Article # 1
Electrifying Dream Images: What’s the Point?
Outside, a woman dressed as a cowgirl in a long skirt and large hat, slugs down a drink while still mounted on her horse. She sets the shot glass on a nifty, small sideboard just the right height (of her horse), and rides away. I say admiringly, as I pass the saloon, “That’s what I call one for the road!”
This delightful image grabbed every member of the dream group in which it was shared. The discussion it spurred is likely to be remembered by us all for some time. This is the power of electrifying images: to brand into our psyches what leads us forward to more fulfilling, authentic lives.
We humans are created anew by imagination, by our ability to think outside the boxes labeled Familial and Cultural Scripts. Joseph Campbell said it this way: "A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. Dreams and goals should be just out of your present reach but not out of sight. Dreams are the coming attractions in your life." For that to be true, we must escape the prisons of stagnant, unimaginative, programmed thinking. No better place for that than a great dream.
When presented with a tantalizing image like our cowgirl, move into the symbol, circle it, smell it, touch it, act it out, laugh (or cry) about it, kick it around. The dream group talked about the archetype of the cowboy, the era in American history that spawned it, women’s roles during that period and what this marvelous image brought to the party. We recognized that most of us, raised on cowboy movies and TV programs, identified this formidable creature as an independent loner, competent with instinctive nature and significant in developing this country. Thus, the dreamer may be connecting to a feminine aspect of such power, a force capable of activating some instinctive, undeveloped part of herself.
From our training in movie theatres across the land we recalled that “nice” women did not frequent saloons, and presumable, did not down shots in one gulp even in sedate, velveteen parlors. Our dream gal is definitely breaking the rules and has some support for doing so (a nifty, small sideboard just the right height)! No muss, no fuss, no dismount, she wets her whistle just like one of the guys in this drive/ride through saloon!
What does this image want for and from the dreamer? Perhaps she needs to recognize that breaking of rules must be done from a position of power (atop the horse) out in the open for all to see. Because the dreamer identified the phrase “on your high-horse” we played with the truth that jumping outside the box treasured by our trainers often leads to the judgment of arrogance. Perhaps we need to challenge the implication that being on a high horse is a bad thing. It certainly works for this dream character.
The dreamer admires the cowgirl getting what she wants in this fascinating fashion (“That’s what I call one for the road!”) She gets what she needs for the journey ahead. Since she is not drinking Crystal Springs or Pepsi, we should examine the metaphoric value of whiskey.
Now we’re dealing in the realm of the spirits, of gettinghigh, of creating altered states of consciousness. Even in a spiritual collective like Santa Cruz there are limits to acceptable highness. At the very least, a one-gulp shot of whiskey will loosen inhibitions and quell the voices of inner critics and scriptwriters. For women riding an awesome amount of power on the road of individuation, such an inner jolt may be delightfully productive.
Whether an image as charming as our wild cowgirl will create the kind of transformation it suggests depends greatly on the will of the dreamer, on how she chooses to let the image guide her and use her. For marvelous symbols like this want something from us and for us. From the perspective of depth psychology, psyche speaks for our personal and collective development. It can show us the way but we must commit to following. As Marsha Sinetar writes: "Identifying your enthusiasms requires courage and heroic creative vision. You have to believe that what you want is possible for you." And we dreamers have to learn to trust that what the dream wants for us is not only possible but valuable. In my work, that is a given. Therefore, understanding the desires of psyche is not enough. We must be willing to move beyond awareness into action, using whatever ego strength and focus to change mind and behavior patterns to activate the dream. This discussion leads into the next step of dream work—dream-coaching.
Dream Coaching. Say What?
After 24 years of professional dreamwork I’ve come to the place where understanding the desires of psyche is not enough. I hope my clients will move beyond awareness into action, using whatever resources are necessary to change mind and behavior patterns in response to the dream. I call this next step of dream work dream coaching, based on the premises and procedures of the burgeoning field of Life Coaching.
To launch this concept, I’ll describe a bit about the coaching process. A primary notion is that accomplishing both long and short-term goals is a great deal more probable and less complex with a trained, experienced and knowledgeable partner/ally. In part, a Coach’s responsibility is to discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve. This is accomplished, in part, by encouraging the client’s self-discovery, eliciting client-generated solutions and strategies and by holding the client responsible and accountable. Great. But is this model applicable to dream work, an essentially ephemeral, vague, slowly unfolding, often paradoxical and frequently confusing process? Here are some reasons I’m convinced that it is.
Serious dreamers trust the dream to uncover and clarify the changes that are needed to move closer to wholeness, to living a truly authentic life, to individuate. Healing past wounds that have left gaping holes in both soul and personality is a major element of this transformational work. Parallel to that are the dreams that unfold the future self: the attitudes, self-concept and behaviors that create the consciously chosen life.
I have been blessed with an ongoing dreamwork practice since l981. On average I work with clients for more than six years, and more than three-dozen clients for ten years and counting. During that extended time we have seen the dream patterns that unfold, the movement of psyche from dream to dream and year to year. Sometimes considerable progress is seen in personal growth with resultant life changes. But all to often, the urgings of the dream, repeatedly and patiently presented, are not sufficiently embraced by the dreamer to shift from neutral into high gear. Thus, recurring dreams that present similar images, feelings, and unsatisfactory endings continuously bug us, determined to get our attention so that we will create change. The dream can only show the way. The conscious dreamer must then commit to small and deliberate steps necessary to accomplish the curriculum psyche has provided.
Ann Conrad Lammers writes: “Ethical life…requires conscious engagement of the ego with the events that meet it—inner or outer. Dreams provide raw material for the ego to confront and assimilate; but confronting their imagery does not automatically create wholeness.” Psyche can confront but, if we wish to appreciably transform, we must not only assimilate but also commit to conscious alteration. Without this, we usually see the repetition of problematic dreams and difficult awake life experiences.
This reminds me of reading an old journal or diary and recognizing that my comments and complaints from twenty years ago are the same today. Clearly, being aware enough of the irritation to write about it or discuss it with friends has not resolved the issue. When tired enough of the same old story, I will choose to focus my conscious attention and the present resources of my ego to transform this irritating grain of sand into a pearl. The coaching process shortens the time of irritation and enhances the beauty of the gem.
Not all recurring dreams carry a negative feeling. A client is presently dreaming about the need to be on stage, center stage, performing in a variety of ways. We are waiting for subsequent dreams to develop the theme. I’m guessing that the series is leading to her Golden Shadow, to ways for her to perform in the world. If she chooses to do so, the dreams gods will celebrate.
Dreams frequently introduce us to our highest potential. And just as frequently we reject the offer. It’s like receiving a magnificent pair of running shoes sculpted specifically for your feet to invite and encourage you to run. You show the shoes to everybody you know, express your delight in the gift but never put them on, choosing to study them instead.
Alternatively, the shoes can be embraced and fully worn. This is happening with a middle-aged female client who has been repeatedly dreaming of horses. The first horse arose from the ocean and thundered onto shore where she greeted it without fear. Thus alerted to her willingness to accept a source of power without anxiety, Martha decided to very consciously cozy up to and use this power. She began dream coaching, hoping to more consciously activate her power in relationships. Her “horse power” increases with every dream and subsequent session.