Dreams, dreams, dreams. Do we really need to pay attention to them? To watch Reverend Lee Ireland talk about them, you sure would think so. Lee is the Interim Minister at Westbrook Congregational Church in Westbrook, Connecticut, a spiritual director and dream workshop facilitator. And when you tell her you had a dream you’d like to know more about, her eyes sparkle and her face lights up. Why? Because dreams have guided her on her journey in life and she believes they can guide you too.
Her first experience with dreams was years ago when she was going through a difficult divorce. She went to a United Church of Christ counselor who did dream workshops as part of his practice. Then she ended up working with another counselor who also did dream workshops. “I got broken open to the importance of dreams,” says Lee. “I was having significant dreams.” Years later while working at Niantic Community Church as a student, she was given the opportunity to do spiritual formation classes and presented dream workshops herself.”
In the early 2000’s she read Where People Fly and Water Runs UphiIl, a book by dream work authority Jeremy Taylor, which she still uses as a resource today. As fate would have it on a trip to Chartres, France to further her dream work education, she found herself serendipitously sitting next to him and struck up a conversation. She was there to learn and he was there to teach.
Why Dreams Matter
Why should dreams be important to us? Well, for Lee, they have been transformational. “They were bringing me healing and helping me feel more grounded. They opened to me, the sense that, one- I wasn’t crazy and two- the awe of connecting with the divine. It just took me by surprise.”
One particular dream in January of 1989 had a profound effect on her journey. Her husband had applied for a position at the University of Maine where they had met. At the time she had discerned a call to attend seminary. She had a dream where she was standing at the center of Bangor Theological Seminary with paths going in every direction, and they were being chewed up by ANTS. Later that month, Bob received a letter from Maine saying he was no longer a candidate. A local pastor suggested she visit a seminary in Boston. She fell in love with the school and applied immediately. In April she received her acceptance letter. The name was Andover Newtown Theological Seminary, the letterhead read A.N.T.S.
“Ever since that moment, I believed in dreams. The day I was ordained came in a dream. It’s been amazing so I truly value my dreams,” says Lee. “I’ve had very significant ones that have given me key information to help me stay grounded, help me understand. Dreams have helped me to appreciate reading, scripture and probably most importantly, understanding the masculine and feminine in each one of us and how that plays out in our relationships. What shows up in our dreams guides us about what we need to be working on within ourselves. I love that aha moment.”
Lee learned about dream work through her own therapy, as well as training to be a spiritual director at Mercy Center in Madison, Connecticut. It was reading, studying and working with people, working with spiritual directors and doing her own dream work that was most important in this part of her education.
Paying Attention and Remembering
“There is a consistency to dreams in the sense that they are like movies… projected so that we can see the issues we are dealing with, within our own personal lives,” says Lee. As we learn how to process the dreams, we can recognize the issues in ourselves so that we can be freed. The Divine spirit is guiding us to healing and wholeness so that we can be present.”
We often don’t realize we are being given these gifts. . . and it’s a matter of learning how to listen and pay attention. Lee suggests keeping a journal by the bedside making it easy to record snippets or entire dreams that seem significant.
“When someone begins to record even simple pieces of the dream, this gives Spirit the message that they want to pay attention and the dreams start coming more regularly. Recurring dreams and nightmares are especially here to give a message, often regarding relationships. If there’s a message that wants to come through, it will come through. It’s all about relationships. We are interconnected.”
“Widows and widowers are often given dreams of the person they lost and they need to have someone help them understand what the call is, now that they are on their own,” says Lee. “The dreams can help them find their balance again. They have to learn to be alone and that empty hole is immense for some. All kinds of emotions are there and often show up in dreams. They are coming to guide you to wholeness.”
Taylor’s book helps develop understanding of how to process dreams. People often think of dreams as judgment, but it’s more a wake- up call to pay attention. There’s work that needs to be done. They are filled with information to guide us in our lives and Lee has had first-hand experience of this. She has a genuine appreciation for the role dreams can play in our lives.
“I’m intrigued by them. I’ve seen how they help people. They have helped me make sense of things. But it’s a journey, a process of transformation and the dreams really do help. They bring about healing and wholeness. Dream work is very real and needs to be honored.”
