The Dreamer and the “I” of the dream

During the night as I dream, I do many things that I would never imagine myself doing in my awake life.  I commit murder, adultery, theft, and other horrifying actions.  When the “I” of the dream does these outrageous things, the awake person often feels shame and responsibility as if she had actually done them. Identifying with the self who appears in the dream can be a detriment to gaining valuable information from a dream.

The shame a dreamer feels for what she did during the dream often causes her to discard the dream rather than experience the bad feelings of the dream or the bad feelings about the dream.  Separating the awake self from the dreaming self is so important. In that way the awake person can gain insight that the unconscious is trying to communicate.  For example, here’s the image that a dream brought to me:

Stabbing with a kitchen knife
Stabbing with a kitchen knife

The night after a serious conversation with my sister, I had such a dream!  Imagine an empathic, kind person in my waking life, and night was driving a kitchen knife into my sister!  If I dismissed the dream because the “I” of the dream was so hideous to my awake sense of self, I would have lost information about myself.  I learned from the dream that I was mis-using my sharp insight.  What would have been useful to “pare down” a big issue, instead made my sister feel bad about herself.

Because of the dream I was able to go back and rectify the situation. So the dream brought to my attention the unconscious way the empathic, kind person I thought myself to beI had been a “murderer.”  The dream self introduced my shadow self to my awake self.

More later on this topic because the relationship between the dreamer and the “I” of the dream is so important!


Are Dreams Meaningful?

The earliest systematic study of dreams goes back to 1893, when Mary Whiton Calkins, an American philosopher and psychologist, the first woman to become president of the American Psychological Association, described one of the first studies in her article “Statistics of Dreams”

Mary Whiton Calkins
Mary Whiton Calkins

As far back as 5000 years ago, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia recorded dreams on clay tablets.  From that time until modern era when Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams  (1900) the meaning of dreams has been a great curiosity.  Today some neurological researchers proposes that dreams are the result of random firings of the brain, while many others find meaning in dreams.



Carl Jung
Carl Jung

Carl Jung wrote many pieces on dreams, complied in Dreams, an anthology of his writing on dreams.  Jung, unlike Freud believed that the unconscious was a source of creativity, not just a receptacle for repressed psychological and emotional material.  He also believed that the dream did not masquerade for a hidden meaning.  He believed that the images of dreams were symbols, part of a symbolic language that could be deciphered, in a way similar to the way a translator would decipher an unknown text.

My own view of the dream rests on the belief and intuition that nothing about the human being is superfluous or meaningless.  We are constructed so that our physiology responds in the direction of health, healing and wholeness.  When we cut a hand, cells “know” to march toward one another to seal off the wound.  When blood sugar fluctuates, insulin is dumped into the system to regulate the those levels.  When the system needs hydration we feel thirst.  Could it be that only the dream is random and meaningless?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.



On Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 The New York Times published a piece written by Jan Hoffman, “A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying.”article

The article describes conversations and provides links to interviews with individuals who are in hospice care, near their deaths. Dr. Chris Kerr, a Buffalo Hospice palliative care doctor has been doing research into this area and finds that mostly the dreams comfort the patients.  A small number revive unresolved conflicts or unpleasant situations.

My own view on dreams rests soundly on the knowledge that nothing about the human body is accidental. We are designed toward health, healing, and wholeness..  When we’re cut, individual blood cells march toward one another to seal off the injury. When we haven’t eaten, fat cells yield their energy.  Need more oxygen?  Heart beats faster.  Why would dreams be any different?  They express needs that the human being has to remain whole, healthy, and healed.  The dreams of the dying are getting the dreamers ready to do something they’ve never done before.

In my own experience dreams that were told to me near death have a numinous feeling.  They were “big” dreams even if they dealt with every day experiences.  Almost all of the dreams I have heard included the companionship of a dog, even for individuals who didn’t have dogs.  It was as if the psyche was providing an instinctual guide for the journey.

There are many, myself included, who believe there are many planes of existence.  We live on the concrete plane of the physical world, but occasionally the veil between worlds opens and there is a glimpse far beyond what we know.  The night after my mother died, I had an incredible dream.

I went out onto a balcony with a small dog at my heels.  The balcony jung over a huge body of water, and I could see far, far, far down into the water–farther than anyone could possibly see, and I could also se in the distance, far, far, far. 

I felt that the dream was a special gift to me, and that my experience of having sat with my mother as she was dying, I had been given a glimpse of eternity.

