Dream Interpretation Options

September 19, 2007

Everyone dreams, it is said. Some of us remember our dreams and some do not, but it seems that they are happening whether or not they are recalled. For those of us who do remember them the question often arises, “What does this mean”? This is a follow up to the earlier post, “The Logic of Dreams”. I hope to go a little deeper into the subject here and probably will return again at a later time to expand and deepen even more.

There are a variety of ways to understand the content of dreams including the contributions of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who both understood dreaming as an interaction of the conscious and unconscious. Each developed a way of interpreting the objects that arise in dreams as personal symbols- Jung added to this the concept of collective symbols as well. Although Jung theorized that persons that arose in the dream represented some aspect of the dreamer, this was taken further by Fritz Perls who suggested every object in the dream can be seen in this way. Wikipedia has a good article on this if you want to pursue it further.

The distinction I want to emphasize here is that there are various ways to address the content of dreams and that, while all will be beneficial in their own way, those differences can greatly affect the meaning one derives from the dream. The most common method of dream interpretation is to use some system of symbol interpretation. In this method one might have a dream, remember some objects from the dream and their actions, look up the meaning of those objects in a book or other source, and apply those symbolic meanings to their experience in the dream. The meaning is derived from applying the meaning system to the dream object. This will have some validity in so far as the objects have universal significance, and this may be useful for the dreamer. This method can be used within the Freudian, Jungian, Perlsian, and other frameworks.

Another method of dream interpretation is to treat each object in the dream as a living, knowing being that can interact and communicate in the context of the dream and afterward. For this to take place one must suspend the inclination to label the dream object or its actions with a meaning and allow the dream object to interact with you as though they were another person in ordinary life. This is a process that uses the imagination- imagery- as a predominant way of knowing. The rational processing we would ordinarily use- thinking, rational logic- and our usual expectations must be suspended to allow this process to unfold. The rational can be used afterward as an additional, often supporting, form of knowing. Use of the rational before the use of the imagination is usually too dominating to allow the use of imagery as a later action. This process is described in more detail here.

Related to this is lucid dreaming– the process in which one is aware being in the dream state while the dream is happening. In this state it is possible to not just interact with the dream objects, but also to control the flow and outcome of the dream. This is described in the Dream Yoga of Tibetan Buddhist and Bon traditions and is an integral part of those traditions. The book, “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep”, by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is a good source for this- recordings are also available here.

Anyone care to comment on your experience with understanding dreams?

2 Responses to “Dream Interpretation Options”

  1. John Says:

    Posts about dreams are of great interest to me and appreciated. In fact, I had an odd experience lately in which I questioned whether an experience I recalled was real or a dream, and I honestly am not sure (though I am leaning towards it being a dream, and not virtually happening). Any insights?


  2. The experience you describe as happening lately could be thought of as real or a dream, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes making the distinction between ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality is not so easy. Lucid dreaming is an example of the blurring of this distinction in another way. If you have no evidence of the event happening in ordinary reality (witnesses or artifacts), there may be no way to know for sure. You could try recalling it while in the dream state, or in guided imagery, to try to understand it better.
    Three things come to mind- the film, “Waking Life” by Linklater, the books about Don Juan and the Yaqui by Casteneda, and Tibetan dream yoga (see my book list for the latter).


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