In each of us there is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves. When, therefore, we find ourselves in a difficult situation to which there is no solution, he can sometimes kindle a light that radically alters our attitude. ~ Carl Jung
Our dreams are our simplest connection to the unconscious. Every time we dream, the unconscious is speaking directly to us. It is a form of communication which asks us to grow into ourselves both psychologically and spiritually. Dreams often have a healing component which may relate to the physical as well as the psychological or spiritual. Dreams are big in the sense that they ask to pay attention to areas of life where we could use a bit of a push in one way or another.
The difficulty which is often encountered in dream interpretation is that the unconscious utilizes a completely different language system than our day to day conscious one. This is true of our daily life as well as our dreams. The primary method that the unconscious communicates with is symbolism, metaphor, slips of the tongue, synchronicity, illness and plays on words. Learning the language of the unconscious is a key component of helping us to understand the way to move through the world. Our dreams are often the best way into the unconscious and as such can have a powerful beneficial impact on how we live our lives.
Dreams are also an expression of the uniqueness of an individual. Each dream and in turn, each unconscious communication should be viewed as a communication from self to self. The work of dreams is to unravel the uniqueness of the unconscious communication as it pertains to the individual.
The dream itself, the symbols within the dream, the play on words etc. are unique to the individual experiencing the dream. To illustrate, two people may well dream of a white rose, but the meaning of the symbol may vary greatly between people. Some symbols may have common meanings, for example, water is usually representative of the unconscious. The interpretation may hold true for many people but it will not hold true for everyone. For someone else it may represent a cleansing, and for someone else it may signify something else altogether.
Dreams provide us with an opportunity to receive inner guidance. Fundamentally all dreams are in the service of wholeness. Even our worst nightmares can frequently be our greatest tools for growth and healing. An example of how dreams can be used as a form of inner guidance follows. A person has a relationship dependency problem in that she continually gets involved with men without really inquiring into some of her dependency issues. She goes from one man to the next without any respite or timeout to examine why her relationships eventually become problematic. Often it is weeks between relationships.
One of the issues for her then is never taking the time out from men to really get to know herself. She does have some conscious recognition that this is an issue for her. For example, one of her splits in mind is an internal war asking if she is repeating the mistakes of the past or is she just being paranoid. Her conscious decision was that she was just being paranoid. To her, the paranoia may be ruining something that is perfectly fine.
It was in this context in which a dream that sat on her occurred. Towards the end of the dream, a guru-like figure appeared and uttered the words, “The answer is menopause.” At first, the dream response seems nonsensical. However, if we look at the word menopause in isolation, and break the word into several different words something becomes a little clearer.
Men o Pause, which in a play on words could also be written as Men oh Pause! Her unconscious is attempting to get the message across to take a break from relationships. As noted previously, one of the ways the unconscious attempts to communicate is via a play on words.
When working with clients I often ask them to develop a relationship with the unconscious. As a society, we are largely out of touch with the unconscious and as such often find ourselves amid difficulties. A starting point for getting back in touch with our unconscious is by recalling our dreams, interpreting them and then in some way integrate what we have learned into daily life. It is not uncommon for people to have difficulty recalling their dreams. Below are some tips which may help develop a good dream recall habit.
Dream Recall Tips
- The first thing we want to do when trying to develop a good dream recall habit is to firmly set our intention to remember our dreams. Just before going to sleep attempt set your intention to recall the dream. It is often useful to do so in a relaxed state. Stress is a dream killer so try and get in a relaxed state.
- It is also a good idea to take a pen and pad of paper and place it on your bedside table. A recording device is even better. Like the first point it signifies our intention to remember the dream. Doing so tells the unconscious that we are interested and signifies to self that we are ready to learn and grow.
- A good practice to develop is learning to awake naturally without the use of alarm clocks. An alarm clock can often disrupt the ability to remember our dreams, because it can startle us out of slumber.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and have a dream, write it down straight away. Do not wait till morning as it is not unusual for the dream to slip back out of conscious reach.
- Try and set some time aside in the mornings to write your dreams down. It is another way of signifying intent, but also has the practical aspect of not being rushed when attempting to tease out all the unconscious material.
- Try being still when your first awake. Often the lack of movement allows the dream material to be more accessible to our conscious minds.
- Alternatively, try getting into the same position you had the dream in. This can sometimes work wonders.
- Write down as many details as possible. Note emotions, draw pictures, write down what was said in the dream and so on.
- Waking up during the night and recording dreams can greatly accelerate the process. A tip to facilitate this is to drink a large amount of water before going to sleep. Just remember to hold it in and record the dream first!
The Dream Narrative
One of the most overlooked features of a dream is that it is functionally a narrative. In the same way that a movie has a beginning, middle, and end, a dream does as well. Dreams are telling a story that in some way is related to wholeness.
