Isn’t the mind weird? Especially when we’re asleep. What the heck is going on there? Is it just ‘static’ as some researchers believe? Or are dreams meaningful? Are there archetypes such as the Shadow, Mother, the Anima and Animus, and the Self, as Jung proposed? Or is it just garbage?
Well, having studied and recorded my dreams for a long time, I have decided that they are meaningful: that is, psychologically meaningful. Although I have had a number of quite remarkable dreams about the future, I don’t think that there is any case for interpreting dreams in terms of fortune-telling. All that ‘tall, dark stranger’ stuff is not my angle on this at all!
Just Static? A Look At Where Dreams Come From
Dream Interpretation How to go about Interpreting Dreams
In the following sections it is worth remembering that anyone can dream anything, so the examples in each section are intended to be typical only. In the case of women having so-called men’s dreams and vice-versa, the sex of some of the protagonists may be appropriately reversed, but the other characteristics may well stay pretty much the same. The descriptions are not mutually exclusive and are not structured identically, so you will probably find it more informative to read both.
Some researchers have said that in their view, when we experience dreams, all we are experiencing is what it feels like to have our brains sorting out their electronics for a while. They have described it as the inner equivalent of ‘white noise’ such as you hear on a mis-tuned radio.
However, it doesn’t take much thought to dispense with this theory, in my opinion. Yes, the dreams may indeed be sparked off by some static; it’s as good a mechanism as any. However, it is what we make of that static that gives it meaning. When we dream, we are involved in an inner environment, often with a storyline, objects, events, dialogue and so on. The dream may have been triggered by static, but it is clear that we very quickly sense this static and interpret it: we see objects, and have thoughts. It is no longer just static: it has become a product of our selves, and it reflects our hopes and fears. Static alone could not do this in the consistent way that dreams do.
Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that when we are asleep, we are not actually unconscious at all! Instead, it seems that we are conscious the whole time, with one very important difference: we do not have conscious access to or control over our long-term memory whilst asleep. Hence, we forget anything that we may be thinking about within about five minutes or so. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense: think about how on the one hand, dreams ramble on, more or less changing subject whenever a new idea presents itself to us, and how, on the other hand, they keep coming back to the same points again, although often visualized in a different way. It is as if we are thinking about something, get distracted, and then, because we haven’t solved the problem or don’t have immediate access to a previously worked out answer, come back to it when it comes up again. Consider also that strange phase when we are just drifting off to sleep. I have been woken up at that point, and denied being asleep, because I was still conscious of my thoughts, rambling though they were. This theory of sleep simply presumes that this state continues long enough for me to forget the direct continuity those rambling thoughts have with my waking thoughts of more than a few minutes ago – at which point, I will assume that I have indeed been asleep since anything from more than a few minutes ago will have been forgotten – as if I was unconscious at the time. Also, as sleep gets deeper and sensory input declines, the thoughts become illustrated with hallucinations – just like what happens in sensory deprivation experiments. This theory also explains why sometimes, if you can remember the tail end of a dream, if you concentrate, you can trace it backwards in your memory and eventually recall what seems to be the whole dream, or even several dreams: you’re tracing back your own thoughts. This also explains why dreams can be meaningful, of course. What is more difficult is why the symbolism seems so obscure.
In my view, this is simply an artefact of our own ignorance of the instinctual symbolic language our brains use. We are used to our self-taught languages, i.e., written and spoken language, but it is pretty clear that humans in particular are born with an innate predisposition to learning and using language. To me, this implies an instinctual substrate – a pre-existing instinctual language of basic ideas or building blocks, if you like, upon which our spoken language is built. Dream interpretation means getting at this instinctual language, i.e., understanding those basic ideas.
In the discussion that follows, I will refer to our sleeping mind as the ‘unconscious’ mind, since that is the terminology in current general use and nobody knows for sure yet just what is going on in there, but bear in mind that it is your mind, not anyone else’s. Contents
Because dreams are the product of our brains and minds, they reflect what is going on in there. As a result, they can be usefully interpreted to give you some idea of what your inner realities are. Now obviously, we know roughly what we think – we are conscious of many thoughts, after all. However, Freud in particular discovered that there is more to us than that. We have some philosophically problematic entity that has become known as the ‘unconscious mind’. The problem is, how can a ‘mind’ be unconscious and still be a ‘mind’? However, I’m not planning to deal with that problem here – maybe I’ll produce a consciousness page sometime! Whatever its philosophical status, something, I think most would agree, is going on beneath the surface of our minds. Dreams are one way of investigating that.
