Dreams – they intrigue us. They mystify us. They enchant us. Sometimes they scare us. What do we do with this whole other dimension of our lives? Do we just ignore our dreaming life – or can we use dreams in some way in our lives?
We all dream. Though some of us may think we don't, sleep research has shown that, in actuality, we all really do dream. The problem is that some of us may not remember our dreams. We remember dreams when we shift to a lighter level of consciousness (measured by brain waves) when we're dreaming. In other words, if we hear a noise, for example, or if we shift our bodily position, we come out of the deeper level of dream-stage sleep to a lighter level of consciousness, or even wake up completely. It is only when this happens that we remember what we had been dreaming about.
Dreams are fascinating – at least they have always been to me. Indeed, I have been working with my own and interpreting others' dreams for many, many years, and I am a firm believer that dreams give us rich material to work with in our lives, if we are so inclined – and that we can, in fact, demystify and understand our dreams.
As a step towards this, let's look at the actual phenomenon of dreams. One interesting thing I have learned from my work with dreams is that what we lump into the broad category of "dreams" may in truth be different types of phenomena. So the first step in understanding and working with our dreams is to know what "type" of dream we have had.
Now this may be a surprising revelation. Dreams are dreams, right? Well, think about this for a moment: have you ever had a dream that felt different from other dreams? For instance, have you ever had a dream that felt so real that you felt that you really were somewhere else?
Well, you may have been.
As strange as this may sound, there are many theories (including some in quantum or modern physics – which I certainly don't profess to fully understand) that alternate realities and other dimensions exist – and our nighttime experiences may actually be visits to these other realms. As eerie or "outlandish" (no pun intended!) as this may sound, if you believe that our consciousness is not ultimately limited or bounded by our bodies, this idea can make perfect sense – because when we're sleeping our bodies are quiet and our minds and consciousness are less bombarded by noisy feedback from our bodily functions, thus being freer to "leave the body" and roam.
So oftentimes when we're sleeping our consciousness is off exploring and experiencing, and some of these experiences may be translated into the form of dreams – experience dreams – whereas others may be forgotten or slip into oblivion, at least from our conscious or semi-conscious awareness.
And, to complicate matters further, the illusory veil of time may be lifted, and we can be exploring other times as well – including past lives.
So, the next time you wake up and feel like you've been somewhere else, remember this: maybe you have been.
(Phew! Still with me? I told you dreams were fascinating….)
As exotic as this type of "dream" experience may be, other types of dreams may seem more mundane in comparison.
Some dreams really do represent a sorting out of the day's experiences or working on problems, as our brains sift through and correlate information and experiences. These dreams are usually mundane and quotidian. Included in this type of dream experience, however, are very creative dreams in which we actually solve problems we're working on and receive answers we have been looking for. A classic, and oft-cited, example of this type of creative problem-solving dream is the model of the benzene molecule, whose structure was received by Kekule, a chemistry professor, in a dream after he had been puzzling over this question; the dream was of a snake biting its own tail and twirling in a circle.
One interesting type of dream is that in which we are communicating with others on some level. If you wake up and feel that you were having a discussion or communicating with your long-lost love, you may, in fact, have truly been doing just that. In these communication dreams – or communication experiences – the person being engaged in dialogue can be living or "dead." Some communication can come in the form of guidance and can be coming from our spirit guides (or guardian angels, angelic presences, or whatever terminology you wish to use).
Some dreams are "psychic" dreams, in which we receive information we have no other concrete way of knowing. These include precognitive dreams that can give us information about the future, as well as clairvoyant (French for clear-seeing) dreams that can give us glimpses of things going on in the "real world" while we are dreaming.
Some dreams are mainly expressing fears or desires we may have, especially those that may be lying below our conscious awareness. These dreams serve to make us consciously aware of these fears or desires so that we may work on them, and these dreams may also represent our actually working on these issues at an unconscious level.
One of the richest types of dreams is that in which we are working on personal or spiritual growth issues. In these dreams we are receiving (or generating, whatever your point of view) information on these issues. These dreams can be the most content-laden and most rewarding for us to work with, as they point out things for us to look at or work on, or connections between and among factors in our lives that we may not have realized were there. These dreams may also be the most cloaked in symbols.
Many dreams are one-time scenarios that we only have once, but we also have recurring dreams, dreams that repeat the same theme over and over again, sort of a nocturnal reverie leitmotif. These dreams are usually, though not always, more significant than single dreams and can represent general issues that we are working on (whether we realize consciously that we are working on them or not). Over time, as we make progress on the underlying growth issues, we will tend to see these dreams shift and evolve.
So there is a true variety of different types of dream experiences – a veritable cornucopia of dreams. And, to make the experience even richer, any one dream can be a combination of different types of dreams. For instance, we can have a dream in which we are talking to someone we know, which takes place in another country and time period. This dream may be both an experience, in which we are actually exploring a past life, as well as a communication dream, in which we are actually exploring a past life connection with someone we know in real time and are communicating with him or her on some level in that other time period. And this dream could also have a psychic element as well, if something were revealed about the future.
This is one of the fascinating aspects of dreams. (Can you tell how excited I am about dreams?) Dreams are truly a very rich and complicated phenomenon – or set of phenomena.
Now the next question is, do we want to do anything with our dreams? I am a firm believer that looking at our dreams and attempting to work with them in some way can be very rewarding for us. They can give us information about our lives, and they can certainly give us insight into ourselves as we move along on our paths and evolve. For those of us who are into meaning and like to understand things in our lives, dreams provide a rich vein of material to mine.
