Most dreams are full of images: of people dead and alive, known and unknown, animals both domestic and wild, landscapes and buildings familiar and strange, or any number of other symbolic images such as jewelry, household things, clothing, and so on. A dream usually has some kind of a story line. You may find yourself on an adventure of some kind. You may dream of celebrities or other famous people either from the present or the past.
I once had a fascinating dream of visiting the president Woodrow Wilson, who had been in office during the time of World War I, long before I was even born. During my dream visit to the president, we talked of many things of a psychic and occult nature. I wondered what it meant. When I discussed this dream with my dreamwork partner, who was a good bit older than I and very knowledgeable about matters concerning the occult, he told me that Woodrow Wilson had held seances in the White House! At the time, I was just beginning my own studies of the occult and having psychic experiences on a regular basis.
Food is another symbol that often appears in dreams. The kind of food and how it is presented and eaten (if eating occurs) are matters for the dreamer to understand. Food dreams may relate to what you had for supper—or what you wanted to have and didn’t get. Or you may have food concerns, such as being on a diet to lose weight or trying to gain weight.
The number of symbols that the dream-mind can produce is practically endless, and most of these symbols are up for individual interpretation. Some, however, have universal meaning. We’ll discuss mostly the first kind in this chapter.
PERSONAL DREAM SYMBOLS
One of the best ways to get at the meaning of the symbols in your dreams is by free association. This is the method made popular by the psychologist Sigmund Freud. In this method, you simply go with the first thing that pops into your mind when the trigger word is given. Do the exercises presented on pages 48–50 in order to begin to get familiar with your own word associations.
AMPLIFICATION OF SYMBOLIC MEANINGS
Once you have identified a symbol in a dream, you can use the free association process to get at its meaning. If you don’t immediately get an associative thought about the dream symbol, work backward through your feelings and experiences with the symbol until you hit something that fits or makes sense. Suppose, for example, that you see a tiger in a dream. Do you like tigers or are they an object of fear? Maybe you saw a nature film recently about tigers and are concerned about their survival as a species. The important thing is to discover what a tiger means to you in the present, for the meanings of your symbols can change over time.
As you begin to work with your dreams on a regular basis and gain a high level of ability to recall your dreams (which we’ll discuss in chapter 5), you will become familiar with your own personal symbolic style. Most of us are influenced symbolically by the objects we are familiar with—such as religious symbols like crosses and pictures of saints or holy people—and also by our everyday life experiences. For example, if you have a pet of any kind, you are likely to dream about that animal. Of course, you may dream about animals even if you don’t keep a pet, and you may dream about wild animals. But if you dream of your own pet, it will have personal significance to you alone.
Sometimes you have a dream that seems to complete some unfinished business of the day—say you had a math problem you couldn’t solve and you dreamed yourself in a classroom with the solution written on the blackboard. Freud believed that dreams were “wish fulfillment” vehicles, and it is true that we can dream of things or experiences that we want (such as getting a date with a particular person) but dreams are much, much more than simple wish fulfillment. They are complex and multileveled, as you will realize by working steadily with your dreams.
“Then your I is no longer your mundane little self but the I of the Big Dreamer who is dreaming the whole universe.”
Fred A. Wolf, Physicist
Most dream symbols are not to be taken literally. You often need to do a bit of sleuthing to get at what the message of the dream symbol, or story, is for you. An example I read in one dream book was a dream of Bob Hope hopping on a pogo stick. At first, this seems nonsensical, but the dreamer was depressed and the dream was interpreted as “Hope springs eternal.” Here’s an example of a recent series of dreams of my own, concerning food.
Here’s another example along the same lines, but with a different twist—that of a lemon peel!
It is interesting to note that some types of dreams that we know to be quite common have never been reported from sleep labs (as least not as far as I have found in my research). One of these is the nightmare. It seems that people don’t want to tell their deepest fears to a sleep lab researcher. Another common type is the wet dream, so named for when a male ejaculates semen while dreaming (though females also have this type of sexual dream). It is interesting to note that most of the subjects in sleep labs are young male college students, whom one might presume to often have wet dreams. But these are, apparently, considered too private to dream when under observation.
Most dreams are not to be taken literally; just because you dream of someone dying does not mean the person will die. In fact, the literal interpretation of dreams can be dangerous and cause fear and anxiety. Also, dream books are not to be trusted. It’s worth repeating that you have your own set of inner symbolic meanings. What a cat means to me—an avid cat lover—and what a cat means to someone who hates or fears cats would be something quite different. Always remember that your inner symbol-producing mechanism is yours alone, unique. That being emphasized, there are a few symbols that can be considered universal, such as the ocean or water representing the unconscious processes.
The best way for you to learn to interpret your own personal symbol system is by continually paying attention to your dreams, writing them down, and doing your own interpretations. Dream interpretation is an art, not a science, and no scientific sleep lab can read the content or measure the meaning of dreams. Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess queen, was believed to say “No mortal has lifted my veil,” and this can well apply to the scientific efforts to penetrate the mysteries of dream in sleep labs.
If you are just beginning to pay attention to your dreams, begin the process of interpretation by recording the symbols that appear most frequently. This applies especially to any recurring dreams or motifs you may experience. For example, I know that when my cat Fuzz (who’s dead now) appears in a dream, it means my heart center is the subject of the dream. Depending on the story line of the dream and what Fuzz is doing or how we are interacting, I can figure out what the dream message about my heart is.
“There are a lot of people on the planet right now who don’t think that dreams are important. Perhaps it is that attitude which contributes to the ill health of the planet as a whole. If so, it depends more and more on you, the Spiritual Warriors of your generation, to weave the dreams that can heal the planet.” Dr. Laurel Ann Reinhardt, “Dream Weaving,” in The Thundering Years by Julie Johnson
The world of dream and intuition is really not divorced from our everyday reality, not a thing apart. Most people today think their dreams have nothing to do with real life, but they are wrong. We are all multifaceted beings with complexities of which often we are hardly aware. Too many people operate solely on linear thinking (the standard modern-day mode that is taught to young people in schools) and aren’t aware that there are other ways to think and to obtain information. As Seth, the “spirit guide” that Jane Roberts “channeled” in a series of books “by” Seth, says, “You must change your ideas about dreaming, alter your concepts about it, before you can begin to explore it. Otherwise, your own waking prejudice will close the door.”
All of the many facets of our personalities are operating all the time, even when we aren’t conscious of them, just like our body chemistry goes on about its business when we are totally unaware of its functioning. Dreams can speak to parts of ourselves that we are ignoring, but we can’t get the benefit from them unless we pay attention and approach their symbolic messages with an open mind and trusting heart.
While the symbolism in dreams may require interpretation, when we have difficulty with it we must realize that its purpose isn’t to mystify us. As Dr. Jung says in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
In working with your own personal dream symbols and motifs to decipher the meaning of your dreams, you may need to come at them from all angles. The following mind-mapping technique is especially helpful for those who function better using pictures and images, colors and drawings, than using a strictly verbal or writing mode.
As you practice interpreting your dreams and get more deeply into the process, it will become an enjoyable habit and you’ll soon feel like an old pro at the game. You will get better and better, and your confidence will start to soar. Even if you have only a scrap of a dream to go on, it can lead to fruitful ideas. Here’s an example from my personal files:
With a little skill, you’ll be able to start integrating your dreams into everyday life. We’ll get into this in the next chapter, where we discuss how you can use dreams for specific purposes. However, please approach the entire subject of your dreams, their interpretations, and how you can use them with an open mind and in a relaxed state. Getting tense over interpretation is counterproductive and will block your efforts to make connections.... Dreampedia