The meaning of dreams has always been interesting to me. In my experience, most people share a certain fascination with their dreams but make little effort to understand them. Dreams fade fast and it's easy to let them remain a curious oddity.
Our confusion about our own dreams seems to reflect a larger ignorance about the meaning of dreams in society as a whole. There are most likely many factors that contribute to this, one being they just seem plain weird! It's not hard to understand how intimidating the task of understanding can be for a novice interpreter. Despite this, with a little guidance, most of us can discover profound messages and direction in our dreams.
If you read my earlier posts about Focusing, or are already familiar with this awareness practice, it may come as no surprise that it can be applied to dream interpretation.
Eugene Gendlin, the founder of the Focusing practice also authored a book called, Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. This book not only seeks to apply Focusing to dream work but also to incorporate various theories about dream interpretation. One result of his efforts is the formulation of a provocative list of questions that can be used to increase your understanding of dream content.
Here is a link to an abridged version of the questions provided by Leland E. Shields, MS, MA from his book, Dreamwork: Around the World and Across Time.
“No one can lose either the past or the future - how could anyone be deprived of what [one] does not possess? ... It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all [one] has, [one] cannot lose what [one] does not have.”
I don't quite remember how I stumbled across Jeffrey Young's, "Early Maladaptive Schemas," but it is something that I found immediately helpful and, since then, I have been using it more than any other session aide in my work with clients.
In Byron Katie's book, Loving What Is, she presents a simple exercise that can help free you from thoughts that cause suffering and paralysis and create possibility for positive change.
If you are suffering from low self-esteem, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, irritability or any sort of discomfort, I invite you to take a moment to identify the thought that lies at the heart of this feeling. Ask that feeling, "What are you trying to say?" If you are feeling lonely, the thought could be, "I'm unworthy of others." If you are feeling are anxious, the thought might be, "I don't have what it takes and I'm going to fail."
Once you've identified the thought. Ask yourself these questions:
1) Is it true? Can you absolutely know it is true with 100% certainty?
2) How do you feel when you have this thought?
3) Who would you be without this thought?
4) Turn the thought around (i.e. "I'm worthy of others," I'm not going to fail."). Is the turnaround thought true, or truer, than the original thought?
I encourage you to take your time with each of these questions and answer them as completely as possible.
This exercise does not promise to immediately take all your suffering away but it does offer a perspective on how to view your pain. This shift in understanding creates empowerment and the possibility for profound change.
For more about Byron Katie, click here.
Exulansis: n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
Do you ever have a feeling or an experience that you struggle to put into words?
This is something that happens to most of us. Whenever I experience it, I'm reminded of the importance and the limitations of language.
A person's experience of reality is dictated by the depth of language they have to describe it. As soon as I realized this, it has become something that is hard to unsee.
On a day-to-day basis, most of the phrases we use consist of cliches and conventions that help us efficiently complete our social interactions with one another. We sacrifice depth for utility. We water down our language to make it understandable to others, sometimes at the cost of true understanding and connection.
Of course, this makes sense to do, it would be cumbersome to go through every conversation with the pressure to make sure the other understood the depth and complexity of what you are experiencing.
I think the unfortunate cost of this habit can be lack of intimacy, confusion and loneliness when this superficiality characterizes our understanding of ourselves and the way we communicate with those we are close with.
What if we approached our conversations with the intent of finding just the right words to describe what you are trying to say and we knew we had found those words based on the "aha" feeling inside that we have when we experience epiphany?
How would our relationships be impacted if, when we shared these experiences, we felt that other person was truly understanding and empathizing with our unique inner experience?
This is an invitation to begin to think about how you communicate with others and a suggestion that there is an opportunity for deeper connection right now. The best place to start may be with the person if your life that you trust the most.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Increasing your ability to think and communicate in this way takes practice. Regardless, I believe that, by merely shifting your awareness and intention, you can start having more satisfaction in your relationships.
Focusing is a technique that helps people strengthen this ability to attune, understand and describe inner experience. For more information, watch this video of Eugene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing, introducing the process.