Why we frequently have difficulty in ascertaining the storyline of a dream is because we expect a linear rational story which makes immediate sense. However, dreams are non-linear and not necessarily sequential. Coupled with strange imagery and visceral impressions, symbols, play on words etc. dreams are like entering a new world with a completely different set of rules and a differing language.
It takes time, patience and a considerable amount of hard work to become adept at dream interpretation. A first step into understanding how dreams work is to consider that the narrative of a dream has four main components. In no order, these are:
- The Setting: The first part of a dream provides the setting and the general theme of the dream. What is this dream about is the hallmark of the first part of a dream. For example, “I am walking along the beach” provides the setting for the dream.
- Story Development: The second part focuses upon the development of the narrative. This part tends to place emphasis on trends and dynamics within the dreamscape. “As I am walking along the beach, I look out to sea and notice a large wave”, is a continuation and development of the dream.
- Crisis: The third part of a dream is where there is usually a crisis within the dream. Two people vehemently arguing would be an example of a crisis. This stage always exposes a predicament. “The wave is headed my way and I realize it is about to hit me, I become frozen by fear” is an example of a crisis in a dream.
- Resolution: The final part of a dream exposes the dreamer to some possibilities that will resolve the crisis or predicament. Sometimes this part of the dream is called the lysis. “As the wave hits me, I realize that I can stand it and then I decide to wash myself with the water”.
In the above examples, there is a certain flow and story underpinning the dream snippet. If we consider that water is often a symbol for the unconscious, we can decipher that the wave may represent being overwhelmed (crisis). The resolution (lysis) comes in the form of standing our ground, recognizing that despite the overwhelming nature of the experience that we do have the strength and resources to stand it, and that we can additionally, cleanse ourselves or let go of unwanted repressed material. If you recall the earlier dream example of ‘menopause’ that portion of the dream would be the lysis. The answer is menopause, hence the resolution.
Considering Dream Symbols
When considering the symbols involved in the dream contemplate the following:
- What are the most prominent symbols within the dream? What sticks out? Bear in mind that something which is construed as negative is also a calling for examination.
- Take notice of the landscape of your dream. Is it arid, is it lush? Are you in a house? Who’s house? Are you on someone else’s territory or your own? Whose influence are you under?
- Take note of the position the symbols are in and your relation to them. Are you on elevated ground? Are you below everyone else? Perhaps you are sitting or lying down.
- Pay attention to the different colours used in dreams. Colours may symbolize different things for different people so it is a potentially useful area to explore.
- Often in dreams, there is a blending of several characteristics of different people into the same person. For example, you might have dark hair in day to day life, but in the dream, you appear with light colour hair. Try and think who in your life has light hair and what qualities they possess.
- Once we have a general feel for the dream we want to start making associations to the various symbols and imagery in the dream. The best way to do this is not to think to long about them. Rather just, write down what spontaneously appears in mind.
Other Important Dream Tips
- A good way to approach dreams is to consider why those specific symbols appeared at that time. What is happening or not happening in your life? Consider the immediate future but also consider the last few months. Has there been something on your mind?
- Dreams almost always are a call to action. Insight alone rarely produces change and healing. Action is an integral part of dream work. When we work with dreams we often believe that insight is enough. Our assumption is that “conscious knowing” is the magic pill which will produce change. We often use the term ‘dream interpretation’ in the sense that the interpretation is the solution. The reality is that insight is only a small part of the equation, where dreams are almost always a call to action. If we do not act on the message of the dream, a golden opportunity will remain barren and infertile.
- Strong feelings associated with the dream are typically good indicators that the dream is worth interpreting.
- Similarly, nightmares and/or dreams which are unspeakable in nature typically contain a great deal of useful information. Remember that all dreams are potentially healing. Nightmares are not exceptions.
- Dreams which haunt us or sit with us through the day or days are excellent sources of information often providing useful guides for life.
- Your body can provide a signal if the interpretation is correct. Look for jerks, muscle spasms, twitches, sweating, funny sensations in the heart, sudden pain, your eyes tearing up, tingling sensations and so forth.
In conclusion, when we have a relationship with our unconscious and are able to keep ego to one side, the unconscious will invariably tell us what to do next. It up to us to then follow the dream and put what we have learned into our daily lives.
When writing this article I had in mind creating a generic introductory dream interpretation article with what I hoped would be some useful information. At the back of my mind was I wanted to be able to link to this article as I delved a bit deeper into some common dream symbols and their potentials meanings. Something along the lines of the following link https://edwardtraversa.com/the-meaning-of-water-in-dreams/ was what I had in mind. The article did blow out a little as I included more tips than I originally envisaged but I can easily live with that 🙂
I hope you have found this introductory guide into dreaming useful. If you have some questions feel free to leave them in the comments section. I can also highly recommend the following book on dream interpretation.