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Should I Listen to What Dream Characters Say?

Have you ever noticed how in dreams, we tend to “know” someone has told us something or we get “the idea” of a certain verbal exchange between ourselves and a dream character? It turns out, it’s actually quite difficult to remember word for word what a dream character said.

Pay attention the next time you have a dream that includes dialogue or conversation. What words can you recall for certain? Would you bet something valuable on your knowing exactly what was said?

Before I started working my dreams with Natural Dreamwork, I didn’t pay as much attention to the spoken words in my dreams. I was happy enough to recall what I believed was said. I didn’t consider that, as in waking life sometimes, my mind in the dream may be interpreting or intuiting or simply making up something someone else said to suit my beliefs about them, the situation, or myself.

This behavior is mostly, if not always, subconscious, of course.

As part of my work with a Natural Dreamwork practitioner, I was instructed to write my dreams up in a certain way. One of those requests was that I indicate whether spoken language was a direct quote I could remember.

My teacher’s guidance was: “Plot is simply what is said and what is done. Direct quotes are much better than indirect quotes.”

He didn’t indicate why direct quotes were better, but over time the answer would reveal itself.

I wonder if the answer changes from person to person. I imagine it might.

For me, the answer to why direct quotes are better is that I am a person who has, until now, lived very much in my mind. I have given priority to thinking over feeling. I have prided myself on being a good listener, but my dreams would show me that what I considered to be listening was actually half-listening, half-filling-in-the-blanks based on projections, conditioning, assumptions, anxiety, etc.

I loved being called out on that during dreamwork sessions, it turned out. (Note: My teacher was always curious and gentle about this; never accusatory. He was simply there to help me see what the dreams were trying to show me.)

I loved noticing when I could and couldn’t remember what was said exactly.

I loved realizing how much I think I know, but don’t necessarily know, unless it was actually said out loud. And not even then…

At first, I didn’t like it. I felt over-confident about my ability to read between the lines, both in waking life and in dreams. I considered myself perceptive and empathetic. I considered these traits to be positive ones.

We both realized over time that I tended to pride myself on what I thought was strong perception, but sometimes turned out to be speculation, expectation based on past interactions, and even arrogance.

I started giving more attention in my dream recall to what was actually being said, and realized how infrequently I could quote it word-for-word. 

This was frustrating at first, and often continues to be; especially when a dream interaction is particularly potent and I want very badly to remember precisely what was said.

I can’t sometimes. They’re just gone. Often, the words are just gone.

That’s okay, too, I’ve learned. 

But sometimes, I can remember. And when I do, the words are often precious, comical, punny, coded, penetrative, vindicating, devastating, comforting, loving. When the words are there for certain, I often feel a rich sense of presence in the dream, and after, upon waking, there may arise in me humility, gratitude, or a kind of playful delight. 

Last night, I had a dream that was both confusing and clear. In one scene, I was interacting with a famous scientist I once admired and interacted with briefly in waking life. In the dream, he was showing me some advertising materials he’d had a freelancer mock up for him. The ads were quite good, I observed. Inside me, however, I noticed a little bit of wounding. 

Why hadn’t he asked me to write the copy or do the creative direction on the ads? I was really good at that!

The conversation continued. The scientist was proud of what the freelancer had produced. I said to him, “Have you considered hiring a marketing director?”

A few years ago, back before I made dreamwork and dream research my primary profession, I may have said this very thing to a celebrated scientist I was eager to work for or with.

The scientist replied, “I understand that role is becoming obsolete. There’s no longer a need for it.”

I noticed my back get up a little at that comment. I took it personally. A moment later, however, I realized it was true. And I said as such to him in the dream.

The dream didn’t end there. In fact, my dream self still tried to make a case for some times when a marketing director would be necessary or beneficial. 

But when I woke, and reflected on this interaction with the dream version of the scientist, I realized what a gift his “insult” was. The truth is I am no longer a marketing professional, and haven’t been for a few years. Why would he or anyone reach out to me to work on an ad campaign?

Why would I want anyone to?

I am a dreamwork practitioner now. I love my work. I love my research. I love it more than any job I’ve ever had, including even the best marketing role, where I was as close to satisfied (but still not-quite satisfied) as I could have been in a marketing role.

Clearly, I still have something inside me that seeks the kind of validation I got from being an experienced marketing executive. Somewhere inside of me I still might actually think of myself as a clever wordsmith or a talented creative director. My feeling in the dream in response to the scientist’s statement indicates there’s still some attention required there.

But overall, what the scientist had to say to me in the dream feels like a supportive and loving reassurance from deep inside myself:

“I understand that role is becoming obsolete. There’s no longer a need for it.”

Now, awake, those words seem like words someone who loves me very much would say to me; someone who believes in me and my work. Someone who wants me to succeed.

I love that our dream characters are here to support us…when we are willing to pay attention to what they really are saying.

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