A great book about our relationship with language and how language is both grounded in our experience of the natural world and but can also disconnect us from it is David Abram's, The Spell of the Sensuous.
Below is fun exercise to get you thinking about experiences you may dismiss because you didn't know how to explain them.
Content was taken from Writing About Writing
"Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?"
-Charlie Brown from "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
For all you "Peanuts" lovers, hope your holidays are enjoyable and recharging. This photo is just a reminder that, if they aren't, the "doctor" is in. Feel free to reach out for a consultation. Although, this picture is a little misleading in regards to my rates, I'm confident that you will discover that therapy is worth the investment.
I recently came across this exercise and found it to have profound life-changing potential. The task is simple, answer 3 questions:
What have I received today?
What have I given today?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused?
An excerpt from the To Do Institute's website offers some insight into the value of this practice:
Often we take such things for granted. We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the “little” things we are receiving. But are these things really “little?” It only seems so because we are being supported and our attention is elsewhere. But when we run out of gas or lose our glasses, these little things grab our attention and suddenly we realize their true importance. As we list what we receive from another person we are grounded in the simple reality of how we have been supported and cared for. In many cases we may be surprised at the length or importance of such a list and a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation may be naturally stimulated. Without a conscious shift of attention to the myriad ways in which the world supports us, we risk our attention being trapped by only problems and obstacles, leaving us to linger in suffering and self-pity.
Do you have 20-30 minutes to dedicate to trying something new?
Take 5-10 minutes for each question. Here is an example of what a daily Naikan practice might look like.
If you try this practice and find it helpful, I encourage you to consider incorporating it on a regular basis. If not daily, imagine the impact this could have if it's done even 1-2 a week.
Mindfulness is moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by "acceptance" - attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment. (The Greater Good Science Center)
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. One way is represented by the acronym RAIN. RAIN new mindfulness tool that offers support for working with intense and difficult emotions. It emerged relatively recently amongst Buddhist teachers and has been introduced into therapeutic practice by individuals such Tara Brach. It stands for:
R Recognize what is happening
A Allow life to be just as it is
I Investigate inner experience with kindness
For more information visit:
Get to know yourself better and gain insight on why you are feeling unfulfilled with this simple exercise.
This exercise can be done in as little as 30 minutes but the results can expose the reasons why you are feeling stuck. My hope is that, by gaining clarity on who you are, and what you value, you can begin to see where to focus your energy in the interest of improving your life.
I love participating in this exercise with my clients and I find that it's relevant for most people regardless of what brings them in to therapy. Today I am providing information on how to do the
exercise on your own but I encourage you to do the exercise with another person. If you are really struggling in your life, I would strongly recommend doing this exercise with a counselor.
It is helpful to do this with another person because identifying your core values is only half of the usefulness that this exercise holds. The rest comes from the process of deciding your core values.
Doing the exercise with another person allows you to share about what you are experiencing as you go through the steps. For example, you can learn something about yourself based on a strong negative reaction you have to a value card. You can learn something about yourself when you realize that a value you thought SHOULD be more important, doesn't make your top 10 list. Experiences like this can be useful as they may illuminate actual dynamics in your life that contribute to the "stuckness" you are feeling.
The idea is simple; if you are living according to your core values and your lifestyle gives you regular opportunity to do so, you will be substantially happier than if these values were blocked or if you are
living at odds with them.
Of course, it's possible that you already have a general sense of what your values are, but one purpose of this exercise is to identify which values stand out. As you do the exercise, you may notice that there are many values that you resonate with, but the point is to figure out what means the most to you.
There are a lot of ways to use the value card deck. The process described below is largely taken from instructions created by John Veeken and Marie McNamara, but I have expanded on these in ways that I have found useful with my clients.
1) You need a deck of value cards. You can find an abundance of these online.
I prefer the deck created by the Urban Indian Health Institute of Seattle. Their deck should be one of the first results you get if you type in “value card exercise” into Google.
2) Find a large surface to do the work. A dining room table is ideal.
