Dreams have long been revered for the messages they convey. Shamanic traditions use dreams to solve problems and gain insight about what is to come. In Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, dream interpretation was an art that required thorough practice. Great kings and emperors would seek out oracles to divine the meaning of their dreams. People from all ranks would travel to the oracle of Delphi in hopes of receiving a dream, which could be interpreted to provide the answers they sought. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung revived the practice of dream interpretation as a psychoanalytic tool. As sophisticated, as dream interpretation may seem, in truth, it is the most accessible method of self-inquiry and transformation, for nearly everyone dreams. Here are the basics of what you need to know to begin your own practice of dream interpretation.
1. Dreams Have Multiple Meanings
Dreams do not have one simple meaning: within each dream there are layers of symbolism and meaning. When starting to practice dream interpretation, it is important to record all the details you can remember because nothing is happenstance. Dreams are constructed to provide as much insight as possible in the compact form of visual imagery. All the details are reflecting something about the nature of your unconscious mind. The red clock on the wall may seem insignificant, but its placement within the context of your dream is not meaningless. Most people do not delve into the deeper significance of their dreams and take them as straightforward, fantasy stories. To truly begin dream interpretation, you must know that every color, nuance, temperature, feeling, location, and interaction in the dream can yield unfathomable information about what’s going on below the surface of your conscious mind. Be prepared to explore these images on a deeper level and know this process takes time. One significant dream can take months to unravel because of all the subtle messages coded within it.
2. Dreams Speak In Universal Language
Dreams arise from the unconscious, which has its own language. Symbols, metaphor, myth are how this realm of the mind communicates. Once someone told me of a recurring dream where a hooded man met him on a street to deliver a package. Literally, it doesn’t seem like much is going on: a hooded figure hands over a package. Yet, this dream kept occurring until the man took the time to perform dream analysis and figure out what the dream was trying to convey. He began to use dream analysis techniques and realized the hooded man represented his father, whom he had never known growing up, leaving him a mysterious figure in the man’s adult psyche. This man continued to work with this dream and switched to focusing on the package to learn the symbolic message being conveyed. He noted the package was always brown with a silver bow on top. The silver bow reminded him of a specific birthday where he no longer felt like a boy any longer, but was troubled he did not have masculine figure to look up to as he transitioned to this next phase of his life. After a month of searching his unconscious mind for the meaning of these images, he came to the conclusion that the dream symbolized the archetypal wisdom of a father that he had sought for so long in his adult life. He felt a sense of peace by realizing he was being given the reassurance that the wisdom of how to mature in the next phase of his life would still be present for him and he could release old feelings of resentment towards his unknown father who did the best he could.
3. Dream Interpretation is Personalized
It can be very tempting to have a dream and want to seek outside sources for answers. There are countless books and websites available that offer meanings for common dream experiences. While it can be beneficial to start your dream inquiry by looking up some meanings, keep in mind only the dreamer can truly interpret what the dream means for them. Working with someone trained in dream analysis can provide tools and methods to interpret a dream, but due to ethical standards, most practitioners will not try to give meaning to the dream for you. Dreams are immensely personalized to your psyche and come at just the right time. The dreams you have are an indicator of the psychic material that is finally ready to be worked through and processed. Have the confidence to do the inner work to figure out your dream interpretations yourself. When you decode the meaning, you will have the “aha” moment that confirms your knowing deep within.
4. Dream Reveal What You Don’t Know
Dreams give insight into what you don’t already consciously know. Information that can be easily psychologically processed through your conscious mind usually isn’t what is showing up in dreams for you. According to the Johari Window, a psychological theory of self-disclosure, the unconscious is the window of the unknown to yourself and unknown to others. Dreams are the portal to this unknown unknown buried inside your psyche. In this part of your psyche are childhood memories, repressed feelings, subconscious bias, and precognitive intuitive abilities. The material of your dreams is often what your unconscious mind is still working through. Since daily tasks use up your psychic energy during the day, it is at night when the mind can relax, and the processing of your thoughts and feelings occurs. Dream interpretation is meant to disclose unconscious information to yourself to help you make conscious transformations. It is important to know that nothing will be revealed to you unless on some level you are ready to confront, heal, and acknowledge the information coming through your dreams.
5. Dream Interpretation Leads to Wholeness
Dreams seek to lead you to wholeness. When all sides of your nature can be accepted, both those deemed “good” and “bad”, you are able to consciously integrate your entire personality. What is denied, suppressed, or repressed will get buried in your unconscious mind, and over time will lead to what depth psychologists have termed a “complex.” A complex occurs when your emotions, memories, and perception patterns constellate around a certain archetypal energy. You will unconsciously repeatedly reenact behaviors that reinforce this archetype, acting on autopilot from habitual patterns. Very quickly, complexes lead to self-destructive behavior, because the unconscious energy is stuck and not able to be used for adaptations that reflect your present reality. To unravel a complex and create new patterns, it often requires bringing unconscious material that has become constellated into a complex. Since dreams are often the most accessible way to learn about your own unconscious mind, doing dream interpretation is a wonderful way to facilitate personal growth and transformation.
6. Dreams Interpretation Benefits From Community Support
Dreams are connected to the entire collective unconscious. According to Carl Jung, there is both a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious, which comprises the experience of every human who ever lived. The collective unconscious houses mythic energy, ancestral experience, and collective wisdom of humanity. It is universal and not shaped by the experiences that create someone’s personal unconscious, though the personal unconscious is impacted by the collective unconscious. According to Jung, everyone is born with innate archetypal energies within them, regardless of culture, conditioning, and time. When you dream, you are linked to every other person on Earth through this unconscious web. Each night when you dream you tap back into this source of universal energy, which guides you through the personal unconscious. Since dreams are connected to the collective, dream interpretation is enhanced when practiced in a supportive group. Having a community to share your dream insights with helps you to move through the psychological transitions that occur when doing this level of inner work, particularly when your dreams move into the collective unconscious realm. While dreams are extremely personalized to your psyche, they also serve to remind you of the connection you share with all of life. Reaching out for support while doing dream interpretations can really provide you the support to make significant discoveries about the mysteries your dreams reveal.