Hello and welcome to another Ask Me. A member recently asked me about book recommendations for books about dreaming. Like “How Do I Remember My Dreams”, this is a question I am often asked.
It is a tough question for me.
Ask me for book recommendations about poetry, about poets who write from the dream (Jean Valentine is my favorite). Ask me for recommendations for fiction, nonfiction. Ask me for movie recommendations. I can easily list off these kinds of books, movies, stories that are steeped in dreaming or are dream-like. That speak, through the imaginative process, about what dreams speak about. That embody experience in the same way dreams embody experience for us.
But books about dreaming.
I hesitate because there are many books about dreaming, just as there are many books about all kinds of healing processes, spirituality, psychological theories. Go to your favorite large bookstore online – I go to The Strand or Powell’s – and do a search for books about dreams and you will come up with hundreds and hundreds of books. [I just did a search at the Strand and came up with over 700 titles.]
To read Jung, just Jung, could mean reading his Collected which is in twenty-one volumes. Twenty-one [annotated like it is sacred text, but I digress]. To read one of his students and colleagues, Marie Louise Von-Franz, would mean reading over twenty volumes, including many books on fairytales.
And that’s just two dream analysts/writers/theorists.
In modern times, since Freud and Jung, there have been a number [so many] of writers and dream practitioners who have developed their own methods and theories. There are so many theories about dreaming and why we dream, too.
For theories, I think of things like cognitive theory, reverse learning theory, dreams for survival, activation synthesis, neurocognitive theory, wish fulfillment, development of the psyche/individuation,
There are different “kinds” of dreaming – Freudian, Jungian, Tibetan, lucid dreaming. There are dream dictionaries, dream theories, books of dream symbols. There are books about “nightmares”, books about astral projection in dreaming [haven’t read those]. There are books about the neuroscience of dreaming and the neuroscience of sleep.
I understand why I am asked the question. There are so many books about dreaming. Where to even start.
The sheer quantity of books available, of theories, of ways of working with dreams does speak to our fascination and our never-sated desire to understand dreams.
I, myself, edited and helped to write a series of books several years ago about dreaming with a former colleague and teacher (which I actually would not really recommend anymore – more on that later).
I, myself, am currently writing my own book about dreaming (which is part of the why of this member site and which I hope to recommend when its done!).
But what do I recommend.
The problem with books about dreaming is the same problem we encounter when we approach dreams in general.
It’s not really a problem. It is, actually, part of the beauty and mystery of dreaming that it is difficult to recommend books about dreaming. Because how we encounter and engage our dreams is incredibly, precisely, exquisitely personal to each and every one of us.
What to read about dreams, then, is truly dependent on how we feel and believe about our dreams. It depends on you, first.
If you are a dreamer who is interested in or believes deeply in the power of lucid dreaming, then I might direct you to books about that topic. I would also talk with you a little about how I feel and work with lucid dreaming in general, if you were interested.
If you are a dreamer who is drawn to psychoanalysis, to “interpreting” dreams, I might direct you to the full library of psychology, neurobiology, psychoanalysis.
If you are a dreamer who is drawn to spirituality and dreaming, I might direct you to some books about psychoanalysis but also about story, mythology, ancient and nonancient sacred traditions around dreaming.
If you are a dreamer who is drawn to creativity, to stories, poetry and art about dreaming, I might direct you to writers and artists who work from and with the dream.
But here’s the thing. No matter who I might direct you toward, no matter which writer or practitioner, no matter what theory or practice, I would always, always, say this – read everything with yourself in mind first.
What I mean is this – because dreams are so mysterious, because I believe dreams are personal to each of us, each of us having our own particular dialect with our dreams, because we each have our own rich history and beliefs about the soul, spirituality, the psyche, it is of the utmost importance to always have our self as the reference point.
To let ourselves be drawn to what draws us. To let our own personal beliefs – intellectual and spiritual – be where we begin when we begin our journey into the vast realm of dreaming.
Hmmm. That seems a little abstract. Let me give you an example.
When I first read Jung many, many years ago, I was a bright-eyed young thing excited by the possibilities of dreams, poetry, creativity. I read Jung as if he spoke the truth, the full truth. I read Jung as if he had truly understood the dream and the soul – so everything he wrote that I read, I took in as truth. I even read some of his work as part of my MFA in poetry.
Jung, the prophet.
We do this. We revere great minds and assume that they are great in all ways. We take their work and their words often out of context, often excerpted, and do not delve deeply into the theory or the ideas in a full encounter.
Encounter. Many of us do not encounter the theories and ideas of dreaming as just that – encounters. Encounters where we feel what feels true and what does not.
Here’s another example, outside of dreaming.
