A window to our soul and our inner wisdom, dreams represent the communication between the conscious and unconscious mind, perhaps a bridge that allows movement back and forth between what we think we know and what we really know. And even though dreaming appears to be trivial for the body’s survival, the activity is of highest importance for our self-development and even more so its analysis.
PURPOSE OF UNDERSTANDING OUR DREAMS
“Analyzing and then acting on our dreams can affect our reality a tremendous amount – more than most people would guess,” says dream analyst, author and researcher Craig Sim Webb. “On one level, it depends on how much importance the dreamer gives their dreams in regards to cultivating them and harvesting the resulting gifts. However, dreams also transform into thoughts or impulses during the day that we may not associate to the dream directly, but which still affect our choices and hence the physical world. Many of the greatest inventions, books, songs, movies, corporations, etc are inspired directly by dreams, and so a single dream can even affect a great deal of people, but more often they come to help us solve problems, heal, learn, expand spiritually and express our unique talents creatively.”
Dreaming can be like communicating with our unconscious mind as well as our full potential. And it’s up to us to figure out what the message means. “Carl Jung said that not looking at your dreams is like getting a very important letter and never opening it,” says personal development trainer and spiritual coach Mark Karlsson. “The challenge is in understanding the symbols and language that come from the unconscious in the form of our dreams, for rarely are they literal. It is said that it takes 13 billion brain cells to initiate a dream, so your psyche is going to a lot of trouble to give you a very important message via the dream.”
Dreams can help us understand our habitual tendencies and shed light on the parts of our personality we tend to neglect or cover up. They can aid us in understanding the confusing and contradictory thoughts that exist within us. They reveal our deepest desires and deepest wounds and let us play out painful and conflicting emotions as well as experiences in a safe environment, in which the feelings are real, even though it is physically unreal.
“Whether from a psychoanalytical perspective, such as that of Carl Jung, or from the variety of indigenous native cultures with whom I’ve worked, or through the artful practice of Tibetan dream yoga, the consensus across cultures and philosophies suggests that analysing one’s dreams enables an individual to develop greater self-awareness, to access the variety of creative and healing realms beyond time and space, and to provide a container for how to consciously cross from this lifetime,” says Sandra Corcoran, who is a trained dream decoder, therapist and author of Shamanic Awakening; my Journey Between the Dark and the Daylight.“As Jung so aptly expressed when speaking about the dreamtime, ‘This inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds.’ Learning to analyse and learn from our personal dream symbology, we gain access to both our waking and dreaming worlds, creating a richer, more empowered, life experience. Many of my indigenous mentors told me the power of the dream is that it can ‘open us to deeper channels within the expression of the full self.’ It is here that our infinite potential, creative possibilities, manifesting powers, inner advice, and even predictions can arise.”
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EXPLORING THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND
According to Karlsson, dreaming is probably the most important way to access the subconscious mind, as it is giving us information, which it believes is the most important information we need at this particular time in our life. “You may consciously believe you need other information, but your conscious mind is so small in comparison to the unconscious, and so it would follow that the unconscious would be much more qualified to give us the ‘right’ guidance. Carl Jung compared a small boat to the ocean with the boat representing the conscious mind and the ocean the unconscious. And the conscious mind believes it’s running the show!”
“Many people tell me that they cannot remember their dreams,” says Sandra Corcoran. “It is easy to forget your dreams when the alarm starts your day, or you see dreams as insignificant.
Corcoran’s tips on what works best for dream recall:
- Tell yourself as you are going to sleep that you are going to dream.
- Review your day as you relax so that you de-charge the activities and emotions that made up your day.
- Have paper and pen ready next to your bed, or even a hand-held recorder, to note the first thing you remember upon waking — whether that is a word, emotion, colour, phrase, or the snippet of a dream. Freely associate what this means, or even how it applies to a situation in your life. Do this nightly for at least a week and see what happens. Learning to ‘awaken’ your dreams is like learning a foreign language, the more you practice, the more you will get from the process.
According to Karlsson, we all have at least three dreams per night, but often we simply can’t remember them. Therefore, in addition to writing down and recording them as soon as you wake after the dream, he even suggests drinking a glass of water before going to bed, ensuring that you will have to get up to go to the bathroom, and at this time you will have had a dream.
Shaul also recommends waking up slowly and keeping movement to a bare minimum to avoid your thoughts being carried away by your daily duties. Instead, he says you should recollect and remember the dream in a half asleep, half awake state for optimum results.
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TYPES OF DREAMS
There are various categories of dreams, which all have very different qualities and meaning and therefore have to be interpreted differently. Some are psychic and can tune into upcoming events and accurately predict the future, while others, and probably the majority, are symbolic and offer solutions to personal issues.
Karlsson and Corcoran both agree that it’s the feeling or the mood of the dream that differentiates each category. “There are common dreams where we are discharging the day’s activities or the emotions we are wrestling with,” says Corcoran. “There are conscious or lucid dreams where we know we are the dreamer and can guide ourselves towards greater knowingness. There are healing or creative dreams that can bring forth how to change an illness, or expand upon an idea, song, painting, theory, etc. There are nightmares that grab our attention so we can face something in our subconscious or shadow-self to change current circumstances. Often putting our attention into categorising the dreams, more than simply noting or titling the dream, can take from the wealth of its symbology. As any teacher will tell you though, it is not the dream that commands the dreamer, it is the dreamer who commands the dream.”
Hebrew shaman and Kabbalah teacher Shmuel Shaul also points out that even though most of the dreams are symbolic, there are at least five other types of dreams.
