Over the past few weeks, the last glowing embers of summer have begun to dim in the Northeast as leaves have pitched themselves from our oaks, maples, and poplars. We now inhabit a strange, uniquely “September” stratosphere in which hues of vivacious chlorophyll still dominate the landscape, but our impending autumnal transformation makes itself apparent in the hushed chill of each evening and in the sidewalk-crunches under our feet.
Autumn’s thinning vistas always remind me of ways in which the cycles of my body and psyche must mirror those of “the natural world” in order to thrive.
In contemporary American culture, we often use the term “nature” to encapsulate a realm that doesn’t necessarily include humans, so it can be easy to forget that we are “nature”, and that just like snakes, chickens, and trees, we must undergo periods of shedding and rest to make way for germination and new growth. At the physical level, our bodies perform this work without any conscious input from our minds (we molt the“feathers” of our heads and the “scales” of our skin daily), but underneath these surface-level mechanisms, our optimal emotional and mental health also rely on habitual “shedding” of that which no longer serves us.
In my view, dreams help us to explore all that our subconscious has accumulated over our many days spent in this weird, wonderful, and challenging existence. With the nights expanding, insects and critters scampering into the shadows, and vegetation assuming the deeper tones of its last beautiful song before sleep, fall offers us the ideal backdrop to explore our dreams for the roots of hindrances we may need to shed before our “psychological spring.”
Below is an outline of my process for working with dream content in a way that helps me begin to see unhelpful thought patterns and limiting beliefs forged throughout my life .While dreamwork can illuminate these sources of obstruction, pain, and longing, it can be hard work, and can bring up past traumas. It helps to have someone--a close friend, a therapist, a dreamworker, or spiritual guide--to talk to along the way.
A Practice for Shedding through Dream
Start with Pre-Sleep Journaling
Every night before I go to sleep, I write in my journal. This not only facilitates more restful sleep (which, in turn, leads to more memorable dreams), but it gives me a chance to examine where I’ve felt “stuck.” I end my entry with questions that have been plaguing me lately, in the hopes that airing them will provoke the guiding forces of my subconscious realm.
Record the Dream - feelings at the forefront
My emotional and physiological states in dreams are often intense and hyperbolic, particularly when a dream is trying to grab my attention in some way. When I write down my dream, I try to be as descriptive as possible about how I felt at each stage so I can more accurately engage with the significance of the settings, symbols, and plot.
Examine the Dream Content
Usually the next evening, I sit down with my dream journal (sometimes in my dream altar space) to read the dream through. Breaking it down into smaller chunks, I spend time reflecting on and writing about each segment, centralizing the following questions. I find it helps to close my eyes and imagine I’m in the dream again, particularly for moments of intensity or discomfort.
- How does my body feel in this moment of the dream? Anxious, frightened, aroused, delighted? What are the physiological changes that occur?
- What, in this particular dream scenario, is making me feel this way?
- Does this remind me of a feeling I’ve had in my waking life?
- Based on the way I feel in the dream moment, how might the scenario, symbols, and setting be related to my waking life? Why are they relevant now?
Since dream content is so personal and unique to each person, the outcome of a process like this one will vary widely, but I think it can at least stimulate reflection about what may be holding you back in your path toward fulfillment. Unlike skin cells or maple leaves, deeply entrenched thoughts and habits don’t “drop off” overnight, but the process of release and metamorphosis we undergo, in all of our changing colors, is well worth the time that this deep work takes.