In the Dark:
Cracking the Soul's Code
Through Dream Journals
by Kathleen Adams
"Who's got a
dream?" I asked.
The dozen dreamers on weekend
retreat looked slowly around the circle. For a full
minute the only sound was the cheerful popping and
crackling of the fire. Thin February sunlight danced
through the blinds and shimmered in abstract stripes
across Steve's chest. Gradually a dozen gazes rested on
Steve cleared his throat.
"I had a dream about bricks."
"Will you tell us the
dream?" I asked. "Tell it in the present
tense, as if it is happening to you right now."
"I dreamed I was standing
in front of---"
"I am standing in
front of---" I coached.
"---I am standing
in front of some bricks. There are lots of them. Two men
tell me to buy the bricks. I buy them, but I don't know
what I'll build. Either a house or a wall. Then I see
some cleared ground and I know that's where I'll build.
There were some other details, but they don't seem as
"What's your best guess
about how this dream relates to your life today?" I
Steve frowned in concentration.
"I don't know if this is right, but.... my wife
died almost four years ago. I wonder if this dream is
telling me that I'm ready to come out from behind my
wall and begin building a new life for myself Ė or
that Iím doomed to stay isolated and lonely."
Every night when you go to
sleep, you script and direct a movie starring yourself.
You create the sets, design the costumes, order in the
props. You play every character. Your own life dramas
are acted out on the stage of your psyche. You are the
only audience. Each performance is startling in its
freshness and creativity.
"Dreams are like letters
baked into pies," says Jungian analyst Clarissa
Pinkola Estes. They are answers to questions we haven't
yet thought to ask. Dreams are like carved ivory Chinese
balls that contain increasingly smaller and more
intricately carved balls within them.
Dreams offer us glimpses into
the inner workings of our own minds and hearts. They
lift the veil between the worlds and drop a drawbridge.
When you approach them with reverence and curiosity,
your dreams will reward you by offering a map of your
psyche and soul.
Journal work and dream work are
natural allies. Just about every program of dream study
recommends capturing your dreams in writing. From there
you can process your dreams using a wide variety of
journal techniques and devices.
Dreamwork lets you practice
your intuition. When you encounter a truth, there is an
unmistakable sensation of knowing. Your skin may tingle,
you may gasp sharply, a cartoon lightbulb might explode
above you, you may feel zapped with a rush of energy.
Dreamwork expert Jeremy Taylor calls this sensation the
"aha of recognition" and attributes it to
memory. Taylor writes:
When you discover some true
thing about a dream, you are likely to experience the
aha of recognition because in that moment, you remember,
consciously for the first time, what you already knew
unconsciously the dream meant at the time it
occurred.... The aha of recognition.... is the only
reliable touchstone of dream work. (From Where People
Fly and Water Runs Uphill, Warner Books).
Befriending Your Dreamkeeper
Dreams love to be noticed. The
good news about this is that even if you don't remember
your dreams now, you'll probably start remembering them
once you pledge your attention to them.
Pay attention to dreams the
same way you pay attention to friends knocking at your
door: Invite them in. Ask them about themselves, and
listen with interest when they answer. Offer your own
ideas and opinions. Express appreciation for little
Invite your dreams to visit you
by writing a note in your journal to the Dreamkeeper
just before retiring. "Dear Dreamkeeper," you
might say. "Tonight I'd like a dream that I can
remember and write down. I promise that I'll pay
attention to it. Thanks!"
You can get as specific as you
want in your request, asking for guidance and clarity
about any number of life issues. Dreamkeepers are mighty
A week or so before I taught
the dream journal workshop where Steve told his brick
dream, I asked my Dreamkeeper for a dream that I could
use as an opening story. That night I received a dream
in which an old friend was pregnant. With her was her
son, who in the dream was about seven years younger than
he was in real life.
I awoke from this dream with a
question: What idea was
I gestating about seven years ago that is now ready to
How was I going to make a story
out of this dream? I didn't know.
Two nights before the workshop,
I again asked my Dreamkeeper: "Tonight I request a
dream that will help me turn the first dream into an
opening story. Thanks. Over and out!" The next
morning I awoke from a dream in which my father had a
There's a tendency to become
alarmed when illness or death comes in a dream. But
dreams containing scenes of accidents, heart attacks,
sudden illnesses or even death aren't usually literal
warnings. Like almost everything in the dream world,
they are symbols and coded messages. So I gratefully
accepted the symbol of my father's heart attack
as an answer to my request. Now I had an exact date to
work with -- the date of my father's mild heart attack
seven years earlier!
