Category Archives: Psychology

The dream remembers

One night in January I remembered, in my dreams, holding my mother’s hand as she lay dying, the feel of her papery skin, and the growing distance in her eyes. The sound of her breathing as she laboured up that long hill, and the hope in my heart that she would soon see my father, waiting to greet her, on this day that would have been their 68th wedding anniversary.

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When I woke and wrote my dream down, I realised it was her birthday, the second one since she died. It hadn’t been in my waking thoughts, but my dream remembered, and this happens all the time. I dream about a person, and when I come to record it, I notice the date is some kind of anniversary.

It happens with death days too. In Writing in the House of Dreams I told the story of finding my sister Su’s poems and letters among the boxes in my shed after we sold the family home. They had been in the attic for years, and I’d forgotten I had them. I spent the whole day reading them, and then burnt them on a bonfire, thinking about Su. Wanting to make a note of a few things she had said to me before I forgot, I went to my journal, wrote down the date, and realised it was the anniversary of her death.

Even when we don’t consciously remember or mark an anniversary, it’s there in another level of consciousness. It may not emerge in a dream, but it may colour our mood, like an old stain; a drop of wine on a party tablecloth, a bruise on the heart. A friend once pointed out to me that every late September I seemed to have a dip – ‘Isn’t that the time your sister died?’ she said.

Family anniversaries are held in our own mind and they’re also held in the family’s collective consciousness, fixed points like pins holding down the billowing fabric of all the family’s stories.

Culturally, we create new ones, like World Book Day, Remembrance Sunday, the May Bank Holiday, and they become shared moments in the collective mind of all our various tribes – in these examples, book lovers, the UK and Commonwealth nations, workers and children.

The days that have meaning for us give resonance to the thin melody line of consciousness, because even if we forget what day it is, the dream remembers.

Have you ever dreamt or thought about a loved one and realised later that it’s some kind of anniversary?

When you say you love writing…

Reading brainpickings this morning (fantastic site – do check it out), I came upon a quotation from Dr Oliver Sachs:

I say I love writing but really it is thinking I love — the rush of thoughts — new connections in the brain being made. And it comes out of the blue… In such moments: I feel such love of the world, love of thinking…

That’s exactly how it is for me. I’ve always written, as I’ve always explored my dreams, for the joy of inhabiting more of my own mind, and in wonder at its curious workings. It isn’t that my mind is unusually vast and curious – everybody’s mind is, but through writing and dream-working, we become aware of that.

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I think the fact that we all have this incredible vastness of mind is what leads to the feeling Sachs describes as accompanying our creative aha moments, the sudden rush of love for the world, and for thinking, which goes beyond the individual, and connects us all.

I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to earn enough from my published work and related activities such as teaching workshops to keep the wolf from the door, but I see that side of my writing as the job. It’s only a small part of the writer I am.

Writing brings me, again and again, to the edges of my awareness. It feels risky; it feels exciting, making new writing explorations, not knowing what I’m looking for, or what I might find.

Confronting the non-rational is unnerving. Here the unfettered mind suffers a      kind of agoraphobia, a fear of its own awesome spaces ~ Marilyn Ferguson

I would take it further even than mind, though. I feel that writing enables us to experience every area of our self more fully. The way we engage with the world through our senses, which can be quite unconscious until we need to pay attention to it in conjuring scenes and settings; the way emotion is not just something ephemeral, but anchored in the physical body, in blood and skin and muscle.

Our minds, our lives, are full of wonders, and when I say I love writing, I guess that really it is life I love.

What do you mean when you say you love writing?

‘Writing, for me, is liberating…’

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judy Dinnen in the House of Dreams to talk about her personal writing, as part of my occasional series of guest blogs on journaling. Judy has an MA in creative writing from Cardiff university and is ordained in the Church of England. Some of her poems have been published in magazines or resource books.

