San Jose Mercury News (CA)
May 8, 1996
Section: Living
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1E

Kathleen Donnelly, Mercury News Health & Fitness Writer

Dream Journal Entry #1

It's a snowy day, and I'm skiing at the small resort where I spent a lot of time as a child. At the end of the day, I walk home with J., a colleague at work. As soon as we get home, I start frantically searching for something. I'm standing on a chair, desperately tearing through the contents of a cupboard, when J. asks what I'm looking for. Close to nervous collapse, I screech, ''The martini shaker!''
How many mornings has it happened to you? You wake up, and your first thoughts are, ''What martini shaker?''

Actually, says Veronica Tonay, a Santa Cruz psychologist and author of ''The Art of Dreaming: Using Your Dreams to Unlock Your Creativity'' (Celestial Arts, $11.95), more people probably wake up and wonder why those bad people were chasing them.

''I've done a lot of radio shows, probably 50 or 60 in the past couple of months,'' says Tonay, a lecturer in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who hopes her book will help dreamers find a way to unlock creativity. ''And people will call in and say, 'Oh, I'm so worried. I have this dream where I get chased all the time by these strangers and they're going to get me. Does that mean I'm crazy?' ''

No, answers Tonay, it probably means you're having a perfectly ordinary dream - probably one that isn't worth losing sleep over.

Figuring out which dreams are significant and how they may help you understand your waking life is not easy, says Tonay, who based her book on analysis of 3,000 dreams from 200 people and also draws on the work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and others. However, she does think it's something an interested dreamer can do without much help.

The payoff, Tonay says, may be a better understanding of ourselves. More specifically, it may be a way to stimulate our creative sides.

But while in her private practice Tonay sees her share of blocked writers and artists searching for inspiration, she does not believe dreams bring mystical messages from the beyond. In fact, she describes her view of dreams as ''clinical''; the result of interpreting more than 15,000 dreams, from the surreal to the pedestrian.

''I don't believe the purpose of dreams is to make us more creative or to make us a different kind of person or even to make us self-actualized, or any of those other kinds of phrases,'' she says. ''I think they really are just a reflection, but a pretty profound reflection, of what's going on with us in our waking lives. They show us who we really are, what we're really concerned with, what we're really feeling in our waking lives.''

Whether you believe dreams hold a mirror to life or are simply a neurobiological function, you've got to admit: Gaining some kind of handle on life is an area in which many of us could use some help.

Dream Journal Entry #4

I am looking out the window at a tremendous snowstorm. My friend S. and I are extremely worried about putting tire chains on my car. We telephone various people and fret about the insurmountable problem of the tire chains. Finally, we go outside and put the chains on the car. ''Voila,'' says S., grinning at me.

One of the first steps in analyzing dreams, Tonay says, is paying attention. Keep a diary of your dreams. Tonay has been doing this, off and on, since she was 13.

''The more you write them down, the more you will remember,'' she says, explaining that even people who say they don't dream, do dream. They just don't remember what they dreamed. Tonay finds that people have about three seconds after they open their eyes to remember what they were dreaming about.

''A lot of people use a tape recorder,'' she says. ''Or, making just a few notes usually will be enough.'' Later, you can write it all down in detail.

But save the attempt at interpretation until you've got a series of dreams.

''A lot of times, you can have a dream that is very striking to you and can arouse a lot of feelings,'' Tonay says. ''Maybe this is a dream in which something happens that you just don't understand - something that just seems bizarre and macabre. You could spend a lot of energy on that one dream and you certainly could probably see things about yourself. But you find out so much more by looking at a series because that really does show a pattern.''

Ten dreams will give you something to work with, Tonay says, although you don't start to see real ''stability'' until you've logged about 50. ''But most people aren't willing to write down 50 dreams before they start looking at them,'' she says. ''Ten dreams really will show you quite a bit about yourself.''

Exactly what will they show you? This is the tricky part.

It's helpful, Tonay says, to note your emotional state in your dream. While what we dream is often a reflection of our waking lives, our emotions in dreams may be quite different from the ones we feel while awake.

And the emotion most often felt in dreams - especially in the dreams of creative people - is anxiety and apprehension.

''I think it just may be that in a period of time when we are having a lot of feelings that are extreme, our dream life presents them to us,'' Tonay says. ''It's a way of saying, 'Look, this is how apprehensive you're feeling.' ''

Making generalizations about the meaning of images in dreams is more problematic. For example, it's Tonay's belief that just about the only symbol most experts agree on is water. And even then, the meaning - ''unconscious emotion'' is Tonay's description - is a bit fluid. ''Dream dictionaries,'' compendiums of dream images and what they mean, are too general to help.

Tonay's research has shown creative people tend often to dream about children, animals, obstacles and loss. But what these themes mean to individual people is impossible to generalize. Dreams are nothing if not personal. That's one of the reasons Tonay's book includes dozens of exercises to help dreamers identify their personal themes and attempt an understanding of them.

Unfortunately, this is difficult to do in the space of a newspaper article, or on a call-in radio show of the kind on which Tonay has been appearing lately.

''The one I get really often in radio shows is the flying dream,'' Tonay says, explaining how she tries to help people come to some understanding of their dreams in a minute or less. '' 'I dream I'm flying. I'm flying over the hilltops.' And I ask them, 'What does it mean to you to fly?' And they say, 'Oh, well, flying is freedom and joy.' Those really do seem to be the two things that people who have flying dreams say that they're feeling at the time.''

After the flying query, there are two other questions callers almost always ask, Tonay says. No. 2 is: My father, brother, mother, fill-in-the-blank relative or close friend recently died, and I keep dreaming about him/her. What's going on?

''I know what they want me to say most often is, 'This means that your loved one is coming back to you in your dreams,' '' Tonay says, ''and I can't say that. So, I say, 'Well, as a psychologist there are two ways of looking at the dream. There's the inward and the outward. And from the outward perspective, maybe your loved one is coming back. Who knows?

'From the inward perspective, that person has left their trace within you. They're still within you and you're dreaming of them sort of as a way to heal yourself.' ''

The third question has to do with precognition: I dreamed this dream, then the next day, it all came true.

''I was really shocked to find out how many people ask about this,'' says Tonay. ''Everybody! Everywhere! All over the country. Iowa!

''I say, 'Well, a lot of people have had this experience and feel as if they've dreamed of the future.' '' She shakes her head. ''And who knows? I'm not an expert on that, and I don't know.''

Dream Journal Entry #7

I'm visiting my elderly grandparents on a scorching summer day. My mother is with me. We turn on the local TV news, and R., the wife of a colleague at work, is the weather forecaster. Standing in front of the satellite map, she smiles out at us and predicts. . .snow.

Is there anything more mind-numbing than listening to someone else's dream? Is there anything as fascinating as our own?

''It happens to all of us, so we can all relate to it. Everybody dreams every night of their lives,'' Tonay says. ''And it is something that we don't take any responsibility for. When people are talking about their dreams, they're not thinking, 'Oh, I made this myself. Everything in this dream, I created in my own brain.' So they're much more likely to tell you what's going on in their dreams because they feel like they're not responsible for them.''

She pauses for a moment. ''And because I think, too,'' she says, ''there are those feelings that occur and things that happen in dreams that seem very odd to us. I think people are very curious: What does this mean? Why would I have this dream?''



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Copyright (c) 1996 San Jose Mercury News

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