Some dreams pack an intense emotional punch: we not only remember them, but we feel their images and energy throughout our waking day. These are the dreams that we don't want to dismiss. Instead, we get curious. We want to know what's behind those gripping images and sensations. What's alive inside of me that could have created that? Unless you've been trained as a Jungian or Freudian psychologist, it's likely that your method of dream interpretation is rather haphazard and loose.
You may have seen dream dictionaries and have gotten the idea that decoding a dream is just a matter of looking up its symbols. While it's true that some dream elements have universal connotations that you'll want to be aware of, dreams are subtle and slippery creatures. If you really want to do dream interpretation you have to learn to think as your dreams think.
Along the way, you'll discover the symbols (people, places, objects) that have deep significance for you. This is the process of discovering the myth, or spiritual adventure story, that you're alive to live.
Taking action on your night-time dreams
In order to discover and live your spiritual adventure story, you need to not only interpret your dreams but also to take action on what you learn from them. Dreaming is a process of spiritual evolution that requires our active participation. Most people, by paying no attention to their dreams and doing nothing to act in response to them, squander an unbelievably valuable opportunity for developing their consciousness and thereby expanding their enjoyment of life.
So many of us go through life without an awareness of our own myth. This lack of awareness makes us hungry and leaves us without a sense of our own rich power; we go seeking for a story outside of ourselves. We become attached to movie stars and musicians, attracted to consumer goods, fixated on the physical. Not knowing our own purpose and our own power, we look for it elsewhere. We end up weakening ourselves in this process; we become sick, depressed, tired.
Ancient people didn't live this way. It used to be common for both men and women to undergo intense rituals and quests that would bring them directly in touch with the mysteries of their own soul. They would go out into the wilderness, dream great prophetic dreams, and then base their names and their paths in life on what they learned from their dreams. Now, our society doesn't support such quests. If we want to be in touch with our soul power, we have to do it ourselves. And this, among other things, means paying attention to our dreams.
The physical body and the energy body
We all have a physical body. What's more difficult for us to understand in this day and age is that we also all have an energetic body. This energetic body holds traces of all we've ever experienced or felt, just like our physical body holds scars and bumps. Our energetic body needs nourishment and exercise just as does our physical body. We neglect it at our peril.
During the waking day time, our physical body is in motion and our energy body is in a less active state. During night-time dreaming, our physical body is at rest and our energy body is alive and wandering about. Where is it wandering about? Well - let's see. Our physical body moves in the physical world -- and it just so happens that our energetic body moves in the energetic, or subtle world. This subtle world contains numerous layers and locales; it's not a single unified "place" but rather a field of possibility.
It's important to realize that most of our dreams happen at an energetic level that's fairly close to our physical body and experience. These are the "boring" kind of dreams. They play out anxieties or simple wish fulfillments. They may contain some metaphoric images, but mostly they're rather literal and don't require all that much thought to interpret. For example, you may have had dreams like these:
- You're standing in the grocery store check-out line, and the clerk has just finished ringing up your order. You reach for your wallet to pay, but realize you don't have it. You're embarrassed in front of the other patrons in line.
- A really sexy person in your acquaintance gives you a long, charged kiss.
- You sit down to a nice campfire with a group of your friends and eat roasted marshmallows.
These mundane dreams feature people and locations from your ordinary life. It doesn't take much pondering to realize that they're about simple anxiety, desire, and love. These dreams serve a rather straight-forward teaching purpose: they make you aware of what you're feeling. They give you an opportunity to come face-to-face with how you see yourself in the world.
The most important action to take with these kinds of dreams is just to acknowledge them and use them as reminders to deal honestly with the emotions that they emphasize.
For example, after you dream about lacking your wallet in the check-out line, you may want to admit to yourself (without judgment and without trying to 'fix' it) that you really do care a lot about what other people think of you. You really would feel mortified if you ended up forgetting your wallet. Just take a deep breath and sit with that. That's who you are right now. Another example - if you dream about kissing some sexy person, you may want to admit the sincerity of your attraction. Again, just breathe it in. You don't have to act on it or do anything about it, you just need to know it and honor it.
As we pay attention to them, our dreams serve the function of widening our knowledge of ourselves. Mundane dreams, though rather dull and not all that thrilling to interpret, are still important because they prevent us from getting stuck in denial. The more we become acquainted with our own daily fears and longings, the more intimately we know our own humanity. We become less likely to judge someone else's anxiety or lust. We understand that those same feelings live within us. This knowledge gradually makes us more loving.
