50-year dream journal

August 7, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
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My ambition led me to believe that I could educate you about the benefits of journaling your dreams. The story teller inside of me wanted to craft the lesson as part of a dramatic account. As I age, I realize that I must tell you about my experiment without any anticipation of benefit to you or to me.

My college advisor suggested that I write out my dreams. At that point, I was 22-years old. The challenge was tied to my aspiration to study psychology and understand myself and others. My first journal was a gold-edged book. The gold indicated that it would be special and hold treasures. After all, it was the royal road to the unconscious. I didn’t understand that the physical paper, pens, inks, and paint weren’t important. It doesn’t matter that I have 45+ notebooks filled with scribbles, narratives and sketches. What is central is that I drew out my dreams.

Drawing out your dreams

You are already actively involved with your dreams. Each night they occur and many recur. When you pay attention to your dream images, the feelings, emotions and stories become more interactive. I encourage people to record their dreams in writing, sketching, coloring and even poetry. Then, look back on them. Re-read them prior to bedtime, or page through your notebook when your feel your emotions stirred without reason. A picture is worth a thousand words, it is said. Sketching is my favorite vehicle for capturing the scene and action of a dream. But my use of the term “drawing-out” your dreams refers to the action of engagement. Recording them, reviewing them, and letting them sink in.

I have 50 years of dreaming recorded. I feel tired sometimes, but I will return to this blog page when I can and continue this conversation about dreams, fantasies, awareness, and life. “Dream Well.”

Do you have repeat dreams?

March 9, 2021 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Self-Help Tools 

Science will tell you that you shouldn’t. A chemical that is naturally released during dreaming impedes the retention of the dream in memory. Nature has wired your brain to have dreams, but not store them in ever-living-color in your mind.

In therapy sessions with veterans, they often told me of nightmares that they couldn’t escape. They not only remembered them. They feared going to sleep because of them. And at times, in the dream, relived the same story or horrific life event.

When a dream repeats, I have an eerie sense of deja vu. It is as if I am walking into a place that I have been before. If it is a nightmare, I panic to see if I can remember my way out. Usually that is not possible. The antagonist in the dream remembers and blocks the old solution. The scene then continues as it did originally, or changes in a more obtuse and dreadful way.

The routine repeat dreams are more benign. They feel like I am watching a rerun on TV. One can almost predict the dialogue. When it ends, I still have to wonder about the meaning of the dream, and why it returned last night. I consider changes I have made in my conscious world and new pressures arising from the environs. I realize that a number of different circumstances could trigger the repeat.

To me, there are two intriguing challenges presented by repeat dreams. One is that I can recall having been in a particular scene and story while the science tells me that the dream should be long-forgotten. And two, the dream originates in me and demonstrates a lingering emotional content that hasn’t been integrated into my consciousness and accepted as part of myself.

If you want to explore your dreams further, you can use my technique of capturing the content and anchoring it in your conscious mind. The first task is to record your dream in some way. I recommend a tablet and pen by your bedside. When you wake from a dream, you can jot yourself some notes as an aid to your memory.

At breakfast, or later in the day, you can ask yourself the three questions that will enable you to draw out the meaning from the dream.

  1. What first comes to mind after I write down or draw an image from the dream?
  2. What feeling did I have in the dream?
  3. What was left unfinished at the end?

As you ask yourself these questions, remember that we addressing the phenomenon of sleep and waking. I don’t expect you to have concrete definitive answers to all of the questions. They merely permit you to elaborate the dream for your own inspection. As you follow this path, you will discover an ever deepening tour among your emotions, fantasies and desires. You’ll be surprised at the person you encounter.

Unlock your potential by ditching your fear

July 29, 2020 by · 1 Comment
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The American ideal is anchored in the belief in self-determination. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” they say. That’s not completely realistic. You are not as self-determined as you would like to believe. You are propelled forward, driven by your fear that operates like the Great Oz from behind the curtain.

This is not my original idea. Your favorite author has already stated my basic premise. Fear is the foundation for all motivation. Check that out. Whether you read psychology from Freud, Jung, Maslow or Adler, you’ll find it. Try reading philosophers like Tillich, Kant, and Sartre. Fear as a driving force is illustrated in great literature by such writers as Orwell, Dickens, and Shakespeare.  If you read poetry, you’ll find the dark movement of emotion behind the idyllic verses that conjure up images of serene lily pads. 

There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.

William James

Forty years as a psychologist working with patients convinced me of this fact.  Many of the people I worked with were survivors of various types of trauma. Person after person taught me that only by confronting the fear do you heal. During my 13 years at the VA, I found veteran after veteran who summoned the courage to lay bare their experiences. Let’s use just one case as an illustration from a Vietnam veteran, though his story is not unique. 