Within minutes I had uncovered
the associations. When my father had his heart attack, I
had just returned from teaching journal workshops in
Arizona. At my Tucson workshop was a man who had
recorded more than 5,000 dreams! He had three or four
dreams a night and catalogued them meticulously.
However, he had no idea how to interpret them. The class
was so fascinated at his questions about dreams that I
spontaneously added an extra session specifically on
working with dreams in the journal. It was the first
time I had formally taught ways to use the journal to
crack the code of dreams.
So the question from my first
dream, What idea was I gestating about seven years
ago that is now ready to be born? was answered:
Self-interpretation of dreams through journal writing.
The opening tale for my workshop was the story of how my
Dreamkeeper obligingly led me down narrow cobblestone
dream-streets to present me with my dream journal
Writing in the Dark
After you have invoked a dream,
fall asleep with a sense of anticipation and
receptivity. Then prepare yourself to record a dream,
and plan some processing time into your day. Here are
some suggestions for dream recall and journal work. For
more information on the writing techniques suggested,
see my books Journal to the Self, The Way of
the Journal or The
Write Way to Wellness.
- Capture your dream as soon as
you awaken. Keep your notebook and pen or a tape
recorder right by the bed. Don't move around if you can
help it; movement seems to make your dreams leak right
out of your brain. If you can't remember every scene or
part of the action, just get down what you can. There
seems to be a natural dream-editor in the psyche that
deliberately leaves some scenes on the cutting room
floor. Don't worry about them. They'll be back if they
carry messages you need to receive.
- Write your dream in the
present tense. This adds immediacy and puts you back in
the action. Start by describing the opening scene. How
does the dream open? Who's in the scene? What's going
on? Replay the dream like a video. Follow the action.
What is the mood of the dream? Are there any odd or
interesting symbols that don't seem to relate to
anything? Often the seemingly "throw-away"
symbols or details hold the secret to cracking the code.
Follow the dream until it shifts or ends. When you're
finished, give the dream a name. Keep a separate lists
of dream names; themes may jump out at you.
- Take your "best
guess" about the dream by writing quickly and
continuously for a predetermined, brief period of time.
A Ten-Minute Sprint on the question, "How
does this dream speak to my current question or
situation?" This first fast sketch will not address
the dreamís subtle layers of meaning, any more than an
artistís first sketch will reveal the nuances of tone,
detail and perspective found in the finished painting.
But a quick write will give voice and shape to your
first intuitive understanding of the dream.
- The Clustering
technique (visual free-association around a central word
or phrase, with lines and circles connecting key
thoughts and associations to the core) is an excellent
device to find out what individual dream symbols or
characters might represent.
- Write a Dialogue (an
imaginary conversation in which you write both parts)
with dream symbols or characters. Give them voice and
find out what they have to say for themselves.
- Write a Captured Moment
of a scene from the dream, focusing on sensory details.
- Write in first-person
("I") voice from the Perspective of a
dream character, symbol or scene.
- Represent the dream in art
through collage, paint, drawing or sculpture.
- Write a poem about your
dream. Focus on the images and feelings, and let the
inner meaning emerge organically. Try an AlphaPoem
by writing the name of a dream symbol or theme
vertically down the side of the page, then writing a
poem in which each successive line begins with the next
letter. Steveís journal dreamwork led him to an
awareness of the invitation to accept beauty into his
life Ė the beauty of new love, the beauty of new
beginnings. He ended his exploration with an AlphaPoem
it and she will come, whatever and whoever
"she" may be.
the planning and replanning hesitation. Build it
she will come, the right one for whatever you choose to
ground yields nothing. Build, and your right
"she" will come
„ 2000 Kathleen Adams. All rights reserved.
Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a
best-selling author, speaker, psychotherapist and
visionary. Her first book, Journal to the Self
(1990, Warner Books) is a classic that helped open the
gates to the current cultural phenomenon of therapeutic
writing. Her most recent book, The Write Way to
Wellness‘ (2000, The
Center for Journal Therapy) is hailed as a map for
understanding body, mind and spirit. She has also
written The Way of the Journal (1998, Sidran
Kathleen is a beloved teacher
whose innovative work has helped hundreds of thousands
of people heal, change and grow. A tireless advocate for
the healing power of writing, Kathleen has received the
Distinguished Service Award from the National
Association for Poetry Therapy and has earned the
designation Registered Poetry Therapist. Email
Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit her website at www.journaltherapy.com.