What does the dream want? Engaging the inner healer
Dreams constantly ask us to make changes—changes in behavior, lifestyle, mental attitudes, priorities, even how we handle our habits and addictions. In every one of us there is a constant stream of feedback and advice coming from the inner healer, and much of it comes through the dream life.
Dr. Christopher Sowton, N.D.
As a naturopath and homeopath I have worked with my patient’s dreams in a health care context for about 25 years. Over this time I have developed a style of dreamwork that has two key characteristics—first, it puts relatively more focus on the information dreams give us about our health and disease; and second, it can be done in a relatively short time. Here are two techniques I have used successfully to shorten the time frame of dreamwork.
1) Instead of “what does this dream mean?” ask: “what does this dream want?”
Most dreams are asking for something. They want the dreamer to actually do something. By asking the question: “what does this dream want?” early in the process there tends to be an accelerating, a jumping ahead towards the punch line. It doesn’t work with all dreams, and some nuances may be missed, but this kind of ‘cutting to the chase’ may be the best option.
Let us take the very common dream motif of a frightening figure trying to break into the house. If we start from “what does the dream want?” the dreamwork session might go something like this:
Ask yourself and the client: “What do you think your dream wants you to do?” Most clients will respond with some version of: “Well, usually in these dreams I am too frightened to go to the door and confront the figure, but I think my dream is telling me that I should go to the door.”
We now know that the dream is referring to a potential meeting that the client’s unconscious wants to take place. Using Jungian terminology we might say the dream is setting the stage for an encounter with the shadow. By using this shortcut we have approached the meaning of the dream within a few minutes. It means that some new part of the dreamer is emerging and trying to get into their sense of who they are, but the dreamer will not let it in because of fear.
If the health care practitioner holds the question: “what are this person’s dreams asking for?” they are in a good position to help the client tune into this inner guidance.
2) Zero in on a key element in the dream that the dreamer is least identified with
Another effective way to cut to the chase in dreamwork is to pick one key element or figure in the dream and zero in on it. How do we know which element to pick? This is often a matter of intuition, but here is a good tip: pick the thing in the dream that the dream ego is least identified with (frightened of, intimidated by, angry at, fighting with, running away from, or in awe of). It is very likely that the dreamer’s unconscious wants them to change their attitude to, or relationship with, this element.
This dream was reported to me by a 27-year-old woman who is struggling to establish her independence from her parents:
“I am in my parent’s house. I’m doing ear acupuncture on a childhood friend. My Dad is there watching, and he is critical of what I’m doing. He’s saying that this kind of thing doesn’t really work. I defend it and say that it does actually work. My Mom is also there trying to defend me. I put a big thick needle into the top part of her ear and it splits the ear, like splitting a piece of wood along the grain.
Then a big wind starts to blow. It pushes against the house so strongly that it bows the windows, like they could blow in and be shattered. I am exhilarated! Then the wind lifts the house right up off the ground and moves it to a new location, and turns it around so that it faces in a new orientation. I feel unsettled – the house is not where it used to be, but nothing has actually been destroyed.”
There are many interesting elements in this dream that we could work with—the splitting ear, the critical father, the defending mother, the thick needle, the lifted house… but let’s imagine that we have only ten minutes available. What would you do? If you begin by zeroing in on the element that the dream ego is least identified with—the big wind—you will have a good chance of helping the dreamer towards making a resonant connection even in this short amount of time.
I asked the dreamer if there was a part of her that wanted to blow her parent’s house off its foundations. “Oh yeah!” She had no trouble getting into the power and anger of the wind—“I want to rock them! I want to blast them! I don’t want to really hurt them or damage anything, but I want them to see me differently! I want them to treat me differently!”
What does our unconscious want?
For me, asking “what does the dream want?” has led to another question, related and perhaps deeper: what does our unconscious want for us?
For me the answer must contain the following elements: SELF-AWARENESS, GROWTH, WHOLENESS, and HEALING. I believe that there is something in us that wants us to be conscious and self-aware; it wants us to grow and evolve; it wants us to be whole and not split apart by trauma; and it wants us to heal in whatever ways we can.
This is why I think it is so valuable for those of us who work with dreams to practice putting the focus onto what the dream wants.