Electric Dreams

The Dream as an Archeological Dig

David Jenkins, PhD

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Jenkins, David, PhD (2006 September). DreamRePlay: The Dream as an Archeological Dig.
Electric Dreams 13(9).

The dream you tell is rarely the dream you dreamed.

By the time you tell your dream to another person, your dream has passed through several stages. If you carefully examine the process, you'll see that a number of layers, almost archeological layers, have gone into constructing the dream.

Reconstructing these layers can change your understanding of the dream.

Sadie's Dream

I dream that I go into my living room. I see my desk, but nothing is on it. I know that my boyfriend has stolen the computer that was there.

Sadie and her ex-boyfriend had broken up recently, and he had taken a number of items without Sadie's consent. So it was no surprise that Sadie was certain this dream was about how the ex had ripped her off.

However, when I asked Sadie to recall the dream as it had originally occurred, Sadie realized that she only saw a bare desk in a room. The room felt like her living room, but nothing about the room corresponded to her waking-life living room, and she had never seen that particular desk before. As we pondered the fact that her ex was not actually in the dream, Sadie realized she had jumped from that simple setting to the idea of her boyfriend stealing from her.

It was as though her thought processes went like this:

"This is a room. It is a living room. It must be mine. It is mine. There is a desk. There is nothing on the desk. There ought to be something on this desk. There ought to be a computer on the desk. The computer must have been stolen. My ex must have stolen it."

When she first told me the dream, it seemed to be a fact that her ex had stolen the computer. Now we were aware that we didn't know that anything had been stolen.

From seeing how she initially understood her dream, Sadie realized that, since the break up, whenever anything went wrong in her life, she tended to blame it on her ex.

Peeling off the Layers

Like an archeologist at a dig, you discover that your experience of the dream occurs at several different levels:
  1. You experience the dream while you're in it, using your senses.
  2. You make connections and explanations during the dream.
  3. As you wake up, you achieve some distance from the dream and revise your assessments.
  4. When you tell the dream to someone else, or write it down, you add explanations or take parts out to communicate what was important to you or to make sense of things you cannot explain.
With practice, you can separate out these stages (this list is not fixed, you may find others). The understanding of the process can radically revise your assessment. What had appeared as a fact-her boyfriend stealing the computer--then was seen as an invention in her own mind. Sadie had made a brilliant discovery: Her ex was now a convenient scapegoat.

An Example--Christine's Dream

I dream that I see my father in a green raincoat. He is coming to protect me because I am in danger.

When I asked Christine what she actually saw in the dream, she realized that she saw a figure in a green coat. The green of the coat reminded her of the raincoat her father wore when she was in junior high school. That's how she "knew" it was her father. Knowing that it was her father made her feel a sense of safety, which then made her feel she must be in some danger.

The concept that safety and danger went together was a fascinating insight for Christine.

Try an Experiment

With your next dream, write it down in your usual way and then go through each part of the dream and ask yourself how you know that fact.

You will write with certainty that some things actually occurred during the dream. But when you go back to examine those statements closely, observe where, during the dream, you made something up to explain what actually happened.

Then consider how you might have added to the dream when you woke up and told it to yourself.

Finally, consider what you needed to add or change in order to communicate the dream to someone else or to write it in your journal.


All of these processes are a natural part of dream telling but sometimes we are more creative than is necessary.

Your mind will always naturally fill in the important blanks and create a more coherent story.

The gift of reconstructing the dream is that, when you become aware of these different "layers" of the dream, you create the ability to jump out of the assumptions you are automatically jumping into.

Dream Analysis By Telephone

A phone consultation is a great way to begin your exploration of dream work. It is also perfect when you don't have the time to attend a regular class but want to discuss a particular dream.

David is available for dream consultations by phone. The current cost is $50 per hour. A typical dream analysis might consist of a 30-45 minute discussion of the dream and a follow up after the next dream.

David's hours for telephone consultations are Monday through Friday, 10 am to 7 pm, Pacific Time. To make an appointment, please email him with two or three times when you are available and your phone number. He will e-mail you back with an appointment time, payment information and request a confirmation. David's e-mail address is davidj@dreamreplay.com

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