Dream Interpretation

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Dreams are a vehicle for viewing the world through a different perspective. There are as many opinions on what dreams really are as there are dreamers, but there is no dreamer who believes that the reality of his dream is the same as the reality he is about to wake up to. It is always a meeting of personal experience and something outside of it.

The religious person believes a dream comes from a god or a spirit; the transpersonal psychologist believes a dream is an encounter with the unconscious; the spiritualist visits the astral plane in her dreams; the materialist believes that dreams are a mishmash of uncollected memories stirred up by brainstem activity.

However you imagine its origins, a dream is always a wholly unusual experience of being yourself and seeing the world. The decision to find meaning in a dream, to find it worthwhile to examine and sit with, is the decision to try your hand at seeing things in a new way. Taking this step is moving ever closer to self-understanding. Dreams are a function of the mind and body, just like being awake, and so when dealing with say, health, relationship and career problems, experiences and actions in dreams are just as vital as the tools we have in waking life.

The extent to which this is effective is up to your own desire to experiment and observe. There is no map of the dream world that applies to anyone universally. Each dream encounter is unique, and each dreamer is wholly responsible for the attempt to understand and work with it.

Experts have continuously produced methods for understanding, recording, interpreting and even controlling dreams, but the simplest way to look at it is this: a dreamer will comprehend and benefit from her dreams just as much as she desires the broad perspective they offer. Methods can be helpful at the beginning, but, ultimately, the will to learn from dreams is what makes them valuable. With the right motivation, people will naturally produce the techniques best suited for them.

As a quick introductory field guide, here are some pointers:

1. Remembering dreams can take time, but the will to remember is the key factor. Little rituals can help. For example: putting notes under the pillow, reminders when falling asleep, having an extra-special breakfast when a dream finally breaks through.

2. Fuzzy memories count. The dreamer is wholly involved in the dream process, and so what she decides was the dream, was the dream. For example, if she is not sure whether the zebra in the smelting plant was blue or purple, she should trust her best judgment at the time and not consider it a failure if she cannot remember exactly.

3. Write everything out. At some point in the practice, the dream observer will realize he has been writing everything down in generalities, and that he could go into much deeper detail. It is important to do so, but only if it does not make the process a chore.

The sky is the limit when deciding how to respond to a dream. The classic method is to write out any associations that come to mind with each dream image, then attempt to string them together into a coherent message. There is no right answer: the dream's meaning is never definite and is always up for revision. Because of their sheer complexity, any determination of the meaning of dreams is going to be less like a research report and more like an endless dialogue: you get answers as long as you are asking questions. It is entirely possible that while continuing to study a dream, a dreamer will decide on one meaning, then its opposite, then something entirely different from both. The process will stay alive as long as there is interest.

Finding a message in the dream is not the only way to respond to it, either. Black Elk, the famous Lakota medicine man whose story has been recorded in Black Elk Speaks, relates that when he had an intense dream as a young boy, the medicine man in his tribe organized a public reenactment of the dream as a way of respecting and understanding it. Similarly, many people find that dream images are indelibly related to their creative life and include them in their paintings, songs, plays and stories. Some people, if they have had a particularly powerful dream, will simply choose to bask in its emotional glow, responding to it just as they would any other event in their lives. There is also the belief that dreams are just valuable in themselves, and they accomplish what they need to whether you are on board or not.

It is important to note that sometimes dreams will appear either hopelessly obscure or downright uninteresting. It would be a lie to say that dream interpretation is consistently exciting and emotional. If this becomes the case more often than not, it would be best to take a break. Dream study has to be a voluntary project, and so lack of enthusiasm is far more destructive than complete uninvolvement.

Like anything rewarding, making dreams a part of one's life requires a commitment that goes beyond enjoyment and tedium. Fresh insight into yourself and how you function is nothing to scoff at, and with so many ways to explore immediately at your disposal, there is nothing to lose.

More about this author: Joseph Hay

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