Donna Ippolito's Dream Scoop

Understanding dreams is easy and fun...Dreams are the voice of your soul. If you're looking for answers, look within.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Welcome to Dreamscoop

If you're reading this, you probably have a fascination for dreams. Perhaps you've been remembering your dreams for years, even writing them down in dream journals. Perhaps you've been bringing your dreams to an expert trained extensively in "dream interpretation." Perhaps you've been tracking down symbols in dream dictionaries or other kinds of dream guides.Search no more. You are about to discover a whole new approach to understanding your dreams and finding guidance for your life. No problem is too big or too small to get an answer from your inner world of dreams.Based on my work with dream groups and individual clients, I'll be teaching you all you need to know. If you're having trouble remembering your dreams, I can help you with that too. Each person dreams four to six times a night, at about 90-minute intervals, so you've got plenty of material to work with.

Copyright © 2007Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Waking Dreams

When people find out that I work with dreams, they often they tell me that they do dream, but that they simply don’t remember their dreams upon waking.

That’s fine, I say. For one thing, you don’t have to be asleep to dream. Awake or asleep, the psyche (some people call it "the unconscious" or even "the subconscious") is present at every moment. It’s much greater than consciousness, of course. It contains us; we’re literally swimming in it. It is the unknown—all potential, all possibility—everything that ever was and ever will be. We’ve simply trained ourselves to operate as if it’s not there.

By looking at outer experiences with the inner eye, moments of our lives can become waking dreams. The experience is often mundane on the surface. What makes it stand out is the strong emotion—anger, sadness, elation, frustration, helplessness, glee—at the heart of it. When looked at deeply, these moments speak to us of the soul’s longings as clearly as any dream. By viewing the people, the places, and the experience as dream images, we can perceive the incident from the inside out. We penetrate to the energy at its core.

One example of life as dreams came during a dream group one evening. Jodie said she hadn’t brought a dream, so I asked if some recent experience stood out for her. She immediately launched into a story. A few days earlier, she had gone down to the lake to enjoy the beauty of the day. Instead, she found the park thronging with people and strewn with garbage. She was furious that others were so lazy and careless, and her day was spoiled. She felt angry at those who didn’t respect one of the few beautiful, restorative natural places in the city.

I listened, noting down her words and asking the same questions I would if this were "a sleeping dream." She went on and on, her sense of outrage increasing. But the events were only the outer layer, simply the container of the emotion that shaped the experience. Just as in a sleeping dream, this deeper layer of emotion was the gift.

For now, we asked questions that helped Jodie explore the incident, and it came out that she took the experience in the park as a personal affront. She felt abused by these people who couldn't be bothered to throw away their garbage or respect other people's right to the refreshment and beauty of the lakefront.

The event was some days old, but the emotion was fresh and furious. It was a "hot spot" in her inner landscape. Though Jodie's concern about protecting an oasis of nature in the big city was legitimate, her outrage emanated from a hurt painful to the touch. Like any fierce tigress or bear mother, our anger often seeks to protect a part of ourselves that is precious and vulnerable.

Because we had come together to look at our lives from the inner perspective, we didn't pursue Jodie's thoughts about joining social or political activists to protect the lakefront. That was a worthy option that she could explore with another kind of group on another day. What interested us was what lay at the core of her story, just as in a dream. After all, not everyone present in the park that afternoon had experienced outrage at the scene. It wasn't likely that they were still talking about it, either.

Jodie's angry reaction came from within her. The emotion was raw and fresh, imbuing even the memory of the incident with its hot, red energy. The energy was as alive and present as it had been that day. Now, it was time to go even deeper with a question I ask about any dream. I asked Jodie if this experience called her attention to anything else in her life.

