spectacular brewing, or is a full-blown nightmare that we wish that "knew" what it meant.

Rather than waiting for that hang-gliding moment to arrive, start practicing dream analysis now. To do this:

First-- Get a notebook. You will find that you recall your dream better as you write, and that even the words you choose to describe the dream help give you insight later as to what the dreams means.

Furthermore, by recording your dreams regularly and in a notebook, you will be able to see patterns and personal symbols as you read back over several dreams at one time.

If you have a hard time recalling dreams, give yourself a suggestion before bedtime that you will remember your dreams that night, or drink some water before retiring to help you to wake up in the middle of the night, perhaps just after a dream ends.

If you have the opposite problem of waking too often with dreams to record, give yourself the suggestion that you will recall the last dreams before morning, unless it is very important that you recall an earlier one. The unconscious mind is very amenable to suggestion.

Second-- Relax before you retire. If you go to bed tense or too tired, you may sleep so soundly that you will not be able to recall your dreams. By relaxing beforehand, you allow your psyche to shift gears away from the outward, role-oriented, public life you lead to reveal the inner, more emotional part of you.

Third-- Notice what is on your mind-- Dreams generally give focus to whatever occupies our mind or hearts; so, if you are aware of your thoughts and feelings just before you go to sleep, you may find yourself halfway to interpreting your dreams when you awake.

Fourth-- Don't forget to give yourself a suggestion. "I will remember my dreams" may suffice, or you may wish to pray for guidance, or for understanding a particular area.

Fifth-- Wake up comfortably. If you use an alarm clock, try to use a soft alarm, or quiet music; a loud, jarring or verbal music bring you to consciousness too quickly, and sever the thin, fragile line to your dream.

Sixth-- Don't move too abruptly. Again, it is difficult to hold onto the thin, filmy material of the unconscious. A quick movement, even a stretch as you lay in bed can plant you firmly in the conscious world, with only a wisp of a feeling that you had some great and important dream.

Take a few moments to go over the dream in your mind. Then carefully retrieve your journal to write it down. Start by writing out a simple story line, as described below. When you have more time, go back and add additional details.

Let's assume that you've had a dream and have recorded it. What now? Michaels gives us five easy-to-use steps that will enable us to identify the theme and from that hopefully, the aspect of our lives that the dream messenger wishes us to address. The steps are:

Step one: Emotions-- What were your feelings during the dream and as you awoke? Were they familiar feelings? Are they feelings you desire more of, or would rather do without? Emotions are often a very strong clue to the meaning of a dream.

Step two: What is the basic story line?-- Be a disinterested third party and sum the dream up in a sentence or two. "Someone or something is doing what...?" For example:
Dream--There is a flowerpot on a windowsill. The plant is very beautiful and healthy.

Upon closer inspection, you notice that a bug is beginning to eat one of the leaves. You are startled and know that you must act quickly if you are to save the plant, but don't know if you can.

When you awake you feel hurt, not wanting to see something that is so beautiful destroyed. A story line that addresses both the theme and the emotion might be "Someone sees something beautiful, but in order to keep it so, has to act quickly to put a stop to something horrible from happening."

Step three: Matching the theme or story line to an area of life-- Notice that none of the detail of the dream is kept in the theme, but rather the action and the emotion. This helps the dreamer to apply the theme to any aspect of his or her waking life.

The dreamer might ask: "If this theme were a reflection of my waking life or a part of me, what area or part would it reflect?" In the above dream, one might ask what wonderful being is threatened by something the dreamer must "nip in the bud?"

Step four: Symbols-- Despite much talk about universal symbols and standard dream symbols, symbols are first and foremost personal. As you look at your dreams, be aware of what the symbols mean to you. They can mean the same thing as they do to others, or they can mean different things.

A dog behind a fence can make you feel safe or make you sad as you recall that your beloved pet was locked in all day when you left for school. Of course you may also accept many commonly held dream symbols.

Step five: Application-- After you decide on the dream's theme and match the theme to an area of your life, look at the symbols and associate them to actual memories or personal meaning.

Do insights and meanings emerge? Think of how to apply these. Is there an implied action, such as starting an exercise program? Remember, dreams are letters from your soul, not generally meant to simply entertain you. Under most circumstances, applying the dream's insight will produce a constructive change in you as you align yourself more closely with your soul's purpose.

Let us look briefly at the 27 types of dreams that Michaels documents in the remainder of the book. For each category, Michaels provides descriptions of dream types in that category, followed by "live" examples of dreams and analyses.

Afterwards, she summarizes each type by recapturing the identifying features, to make it easier for the dreamer to sort, label and understand his or her dream content.

