Dream Interpret Grow

Dream Interpret Grow, film written and produced by artist Susan Schellenberg.

Dream Interpret Grow, film written and produced by artist Susan Schellenberg.

When younger, I read about dream interpretation, hoping that dreams were a language that could be translated quickly once I learned the symbols and syntax. As I became older, I realized that dreams are so personal that there is no universal translation. Yet, dream meanings and messages are often accessible if approached properly. Dream Interpret Grow, a 43-minute film written and produced by artist Susan Schellenberg, explains an approach.

In Dream Interpret Grow, Susan narrates a series of stories that tell how dreams guided her creative work and her healing following a psychotic break and medication treatment (see Shedding Skins).  The film unfolds quietly in a manner that is almost dream-like, with painted and photographic images interspersed to reflect the inner world/outer world, conscious/unconscious dialogues.  The conscious self, Susan notes, is unlikely to offer any ready welcome to messages from the unconscious that will disrupt a superficially calm outer-world life.  Yet the dream message persists, using elements from earlier life experiences to convey meanings.  Susan nurtured this process by reading about dream interpretation and by recording, and careful analysis of her dreams.  In time, she learned her own dream symbols and syntax.

Dream Interpret Grow explains an approach to interpreting dreams based on the percept method that Susan learned from American counsellor, teacher and artist Alexandra Merrill. The percept approach encourages the dreamer to experience each dream part as aspect of the self. Susan describes interpreting a dream using the percept method in this example from the book, Committed to the Sane Asylum:

Step 1. Writing the dream in present tense; e.g., the following was a recurring New Mexico dream.
I dream that I am in a New Mexico desert. I look left and see a nun riding a horse. The nun and horse approach then pass by me and ride away to my right.

Step 2. Rewriting the dream in percept.
In the second stage of the percept writing of the dream, one rewrites the dream using the words “part of myself” after each noun, verb, adjective, that appears in the dream text. This practice ensures that every word is identified as part of the dreamer’s self. I write this phrase in full here to illustrate the method, but when I journal a dream now, I either use POM as an abbreviation or automatically own each dream aspect as I journal

I am the dreaming part of myself, in the New Mexico part of myself and the Desert part of myself. I am the looking left part of myself and the seeing part of myself of a nun part of myself who is the riding part of myself of a horse part of myself. The horse part of myself and nun part of myself are the approaching part of myself then the riding away part of myself to the right part of myself.

Step 3. Discovering dream meaning through word associations.
For the third percept step, I take each word in the dream and enter them in a left column in my journal. I then write what each word means to me. If the word “desert” reminds me of “hot,” I note it, then return to the word “desert” rather than proceeding to write what “hot” means to me. I continue associating with “desert” till one particular word association resonates with greater energy that the others, i.e., dry, hot, journey, barren, lost. In the case of this dream, the word “journey,” as in biblical sense of “journey into the desert” is what the word “desert” meant to me.

As this particular dream kept recurring with different coloured horses, I felt when I came to paint the horse, I could choose any colour of horse I wished. However, as I researched horses, I was pulled against all other preferences to render the horse as a pinto. Discouraged but obedient to this impulse, I was later thrilled when I discovered that “pinto” in Spanish means painting. The combined journaling and painting of this dream reinforced that my life journey or the nun part, the woman who is true to herself, was that of a painter.


Dream Interpret Grow quietly demonstrates the responsibility and authority of the individual experiencing emotional pain. Responsible to take steps towards healing by, in this example, devoting time and effort to record, explore, and interpret dreams. Authorized to deciding how to explore and reorganize inner experiences so as to gain fresh understanding. Responsible and authorized to use fresh understandings to shape daily life. The film demonstrates that anyone who engages in this healing process is well rewarded. As Dream Interpret Grow uses Susan’s paintings to illustrate dream interpretation, the film also enriches a viewing of her art and extends her invitation to discuss healing in public rather than treating it as an exclusively private matter. In short, Dream Interpret Grow is a lovely meditation on the possibilities that lie within our dreams.

Dream Interpret Grow is available online.  This and other work by Susan Schellenberg can be seen at her website.


Now on or upcoming:

Cemetery Installation and Performance, May 16, 2015, 2:00 pm.
This outdoor installation/performance takes place at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery (at the corner of Horner and Evans Avenue, about 2 km from Humber Lakeshore). In collaboration with Ed Janiszewski and Among Friends, a Lakeshore community mental health program, we will be ‘planting’ 1,511 paper lilies in the cemetery, marking the mostly unmarked graves in the cemetery. As the lilies are planted, we will speak the names of the people who are buried there. There is a cemetery clean up starting at noon. The installation event begins at 2:00 pm. All are welcome. The rain date is Sunday, May 17, 2015.

Visualizing Absence Exhibition: Memorializing Histories of the Former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, May 22-July 3, 2015. By Anne Zbitnew, OPENING SATURDAY, MAY 23, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm with remarks at 4:00 pm. An indoor art exhibit at the L Space Gallery of artwork made in response to archival stories and images. A free opening reception will take place from 3 to 5 pm, with remarks at 4 pm on Saturday, May 23rd for Doors Open Toronto. The L Space Gallery at Humber College, Lakeshore Campus, is located at 19 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive, Toronto, M8V 4B6.

Share Your Story! Lakeshore Grounds Community Storytelling
Sunday, June 7th, 2015, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, L Space Gallery
To respect and present the dynamic history of the site and grow our community’s collective memory, we are inviting people to contribute their personal stories about their relationship to the Lakeshore Grounds. Come join our storytelling roundtable where you can share your story with other participants.

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