It didn’t take more than a millisecond for that to hit home. Yes, Jodie’s own living situation was chaotic and upsetting, with no hope in sight. Again, she went off on an angry spurt about cigarettes, dirty dishes, and so on. Apparently, her roommate wouldn’t keep her promise—despite many discussions—to be clean and orderly, and Jodie felt driven to huddle in her room for even a shred of harmony or order at home.

Again, we could have veered off with a lot of questions about the roommate and how Jodie might negotiate the issue. We could have stayed on the surface level of the problem, with various group members giving helpful advice on how Jodie could resolve the conflict. But we didn't. We continued deeper into the darkness, going slowly, feeling our way, partly because it was hard to draw Jodie’s attention away from her anger and helplessness. Though I didn't know where we were headed, I sensed that something Jodie didn't know but needed to waited ahead.

In the end, we came to the longing underneath all that anger. Jodie began to cry as she told us what it's like to grow up as an orphan and of her desire to know who she really was. What stood in her way was an inner landscape of chaos and confusion, her outrage at being betrayed and abandoned. Yet, focusing on what other people were or were not doing was a dead end. No matter how angry Jodie got, the mother who had left her to an orphan's uncertain fate would never return to undo the damage.

But that mother energy was inside Jodie herself. It had the instinctive power not only to protect and defend the vulnerable part of her but to nurture a sense of groundedness, of being at peace with the order of things. Feeling victimized didn’t serve her soul’s longing, but connecting with the longing itself gave access to the power of desire. The soul is its own doctor.

Just as every dream is a gift, so was this experience. The next step was for Jodie to find some way to honor what her soul was seeking, whether by lighting a candle or some incense in her room, finding a few moments for quiet reflection, or setting out a bouquet of flowers where she could see and enjoy their restorative beauty.

That, of course, was the first small step. Incredibly, it wasn't long after that Jodie reported using her Internet savvy to track down the orphanage--in a foreign country!--where she'd been left for adoption. She also located a group that was helping adoptees find their birth parents in that land. Though her means were limited, it wasn't long before Jodie boldly booked a low-cost international flight "home". It was a short visit, but not her last. She immediately made several deep friendships, and soon she was studying the language of her birth. She also took to wearing a beret as a symbol of a newfound sense of self.

The last time I saw Jodie she was in love with someone she'd met while visiting "home," and she had hopes of making a new life there. Not surprisingly, the person she loved embodied many qualities she wished for in herself. Though I don't know how the story ends, I do know the most important part. Connecting with the energy of that "waking dream" was transformative for Jodie. It had nothing to do with insight or symbolism. It was a lived experience. In a single moment, she went from feeling helpless, trapped, and at the mercy of other people's lovelessness to being a woman energized on her own behalf. Her existence took on new meaning.

Just as every dream comes to open our hearts a little bit more, in this one Jodie's heart opened to herself.

Copyright © 2006 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Inside-Out Approach

Though I've been intensely interested in dreams for many years, I never aspired to work with others on their dreams or to give talks or to write on the subject. But here I am. I'll guide you if I can. I'll teach you something if that's possible. But my main reason for being here is as a witness—a witness to the power and beauty and wisdom of dreams—which is the experience of our own soul.

That dreams are wise is my first assumption about dreams, but there is a slight catch. Depending on who you're talking to, whose book you're reading, whose dream group you're in, those three little words ("dreams are wise”) can mean very different things to different people. For example, you've probably heard of something called "dream interpretation." This approach usually views dreams as filled with symbols that we must learn to translate. And it usually requires using certain kinds of books called a “dream dictionary” or a “dictionary of symbols”.

Say, for example, that I dream my teeth are falling out—a very, very common dream. As a symbol, teeth might represent the ability to bite into the stuff of our lives, so losing teeth could represent an inability to express anger or to let people know how I feel or what I need. And so on. That might even be an accurate description of my so-called problem in life. But it doesn't bring me any closer to my inner life. Indeed, the interpretation actually creates distance between me and my dream. It pulls me away from what it's like to have my teeth fall out, how I feel about it, what is causing it, and other emotional details of the dream story.

