The Guided Dream Journal

Many of you know my interest and passion for dream work is not new. I have been recording my own dreams most of my adult life, and working with other people’s dreams in varied settings–in therapy sessions, in workshops, in coach training and coaching–even in friendly conversations.

Several years ago I pulled together some of the most important principles for working with dreams and published a short Kindle book

, Dream Work: 10 Lessons for Understanding Dreams.

I was motivated by my desire to share with others what I had learned over the years, especially from my work as a therapist and from my own process, I had experienced the remarkable wisdom and guidance dreams offered and wanted others to have those benefits. I’ve always felt that your dreams are a huge resource, and for so many folks, an untapped one.

On August 4, 2020 The Guided Dream Journal will be published! This book is a real hands-on combination of learning and practicing. In addition to the guidance aimed at giving you insight into working with your dreams, the book includes pages for recording your dreams, prompts to help you get the hang of dream interpretation, and a dictionary that includes some of the most common dream symbols.

COVID 19 has impacted all of us in a variety of ways. One of the phenomena that many have noticed is that dream life has perked up. The dreams are more vivid, more memorable, more loaded with a full range of emotion. Folks who earlier would have said, “I don’t remember my dreams,” are now remembering them. My thought on this is that since the pandemic has forced us to stay sheltered, the stimulation of the outer world is greatly diminished. The psyche is compensating by juicing up the inner world, providing increased dream activity. One of the themes that keeps popping up is deceased family members coming back, like little nighttime visitations from loved ones.

I hope you and yours are doing well. I also hope you will be excited by this new book. Maybe for yourself or for someone you know who would like to make the most of the inner wisdom that’s there–just waiting to be tapped.

What Part of You Suffers Most?

ONE PERSON, MANY PARTS

We tend to think of ourselves as a single, unitary personality, but the truth is that each of us is composed of many parts. To name a few: the child, the critic, the free spirit, the rule follower, the lover, the CEO, the cat lover, the cat hater, the sensible adult, the reckless teenager, the rebel, the conformist, and on and on. Some of these parts may even seem antithetical. Could I be both a rebel and a conformist? Sure. How about a sad child and a happy adult? Of course. Could a reckless teenager and a cautious adult live under the same roof? Absolutely. Even though some parts of the self seem to be in direct opposition to one another, as if one must exclude the other, we are complex beings who include many states of being, even those that seem to be mutually exclusive.

At the present time, because many of us are still sheltering in place, some parts of our personalities are suffering more than others. The call for social distance and sheltering is being received in diverse ways. If you have an inner bookworm, chances are having to stay home alone is like mana from heaven. If you have an inner rebel who chaffs at the voice of authority, it’s likely that you are feeling like a caged tiger.

Do you know what part of you is having the hardest time right now?

If you can identify which part of you is having the hardest time, you can begin to develop strategies for giving it what it needs.

A further consideration has to do with relationship. Sometimes a part of one person irritates a part of another person. They may even despise one another. As if, for example, my rule follower hates your rebel. In intimate relationships, this conflict between the way parts of each person work with the parts of another is often the cause of intense conflict. See if you can identify the difficult contact points in the folks you are close to. It can help you develop problem solving plans instead of fights–fights that are often fights to the death because only one can survive!

It’s Not Depression–It’s Grief

Since the beginning of sheltering in place, I have been focused on how to stay connected, remain optimistic, and support vitality. Along those lines, I have been grateful to continue my work as a psychotherapist. I also wanted to contribute something more to be of service. To that end, I resumed writing blog posts and began a group for folks to talk about their experience during this pandemic. Last weekend a storm cloud blew in.

I woke up on Monday morning sad, sad, sad. The bottom had fallen out and it felt like I had tumbled into a dark abyss–one that felt so deep I feared I might never be able to claw my way out. The onset was so sudden, and there was no obvious triggering event; it was more like an unexpected squall that hit me out of the blue.

My energy was gone. Barely able to drag myself to the computer to set up for my meditation group that was meeting via zoom rather than in person since sheltering in place, bathrobe-clad, hair uncombed, I sat myself in front of the computer. When it came time to check in, I could hardly speak for the cry that flooded. How was I doing? Terrible. Sad.

My trusted meditation group members listened to me, shared their feelings. One thanked me for having being brave enough to be honest about how I was truly feeling. She said it was hard when people said they were fine when they weren’t. Some of the others shared that they too were feeling down. After the meeting, since I didn’t have to work until much later in the day, I soaked in a hot tub and reflected on my state. Gradually with the combination of having shared my experience, the acceptance of others, the comfort of water, and quiet reflection, my energy began to revive.

