Welcome to the Mind Wise podcast, presenting perspective and information about mental health, holistic health care, wellness, neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, and spirituality. I am your host, Ron Parks, M.P.H., M.D., writer, teacher, and consultant.
Today I begin a 2-part series exploring a readily available phenomenon that occurs in your slumber and sleep world—dreaming.
The Dream Catcher
Dream catchers are integral to Native American tradition, particularly from the Ojibwe tribe. They serve as protective symbols, filtering out negative dreams and allowing positive ones to pass through. The dream catcher traditionally consisted of a willow hoop adorned with feathers, arrowheads, and beads. When hung near the bed, it intercepts dreams as they flow through the night air. Good dreams effortlessly navigate through the outer holes, descending along the feathers without the sleeper realizing they are dreaming. Bad dreams become entangled and vanish with the dawn. Dream catchers symbolize strength, unity, and the power to capture positive dreams.1
Dreams are a valuable resource in managing life's challenges.
I was attending a university program and staying in a room in a dorm-like hotel. My course required crafting an original story with characters and a captivating plot to keep the reader's attention. Some older, experienced writers in the program liked mentoring other writers, and if you were on their list, they would call at certain times of day regularly to check in on you and maybe give you some guidance. I had many competing responsibilities, and it was hard to prioritize doing more work with a mentor. I was juggling too many things. I thought that would be a good thing to do with these other writers but didn't have the time to do it, so I felt a bit like I was making progress but maybe floundering around and not really on the target with a focus on the story writing and taking advantage of the learning program. As I was leaving the dorm, I ran into my smiling father, who seemed happy and amused at my frenetic activity in what I was doing. Though he didn't speak, I felt he conveyed that I needed to do my best and not take life so seriously, as it all passes quickly, and one needs to be present as much as possible and involved in meaningful life needs and relationships.
The above was a recent dream segment and shared as an example of one of my ways of recording and reflecting on dream experiences. Understanding, interpretations, and application of dream material are personal and unique to the dreamer. It is primarily helpful to the person doing the dream work and journaling themselves or with a therapist or guide. My arising morning reflections and journaling were feedback that maybe I was worried about my overload of too much-unfocused activities. The dream caught some of my concerns and worries about doing too much and exceeding my capacity to accomplish things. The reflection and journaling reminded me not to get overextended or compelled to do something in my mind that I might have felt needed to prove myself, feel important, or be relevant. My father's appearance in the dream was a pleasant visit as he died many years ago, but he still comes up in my dreams. In his actual life, he was often overinvolved in all kinds of business activities to support himself and his family and had to endure many setbacks and tragedies in his 81 years of life.
Did you ever wonder what a dream means, if it has any value, whether it predicts some outcome or portends some possible threat or danger? Dreams have fascinated people for centuries. There are luminous books and literature on the subject, some written by scientists trying to understand the phenomenon that is part of our sleep and recovery cycle. Philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, artists, and many other interested researchers and academics have tried to unravel the nature and meanings of dreams. Some early pioneers in mental health work have sought to figure out the brain phenomenon of dreaming through neuroscience and research. Others have focused on harnessing dream experiences to improve mental and emotional health and functioning.
Early pioneers in psychology and psychiatry focused on understanding what is in the mind's hidden layers of memory or the unconscious that influences or interferes with daily functioning during our waking hours. Dream studies have examined the relation of dream material to forgotten past experiences or trauma hidden from awareness and waking memory. The understanding and analysis of dream occurrences have evolved as some dreams seem related to emotional turmoil and disrupt sleep and its restorative benefits. Dream research has new specialty fields, such as sleep medicine and chronobiology, with an interest in sleep architecture and the function of dreams. There are even international organizations devoted to dream studies and their understanding.
Dream phenomena can be of a great variety of compositions, stories, emotions, environments, and backdrop, with sound or graphic (picture) like scenes in color or not, people or monsters, or loving creatures, all very much influenced by incomplete residues of incomplete mental or emotional work from the proceeding days, that the active part of the brain, thought to be the left brain, is trying to complete or bring an undertaking to fulfillment. The residues in functional storage areas have stayed active until completion to put files away in memory for future service—at least felt to be so in the minds of some neuroscientists or dreamer researchers. A significant amount of arising dream material is undoubtedly influenced and colored by the accumulation of the individual's past emotional and physical experiences and current concerns and worries.
Dreamwork is a valuable resource and aid in self-help and therapy work. It is a practical and always available tool that supports personal growth, productivity, and mental and emotional health. Learning to do dream work is generally easy if one has the interest, motivation, and discipline to practice when dream material is available. It is much like getting on a good nutrition, exercise, or self-improvement program, which requires learning and mastering the necessary skills and consistent practice and application. Increasing gratification and benefit comes with consistency and persistence in journaling and related learning activities. Mastery of dreamwork and journaling comes quickly for some and longer for others.
Sometimes, according to the needs of the individual, dream work and its application must be individualized and structured according to the person's schedule and preferences. Suppose there has been a history of emotional or mood disturbance. In that case, there may be a need for a teacher, mental health practitioner, or therapist experienced in dream work and its application. If one's dream work has a guide or therapist, the process and assistance are according to the training, orientation, and experience of the person assisting with the therapy. An example would be someone trained in Jungian or psychodynamic, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, or transpersonal, existential psychotherapist might have different methods or orientations in doing dream work. Getting as much information as possible and talking to several prospective therapists may be necessary to see what fits your needs best.
Dream journaling can be simple without much fuss or educated know-how.
Many don't have a complex history of significant trauma or emotional and mental health issues; they may simply want to learn some self-help ways and practices you can learn and practice on your own for the positive benefits there are for you. If desired, Dreamwork and its framework can be an easily obtainable resource for growth, wisdom, and well-being.
Most take dreaming and sleeping for granted. Dreams are often forgotten or thought of as silly concoctions fabricated during sleep. If a scary or threatening dream occurs, as the notorious nightmare, it feels like a sleep nuisance and sometimes frightening. When associated with a flashback, recall, or re-experiencing of past trauma, as in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can terrify and interfere with restorative sleep and functioning the next day. If persistent, it could require mental health and medical intervention.
Continue reading Part Two of this article with tips and references to follow soon. Please comment and let me know if you would like to participate in a several-session study group on mastering the art of dream journaling. I will be open and accessible for all subscribers to the Mind Wise newsletter, both for beginners and those already working with dreams who want to develop their skills better. Email me if interested at MindWise@substack.com.
I appreciate your interest. Please share with others. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter and podcast at www.inmindwise.com. All content in this podcast is created and published for educational purposes only, is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and should not be relied on for medical decisions. Always seek your healthcare provider's guidance regarding medical or mental health conditions. Thank you.