I want to shout out praise for Dr. Kerr who is taking serious interest in individual’s experiences as they approach their death and also for the NY Times for bringing this important news to us. Dreams are an important part of the life of the mind. We do nothing to earn them, but they are there guiding us through our lives, and even with us, preparing us, helping us resolve, and get us ready for the transition from this life to whatever comes next. It is wonderful news that the medical community is taking dreams seriously because it means doctors and health care providers are helping dying people keep their dignity and the significance of their experience, and are not abandoning them in life’s last transition. Listen to Jeanne as she describes her dream and experience.



Did you ever have a nightmare? Who hasn’t?

Though dreaded, at one time or another, the nightmare is known to all of us.

And here’s the question I would ask you—even though you were terrified of something frightening and anxiety provoking that happened—following the nightmare did anything like that happen?

Overwhelming the answer is “No.”

The nightmare is only frightening from one point of view, and that is from the dreamer’s. If a robber is about to break into your house, it isn’t the robber who is anxious. If your car is about to careen off a cliff, it isn’t the car, or the cliff, or some other person who is terrified; it is you.

The nightmare is a dream that is extremely frightening and provokes distress and anxiety in the dreamer who is also the protagonist of the drama. Most often the fear escalates to such an extent that we wake up scared, with our hearts pounding.

Here’s a reason why:

The person who appears as myself in the dream represents the status quo of who I think myself to be at this particular time. The “I” of the dream represents a state of identity, and it is to that state of identity that something appears terrifying.

A lovely, very socially conscious woman dreamed that she was traveling on a long ocean voyage with many trunks of clothes and belongings. Thieves broke into her stateroom to steal her jewelry and handbags. She woke from this dream in a panic and a sweat.

The woman, whom I will call Mary, was on the cusp of letting go of the need to be seen in a particular way. Her identity as a socially prominent, well-dressed person who presented an image of perfection to the world around her was about to be undone. As she struggled to find the part of herself that was spontaneous, artistic, and even out-spoken, her demure persona was going to take a hit.

The nightmare prepared her for what was coming. Her deeper self needed a more expanded identity in order to include parts of herself that she had previously excluded, and so the nightmare was like a harbinger of things to come. The robbers were antagonists to her status quo identity at the time, but they were helpers who wanted to move her forward to a more expanded, inclusive identity.

The next time you wake from a nightmare, ask you self—what part of you is scared and what part of you is trying to expand who you are?

Twins, Pairs, Twosomes,and Duos in Dreams


Sometimes images appear in a double form. They may be very distinct, like twins, or a pair of birds, or cars double parked, or two robbers who are trying to break into the house, or two carrots embracing one another.

A pair of carrots embrace!
Two carrot embrace!

Or the twosome may be less obvious—like two crayons, a yellow one and a red one, or a dress and a pair of shoes, both in the same color. I have noticed over the years, that a twosome appearing in a dream often announces a new energy about to manifest. For example, a woman dreamed,

Two moving vans are pulling up to my house.

She had been stuck for a long time in a job that she didn’t like, but couldn’t figure out how to make a change in the situation. In the dream she was surprised and had a positive feeling about the arrival of the vans. If you think about moving vans, they are vehicles for transporting large, heavy loads, entire households. This woman’s capacity to hold and move with big issues was announced by the dream.


—–Keep an eye out for these twosomes when they appear in your dreams.

Losing Teeth in Dreams


One of the most common anxiety dreams is losing teeth: they loosen and fall out, crumble, are extracted, or knocked out. Teeth have many functions:

  • They are a first line of self-defense
  • The earliest form of aggression–we bite.
  • They are the gateway or barrier between the inner world and the outer.
  • They are the “tools” that makes it possible to take large chunks of nourishment, and break them down into smaller sizes that can be metabolized.

With them we can “sink our teeth into something” meaning we can be deeply commit, understand, and become fully involved. Translating these characteristics into psychologically meaningful language means that when we dream of teeth falling out, we are losing some differentiation between ourselves and someone else. We may be losing our grip or hold on a big problem because we are losing our ability to break it down into smaller more manageable pieces.

Only babies and very old people have no teeth, so losing teeth may scare us because we are losing some autonomy or power that will render us dangerously dependent.


When we were young, many of us put a lost tooth under the pillow so that the tooth fairy would come and bring us money or something special. The dream may also warn us that it is dangerous to wish to regress to a magical place where we are taken care of and wishes will be granted without our own hard work.

Teeth also give us our beautiful smiles which draw others toward us. Losing teeth may render us unappealing, and we may fear that something is happening that will cause others to be repelled by us.

When we have a tooth loss dream, the wise dream maker is giving us an experience of anxiety because we need to pay attention to something that is going on that has to do with loss of autonomy, independence, power, and ability to accomplish things by breaking them down into manageable sizes.