What I realized was that I wasn’t slipping into a depression, I was overcome with grief. So much has been lost:

  • Social contact with loved ones and friends
  • Freedom to move around my world
  • The ability to plan
  • My familiar sense of self as a risk-taking, intrepid person
  • Control over my future
  • Choice

And there are others have lost much more:

  • The lives of loved ones
  • Health and well being
  • Financial security
  • Jobs

Whether you’ve lost a lot or a little, loss is loss. It doesn’t help to rationalize that your loss isn’t as great as someone else’s.

Some of the symptoms of grief and depression overlap: loss of/ or excessive appetite, sleep disturbance, feelings of sadness, inability to focus, anxiety, and loss of pleasure in normal activities,

When a person suffers from depression, there can be in addition to the grief symptoms, excessive feelings of guilt, worthlessness, numbness, feelings of emptiness, rumination, fatigue, lethargy, and thoughts of suicide.

We are all grieving.

If you are suddenly feeling sad, I hope you can distinguish your grief from depression, and that you can find the kind of comfort that restored me. If you want to take a deeper dive into understanding our current state of grief, Brené Brown talks to David Kessler, a grief specialist who worked with Elizabeth Kubler Ross, and who wrote about the 6th stage of grief–meaning. Here’s the link:

A Conversation about Dreams

I want to share the link to the live conversation I had with Sheila Hamilton, writer, radio celebrity, and the host of a podcast that explores mental health issues, Beyond Well. Check it out at:

The individuals of ancient cultures and indigenous tribes believed that dreams were the way the gods communicated with humans. I have been collecting dreams from those of you who follow me, and from various folks who have been willing to share dreams with me. There is no question that most people who report dreams notice that they are more aware of their dreams, that the dreams have become more vivid and colorful, and that certain themes have become more prevalent. Here’s the link in case you want to hear more about that:

What are you dreaming about during COVID19? Katherine Wattiker Olivetti, a psychotherapist and dream expert who has authored two books on this topic, says for the first time since she's been researching dreams, people all over the world are sharing the same themes in their sleep world. It's a hugely uplifting and wonderful conversation.

Posted by Sheila Hamilton on Thursday, April 9, 2020

Openheartedness

In a previous blog I wrote, “Music helps. Use it to chill and stay calm. Use it to crack your heart open so you can cry.”

I received quite a few questions about this. Why would anyone want to crack their heart open? Why would anyone want to cry?

We all have strategies for protecting the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. During times of fear and anxiety, like during this pandemic, our defensive strategies strengthen. In order to protect ourselves, we get more and more armored. Our protective shells get stronger and stronger. The bad news about this is that as that shell calcifies, our vulnerability becomes more remote, and we lose our ability to connect to others, and also to connect with the deepest parts of ourselves.

Becoming openhearted does not mean disregarding the fear or anxiety we might be feeling. It does not mean becoming reckless or falsely confident. It means staying connected to the tender parts of ourselves. It means not dissociating from our vulnerable states. That’s where music can help.

Music has a special way of sneaking around the defensive and protective structures. Listening to a moving piece of music goes straight to the heart and opens it up. That’s what I mean by cracking your heart open. The tears you feel when you hear a moving piece of music are a sign that your heart has been touched. Let that happen. It’s good for your well being and health, and especially right now when we are all feeling fearful, it will keep your shell from getting too hard.

Here’s one of my favorites from Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole:

A New Group

On Friday, March 27th, online I convened a new group made up of individuals who either are working with me in therapy now or have worked with me in the past. They are all extraordinary individuals who are committed to their own psychological, intellectual, and spiritual development, and that of those around them. In addition, they are a highly accomplished group with many varied professions represented.

I want to share with you some of my takeaways:

  • By sheltering in place you ARE doing something in service to the community.
  • Through a dream the message came to us–it’s time to let go of what doesn’t serve you and also time to make way for something new.
  • Even though the external situation is serious, don’t feel guilty if you have fun and enjoy yourself.
  • Dancing (alone or with someone) lifts your spirits.
  • Here’s a new way to watch a movie: Watch a bit. Stop the movie. Discuss what you’ve seen with a partner who is sheltering with you, or arrange ahead of time to do this remotely with a friend. Then watch a little more. It will take awhile to complete the movie, but it’s a rich new experience.
  • Draw a big circle on a piece of paper. On the outside write the things you can’t control. On the inside write the things you can control. Take it from there.
  • If you’re angry, channel that powerful energy into action.
  • Music helps. Use it to chill and stay calm. Use it to crack your heart open so you can cry.
  • One of our group members shared a beautiful thought, “Make yourself a refuge.”

