P1. For as long as records go back, people have been interpreting dreams. In the last century Carl Jung (analytical psychologist) said,
“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul”
But the way of interpreting dreams has differed between researchers.
- While Sigmund Freud saw dreams as dark and twisted expressions of buried memories and infantile desires;
- Carl Jung saw them in a more beneficial role, as messages from the unconscious aimed at restoring and re-integrating our dismembered personalities.
- At the same time, there are other researchers who say that dreams are merely symptoms of some house-keeping processes in the brain, and actually have no meaning in themselves.
There seems to be no clear consensus even now about the meaning of dreams, so one must choose whatever approach is appropriate and works best. I can only offer a few alternatives, guidelines and pointers. Here’s my list
Dreams come in a variety of flavors. Some dreams are simply re-runs and distortions of the events of the previous day or worries about the following day. So the dream may be very mundane and show the dreamer something pertinent to what they were worrying about as they went to sleep.
- About the Past/Present: For example, one may have a set of memories with people and places from the past that make a mash-up dream that is probably not very significant in itself except for the recurring features or patterns of events that are well worth examining and can reveal valuable insights.
- About the Future: For example, the dream may include a specific concern about a presentation the dreamer is going to give to the boss at work and it plays on the fears of the dreamer. Many dreams are like this and to simply take them at face value is the best first approach. Solutions to problems can also sometimes be found in these dreams
However, not all dreams fall into these categories and some dreams seem to be very insightful and packed with symbolism. The interpretation of these dreams requires a different and more in-depth approach.
An interpretation aid such as a dream dictionary, can be useful if the dreamer is trying to interpret their own dream, but these are not definitive and cannot be relied on except for prompting different ideas. In my view, dreams can only be reflections of the psyche of the dreamer and to try and impose meanings from an external source is unreliable unless the dreamer fully resonates with that meaning.
Search One’s Feelings
Pay attention to the dreamer’s feelings during and since the dream. Emotions are the driving force of life and while events may be important, it is feelings that really matter. So too in dreams. The dreamer needs to identify the emotions relating to the dream and then ask themselves where recently they experienced similar feelings or emotions. This can be a very valuable key to unlock the meaning of the dream.
The dreamer interpreting their own dream needs to be ruled by their heart rather than their head while looking for the meaning in the dream. One recommended approach is to follow one’s instincts about what item, person or event is important in the dream, then to brainstorm simple word associations with that element. Often there are a dozen different possibilities that can be generated and the “correct” one can be found by using intuition to determine which meaning resonates with more honesty.
Walk in My Shoes
Another good technique for understanding different elements of the dream is to imagine oneself being that element of the dream. Since everything in the dream is in some sense an aspect of the dreamer, it makes sense to walk in the shoes of that item to access the innate “mirroring” abilities of one’s brain to identify what these things “feel” like and therefore, what meaning they have.
Find a Friend
Interpreting dreams can be improved by sharing the task with a trusted friend. Close collaboration with the dreamer is required and the friend needs to be non-judgmental and primarily a natural listener. If the dreamer passively lets any external interpreter to tell them the meaning of their dream, there is little hope of a well-founded result. At the same time, if the dreamer tries to interpret their own dream on their own, then vital clues can easily be missed. The process of interpreting a dream is always best done as a joint exercise with a close friend or an expert interpreter.
This is a technique that one can use, with some practice and training, to revisit the dream in a waking, meditative state. It’s a topic in it’s own right and relates to what Carl Jung called Active Imagination. It will be discussed elsewhere.
Have Fun and… Practice, Practice, Practice
Interpreting dreams is a skill that takes time and a fair amount of practice. But it’s a whole lot of fun too. One gets to delve into the innermost parts of one’s mind using a variety of different techniques. But the common factor is they all depend more on intuition than logic to be successful. The dream world is not a logical realm and that is why it’s a curious, strange, exciting and fun place to explore.
Reading dream dictionaries can be useful and also fun to give an idea of the kinds of symbolism that dreams can use, but only the dreamer’s symbolism is really of any value.
Dreaming, to me, is like having an internal therapist that sorts through the events of the day and the worries of tomorrow to make better sense of things. Everyone knows the advice to “sleep on it” before making a decision.
By the end of each night, I feel one has worked through many of the stresses and emotions of life and can be ready for the day ahead. Interpreting dreams is an enhancement that can do an even better job by engaging the conscious parts of our minds too.
Dreaming is a tactical necessity whereas interpreting these dreams is a more strategic and sophisticated approach.
Have fun with it, because without the fun there is no motivation to bother to know one’s self at all.