Each and everyone of us understands the world in their own special way. Every object, symbol, word and image has its own unique, unrepeatable meaning for every human being on this planet. That’s why, creating a universal dream book, which would reveal the meaning of different people’s dreams every time in the same way, can’t be a serious idea.
The meaning of dreams is never universal. Dream interpretation should be done individually, in relation to the situation and intrapsychic condition of the dreamer. Interpretation of dreams is challenging, however, working with your dreams can turn out to be a significant and creative tool for our personal development.
In this article you will learn:
- what dreams are for in general and what the latest research shows about them,
- how to make your own dream book and how to record dreams in detail,
- more about dream interpretation – your own dreams (exercise ”Dream analysis in 5 steps”),
- how to bring back dream to life and experience it again (exercise ”Dream reliving”).
However, don’t expect finished solutions and easy answers. Understanding the meaning of dreams is like solving puzzles. Each piece is different and only you hold the key to work it out.
Dreams’ role from the psychological point of view
In order to learn dream interpretation, we shall, above all, find out what their role in our life is. Figuring this out is not so simple – scientists still don’t know the answer to the question ”what dreams are for?” According to the latest neuropsychological research, it is possible to differentiate 4 main hypothesis explaining what role dreams play in our lives.
- Visualise random signals received from the brain and body during sleep;
- Process and consolidate information gathered during the whole day;
- Represent unconscious desires and wishes;
- Can work like a certain form of psychotherapy.
Salvador Dali, famous surrealist, found inspirations for his paintings in his dreams. Painting ”The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” 1952-54
What’s interesting, therapeutic role of dreams was an issue that intrigued psychologists and therapists even before modern technology was available. Freud claimed that dreams are our subconscious’ attempts of resolving psychological conflicts, which we are not able to work out during the day. Fritz Perls, creator of Gestalt therapy, asserted that dream is an instrument which shows exactly where we see ourselves in life and the world. In dreams, he saw the potential for personality integration (resolving inner conflicts, breaking free from fear and anxiety).
Carl Gustaw Jung analysed thousands of dreams and demonstrated dreamwork as a solid method to understanding human being. Jung contented that dreams have a compensating function, which means cater for desires which can’t be satisfied in the waking life (for instance, a guy who is in an unhappy relationship can dream about having a fling with an attractive woman).
„This whole creation is essentially subjective, and the dream is the theater where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic. This simple truth creates grounds for the notion of interpreting dreams on the subject level. This concept assumes that all the figures in the dream reveal, in a symbolic way, some features of dreamer's psychic life or his personality.”
What do dreams reveal?
If we have a problem, which we can’t face on our own, we often ”sweep it under the carpet”. We don’t want to think about it, we hide it in our subconscious. However, every need of our psyche must finally find a voice, dreams are a state in which the guard of our consciousness is let down. Then everything can come to the surface in a form of images, associations and symbols. According to this hypothesis, every element of a dream is a reflection of our personality.
If something in our everyday life remains “unfinished” or lacks closure, your subconscious will want you to deal with it and express it through dreams. Dream interpretation mirrors our inner world, the aspects we are not aware of. They may serve as a way to understanding what we really don’t want, can’t come to terms with or are afraid of.
Dreams written down in a well kept dream book can therefore become an invaluable source of information about what’s going on in our psyche. This kind of diary is of significant help in exploring the meaning of dreams.
Salvador Dali, in the flesh
Dreamwork in personal development
How dream analysis can help us in our personal development?
- Dreams help us perceive our anxieties, fears, doubts. For instance, two months before our wedding, my bride-to-be had a vision in her dream that it was snowing on the wedding day (which was planned in June). It symbolized unconscious anxiety about the wedding being ruined from some reasons or circumstances that she didn’t have control over (e.g. bad weather);
- Dreams can express our unconscious desires and wishes, which we generally refuse to recognize in the waking life ( e.g. sexual fantasies);
- Dreams may constitute a guideline. They might direct our attention to something, which is important to us and which we neglected (e.g. relationship with an old best friend with whom we haven’t talked for ages);
- Dreams may provide creative solutions to our problems, in relation to our everyday life and our deeper issues. Paul McCartney of The Beatles woke up one morning with a melody in his head, which he had just dreamed about. He quickly wrote down the music and that is how the song ”Yesterday” came to life.
From my point of view, dreams are a great source of information about ourselves and a wonderful jumping off point for self-discovery using diverse methods of personal development. The very keeping record of our dreams might be eye-opening and revealing. Therefore, it is worth to write a personal dream book and try to figure out on our own the meaning of dreams we have each night.
Before I suggest you how to keep such a dream book, there is one more important thing I’d like to tell you. In order to use dream analysis in your self-work, you have to, first and foremost, remember them. When I started my adventure with personal development, I was fascinated with the notion of lucid dreaming (a mind-blowing experience when you realize you are dreaming and you can consciously interact with and direct your dream). In order to practise lucid dreaming, I started to keep a dream book.