Rick Bouchard considers himself a committed dreamer. He is committed to exploring the vastness of the inner world, that he believes is as broad as our outer world, and never underestimates the importance of dreams. Rick attended the University of Southern Maine where he received a master’s degree in social work. Since 1999 he has been in private practice in Portland, Maine and because of his particular interest in dream work, he is just about to finish up an 11 year Jungian Analyst Training Program at the C.G. Jung Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.
Analyzing the Dream
The training provided by the Boston institute, “provides a deep understanding of the symbolic language and imagery of the unconscious as well as a thorough knowledge of analytic theory and methods,” according to its website (www.cgjungboston.com). “A rich mixture of courses in dream interpretation, mythology, anthropology, religion, the study of literature and the arts, as well as psychopathology, psychopharmacology, and ethics is woven into the foundation that informs the individual work of Jungian Analysts. It is the analyst’s knowledge in each of these areas, combined with personal experience and imagination that facilitates the analyst’s efforts to find meaning in their symptoms and suffering.”
Rick has been curious about the role dreams play in our lives, since the mid 1990’s when he first joined a small dream group. He would bring a dream to the group and realize that his dreams had much more meaning than he had imagined. This helped him turn his attention to his inner world. “Dreams are very economical, they don’t waste an image. If an image is in your dreams there is a reason,” says Rick. “Dreams can speak to us on many levels at a time so there can be many interpretations. That’s the wonder of our psyche, the wonder of dreams.”
He went on to be interested in Carl Jung and soon after, realized a gradual calling to become a Jungian analyst. He took many workshops on dreams, to better understand them and how they can be helpful, and began offering his own dream group, teaching people what he learned about dreams and how they are a part of our journeys. Dreams became a big part of his spiritual practice. He has kept a dream journal for two decades and finds them useful because he can go back and look at how dreams spoke to him over time. This is especially helpful when dreams are repeating or part of a series.
With the ego at the helm, dreams would be different, but dreams are without ego influence, according to Rick. They take on a life of their own in the psyche and are not controlled by ego resistance. “They come to us clean. For the people left behind, dreams can help people grieve and process death.” Dreams of the dead can be very cathartic allowing those we leave behind to work through their loss. If you believe in the collective unconscious as Jung did, we are all connected he explains. Things may happen that seem bizarre but feel exceptionally real. This is called the field. But ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is real or not.
“If it’s coming from inside, it needs to be paid attention to, and processed to help us get on with our lives,” says Rick. “If it’s coming from us, that’s all that matters.”
Dream interpretation or understanding is valuable. “Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meanings his or her dream may have,” writes Jeremy Taylor in his Dream Work Toolkit at (www.JeremyTaylor.com). “This certainty usually comes in the form of a wordless “aha!” of recognition. This “aha” is a function of memory, and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work.”
Some people use dream dictionaries to explore their dreams, but Rick believes they are limiting. “They generally tell a person what the dream image means. That closes the door to you developing a deeper understanding of what that image is trying to say to you at that particular time.” Having an intuitive relationship with dreams is most important. Symbol Dictionaries is about the long term meaning of certain symbols over time. We can take those understandings and discern how they might make sense for us. “We are our own authority when it comes to our psyche.”
The benefit of being in a dream group or working with an analyst is the ability to listen objectively about how others might understand a dream. When the aha moment comes, it can make more sense. It is hard but not impossible to work with dreams by yourself, according to Rick, but nothing replaces working with a therapist and having them ask the right questions to help explore an issue.
Dream journals can be very helpful too and having the right journal, one that is very comfortable is very important. Dream journaling has made a big difference in Rick’s life and he thinks that buying a special one for that purpose gives the psyche a message that you are honoring your dreams. He recommends writing dreams down first thing upon waking, title your dreams, date them and return to them later for deeper understanding. Dreams are like gifts or packages we need to open. Recording it means we won’t forget. “Having them captured in your dream journal is important. Writing dreams down about a lost spouse or partner is a way of honoring their relationship and their death.”
“The Aha moments are wonderful when they happen, but Jung said (more or less) that it’s all well and good to have dreams, but it’s what you do with them that matters,” says Rick. “People believe a lot of different things about dreams from, they are our minds processing the day’s events to messages from God and everything in between. You have to develop your own understanding of what dreams mean for you. We all have a relationship with the inner world but like any relationship it needs to be developed.”