Dreams interpretation: Intro to an Indigenous perspective
Hope you are all doing well and enjoying yourself. I am still smiling from my graduation last week 🙂 Read more about it here. I miss those people and it has only been a week! Such a wonderful blanket ceremony and a wonderful time. So I want to continue in the spirit of that great time and share some more wisdom and knowledge and perspectives that were shared with me in the wonderful program that is Aboriginal Focusing Oriented Therapy and Complex Trauma (AFOT). And today, I want to talk about dreams.
You see, before I went through this awesome program, I was trained in western psychology. More specifically in psychodynamic/psychoanalytic therapy or psychology. Yes, the Freud stuff… That was my training. And although, I enjoyed it, I did not feel like it was enough. So I kept on going. I think I will be an eternal student…But that being said, because of my original training, I also believed that dreams had meaning, they serve a purpose. They bring to the surface information that, normally, when awake, our defenses would block out. I truly believe the dreams have a meaning and a message. But how do we interpret them? Here, I will be giving an overview of different schools of thought but will not be going in depth. As that would be a very lengthy article (I can talk a lot about dreams!)…But there might be a follow up at some point 🙂 I am including some books from Amazon at the end for those who are interested (I am using them in this article).
The psychodynamic vision on dreams interpretation
So as I said, I was originally trained in the psychodynamic school of thought. And dreams are certainly looked at, examined and used as a therapeutic tool. Freud is probably the father of all dream exploration. Or so most people think. But Jung is also another great mind who worked on dreams and develop great ideas and ways of working with them, using Native American concepts and spirituality.
So here, I am just going to go with what I was taught without getting my books out. But generally speaking, dreams, with the western psychodynamic model, are thoughts to be fantasies, thoughts or ideas that come out when we are sleeping. When our defenses are down, as it is then less threatening. Because you see, if we were to experience them awake, we might feel threatened by them and block them, deny them or rationalize them for example. At night, we are unable to block them, so they come up. But they do not come up in a literal way. They get transformed in our dreams, so that we do not confuse them with reality. Our dreams are also affected by what happened in our life the day before the dream. What Freud called the “day’s residue”.
Jung and Eduardo Duran
Jung built on Freud’s work, adding concepts such as the collective unconscious (read more here), which led to the possibility of collective or ancestral dreams. Eduardo Duran, in Healing the Soul Wound, (see above and below), explains the dream process well: as our egos can be rigid (our defenses), it is hard for us to communicate with the sacred and our unconscious. Dreams are the Creator’s way of making sure we can do so. However, if communication was to be in every day language, as soon as we would wake up, we would block it out and not remember it. Therefore, like Coyote, the Creator invented another language full of symbols and tricks that our ego cannot understand. The dream language, one that needs decoding when we wake up. So we talk about the weird symbols and images we saw and experienced, we try to recall how we felt in the dream, to start to make sense of it and gain access to its message and wisdom. But how do we do that?
The AFOT/Indigenous perspective
4 components of dreaming
So let’s look at a dream using the component of the medicine wheel. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions . Quickly, the physical aspect of dreaming refers to the REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non REM) phases of sleep. It used to be thought that people only dreamed when in the REM phase. However, it also has been discovered that people also dream in the NREM phase. According to studies by Patrick McNamara as well as those by Matt Wilson (at MIT), dreams in the NREM sleep refer to or focus on past experiences that might relate or inform future experiences. Studies have also shown that people who were awakened after dreaming in NREM sleep felt better about themselves.
Whereas, dreams in the REM phase (happens every 90 minutes), were about an actual attempt to move into and experience future possibilities. Dreaming in REM sleep gives us an occasion to test those possibilities out if you will. And here is the kicker. When dreaming in the REM phase, our body is paralyzed. If you were to wake up or have waken up then, you literally cannot move until your brain makes the switch and realizes you are awake. Scary you say? Well no actually. Because if you were not paralyzed, then you would actually act out the dreams physically! Which would not be good.
As for the mental aspect of dreaming, well we can see dreaming as a way to work out or address our problems or challenges. If you are having an issue about something, think about it hard enough. You might just be able to will yourself to dream about it to work it out in your dreams. I kid you not!
The emotional aspect of dreaming refers to the fact that dreams provide us with a safe space to release difficult emotions. They provide a release. They allow us to emotionally deal with certain aspects of our life. However, emotions such as fear or grief might come up, emotions that might also come from our ancestors.
And finally, the spiritual component of dreaming. Hmmm, how to explain that one. Well, dreams can be a way to obtain knowledge and wisdom, including from the ancestors or the spirits of all our relations, including animals and plants. Dreams allow us to explore All our Relations. Literally. We might have visitors from the past in our dreams. And that in itself can be terrifying, hence the presence of nightmares. However, as scary as they can be, nightmares teach us about survival, our survival. They help us rehearse survival techniques. They hold insight to help us move forward.
Just an aside: night terrors are different than nightmares. Night terrors typically happen between the ages of 3 and 10 and are related to cognitive development. Neurological work, development happens during night terrors. There is no lingering affect when the child wakes up. They do not remember the night terror. It is a normal part of the development process.
So how can dreams help us from an Indigenous perspective?
From an Indigenous perspective, dreams are alive and are there to help us. They are also collective, shared among our relations. They give us wisdom from our ancestors. They are a tool to help us process and give us access to traumatic experiences (that would be hard to look at awake), unresolved traumatic experiences that might also be collective experiences (e.g. colonization, residential/boarding schools). Dreams might actually contain little fragments of information, of wisdom that can help us on our path to healing. They might provide us with insight.
And also important: not all dreams happen when we are asleep. We can have lucid, day time dreams. As weird as it can sound, you can actually force yourself to have a dream (we practice that in our AFOT program and it was quite insightful). Dreams are alive, they move and the dreamer is the best one to interpret the dream (psychodynamic psychology would say the same thing). Each time you revisit a dream, you might learn something else. And really think about what ancestral knowledge it contains. What are your ancestors trying to tell you, to communicate to you?
Ok I think I will stop here for now, as I could go on and on. But I will write a follow up article about the meaning of certain symbols in dreams. But for now, keep a dream journal. Write down the content of your dreams, who was in it and how you felt in the dream. And I would also like to know what you thought of the perspective I presented here. What are your thoughts? Comment below!
All my Relations