What’s the title of the dream?

Sometimes a dream is long, complicated, and the series of events doesn’t make any sense to you when you up. It might be a long narrative that takes twists and turns and leads to a strange and confusing conclusion. Giving the dream a title can often help to extract the essential pattern of the dream. For example, the dream may be a journey, or a search, or a conflict. By backing away from all the details of the dream and determining the essential story line, the basic meaning of the dream emerges. The confusing details fall away and the bare bones meaning of the dream stands out.

The title should always be oriented toward the main character of the dream, usually the dreamer, and should not be distracted by potent images.  For example, a dreamer dreams: I am running down a hill in the country when I realize there is a unicorn behind a tree.  Suddenly a fire engine goes whizzing by, but I still go running on.  Everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I am running from the city where we now live to the hometown where I grew up and it’s just a bit over 26 miles.

In this dream, the unicorn, the fire engine, the location, and the length of the run are all very enticing and surely meaningful details, but the dream is about a person experiencing the journey back to her home town as a marathon.  A good title would be “A Strenuous Feat to Get Back Home”  or “The Journey Back Will Require Endurance and Sweat.”  The title points to the meaning of the dream–that whatever is going on for the dreamer, it is going to be an arduous, challenging effort and she’s going to have to rely on her own steam.

Try this:

Go back in your journal and title some of your dreams.  If you haven’t got a journal, start one and after writing down a dream, think about a good title.  If you want more practice, watch a television show.  Pretend the show is your dream.  Choose which character you are and from her point of view, title the “dream show.”  Or make up a bizarre little story and then give it a title from the main character’s point of view.

Important Conversations

Here are some situations where a conversation warrants consideration

  • Job interview
  • Negotiating salary
  • Teacher conference
  • Return of purchased item
  • Discussion with partner about children’s education
  • And many more…


Most of us are unable to think on our feet when we’re under pressure.  Of course, sometimes it brings out the best in us.  Other times, we freeze and can’t remember what we were thinking.

Particularly when you have an agenda, when you are hoping for a particular outcome, it is key to be prepared.

Try this:

Before your next important meeting, particularly if you have a stake in the outcome.  Do this.  Write down the conversation you think you might have.  If he says this:  I’ll say this.  WRITE IT DOWN!!!!  Don’t just think it, but really work at this by writing it down.  When you feel you’ve anticipated all the questions you’ll have to face at the meeting., quit.

You may be surprised at how well you’re able to field difficult material.  Having written down a little bit,  you’ll be able to handle much more than you ever dreamed!!!

Micro Meditation

“But I can’t meditate.”  “I’ve tried meditation and it doesn’t work.”  “I’m just no good at it.”  “I can’t spare the time.”  “I wish I could meditate but I can’t get started.”

All of these are complaints I hear from clients who believe that it would be good for them to meditate, but nonetheless, she can’t get to it.

Try this:

Instead of waiting until you can discipline yourself to spend a half hour every morning, or an hour, or whatever you imagine it would take to get you going on a meditation practice, when you get up in the morning, sit down and write out one short sentence as a mantra.  Close your eyes and say it three times as you take three deep breaths.  Don’t spend any more time than that….it takes 5 seconds longer than three breaths.  During the day, when you’re putting on your socks, or turning on the television, or getting into the car, or walking the dog, or riding in the elevator, say the same little mantra to yourself and take three deep breaths.

Write to me and tell me how this works for you.

Inspiration: Where’s My Muse?


“I can’t get started because the inspiration isn’t there.”

I’ve heard that many times from clients, and hey, I have felt that so often myself when I am trying to write something, begin a project, get back to a task, or other things.  I just sit around waiting for a muse to show up!

The idea that motivation comes in the form of inspiration isn’t always true.  While once in a while, I get moved or inspired to do something, clean a closet, write a poem, redecorate my bedroom, start a blog, the initial gush of enthusiasm is transient and unreliable.

Think of your muse as a partner in your creative process.  You can think of her as someone who is unreliable and shows up now and then, and when she does, you greet her and let her have a little space in your life.   Hmmmm.  But can I count on her?

How about this: if you will focus on a consistent basis, the muse will show up, and not only that, she’ll be much more generous.

Recently I had a conversation with a client who was describing her work, creative design.  In passing she said something like, I’m pretty lucky because as long as I’m focused I have plenty of ideas.  Before she was able to elaborate on what she had just said, she was onto another topic, but I stopped her and asked her to go back to what she had just said.  I wanted her to realize that very naturally she had organized herself in a way that was creatively super-productive.  She is a well known figure, famous for her prolific, fine designs.  The key?  Focus.