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, 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.


  • At 1:23 PM, Blogger Sacredflower said…

    Donna I resinate so much with your ideas about the power of dreams and your style of writing to penetrate the outer layer of women/men. I am looking forward to hopefully working with you as my instructor per my unfolding dreams at "The Writers Cafe".

    A Calling Out

    Soft, intoxicating, jazz is playing lowly in the background of the circle of women sharing their souls. I listened intently to a friend speak to herself; I could hear my soul reaching out to me, to provide to me memories of my spirit truly hearing me. Isn't that what we all want, to be truthfully heard? Reflecting on a thought, about what I really want to do with the rest of my life, came in the form of a puzzle piece, which landed in my hands at a spiritual gathering on a Sunday morning. It read “empower others”. It was an honor, at this time in my life to be called forth to do this. I realized in this seasoned time of my life, it was time to integrate all I had been gathering over the years. The tools that gave me inner peace and courage to be able to empower others lay within my reach. In contemplating a way to continue my own empowerment as I shared with others, it was given to me a way to co-author this vision. Creating an environment, where others could invest their minds, hearts and souls would be a powerful place to cook up something grand. That is where the idea of The Writer's Café came into view. This would be a place where chefs could come to cook up something to offer to the world. There are times that we wait, while the dough rises, and there is a time when we cook, expecting the aromas of delicious sharing as a desired result. The Writer's Café allows us to support one another in our “Soul Food”, preparation. Our society is in great need of the original recipes being restored with some new spices of life added. The energy flowing through the earth at this time is ready to be birthed into the world. For those that are being called out I am inviting you to be nurtured toward a serving up of what has been simmering in your kitchen. A diversity of dishes is requested at this time in history. Being at the right place at the right time is what brings fruition. There are times in our lives when we work collectively and then there are times that we have to discover the authentic “I “, to bring forth our unique dish to the table. Bring it out, so we all can applaud you and say, job well done! Let “The Writer's Café”, be a place of birthing for you and your creation. We are here to serve one another in the process. Let's kick it up a notch!


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