There are known cultures, such as the Senio Tribe in Malaysia who after being observed in the 1930’s have been said, upon waking, to share their dreams as a community, as part of the beginning of each day. These were a people who existed in harmony with nature and with their neighbors, and whose amiability has been attributed to their way of working with dreams. Over time, they came to be known as the Dream People. These were a people who knew the importance of dreaming, and used it as an integral part of their community existence.
There has never been a time on the planet when people did not dream, just as there has not been a time when people did not eat, sleep, talk, dance, or reproduce. Dreaming is one of the functions that we all share in common, it is an activity that happens while we are in human form, and while we give a tremendous amount of attention to the other things that we do, we don’t often give the same amount of attention to our dreams.
Is the reason we don’t pay as much attention to our dreams because we don’t understand them? And if so, why is it so difficult to understand our dreams? Perhaps it’s because dreams are like a foreign language, a language that we have not learned, a language that has existed throughout time, but has been forgotten. Yet, over the centuries, there have always been people who worked with dreams. Everything from the Bible to the Talmud speaks of dreams and dreaming.
Dreams come to us on an instinctual level. Dating back in time before there were words, the original language was symbols and images in the form of hieroglyphs, drawings and paintings on cave walls. We are naturally drawn to symbolism because it is an expression of something that we want to communicate and it has the ability to evoke an emotional response within us. This is what makes the creative arts so powerful, because there is always something being shown that represents something else in image form. The unconscious is the instinctual part of ourselves that doesn’t change no matter how technologically advanced we as a society become. The unconscious does not get faster, more efficient, more computerized as time goes on. It has its own way, its own speed, its own life. Therefore, in order to understand the imagery in dreams, we too must slow down and meet the dream in its way, at its pace.
The portals to our unconscious come in two ways – Dreams, and Active imagination. This is the way in which we access the imaginal realm. Our responsibility is to set up communication with our unconscious, to develop a conscious relationship with it so that we may work in conjunction with it. You may ask, “why is that so important?” The answer is because if we do not “meet” the unconscious, it starts to appear in ways that can be distorted, such as nightmares.
So, in order to create a working relationship both with our unconscious and our dream images, here is an exercise I have developed to show you a way of working with dream images that is simple and fun, yet will also prove to be powerful in getting to the heart of a dream, as well as demonstrate the actual experience of learning this forgotten language.
Take a piece of paper, and get something to draw with such as a crayon, chalk or pencil. Imagine that you only have the ability to express your dream in drawn form, like a hieroglyph on a cave wall. Then, using very simple sketches begin at the left side of your paper and draw out all of the major events that are going on in the dream and continue it as if you are telling a story. When you have finished, look at what you have drawn out. As you look at it, what do you notice? What stands out and gets your attention? When you look at your dream as a story in this way, does it change? Does it express anything that you may not have noticed before?
Remember, every time we do something on behalf of dreams, whether writing them down, having fun with them as in the exercise above, sharing them, or integrating them in some way, we build a deeper relationship with ourselves, and therefore everyone and everything around us.