Meditate? Do What You Already Know

Most of us already know that a meditation or mindfulness practice serves good health and well being. When I’m working with clients, so often they say, “I’m just not good at meditating.” Well, I’m not either. I think that’s why they call it a practice!

The mind jumps around all over the place. A few breaths and then I’m thinking about the shopping list or who I forgot to call. Back to the breath. They call this “monkey mind.” I think of it like a disobedient puppy I’m trying to teach to heel. She wanders off to sniff an interesting smell, and I have to tug on the leash and pull her back to “Heel.” Again and again.

For now, do whatever is the smallest mindful practice you can muster. If you can only take 3 deep breaths, do that. If you can only listen to one soothing song, do that. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly and take one deep breath. When you can master the smallest increment, see if you can add something to it. Be gentle with yourself.

Here’s a skill you already have: you know how to focus your attention.

Use that skill to take charge of your monkey, puppy dog, anxious mind. Take charge of where you focus your attention. When your anxiety rises, treat that part of you like the disobedient puppy….no we’re not doing that right now. YOU decide what you want to focus on, and then use your skill to stay focused on the subject of your choice.

With so much going on outside to fear, and so much uncertainty about what’s coming next, it too easy to be overtaken by fear and anxiety. Exercise your ability and right to be in charge of your mind.

Don’t let those feelings drag you around like a disobedient pup!

Anxiety and Fear

Anxiety and fear are not the same things. Fear is what you feel when you perceive danger in your environment. Anxiety is a reaction to a potential threat that may or may not happen. The body reacts to both the same way and both trigger a cascade of bodily responses.

In our current situation fear and anxiety are legitimate and universal responses to the COVID 19 pandemic. There is a real external danger and it threatens consequences for each one of us that may or may not happen.

The limbic system signals DANGER and the cascade of internal reactions begins. The hippocampus, responsible for memory, becomes activated and the amygdala sounds the alarm. This leads to the hypothalamus beginning to dump hormones and neurotransmitter chemicals into the system. The autonomic nervous system prepares for fight, flight, or freeze.

“A review by psychologist Dana Rose Garfin, PhD, at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues found people who experienced acute stress in the weeks after a traumatic event were more likely to have negative long-term mental and physical health outcomes, including poor general health; increased pain, disability and mortality; increased depression, anxiety and psychiatric disorders; and more family conflict.” (Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 112, No. 1, 2018).

Here’s the truth: we can’t help being triggered. But we CAN make choices about how we respond. We can interrupt this cascade and calm ourselves down. And when we do that we protect ourselves but we also protect those around us from the contagion of our anxiety.

In order to promote our own and the health of others, let’s do what we can to quell anxiety.

Here are 3 things you can do:

Take a deep breath through your nose to the count of 4, then exhale through your mouth to the count of 6. Do this at least 3 times. Keep doing this until you begin to feel your anxiety abate. If you already have a meditation practice, draw on that.

Develop a self-soothing physical practice or ritual. A ritual is a practice that very quickly creates a state of mind. For example, when a person enters a church and blesses herself, she signals that change. Develop a calming ritual for yourself. Light a candle, make a cup of tea. Wrap a cozy blanket around yourself. Play soft music. Massage the back of your neck. Place one hand on your heart and the other below your belly.

Turn to music.

Try these:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYuE2roIkH0&list=RDPYuE2roIkH0&start_radio=1&t=0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmx–WjeN7o

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vh_rhnI0g0kc:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbJcQYVtZMo

Use this situation to nurture and soothe yourself and those around you.

Dreams and COVID 19

After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, as a therapist I heard that many folks had prescient dreams about the event. I decided to give a workshop for those dreamers. Thanks to the Jung Foundation, I spend an entire Saturday with an auditorium full of 9/11 dreamers. Many had dreamed images of towers collapsing, blackbirds flying into the towers, people falling from tall buildings. It was amazing how vivid and specific the images were. You didn’t need a psychoanalyst to interpret them!

What have you been dreaming about?