He was still having symptoms 50 years later. He was depressed, but in his words, “Screw the useless pills!” They only complicated his life with mind-numbing side-effects. His anxiety was muted by the monitored, electronic perimeter he installed around his property. Still, the nightmares came unpredictably once or twice a week. Sometimes they gave him a month’s respite, lulling him into a false sense of security. Perimeter guarded; immediate area quiet; weapons in reach. Then, the next nightmare would explode. 

Psychotherapy worked over the years to provide some relief if only temporarily. He entered, stopped, and re-entered counseling multiple times. He tried individual, group and marital therapy. In between counseling episodes, he suffered. I was his up-teenth therapist. 

After many sessions seemed to produce little benefit, I thought he would retreat again to his compound. Maybe he had worn himself out enough while I allowed myself to believe we were establishing rapport. Then, in the middle of one routine session, he told me the story he had been hiding. “The Vietcong would send 6- and 7- year old children running toward the compound carrying grenades. You knew the pin had been pulled.”  He looked up at me, gritting his teeth. “What would you have done?” His tears flowed.

His question was not rhetorical. He challenged me, man-to-man, to honestly face the horror that tore him apart every day. I knew to stay away from the prototypic interventions his previous therapists had probably tried. The stark denial that he used to counter the accusations thrown at him as he disembarked at SFO would work no better in 2012 than in 1969. No excuse could stand up to the reality that he had shot a child 50 yards away and watched him disintegrate as the hand grenade exploded. He couldn’t accept the argument that the government should carry the responsibility for his actions. Or the ploy that if he hadn’t acted, more soldiers would have died. He killed an innocent kid. 

The therapy consisted in him being open with himself and having another person in the room. I could only absorb his question, sit with him in his grief and pain, and show in my silence that I did not blame him. His task was to stop condemning himself. 

He quit therapy after a few more sessions when he told me that he was better. He had struggled with confronting his true self, being open to his experience, and realizing the presence of evil in the world. He had dragged his story out from the shadows and created a shared narrative with another human being. Doing so released him from his fear. 

His final words to me as he shook my hand good-bye came from scripture: “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

Politics, Psychology, Communication, and Ethics

October 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Welcome to my newest blog adventure. All the commotion in the media has created tension and anxiety in the men and women who come to me for counseling.I hope to be able to talk to them and to you through these posts, and to relieve your anxiety for a time.
Our common experience informs us that there is something greater than ourselves. You might have an enduring faith in God, or a Higher Power, or the Universe. My own roots in my Christian beliefs impels me to share reflections which address the broad topic shown in the subject line. Actually, those four words all relate to how we treat one another. Wisdom about this task originates in the wisdom scriptures of the world’s religions. Let’s look at one that floats to the top for me.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19: 18

The admonition originates in the Jewish scripture and is reiterated in the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. This illustrates the intersection of politics, psychology, communication, and ethics.

My focus as a psychologist centers on the positive health benefits of having a “compassionate, open, accepting and loving” attitude toward others. You can read other points of view on this.
Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love

The opposite is also true. Hating others, or more mildly, seeing others as different than you carries negative effects. You can suffer depression, anxiety, or fear. They all take a toll. You especially miss out on connecting with others in a real, authentic and meaningful way.

If this blog’s theme appeals to you, return again for the next one. I’ll continue to examine how what you think influences your well being. Also, we will have a forum for discussing these issues further. I look forward to your comments.
Dream Well.


June 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Don’t disregard the evidence. Many people do. Alcoholics tell themselves that they are normal drinkers. The spouses make excuses for them. Ignoring facts only complicates your troubles. Well-meaning friends and even professionals avoid uncomfortable conversations. A physician told one woman that she was the healthiest fat person he’d ever seen. She was proud of that pronouncement and disregarded that she weighed 350 pounds.

The denial of your experience prevents you from being fully aware. When you are open to yourself, your environment and others, magic comes alive once again. Your memory is more connected to what is truly important for you. Concentration is improved and feels effortless. You’ll understand yourself and others in a new light.

The cost for this benefit is honesty. Look in the mirror and describe who you see. Can you do that without being a harsh judge? Self evaluation doesn’t overlook problem areas, but brings them to light to allow change to happen. See if you can be kind to yourself this next month, and less judgmental.

Time flows like a river and sweeps you along

February 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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You might struggle to install the latest time management software to enable you to do more in less time. Did you take that speed reading course on the Internet? Your effort to squeeze the most out of life, whether that is in terms of business accomplishments or personal relationships, requires that you make choices. You will do best to be mindfully present in the moment.

