Toolkit: Dreamwork

Dreamwork—the daytime practice of recording and seeking to understand your nighttime dreams – is a major gateway to your subconscious depths. Ayahuasca activates the psyche in a way that parallels the dream state: the DMT in ayahuasca is similar to the neurotransmitter naturally produced from our pineal gland which is responsible for the dreams that arise in REM sleep. The dream world and ayahuasca visions are thus linked. Actively working with dreams as part of integration deepens our understanding of our own inner depths, and links us back to the spirit-world work of ceremony.

Remembering Your Dreams

It can be difficult to recall your dreams at first, but much like developing a muscle, this ability strengthens with practice. Try it for a period of at least a month to see what happens. Some tips:

  • Place journal/paper and pen by your bedside before you go to sleep, and write down the date. As you are dropping off, set the intention to remember your dreams.
  • When you awaken, give yourself a few peaceful minutes to recall and record your dreams. Without moving from the position you awoke in, feel your way backwards, into what was happening just a moment ago. Then, still in bed and moving as little as possible, record everything that comes to mind, even seemingly simple or fragmented images. Doing so shows respect for the dream and builds a relationship with your psyche that will yield fruit in the future.
  • Don’t worry about sequence; just write down clusters of associated images/memories. If a great deal comes at once, it can help to quickly jot down a few key themes on the side to return to and flesh out. Sketches or drawings can be part of the descriptive process.
  • If you don’t remember anything in the morning, no problem; just continue the next night. If you forget or skip a few nights, same thing—just continue. Practice and persistence are important in courting dreams.

Working With Images

Once you’ve landed a few dreams from the vast ocean of psyche, it’s time to begin playing with them. Rather like children, dreams thrive in an atmosphere of curiosity, openness, and non-judgment. Don’t try to pin them down with solid definitions; they need a lighter touch. Think of dreams as the poetry of our unconscious, rather than the prose of the rational mind.

Dream dictionaries can be fun to consult, but don’t automatically accept anyone else’s interpretation of your dreams. Your own personal associations, along with literal and symbolic meanings, are the best way to go.

One way to access these is to pretend that you are describing an image to an extra-terrestial being who understands nothing of life on Earth (I call this the ‘Martian Strategy’). So, in describing a lion to a Martian, it’s not just an African animal­—it’s a fierce, carnivorous large cat that hunts its prey; it’s covered with tawny-golden fur and (for males) a ruff of fur called a mane (main?) ; it lives in groups called ‘prides,’ and is associated with kings, royalty, courage . . .

Be open to puns and associations as well: from Lion comes Lyon, Lion King, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ lion-hearted; Leo, King of the Jungle … and Lion is a homonym for ‘lyin’.’ Trust your own gut and intuition in this process; lion does not mean ‘lyin’ unless perhaps you feel a strong signal when you test out that association. But let your mind play with all possibilities in an open and free way.

Try the Martian Strategy right now with a few of the following examples, any one of which can show up in your dream life, or your ayahuasca visions:



*Genghis Khan



Remember that your personal associations count, too. If your grandmother’s house had a lion’s-head doorknocker, or your son was once a lion for Halloween, include that in the description. In mining your dreams, you’re sifting through the material of your unconscious with a firm yet light touch, seeking the gold of personal meaning. In this process, you are continuing your work with ayahuasca, which often speaks in images. The strong yet gentle quality of dreamwork is similar to the way we hold a strong intention for ceremony, yet simultaneously release all expectation.

Be open to metaphors, puns, and double-entendres. Psyche can have a warped sense of humor in its choice of images. Example: A man dreams of Swiss cheese on a worktable. One of his waking associations is that Swiss cheese is full of holes. He recognized that the work contract he was considering was potentially less than solid.

Another example: A dreamer dreams her new lover just got back from a town called ‘Fuma,’ in Panama. Playing with the words, she suddenly realizes the code could be translated as “F.U., Ma – Pa, not Ma.” Indeed, the man in question proved to have a giant parental complex that favored his father at the expense of his mother.

A Few Dreamwork Questions

In working with a dream in waking time, you can seek to recreate its feeling atmosphere. This is the process Carl Jung termed "active imagination." Slow things down as you explore the landscape of the psyche. Describe the dream and its elements to yourself, or a trusted friend or partner who can help you gently inquire into and unfold its hidden meaning.

Here are a few questions to deepen your dreamwork:


*Describe the opening setting: place, mood, feelings.

*How does it feel to be in this setting/doing this action?

*Does this remind you of anything in your waking life?

Dream people

*Who is X? What is X like? Describe him/her to a Martian.

*What is X like in your dream, doing in your dream?

*What is your waking relationship with X like?

*Does X remind you of anything or anyone in your life? Is there some part of you that is like X?

Dream objects

*What is a Y? Again, describe it as if to a being from another planet.

*What is the Y in your dream like?

*Does it remind you of anything, any part of yourself, anyone in your life? How?

Dream Actions/Events

*Describe them. Do they remind you of any situations in waking life?

*If the dream were to continue, what is the conclusion you might anticipate for this action or event?


*When you re-experience the feelings you had in the dream, do they remind you of anything in your current life?

More Resources

Gayle Delaney, Living Your Dreams and other titles

Robert Bosnak, A Little Course in Dreams

Articles by Stephen Aizenstadt:

Robert Moss’ blog:

Interesting blog on lucid dreaming:

Complete and Continue