I call this the top-down approach. It doesn't foster intimacy with the soul. It can be useful as reflection, later in the dreamwork process, but it can never serve as the heart of dreamwork.

Another example of the top-down approach is "dream analysis." In this method, we use dreams to diagnose what's wrong with us so that, theoretically, we can fix it. One example that comes to mind is a woman who dreamed of an ecstatic love affair with a married man. Though he was real enough in the dream, the man was not an actual person in her outer life. When she recounted the dream, someone in the group commented that it might show the dreamer’s tendency to get involved with unavailable men. Maybe so, but this was simply some idea about the dream. It totally ignored the energy of the dream, which was the dreamer’s experience of ecstacy. The heat and light of it was palpable. It was alive.

Another top-down approach is to find an expert, guru, spiritual teacher, shaman, or medium who will tell us what our dreams mean. There is a venerable tradition of this--probably dating from the dawn of time. Indeed, just about every culture preceding modern Western civilization depended on soothsayers, shamans, oracles, wizards, psychics, magicians, and so on to plumb the depths of the personal and collective psyche. Hearing what someone else has to say about our dream may be interesting, but it is still a top-down approach. It can never move us, shake us, transform us like coming face to face with our own soul.

In contrast to the top-down approach, I call mine the "inside-out approach" because it starts with the dream itself, not with ideas about the thing. What dreams want--what the soul wants from us--is to connect. James Hillman suggests that we "befriend" our dreams because they want to be "cared about" and "cared for." But how does this happen? How do we connect with our dreams without mangling them with interpretation or picking them apart with analysis? How do we "befriend" them?

We start by accepting that dreams are actual experiences. Not thoughts, not ideas, not concepts, not good advice--not any kind, shape, or form of what we know as the thinking activity of our brains. When we dream, we go to another dimension of our being. We are present in dreams, but only as one small part of the whole experience. Everything else in the dream is just as alive as we are, and every image has its own point of view. You might say that we don't have dreams. Dreams have us.

So, that brings me to my last assumption—that dreams don't mean anything--at least not in the usual sense. That's a radical idea, but it's also the one that really throws the door wide open for us. The “wisdom of dreams” is not about insight. It's about transformation--the transformation of energy.

When dreamwork is really happening, we experience it as an actual sensation. We feel our energy literally shift on a physical-emotional level. In that moment of connecting with our essential self, something moves in the depths of our being. No matter how small the shift, the whole structure of the inner world changes, and we will never be the same.

This is where we need to invoke the power of silence—the power of mystery. When this moment comes for the dreamer, it's tenuous, evanescent. We mustn’t step in and try to “help” anymore than we can "help" the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. If we hurry the process or interfere, the butterfly will be either maimed or it will die. The dreamer often gets choked up or her eyes well with tears. But we mustn't jump up and hand her a Kleenex. We just have to wait and let the dream work its magic. Indeed, the tears are not about sadness. They are blessed rain to a parched land. It's a moment of renewal, like falling in love.

As Hillman says, everything in the dream is image--people, feelings, sensations, colors, places, animals, things. The difference between images and symbols is that images are alive with the energy of emotion. In other words, images in dreams are pictures of feelings. Because the energies have taken form, we can now access them, engage them. Unlike symbols, images don't stand for something else like the cardboard houses of a movie set.

Though we call this approach dreamwork, it actually feels more like playing. We try for a light, delicate touch. We honor the integrity of the dream images. We give the soul all the room it needs to be itself. We slow down and listen very, very closely, and pay very, very careful attention to what's actually there. We let "the intelligence of the heart" show the way.

Copyright © 2006 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Intelligence of the Heart

Dreaming is one of the most intimate experiences of our time as human beings, at once particular to each individual and yet universal. As Jung said, it’s a natural function. Dreams are facts of nature, an organic expression of the psyche. Dreams are not servants of our minds, our intentions, or our personalities.

