Laura K. Deal is both a wonderful writer and a graduate of the Marin Institute for Projective Dream Work, and she combines these two sides of her life when she teaches classes such as Writing and Dream Symbols, which I attended a few weeks ago. In the class, we performed a series of writing exercises beginning with images and dream symbols.
The experience was unexpectedly powerful. By beginning with a piece of artwork and a handful of symbols from others’ dreams, I was drawn into a waking dream. My mind pulled together these seemingly unrelated pieces to create a new image: a hilltop garden with five paths radiating outward, a silent woman standing at the garden’s center, a storm brewing in the background.
Strange as it sounds, this image led me to a new understanding of the magic system in the series I’m working on currently: relationships between races, key characters, magical rules—all of these stemmed from a twenty-minute free write that had nothing to do with my story problem. Or at least, I didn’t think it had anything to do with my story problem, which was perhaps the point. I’m supposed to be trusting my intuition. When I did, intuition led me where I needed to go.
But enough about me—Laura can do a far better job of explaining dream work and its power to inspire. Enjoy!
Could you explain dream work to the uninitiated?
The kind of dream work, or dream reading, that I do is consciously projective. I help people explore the meanings of their dreams and the symbols within them while staying aware that everything I see as a possible meaning for the dreamer is a possible meaning for me, as I imagine the dream for myself. What I say might or might not resonate with the original dreamer. Only the dreamer of the dream can say with certainty what her or his dream means.
However, we tend to be blind to some layers of meaning in our own dreams because dreams come to help us become more conscious about our own lives and motivations, and I might not see the deeper meanings of my dream precisely because that information is still unconscious for me. So when someone offers projections on possible meanings that I might not have seen, sometimes I will get an “aha” moment that indicates we’ve touched on some truth. The magic of working this way is that I can do much of my own inner work on the imagined version of other people’s dreams, so we all benefit and become more self-aware.
Why would one try to interpret a dream?
In addition to uncovering hidden motivations and unconscious patterns, I’ve seen dreamers perceive situations in their lives in a whole new way, which is the first step toward bringing creativity to bear to solve what might have seemed an unsolvable problem.
Dream work has uncovered physical health problems for many people. I had a short dream a few years ago that had a profound impact on my understanding of my relationships with beloved relatives who were reaching the ends of their lives. That dream is still yielding new information for me. I know dreamers whose life paths have changed dramatically for the better because they followed advice they found in their dreams. Also, nightmares usually lose their terrifying quality when the symbols are explored, so it can be of great comfort to the dreamer to understand the symbolic meanings of a dream that on the surface appears horrifying.
You offer a workshop that weaves together writing and dream work. Could you tell us a little about how that works?
I’ve studied both fiction writing and dream interpretation for many years. I realized that they have important elements in common: they both emerge from the same creative space in our minds, and both rely on metaphorical imagery and metaphorical thinking. It seemed a natural progression to bring them together.
I use the same kind of writing prompts that I use in my regular writing classes to tap into the creative well within, but instead of words and phrases pulled out of magazines or books, I have participants use several dream symbols to write a dream. It reinforces the similarities between the waking dream (the work of fiction) and the sleeping dream, and it takes off any self-editing pressure the writer may have since a dream doesn’t need to have a coherent narrative.
Sound interesting? If you’d like to try using dream symbols to inspire your own writing, Laura has shared one of the exercises from her workshop to get you started:
Jot down six dream symbols you remember from your own dreams or dreams of friends, or pick six symbols from a dream dictionary, then take 10-15 minutes to weave the symbols together into a dream. The more we play with dreams and metaphors and associations as writers, the richer our fictional characters and worlds become.
You can also learn more about dreams, dream symbols, imagery, and metaphor at Laura’s First Church of Metaphor blog—a great site for creative inspiration.
If you try this prompt, why not share your experience or part of your “dream” in the comments? This is an exercise best done in community, so please share!
How interesting! I sometimes have vivid dreams and try to write them down, though I’ve never used the inspiration for any of my stories. But I like the idea of thinking about the symbols in the dream and maybe relating that to my writing.
Cheryl Reif says
I think it’s fascinating that free writing about symbols can draw up such powerful images and insights from the subconscious. If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes! I’m going to do another free write this afternoon and post the result
Charlotte Rains Dixon says
Oooh, I want to take this workshop! Sounds amazing, thanks for the interview. And in the meantime, I’ll content myself with working from the prompt. Love the idea of working with symbols like that.
Cheryl Reif says
I know! I’m trying to convince her to offer it online
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