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A Unique Tool for Midlife Guidance

March '11

Negotiating the twists and turns of the midlife passage can be a bit daunting. The way ahead is rarely illuminated and the journey, itself, can be unexpectedly bumpy.  A longing for guidance may arise, as the decisions you are called upon to make at this stage of your life can be critical.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I believe the secret to managing the midlife passage successfully is to understand, “it’s an inside job!”  The most trustworthy guide for how best to move forward is your inner, wiser Self. She (the perfect guide) is always there waiting for you, but is not always easy to access.

Recently I came across a unique tool for tapping that inner, almost unconscious, wisdom we all possess. In Judith Orloff’s book, Emotional Freedom, she devotes chapter three to ways for using dreams and sleep to find solutions to problems. She asserts that dreams are “quick, keen problem-solvers at your disposal every night.”

I decided to experiment with her idea of keeping a dream journal. I found a small, spiral notebook I had hanging around the house and placed it with a pen on my bedside table. Each night I wrote a simple question in the middle of one page and then turned it over. The next morning I recorded the images I could remember from my dream (s), on the empty page. If I heard phrases as part of a dream, or just upon awakening, I recorded them too.

This is not the first time I have kept a dream journal. Years ago when I was living in London during the first half of a year-long sabbatical, I kept a dream journal.  Vivid dreams started visiting me almost every night – probably because I was able to relax and reflect for the first time in years. These dreams were so colorful, I felt compelled to record them, hoping they would help me understand what was happening to me emotionally. I was living for the first time as a single Mom with both kids in college. Despite a relatively successful career, I felt lost and alone with my emptying nest.

Once I began to chronicle my dreams, I wanted to see what they could tell me, so I searched through some London bookstores, (which were seriously wonderful) and found a book called An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, by J.C. Cooper. Then I began a process of associating the symbols in my dreams with the interpretations outlined in this book, noting the ones that resonated for me.

At the same time, a former Wellesley classmate and I were becoming friends as we spent time together walking through gardens, or chatting over tea in her charming London house. She was studying to become a Jungian analyst, so when I mentioned my dreaming experiences to her, she pointed to her bookcase, which sported the collected works of Jung and suggested I might check some of the themes and symbols of my dreams in there. She also recommended another book of symbols called The Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery by Ad de Vries, which I purchased as well.

As I noted earlier, in my latest round of keeping a dream journal, I used the Orloff-query method. Upon awakening I recorded the images, actions and phrases of my dream(s) on the fresh page of my spiral notebook. Then I turned back to my question of the previous night and determined how these dream remnants could illuminate the particular issue at hand.

As Orloff notes, “dreams are intuitive communications that cannot be understood in an ordinary way,” so my musings about my dreams were not logical; they were more intuitive and associative.  Usually I found an answer to my question of the night before, but sometimes I didn’t. When no immediate insight was available, I let the matter rest and went on with my tasks. Later in the morning, an insight would simply arrive unbidden.

I was delighted with the results of this experiment, but truly surprised at one particular outcome. A few times, a phrase, or metaphor, that had come from my dreams was replicated exactly in some media I was consuming. For example, I’d be watching a TV show and hear the very phrase I had heard at the end of a dream that same morning. Or I’d be driving along in the car listening to the radio and hear the precise play on words, or metaphor I had experienced in a dream. I was startled by these events, but considered them reinforcement of the messages I was receiving.

So for me, Orloff is right when she claims, “dreams are quick, keen problem-solvers at your disposal every night.” From my experience, your dreams are a pot of gold, ready for mining – and a convenient tool for accessing that wiser Self of yours.

If you find the notion of this dream-journal activity intriguing, consider giving it a try. If it doesn’t resonate for you, don’t bother. Trust that inner, wise woman; she knows what’s right for you! But if you do attempt this dream-journal experiment, you know how much I’d like to hear about your experience. And if you have any further questions about it, do ask me.

Sweet dreams!

P.S. If you’re feeling confused, or in the dark, as you navigate the midlife passage, why not gain some clarity by taking advantage of my special 30/30 offer?

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