Women’s Bodies, Women’ Dreams

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Women's Bodies, Women's Dreams

by Patricia Garfield, Ph.D. 

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In Creative Dreaming, Patricia Garfield gave us the hands-on skill we need to make our dreams work for us in everyday life. Now in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Dreams, she takes her dream research a dramatic step further. For the very first time, here is a unique and controversial theory of why women dream differently than men—and how their dreams reflect the on-going changes in their bodies and in their lives.
An emotional and spiritual journey through the seasons of a woman’s life, this illuminating book reveals, chapter-by-chapter, the role dreams play in each stage of a woman’s development—and how they can help her adjust healthily and calmly to her changing body and emotional state. Here, too, are the recurrent dream symbols that appear with each new life passage—and what they mean. Compelling and enlightening, this book provides the prescription for understanding our dreams, our bodies, our lives. Written by a dream expert with the most extensive dream log ever recorded—over 20,000 in all—it will guide the way to well-being and emotional health for women everywhere.
The Preface of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Dreams
Women’s dreams are special: their dreams change as their bodies change. I have watched this transformation in my own dreams over almost forty years. The subject of dreams has intrigued me since childhood—some of my earliest memories are of dreams. Shortly after I reached puberty at thirteen, I began recording into diaries the vivid images from my nightly adventures. At that time my mother was avidly reading the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung; at the dinner cable, she described their ideas regarding dreams. Curious to see whether my own dreams were messages to myself, I started to write them down and associate to the images within them. I found that, with each dream, I learned something new about my emotional responses to everyday life.
This practice of dreamwork became so rewarding that I have continued it ever since. From about age fourteen to my current age of fifty—three, I have continued to record my dreams and to contemplate the symbolism of their pictures. At first the entries in my dream journal were sporadic—only when something struck me as important was it given permanent form. There are a mere handful of dream entries for 1948; in 1949, when I turned fifteen, there are nearly one hundred dreams described and dated. For almost forty years my dream journal has been a constant companion. As I married, became a mother, divorced and remarried, I found that my dreams were a source of self-reflection and understanding. They helped support me through difficult times.
It was when I was a graduate student in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia that I came to realize how unique my lifelong dream collection was. Freud himself destroyed his dream journals; [l] only a portion of Jung’s dreams are publicly available—mainly from a four—year period of intense concentration on them. [2]
While my professional interest in dreams intensified, so did my dream recording. I trained myself to awaken at the end of each of the four or five dream periods throughout the night and found out how to record the dream in the dark with my eyes closed.[3] My diaries became tomes that today overspill two long shelves in my bookcase—more than thirty-six separate volumes, with many hundreds of dreams still in rough note form, not yet transcribed into the permanent binders.
Since the sheer size of the raw dream material was overwhelming, I wanted to understand better the patterns I sensed forming within this mass. Thus I began to write books. For me, to write is to discover. The first book I wrote was Creative Dreaming. [4] In 1974, when it was published, the prevailing idea was that dreams are experiences occurring during sleep that only afterwards may be analyzed and worked with by professionals. Dreams were out of the province of the average dreamer; it was said that they could not be influenced by the dreamer and that dream style changed little over a lifetime. I knew this was not true. Working with my own dreams since my teenage years had taught me much about myself. Each dreamer, I believed, could benefit from understanding his or her own dreams. As I experienced different life events, I observed my dreams changing.
With my second husband, I traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. During these travels I was exposed to non- Western concepts of dreaming that asserted one could get ready to dream and could change one’s behavior within a dream, as well as work with dreams after the fact. My dreams shifted even more. I discovered ways of becoming “conscious” during a dream; these lucid dreams allowed me, from time to time, to change dream scenarios at will. To my usual college schedule of teaching introductory and advanced psychology courses, I added an innovative course on dreaming.
These various experiences led to Creative Dreaming, in which I review the ways diverse cultures deal with dreams and show how each dreamer can use dreams to benefit waking life. At that time such ideas were quite new in the American culture. The fact that Creative Dreaming became a best-seller on the Los Angeles Times list, that it remains in print over a dozen years later, and has been published in eight foreign editions, including Japanese, indicates that other dreamers welcomed these ideas. I was invited to lecture on dreams throughout this country and abroad, to give dream workshops and seminars, to appear on national television shows, and to serve as a consultant on dreams for broadcasting systems, for advertising agencies, and for other professionals.
A few years later, in 1979, my second book, Pathway to Ecstasy: The Way of the Dream Mandala, appeared.[5] It was a result of my exploration of the imagery in my long dream journal and the relationship of these symbols to certain meditative techniques of self—development. I was able to uncover a pattern in lucid dreaming. Fifty Chinese brush paintings that I made of my dream images served as illustrations. This book found a narrower but devoted audience in the United States and abroad; it now appears in a I Swiss-German translation.
