A guest post by Ryan Hurd .
Paying attention to your dreams is one of the easiest ways to be happier, more creative and more successful. Sounds like a bold claim, but it’s based on solid evidence from thousands of psychologists and dreamworkers. To make my case even plainer: bringing dreams back into your life put you on the fast track to learning what you really want in life and discovering the emotional blocks that are in your way.
Emotional blocks — the real obstacles
We are emotional creatures; it’s part of our mammalian heritage. The limbic brain still makes most of our decisions, even though we often tell ourselves how rational we are. Old hurts from the past, and the coping mechanisms we learned in defense of this pain, create emotional blocks that prevent us from seeing the world clearly. They keep us stuck in our ways, making the same old mistakes like we are living in a repetitive nightmare.
These emotional landmines take a lot of energy to avoid, and —more than all the external causes put together— they rob us of our creativity, limiting our success and happiness.
That’s where dreaming comes in.
Dream science today
Modern dream science has come a long way from Freud’s cigar. Today, dreaming is known as a vital cognitive process that solidifies memory, enhances learning, and creates a safe haven for us to workshop the business of living in the privacy of our own minds.
Dreams meld today’s concerns with yesterday’s solutions. Because the rational mind is depressed in dreams, limbic system has a chance to integrate short- and long-term memories in its own fashion. In this way, dreams speak a different kind of language that is based not on reason but on emotional intelligence.
This is precisely why we dream about standing in the high school cafeteria, anxiously looking for a place to sit, again and again. That scene holds a private myth that is trying to sooth a present-day anxiety. It may seem bizarre to the rational mind, but emotionally the connection is strong and relevant. And that, in a nutshell, is how dreams can provide important clues to what we want and how to move past the fears in our path.
Why dream interpretation is over-rated
Before I go any further, let me say that “dream interpretation” is not really what I’m talking about here. Of course, we all have a natural curiosity about what a dream means, and the more we work with dreams the easier it is to make one-to-one connections. But keep in mind that dream dictionaries can only tell you about cultural symbols and some common bodily fears that we all share.
The problem with this cultural level of interpretation is that we all have our personal mythology at work in the dream, too.
For example, a red rose may not remind you of a passionate rendezvous like the dream dictionary says, but, instead, of being abandoned by your father when you were 12. That’s your story, and no dream dictionary can anticipate that.
So, if you are new to dream work, stay close to the emotions in the dream instead of focusing on the translation of a particular dream image. It’s about building bridges between the emotions in a dream and the waking mind.
Don’t worry: the dream’s significance will become apparent as you learn to master the feelings that are connected to those bizarre dream images. That’s why only you will can know what a dream really means.
A Quick Method for Unlocking Dreams
Here is a quick method to harness the power of dreaming. This dream journaling exercise teaches you how to identify old emotional patterns, so can prevent those landmines from going off unexpectedly in your daily grind. That means a more courage work life, and more satisfying love life too.
1. Keep a dream journal.
If you don’t remember many dreams, keeping a dream journal is the quickest route to inviting them back. Record them in the morning when you take your tea. Describe not only what happened, but also how you felt during the dream. It’s also helpful to give each dream a title.
2. Sit with the feelings.
This next step works best with repetitive dreams. Recording it will naturally stir up strong emotions again. Take a couple minutes and try to locate where the feeling lives in your body. Is it in your belly or your chest? See if you can find a name for this feeling. This is a method discovered by psychologist Eugene Genlin, author of Focusing.
3. Watch for the feeling to re-emerge during your day.
Now that you’ve isolated a feeling and named it, that feeling is marked in your body map. Make an intention to notice the next time that feeling comes up in your waking life. You may be able to see the connection immediately, or you may have to wait a while.
4. Read the dream again.
Once you’ve made a connection between the feeling and waking life, go back and read the dream again. The dream may offer a clue that only you can recognize. Also, try to determine how old you are in the dream. This can be a further clue that you may be trying to solve a new problem in an old way. Is it effective or ineffective? By asking these kinds of questions, you are decoupling the waking life issue from your old habits and assumptions.
5. Track follow-up dreams.
Track your dreams over a month and watch for a repetition of this dream theme. You may notice a shift in attitude taking shape in the dream that can open up new possibilities, new joys, as well as opportunities to trust instead of fear.
This quick method is just scratching the surface of how dreams can power a creativity revolution. With some training, dreamwork can show not only the way back but also the way forward. It all starts with owning your emotional life, the key to every success story.
The best part: you’ll always know when a cigar is just a cigar.
Read more articles by Ryan Hurd on his blog DreamStudies.