I love poetry. I write poetry, I read it. I have an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry. Since I was in my early 20s, poetry has been a way for me to understand my self and the world outside of my own experiences. It was also something that saved me – poetry gave voice to stories I did not know could have voice. It showed me I could give voice to all the stories in me, in ways that feel magical.
I do not love all poetry.
There is poetry that I do not love [truly] – but it does not mean it is not good or even great poetry. It does not mean it does not sing, it does not mean that it does not carry depth and surprise and challenge and truth.
It does not mean that I cannot appreciate and learn from it. It does not mean I dismiss it as bad and wrong.
It just means that it does not sing for me.
Look at any anthology of any kind of poetry [Norton Anthology of American Poetry, The Bridge Called My Back, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poets, African American Poetry, Bold Words, Technicians of the Sacred, the Oxford Book of British Poetry to name just a few English language examples] and you will see how thick a book can be. The Poet’s House, a nonprofit library and place for all things poetry, acquires thousands of books of poetry every year. Every year. Thousands.
When I was getting my MFA, one of my teachers told me that I could not really be a 20th Century poet if I did not read the work of a certain 20th Century poet and so gave me the assignment to read this poet deeply. I though, ok! I want to be a 20th Century poet, so I will read and study this poet. I tried. I tried to read the poet, I put good effort in. I did manage to read some of the poetry.
Then I called my mentor and asked, “Could I be a 20th Century poet without having deeply read and studied this poet? Because I really do not like it. Really.”
My mentor, being a good mentor, relented. Assigned other poets. I was eternally grateful.
I was grateful, too, for her insistence that I encounter it, at least. I was grateful to have read some of the work. Grateful, too, when I could stop and turn toward discovering work that did sing for me.
Reading about dream theory, reading about dreaming, reading about symbol and story in relationship to dreaming is like this.
There will be people and theories and ideas you read that sing for you. Their work will resonate in your body. [Sometimes, when I read something that carries deep truth for me, I feel a literal resonance in my body – booom.]
Those are the books you should read.
Let me go back to Jung.
When I first read Jung, I felt such a deep resonance in me about many of the things he spoke about around dreaming and experiencing dreams. The resonance was so loud, his voice, too, so loud [so many volumes], I did not remember to also pay attention to what he actually says in context with other things he says.
This past year in my country, there has been another round of reckoning around the deep racial inequaties and the crippling violence that comes with it. Part of working with my own reckoning around race, white privilege, racial inequality has been to dig, again, into the heritage of dreaming I come from and to read, anew, the dream practitioners I studied when I first started studying dreams.
Starting with Jung, where I am currently working, it is both jarring and not at all jarring to discover the roots of racism and misogyny in his work and how those threads still are in the present tapestry of dreaming. [See some of my other writings about my exploration.]
When I started reading Jung again last summer, my encounter with him stoked a great deal of anger – especially how we can pedestal someone and their theories without proper context, questioning and coming into conversation with it within ourselves.
I am guilty of this, in many ways. Not just with Jung.
What is different in my reading now is many things. First, is over twenty years of dreamwork experience where I have experience of what still resonates and what does not in Jung’s teachings.
Also, my ability now to read with a critical mind and heart. To engage the material with excitement, curiosity and lots of questions. The same way, I suppose, I engage with dreaming. To take nothing for granted.
To consider the context of time and culture in which the writer wrote. To consider the writer’s own experiences, drive and even prejudices as I read. To consider the intention of the writer.
To consider my own prejudices, my own experiences, my own intention as I read as well. So I can remain open to learning as I read – i.e.: just because I have issues with Jung does not mean I need to dismiss all of his work outright.
[All of this, btw, I learned in large part from engaging in my dreams.]
For example, on a practical level, as I am rereading Jung, I listen for several things as I read. First, I listen to what he says about theory and how to be with dreams. He writes beautifully about the nature of dreaming, about the necessity to not apply any theory, to encounter the dream as itself. To also not give “meaning” to a dream without working with the dreamer around the associative process. Yes!
However, he then gives examples of how he worked with specific dreamers. In one example, he speaks about being told a dream by a fellow doctor. He says, upon hearing the dream, “I immediately knew that this dream was showing the man’s neurosis…”
The “I immediately knew….” speaks volumes to me, for this is Jung doing what he says one should never do – applying a theory and not working the associative process with the dreamer. Which calls into question many of the other things he says and writes.
Which is a healthy and profound way of reading.
This, then, is my first level of “advice” or guidance about what to read as we step into dreams and dreaming. To read what feels true and to read it with discernment.
If you want to ask again about what books to read, try this – ask the question, but then tell me what it is you believe, what it is you desire from looking at your dreams, what it is you believe/hope opening your dreams can bring.