Perchance to Dream?

Dreamers at the Rubin Museum of Art

On Saturday I had the honor of participating in the Rubin Museum’s ( special event, THE DREAM OVER. This event was featured as part of a month long series, entitled BRAIN WAVES, which includes lectures and events that explore the science and art of dreams. For the DREAM OVER the museum invited the public to sleep in the space under a piece of art that was chosen for them based on a series of 3 questions: 1) why would you like to participate in the Dream Over 2) what are the three most significant events of your life and 3) What color resonates with you most. I was not among those who slept at the museum. Rather, I was part of a group of volunteers who who arrived early in the morning to wake up the sleepers, and to engage them in a conversation about their dreams and their chosen object of art.

I spoke to 5 people that morning, and listened to them recount a dream or speak of the surreal experience of sleeping in a museum. I tried to get a sense of how the art work or experience influenced the dream imagery. Members of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute will be studying the material more closely.
From a personal and professional standpoint, I was interested in the dreamer’s psyches and the significance of the event and the dream in their lives. However, the nature of the event did not allow the kind of probing and deepening that I am accustomed to in the therapy room. Hopefully, some of the dreamers will be curious enough to explore further what was revealed to them through their dream.

Why should I bother with my dreams?

There are many different theories about dreams. Some theories posit that dreams are mere expressions of random neuronal firing in the brain, and that reading into them is like trying to make sense of chaos or noise. However, many traditions see dreams as prophetic, potentially healing, almost oracular. From a psychological standpoint, dreams are a portal into a person’s psyche or unconscious. Freud saw dreams as wish-fulfillment, and Jung saw them as potentially facilitating transcendence. You can learn quite a bit about a person by engaging them in a discussion of their dreams.

In my clinical work with patients, I borrow heavily from the person’s dream imagery to move the work forward. I believe that dream images are constellated around certain emotions that are otherwise dissociated (outside of awareness), vague, and often too daunting for the patient to deal with. The images allow the person to begin to talk about these difficult feelings. I rarely interpret a dream outright. Instead, I ask a series of questions about the dream that stimulate thoughts and feelings, always maintaining an air of wonder and awe at the psyche’s creativity. Here are some of the questions that I draw on to begin this dialogue. Try these simple questions and see where they lead you:

1. Describe your actions in the dream. List them here:

2. Describe the feeling in the dream. List them here:

3. How are these actions or feelings different or similar to actions and feelings that you experience in your waking life?

4. What are the major contrasts and/or similarities in the dream? (i.e. distance/closeness, cold/hot)

5. Do any of the above themes/conflict (contrasts or similarities) pop up in waking life?

6. What are the major symbols/images/figures in the dream? List them here:

7. What are your associations to the different images/figures/symbols in the dream. Start with the one that stands out most.

There’s A LOT more to explore beyond these 7 questions- but answering those would be a good start. You’d get the most out of your dreams if you followed a series of dreams and saw how the imagery changed over time. You can trace certain recurring themes and images and track your psyche’s unfolding narrative and ongoing commentary on your life. The goal is to begin to strike an active dialogue with your unconscious, not to let it completely take over and become the arbiter of your truth….in other words, if you don’t like what the unconscious reveals, you have every right to talk back and disagree!

Good luck in your explorations and feel free to ask me questions. Eventually, I’d like to create an on-line journal for people who would like to keep track of their dreams, and the recurring themes and images therein. Dream On for now.

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Published by DrAnat

Hello, my name is Dr. Anat, and I'd like to invite you to blog to read some of my musings on "Therapy Matters" that occur to me between sessions. Join me to learn more about the process of therapy, parenthood, and reflections on the inner workings of the human psyche.

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