The Meaning of Dreams
Why do we dream?
Nobody really knows why we dream. Explanatory theories include the following:
- Dreaming results from random brain activity.
- Dreaming is simply the brain doing its housekeeping, filing away all the different thoughts, observations and other inputs of the day.
- Dreams are an invaluable insight into the subconscious, the "royal road" in the words of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis.
- Dreams give the opportunity to experience situations and emotions that we may never encounter physically, either as a rehearsal for what may be, or simply for experiential growth.
- In dreams we draw closer to the world of Spirit and are able to receive Spiritual/psychical information that is normally unavailable during the waking state.
Why are dreams important?
The study of dreams is ancient, for example the account of how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams in the Bible’s book of Genesis. It is said in the Talmud that an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter.
The analysis and interpretation of dreams is valuable on two levels.
On a purely pragmatic level dreams offer a key to greater self understanding. Knowing ourselves is paramount in making the best of our time here on earth. Our conscious mind is but a tiny fraction of our mental equipment, the vast quantity of the mind’s complexity and content existing in the subconscious – much as the bulk of an iceberg resides beneath the surface.
During sleep, by definition consciousness is suppressed and we are able to glimpse the subconscious, which houses our true feelings, desires and drives. By knowing ourselves a little more we can make better choices and direct our energies in the most effective direction – for us.
At a Spiritual level dreams offer a window to the higher, Spiritual self, and even into the realms of Spirit itself. In the world of dreams we draw closer to our true Spiritual essence and may receive guidance from our Spirit guides or other (psychic) knowledge that is unavailable on the physical plane.
Dreams can also serve as a reminder or warning about things we may be overlooking or forgetting in daily life, eg a dream about a car crash might remind us of a slightly unusual noise in our car’s brake system and prompt us into getting it checked.
We all dream, several times a night. But we don’t all remember our dreams. Too often the alarm clock rings and thrusts us into the hustle and bustle of another day, our dreams quickly fading like morning mist beyond the realm of recall. With a little discipline and effort we can soon begin to remember and benefit from our nocturnal adventures.
Remembering dreams is a habit. The more we try, the easier it gets. It helps to set the intention to remember your dreams before falling asleep; simply say to yourself “I will remember my dreams tonight”.
Keep a dream diary. A notebook, scrap of paper, or even a tape recorder kept by your bed will prompt you to record your impressions while they are freshest on your mind – at time of waking.
Sometimes you won’t remember very much on first waking. Don’t be discouraged; just record whatever you can remember, maybe just one object, place, or person. Or maybe just the feeling you woke with. Often just remembering that one element can trigger recall of more.
There is no single right way of dream interpretation. In time you will find the method(s) that work best for you. You may well find that different methods must be applied to different dreams. You should find however than when you hit the right meaning you will feel a sense of inner satisfaction, like a light coming on.
First consider the dream as a whole. It may have an obvious, literal meaning, eg about the events of the previous day or an anticipation of something coming up. If so it’s probably safe to stop there. But not all dreams are so simple. Dreams often employ ingenious symbolism to transmit their message the decoding of which can be a challenge even to their creator.
You might split the elements of the dream into a number of categories, eg people, places, objects, actions, emotions… Think about what each means to you. Be prepared to think laterally if a literal interpretation is not easily forthcoming.
Analysis may reveal the dream only confirms what you already consciously know or feel. Good. That should give you confirmation your rational approach is justified. Perhaps the confirmatory dream is urging you to try a little harder in your current direction.
Some dreams will reveal that a current, waking, pathway is the wrong one.
Classical Dream Interpretation
According to Freud dreams are the fulfillment of often repressed wishes. These wishes may be disguised in various ways, eg by combining several elements into one (condensation) or hiding the most significant theme(s) by representing them as the leas significant objects (displacement). Controversially, Freud placed great emphasis on the sexual significance of dream imagery.
CG Jung, a one-time student and colleague of Freud, considers the Spiritual significance of dreams. Jung places considerable weight upon archetypes, universal symbols common to all humanity.
Fritz Perls’ Gestalt therapy considers that every elements of a dream represents a (possibly disowned) part of the dreamer.
Dream dictionaries are extensive lists of symbols that may be found in dreams together with their suggested meanings. Essentially they are an extension of Jung’s theory of archetypes, ie that human beings recognize a set of symbols with universal meaning.
Dream dictionaries have their value but should be used with caution, eg a dream of dogs has a vastly different meaning to a dog lover than to someone with a fear of the animals.
Initially I would analyze each component of a dream based on what it means to you. Where the meaning is less than clear, check the symbol in a dream dictionary. In the early stages of dream interpretation you may care to check several dream dictionaries. In time you may find the one that’s most accurate for you.
Even after checking the dream dictionary don’t blindly accept the given interpretation. Accept only what’s instinctively right. If it doesn’t feel right use the given meaning as a starting point for your own reflection and meditation.
Some dreams provide creative inspiration. Scientist Kekulé discovered the structure of the benzene ring after dreaming if a snake chasing its own tail, as well as sparking many works of art. When faced with a problem or tough decision we are often well advised to “sleep on it”.
If you are faced with a problem, or need some inspiration, just ask that such guidance be given in your dreams before falling asleep. Be sure to record whatever you can recall upon waking and be prepared to interpret it in the light of the guidelines, which follow.
Spiritual dreams are those dreams that reach not into the depths of our personal subconscious, but which transcend physical reality and touch the realm of Spirit. While sleeping the barriers and inhibitions of the conscious mind are lowered, thus allowing us to be more receptive to psychic and Spiritual reality.
Some, but not all, dreams are Spiritually significant. Such dreams may impart information that couldn’t be obtained by physical means. They may involve communication with loved ones who have passed over, or with your Spirit guide(s).
Spiritual dreams usually appear extra vivid, but they too will quickly escape in the cold light of day, so pay particular attention to the few outstanding dreams and record them, with your other dreams, upon waking. Make a note by any dreams seeming especially clear, vivid, or memorable.
A particular kind of Spiritual dream is the precognitive dream, ie that which gives foreknowledge of the future.
Once you start recording dreams you may notice some events from your dreams actually happening in real life. These events don’t have to be plane crashes or natural disasters; they will usually be extremely mundane. For example a while ago I dreamt I was sitting in my armchair when I felt a fine spray of water coming over me. A few days later I was out and a very fine rain began. In the words of the saying it “broke my dream”.
This precognitive feature of dreams was noted and extensively documented by J W Dunne in the 1927 classic An Experiment With Time.
A lucid dream is one in which the dreamer is aware s/he is dreaming and is able to influence the course of the dream. In the language of learning a lucid dream is to a normal dream as a college seminar is to a lecture. In the latter we are passive recipients of information, in the former we are able to interact and control the knowledge delivered.
Like dream recall lucid dreaming is an acquired skill. To develop this ability get into the habit of asking yourself “am I dreaming?” at various times throughout the day. Combine the question with a physical act like tapping your foot or blinking your eyes. Sooner or later you will ask yourself the question or perform the physical act when you are dreaming. Once you are aware you’re in a dream you can start to direct, as well as act in, your own private midnight movie.