The Oracle of Dreams
With no provocation, a frustrated co-worker dumps their anger on you and a bad day at the office spills into nightmare. This is not the first time this has happened; too stunned to protest, you leave work with yet another headache.
That night you dream that your angry co-worker has followed you home and is now pounding on the door of your flat. To your horror, the lock on the door is failing; just as the intruder bursts into the room, you wake up in terror.
What is your reaction? Pointing to the dream as proof of the day’s trauma, do you see yourself as a victim, perhaps moved to add another lock to the door in an attempt to strengthen your defences, both literal and psychological? Or, do you somehow manage to face your own fears, and consider that the intruder might represent your own justified anger, demanding your acknowledgement?
There is abundant evidence that—for thousands of years—human beings have looked to their dreams for inspiration and guidance. Dreams have, on occasion, been interpreted as a message from a god. Sleeping in the shadow of the sphinx at Gizeh, the future pharaoh Thotmosis IV was promised the throne if he would restore the temple of the god Hermakhis; we know this because, when the work was accomplished, he erected a plaque commemorating this dream.
Those who are familiar with the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis remember how he successfully advised the pharaoh to prepare for famine on the basis of a dream. Joseph had built up his reputation as an interpreter of dreams while imprisoned with some of the pharaoh’s servants. However many societies have produced professional dream interpreters, such as the Indian Brahmins, the priests of Greek incubation cults and the Aztec priestly teopexqui (‘the masters of the secret things’)—not to mention our own modern day psychotherapists.
One current theory about dreams is that, while we sleep, our brain is working to solve problems that we shelved during the day. For example, if we look again at the dream mentioned above, rather than harness her own assertive powers to stand up to the abusive co-worker, the dreamer had instead expended considerable energy to repress her own anger—to lock it out, so to speak. In this case the dream doesn’t so much indicate a possible resolution, but rather highlights the urgency of the need to consciously connect with the rage that, properly tempered, could be channelled more creatively.
Dreamwork isn’t just about examining our unconscious conflicts. If we take the time to pay attention to our dreams, we can’t help but notice that they seem to be put together by the same creative machinery that we fire up when we utilise our imaginations. The Latin word imago means image, and the imagination is the power to conjure up images and use them for creative purposes. The montage of images and feelings that dreams leave behind can often be disturbing. However if—rather than repressing it—we incubate this shadowy material, it may eventually emerge as both insight and a piece of creative work: a poem, a song, a painting.
Dreamwork is, quite simply, working with our dreams. Using metaphoric language, dreams are capable of conveying both message and experience. As they are often aimed at our blind spots, it can help to tell them to a sympathetic listener who is able to look at them objectively; in addition, people who have experience of working with dreams have acquired a familiarity with their language, which can often appear confusing or fragmented.
There are times when the concerns of the outer world demand all our energy, when it is perhaps appropriate to let the nightly housekeeping function of our dreams to proceed without conscious interference.
At other times, however, our inner life begs for our attention. With a little help, anyone can learn to reap the riches of their dreams, and working with them over time is an excellent way to connect with the deeper mysteries of meaning.
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Counselling, Tarot, Astrology and Dreamwork
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