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Judy Dinnen

I write because I need to, because some story or story seed beckons. I think pen and paper is best and sometimes it’s in my book of skies, so I write around clouds or through sunsets. You can see this notebook on a stone on the north Wales coast.

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These clouds might seep into my words but not always. Now I have a book of walls and I wonder how this will constrain or inspire my writing. In the first year of Trump, I have reservations about the effects of walls. I need to become a graffiti writer out in the open air.

I write sporadically, often in holidays or trips to new or interesting places. For example I went to the Nazi parade ground in Nürnberg last year and was moved by the scattered names of prisoners on railway tracks. That’ s a bit like piggybacking on the artwork of others, but I’m glad to say I wasn’t on the trains to Auschwitz. It was the names that spoke to me, that shocked me, so many, yet each one recorded for eternity.

I often pick up on moving words or personal stories and turn an event into poem. I sometimes write freely and carelessly when faced by some problem or angst. I first wrote like this the night my mother died. I never turned that into a poem but it did serve to show how releasing writing can be. I felt also that she had given me this gift of poetry.

Writing for me is liberating; it helps me to think, to feel, to untangle conundrums. That’s why I belong to Lapidus and to The Creative Arts Retreat Movement, or CARM. I have led workshops with the homeless, bereaved and village groups and in this new phase of my life I lead poetry retreats with CARM.

In these retreats I offer Christian prayer, space, poems, writing prompts and plenty of time for punters to explore words. They might explore the joy and value of words, words placed alongside each other, words echoing or enhancing each other, crying together or arguing.

Sometimes I’m just a writer on these retreats and then I use lovely surroundings to inspire me. In that place in North Wales I like to sit on the sea-shore and listen to the waves. They tell me what to write. In that house of prayer there is an intriguing labyrinth and walking round and in and back is a metaphor for life. Scope for raising questions; scope for adventures too!

I love that Judy felt her mother had given her the gift of poetry. That is a wonderful gift indeed.

You can find out more about CARM retreats here

If you keep a diary, journal or notebook, we would love to hear your story. Please send a piece of about 500 words, some pics of you and your journals, plus any links you’d like to include to  author@jennyalexander.co.uk

Leave Judy a comment if you have enjoyed her contribution. 

Diaries, Notebooks, Journals… Let’s Talk About Personal Writing!

Every year, in early January, I run a workshop called ‘Writing the New Year In.’ It’s one of my favourites, and I look forward to it. My goal is to help people experience the deep pleasure of personal writing, which can help you find your writing confidence and voice, and may become a seedbed for ideas that will grow into finished writing projects.

So what better time to launch my new occasional series of guest blogs about private writing?

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Karen Laura Steel to the House of Dreams to talk about her writing journals. Karen is a funeral celebrant – she takes naming ceremonies and weddings as well – who has also worked for 20 years singing to elderly and brain damaged people in residential settings.

Here is the story of her personal writing.

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Karen Laura Steel

I remember the first diary that allowed me to write more than childhood entries: “Went to school. Ate jam sandwich…”. It charmed me with its ornamental lock and pretty little key. I was 10, and it was a 5-Year diary, so I was aware it was something of a commitment, but the closely drawn lines and the never-ending feeling gave me a kind of hope. There weren’t many days over those 5 years that I didn’t write at least a small entry on how I was coping at new schools; having begun Comprehensive Education, only to move after 18 months, having to start O Level courses again. My diary listened as I missed old friends, found that cliques, once made, were hard to break into, and that friends we’d moved to be closer to weren’t necessarily worth the effort!

My teen-diaries received emotions on unrequited love, the excitement of prospective love-interests and despair when things went hopelessly wrong.

By the time I was beginning my degree, a plain notebook accompanied me everywhere, especially invaluable during my semester in America as I recorded first impressions of places and people every few hours at least. It was my 1980s version of fb, but private and didn’t need the approbation of others.

