Questions and Answers

with Ngak’chang Rinpoche

Dream Yoga & Psychological Dream Interpretation

Questioner: In many psychological schools, it is believed that dreams reflect unconscious parts of us that we have repressed. The wishful dream of killing someone, for example, may be something that we maintain ourselves, unaware of in the wakeful state – in a dream it seems to appear as something we have no control over. Then, in the dream interpretation with the therapist, the idea is to become aware of the wish or the message from within. So my question is: is dream yoga something like becoming aware of one’s unconscious, and then practising changing it while within the dream? Would it resolve the unconscious?

Rinpoche: No, this is different. The whole perception of dream is not regarded, in the Tibetan tradition, as being special. It is simply more ‘meschuggas’ going on. One lot of crazy goes on in your waking life, another lot of crazy goes on in the dream state – they are connected. It is tricky to interpret dreams, because we interpret dreams with waking consciousness. What we interpret has often little to do with the dream. For example, the time sequence in a dream is particular to itself: I am lying asleep, a car backfires in the road, I wake up. Then I think, ‘That’s amazing! I was having a dream where this and this happened; and then I was shot. And a car backfired in the street at the same time. Isn’t that amazing?’ What is actually happening is that the dream all occurs after the car backfires; but how we remember it is that it came before. They have used encephalographs on people—in terms of seeing where the activity is actually occurring—and it comes after the noise, not before the noise.

The dream that is remembered is a distortion in terms of what actually happened. Yes, there is unconscious stuff there; but what usually happens is that it gets thrown up in a fairly random way, like a sequence of slides that all get jammed in the projector at the same time. You get a bit of Uncle Harry with a shark coming out of his ear, or whatever the slides were; or I have this image, then I have that image – and when I wake up I connect all these images. When I was a child at school, there was this memory exercise: you had to remember a series of objects by making a story up that included them, one after the other. This is a little like that – the story comes out of the sequence of whatever is thrown up. So, to interpret that is tricky. The only way you can interpret dream is in the dream state itself. If you are in the dream—the dream is happening—you can say, What does this mean? If you want to know how crazy it is to interpret a dream in the waking state, you have to go to sleep, wake up in the dream – be aware of the dream. Within the dream you have to analyse your waking state and somehow get someone to write it down. Then in the waking state you look at your dream interpretation of your waking state. You then find, ‘Whoa! This is how I interpreted my everyday life while I was in the dream’. You would find that interesting.

That is a great exercise, actually. When you start getting great facility with dream, you start analysing your waking state. In terms of working with dream as I have heard it in the West, there is one method that I think is useful. It is used in Gestalt therapy: to ask a person to act out their dream. Be the old boot left in the road, or be the spade, or be the caterpillar or whatever it is. You start speaking as that part of the dream. I still think this has nothing to do with the dream; but it is an interesting way of material coming up. People are often quite surprised at themselves, as they start talking about being this discarded old boot. Then a lot of emotion comes up. That is a valid starting point – but still it says nothing of the dream. It is just that imagery, remembered in everyday life, having a particular use. Here there is a different point of view. I would imagine, from the Western point of view, that going into the dream and altering it would then be not-advantageous. You would be counteracting the working of the subconscious or something. However, according to Tantra, that has no meaning in particular.