At the beginning, I couldn’t remember anything from what I was dreaming. After a few days, I could recall 1 or 2 dreams. Finally, with time, on waking up, my head was filled with vivid imagery – on average, I remembered 3 to 5 dreams with all the details.
In the article How to remember your dreams I wrote some essentials on how to learn to remember your dreams.
Dream book and dream interpretation
First of all, get yourself a nice notebook or a simple, user-friendly mobile application (which will enable you taking short notes under each date). Following the suggestions from the article on remembering dreams, write down your dreams every day, so that you can memorize one or two dreams a day (getting started with it won’t be easy, but be sure to write down everything you have registered during your dream even if it’s only a small part of it).
You don’t have to transcript your dreams in detail, writing down the keywords might be enough. Keeping brief notes makes it easier to recall dreams right after awakening, especially when you have 3 or 4 dreams a day to remember.
Relating the whole dream with every detail can take a lot of time. However, if you want to be able to thoroughly interpret a dream, you will need a rather exact description. Therefore, I suggest you chronicle in great detail only those dreams which draw your particular attention.
I hope that it is now clear to you that an appropriate amount of sleep is the key factor. If you get up sleepy, you can only dream that you will have any clear and detailed record of your dreams.
Salvador Dali, "Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man", 1943
As soon as you got yourself a dream book and wrote down a few dreams in it, you can go about interpreting them.
Dream interpretation in 5 steps
- As you write down your dream, mark the elements which draw your special attention: persons, objects and events.
- List these elements separately, below the dream description. Think about what these elements of the dream mean to you. How do they make you feel? How did you feel inside the dream in relation to those persons, objects and events?
- Take a moment to name your real life situations, dilemmas, issues and intentions that this dream refers to? What is this dream really about?
- Read what you have written one more time, considering the situations from your waking life, to which you have found associations in your dream. Draw conclusions. What did this dream teach you? How does it change your opinion on the situation? What guidelines does it give you? What is your subconscious trying to tell you? Write everything that comes to your head.
- Regardless of how many conclusions you managed to draw, leave it be at this stage. Go back to your notes tomorrow or in a few days and take your time to think about it again.
Pay attention to the last step. Dream interpretation is not over yet. Observe yourself during the day, especially in situations relating to this dream. Consider why your subconscious holds your attention to this particular situation.
It’s quite possible that the next night you will have the same dream. It will give you the chance to do a follow-up to your notes and to explore new things. Some dreams will keep recurring again and again until you solve your problem. (Dreams can recur every night even for few years!).
Try not to overinterpret, or fill in the gaps, or make guessings. Each observation treat as a possibility, not as a fact. Remember that the associations that first come to your head are most valuable. Sometimes you understand the meaning of a dream and it doesn’t leave you any doubts. Listen to your intuition as it might direct you to what your consciousness wants to communicate through your dream. And most importantly, balance everything you note in your dream journal against your waking life. This way, you will learn the language of dreams and crack open their meaning by analysing the situations you are in during the day.
4 facts about dreams:
- We usually have 3-5 dreams each night;
- Each dream lasts for between 5 to 20 minutes;
- We forget 95% of dreams as soon as we wake up;
- The most common themes include: school life, being chased, sexual experience, falling and being late.
Bringing dreams back to life
If you are ready for more, there is one more method you can try out working with a dream book. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt psychotherapy, asserted that analyzing dreams makes it impossible to discover what the dream means to us.
In his work, he applied a different approach. Instead of talking about dreams with his clients, he taught then to bring the dreams back to life. He used the technique of psychodrama to restore mental balance and tap the dreamer’s resources. I am not going to guide you here through the method of dream enactment using drama – if you want to try it out, I recommend you see a Gestalt therapist. I will present you with an easier version of reliving dreams, which can also turn out to be an extraordinary experience for you.
- Choose a dream which you want to study.
- Tell it out loud using present tense, as if you were experiencing it here and now. Example ”I am walking down a dark street and I feel scared. I see purple clouds over the city. Suddenly, from the corner shows up a person dressed up like a sweet and smiling plush rabbit. I am puzzled but also feel strangely calm”. Try to do it slowly and carefully.
- Pay attention to how you feel in every phase of the dream. Your emotions are the key to understand what your dream means and what you dream it for. This exercise will enable you to evoke all the feelings that came up during the dream.
- Write it all down in your journal. Did any new thoughts or associations come up? How did you feel?
Take down every impression and observation in your dream book.
Delving into your dreams is a one of a kind adventure. It’s a journey to the core of your inner world. It’s looking into the recesses of your mind - into places you have never dare to see. Through dreamwork, you can learn a lot about yourself. I recommend you start with keeping a dream book, even if you don’t manage to stick to it every day. You can try to write down all dreams or record only those which seem, for some reason, interesting to you. The more emotional the dream is, the more important it is that you reflect on it.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. What do you dream about? What do your dreams say about you and your life? Have you tried the techniques described in this article and with what result? Have they helped you to understand your dreams?
I am very curious about how your subconscious communicates with you when you enter your realm of dreams.