I recently read a book called Purple Crayons: The Art of Drawing a Life by Ross Ellenhorn, and it summed up magic in a way that I can’t imagine improving upon.
Well, okay: the author is actually referring to the process of playing, but let’s see what happens when we swap magic for play:
To [work magic] is to first see the pliability of things–to regard objects, ways of thinking, and other beings that can seem unyielding and solid as actually malleable–and second, to make them partly your own, material with which to express your originality. When you [make magic] you are stepping into the unknown, since you can’t know what’s ahead until you create it.
One bit, in particular, is sticking out to me today, and that is viewing things “that can seem unyielding and solid as actually malleable.” Whooeeee, that’s a biggie.
How often do we reach for familiar reactions and thought patterns, reinforcing the belief that things are “unyielding and solid”? If we’re unable or unwilling to acknowledge our habitual contribution to these situations, we deepen our sense of powerlessness; we convince ourselves (and maybe others, while we’re at it) that this is just the way things are. *defeated shrug*
We can’t work magic without first seeing “the pliability of things.”
Or more to the point, we likely won’t even consider magic as an option (or any other new course of action), because what’s the point? If things can’t change, why bother casting a spell or setting a boundary or sitting down to work on your book today? This is just the way things are.
On this Full Moon, I want to give you an unconventional way to shift out of this tired, ol’ thinking and into your magical agency. It’s one of my favorite practices when things aren’t going the way I’d hoped, but my efforts at change don’t seem to be working. I’m wrapped up in the minutiae, clinging to what I think is right. My face is pressed against the tree bark so hard that I can’t see the forest for shit.
I call this practice Waking Dream Interpretation.
It’s a process of using nighttime dream interpretation techniques on waking-life events in order to spot patterns and tap into change-accelerating insights.
I’ve put together a free guide that walks you through interpreting your dreams, so here, I want to talk specifically about why you might want to use this with waking life and how to adapt the technique to that end.
First, the why. We can think of viewing life through two different lenses: the literal and the symbolic. Neither is better; in fact, we need both to be able to make sense of things, but most of us have far more practice operating at the literal level.
For instance, you run into Sesa at the watercooler, and she casually mentions that she stole credit for your idea in this morning’s meeting, like, no biggie. You stalk back to your office seething with all the fiery retorts you wish you’d said.
The terms “literal” and “symbolic” aren’t perfect, but they get us pretty darn close to an important distinction between these two modes, so let’s start with a literal view of this scenario. You interacted with your coworker, she did something hurtful, and now you’re pissed.
This mode is very they said/you said where we’re stuck in our first-person POV, often battling it out with someone else’s point of view. It usually feels like only one perspective is correct, and we need to make sure ours “wins.”
In this headspace, it’s easy to conflate our thoughts and feelings with literal truth…
…and anyone who doesn’t agree is clearly wrong. Notice how, if only one correct POV is allowed, as long as the other person isn’t lining up with our perspective, there’s the nagging possibility that maybe we’re wrong, and this insecurity only lends fuel to the fire.
This leads, very predictably, to a set-up where we’re trying to get other people to change, otherwise we can’t feel okay, which in turn generates things like…
- arguing with them in our head
- stewing with anxiety and resentment because they aren’t changing
- not being able to let the situation go
- presenting our case to other people, hoping to find validation that we’re right and the other person is definitely, obviously wrong
- mentally cataloging their words and behaviors to prove their wrongness
- doubling down on our efforts to reform them (recommending “helpful” books and articles, modeling how we want them to act and getting frustrated when they don’t follow suit, etc.)
(Not that I’ve ever done any of those things.)
Shifting to a symbolic vantage point can help us access new ways of thinking about and responding to a situation.
This doesn’t need to replace the literal view. Think of it more like seeing your street from the bedroom window versus the kitchen. One’s not more correct; they’re just different, and you might see something from the kitchen that you missed from the bedroom and vice versa.
This brings us to Waking Dream Interpretation, a way of walking into the kitchen and looking through a different window.
As with nighttime dreamwork, you’ll start by recording the details in your journal. Then, jot down any other details from the day that intuitively jump out at you, even if you don’t yet know why. (And if nothing else sticks out, that’s totally fine. This is just a way to add more context to the waking dream, and context, in dreams, is very illuminating.)
Let’s say you heard the same song on the way to and from work, and that stood out, so you write it down. The song was about a lonely ghost wishing it could rejoin its friends on a night out.
And as you’re journaling about the ghost, you remember something else that feels important. When you were pulling a book out of your bag this morning, you nearly flung your wallet onto the subway tracks, and the flush of post-adrenaline relief comes back to you, so you jot that down, too.
