I’ve been carrying on a conversation with author Jean Raffa ever since she posted this essay about the active imagination and her creative process, excerpted below:
Here’s how it works for me. I find a quiet, comfortable, private, and distraction-free place to sit, usually in front of my computer so I can record what is happening as I go along. Then I focus on an issue or concern or dream image that I have a question about and write it down. I light a candle to signify to my unconscious that I am setting aside a sacred time to listen to it, close my eyes, imagine myself in a beautiful, safe place, then, after clearing my mind, I ask my question and wait. When a thought, feeling or image shows up, even an unlikeable one, I don’t reject it. I just let it come, and without forcing the issue, I wait to see what happens. If nothing does, I might ask my original question again, or any other that occurs to me.
When I feel ready, I take a moment to write down what has happened so far, then return to where I left off. I write conversations like dialogues in plays, describing who’s speaking after brief designations like “Me” and “Stranger,” or maybe just the initials “M” and “S” so the writing takes up as little time as possible. Then I return and continue until I feel a sense of closure. The whole process usually takes me about a half hour.
Even though I have been meditating regularly this year, I’ve never used this kind of process for writing my memoir draft. I have never analyzed a dream. Part of me is skeptical.
But, as always, I pay attention when I feel a pull toward a person or an idea, and I felt that pull when I read the words above and, even more when I conversed with Jean online. Most of us are curious about the meaning of our dreams but few of us have ever studied them. If you are interested in this subject also, come along.
How did I find Jean? First, there was Charles Hale. Then there was Toni, who wrote a beautiful essay on Charles’ blog and became a Twitter friend. Toni is the one who introduced me to Jean Raffa on Twitter. So what we have here is another one of those synchronous connections that happen when like-minded people meet online.
I asked Jean four questions. She was so generous with her responses that I will share the questions and answers over the next several blog posts. Here’s question #1:
Q: You say on your website: “My life is a dream; my dreams are my life.”Also, you’ve recorded over 4,000 dreams since 1989 if I remember correctly. I can see how helpful it would be to be guided by dreams as a writer. But many of us, myself included, do not remember our dreams very often. Can you provide suggestions on how to become more conscious?
A: As of today, the number of recorded dreams is 4,355! I know it sounds like a mind-boggling undertaking, but really it’s just been a day-by-day, step-by-step thing that I did several times a week when I had the time and energy, or when I felt the need, or when I remembered enough of a dream to be curious about it.
Of course, I didn’t work on every one of these, and I’ve had several in between that I never even recorded, plus lots more I simply couldn’t remember. At first I was worried about not capturing them all in writing so I could keep coming back to them.
But our psyches are always trying to communicate our soul’s purpose and desire to us via our dreams, and I learned to trust that if the messages were important enough, they’d return in other dreams until I “got” them.
All my books but the first, which was an outgrowth of my dissertation, are essentially memoirs, and dreamwork has been invaluable to me in this endeavor. Writing has always been a deeply satisfying means of expression for me, and when it’s combined with working on my dreams it’s my fundamental “practice” that brings enormous meaning to my life and helps me tie up all the disconnected threads of my personal history.
Especially helpful in this regard is the fact that since my college days I’ve had a habit of jotting down my day-to-day activities and appointments on calendars, and I’ve kept them all. Likewise, when I started working on my dreams I dated and numbered them.
Having this dual, inner world/outer world record of my life to return to when writing my books has been invaluable. So my first suggestion to memoir writers about how to become more conscious would be to keep some kind of written record of what’s going on with you both inside and out, including a dream whenever you remember one. It may not feel important now, but years from now having this information could add powerful layers of meaning to your writing.
Essentially, having a regular practice of some sort is essential to becoming more conscious. You’ve simply got to take time every day to pay attention to your inner life, even if it’s only a few moments a day.
The major obstacle to this, of course, is the extreme busyness of life in today’s world, so it’s imperative to carve out at least 20 or 30 minutes every day when you won’t be distracted by kids, telephones, music, computers, or television so you can write undisturbed, or do whatever else you’re drawn to: writing, of course, but also body work like dancing, massages or yoga, or regular talks with a wise friend or psychotherapist.
But as far as I’m concerned, regular meditation is the Queen of consciousness-raising. Initially, I was reluctant to take the time to meditate so I made a deal with myself. I could only start writing if I meditated for at least 20 minutes every weekday morning first! This worked wonders and also brought more balance to my life, because I left evenings and weekends free for my husband and children.
Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups and study groups. Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. Through formal and informal means, including a five-year Centerpoint course and an intensive at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, Jean has been studying Jungian psychology and her own inner life for more than twenty-three years. Her book, Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.
Do you document both your inner and outer life activities in some way? Does Jean inspire you to start doing so?
In my next post, Jean will respond to a question about how we can learn to analyze our own dreams. She has agreed to respond to comments and questions on this post and two more to follow. What would you like to know? Dr. Raffa is in the office.