I have been examining part of a dream—the section of the dream that the dreamer remembered—about a butterfly landing on the dreamer’s nose. I worked with the dreamer, Sue, to see if we could understand the various dream symbols. But Sue, though extremely bright and anxious to participate, was not accustomed to thinking in this way.
My problemThe problem for me was to try and find a way to ask her questions about her dream symbols without leading her on. That’s always a danger in dream work. Whenever working with a phenomenon so close to the subconscious, one has to guard against exploiting the dreamer’s suggestable openness. Suppose I asked a question like, “Do you think a butterfly might symbolize fragile beauty, a beauty that only lasts a short time?” The dreamer might well agree with me without examining her own quiet feelings on the subject. On the other hand, if I were to ask a more direct question, such as, “What do you think a butterfly might symbolize?” The chances are good that the reply would be, “I really don’t know; I’ve never thought about it before.”
Often what I do in a case like this is pretend to be a small child. For example, I might ask the dreamer to explain a butterfly to a five-year-old who has never seen one before. I might get a response like, “Well, a butterfly is a small, flying creature that goes from flower to flower looking for food. It’s really lovely to look at, and it’s delicate. It never stays in one place for long, and it lives only a short time.”
With this response, there are already the beginnings of a metaphoric understanding. There is the sense of beauty. There is mention of the quest for nourishment. There is a description of the butterfly’s transitory nature, and its fragility. All of that is valid.
A solutionBut in Sue’s case, I decided to try a different approach. I asked her to close her eyes and think of the butterfly in her dream. Then I said, “See if you can imagine being that butterfly. What are you thinking? What’s on your mind? What’s important to you?”
At first, Sue was taken aback by this. We had been calmly discussing her dream with me asking her the “Tell me about it” question. She was happily offering me her honest feedback, and she had no reason to suspect that I was interested in a different kind of answer to my question. To suddenly be asked to do a guided visualization of this kind seemed to her odd at first. But she soon became comfortable with the process, and what she had to say was far more relevant for the dream’s interpretation. As she talked, I became excited (and relieved). That encouraged her more, and soon we were directly on track; her answers were given freely and were exactly what I was looking for.
On Friday, we’ll see what she said.
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