But what are dreams composed of? Are they thoughts? Are they ideas? Are they concepts? Are they little phosphorescent bits of good advice? Do they consist of words and sentences? Do they tell us something we already know but simply say it in an unusual way? Are they another form of language, like French or Spanish or Arabic or Chinese, that we must learn to speak by memorizing vast quantities of information and then practicing, practicing, practicing?

Ask me, and I would answer, “None of the above.”

No, the fabric of dreams is woven from images. Images are alive, not to be confused with symbols. Symbols are ideas. A symbol stands in for the real thing. An octagonal red sign isn’t the same as actually slamming on the brakes.

To understand this, try an experiment. Take even a moment to stop reading and contemplate the image of water. Let yourself see or feel or hear or sense whatever comes. How about rain? Or the image of wind? What about fire? Even if you do this for only an instant, you’ll experience the nature of image. Images move and breathe—perhaps wind came on a sibilant whisper or a shiver of cold, perhaps rain pattered with a sensation of peace, perhaps fire came with the quickening of excitement or fear.

This is what Jung meant when he said we must approach dreams with “the intelligence of the heart.” It’s not “thinking” that connects us to them.

Here's another example. A few years back, one group member dreamed she went to the refrigerator for a midnight snack and found the refrigerator stuffed with purple towels instead. Her conscious thought was that the dream was a forewarning of Alzheimer's, which ran in her family. It was a constant fear.

I noted that she already knew about the fear, but what if we looked at the dream to see what she didn’t know? We began by circling in and in on the images. As we talked, I learned that purple as a color was special for her. It gave her a feeling of richness, of lushness, of beauty. As for the towels, she described them as big, thick, and luxurious, perhaps associated with the pleasure of a long, hot bath. It also came out that she rarely allowed herself such solitary pleasures. She did, however, often turn to food as a source of comfort.

Going back to the dream, we looked again at the big, thick, luxurious towels. Where were they? In the refrigerator—in cold storage, so to speak. And what were they doing there? This super-busy woman believed pleasure had to wait until all her tasks and obligations were complete. Needless to say, her to-do list was endless and self-fulfilling.

Like all dreams, this one was healing. Did it offer a single psychobabblistic concept? Did it address the dreamer’s inner conflict in terms of “issues”? No, it came in concrete, specific images of taking time to care for, even to pamper, herself. Wordlessly, it showed that we must step out of time, put aside the everyday, if we’re ever going to feel whole. The beauty we long for is there for the taking, but it is within. It won't do us much good, though, if we've stuffed it into cold storage. See, though, how even an action as simple and down to earth as a long, hot bath may be the first step.

Our dreams don’t really care about our to-do lists. They spring from the part of us that takes a longer view, a larger view. They answer two questions. Why are we here? And what have we come here to do?

Copyright © 2005 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Heart of the Matter

When it comes to dreams, we have to remember two important points. Everything in dreamtime is unconscious, and our dream-selves meet up with what we don't know—not with what we already know. The conscious mind is limited, but the psyche is vast and eternal.

No matter how small or how big, how glamorous or how plain, every dream is a gift. But if we don't open it because we think we already know what's there, how can we receive this gift?

I first came to dreams via my own therapy in the tradition of Jung. Later, I also read piles of books on the subject—my bookshelves are still full of them. I also attended many lectures, classes, and workshops. I began, and still keep, an ongoing journal of my dreams. As a choreographer, I drew on my dreams to make dances. I studied Reiki and became interested in hypnosis. As an editor, I worked on books by people deeply engaged in the transformative energies of our time. I also did a lot of writing, which made me feel very at home in the world of images. Even teaching yoga has revealed to me something about dreams.