Curious to understand the origins of dreaming, I spent two years interviewing children ages five to twelve about their dreams. The result was Your Child's Dreams, in 1984, which summarizes the most common nightmares and happy dream themes I found, gives their probable meanings, and offers guidance for coping with children’s bad dreams. [6] This work has been widely used by child therapists and pediatricians, as well as by parents and teachers, and it now appears in French, Dutch, and Swiss-German versions. The present book evolved from these previous works. I have long felt that women’s dreams are distinctive. But how? The material currently available on this subject is generally based upon special populations—college students, pregnant women, divorced women, or hospitalized patients. I wanted to know what the average healthy woman's dreams were like. How does the woman past her college years dream? What dreams are characteristic of each stage of life? Much of the literature seemed limited in scope and inaccessible to the nonprofessional.
When I first picked Calvin Hall’s and Robert Van de Castle’s The Content Analysis of Dreams off the shelf in a London bookshop, I trembled with anticipation.[7] After a few hours of reading, I was bored with my favorite topic and had learned nothing that was useful to my personal dream life. True, I have used this book many times since as a reference, but it lacked the warmth, the love of dreams, the excitement of self—discovery that I knew to be part of dreaming.
Much of the literature, like this work, consists of lists of objects appearing in dreams of specialized groups. It seems to have little relevance to the normal woman who wants to understand her own dreams. Thus I undertook to examine the broad picture of women’s dreams myself.
I think that women have a unique contribution to make to the study of dreams. As a woman, one who has matured to menarche, married, given birth to a daughter, nursed, raised a child, taken professional training, worked, divorced, remarried, gone through menopause, and lived to see my daughter give birth to a son, I feel I have something to say about the experience of women’s dreams. These things cannot be said in the same way by a man, simply because he has not directly lived through these experiences. As a dreamer myself, in addition to being a dream expert, I have a rare knowledge about women’s dreams. So, too, all women have something to contribute to our knowledge of this significant area of life.
For the purpose of this book, I interviewed fifty women in depth about their personal life and their dreams. These women represent, on the whole, a wide range of ages, from early twenties to early nineties; they come from a broad geographical area; they follow diverse religious faiths; they are predominantly upper-middle class in education and occupation; all are heterosexual in orientation.
Each woman participated in an in-depth interview about her life as a woman and was asked details about at least three dreams: her worst night- mare, her favorite dream, and her most recent dream. Overall, these dreamers are fairly representative of the white upper-middle-class American women in an urban setting (further details appear in the appendix). Thus, the conclusions described in the forthcoming chapters must be considered as especially applicable to this group and not necessarily true of all women. Beyond the material collected from those in the formal study, additional dream descriptions were given to me in casual or unusual circumstances by women who were not study participants. A bride in her wedding gown in the midst of a crowded reception volunteered her dreams of the preceding night; a mother pushing a carriage with six—month-old twin boys in a checkout line recounted her pregnancy dreams; a clerk in a clothing shop grew teary-eyed telling a recent nightmare about her boyfriend; a television producer took time out from taping a program with me to describe her own catastrophic dream about work. Circumstances such as these did not permit formal interviewing but did provide some memorable illustrations for the book.
I hope this book will enable the average woman who is interested in her dreams to make better sense of them, to learn about herself from her dream pictures, and to recognize the special elements that characterize women’s dreams. A woman needs to be aware that her dreams change with her changing body. How these changes come about, what we can do to recognize them, and what they mean in our lives—this is what we will explore in the pages to follow.
Although at times in this book I emphasize the physiological underpinnings of women’s dreams, the psychological and spiritual are often present as well. This book underscores the biological aspect of dreaming, not because other aspects are unimportant but because the body images have been so overlooked. A redress for that neglect is provided here. We see, too, how the physical components of dreaming interact with our psychological needs and our spiritual or creative selves.
How to Use This Book
You may wish to read this book through once to get the overview. Although you might have less interest in elderly dreams, say, than in wedding dreams, each chapter adds elements of dreamwork that are significant tools to comprehend your own dreams.
Keeping a record of your dreams while you read, if you don’t already do so, will help you get the most from this book. Set aside a special journal just for your dream entries. Each evening write a brief note about what happened that day, especially your feelings about the events. Put a notepad beside your bed before going to sleep at night. During the night, if you awaken, or in the morning, jot down key words and phrases from any dreams. When you have time during the next day, or in the evening before A bed, write a description of your dreams of the previous night. (If you want to read more about keeping a dream diary, see chapter 8 in my Creative Dreaming or the introduction to Dream Notebook. [8]) You will be gathering material about your innermost self; this book will help you understand it better.
After having read Women's Bodies, Women's Dreams through once, I suggest you return to chapter 2 and check your dream records against the standards reported here. Finally, you may want to reread the chapters of the book that relate most directly to whatever life event or portion of the life cycle you find yourself currently experiencing.
By contrasting your written dreams with the experiences described in the text, you can get a good idea of how typical your dreams are. You will find the meanings of common dream symbols for that stage. You should finish the book with a clear sense of what kinds of dreams are characteristic of each phase of life, how yours compare, and the significance of such dreams. You should be able to tell when your dreams suggest that positive growth is going on and when emotional trouble is brewing. Value every dream, distressing or uplifting, as a night letter from the inner self that can help guide your days.
The women whose dreams and lives comprise the pages to come are real people. They wept, they laughed, they reached out in sorrow, in anger, and in joy. They moved me to sense the incredible wealth and beauty in a woman’s life. May their words bring that appreciation to each reader of this book and enhance each life.