Dreams related to basic life issues

Included are dreams concerning:

1. Body and Health

2. Relationships

3. Decision-making

4. Male and female balancing

5. Strength

6. Sex

When you learn to pay attention to your dreams, you may realize that you have your own built-in doctor, or so it seems. Your dreams will show you when certain foods disagree with your body, or how to raise your energy or calm yourself down, and even how to heal yourself.

Each of your cells has a consciousness that communicates with the whole, just as holographic photography can reveal the whole entity from the smallest segment. These dreams communicate often through common symbols for the body, such as cars and houses, or less common ones, such as rusted or leaking pipes which may signify problems with the eliminations or with a woman's menses.

Sometimes the messages are very direct. Be sure to consult a health professional concerning serious health issues.

Relationship issues may also be direct or symbolic in dreams. People you know in waking life may represent some characteristic of themselves that is important to the dream's message to you, or they may represent themselves directly in their relationship to you.

The following trick can help you decide which is the case. Whether the person is someone you know well or someone you hardly know, think of two traits about that person that you like and two traits that you don't like. Then apply those traits to yourself or someone close to you; if there is a substantial match, the person is mirroring traits that you need to look at in yourself or someone close to you.

If there is no direct match, then it is more likely that the relationship itself is being portrayed in the dream.
As with any dream, apply the five-step process to determine the dream's theme. If the theme clearly reminds you of a current or past relationship, it is a relationship dream that you need to act upon.

Most often, these dreams give us feedback about our behavior in the relationship, or feedback that will help prepare us for a future relationship that we are seeking, showing us how to clean up our acts to make room for a new or better relationship.

Finally, be aware that dreams almost always exaggerate both actions and emotions; it is their way of getting our attention. If our dream audience cheers when we punch someone for their obvious wrongdoing, it is not advocating the violent action but rather the indignation and assertive behavior that prompted it.

Our dreams always help us to be on our best behavior, but that does not mean being a "goody two-shoes" as we, or some other vulnerable person or group gets walked all over.

Similar logic can be applied to the other four dream types in this category. Decision-making dreams do not give you answers but rather a clearer view of the questions and landscape so that you can make the right decision. One dreamer saw two golden haired dogs that looked very much alike but were really quite different.

When asked about their differences, she replied in the dream that one was a pedigree Pekingese, while the other was an ordinary dog of mixed breed. Upon awakening, she realized that the dream had to do with her relationship with Bill, who, like herself, was blond.

While they seemed to have similar interests, the dream allowed her to focus on bill's temperament, high strung and finicky, traits similar to the pedigreed dog. The dream helped her to make a decision with which she had wrestled for some time.

Identifying features include dreams that have you choosing among options, deciding whether something is real or fake, or dreams that involve taking a mode of transportation to a destination. If you are in the process of making an important decision, try triggering a decision-making dream. Ask, as you drift off to sleep: "If I do such and such, what will the result be like?"

See what comes up in your dreams that night. If it seems totally unrelated, try it again the next night; sometimes it takes awhile to prime the pump.

Rebalancing dreams may come up when we tend to be too one-sided in expressing the opposite sex traits of our being. Everyone has both male and female characteristics and generally orientates him or herself to one or the other. The other trait is used less often but still often reflects prominently in one's personality.

When one is substantially out of balance, it may be quite apparent. Males lacking in female essence will tend to lack sensitivity, gentleness or nurturing. Females who have limited male essence may lack assertiveness or be too dependent. As we grow and change physically and emotionally, we sometimes need to re balance our psyches; dreams are one way to do that.

Characteristic of such dreams is the presence of a person of the opposite sex with whom we identify or whom we admire. This figure represents the anima (female essence in a man's dream and animus (male essence in a woman's dream) part of us. We may see ourselves doing something that is not characteristic of us and that usually represents the opposite trait which needs to be brought into our lives to balance us.

Or, the anima /animus may appear as a negative figure, pointing out a trait that is overly developed.

Strength dreams act like meters to show us the level of strength or vulnerability we are feeling. They often come at periods of our lives when we are facing difficult or challenging situations. This can include starting a new school or career, or facing the death of a loved one.

One important thing about sex dreams is that they are not always about sex. Because of the level of emotion often associated with sex, sex dreams may be symbolic of any powerful emotion we may feel at any time.

A dream about a positive sexual encounter with a boss that you despise may be the psyche's way of healing the negative energy so that you can initiate a better working relationship. However, sometimes we have sex dreams as a way of balancing our own sexual energy or resolving our psychological feelings about sexuality.

Evaluate sex dreams in the usual way; paying close attention to the roles as well as the action. See what aspect of your life the theme fits best; then act on it in accordance with your personal standards and good judgment. And remember, dreams are not judgmental.

They reflect the standards you absorbed while growing up and messages from your own soul regarding those standards.