Battling depression in my twenties my journal received all my heart’s outpourings when no one else seemed interested or capable of understanding where I was coming from. In my thirties when finally receiving help, dream journals, notes on counselling sessions or discussions with helpful friends gave way to writing about new avenues of spirituality as I explored Yoga, its philosophy, and anything which gave a different perspective on the world.

Over time my journals have also generated other creative outlets, germinating ideas for songs or other writing.

Too much work ate into journal time last year, until I decided that life was far more enjoyable when I could jot down my problems and see the solutions emerging spontaneously.

Part of me wishes the notebooks were all the same size or of similar design, but the array of covers which have held my confidences are a testimony in themselves to my changing life, tastes and experience and are precious for that. I am writing once a week at the moment – and the desire to do it more often is encouraging me that I’m back on track!

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Some of Karen’s notebooks

You can find out more about Karen’s work by visiting her website or reading her blog, Diary of a Funeral Celebrant.

Do you have a practice of personal writing? If so, we’d love to hear about it here in the House of Dreams. Please email your piece, up to 400 words, a sentence or two about yourself and any links you’d like to include, to author@jennyalexander.co.uk. A photo of yourself would also be good, and possibly one of your journals.

I’m planning to make this an occasional series throughout 2017, welcoming a wide range of guests. Let’s celebrate personal writing!

How to make the best New Year resolutions

I’m a big fan of goals in life generally, and I always take a few days over New Year to consider what I want to achieve in the year to come, both in my personal life and my writing.

It takes a few days because it’s a broad field, if you don’t measure success only in terms of finances and career development, as we tend to do in our culture. There’s creative satisfaction, greater understanding, social engagement and every other aspect of life to consider.

So how do you narrow it down? Well, according to Alain de Botton on the radio this week, it helps to ponder your own mortality. Most people don’t really think about the prospect of dying until they’re in the 40s or 50s, but de Botton suggests we should all start to think about it from at least the age of 10.

Having faced the fact that you’re going to die, and it could happen at any time, then, says de Botton, it’s good to think about regrets. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret never having done? Maybe you’d wish you had travelled more, or read more, or written a book, or taken up a musical instrument, or learnt to fly. Or managed to master your temper better, or speak up for yourself, or say sorry, or tell someone you love them.

Whatever you would regret not having done in this life if you were to die tomorrow, those are the things you need to get on and do today. Even for things that are going to take much longer than just this coming year, you can still make a start.

Like any journey, once you start, you build momentum. You see the way unfolding ahead of you, and feel the excitement of working towards the place you want to be. It doesn’t matter whether you arrive or not – you will have extended yourself, and striven, and felt energised along the way. And discovered new goals to start going for, like unexpected signposts and turnings in the road.

So if you haven’t set any New Year resolutions yet, imagine the Grim Reaper were to come for you today – what would you wish you had done? Write a list of things you can do right away and things that could take a long time. Select two of each. With the long-term goals, make a start this week – write that email enquiry, make that phone call, start that conversation, do that search.

It feels good – and that’s why I’m a fan of goals and resolutions!

 

Get more from your dream life in 2017

As the old year comes to a close, it’s time to take stock and think about what you’d like the new one to bring. Intention is a powerful magnetic force, and focusing on what you want greatly increases your chances of achieving it.

The sharper the focus, the better the chance; having a vague notion of something you might like to achieve is like throwing a dart in the general direction of the darts board and hoping it’ll hit the bullseye. It could happen, but it it’s not very likely.

Once you’ve set a goal, you need to think of practical steps you can take to work towards it. As you’re reading this blog, I guess you’re interested in dreams, so here are my suggestions for anyone who’d like to get more from their dream life in 2017.

