Before we try to understand our dreams, we need to have some dreams to work with. The two pillars of dreamwork are recalling and recording. There are a number of techniques for dream recall, some of them a bit extreme.
The simplest method of dream recall is to give yourself the suggestion, just before going to sleep, that you will remember a dream in the morning. Recalling and recording are inseparable, so you need to have a pad and pen by your bedside so you can write down whatever dreams or images you recall.
Since we dream in a 90 minute cycle, some have suggested setting the alarm for a period in the morning, maybe an hour or so before waking, that would coincide with a dreaming period. I am not crazy about the idea of waking myself with an alarm just to remember a dream.
A friend of mine would wear socks to bed. During the night the socks would become too warm and would wake her up. Another fellow dreamworker would simply drink lots of water, necessitating getting up to go to the bathroom frequently. One odd dream recall technique involves freezing some noxious smelling object in an ice cube and putting it next to the bed. Some time during the night, the cube will melt and the smell will wake you.
When I was first interested in dreams, I found that simply reading books on dreams would stimulate my recall. If you can find a local dream class, this will also stimulate your dream recall, as will simply reading this article.
Once you are able to increase your recall, the writing down of the dreams will take center stage. If possible, it is best to write the dream down as soon as you wake and recall it. Even if it is in the middle of the night, it is a good habit to write it down immediately. No matter how vivid the dream might be, there's a good chance you will forget it by morning.
A small flashlight can help with this. You can even buy pens that have lights at their points, for this very purpose. If writing dreams down in the middle of the night doesn't work for you, try recording your dreams. You must try to speak clearly or your half-asleep ramblings will be incoherent. And of course if you choose this method, you will have to transcribe your dreams later.
When recording a dream, always do it in the first person and in the present tense. This keeps the dream fresh and alive. Put in as much detail as possible. Nothing in the dream is unimportant. Be sure to include your feelings in the dream. One of the biggest clues to dream understanding, will come from those parts of the dream which contain some emotion, whether positive or negative. Titling the dream can actually sometimes lead to an understanding of the dreams' meaning.
Now it is time to make some sense of these bizarre images and experiences. When you first start working on your dreams, do not use a dream dictionary. The writer of the dictionary, no matter how experienced, has no idea what a cat means in your dream, or any other symbol. Do you like cats? Is it your cat? What is your interaction with the cat? You can see that the meaning of any symbol is dependent on many different things.
Even those symbols, which some people think of as universal, are not universal at all. Dreaming about the elements such as air, fire, water, and earth can have dozens of different meanings depending on the dreamer and the context of the element. After you have had some experience working on your own dreams, you can begin to develop your own personal dream dictionary based on insights into your dream symbols.
Many books have been written on understanding and interpreting dreams. But here are some general techniques that are helpful for beginners as well as experienced dreamworkers. One of the best ways to understand the meaning of any dream is to ask this question: "What is happening in my life right now that feels like this dream?" Notice that you are asking about what feels like the dream. The imagery and actions may seem strange but the key to dream understanding is in the feeling.
The other way to get to the meaning of a dream fairly quickly is based on a common (but not universally agreed upon) understanding. That is the idea that all parts of the dream represent parts of the dreamer. This was used by Fritz Perls in his famous Gestalt Therapy technique. He would have people speak to a pillow in a chair opposite where they were sitting. The pillow could represent another person in the dream or even an object.
The dreamer would speak to the dream representation and ask it questions. Then the dreamer would get up physically and trade places with the pillow and answer her own question. This seems cumbersome but it was a very effective and popular technique.
What you can do is simply identify every part of the dream as a part of yourself. This is based on the idea that all of these images are projections of our psyche or unconscious. You could say, "I dreamed that the mother part of myself was talking to me." Or, "I was in my car part of myself driving to the beach part of myself." This method is recommended by dreamworker Jeremy Taylor and is used by many.
Understanding your dreams is one of the best ways that I know to come to a deeper understanding of your self. In dreams, the barriers between the waking consciousness and the unconscious are broken down and we have access to all of our hidden doubts, fears, and blocks to spiritual growth. Our dreams also show us our great potential as human beings. We hide from our greatness as much as we hide from our fears.
To understand our dreams is to understand ourselves. To understand ourselves is to become a better and better version of that self.