Go through your dream and write out every association that you have with each dream image. Write down the first image that appears in the dream. Then ask yourself, “What feelings do I have about this image? What words or ideas come to mind when I look at it?”
Write down each association that comes directly from the image. Then do back to the image and see what other association come to mind. Keep returning to the dream image and writing down each association that is produced in your mind. At this point you should not try to decide which association is the so-called right one.
This is the stage of dream work in which you simply gather information from the unconscious. You are, in effect, asking the unconscious, “What are the meanings you associate with your own symbol?”
Always go back to the dream image and start over again from there. Don’t make chain associations.
The correct method can be pictured as a wheel, with the dream image at the hub, and the associations radiating out like spokes from the center. All associations proceed from the original image.
As you go through your associations, one of them will generally “click”! It will generate a lot of energy in you. Dreams are created out of energy. One way to find the essence of a dream symbol is to go where the energy is—go to the association that brings up a surge of energy.
Archetypal amplification—a process of gathering information about the archetypes that appear in our dreams by going to sources such as myths, fairy tales, and ancient religious traditions. Go to a myth where the archetype appears and find the collective associations that the human race as a whole has to that archetype. We can read in the myth all the qualities in us that are contained in the archetype and that are associated with its symbols. Write down the associations that come to you from the mythical sources. If they elicit energy from inside you, if they make sense, try them out. See what they have to say about who you are and what forces are at work in you. We have to ask: “What is this archetype doing today in my personal life? What does this have to do with me, individually?”
Step 2: Dynamics
In the second step we connect each dream image to a specific dynamic in our inner lives. We identify the parts of our inner self that appear as the images in the dream.
To perform this step, we go back to the beginning and deal with each image, one at a time. For each image ask: “What part of me is that? Where have I seen it functioning in my life lately? Where do I see that same trait in my personality? Who is it, inside me, who feels like that or behaves like that?”
Then, write down each example you can think of in which that inner part of you has been expressing itself in your life. We have to ask ourselves: “What does on inside me that this dream speaks of?”
We must find that specific inner event at the deepest level of our lives. And we need to find specific examples. We are not finished with this step until we find actual examples from our lives that correspond to the events in the dream. We also need to keep writing!
Probably the most immediate and practical way to connect a particular image to yourself is to ask what traits you have in common with the image: What are the main characteristics of the person in the dream? How would you describe his or her character and personality? Where do you find those same traits in you?”
When “big” symbols appear (power mad dictator, general. Saint, sage, etc.) ask: “What set of beliefs, what opinions does this character function out of? Do I unconsciously hold that same opinion without realizing it?”
A good way to connect to the inner parts of yourself is to think of each dream figure as an actual person living inside you. Then the question becomes: “Where have I seen this person at work in my life lately? Where in my life have I seen him/her doing what he/she did in the dream? What part of me is it that feels like that, thinks like that, behaves like that?”
In order to find this dream-person inside yourself, a good place to begin is to make a description. Write out what kind of person you think this is, what the person’s main characteristics and personality are, what the person wants and means to you. Then you can look for the part of your personality that matches the description.
Working with places—it’s a place, then it is a place inside you, and you can locate it. One of the most frequent uses of places in dreams is to show you whose “turf” you are on, whose influenced you are under. So a good way to understand the significance of a place is to ask who it belongs to.
Working with animals—you may think of it as an animal instinct or animal consciousness that lives somewhere inside you, buried in the deepest primordial, prehuman roots of the psyche. Jung found that animals often represent primitive physical and instinctual energy systems within us.
Step 3: Interpretations
The interpretation of your read is the end result of all the work you have put into the earlier steps of dream work. The interpretation ties together all the meanings you have drawn from the dream into one, unified picture. It is a coherent statement of what the dream means to you as a whole.
At this stage you ask questions like: “What is the central, most important message that this dream is trying to communicate to me? What is it advising me to do? What is the overall meaning of the dream for my life?”
As part of your interpretation, you should try to make a simple statement of the one, main idea that the dream communicates. Ask yourself: “What is the single most important insight that the dream is trying to get across to me?”
An adequate dream interpretation should sum up the meaning of your dream in a nutshell. It should also provide a specific application of the dream’s message to your personal life, to what you are doing, to how you are going to live.
Choosing Between Alternatives: because your dream is composed of energy systems, a good test for an interpretation is whether it as energy behind it.
Following small clues—every dream provides us with some small detail, some small clue, that tells us which interpretation to follow, or how to take the dream.
Sometimes a dream says that there is no one “right” choice. You may take either path, and the dream tells you what the consequences will be for the one you choose.
Principles for Validating Interpretations
1. Choose an interpretation that shows you something you didn’t know. Opt for the interpretation that teaches you something new, rather than the one that seems to confirm your ingrained opinions and prejudices. Your dream will not waste time telling you what you already know and understand. Assume that your dream has come to challenge you, help you grow, wake you up to what you need to learn and where you need to change.
2. Avoid the interpretation that inflates your ego or is self-congratulatory. Dreams are aimed at the unfinished business of your life, showing what you need to face next, what you need to learn next.
3. Avoid interpretations that shift responsibility away from yourself. Your dreams are not concerned with pointing out the faults of other people, or where other people need to change. Your dreams are concerned with you.
4. Learn to live with dreams over time—fit them into the long-term flow of your life
Step four: rituals
This step is very important because it helps you to integrate your dream experience into your conscious, waking life. Ask: “What are you going to do about your dream?”
This step requires a physical act that will affirm the message of the dream. Keep your physical rituals small and subtle, and they will be more powerful. The best rituals are physical, solitary, and silent: these are the ones that register most deeply with the unconscious. There are no set rituals established for us, nothing that is prescribed by a formula or a tradition. Instead, each of us must go into our own imaginations and literally “dream” the ritual that will serve to honor a particular dream. Each ritual must be custom-made out of the raw material of your own inner self. When in doubt, do something. If you consciously do some act—any act—in honor of your dream, it will register with your unconscious.