In working with dreams both my own and with others I have begun to use a technique I call contemplative dream integration. I’ve been paying attention to dreams and their content for some time now but recently I have sought to work with them in a slightly different way.
From my perspective dreams (except lucid dreams) function at a subconscious level and reveal important information as to what is happening deep within our psyche both at a personal unconscious level and at a broader collective unconscious level. Given the level of consciousness from which most (not all) dreams originate, they usually cannot be interpreted literally nor can the greatest meaning be derived from them using conceptual analysis. This is because dreams take place at level of mind that is deeper than our usual rational conceptual conscious experience. Dreams communicate meaning in a symbolic language where symbols are infused with meaning that is specific to the context of the individuals life experience. There are many universal symbols found within dreams that are common among many individuals and even across cultures but they still need to be examined within the context of the individuals experience and this is most effectively done in my opinion using contemplative techniques.
The goal of my work with dreams is to access the symbolic experiential meaning they contain and bring that into conscious awareness so that it can be integrated and used to unfold deeper processes. The way I go about doing this is by doing a kind of dream meditation that is done immediately upon waking. If I have a powerful dream and wake up with it fresh in my mind I immediately get up and sit in meditation and take the dream as the object or focus of my meditation. I sit with the still fresh experience of the dream and hold the experience in my mind without thinking about it conceptually or trying to analyze it. I tend to specifically focus on any powerful symbols and feelings or emotions involved with the dream. The idea here is to really sit with the raw experience of the dream in all its richness. Sitting with the dream in this way allows the unconscious experience of the dream to be mixed with the now conscious aware mind. By sitting with the dream experientially and holding it in my mind there is space for the symbolic meaning to speak to me which often leads to realizations and epiphanies.
I find this approach far more effective than waking up and thinking about the dream or immediately writing it down because these techniques engage the conceptual mind which I find can drown out the deeper symbolic meaning of the dream. The time of waking up presents a unique opportunity because the dream experience and all its images, feelings and concepts are still fresh in ones mind and so they can be brought into awareness so that the unconscious meaning can be integrated into conscious awareness. Later more conceptual or analytical work can be done with the dream experience to more fully integrate it. This process seems to be most useful with powerful, repetitive or otherwise intense dreams that seem to have something to teach us. Dreams are a powerful aspect of our minds and they provide a deep realm of experience for us to work with if we are interested in using them that way.