When I was a very young child, somewhere between the ages of five and six, I had recurring dreams about a man pursuing me. I would look out of my bedroom window of the army apartments we used to live in, and see him coming up the long road that led to the apartment blocks. This man was clearly seeking me and terror always gripped my heart. In the dream, I prayed and prayed that he wouldn’t find me. The dream always ended with him looking up at the window, and a menacing smile breaking out on his face as he recognized me. The absolute dread of this moment of recognition always woke me. I’d be drenched in sweat, and took longer than usual to get back off to sleep.
At the deepest level, most of us are well aware that our dreams have meaning and purpose; we know that in some way they are an expression from a different facet of our awareness. But because we often do not know how to interpret our dreams, we tend to either look upon them with superficial interest, or we dismiss them out of hand. Life in waking consciousness is hard enough to grasp; we tell ourselves we don’t need the added burden of trying to comprehend the convoluted messages from the dream state.
I’ve always been interested in dream interpretation, and when quite young, foolishly used to consult the many dream books that lined the local book shop shelves. Friends and family, knowing of my pursuits, used to ask me to decipher their dreams, and I’d translate all the symbolic meanings based on the knowledge I’d gained from other people’s books. Whilst we all certainly had fun with our dreams, very little wisdom was drawn from them. As I grew up and my awareness of the unlimited nature of the human condition grew, I became conscious of my folly around dream interpretation. Using other people’s translation of symbols to interpret my own adventures during sleep showed a lack of acknowledgement of my own individuality, and a resignation of my personal power. I learned this when I later came across Gestalt Therapy, originated by Fritz Perls, the renowned German-born psychiatrist and psychotherapist.
When it comes to understanding ourselves through our dreams, Fritz Perls’ Gestalt process is a departure from the popular logical, intellectual interpretation of symbols, and is instead, an acknowledgement of personal experience. In order to decipher dream messages, Perls focussed his clients on the awareness of sensation in their body at the time of dreaming; he asked them for a detailed observation of the surrounding dream environment, and they were required to re-experience the emotions that arose in the dream state. In this way, even the symbols of what seemed like crazy nonsensical dreams began to make sense.
I’ve always remembered my childhood dream and finally got to understand what it was telling me once I followed the Gestalt process. To cut a long story short, and to be as simplistic as possible, the man in my dream represented an inner darkness that had been long ignored throughout many incarnations (perhaps ‘incarnation’ refers to ancestral lineage or ‘past lives’- I don’t know for sure) and would finally catch up with me and play itself out in my life. I was sexually abused as a child and emotionally and physically abused as a young adult. This man represented the essence of that abuse and what it actually symbolized in spiritual terms. The dream environment, the physical nature of the man and my position at the window, the country I was living in at the time, the time of day- all of it spoke of the journey I would take and why. As a child I could not ever have hoped to understand such a message, but many questions I had as an adult, questions that related to my suffering, were answered through the Gestalt process.
In this next example, I will take you through the steps of the Gestalt process so that, if you feel inclined to do so, you can understand the messages of your own dreams. The joy of this process is that the experience of the dream itself, and the interpretation, belongs only to you. A therapist or friend or book author cannot impose their own experience of symbols onto you. When you access messages from the soul through your own direct experience, you get to the absolute truth of what is happening within your psyche.
So let’s look at my next dream, and how I deciphered its message (I will only take a tiny part otherwise we’ll be here all day and night!).
In the first two years after my son died, I had recurring dreams that involved dilapidated buildings, me moving old rickety furniture into them, all the while brimming over with angst that these places would collapse in a heap upon my head. These dreams always began with me wandering down dusty empty streets, finding a familiar house or office block and entering with trepidation. The walls would quite often be held together with black masking tape, and seemed dangerously wobbly. Yet I’d move in anyway, making the place comfortable with old worn out furniture that I recognized from different episodes in my waking life.
Step One: Accept that everything in the dream is a symbol of an unacknowledged aspect of your personality.
Step Two: Replay the dream as if it is happening now. Feel it, become conscious of the emotions evoked.
I am walking down a deserted street. There is no-one about. The buildings are old, dilapidated. They are condemned to be demolished at some point. I enter a building. There are bricks lying in the entrance and I can’t get in easily, but I am adamant. The dust makes me sneeze, and I stare up at the walls. They are wobbling and I feel afraid, insecure. There is black masking tape holding everything together, stopping the walls from falling. I want to move in to this office block. I am here, moving in my furniture. The furniture is old and shabby. Some belongs to an old office I worked in when I was twenty years old.
Step Three: Choose an object in the dream that specifically stands out for you, and BECOME that object. What sensations do you get in your body? What emotions arise?
I look at the wall and become the wall. I am no longer ‘Yaz’ as I know her. I am the wall. I observe myself as bricks and mortar. As I spend time doing this, becoming the wall at a deeper and deeper level, I begin to feel a sensation in my chest, a blocking feeling. As I feel deeper into this sensation, I remember that this feeling occurs when I am being stubborn, when I do not want to do something that someone is insisting that I do. I feel deeper, focussing in on it. I feel pressured. The wall, I suddenly realize, represents my resistance to something. I focus now on the masking tape. I become the masking tape. I get a sensation in my head. A frantic sensation. A grasping for something. The masking tape represents an idea, an excuse. An excuse for my resistance, for my stubbornness. I become the empty desolate street outside the building. As I feel into it, I seem to fall endlessly. I am alone. Completely isolated in time and space. No-one can understand what I am feeling, no one can know the depth of my loss. I’m alone, I’m lost, I don’t know myself, I don’t know where I am, or what to do…all I can do to feel better, to feel familiar ground, is to re-build a life that is dead….
Deciphering the Message of the Dream
After becoming every object in the dream, including the people that appeared, this dream brought home to me that life as I knew it was dead and gone, and that all my energies at the time were going into re-constructing it, trying to salvage bits of the past. My son was gone, and transformation was upon me. Yet I resisted. I clung to the old; I refused to let the past go, fearing the memories of my son would somehow disappear with it. I was grateful for these dreams because as I made the effort to let go, they always informed me when I was holding on.
Dreams are important. They might seem crazy and jumbled sometimes, but there is a story being gifted to you if you care to read it. Dreams reflect the truth of who we are, and if we want to learn more about ourselves, they are a valuable source of information. But to read the truth in them, we must take ownership of every symbol, and we can do this through the example of the Gestalt process.
Sweet dreams to you!
The 2.4 min video below is of a prayer written by Fritz Perls. It is a pleasant reminder to live our own truth.