Electric Dreams

Free Association: Loosen Your Mind In 2007

David Jenkins, PhD

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Jenkins, David, PhD (2007 January). DreamRePlay: Free Association: Loosen Your Mind In 2007. Electric Dreams 14(1).

A Holiday Gift

Last week I asked readers to complete a survey to help me improve Dream of the Week. If you've already done so, many, many thanks to you. If not, there is still time. Please read on.

Next month will be "Dream of the Week's" first anniversary. I hope you have been enjoying, and benefiting from the columns. On my part, it has been rewarding to take one small aspect of dream work and commit myself to explaining it by Friday noon each week. I find that the exercise -- not to mention the deadline -- concentrates my thoughts about dream work remarkably well.

The Perfect Present!

I have a request for a holiday present from you (your choice - Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or other.) I know it's not quite polite to tell people what you want, but in this case, perhaps you would make an exception: Your gift would be your straightforward feedback about "Dream of the Week" - easily accomplished just by completing a survey at the link below.

I am trying to get a sense of what it is that you, the reader, most appreciate about Dream of the Week and what you wish was included. The survey takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

I would greatly appreciate your answers. Click here (or copy this link) to begin: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=928203060126

And now for the dream topic of the week.


Free association is a kind of meditation that loosens up your mind, allowing it to wander. All you have to do is follow the wanderings.

If I was to make one recommendation for what to do in your new year to aid you in your dream work, I'd suggest that you learn or practice free association until it comes naturally. It's also a great way to come up with new ideas -- a brain massage rather than a brain storm.

Often, as you will see, the connections that come from associating to the dream are the key to making sense of the dream.

Sigmund Freud invented Free Association as a technique. I don't use it exactly as a Freudian would but, I think it is an essential part of self knowledge.

The Method

Essentially the technique is to notice whatever is in your head at the moment.

If I say the word BOOK, you might immediately think of READ, FIRESIDE, HARRY POTTER, VACATION IN MEXICO and so on. What you need to practice is noticing whatever came first to you. It's that simple. But!!!

In ordinary social conversation, we very naturally censor ourselves. The first answer is quite often "wrong" or socially inappropriate.

If I were to say, "Name a movie star who you find attractive," you might not wish everyone to know who first came to mind. Your mind would then go through a process of finding an answer that you wished to present. Many of us lose the habit of catching that first answer and come to believe in the more acceptable one.

This process is happening all the time. Your mind searches for an answer that is socially appropriate and acceptable. BUT, and this is the key, a word or a concept, picture or sound popped up in your mind first. Free association is the practice of noticing that first one and following it.

The Difference between Thinking and Associating

We use the word "think" in two different ways.

If I asked you how to get from your house to the supermarket, you would think through the steps to take and then explain the directions. In contrast, as you walk down the street on your way to the supermarket, you might think about someone you knew in high school. That's the thought popped into your mind. You did not actively generate the thought. Instead, so to speak, you received it. It's not a rational process.

Free Association and Dreams

A common technique with dreams is to consider what associations you have with the dream.

I dreamed I saw a purple cloud.

Ask yourself what do you associate to the purple cloud? Purple might remind you of a coat you wore. Or signify something royal. You might go off on your associations to the word "cloud." What is most useful is to notice what first comes to mind rather than what you logically "think" the purple cloud means.

Nicole's Dream

I dreamed I was in the supermarket. The tomatoes looked very ripe but I couldn't decide whether to buy them or not.

When Nicole thought about tomatoes her mind went to the tomato plants her family used to grow when she was a teenager. The conversation steered off into the days when Nicole herself was a "hot tomato." We came back to the dream with Nicole considering whether she was ripe for another relationship.


If you are not already adept at free association, try practicing. Write down your daydreams. As you wander down the street, catch the thoughts that you are "receiving." As you wake up, notice the thoughts that are occupying your mind. Take your next dream and write down whatever comes to mind about each aspect of the dream.

Special bonus: if you are stuck on a problem, write it down and then free associate. You'll wander way off target but likely come back to it with a fresh, creative approach that would be impossible if you focused on the problem.

Warning: You should not be surprised if all kinds of unacceptable ideas come up: immoral, unethical, angry, or other. Stop if it's upsetting.


Dreams are irrational. That's what people either love or hate about them. You might be flying, your father may be wearing a skirt, you might discover that your house has a room you never noticed. The logic of dreams is much closer - and truer - to the meanderings of free association than it is to waking life rational thinking.


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email: davidj@dreamreplay.com
phone: (510) 644 2369
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