All of which was good, but things only really started to cook when I began to work with the dreams of others. Listening deeply as they spoke, I was in awe of this realm so fertile, so rich that it could produce mystery and power out of thin air. Even the briefest little dream fragment could yield a whole treasure chest. You'll hear people talk about big dreams and little dreams, archetypal dreams and personal dreams, but I have yet to see a dream—long or short, plain or intricate—that was not a magical piece of the soul.

It's also important to remember that we don't have dreams. Dreams have us. And if we can learn to roll with that—to ride the wave—we can glimpse who and what we are and why we are here.

I'm speaking now as a witness. I've seen it happen in the lives of others. I've experienced it in my own life. To illustrate, let me tell you a true story.

Despite the hundreds of books on dreams that already exist, one day, a couple of years ago, I got the idea that I should write one too. Or at least try. So many of the books seemed to go in the wrong direction. They were full of talk about the meaning of symbols, about the categories of dreams, about dream dictionaries, and what not. I wanted to speak up for dreams, for the way I saw dreams working on us, rather than the other way around.

Time passed, and I occasionally published some of these writings on my website, but it didn't go much further than that. I kept on like this for maybe six months. Then one night, I had a dream. Actually, it was a nightmare.

In it, I'm sitting and writing my book by hand, not on the computer, but very obsessed and anxious and tied up in knots. I start to write something and then crumple up the paper and throw it away. Then I write something else, but don't get very far before I'm thinking this is no good either. Again. . .crumple up the paper and throw it away. I'm condemned, doomed to an endless, futile task. I can't stop, but I can't succeed.

In the dream, I obsess over how I would ever find words soulful enough to be worthy of dreams but that would also do justice to the depth, the beauty, and the power of the actual experience of dreamwork. The dream goes on and on and on while I struggle, wracking my brain, my thoughts going in circles. If I say it this way, I tell myself, it will be too simplistic. If I say it that way, it will trample the mystery of dreams. And on and on and on. It's a true nightmare—I'm trapped, helpless, unable to get free.

Then, all of a sudden, a flash cuts through my angst and confusion, and my mind just splits open. I get it—it's so simple and so right. I don't have to struggle. I can say and think and write anything I want about dreams, but it doesn't matter if people understand or if I get it right. If I only will remember one thing, I can never go astray.

And this is what it is. The only thing I or anybody needs to know about dreams is that they come for the "soul" purpose of opening our hearts.

Nothing more. . .And certainly nothing less.

Then I woke up, so relieved and happy. Of course, I thought. How silly I was to get into such a snit. Why else are we born but to learn to open our hearts?

Copyright © 2005 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Soul Food

As I write, it is winter. Each day is shorter, the light that burns and beats with such power in summer but a flicker against the cold. The winter solstice draws near. When it comes, dark will overcome light in the longest night of the year.

In tune with the rhythm of nature, we too might turn inward in this season. In doing so, we begin to see that dark and light are not opposites, but only a continuum. As the solstice teaches, it is at the moment of greatest darkness that light is reborn. From that instant on, the light grows stronger, the days grow longer, and the whole cycle begins anew.

Now is an especially good time to pay attention to our dreams. Not so much for what they say about our everyday concerns, but for the life-giving connection to an inner light. Following nature, we can draw our attention away from the outer world, perhaps glimpsing a direction we hadn’t noticed before. In our dreams, we find ourselves following a winding path into a dark wood. We may wander for a time, feeling lost. We fear we will die in the wilderness. Or perhaps our dreams take us to some unknown part of town, seedy, run-down, and dangerous-looking. Threatening characters appear from out of nowhere. They come after us, and we run for our lives. Yet, we only get more lost. We can’t escape. Perhaps we awake in panic from one of these heart-pounding dreams.

But wait. These dreams aren’t innately scary. They only seem so to the part of ourselves we know as “I”—our personal identity. This “I” believes it is in control, and when it encounters something vaster, it flees in terror. It fears and denies the unknown, as if to banish it. The unknown, however, is the mother of existence. It is also home to whatever we may need at any given moment.