- Prophetic dreams that predict the future
- Warnings that alert the dreamer to anything bad that might happen, such as sickness, accidents and so on
- Interactive dreams where we really meet other people, entities, souls of dead people
- Healing dreams, which bring real healing energy, and we do not have to work with them, but just allow them
- Dreams, which awaken old memories from this life or a past life
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“To learn more about dreams and their potential benefits is like growing a friendship with someone,” says Webb. “In this case the friendship is with our own deeper self (ie our subconscious).” Webb also points out that it is advisable to keep an open-minded, curious and playful, yet sustained approach, which is more likely to bring about long-term benefits. Furthermore, he also stresses that the feeling within the dream and also upon awakening is extremely helpful when reviewing the dreams and identifying ongoing themes and recurring characters.
It is said that over time, the dreamer will create his own personalised dream symbolism dictionary and understand what the meaning of the symbols are on a personal level, which will, without a doubt, simplify the analysing process of future dreams. “Dream interpretation, although helpful when guided by a qualified mentor, therapist or shaman, essentially, can only be understood within the context of the life of the dreamer,” says Corcoran. “There are many books on dream interpretation, although I recommend an individual to explore their own meaning of the symbols and feelings that show up in their individual dream scenarios. Secondly, there are universal archetypes and myths that we can utilise to help us uncover the ‘story’ of our dreams. In the end, the dreamer is their own authority, and by claiming the power of their dream, they alone can take the actions necessary for personal change.”
When it comes to understanding symbols, Shaul has a habit of going into meditation and to ‘speak’ with the symbol in order to open and interpret it, and he even recommends playing the role of the symbol (for example the role of a snake, friend or table) to understand its full meaning.
In addition to finding teachers and practitioners who analyse dreams, Karlsson also highlights the benefits of meditation and how it can be an essential first step to dream interpretation. “It quietens the mind, so the unconscious can start to help the conscious mind to look at the dreams,” he says.
Karlsson’s basics to interpreting dreams:
- Always remember that the dream is always about you, so when you dream of another person that you know, for example, you would be looking at that aspect of yourself or in other words, you’d first look at the judgement you held of the other person, good or bad, and then realise that the dream is showing you something about that aspect of you that is represented by that person in the dream
- Look at as many symbols as you can in the dream, and ask yourself, “What do I think that means to me?”
- Look at your feelings in the dream, this is a key point to what the dream may be calling you to look at
- How does the dream start, this is key to the issue or theme of the dream and then look at how it finishes as this is often giving you a solution or conclusion
- Do you think the dream is a warning dream, a completion dream or a prophecy dream?
- Is it happening at night or daytime? At night, then it may be telling you something that is hidden within you that you are not yet able to understand about yourself
- Look at the common idioms used in your language to give you more meanings for the dream. So for example, if you dreamed of your elbow in a dream that showed a particular acquaintance of yours then it could be guiding you to give that person the elbow (kick them out of your life)
- A recurring dream is a life issue that your unconscious mind wants you to be alerted to
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Research has shown that a number of recurring dream themes are experienced universally as well as cross-culturally. Often experienced as nightmares with very specific symbols, the dreams can, however, also be future predictions – positive or negative. “There is a real purpose behind a recurring dream, and it is up to the dreamer to distinguish what separates the meaning and its potential,” says Corcoran. “Most dreams are messages that serve to teach us something about our self and bring to light that which we are not acknowledging. The reason why we get recurring dreams is because we haven’t resolved or dealt with an ongoing issue that has created stress in our life, or perhaps something coming that we need to know or change.”
And it is said that the moment we respect a recurring dream, it will never show up again.
As we’ve already established, even though people experience similar emotions during dreams, symbols are not cast in stone, as the dreams are multi-layered and there isn’t only one way to interpret them. That said, the following themes do come up often and Karlsson tries to shed some light on them:
Flying – If you are consciously doing it often that means you are in control of events and the dream could be showing you how you are making life happen for yourself. It often enables you to get a bird’s-eye-view of your current situation too.
Loosing your teeth – This is usually related to self-worth or self-image or it could be that you need to get your teeth into something and make a decision.
Trying to run but can’t –This is showing you that you don’t actually want to run, it is something that the psyche wants you to face, and at a deep level you want to face it and overcome it, which is why you can’t run in the dream.
Bites – They often signal an initiation into something new.
Vehicles are generalised as:
Cars – Your vehicle of consciousness. If you were to dream of your mother driving your car while you were a passenger in the back of the car, this would be a clear sign that you are allowing your life to be run by your mother.
Motorbike – A sign of autonomy and independence and/or freedom
Bus – This shows you are a part of a collective force.
Train – A very masculine energy as the train can only stay on the track it is on and it is very phallic in its shape.
Boat – A feminine energy as it can move with the water and has much more flexibility than a train.
Plane – Sometimes related to the mind or your consciousness.
All of the above symbols are far too general to take as definite interpretations, but they may help guide you a little if you incorporate them with what is going on in your life in any given moment.
DREAMS AS A GUIDE
Whether you have recurring dreams that haunt you or blissful and ecstatic dreams that leave you refreshed and rested to face the day, rest assured that even the negative ones have a positive impact. “In a spiritual approach, the dreams are always supportive, and they always bring light and life,” says Shaul, “even if the dream is a nightmare or when there is a very negative environment with violence and feelings of anger and hatred. Working with dreams always helps us to live closer to our truth, making the right decisions and understanding our bright and dark sides better. Working with them is like having a friend that points us in the right direction. And there is something magical about it – in our modern, busy life, we do not have to find special or extra time for it, we are doing it while we are asleep. And yes, we all dream.”
You might not remember your dream and you might be overwhelmed with the possible symbology and the myriad of a-z dream directories there are, but according to Shaul “it is always good to explore the dream on a personal level and to remember that the best book we can read about dreams is our own personal dream notebook.”