Understanding Your Dreams Can Help You Find Answers and Live Authentically

Living Authentically by Understanding Your DreamsImage by Stefan Keller

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                                             Mary Oliver

I first met Lilly as a client in my psychotherapy practice. She wanted to work on understanding her dreams, which she hoped would provide some of the answers she so desperately sought. She complained that her life felt miserable, that she had "lost her soul." A striking brunette in her early thirties and recently divorced, she described feeling overwhelming and uncontrollable emotions, from intense anger and bitterness toward her ex-husband, who had walked out on her and their two girls, to grief and hopelessness about the formidable task of raising two young children as a single mother.

In addition, she had worked for most of her adult life in the family business — now owned and managed by her mother — as the office manager of a busy suburban carpet and tile store. Lilly not only thoroughly hated her job, she felt economically trapped in it with a salary just barely enough above average to feel somewhat secure. With no other job skills or experience, she explained that to get a different job in a similar position she would have to take a pay cut, a scary proposition for her in her present circumstances.

Still, she could barely make ends meet. Even worse, she and her mother had never gotten along and fought constantly. Working with her mother on a daily basis and having to "follow orders" made even thinking about going to work stir up a sickening anxiety that seemed more like a recurring nightmare. Lilly felt she was indeed "living someone else's life."

Understanding Dreams Brings Answers

Lilly and I launched ourselves into what became a year-and-a-half of dreamwork using Radical Dreaming techniques. Gradually, dream by dream, she began to separate herself from the intricate web of outside influences and attitudes that were not a part of her true Self.

Eventually, a powerful part of her true identity emerged from her dreams: she called it her "Free Spirit Self." She described her Free Spirit Self as a risk-taker, a rebel, an adventurer, and "not liking rules." She connected this important aspect of her Self with her first visit to Hawaii many years ago — a place where she felt grounded and completely at home.

Lilly had begun to free her unlived life from the stone of her outer circumstances. And her dreams then began to focus on the obstacles impeding her Free Spirit. She started exploring different work options and began developing friends and connections in Hawaii.

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Step by step, she began changing her life and her circumstances. Her Free Spirit Self freed her from what before had seemed to be an insurmountable predicament; it liberated her to think about new possibilities. Lilly now lives in Hawaii where she operates her own flourishing gourmet catering business, fully living her lifelong passion and talent for preparing great food. And she has married a "very different, wonderful man" whom she deeply loves. Such is the awesome power of dreams to transform and change our lives.

Through working with her dreams and applying what she learned from them, Lilly radically changed the nature of her relationship to her surrounding world. Her personal transformation has been an inspiration to her children and to many other people.

Her life now impacts society in a positive, creative manner. But she first had to break free of the restrictive social stereotyping and negative attitudes associated with being a single parent. Lilly's dreams helped her to separate herself from these limiting outside influences and reconnect to empowering aspects of her real nature.

Living a "Radical" Life & Making a Difference

It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero,
but precisely the reverse.
—  Joseph Campbell

I chose "Radical Dreaming" as the title for this book because the word radical comes closest to characterizing the inner and outer revolution that takes place when we have the courage to live authentically, to follow our dreams. "Radical" literally means "going to a root or source, departing markedly from the usual or customary," and it means "effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions," and also, "one who seeks to overthrow the social order."

The Latin root of radical, radix, means "root." To live a distinct, original life, we need to go to the source, into our roots, our original nature. We need to "overthrow the social order," which has been implanted deep within the human psyche with all its attendant rules and expectations heaped upon the individual. Radical Dreaming implies leaving the stagnation and servitude of an "ordered," common life, a deadly, soul-numbing status quo; it is the ultimate rebellion!

Personal Transformation & Social Change

As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in the midst of a tremendous and extraordinarily difficult transition from a world fragmented into often hostile groups and ideologies to a world where people are united by their common humanity, not divided by boundaries of race, religion, identity, or geography. Our dreams hold the potential to transform the archaic, medieval mass-mindedness that labels and judges others not as unique individuals but instead as members of a particular group or belief system.

Certainly many groups are supportive of the individual and are constructive, helpful forces in society. Support groups, religious and spiritual groups, common interest groups, and community groups can be invaluable, provided they maintain a healthy balance of power between individual, creative expression, and group ideas and influence.

The balance of power in our present age is heavily weighted in favor of the outer world, the collective arena where popular influences are more likely to determine the course of an individual life. We may believe we are living "our" life, but powerful, often unacknowledged social forces push and pull, shape what we do and how we live.

We find ourselves following a set of implanted "shoulds": getting the career our family and society approve of, getting the house in the suburbs, having kids, saving for retirement — ending our working life at sixty-five because that's what everyone expects us to do.