That dark wood that frightens us so much may be filled with rich, lush growth. If we find ourselves wandering there, perhaps something new is beckoning from within. It wants our attention. And that seedy, scary side of town is only that way because we have neglected it. Perhaps the terrifying characters that pursue us through its dangerous streets are the vital energies we need for some new step, some fateful decision.

Rather than running away, we can look in wonder at what is trying to come forth. We can honor these powerful energies that are trying to wake us to a greater reality. Perhaps it’s time to let yourself get lost in something new and strange—any daring experience, big or small. Have you wanted to dance but never dared? Have you longed to climb some height but thought you’d never make it? Have you feared eating alone in a restaurant or going to a movie by yourself?

Our souls do not live by bread alone. In dreams, we learn to feed them.

Copyright © 2005 Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Dreams are not our only source of inner wisdom, but they provide an unprecedented view of the experience we live when we are not conscious. Always remember that our conscious mind is asleep when we dream, so we can't take either credit or blame for what happens in that state. In dreaming, we enter a parallel dimension of our experience. We can begin to connect with a wider sense of self.

Often, an image of our personal self takes center stage in dreams, but many other characters, figures, and images are there, too. At first, we may view these as just background scenery. Eventually, we come to see that all these other dream bits are not only alive but that each one has a life of its own.

Here's a quick example. I recently dreamed that a brown snake with a yellow head and neck bit me in the back yard. The "me" of the dream was upset about what happened--indeed she was running around frantically for help. But what if we looked at the drama from the point of view of the snake? Why was it coiled up on the back stairs? Was it trying to interfere with my plans or was it simply enjoying an afternoon in the sun? And how did it bite "me"? I never even got close to it.

Besides, what is a snake bite in a dream? It didn't hurt. The dream "me" didn't get sick. I could clearly see the little fang mark on my hand like an upside-down "V", but that was the extent of it. Apparently, the brown snake with the yellow head wasn't there to hurt "me", but it did get my attention. While the dream "me" was running around, angry because nobody was coming to help, the brown snake with the yellow head just looked on patiently, perhaps thinking, "Oh there she goes again, getting all upset about nothing." What actually happened in this dream encounter? Why did the snake mark me with its bite? Are we now connected in some way that can only be accomplished by a wound mark?

What's important in approaching a dream are the questions, not the answers. The ones I just mentioned wouldn't necessarily be my starting point in working with this dream, but I hope they at least show some ways we can open our hearts to a dream. When we put aside our egocentricity, the richness and mystery of even the tiniest dream begins to reveal itself. If we can open our heart to the dream, we will travel far beyond anywhere we can reach with our limited thinking mind.

This is because, most times, the images in dreams are pictures of emotions, the deep energies of our being. Very often, these emotions are inaccessible to our waking consciousness, usually because our image of ourselves is too limited, too tight. We think we cannot feel the ecstasy, the anger, the sadness, the fear, or the serenity without flying to pieces because our container is not big enough. In the land of dreams, these emotions take on shape and form. They may look like people and places you know, but they may also come to you as places you've never been, lovers and friends and children you've never met. You may travel back in time or to another planet. You may talk to animals or to God. You may get bitten by a dull brown snake with a yellow head and forever after wear the mark on your hand.

In dreams we get to see an ongoing documentary of the inner world, which is part of our own experience but that bleeds over into a much vaster existence where we are all connected. Many people mistakenly believe this inner world consists of thoughts, and that it originates "inside their heads," but that is far from true. When we dream, we go on a journey to a place where we are inside the dream, not the dream inside us.

Dreaming is an alternate state where we can connect with the ground of being that we share with every other living thing, where we can find guidance, just as a plant grows from a seed or a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, where we can honor whatever lessons we are currently living as part of the myth of our experience, both individually and as part of the greater family of humanity and other earth beings.

Copyright © 2005 by Donna Ippolito. All rights reserved.