Dreams that help you to remove life's roadblocks--

Included are dreams concerning:

7. Re balancing your emotional state

8. Reviewing past events or states of mind

9. Nonsense

10. Recurring

This next section of dreams is not substantially different from those discussed above in terms of how to interpret and apply the messages. Re balancing your emotional state is a lot like re balancing your male and female sides.

The psyche serves as a gauge to what is normal in each person; it then notifies us in the dream state when we are off balance. Oftentimes the re balancing is achieved simply by the dream itself, through mirroring back to us the areas in which we are stuck.

Sometimes, by showing us an exaggerated mood, the dream is saying, "Is this who you really are?" to enable us to change our conduct or attitude and return to balance.
Review dreams, as the title implies, allow us to look back at a recent incident or unfinished business and see whether we handled it as well as we might have done.

Oftentimes, we may find ourselves in another's person's shoes if the waking incident involved a relationship. These dreams help us process the "leftovers," by checking out the small things that may inhibit healing and wholeness in all aspects of our lives.

Nonsense dreams are like caricatures; they are absurdity that is placed in our faces to get our attention. Most nonsense dreams make perfect sense upon closer examination, and then become one of the other types of dreams we have examined.

A dream about eating a shoe may be a direct comment on the nutritional content of our food choices; one showing you with an extra large head or a tiny hat may nudge you to review your disposition about your level of achievement, especially if you've been bragging a lot.

Recurring dreams are another of the psyche's tools that may either be used make a point or to bring attention to a critical need or simply to help in a long-term healing process. Some people dream repeated stories about loved ones who are deceased.

Others may dream of overcoming seemingly insurmountable difficulties, again and again, to remind them of their strength during long and difficult times. Some such dreams keep the same theme but get worse with each subsequent dream until it becomes the "nightmare from hell," like a child who whimpers to get attention and falls into a full-blown tantrum if it still doesn't get its way.

Recurring dreams should be treated as all others so that the message may be accepted or acted upon.

Dreams that help you realize your potential

Included are dreams concerning:

11. Dreams that signal something new

12. Dreams that promise a favorable outcome

13. Energizing dreams

14. Creativity dreams

15. Practice dreams

All of the dreams in this section seem to truly signify a change in you that is noticeable almost immediately. Energizing dreams can actually elevate your energy level and creativity dreams can instigate or improve your creativity.

Practice dreams can both prepare you for an emotionally charged one-time activity (such as speaking to a group) or reinforce ongoing skills you may have. Of course, the traits and talents signaled in our dreams are strengthened by what we do in our waking life to reinforce them.

Learning a new skill and stopping bad habits fall into this category and we know that these require much reinforcement to result in lifelong changes.

Frightening Dreams

Included are dreams concerning:

16. Frightening Dreams

17. Dreams about death

In promoting wellbeing and wholeness, the psyche sometimes must help us deal with unpleasant matters, things we would rather avoid. Our natural reaction is to "push away" such information, much as a child might stop up his ears to avoid hearing a parental lecture.

This distorts the images that come through, creating images and story lines that appear frightening. According to Michaels, there aren't really frightening dreams, only frightened dreamers.

We may find ourselves face to face with what we fear most, which becomes an opportunity for change and healing; we may mimic the pain and trauma that exists in our waking lives in order to help us see a way to alleviate it; or we "see the enemy and know it to be us," through projecting a rejected part of ourselves.

All are opportunities to promote wellness in our lives. Sometimes, these dreams come to make us aware of potential danger, such as job loss or accidents. We help ourselves best by understanding the message and accepting it or acting on it.

Highest on the scale of fear-invoking dreams are dreams about our own or a loved one's death. Like sex dreams, the vast majority of death dreams are metaphorical. Since death is the ultimate change, such dreams usually symbolize major change.

In rare cases, the dreams may be an actual death warning, which may come either to help us avoid a fatal accident or to prepare us for a loved one's death, or even our own.

The three things that characterize these rare dreams are:
1. Very vivid imagery; 2. Emotions that would match the dreamer's if the incident occurred in waking life, and 3. True to life details, i.e. the actual car or house, etc. as in waking life where event takes place.

As with all dreams, we should identify and apply the theme to our lives to see if there is a metaphorical fit. What is this critically important message? If we cannot find a metaphorical fit, we may try to resolve whatever situation the dream warning might indicate, such as getting the car's brakes checked or discussing the plane trip with the individual we dreamed about if we feel comfortable doing so.

If the death we saw becomes inevitable, perhaps it was our psyche's way of preparing us, a strength dream.

Other people and your dreams

Included are dreams concerning

18. Other person dreams

19. Counseling dreams

This is an unusual category of dreams and is not easy to spot. Sometimes our dreams about other people are not about relationship issues, but are about how others see and feel about us, or how we see and feel about others.

