When I interviewed Brenda Mallon here in the House of Dreams a few weeks ago, she touched upon the way that dreaming about a lost loved one can bring great comfort for the bereaved.
These dreams happen when a person is most in need of comforting, but dreams can bring comfort in less extreme times too.
When I was about five years old, I dreamt I was riding along my street in a horse-and-cart, on a lovely summer day. The horse was trotting happily, and the cart was full-to-overflowing with gold coins which jumped and jingled, and sparkled in the sun.
Everyone came out of their houses to wave as I went by, and I knew I ought to throw pennies to the poor, but I didn’t. That gold was mine, all mine!
I liked that dream so much I used to deliberately go back into it every night, as soon as I closed my eyes. It made me fall asleep with a smile on my face.
I used to think that dream showed what a horrible person I was – it was a guilty pleasure. But looking back now, I see it’s just the dream of a child in a large family with little money, where clothes were passed down and everything – even the bath water – had to be shared. It was the pure pleasure of experiencing something which was completely my own.
You can re-enter enjoyable dreams any time you like, by simply closing your eyes and imagining, in the same sort of way as you might revisit pleasurable fantasies in waking life.
It isn’t the only function of dreaming and imagination, but bringing comfort and pleasure is one way these experiences can enrich a person’s life.
Have you ever deliberately imagined your way back into a pleasurable dream on subsequent nights?
I met Brenda Mallon at a conference of children’s authors and she kindly agreed to read the MS of my book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ and to be interviewed for this blog.
Brenda has over thirty years experience of working with dreams as a researcher, teacher and therapist. She has written 18 books on the subject, presented a Channel Four series ‘In your Dreams’ and sat on the board of directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
Could you tell us a bit about your own personal journey in dreams, Brenda? How and why did you start to remember them, and how has your relationship with dreams developed over the years?
I can recall dreams from my childhood that have stayed with me. I was probably influenced to some extent by my mother. She talked about her dreams and had dreams which were precognitive. She didn’t call them that but would say, ‘You watch, it will happen.’ I think she was psychic in many ways and dreams were just one aspect of that ability. So, over the years I was fascinated by dreams . When I was completing my Diploma in Counselling I based my dissertation dreams. I recorded and worked on my dreams over a sixth month period and was amazed by what they revealed. After that I wanted to focus on working with and researching dreams and to find out what other people’s dreams meant to them, so when I wasn’t working in my full time job in the Child Guidance Centre, I was sending out questionnaires and interviewing woman about their dreams. Over 900 woman took part and the findings were covered in my first book ‘Women Dreaming’ which was published by Harper Collins.
I greatly enjoyed your Channel 4 series, ‘In your dreams.’ Could you talk about how you work with dreams as a therapist?
Thanks, I enjoyed working on the series and meeting such a variety of people who were not coming for therapy but to discuss their dream life in general.
As a therapist, my role, I believe, it to accompany people as they seek to find a way to resolve issues that are distressing and to help them find their own way forward. I generally ask clients to write down their dreams when they recall them and to bring them to the sessions. I should add here, that not all clients do remember their dreams so I work in other ways if that is the case. When a client talks about a dream I ask them if they can make a connections to their waking life and explore the emotional aspects of the dream as well as the symbolic significance of the content. Sometimes, I ask the client to draw their dream and use that as a basis for our work. These techniques, including recording your dreams, using metaphors and symbols, taking the dream forward and dream amplification are detailed in ‘The Dream Bible’ (Godsfield/Octopus)
I like working with dreams because they empower the client to work on their own dreams once they get used to the techniques. This can take just a few sessions and it is something they can access on their own for the rest of their lives, if they wish to. Also, I have specialized in working with people who have been bereaved and, in many cases, dreams can bring great comfort. They form part of the continuing bond we have with those who have died. In ‘Dying, Death and Grief: Working with adult bereavement’ (SAGE) I show how valuable such dreams can be.
As a children’s author, I’m interested in your work with children’s dreams. What would you say are the main differences between talking with children about their dreams and talking with adults?
I think younger children are more open to talking about their dreams and less concerned about how others might view them. I remember, one four year old I spoke to told me that dreams were ‘pictures in my pillow’. His dreams were in his pillow which came into his head when he slept. (In fact, I later used it in ‘Children Dreaming: Pictures in my pillow’ (Penguin). So, small children feel they have little if any control over dreams and their content and are less defensive than adults sometimes are.
