Think about your most recent significant dream. You would probably agree that, as you think about it, you are outside of it. It is as if you are looking at something, appreciating it, remembering it, considering what it might mean. Now try something different—move inside it. Go right back into the dream, re-enter the scene. Feel the difference?
Here’s the question: is dreamwork more effective when done from the outside, or the inside? The evolution in my own dreamworking style and method over the past few years has resulted in working more and more from the inside. Having now worked in this way with a few thousand dreams I can say a few things with certainty:
- Dreamwork done from the inside is faster and simpler, because it really has only one step: you re-enter your dream and try to get an embodied sense of what it wants (what is trying to happen? What do you want to do? What is it asking you for? Where is the energy trying to go?)
- It is easier to facilitate others when working from the inside, because there is no burden on the facilitator to have any sense of what the dream might mean. Two major fears that plague dreamworkers are greatly reduced–the fear of getting lost, and the fear of being wrong. The facilitator’s job is relatively simple–to invite the dreamer to re-enter the dream, then help them get a sense of what wants to happen.
- The goal is the same– to arrive at a resonant insight about how the dream connects to your life. When working from the inside I have found these insights tend to arise more spontaneously and organically. They are felt more in the body, less worked out through thinking and associating.
- Inside dreamwork seems to work quite beautifully about 80% of the time in my experience. Sometimes it seems to get stalled because the dreamer cannot get an embodied feeling of what they want to do. At these times I have found it very effective to use one of the back-up techniques, most commonly the be-the-part technique (asking the dreamer to shift their identification from their own self to another dream figure).
- Working from the inside is more dynamic (change-oriented). You are already changing yourself as soon as you re-enter your dream and allow something new to happen. In traditional dream interpretation understanding comes first and change may follow (or not). In inside dreamwork change comes first and understanding follows. I find this much more rewarding.
- Working from the inside is more fun, and less tiring. Your brain doesn’t need to work nearly as hard. The energy is usually higher because you are working with something that is alive and changing. It’s less like analysis and more like theater.
Here’s an example from my own dream life. My dream of The Floating Lady really brought home the contrast between the two dreamworking approaches:
“I am walking on a sidewalk with a high brick wall on my right. I notice an old lady approaching. Then I see that there is a big patch of dark ice on the sidewalk between us. I am anxious that the old lady will slip and fall. I step forward cautiously, and she does too. We pass each other. A moment later I turn around to check on her to make sure she is okay. I see to my astonishment that she is floating two or three feet off the ground, moving herself forward by pushing along the brick wall. Just then she turns to look at me. She gives me a quick guilty smile, as if she knows she is not supposed to float like that, I’ve caught her doing something against the law of gravity. I’m racking my brains to figure out how she could be doing this, and this effort of thinking wakes me up…”
As I lay in bed pondering this dream I first approached in my old habitual way, considering it from the outside. I found myself wondering who the little old lady represented– was she an aspect of myself? Someone I was worried about? My parents popped into my mind. They’re getting older, and I often find myself worrying that they might have a bad fall. Was the dream perhaps pointing out that I don’t need to worry about them so much, that they have more tricks and resources than I give them credit for? An interesting and very plausible line of interpretation…but then I remembered that I could re-enter the dream and work on it from the inside.
So I went back into the dream scene; I chose an entry point near the end, where the old lady and I look at each other. Now… I slowed everything down so there was plenty of time to expand the moment and experience it fully. I stopped my mind from trying to figure out how on earth she was doing this floating thing. I just tuned in to her, as if inviting her to communicate with me.
And she did! Still smiling, but no longer coming across as guilty, she said: “I’m not doing this by magic or special effects or anything like that. There’s only one way this could be happening…” Then I had my Aha! moment. Of course! The only way this could be happening is…if this was a dream! She was trying to help me realize that I was dreaming. She was a lucid dream coach, helping me strengthen that tiny critical piece of lucidity practice– the moment where you become aware that you may be in a dream. I have been working on this piece for some time, and my progress has not been rapid.
This method of moving the story forward is something that can be done with any dream. My Aha! moment did not come in the original dream, but for me there is no doubt that it was trying to come. That’s what the dream wanted for me. It was asking for that to happen by setting the stage for it, by creating the conditions. So many dreams present us with a golden opportunity that may be lost if the dream is not re-entered and dreamed forward. Might I not have arrived at the same insight from the outside? Yes, but it probably would have taken me longer, with more time spent pursuing tangents and associations that, though they may be ‘true’ in some sense, are not the real crux of the dream . With the re-entry method the insight came within seconds, and I felt it in my whole body, with complete certainty. This directness-through-experience is typical of dreamwork done on the inside. You are not thinking about something, you are experiencing it.
I encourage you to try out this method on your own dreams if you haven’t already. The natural time to do it is just after you’ve awakened from a dream and you’ve done whatever you need to do to catch it and anchor it into your memory circuits. You’re still lying in bed, still in the feeling of the dream. Now you can go back in and see how you would like things to move forward. This is the ideal time, but actually you can do a re-entry at any time, even months or years later. The only pre-requisite is that you have a clear memory of the dream, or at least one scene of it (you need at least one scene to re-enter). It’s amazing how a dream can come right back to life as soon as you step back into it.
For those of you who would like to explore this further with some coaching and guidance I will be offering a one-day workshop in Toronto on Sunday Feb 18, 2018. The workshop will give us all a chance to practice this method and work around some of the problems and difficulties that arise. As you start to try out this method you may notice that old habits reassert themselves, so stay very alert to where you are positioning yourself–are you outside your dream thinking about it? Or are you inside your dream experiencing it.