Welcome to a new series of articles on what I consider to be the foundations of working with dreams. Tricky to do because dreams and dreaming are a little like Proteus from Greek Mythology – quick to change shape the minute you think you know something.
Every “way” of being with dreams/dreaming has different elements that practitioners hold to be core and “true”. Cornerstones, foundations, a structure to hold everything that comes with dreaming. This is true for Embodied Dreamwork, the way with dreaming that I work with.
I have been a bit loathe, however, to try to put down “foundations” of dreaming through my own lens of Embodied Dreaming, because I follow the lead of dreams rather than the lead of my own ideas/outer world assumptions.
Meaning, with dreams, everything is a bit, well, fluid. Changing. Not set in stone.
Meaning that with dreams, the minute we believe one thing to be true or absolute about dreaming, the dreams shift or offer exceptions to our “rules” [I imagine with a little bow].
Not set in stone. Consider even our own individual “way” of dreaming and the dream language/dialect that arises in our dreams. I have often said that I believe that there is a dream language and that each of us has our own dialect within that language. Dialects that can sound familiar to each other but are also wildly different.
To stay with the metaphor of language – I am an English speaker, and I am of Italian descent. When I am reading Dante’s Commedia, sometimes I look to the original in Italian and can guess at the meaning of a word or a phrase. Italian and English each came from a “foundational” language but went in vastly different directions. Familiar and foreign to each other.
That “foundational” language of romance languages has been mostly lost. Lost because language changes. Language is rarely set in stone. Rather, every language is a living, breathing, ever-changing entity.
Heck, just look at the word foundation. It can mean something substantial [the foundation of a building] or it can mean something insubstantial [basis on which something immaterial is raised].
The personal language of our dreams is like this, too.
For example. When I first started working with my dreams, I often dreamt about my bedroom in the attic in a specific house from childhood. The house on Zumstein in Cincinnati. I dreamt of the slant of the ceiling, the steps leading up to the third floor, the landing between my room and my brother’s room.
In the beginning, the dreams were scary, dimly lit, usually about wanting to not be in or near the house. The attic of that room is a place of lost memories for me. A place where I experienced trauma as a girl:
– I am walking up the stairs to the attic on Zumstein. I feel terror…
– I am running, trying to find a place to hide. I somehow end up in a corner of the attic bedroom…
– The whole room begins to shake, like there is an earthquake happening. I realize I am in my old attic bedroom…
My dreams brought me to that house, to my attic bedroom, because I had not touched the trauma yet, did not even have words for my experiences in the house. What I had instead was a blank space in my conscious memory but memories still in my body.
They brought me back to my fear, my confusion, the place where I learned to hide in order to survive because, in some very profound ways, I was still living/existing in that attic.
My dreams also brought me to many attics, not just in that particular house. Slanted ceilings, rooms tucked into rafters, dark stairs, places to hide.
As I worked back to and through the trauma, as I recovered parts of my self that I had left behind in that house, as that time of my life became less scary, the dreams shifted. As I found language, as I found the felt experience of that time, as I was given space to process those experiences and feelings, attics became not places of terror or places to hide.
Attics still arise in my dreams, but they are now different:
I am exploring a new house where I realize I am invited to live. It is my house. I run from room to room, exploring. I turn a corner and find hidden stairs leading up. I climb the stairs and find an enormous attic room that runs the length of the enormous house. Light streams in from all the windows and it has desks for writing, tables to do art. It even has a printing press in one area. I realize this is to be my studio.
From a place of terror to a place of creation.
In my dreams, attic held specific meanings/layers during one part of my journey – terror, grief, loss, sadness, smallness, hiding. Then, as I changed [with the help of my dreams], the attics in my dreams changed, too. Dramatically. It may yet change again [I expect it to].
Even the “larger” dream language changes over time – not just our personal dialects. Just as the outer world changes, just as circumstances and beliefs that weave through cultures change, so does the dreaming. What Jung was working with in the early 1900s is not what we are working with now.
This is why I have always been a little leery of making statements about “foundations” of dreaming.
The ever-changing nature of dreaming does not mean that we cannot speak of aspects of dreaming. It does mean we must speak about aspects with the knowing that everything about dreaming is protean – is shapeshifting.
I have been asked many times about the foundations of Embodied Dreamwork, the basics, and I have usually been a little protean myself with any “answer” I give. Shifty. Unwilling to be pinned down.
But let us begin the exploration – with this knowledge that dreaming is fluid, liable to change at any moment. Our own dialect as well as any larger, foundational language or dialect.
This, then, perhaps the first foundation.
Next up in this series: The Question.