These dreams seem to literally cross the threshold of our individuality, much like a psychic dream, and connect us to another being. A secretary, who was experiencing a very difficult time with a controlling boss, dreamed of pink flamingoes being beaten severely by a shopkeeper.

She saw that she was afraid to speak out on the bird's behalf because she knew that she might make it harder for the remaining bird (2 others had died from the beatings) after she left. Upon analyzing the dream, she realized that she was the maimed flamingo, her boss the shopkeeper and a close friend and fellow employee, the observer.

The unspoken empathy from the co-worker helped her feel better and to rally some under the tyranny. The dead birds were previous secretaries who had quit before her arrival. This equating of death with quitting is an example of the metaphorical use of death dreams.

In another dream, someone observed a friend standing out in the rain who refused her sincere offer to share her oversized umbrella. She felt hurt that she could not reach her lonely friend. Upon close analysis, she realized that she'd switched shoes, that the lonely person was herself and that she'd recently rejected a friend's sincere outreach efforts.

Recognizing how her friend felt prompted her to call and repair the damages and accept the attention she so needed. Counseling dreams are similar to the above, allowing one who is in a client/counselor relationship to identify with their client's needs through dreams that mirror the client's emotions or, in some cases, actual situations that they are facing.

These dreams are brought on by a sincere desire to help and can enable the therapist uncover unspoken material that can be used in sensitive and respectful manners to enhance and speed up the client's healing.

Infinite harmonies: Divine graces that come directly through dreams

Included are dreams concerning:

20. Healing Dreams

21. Integration of the Self achieved through dreams

Where there is harmony between body, mind and spirit, wholeness and health occur." Healing dreams promote harmony that leads to physical, mental or emotional wellness. While some healing dreams are spontaneous, Micheals believes the dreamer may also request a healing. She did so only once, and she received one.

It came upon the heels of multiple surgeries one year to repair facial bones from an early childhood accident. Exhausted and having breathing difficulties, she exclaimed before retiring that if ever she needed a healing dream, "it was now." She dreamed of a huge snake-like dragon lying in concentric circles that ate pills supplied by its own tail.

The serious, pompous-looking dragon made her laugh and gave her energy and strength. In fact, every time she thought of the dragon, she felt re-energized. She soon learned that the dragon of her dreams was the ancient archetypal symbol for healing. Other dreams help you integrate parts of your psyche, similar again to the rebalancing dreams.

You go to sleep as Jane Doe and awake as the new, improved Jane Doe, more confident, radiant and stronger, permanently. Common images in these dreams are mountaintop scenes, perfect circles, number 7's, or wise old men.

They are often unexpected and come after a period of genuine striving; they seem to be the soul's way of giving you a wonderful pat on the back.

New horizons: Exploring spiritual unknowns through dreams

Included are dreams concerning:

22. Dreams that cross death's threshold

23. Dream visits to other realms

24. ESP dreams

25. Dreams of past lives

26. World-event dreams

27. Lucid dreams

The common element in these dreams is their obvious ability to reveal to us that we are all connected. They do this by having us reach beyond our individuality into timelessness and "space" less ness. We see that life does not end with death, nor does it begin with birth.

We can see loved ones across the miles and tap into world events. These dreams are seldom asked for, nor do we know why they come to some individuals but not others. Mystics across the centuries, near death experiences and other anecdotal evidence confirms that the veil between the "deceased" and the living is indeed thin, and that it is mainly our distractions with this world, coupled with entrenched and inhibiting beliefs, that separate us from recognizing visits from deceased loved ones.

It is for this reason that such visits most often take place when we are in the dream state, when we are less inhibited and distracted. One final comment on the common elements of dreams in this category is that they all have a literal quality about them, and they all seem to leave a strong hint of reality.

The deceased may give a favorite fragrance or habit, for instance; or, as you fly off to another realm, you may pass over a street name that you recognize, or you may see a calendar with a date that tells you you're in a past life.

Is it any wonder then that the last chapter focuses on lucid dreaming, those dreams where we are conscious of dreaming and able to observe and change our interactions with the dream world. The Tibetans believe that lucid dreaming helps prepare us for our final transition and that finding and merging with the light was a way of reaching transformation in this life.

Lucid dreams certainly allow the conscious and the unconscious to merge, which is one way of giving us a window view of our soul. If you have one, look for the light and try to merge with it; it is good practice.

It is important to realize that, even when they seem quite out of the blue, dreams do not come unbidden or without purpose. They come to help us in some way, prepare us in some way, heal us and make us whole in some way.

They come to awaken us to who we truly are. They do this best when we pay them attention, seek to understand the message and respond to it as best we are able, including just by acknowledging our gratitude.

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