Read an Excerpt
"I Wonder What That Dream Meant..."
Sometimes the feeling that a dream has meaning will be so strong it will be an almost physical sensation, like having a forgotten name on the tip of your tongue. Whether or not you discuss such a dream, you are left with a haunting feeling of having been touched, of receiving communication from a deeper part of the mind. If the dream is particularly meaningful, it may float to the surface of your consciousness during the day, triggered by some word or event which seems oddly related to it.
The dreams that seem most puzzling are the most critical for us to understand.
Those dreams that stir us with the sensation of their importance, yet challenge us to unravel their messages, are often the most valuable to understand. The subjective experience of relevance combined with the conscious inability to recognize meaning is always a powerful clue that a dream is significant. Any dream that feels important may indeed be vital-even more so if it is difficult to understand. Each of us has areas in life we tend to deny or avoid understanding. Some of us have been taught that we cannot think and feel at the same time, for example, so any experience that would evoke both feelings and contemplation causes us to draw a blank. If a dream centers on something that eludes the grasp of your conscious mind during waking life, you may find it tricky to examine the information in dream form as well. Yet, the determination and courage required for the exploration of dreams is well worth the effort.
Dreams, if understood, are a powerful resource for better understanding yourself and the complexities of your waking life. Dreams can offer insights into why you feel so strongly about certain things, what is really going on in your work setting, why relationships always seem so difficult, and what is meant by those stirrings of discontent that sometimes excite you and other times depress you. The part of your mind that creates your dreams has a stronger awareness of certain kinds of information and certain levels of understanding than does your conscious mind. As a result, your dreams contain surprising insights and perspectives on your waking life and the themes that are woven throughout your lifetime.
This is a fascinating time to explore your dreams because all over the world, an exciting leap of exploration is taking place. The superstitions and taboos that formerly inhibited our interest in dreams are falling away; the morbid fear of discovering mental problems through a troubling dream is gradually fading. In place of these worrisome factors is a new confidence as people discover empowering and encouraging ways that dreams teach us, help us understand ourselves and others, and stimulate our creativity.
You may already have noticed some intriguing connections between your dreams and your experiences in waking life. Even people who have not made a study of dreams have the intuitive feeling that they hold meaning. Many who remember their dreams have had at least one experience of recognizing what was meant in a dream. It is a strange and exciting feeling to recognize the connections between dream images and experiences in waking life. This awareness can give you a feeling of greater depth in your life-a sense that events are interconnected in ways that are not always visible but that nevertheless have impact and purpose.
You may have felt drawn to learn about dreams several times before and only now have decided to make the time to do so. Or you may have a great deal of experience with dreamwork and find that your level of understanding has evolved and changed, so that now you crave more information or another perspective.
Methods for exploring dreams and interpreting their imagery are quite varied. Some developed out of the early approaches to psychotherapy, and those methods tend to be oriented toward uncovering pathology. As a result, even today many people approach the topic of dreamwork with the fear that the process will uncover some unfortunate character attribute. In my work with the dreams of friends, students, and family, however, the reverse experience is by far more common.
Dreams tend to point out talents, gifts, and inner strengths that the conscious mind has either forgotten or ignored. You will not become involved in dreamwork and discover there is something "wrong" with you, but you may well be deeply moved by recovering aspects of yourself you had forgotten or talents you had long ago abandoned.
Other types of interpretation arose out of folklore and religious teachings. These methods carry with them the necessity of familiarity with and belief in certain traditions and philosophies. Without a background in these schools of thought, the methods of interpretation can be frustratingly complex and obscure. Many people have heard bits and pieces of information from differing approaches and have assumed that each "truth" came from the same source. Hearsay about these different processes can create confusion and even fear about a particular dream's significance.
The approach I have developed and that I share with my students is geared toward personal growth and self-discovery. I've been teaching about dreams in community colleges and adult education programs for the past 20 years, and I have been teaching undergraduates at Marylhurst University for the past 16 years. I also lead private dream-sharing groups and workshops and offer private consultations where people can explore the meaning or implication of a dream that strikes them as significant. The longer I work with people and their dreams, the more passionately I believe that each of us has the ability and indeed the right to understand and benefit from our dreams. This isn't the territory of some expert or professional; this is your territory and your gift.
Using principles from contemporary psychology and an understanding of the language of the unconscious mind, you will be able to decipher and learn from the information that comes to you each night. This approach is really a system for recording and looking at dreams in a way that makes their meaning more apparent.