Dream symbols fall into two major categories—those that are personal to the dreamer and those that are common to us all. Many authors of books on dreams attempt to explain the meanings of dream symbols in generalized terms, but such canned approaches fall short of assisting in the serious analysis of a dream. Searches on the Internet using keyword phrases like “dream symbols” or “dream interpretation” render results that are interesting but that do little to shed light on one’s personal dream material.
Dreams are too dynamic, creative, and smart for their symbols to be slotted into neat definitions that suddenly enlighten the dreamer. When one attempts to interpret a dream using prepackaged meanings, too often the true meaning slips away.
The individual component of most dreams is far too strong to allow for analysis by the number, with a symbol in the left column and its pat interpretation on the right. Rather, the harvesting of meaning from a dream is a creative process, an extension of the dream itself that is in no way formulaic.
Lists of dream symbols will never replace the creative efforts of expert dream analysts. Of course, the knowledge of a symbol’s collective meaning may be useful in the analysis of dreams, but a skilled dream analyst delves into the life of the individual in such a way as to leave in the background the generalized notion of the symbol.
I have spent many years recording and observing my dreams, and along the way, I have become aware of several approaches to the unraveling of a dream’s possible significance. I would like to share with you an approach to dream interpretation that is my personal favorite. I cannot promise that it will reveal to you all of the possible meanings that a dream may be attempting to convey, but I can say that if you employ it diligently, you will know more about your dream and about yourself when you are finished.
The method of dream analysis that I outline here consists of the following eight steps:
1. Record The Original Dream In Detail.
You should write the initial draft of the dream as soon as possible upon awakening. It’s OK to smooth the dream’s language a bit, but you should perform only the simplest editing and try to leave the dream in its raw state.
2. Circle The Major Words That Appear In The Text Of The Dream.
All of the words in a dream do not have equal importance. In the topic sentence of this section #2, the major words are “circle,” “major,” “words,” “appear,” “text,” and “dream.”
3. On A Separate Sheet Of Paper, Write The First Major Word On Your List, And Around It Jot Down Terms That You Associate With That Word.
Be creative with this step. You must set aside your inhibitions to get these associations out of yourself. Try to come up with three to five ideas for each major word in the dream. Anything goes, including slang, rhymes, sayings, and plays on words. I usually write these around the word and draw a line from the word to each associated term. My associated terms for the word “circle” might be “round,” “never ending,” “orbit,” and “enclosed.” A more remote association might be “Sir Cull.” Do this for every major word on your list.
4. For Each Group Of Associated Terms Surrounding A Major Word, Circle One Associated Term That Feels Right To You.
Many of your associations may be interesting or creative, but they won’t strike chords inside you. One term will usually stand out as the right one for the dream and your circumstances. Don’t over think it; just pick the associated term that feels right and seems to fit your life. To continue my example, I might chose “orbit,” because I happen to have recently reread Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
5. Rewrite The Dream Using The Word Associations You Have Selected.
This step is challenging, but the exercise will reveal to you new things about the dream. Rewrite the dream using the associated terms that you have chosen. The more time you spend editing and smoothing this revised draft of your dream, the more you will get out of it.
6. Compare Your Reworked Draft To The Original Dream.
Upon comparing the two versions, you will likely discover an enlightened way of looking at the dream. Examine your revised version for a fresh statement of the dream’s theme. If you have chosen the associated terms artfully, the dream’s main point should appear in the rewrite, and hopefully, in a way that is illuminating to you.
7. Rewrite The Dream Again, But This Time, Reconstruct The Story The Way You Would Like It To Be.
This step is especially important if the dream displays some frightening aspect or extreme dysfunction. Sometimes one can deal with dream symbols on their own terms. In other words, one need not always live out the dysfunction that the dream describes. By working with pure symbols, you can sometimes achieve inner progress without doing anything differently in your outer life. Of course, some outer adjustment will eventually accompany such inner change, but the initial confrontation between you and the dream’s images can take place on a purely symbolic plane.
8. Honor The Dream.
The dream seeks recognition in your consciousness, and you’ve done a great deal already by recording it, rewriting it twice, and meditating on its significance. Only one thing remains, and that is to do homage to the dream in your outer life. This goodwill gesture need not be complicated or overly sacrificial. If the dream has birds in it, you might set up a feeder in your back yard. If it’s about a map, you could draw the map with colored pencils and save it in a special place. If it takes place in your garden, you could plant a new flower. Anything will do, but the more creative you are with your offering, the better.
Don’t get discouraged, if, after all your effort, you don’t know what the dream means. Many dreams are confusing and hard to decipher, but the good news is that the forces behind the creation of dreams are aware of the difficulty. If you miss an important clue, your unconscious mind will visit upon you more dreams with the same theme until you get it. Most of us need multiple shots at understanding the messages that are thrown at us. Recording your dream and attempting to work through its symbols are big steps in the right direction.
This method is one of many ways to interact with a dream, but I have found it to be the best one for me. You will never be able to glean all of the possible significance from a dream or to observe as much as a trained analyst would upon viewing the same material and circumstances. But you can see quite a lot through this process, and you can learn something new about yourself and perhaps deepen your view of your own existence. I hope this method of dream analysis adds something positive to your awareness of your dreams and to the quality of your life.