So people have dreams about death, about people at the end of life, incapacitated, in wheel chairs, dreams about returning to high school or being in some classroom setting preparing for or taking a test. We begin to feel insignificant, that our life could not possibly matter or make a difference. We give up before even trying.

The Exam: What Am I Doing In This World?

Ted had reached a crisis in his life. "What am I doing in this world?" he asked at our first meeting, slumping forward, his eyes fixed on the floor. Should he continue with a career in the medical field that would promise him financial security and a comfortable life style, or should he follow his passion, step into unknown territory, disappoint his family and friends? He brought this dream to our next session:

I am in a big classroom with other students. It reminds me of my college. We are all surprised when someone announces there is going to be an exam. I feel panicked and unprepared to take this test.

Ted's dream coincided with his serious consideration of a new career path, a path that meant he would be stepping outside the "plan" for his life. In theory, a good education prepares us to live a productive, responsible life. However, education can also limit and sometimes smother our real nature.

"Examination dreams" and back-to-school themes in dreams often warn us that some aspect of our emerging potential is colliding with collective conditioning to obey the rules, to play the game, to follow tradition, to "fit in," to be "normal," and to conform.

Ted realized that his examination dream represented a challenge, an "exam" from the establishment, from powerful, implanted influences that could keep his authentic life depressed and entombed. These conformist pressures from his college experience collided with his choice to follow his passion.

When we encounter one of these examination dreams, we need to ask ourselves:

• How am I not measuring up to some societal or cultural standard?

• How might I be judging, examining myself as a success or a failure based on outside expectations?

• What have I been trained to be and to do with my life that feels alien to who I really am?

• What have I been telling myself that represents outside ideas and attitudes? And which particular ideas feel self-defeating?

Social responsibility then depends upon being true to ourselves, not becoming a clone and living someone else's life.

Who Am I? What Is My Destiny, My Vocation?

We desperately need a new way of looking at ourselves, others, and our environment, a way free of the deadly, dehumanizing judgments that a group-oriented perspective often places on life. Seen through a collective mind set, being black, brown, or white becomes a label that overshadows individual character and identity. We see the group, not the individual and we tend to judge or assume things about individuals based on what we have been told or conditioned to believe.

When the collective view dominates, it's nearly impossible to see a human being. Instead we see a "Jew," a "Republican," an "Arab," a "Protestant," a "Liberal," and so on. Our dreams rarely address this labeling of people but they do focus on images of containment and entrapment within soul-killing influences from all types of "group-think."

We need to become much more conscious, more aware of who we are and of our particular destiny, our true vocation. This dilemma requires a spiritual, psychological, and sociological reorientation, a new way of perceiving ourselves and others, a way of living and experiencing life that combines inner and outer consciousness — a way of living that includes dreamwork not only as a social responsibility but also a profound summons to our authentic life — a priceless resource that we all have access to. Indeed, our dreams are screaming solutions for the imbalance, injustice, and social chaos that permeates our present age, but almost no one is listening.

After years of dream research, Montague Ullman, professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and the founder of the Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, concluded that "Dreams are nature's way of trying to counteract our seemingly unending compulsion to fragment the world. Unless we learn how to overcome all the ways we've fragmented the human race, nationally, religiously, economically, or whatever, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we can accidentally destroy the whole picture."

Why Your Dreamwork Is So Important

Why try to understand our dreams? Because our contemporary world urgently needs the intervention of a perspective that brings greater soulfulness and compassion into our experience and actions; qualities that our dreams help cultivate and develop. And because our dreams have a profound purpose: the creation of distinct, integrated individuals who will add vitally needed qualities to our collective life as well as encourage the development of mutual respect, interconnectedness, and empathy for each other and for our natural environment.

Understanding dreams and incorporating their meaning into our waking life makes individuals a source of creativity, a wellspring of insight, character, and integrity, renewing society and reinvigorating culture.

©2003. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Citadel Press Books. www.kensingtonbooks.com

Article Source

Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life
by John D. Goldhammer, Ph.D.

Radical Dreaming by John Goldhammer, Ph.D.In a stunning departure from cookie-cutter dream dictionaries, psychotherapist Dr. John D. Goldhammer introduces his powerful new approach to unlocking the hidden meanings of your dreams.

Info/Order this book on Amazon.

About the Author

John Goldhammer, Ph.D.

JOHN GOLDHAMMER, Ph.D., is a twice-published author, psychotherapist, and adjunct professor of psychology. He has over 25 years of experience in dreamwork, psychology, comparative religion, sociology, and philosophy. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs around the country. Visit his website at www.radicaldreaming.com.

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