  1. Make dreams part of the conversation. Talk about dreams generally, with your family and friends, and share specific ones you happen to remember. Talking about dreams, whether you have regular recall or not, increases dream awareness even for experienced dreamers. The secret of happy dream talk is to treat your dreams like the experiences of waking life; keep it brief, keep it interesting, leave out any long-winded boring bits and, most important of all, don’t try to interpret, either your own or other people’s. One of the reasons we can feel reticent about sharing dreams is because we think they might reveal something about us, and focusing on finding meaning takes our attention away from the actual experience of the dream. Besides, as Alfred Adler wrote, The realm of meanings is the realm of mistakes. 

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    Dream sharing in the family whatsapp from one of my children, the day before our Christmas get-together including new addition, one-year-old Daisy.
  2. Let go of psychological interpretation generally. If we value dreams only as a source of information about our waking life, that puts an automatic filter on our recall. We will tend to remember and write down only the dream material that we identify as important or relevant, and miss the good stuff that takes us outside our waking understanding and into the complete unknown. Letting go of trying to interpret dreams could be interesting for more experienced dreamers as well as beginners; try it for a few months, and see if your dream life changes.
  3. Keep a dream diary. I’ve put this one last because it’s what everyone says and I didn’t want you to roll your eyes and abandon me mid-post! But everyone says it for a reason; it works. It’s the power of intention again. By buying a lovely notebook and placing it beside your bed, you’re setting the intention to record something when you wake. At first, you may not have many narrative dreams, but just fragments or single images – however random, uninteresting or irrelevant they feel, write them down. Draw them. Value them. From these little scraps, dream recall will gradually develop. Have faith and stick at it. I recommend you set the intention for a manageable amount of time initially, say 6 weeks, to record something every day. You will need to set your alarm 15 minutes before you have to get up, so that you’ll have time to wake slowly and enjoy that gradual surfacing from sleep.

You can read more about creative dreaming – that is to say, experiencing dreams rather than trying to interpret them psychologically – in Patricia Garfield’s classic book, Creative Dreaming, or in my own Writing in the House of Dreams.

I’ll also be running my Writing in the House of Dreams course in Cornwall later in the year, so sign up for my newsletter if you’d like a heads-up when I set the dates, or contact me, without obligation, to discuss a one-day or residential workshop for your writing group further afield.

That’s one of my New Year intentions in place – to include creative dreaming in my 2017 workshops programme – now time to ponder some more.

Do you set intentions at New Year? Could one of them be to get more from your dream life?

 

 

I dream, therefore I am

I enjoy reading about quantum physics because it’s basically an exploration into the nature  of reality – matter, energy, parallel universes – all the things that I myself love to explore through dreaming.

Recently, I stumbled upon an article in Mother Nature Network with the intriguing title, Parallel worlds exist and interact with our world, say physicists

It takes the theory of parallel worlds a step further, because it proposes that they might not only exist, but also affect our lives in this one and, here’s the exciting thing, we might therefore be able to investigate them.

Now there’s a new theory on the block, called the “many interacting worlds” hypothesis (MIW), and the idea is just as profound as it sounds. The theory suggests not only that parallel worlds exist, but that they interact with our world on the quantum level and are thus detectable.

When I read about this, it reminded me of discovering that science had proven matter is actually energy – a fact that dreamers, shamans and other psychic explorers have always taken as read. I feel that science is not about discovering phenomena so much as discovering rational explanations for them.

Of course, when I talk about dreaming, I’m not talking about the psychological – that is, scientific and rational – way of being a dreamer. As soon as you let go of the psychological model, you understand through creative dreaming that the psychological model is far too small.

We are much more than what we think and understand about our self and our life. Our world is much more too. From just this universe, to parallel universes and now to parallel universes that interact with the one we know, the doors of perception are being cleansed.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern~ William Blake

Dreaming is an opportunity to cross the borders into other worlds. We live in this world as if it’s our one and only life, but for a dreamer like me, it nests among other lives and way beyond, stretching to infinity.

It doesn’t matter to me whether this can be explained, or even whether it’s ‘real’ in the scientific sense. It is real because it makes my reality. I dream, therefore I am.