Lessons in Listening to Dreams

The first time it happened I was about 5 years old. I woke one morning from a dream, in which I’d tiptoed through the house in the middle of the night to find an inflatable Mickey Mouse doll on the living room floor. As I approached it, the doll exploded and released an army of angry mice.

The moment I woke, I scooted downstairs eager to tell my family all about it. And why not? Anytime anything interesting happened to me, whether I was playing with my friends at nursery school or visiting with my grandparents, I always told my parents or my older siblings about my adventures afterward.

This time though, when I finished describing my dream, my mother just laughed. “You have quite an imagination,” she said, as she poured the milk over my Lucky Charms. “You make up such creative stories.”

“But I didn’t make it up,” I protested. I knew, of course, it was a dream. But my parents and siblings thought I’d invented the story as if I were playing a game with my stuffed animals—while I knew I’d lived through something strange and exciting, simultaneously real and unreal. I learned something sad and wonderful in that moment. I learned that there would be experiences that were mine alone, and that no one else—not even my very own family—could see, feel, or even comprehend.

Something else happened then, too. I began to keep my dreams mostly to myself.

I’m sure I’m not alone here, and that variations on this story happen again and again to people near and far. We tell someone we trust a dream, and they laugh it off when we wish they’d lean, in curious to know more. They are silent when we need support, or they dismiss the dream as meaningless, when we know it deserves dedicated attention. This might just explain why so many of us keep our dreams to ourselves as we grow older.

Worse, we too might begin to shrug them off as unimportant because our family members did, and we don’t hear others talking about dreams in a meaningful way either: not at home, not at school, and rarely (if ever) in the wider world of public discourse.

But in other times and places dreams were valued. In many indigenous and traditional cultures people talked about their dreams each morning with their families and even members of the larger community. Information that came through dreams was used for planning, healing, and religious rites and ceremonies.

On a practical level, we now know that dreams not only offer us creative insights and the opportunity for psychological healing, but there are countless stories of people who have been spared accident and illness because they heeded messages from their dreams. New ideas, inventions, innovations, and creative inspirations have also come through dreams. (The Beatles’ song Yesterday, the sewing machine, Frankenstein, countless poems, including Xanadu, and the discovery of the Periodic table, to name but a few.)

But whatever you believe or have experienced about the power of dreams, most of us can agree that they are interesting experiences in their own right—intricate productions involving bold imagery, surprising plot twists, and sometimes funny, sometimes frightening moments. If nothing else, paying a bit more attention to them connects us with more parts of ourselves, and when we share them, we can get to know the people in our lives more fully.

Listening to Dreams

An easy way to get the conversation going, is to ask the people in your life each morning how they slept and if they remember any dreams.Here are some tips for being a good listener:

  1. Listen with Love: When someone tells you a dream, they are sharing something from deep within themselves. So, give them the gift of your undivided attention. Put down your phone, and show them you’re listening with attentive body language, relaxed eye contact, and a curious and non-judgmental attitude.
  2. You Don’t Need to Understand It: We don’t like listening dreams for the same reasons some people don’t enjoy poetry or avant-garde music or dance: We don’t understand it. But you don’t need to understand dreams. Instead try to appreciate the dram for its creativity, uniqueness, or even its bizarreness!
  3. Ask, Don’t Tell: Rather than try to interpret someone’s dream or tell them what it means, ask them questions about it. Open-ended questions (once that don’t dead-end into yes-or-no answers) are best. For example, ask: “What does that dream make you think about?” “How does it make you feel?” And “What do you make of it?”

Studies have shown that people who share dreams with one another have closer and more intimate relationships. So, learn start to pay attention to your dreams, and ask others about theirs. Then watch your relationships deepen and blossom.


I love listening to dreams. CONTACT ME to schedule your dreamwork session by phone, Skype, or in person in my Northampton, Massachusetts office, or to purchase a Gift Certificate for a dreamwork session for yourself or a friend or family member.

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