When I spoke with my daughter this morning she told me she’d been dreaming of snakes, and specifically a snake bite. A snake bite is often the image that occurs in dreams at the beginning of a healing cycle. That’s why both the Caduceus with its double snake and the Rod of Aesclepius with its single snake are used as symbols for medical signification.

Dreaming of snake venom at a time like this is pointing to the healing of our situation. Those infected with the COVID 19 virus “bitten,” may be the ones to provide the healing cure. All dreams are aimed at healing. They are meant to be shared, and the community benefits from the collective gathering of dreams. My daughter’s dream is such a good example of that.

I would love to know what you are dreaming so that I can gather the images our collective unconscious is producing. Please feel free to send them as comments here, or directly to my email at katherineolivetti@gmail.com.

New Normal with COVID 19

In only a few days our ordinary, everyday normal has drastically changed, and we don’t know whether this is a long or short term situation. Regardless of how long this lasts, we are all challenged to adapt to these unexpected, unwanted circumstances.I want to share some thoughts with you. Years ago I lived in Manhattan. When my aging mom who lived in New Jersey was sick, she most often came to New York to be treated at New York University Hospital (a superb institution.) Rather than send her home upon discharge, she would come and stay with me in my apartment until we were sure she was stable enough to go home. Mom’s hearing wasn’t great and she wasn’t very mobile at the time, so she spent most of her time in the apartment with the television blaring. Honestly, it drove me crazy, but since it was time limited, I put up with it. Always relieved when she was well enough to head home.

Years later, I was still in Manhattan at the time of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. In the days afterwards, I noticed that every time I went to my office I tried to insert the key to my home apartment in the keyhole. It told me that something in me just wanted to be safely home. One of the other things I noticed was that I kept the television on day and night, often drifting off to sleep with CNN blaring. You know what insight I gained from that? I remembered my mom and gleaned this–the blaring television was a way of staying connected and dealing with anxiety.

Since then, I have learned that it isn’t the best strategy. In fact, the constancy of the television juices up anxiety, so there’s more need for quelling it. One of the most important things is to keep your anxiety in check. Increased anxiety is not good for your overall health, especially your immune system, so anything that brings it down–GO FOR IT! Remember anxiety is almost always focused on fear about the future. It ruins the present. Even under difficult circumstances, you can make the most of the present. Buddhist priest Pema Chodron teaches–in the present moment everything is as it should be. Believe her. I want to share with you some of the strategies I’ve learned, ones I’m trying to practice myself.

–Limit your exposure to televised news. Read the newspaper either on line or paper. If you tune in, limit the time.

–While sheltering in place, create projects. Clean a closet, organize your desk, sew on buttons, paint a room, get to a small repair job, knit, cook, get a head start on your taxes, organize your photos. Any project that has been waiting–now’s an opportunity to do it.

–Do something for other people. Start a group chat. Make a donation to charity. Foster a pet. Pay your helpers for the month. Send a care package to someone who needs it.

–If you don’t already have a meditation practice, begin one. There are lots of online apps. One of my favorites is through Deepak Chopra called Ananda. Headspace and Calm are both good also.

–For those of you who struggle with a formal meditation practice, try this. Lie down for a few minutes. Bring to mind a place you love. Imagine yourself there. Take 3 deep breaths. With each out breath say to yourself, “For this moment everything is as it should be.”

–Start a family group chat so you can meet online. We met one night “for drinks.” It was kind of crazy, but fun.

–Play with your pets. If you don’t have one, foster one. Connecting with animals lowers blood pressure and can you believe this? Those who sleep with dogs get better sleep!

–Teach Fido a new trick.

–Tap into your creative talents. Write a short story. Compose a piece of music or poem. Make a collage. Sketch your favorite landscape or design a new outfit.

–Write down your dreams and keep a journal of this time.

–Play family games. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Play pictionary or charades (if you need the rules, email me–katherineolivetti@gmail.com)

–If you have small children, take all the bedclothes and make a fort where you can read stories, eat cookies, and be safe together.

–Walk outdoors. Plant bulbs.

–Download pictures from art history . The Louvre is closed but is allowing its collection to be available online. Make your own anthology of the art you love. Beauty is a great healer.

–Music is a healer also. Make a special play list of music that raises your spirits.

You probably can think of other creative endeavors that you could deploy during this time. What is most important is to keep your spirit lively, continue moving forward in your life, seize this as an opportunity to do something you might not have done, cherish those you love and find a way to keep them close, and figure out a way to be of service to others. I’d love to hear how you’re doing. Sending love to you and yours.