Okay, so you now have the close call of the averted wallet flinging, the interaction with Sesa where she took credit for your idea, and the lonely-ghost song bookending your work day.
I won’t walk through the interpretation steps here, since those are outlined in your dream guide, but let’s fast forward to the insights that arise.
In your journal, you connect losing your wallet with losing your identity, and specifically, your ability to prove your identity to others: No, really, this is who I am–see? It’s also your connection to resources (debit card, credit cards) and the ability to employ those resources to move successfully through the world.
In the “dream” you nearly lost both of those when you were pulling out a book. As you work with your personal associations with this piece, the phrase “By the book” comes to you. Through journaling, you see that when your proof of identity or access to resources are being threatened, you can become very rigid in your thinking as you try to do everything “by the book” to prove that you’re right and worthy of being seen, validated, and well resourced.
It also felt significant that you kept running through the mental image of the train instantly appearing, obliterating your wallet as it clattered, top speed, down the tunnel. You associate this with how rushed and panicked you feel in those moments of identity and resource threat. Your thoughts go from 0 to 90 in a flash, and it’s only later, when you’ve had time to calm down, that you can even begin to think straight, but by then, it feels too late to say or do anything.
I could keep going, because we haven’t even interpreted the lonely-ghost song (maybe you have some ideas of how that might relate to this waking dream?), but let’s skip ahead so you can download your guide and start working with your own waking dream sooner rather than later.
Okay, so based on these interpretations, you now know that your identity and access to resources feels threatened in these situations, and when that happens, your inner world becomes a blazing blur of everything-all-at-once.
It then becomes really difficult to formulate a response, and after the fact, it feels like it’s too late to speak to the situation, which leads to roundabout “solutions,” such as trying to get the other person to change by rigidly behaving “by the book.”
Problem is, this by-the-book strategy only further erases your individual identity, because you’re trying to conform to some imaginary, collective ideal, and far from helping, this triggers even more identity-obliterating panic. It also isn’t effective in getting the other person to change, so it’s striking out on two counts.
Given this information, you can now look for places where it’s a bit easier to “see the pliability of things”…
…where reality doesn’t feel quite so “unyielding and solid.” Spoiler alert: You’ll have a much better chance of locating spots where the veil is thinner and reality more malleable if you focus on your own stuff, not the other person’s.
What jumps out is the belief that it’s too late to say or do anything if you miss your chance in the heat of the moment. That doesn’t feel entirely true, now that you think of it…
I mean, who says you can’t go back after you’ve had time to think and process your emotions? In fact, wouldn’t it actually be better to give yourself room to ground and center rather than firing off an insta-retort that, in hindsight, might only make things worse?
What began as a one-off watercooler conflict has transformed into a potent nexus for change that can positively affect your entire life by showing you the importance of honoring your need for time and space to process things.
I’m a slow thinker, to borrow a term from Derek Sivers. For decades, I berated myself for my inability to come up with dazzling, well-thought-out responses on my feet.
My internal judge would leap into action:
“You’re not saying anything interesting! Why aren’t you saying anything interesting?? Hurryuphurryuphurryup!” which, shocker, only served to ramp up my anxiety and grind my thought gears to a standstill.
Now, when I recognize this pattern in action, I can slow down, say something like, “Hmm…I need to think on that. I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” or, “I’m not sure,” which, contrary to my inner judge’s opinion, is a perfectly acceptable response, one that’s far better than trying to bullshit my way to appearing smart.
When we shift from a literal they said/you said POV, we’re able to see larger patterns, beyond the immediately triggering details. And rather than engaging in yet another battle for universal rightness of how all people “should” be, we can get to the heart of the matter for us, personally.
In this case, the fact that it’s totally okay to go back, after the fact, and express your thoughts, feelings, or needs.
Far from negating or spiritually bypassing the literal view, now you have a more expansive perspective that you can apply to the here-and-now.
Instead of trying to get Sesa to change, your focus shifts to giving yourself permission to communicate, instead of believing it’s too late, that the situation is “unyielding and solid.”
And from here, you can brainstorm effective ways to do this, such as clarifying what, exactly, feels important to communicate to Sesa (journaling is a great way to do this), how to best support yourself when you do talk to her (schedule a session with your therapist? make sure you’ve eaten that day?), and how to do so in a way that also feels considerate of her (maybe approaching Sesa one-on-one, not ambushing her in front of colleagues).
These action steps might be challenging, but they’re doable, and you can always seek out help.
In contrast, having at the top of your mental to-do list “Change Sesa” is a recipe for frustration and stuckness.
Download your dream interpretation guide, and have a magical Full Moon!