Children are usually happy to enter into the playful aspect of dream work. For example, a girl whose brother had died, had a distressing dream in which a lion came into her bedroom and wanted to eat her and her brother, who was alive in the dream, She talked about what frightened her and how she was sad that her brother no longer came into her room to play. She drew the dream, including the fierce lion. I asked her what she would change in the dream if she could change it. She thought for a while and said, ‘The lion could turn out to be nice and then it could go away. I could play with my brother again and that would be lovely.’ So, we talked about what they would play and games they used to play. She then did another drawing of herself and her bother playing as they had done in the past. She knew her brother was dead and would not return to her home and family but talking about him and playing with him gave her comfort and a chance to recall happy times in the past, which is part of the grieving and healing process.
Working with adults is also a pleasure. Adults however may have more pre-conceived ideas about dream interpretation which may lead to being more guarded about what dreams they share. However, once they understand dreams are powerful tools to help them through their crisis or distress, they truly value them, even those nightmare ‘wake up’ calls.
This blog is mostly about using dreams as a creative resource. I know you also teach creativity and writing workshops – do dreams feature in that work as well?
Artists, writers, scientists, musicians and actors speak of the importance of dreams as a source of creativity. I use dreams in my own writing and many members of the creative writing courses I teach use dreams as the springboard for their writing. Sometimes an image will be so vivid that the dreamer cannot get it out of their mind. This kernel of an idea then grows to encompass characters, plot, further imagery and a developed story line. In other cases, the whole story or song appears in the dream. Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, told me his song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ came in one of his dreams as did Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’.
I include sections on creative writing and creative dreaming in ‘A Year of Creativity’ (MQ Publications) as I think dreams are central to our creativity. The more we pay attention to our internal treasure trove of dreams the more enriched we are.
Who is your favourite author on the subject of dreams?
I like the work of Kelly Bulkeley, Robert Van De Castle and Patricia Gardfield. All members of the International Association for the Study of Dreams who have made vitally important , accessible contributions to the understanding of dreams. Also, Carl Gustav Jung, who could leave him out!
And your favourite book?
This is a hard one to answer. Probably because it is one of the earliest books I read that introduced me to the significance of symbolism in dreams is ‘Man and His Symbols’ by C.G. Jung.
As an author yourself, which of your own books are you most glad to have written?
Another difficult question! As a therapist, I think ‘Dreams, Counselling and Healing’ was an important book because I was able to put down my experience of working with clients and to show how powerful working with dreams is and to share techniques so others could use them. My latest dream book ‘The Dream Experience: Your complete dream workshop in a book ‘, which includes a CD featuring exercises and inspirational music, is interactive and is, I hope, a guide to deepen awareness of the creative heart of dreaming.
Last week, I posted the picture Paul Farrington gave me before Christmas. Somebody else has given me a gift recently that I’ve been contemplating, and that was the dream therapist, Brenda Mallon. She generously read the MS of my book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ and gave me some really helpful feedback.
Brenda’s feedback was helpful largely because it focused on what I had said about using dreams therapeutically – which I hadn’t even noticed I had talked about. It’s one of the mysteries of writing that you often don’t see everything that’s in a piece until it gradually reveals itself through other people’s reading.
I had thought my book was purely about using dream material for creative inspiration, because that’s what my workshops are. In dreaming-and-writing workshops we don’t relate the dreams we share in any way to our waking life – that would feel intrusive and be as creatively inhibiting as setting out to write fiction by first trying to analyse where it’s coming from in ourselves and our lives. We use dreams purely as a creative resource.
In this blog I’ve tried to steer away from interpretation and focus on dreams as creative resources too, but Brenda’s feedback has shown me that although I can easily narrow the focus in workshops, I haven’t done it in my book, I don’t do it in my life and I’m not really holding that line here on the blog.
So I’m throwing open the gates. This year, I’ll be writing about dreams from every angle, including some thoughts on interpretation and an interview with Brenda on using dreams in therapy. I’ll be doing some more general articles about writing too.
After all, it doesn’t matter what we write – we’re always writing in the House of Dreams.
Has a reader ever found something in your writing that you didn’t intend or realise were there?