Dream a little dream with Jennie Isbell Shinn

Dreamwork helps unlock the door when the subconscious comes knocking.

—Photo Courtesy of Jennie Isbell Shinn

If you’ve ever woken up from a dream so strange — or so real — that you wondered what it meant, you may get the chance to explore it further at Dreamwork 101, a seminar hosted by Jennie Isbell Shinn at the West Tisbury library this Monday, Feb. 29.

Ms. Isbell Shinn stumbled across dreamwork accidentally in 1998 as part of a graduate school writing assignment. Her professor happened to have a background in dream psychology, and convinced Ms. Isbell Shinn that “dreams themselves were an important and untended part of me that had vital information to convey.”

Ms. Isbell Shinn was so intrigued that she joined a dream workshop, then a dream discussion group; then, in 2006, she entered a two-year program in spiritual direction training at the Haden Institute, which had a parallel program in dreamwork training. Meanwhile, she was earning her master’s in divinity at Earlham School of Religion, where she facilitated dream groups as a spiritual practice.

She’s also a massage therapist and yoga instructor. Ms. Isbell Shinn says the practices have more in common that one might think: “Dreaming is about about the wisdom of the body, as massage and yoga can be. We can take an attitude of interest and curiosity, and wonder if our body may have something to tell us, whether it’s from a dream or a feeling of tension in our neck.”

Dream work helps interpret the lessons of the subconscious mind by unpacking symbols. “There’s a part of us that’s at work while we’re asleep that has insights to share with us that may not get through during waking life,” Ms. Shin said. “I’ve gotten insights from my dreams. Some I wanted and was looking for, and some metaphorically slapped me in the face.”

The trick is to be open to interpreting that symbolism. Ms. Isbell Shinn said her background as an undergraduate English major taught her how to do that. “You have to have a certain level of comfort with ambiguity,” she said. “Dreams are often nonsensical if we go at them with rationality. They have teaching lessons that we may not receive if they came to us logically.”

The talk on Monday will include exercises to help the audience get comfortable with interpretation. One technique Ms. Isbell Shinn uses helps groups understand their own projections, the “hopes and fears” that shape their interpretation of the world. They will also discuss individual objects as symbols, the narratives of dreams, and how those narratives can reflect the “verbs” of waking life.

Even those who don’t remember their dreams can participate by practicing working with symbols, and learning techniques for inviting and remembering dreams. “Remembering is an invitation,” Ms. Isbell Shinn said. “Your unconscious is tapping you, saying, ‘I have something for you if you pay attention.’” She says taking on an attitude of interest and curiosity about dreaming is the first step toward remembering. “The more a person commits to working with the part of the mind that dreams, the more that part will blossom.”

Ms. Isbell Shinn says she is glad to be presenting in her new community (she moved to the Island with her husband and 19-month-old son in September). She hopes to continue giving talks, and if there is enough interest, to form working dream groups: “When we honor this part of ourselves that’s about creativity and playfulness within a community, the community that supports that becomes stronger.”

“Dreamwork 101”: Monday, Feb. 29, 5:30 pm, West Tisbury library. Free. For more information on Jennie Isbell Shinn, visit thechrysaliscompany.com.