Working With Dreams and Nightmares to Find Solutions to Daytime Problems
‘Dream Encounters’ by Margaret Honton teaches the long-term benefits of dream-work
Dreams are an elusive medium, setting up a temporary communication channel between the unconscious and conscious just long enough to transmit vital information, before disconnecting and slipping away. Decoding those transmissions into meaningful messages is what dream work is all about.
One Woman’s Results From a 50-year Experiment in Dream Work
Margaret Honton has been working with her own dreams since 1971. Over the course of five decades, she estimates that she’s journaled and processed her nighttime messengers more than 5,400 times. In her newly published book Dream Encounters, she shares the results of this personal effort, revealing with unflinching honesty how dream work has guided her journey toward self-understanding.
Through thoughtful analysis, she’s organized her archives into a collection of thematic topics, such as:
- Challenges from Childhood
- Coping Strategies
- Erotic Encounters
- Death a Fact of Life
- The Dreamer as Artist
- Wrestling with Religion
- Angels and Guides
These, and many more, chart her life’s ups and downs as revealed through dreams.
With careful curation, she shares a handful of exemplary dreams in each of the book’s 32 topics. Each dream is transcribed verbatim from her original notes, together with the nighttime feelings they imparted, and her immediate reflections upon awakening.
The great diversity of dreams is remarkable. But the personal memories that weave them together is just as fascinating, following an arc all the way from her childhood in the Great Depression through the tumultuous events of 2020 and 2021.
After reading Margaret Honton’s book, I began to recall my own dreams with greater clarity. Following her methodology and concentrating on the feelings they imparted, enabled me to better understand their relevance. Reading her book has, for me, triggered many nights of extended dream sessions.
Two sections resonated with my own dreams. In the section titled “My Love of Flying”, Margaret catalogs dreams that begin with: flying straight up like a hummingbird; taking off from a trapeze; floating on a staircase; and learning glider-pilot techniques. Then she goes on to list the colorful and strangely shaped flying vehicles she’s encountered: space ships; blimps; luxury hotels suspended from dirigibles; and an experimental government test-vehicle shaped like an ice-cream cone!
My own flying dreams feature none of those, but remarkably, after reading that section, I began remembering flying dreams from my own childhood in which my legs walk on thin air above a basketball court. Then I recalled recurring dreams of walking so high that I reached the ceiling; or when outdoors, walking effortlessly between high-power lines and above the rooftops of tall buildings. It’s fascinating how the simple act of reading about someone else’s dreams triggered the recall of my own dreams that occurred decades ago.
In the section titled “In Awe of Dream Animals”, Margaret explains the importance of developing one’s own personal dictionary of dream animals, cautioning against set definitions about the meaning of one species or another. Referring to her notes, Margaret was able to identify 76 dreams, over a period of four decades, which featured animals. But instead of cataloging her entire menagerie of creatures encountered — wild, domesticated, zoological and mythological — she focuses on how four of them (Dog, Bear, Tiger, and Bird) manifested differently over the years. She shows how their transformation through the years represents her own personal development and self understanding.
Again, her gentle explanations triggered my own remembrance of animal dreams — mine unlike any of hers — of open savannas with peacefully grazing zebras and encroaching lions; and of solid earth turning to snake infested bogs that I can’t get out of. But because I now recognize these as nightmares, I’m more easily able to deal with them in the moment, and more ready to interpret what triggered them.
Dream Encounters is an apt title for the book. The roll call of famous actors that appear in her dreams is an all-star cast: Jack Benny, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Danny de Vito, Bill Murray, Nicholas Cage, and Paul Newman. And there are the dreams where post-processing the day’s events caused these bedfellows to have a say in it: President Bush, Barack Obama, the Billionaire President, and The-Man-Who-Would-Be-King. Then there’s the tragicomic characters who seem to have dogged her forever: the White-Haired Young Woman, the Bosomy Black Woman, the Black Baby, and her nemesis Big Nurse.
Curiously, it wasn’t the usual sensors that broke through her conscious/unconscious. Oftentimes cracking the code to these seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions turned out to be a play on words: Newman as new man; Cary Grant as a caring, granting lover; Spielmaker reminding her to avoid exaggerated speech; Robach telling her to row back to an earlier event.
Margaret Honton is a poet, writer, editor, and teacher. To that oeuvre we can now add this new work on dreams. Hooray for @MargaretHonton marching in front of her own parade, with trickster clowns, with orgasmic flights, with twirling words, with fantastic encounters, with guiding dreams!