Time flows on its own whether you are in a boat, swimming freestyle, or standing on the shore. You have probably experienced each of these at some time. Time mangers climb into the boat. They can observe, collect data, analyze it and grab the rudder. The swimmers know the cold of the water, the feel of the stony bottom, and the force pushing around boulders that inhabit the middle of life. Those standing on the shore watch as life passes by.

Each position brings certain advantages, and along with it, risks. Your first task is to be honest with yourself as to where you are. Next, you have to ask yourself what makes you afraid to change? Your basic fear will influence your behavior throughout your life. Human nature desires the stability of solid ground, but time demands that you keep up with it. In doing so, you grow; in standing on shore, you are left behind.

Time to get in the water! Your choice: boat, raft, inner tube, or skinny dip.


Dreams: Your personal theater

January 20, 2016 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Self-Help Tools 

Dreams and nightmares populate your sleep with fragments of your story woven into a dreamscape. Interpreting your dreams applies an analytical tool to an art form. Just as you can look at a painting and see style and technique, you can bring a cognitive understanding to your dreams. However, the challenge, as with all art, is to experience the image, story, and feeling as a whole.

~Dream Well

Face your fears: Listen to your nightmares

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Your unconscious is not stupid. Those nightmares that shake you from your sleep and disrupt the next day are actually a healing force that you might not otherwise encounter. When you are immersed in your fear, you may believe that the nightmare is the problem. No, it’s the solution.

Your unconscious possesses a wisdom connected to the depth of your being. While you’re strolling through life with countless worries hovering along with you, your mind, operating in the background, takes in everything. It doesn’t miss a beat. That’s why the conscious part has to listen.

The communication occurs within both dreams and nightmares. The scary stuff appears either in response to events in your life, or as an urgent call to pay attention.

You go on high alert
After suffering a trauma, almost everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, physical agitation, and fear. The amygdala, the alarm button inside your brain, fires at a moment’s notice. Adrenaline pours into the system. The emergency response team jumps into action. You are ready for fight or flight.
When the threat resides only in your memory, your nightmare provides a means to de-escalate the fight. In fact the nightmare is exactly the right tool.

The trauma gets replayed
Sometimes the dream becomes a slide show of select events scaring you again and again. You can’t ignore the nagging.

Symbolism in the dream can carry an emotional jolt. For instance, walking among the pyramids could mean you feel like a slave or a pharaoh.  Confucius didn’t coin the term a picture is worth a thousand words. The unconscious did.

When the dream scares you in the middle of the night
Instead of dismissing the dream, pull it close. Befriend your dream. Accept the images, the action, and the feelings as a part of you. Write it down. Sketch out the scenes if you can. Then relax and go back to sleep.
The next morning, look back on your dream journal. A nightmare can be interpreted at multiple levels. Your unconscious would have to be stupid if the meaning in the dream could be reduced to a simplistic reference to a concrete event. For example, one author said that if you’d suffered a trauma, and you have an earthquake or explosion in your nightmare, you’re on the verge of great change. Bullshit. Such a superficial interpretation neglects content, action, archetype, symbolism, and your own personal history. Your unconscious is much more complex than that. You have to decode the message, and you have all the tools you need right in front of you.

The steps to decode regular dreams are also used for nightmares
• Write it out.
• List the first thought that came to you as you looked at the dream.
• Write down the feeling you’ve experienced in the dream. This step will transport you back into the dream in the same way as Harry Potter fell into Tom Riddle’s diary. You are sucked into the imagery combined with the feeling.
• Only then can you ask yourself, “What is left unfinished at the end of the dream?”

You can go further with a nightmare
Click on the video to hear a short explanation of re-scripting.
You add a new ending to the dream. Do not change the story. That would do violence to your own creation, and possibly only because it scared the living daylights out of you. One client, intent on riding himself of the bad scene, sanitized the script and excluded a part. He acted as if his conscious mind could control the forces from the unconscious.
You can’t merely edit the dream content. You must add an ending that resolves the dilemma. The rescripting follows the nightmare just as a cork would if it were floating in a strong current. Avoid violent endings where you inflict righteous indignation or justice on some culprit in the dream. Again your unconscious is too smart to accept that type of simple solution.

You end up befriending the nightmare
Listen to the message sent from your unconscious to help you resolve the initial trauma. Look for the symbolism within the dream and the connections to your own history. You will uncover your own personal meaning and find a way free of the trauma.

How much you recall your dreams might relate to how often you dream

February 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Self-Help Tools 

Recent research has linked your ability to recall your dreams to the pattern of your sleep. If you recall many dreams, you likely wake up, or come closer to wakefulness, as you dream. You can suggest to yourself that you will remember your dreams as you fall off to sleep. Of course, your unconscious will be more persuaded if you have a notebook and pen on the nightstand. That practice shows your commitment to recording your dreams.