I must say at this point that my orientation toward dreams starts with a spiritual assumption, and that is that we are here to learn and grow. (And wouldn't life be boring if we weren't?) So my work with dreams is very much colored by this assumption. And, as we learn and grow – and evolve – in our lives, dreams can be a powerful tool. Without this assumption and orientation, we may regard dreams as no more than an oddity, a nighttime venture into the irrational, and a curiosity devoid of any use or practicality.
And, interestingly, in my work with dreams, I can't ever remember working with a dream that had no true meaning.
So, if you'd like to delve into the magical world of dreams and see what you can gain, I'll take you on a guided tour of how you might approach your dreams. (Why not? You've come with me this far!)
First of all, I would recommend only working with the dreams that feel significant to you, whether you understand them or not. We often remember a dream strongly upon awakening, sometimes to the extent that it will stay with us throughout the day, resonating as it is evoked at odd times by different things. These are the dreams I would work with.
Some dream-workers recommend keeping a journal by the bed and programming yourself to wake up from every dream and record it. My approach is less active. I operate under the assumption that we'll generally remember the significant dreams and that, if we take too proactive an approach, we might be disturbing our sleep too much. Being rested is too important in our stressful world to deliberately disturb sleep!
Once we have a dream that we feel is significant, the first step, as mentioned above, is to figure out what type (or types) of dream it was.
After we know what type(s) of dream it was, we then want to try to understand it. This is where we get into the realm of dream interpretation, because dreams are so often veiled in symbolic form. And this is also where things can become sticky, because good dream interpreting is somewhat of an art and requires skill.
It also requires intuition. So throw out all your dream dictionaries that tell you that a certain symbol has certain meanings! A dream is not a generalized story, aimed at the general populace with general meanings; it is a specific message for the dreamer alone and, as such, it is expressed in the dreamer's own vocabulary. The dreamer alone has the keys to understanding it – or a good dream interpreter who uses intuition to decode the meanings specific for the dreamer.
And that's another fascinating aspect of dreams: any one dream can have several different meanings – and all of them equally valid meanings for the dreamer.
So, sharpen up those intuitive pencils and let's start tackling those dreams!
After you've determined what type(s) of dream you're working with, you'll want to follow these steps:
1. Ask yourself (or the dreamer) how you (or he/she) felt about the dream, both upon waking and in retrospect. Was it pleasure, fear, anxiety, optimism, relief, etc.? Our feelings about our dreams are keys to their meanings.
2. Allow yourself to get into a very relaxed state of consciousness and clear your mind as you go over the dream's unfolding sequentially in your mind (or as the dreamer relates the dream to you, if it's not your dream). What things go through your mind as you review or listen to the dream? What is evoked? What percolates up from your subconscious?
3. Instead of focusing on how "bizarre" the dream seems, approach it as a very rich, cogent, and, yes, respectable event. If we are just focusing on the bizarre quality of dreams, this serves to distract us from their credible validity and the richness in insight they can offer to us.
4. Then work with each symbol in the dream independently. Focus on a symbol, while asking yourself (or the dreamer), "What does this mean to me (or you)?" For example, we might feel that coins in a dream signify riches. However, if the dreamer's husband was a coin collector, the symbol may also be saying something about the dreamer's husband or their relationship. I once had someone relate a dream to me that she had had, very upset because there was a cat in the dream and someone had told her that a cat in a dream means death(!). When I asked this woman how she felt about cats, she replied, "Oh, I love cats!" Well, obviously for her the cat in her dream did not necessarily mean death! Remember, too, that any one symbol can have more than one valid meaning.
5. Ask yourself what the general theme of the dream is. What area(s) of your (or the dreamer's) life is it related to – work, relationships, childhood, etc.?
6. Go over each "story" segment of the dream and work to understand it as a discrete little unit.
7. Put all the pieces, or segments, of the dream and their meanings together. What picture emerges? How does each segment relate to other segments?
8. Pay attention to any words or phrases that are prominent in the dream. Puns and plays on words are common in dreams and often meaningful.
9. Look for any elements that may have particular significance for you (or the dreamer). What do these elements mean? (For example, a numerologist may have numbers pop up in dreams and these numbers may have numerological significance that contributes to the dream's meaning(s), or a florist may have flowers or plants appear prominently that may have significance.)
10. Look at the other people who appear in the dream. How do you (or the dreamer) feel about each person? Further meaning may be gained by also looking at each person as you (or the dreamer). Are these people parts of yourself (or the dreamer) that are embraced, disowned, or suppressed?
11. Remember, again, that any one dream can have several different meanings. What different meanings does the dream have? What pictures emerge? What is the dream telling you?
Working with our dreams and practicing dream interpretation can take time and patience. However, we gain more skill and confidence over time.
It can definitely be helpful to keep a dream journal of significant dreams that you've had, with the plan of rereading them periodically. Often when we go back and read over dreams that we've had a year or more ago, we can gain even more insight. We often understand our dreams even more and realize the issues that were being expressed. Going back over former dreams can also give us perspective on the shifts we've subsequently made in our lives, how we've evolved and grown.
Dreams represent wonderful and abundant material and, interestingly, we all have our own individual dream signatures, types of dreams unique to us. Some people have fairly straightforward, short dreams, while others have long epic, complicated, and interwoven oeuvres. As much as I enjoy interpreting dreams for others, I get just about as much enjoyment seeing dreamers' "ahas" of realization, when they suddenly see their dream make sense to them.
Dreams can give us answers we've been looking for. Dreams have even saved people's lives when they've had heavily symbolic dreams that turned out to be about health conditions they had been unaware of, such as cancer!
Allowing yourself to explore your dreams and understand them can open up whole new vistas and dimensions for you – and definitely enrich your life. You can understand yourself more and feel more in control of your life. You can demystify those nighttime enigmas – and maybe even save your life! You can even have fun! So, allow yourself to go on a "magical mystery tour" of dream exploration!