There are various schemes around for interpreting dreams: Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian, and more. I will look at the Jungian scheme, since I see the Freudian and Adlerian approaches as too narrow. That isn’t to say that they can’t be useful, but just that I’m not interested in them. Freud presumed everything was to do with sex, Adler with power. Jung made no such presumptions, although he had a seriously mystical bent which many found off-putting. In my view, he was just unafraid to ask difficult questions and accept difficult answers. The Freudian band then and now seem irrationally afraid of the irrational within the human make-up and are too quick to pooh-pooh it, but that’s bad luck because it’s there anyway: instincts may not be rational, but they are probably pragmatic. Contents
The word is: ‘no!’
Many people buy them in the hope that the dictionaries will help to unravel the symbolic code of their unconscious, but the majority of dream dictionaries fail miserably. They go on about how this dream or that symbol means good luck or bad luck, or that you will get pregnant, or fall in love, and so on. If a dictionary contains this sort of material, it will be of doubtful utility for dream interpretation, in my view. The only dream dictionary that I have seen that seems useful is “Dictionary for Dreamers” by Tom Chetwynd. It is based on the psychological interpretation of dream symbols, and not on old-wives’ tales. If you use it, just remember that the symbols in your dreams are yours, and their meanings are not fixed in stone. They may differ from what such a symbol typically means, and may differ from dream to dream even, and certainly from person to person. A detailed description of dream interpretation with examples is given in “The Way of the Dream” by Marie-Louise von Franz, and what I have written here is structured according to that book.
Both of these books are available from the Internet Bookshop, and I’ve provided links to them on my links page. Click this button or the one near the end of this page to go there if and when you’re ready. Contents
It doesn’t matter whether in fact dreams have a genuine structure or not; it is useful to impose one for the sake of looking at them. Jungians typically look at the setting of the dream (where the subject matter of the dream appears and what that subject is), the storyline, and the ending. You then take the structure and ask questions about it: what associations do you have with that setting? These associations become part of the psychological setting for the dream, and guide you as to how to view the rest of it. How does this psychological state apply to your life at the moment? The storyline tells what is going on inside you. The ending gives your attempt at a ‘solution’ or resolution, and if you haven’t solved it satisfactorily, it may be worth solving it consciously.
Sometimes, the dreamer doesn’t have any particular personal associations with their dream material. In this case, the dream may be archetypal, that is, something that could apply to anybody. The myths and legends of ancient civilizations can be useful in looking at such dreams, since these stories have come out of the human unconscious as well, and have persisted for millennia because they fit in with our nature so well – they have things to say to all people, and the implication is that they are appealing because they appeal to us at an instinctual level: the myths parallel our instinctive ideas.
Sometimes, you dream about real-life people and events: the dream could be referring to them and your relationships with them, or it may be just using the images of them to represent factors at work in your own mind. Typically, it is best to start off assuming that the dream is referring to you yourself: after all, you created the dream! You need to ask what sides of yourself behave like that person did in your dream. When you have the right idea about your dream, you will know it because your idea will feel right – on one level you already know, of course, since you made the dream.
Sometimes you can interpret a dream by treating it as some kind of symbolic pun: choking might mean that you are finding something ‘difficult to swallow’ – i.e., hard to believe or accept; flying might mean that you ‘don’t have your feet on the ground’, i.e., are not being realistic; falling might be a ‘coming back to Earth’, i.e., a reacquaintance with reality; dying might indicate that big changes are afoot, as might fire dreams, especially with respect to your inner life and personality, and so on. The symbolism differs from person to person and you need to see what feels right for you. Note that these interpretations do not involve forseeing the future in any psychic way: they are about using the ordinary information that is available to you every day. Just note that while asleep you may have a different perspective on it from your waking conscious mind; typically you will be more neutral about the facts and will not necessarily hide from them simply because they may be unpleasant. Sometimes, however, unpleasant ideas will be deliberately disguised, however, so keep a sharp lookout! Sometimes, our sleeping self displays the opposite viewpoint from the waking outlook, providing a sort of mental balancing act. This can be helpful to remind you of things you are perhaps ignoring to your disadvantage. Many people feel that their dreams can be used to guide them on their path of personal growth for this reason: your biases are displayed before you, and your tasks in life appear in vivid imagery for you to interpret. For those of you who believe in God, you will be aware that God is reputed to speak to people through their dreams, and once you begin taking your dreams seriously, you will soon see why. Contents
That’s it! I would be interested in hearing your comments, though! Leave a comment below! If I get enough comments, or interesting letters, I may add a page for them. If you don’t want me to use your comments in that way, let me know. Contents