The more fully we know ourselves and the more loving and accepting we become, the more we start to have a second kind of dream. This second kind of dream we can call a psychological dream. It shows us something about our own psychological make-up that goes deeper than just surface fears and wants. Psychological dreams often strongly invoke the past in some way: we dream of our parents or of people we knew long ago.
These dreams feature symbols and settings that are a good deal stranger than our mundane dreams. What's the reason for this strangeness? It's that psychological dreams represent what the energy body finds when it wanders farther away from the physical body. The further the energy body moves from the physical body, the more fantastic become its adventures. The land of the psychological dream is often a land that still throbs with our childhood perceptions and emotions.
Psychological nightmares are much more terrifying than mundane anxiety dreams. In psychological nightmares we are faced with replays of the traumas we endured growing up. No matter how wonderful our upbringing, we all suffered some kind of trauma in the journey from childhood to adulthood. This hurt lives on in this second layer of energetic territory. For individuals who were abused as children, this is an extremely difficult place to confront. Our psychological dreams compel us to make real peace with our pasts. Until we do this, these dreams take us again and again to dark and ugly territories. Psychological dreams demand more subtlety of interpretation than mundane dreams. This is because they're speaking to us about events, places and feelings that we have done our best to forget.
In order to understand your psychological dreams, you'll have to be very honest with yourself about what happened to you in the past. This is a natural process: just consider the content of your dream and allow it to "connect the dots" within you. In order to move through this level of dreaming, you'll have to nurture in yourself a strong intention to forgive and heal. Here are some examples of psychological dreams:
- You're being chased down a dark alley by a menacing figure in a white mask.
- Your parents have laid out their table for a fancy dinner - and you're the main course.
- The girl who was mean to you at school puts a red snake in your bed which turns into a dragon.
These kind of dreams are more symbolic and require more figural (i.e., metaphorical or tropic) thought to unpack. For example - you're the main course in a fancy dinner your parents are eating - could it be that your parents once "fed" on your energy and accomplishments? Did you feel at some level threatened or overwhelmed by their attention to you?
How to Think Like Your Dreams Think
Dreams think in metaphors, puns, story, and drama. In other words, they think in poetic devices. In order to understand your dreams, you also have to be willing to think poetically.
To think poetically means to consider elements of the dream in terms of all their connotations and associations. It means encountering the dream as a holistic experience and meeting it with your whole heart rather than coming at it as a problem to be solved with your mind alone. Instead of asking yourself, "What does this mean?" try asking yourself, "What kind of metaphor is this? What does this symbol make me feel? What does it invoke in me?" For example, you may realize that the red snake put in your bed by the mean girl from school makes you think of the blood of your first menstrual period and how threatened you felt by the changes of puberty.
But menstrual blood is not what the red snake means - it's a possible symbolic association for the red snake. The red snake is not just a dramatic stand in for "menstrual blood" - it's also a red snake - something slithering and alive and startling. Something possibly dangerous and definitely strange to find in your bed. What feelings does its presence evoke in you?
Psychological dreams are more challenging than mundane dreams to resolve through action. Often it's not enough to simply acknowledge the feelings that a certain dream tells you about: you usually have to do something to show your energy body (i.e., your soul) that you "get" what it's showing you.
For example, if you've thought a lot about the dream of your parents eating you at a fancy dinner table, and you've realized that the dream is about your feelings of being consumed by your family life, you may need to take the steps of learning how to set and enforce more appropriate boundaries with your family. Such a process could take months or years. No matter how much work it is, you need to do it if you want to progress on your journey.
Another example: if you realize that the red snake in your dream makes you think of your first period and the trouble of transitioning from childhood into adulthood, you may need to re-examine your thoughts about your feminine identity. Do you need to revise or expand your beliefs about what it is to be a woman? Do you need to inwardly forgive the mean girl at school who teased you for your pimples and awkward clothes? Do this, and you'll heal the unease that the dream points to.
Once you've worked through a large quantity of your psychological dreams, you arrive at the third layer of dreaming: spiritual dreams. Tune in soon to learn just exactly how those kinds of dreams work and what interpretive tools you need to meet them.