3) Sort through the deck and begin placing the value cards in 3 categories: Most important to me, important to me and not important to me.
(Note: if you are really struggling to decide which category to place a value in, it may help to create a “neutral” stack).
4) As I mentioned above, pay attention to what your experiencing as you go through the deck.
Which cards do you react strongly too? Which are the easiest to place in a category? Which are the toughest? Do any of them make you feel angry, happy, sad, scared?
5) Once you have placed all the cards in a category, reflect on the experience and the choices you have made. Are there any cards and/or placements that are bugging you? Take note of these.
If you really are feeling stuck, you can place the cards in question in the “most important to me” stack and proceed to the next step.
6) Take the cards you placed in the “most important to me” section and pick your top 10 out of these cards. This step is about reducing the stack to 10, not ranking them 1-10. Pay attention to your experience. Were there any cards that were difficult to “give up?”
7) Next, pick your top 5 (again, in no particular order). As the stack gets smaller it can get harder to make selections. One strategy to help with this is to think about which values are similar. Is there a card that can, in essence, represent both values (i.e. solitude can represent independence or love can represent connection).
Note: It is okay to select a value even if you feel you aren't good at practicing it. It can be useful to identify values that you are “striving” towards.
8) Next, pick your top 3. These are your “core values.” These are the things that are the most meaningful above all other things. These values are a big part of who you are and how you understand yourself and the world.
9) Next, select your top value. Which one of these core values stands out above the rest?
Remember, if this process is challenging, that is a good thing. The good news is that you don't actually have to let go of any value. This process is about finding the best of the best.
10) Reflect on your experience. How are you feeling? What was that process like for you? Are you surprised by the results?
11) Take a look at your top 3 values, these are the most important things to you. These values need to be cherished, nurtured and protected. When you think about your life now, to what degree is
your characterized by these values. On a scale from 1-10, pick a number that best represents how much your life is defined by each value. Based on these numbers, are you discovering that
there is a gap between what is most important to you and your everyday life?
Fee free to do this step for your top 5 values. It can also be useful to do this step for your “not important” stack. Is everyday life heavily defined by things that are not important to you?
12) Now it's time to put some of this information into action. Think of ways in which you can increase the presence of these values in your life. For example, if connection is one of your
core values but, currently, you feel that your feeling of connectedness is a 3 out of 10, how could you make efforts to feel more connected this week? It is not necessary to identify life-
altering actions. Small efforts or intentions that can be put in to practice this week are ideal.
13) Take a photo of your core value cards with your phone so you always have them with you as a reminder and for inspiration.
Note: During this exercise you may have experienced some strong emotions or found that your currently lifestyle is at odds with your value system. This could be do to your occupation, habits or a
relationship. There may be no easy or obvious solution to your predicament. If this is the case, I would recommend finding a counselor to help you work through your situation.
Are you aware that the way you are feeling right now is largely influenced by the way that you are talking to yourself?
All of us have an inner dialogue that is going on throughout the day and, for the most part, this goes on with little awareness.
When we notice discomfort, whether it be unhappiness or some other emotional distress, and we do not know where it is coming from, we often look at our environment for answers. We can convince ourselves that this person, or this situation, is making us feel this way. Of course the people and events of our lives do have some bearing on how we feel but is often more true that our thoughts and interpretations are the source of our suffering.
I invite you to read through these common thinking distortions and see if any of them sound familiar.
If you do notice 1-2 distortions that are particularly prevalent in your life, why not set an intention to notice these throughout the day? Awareness is key, if you can become aware of it as it's happening, then you create the choice as to whether to stay in that thought or challenge it.
Try using the questions from my previous post (4 questions that could change your life) to help dispute these unhelpful (and usually false!) thoughts.
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.
For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
With practice, you can learn to answer each of these cognitive distortions.
Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.
A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
7. Control Fallacies.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
8. Fallacy of Fairness.
We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.
We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
11. Emotional Reasoning.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
12. Fallacy of Change.
We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
13. Global Labeling.
We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”
14. Always Being Right.
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
This list was provided by psychcentral.com