Beyond Brushstrokes

“Sleep, perchance to dream.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet

We spend one third of lives asleep. That would be approximately seven to eight hours every night. Sleep has two physiological stages.

1.) Non-REM is the start of the sleep cycle. It lasts about 90 minutes. During this stage, our overall physiological functions are reduced and slower: Heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. This is the time when the body repairs itself. The three stages here are: the Transitional stage; the greater sense of relaxation or light sleep; deep sleep when the body does restorative functions.

2) REM or Rapid Eye Movement — During this important phase of sleep, the heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure are elevated. It is higher than when we are awake.

Thermo regulation is altered. We shift to “Poikilothermic regulation.” Our body temperature varies with the environment’s temperature. When the room gets colder, the body gets colder too. And vice versa.

Our skeletal muscles are paralyzed. We are not active when we dream.

Young people spend half of their sleep in REM. Adults spend 25% only. REM sleep diminishes as people get older.

The cycle between REM and non-REM always starts with non-REM. If one is awakened during REM sleep, one has to go back to non-REM.

There are consequences when one does not have enough REM sleep within two to three days.

One becomes more agitated and less capable of doing things well. Cognitive capacity is reduced. There is impairment in motor skills. There are disturbances in reality testing and executive functioning.

In severe cases, REM-deprived individual may have brief breakdown in reality testing and may start hallucinating. Sleep deprivation has been used as a torture method on prisoners.

Dreams are part of sleep. It is interesting to interpret dreams but we should remember basic points:

The dreamer owns the dream and must feel that the interpretation is accurate. One should not over-interpret a dream. Some dreams may not make sense immediately, they clarify at a much later date.

One should not take dreams literally. They do not tell us what to do but they give a comment on the conscious attitudes we hold.

The relationship between the ego and the dream material is important.

If an individual is the analyst, he/she needs to interpret 30 dreams of his/her own dreams first to become confident in the process of interpretation.

Why do we interpret dreams?

Psychologists say that dreams reveal the situation of the psyché (the inner self or spirit). Dreams provide direct access to unconscious material. They complement and compensate conscious attitudes.

Dreams are not distorted by ego defenses, they provide accurate information — the ego does not distort or disguise it. There is skill needed to understand the message but “it is not heavily encrypted to protect the ego,” a psychologist explained.

Dreams provide access to subjective inner experiences, and symbolic or image representations of the archetypes. In Jungian psychology, the archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors. It is present in the collective unconscious.

Certain dream material may provide messages from the unconscious and specific information to the analyst.

Dreams are central to the analytic process. They are necessary diagnostic tools especially for neurosis, a mild disorder that involves symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior).

Dream interpretation facilitates healing. It can provide a third way to solve a problematic situation. It is essential to the individuation process and the unfolding of the personality.

To recall dreams, one should have a dream diary next to one’s bed. It is a prompt to remind the ego that it is going to recall a dream when one wakes up. Then one should record the dream and write the date when one slept. One should not edit nor correct words and spelling. “The psyché is creating new words for a purpose,” an analyst remarked.

One should try to recall if there are numbers in a dream. The numbers are tied to something specific. One can tape record the dream.

There should be a context or conscious attitude the dream corresponds to. It is good to know what was happening two days prior to the dream. Worries, problems, situations that need solutions.

Observe the basic sleep hygiene practices: Avoid stimulants such as caffeinated drinks during the afternoon. No strenuous exercise two hours before bedtime. Be careful about reading or watching TV before sleep — the material affects the ability to sleep and to stay asleep.

Dreams are not equal. Many are compensatory.

1.) Traumatic. The psyché attempts to rework the traumatic event experienced. The psyché works on the trauma even when one is unconscious. One should pay attention to details. The psyché is trying to give information on the unfinished working-through of the trauma.

2.) Childhood dreams repeat themselves. Some dreams are about wish fulfillment. The psyché gives to the child in the form of a dream.

3.) Recurrent dreams. The psyché is drawing attention to something important that needs to be worked through but one ignored it.

4.) Prospective dreams are often misunderstood. This dream gives information or a commentary about a future event. It is not a “fortune telling” dream. It is the way the psyché makes sense of the direction one is headed in if one does not correct the conscious attitude. The analyst interprets this. (There are instances when a clairvoyant dreamer can see a baby’s face and gender before it is born. Uncanny and eerie but true.)

5.) Dreams where one does bad or incredible things. It is a healthy product of the unconscious. The dream assembles meaning in wonderful, intense symbols. One should listen, interpret and make changes to the conscious attitude. “The unconscious grabs our attention,” the analyst said.

There is a natural balancing factor of the psyché. It compensates for the ego stance.

The approaches are:

• Objective — when the dream is making a direct commentary on an external world issue such as inter-psychic issues between one and others, and,

• Subjective — when one relies on the idea that all the parts of the dream are aspects of the dreamer’s personality.

Dream interpretation has exposition, development, crisis and resolution. The good effect is that the psyché often offers a way out of a dilemma.

This article is based on a Carl Jung workshop.


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.