I walked into the coffee shop. My three friends were already sitting around a table drinking coffee. One friend was speaking animatedly while the other two listened and laughed.

As I approached, the friend who had been speaking said to me, “Hey Jack. Just in time. I had this incredible dream last night. You’re a shrink. You can analyze my dream, right?”

“Of course,” I said, “I have a simple, foolproof method. It works every time. Not only do I do dream interpretation, but I also foretell the future. And right now, I predict with 98% certainty that you will be buying me coffee this morning.”

“Haha,” said my friend, “What if I don’t? The cockier you sound about it, the more likely I’ll thwart you.”

“Well, I’m so sure because buying me coffee is my price of interpreting your dream. It’s a low price to pay for the benefit of learning what your dream means. I’ll even better my offer: if you don’t like what I tell you, you don’t have to buy me coffee. If it’s not helpful, I’ll return to my underground laboratory to continue to perfect this method. Fair?”

“Sure, why not. Let her rip.”

“Just tell me what happened in your dream,” I said. “That’s how we start.”

“OK,” my friend said, “So I was sitting on top of this huge, huge mountain and I realized that I couldn’t climb down. I was stuck on the very top. I know I climbed this mountain, although in my dream I don’t remember any of that. But I was like a cat that climbs a tree and then can’t get down – the fire department has to get involved. That’s how I felt.”

“OK,” I said. “Got it. Remember yourself being on that mountain top: what were you thinking and feeling as you sat there?”

“Well, like I said, I felt stuck, trapped. I couldn’t climb back down to, I don’t know, get back home. I felt cold and frustrated. The summit was very high, there was snow around me, and the wind was strong. It seemed like I was up there for hours, and I was getting worried. Like if night came and I was still up there, I would die of exposure. I was frustrated and worried because I didn’t have any ideas how to get myself back down, and I didn’t expect anyone to come looking for me. I don’t think anyone knew I was stuck up there.”

“That’s a great start,” I said. “When it comes to dream interpretation, there are two ways to go. One way is that I tell you what I think this situation and this mountain mean to you. There are aspects of dreams that recur over a person’s life, and that occur in many people’s dreams. It seems there are these recurring symbols that are shared across people, maybe even across cultures and epochs. But there is another way of figuring out what dreams mean, and this is the way I will take today. It’s a method developed by Gestalt therapists. Rather than me telling you what I think your dream means, we’ll let the things in your dream tell us directly what they represent or are telling you or would want to tell you if you gave them a chance. If it’s not evident right away, we can role-play the different people and objects in the dream. So, you already told us quite a bit how you felt on that mountain. So, let’s now turn our focus to the mountain. Beside you, it’s the main character in your dream. So, if you take the role of the mountain, what would you say?”

“Oh, I know that,” he said. “The mountain is trying to kill me!”

“Hmmm. I’m skeptical, “I said, “and I’ll tell you why in a moment. First, let me explore from a different angle. How and why did you climb the mountain in the first place?

“I don’t know how I climbed the mountain. It wasn’t part of my dream, but if I had to guess, I think I was just out walking and the mountain must have been in front of me, and I just kept walking,” he said, and after a pause added, “Yes, I did it without thinking about it. It’s not like I had a reason to climb that mountain. It’s just like one thing led to another.”

“Do you feel like the mountain coerced you or tricked you to climb it?” I asked. “Maybe that’s why you think the mountain wants to kill you?”

“No,” he responded. “No, the mountain had nothing to do with me climbing it – other than it was there in front of me.”

“Got it,” I said. “Now let me tell you why I’m skeptical that the mountain wants to kill you. First, when I asked you to take the role of the mountain, you responded through your own point of view. ‘The mountain wants to kill me’, you said. You were speaking as yourself and not as the mountain. Also, you responded so fast it felt like you were telling me what you already decided was the case. You didn’t take the time to try to give voice to the mountain. And last, you clearly feel that the mountain didn’t coerce or trick you to climb it and put you in a precarious situation. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” he said.

“OK, no worries. So, let’s try it again. Your job is to be the mountain. Take a minute to be the mountain and pretend it can speak. You are giving the mountain a way to communicate. The mountain may wish to speak directly to you, or just in general explain its point of view.”

This time my friend paused, closed his eyes for a few moments, and slowly nodded his head as the thoughts and images coursed through his mind.

“OK,” he said, “I think I got it. It’s really interesting. The mountain is telling me that it’s been around for a very long time and will still be around for millions of more years. It’s a proud mountain. It’s happy to be so big and imposing, and home to so many trees, plants, animals. No people live on it, but they do visit … to get away from things, to think, and sometimes to hunt. So, the mountain knows it’s not a paradise; bad things happen, like happened to me, getting stranded on top. Hunters sometimes kill animals; lightning starts forest fires; landslides happen and can even bury villages surrounding the mountain…” He trailed off.

“Great, that’s a great story the mountain shared about itself,” I said after a moment. “Does the mountain want to say anything directly to you?”

“Hmmm,” he thought. “It’s saying that it doesn’t want to hurt me but that in nature, in all of life, bad things happen. The mountain actually wants me to be safe, to not die on its summit. The mountain can’t directly save me, but it wishes me the best.”

“What else,” I asked.

“You were right, the mountain doesn’t want to kill me. It is what it is. My predicament is just a tiny speck of time for it. I just climbed it without conscious thought about what it would mean, and now I’m stuck. I still don’t know how I’m supposed to climb down, but I don’t feel worried about it. I have a feeling that if I just take a deep breath and collect myself, that I’ll figure out how to get back down. Now that I know the mountain doesn’t want to kill me, it changes my attitude towards being there on top.”

And after a pause he added, “One thing I just realized was that I had just been sitting up there, cold and afraid, but I hadn’t even tried to find a path down. I just assumed I was doomed, and the mountain wanted me dead.”

“I like that,” I said. “Again, thanks for playing along. Is there anything else about this we should explore?”

“No,” he said, “I just have to mull this over. I have a strong feeling the solution will come to me a little bit at a time.”

“Super. So. did this experience work for you? Did you get something out of it?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Great. I’ll take a large latte with 2% milk,” I said.

Until next time,

Dr. Jack


Today’s Quotes

“You are the maker of the dream … Whatever you put into the dream must be what is in you.”
Fritz Perls

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
Oscar Wilde

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”
Anais Nin

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”
Neil Gaiman

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”
Vincent Willem van Gogh

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”

Langston Hughes