‘I dream, therefore I exist.’ J. August Strindberg
Dreams. They tantalize us with their mystery. What are they? Why do we have them? Where do they come from? What do they mean? Are they a preview of things to come or glimpses of the past? Are they a vital link to our inner world; a gift from our intuition? Can dreams lead us to important insights in our waking life, and help us decide which action to take and which path to follow?
The Hows, Whys and Whats of Sleep and Dreams
‘Sleep is the balm for hurt minds, nature’s great second course.’ William Shakespeare
Sleep is absolutely crucial for our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. It is during sleep that we abandon conscious control of our physical body and the unconscious mind is allowed to roam free, giving rise to dreams. Although we now know a lot more about dreams, their real purpose isn’t yet fully understood. It wasn’t until we approached the middle of the twentieth century, with the first electronic monitoring of the brain, that we began to get a clearer idea of the nocturnal adventures of the mind. For centuries it was thought that the purpose of sleep was to rest the body and the mind, but this reasoning was disproved when it was shown that both the body and mind are active during sleep. If sleep doesn’t rest the body or mind, then what is it for?
Sleep researchers may not yet have discovered the exact reason for sleep or dreams but they have discovered some fascinating things. For example, it seems that when we are asleep our brains are a bit like computers that are offline. This means they are not idle but are filing and updating the day’s activities. They take stock of your body and release a growth hormone to repair damaged tissues and stimulate growth, while the immune system gets to work on attacking any viral or bacterial infections that may be present. Some experts believe the brain also jettisons trivial information during sleep to prevent it becoming overburdened with unimportant information, but this explanation is perhaps too simplistic, as no memory can be totally eradicated.
The advent of space travel gave scientists the opportunity to prove that resting the body was not the main function of sleep. What they found instead was that prolonged periods of isolation decreased the need for sleep. In other words, the fewer stimuli received from people or external contacts during the day, the less sleep was required. It seems we have a sleep control center at the base of our brain linked with activity during wakefulness. When that gets overloaded we get tired, but if there have not been enough stimuli from the outside world, the sleep mechanism isn’t triggered. It seems, therefore, that boredom and lack of stimuli may account for many cases of insomnia. (Paradoxically, overstimulation also produces insomnia.)
The Four Stages of Sleep
‘Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.’ Virginia Woolf
Perhaps the best way to understand sleep and dreams is to understand the brain. At the very start of the twentieth century it was found that the brain gave off electrical impulses, and by the 1920s scientists could measure brain waves. To obtain these readings, electrodes were attached to various parts of the head, the impulses being transformed onto electroencephalograms (EECs) on computer screens.
It seems that once you settle down to bed, your brain and body undergo radical changes from their waking state. The difference between being asleep and being awake is loss of conscious awareness, and once you start to doze, dream researchers believe you progress through four stages of sleep. These form the basis of a cycle that repeats up to four or five times every eight hours of sleep.
During the first stage, your body and mind become relaxed. Heart and breathing rate slow down, blood pressure lowers, body temperature drops slightly and eyes roll from side to side. You are neither fully conscious, nor fully unconscious, and could easily awake if disturbed. This stage of gradually falling asleep is also called the hypnagogic state (the hypnopompic state is a similar state when you are just waking up) and you may experience hallucinations that float before your eyes.
In stage two, breathing and heart rate become even slower, eyes continue to roll and you become more and more unaware of the noises of the outside world. It isn’t until the third stage of sleep, however, that you are sleeping soundly and it would be difficult to wake you. Finally, you enter a deep sleep state known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) when your brain is released from the demands of the conscious mind. It will now be quite hard to wake you and, although you may sleepwalk or have night terrors, you will rarely be able to remember them. This slow-wave sleep cycle lasts about ninety minutes. At the end of stage four, you move back through stages three and two and one, at which point you enter a phase called rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep.
REM sleep is recognized by tiny twitches of facial muscles and slight movements of the hands. Blood pressure rises, breathing and heartbeat become faster, eyes dart rapidly around the eyelids under closed eyelids as if looking at a moving object and, if you are a man, you may have an erection. Researchers have discovered that when sleepers are awakened during REM sleep they typically say they have been dreaming. (You may also feel temporarily paralyzed if awakened during this stage, as if something malevolent is pressing down on you; this phenomenon can explain the supposed succubus, incubus and alien abduction experiences.) Most of the dreams you remember occur during the REM stage when the brain is fully active. After about ten minutes of REM you enter stages two, three and four again, and keep moving backwards and forwards through the sleep cycle. As the cycle continues, however, the REM phase gets longer and longer with the longest phase being around thirty to forty-five minutes. Of all your dreams during all the stages of REM and NREM (it has recently been discovered that we can dream then too), the final REM stages are the ones you are most likely to remember.
How much sleep do we need?
We spend approximately one third of our life asleep. This means that by the time we reach the age of ninety 1 we have been asleep approximately thirty years. The exact amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age and activity levels during the day. Babies sleep for about fourteen hours a day, whilst teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults occupied physically and mentally during the day, eight hours a night appears to be the average amount of sleep needed, although some people may need as few as five, or as many as ten hours, of sleep each day. Older people tend to need around six hours sleep a night.
Because sleeping and dreaming are so crucial, your brain may sometimes demand the sleep it needs so that you don’t get into mental or physical overload. That’s why you may sometimes drop off for no apparent reason when you’re traveling by car or train, or watching TV.
Research on sleep-deprived animals shows that sleep is necessary for survival. For example, whilst rats normally live for two to three years, those deprived of REM sleep survive only about five weeks on average, and rats deprived of all sleep stages live only about three weeks. Other studies have shown that subjects repeatedly awoken during REM-which means they were deprived of dreams-become anxious, bad tempered and irritable. This suggests that sleep is vital for physical rest and repair, and REM sleep, when we are most likely to dream, is essential for our emotional well-being. Therefore, although we still aren’t sure about the whys, whats and hows of sleep and dreams, it’s possible to conclude that the reason we sleep is to dream.
A Brief History of Dream Interpretation
‘Now Allah has created the dream not only as a means of guidance and instruction, I refer to the dream, but he has made it a window on the World of the Unseen.’ Mohammed, the Prophet
Ancient art and literature are crowded with references to dreams. For thousands of years dreams have been credited with supernatural or prophetic significance by the majority of the world’s spiritual traditions. The Bible, for instance, makes it clear that dreams are divine messages and this explanation for dreams was shared by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, all of whom also believed that dreams had healing powers. Certain cultures, such as the Australian Aborigines and many African and Native American tribes, have always believed dreaming to be a way in which an individual can enter into the collective spirit memory. To this day, dream pooling plays an important role in those societies where tribal members gather together for the purpose of interpreting dreams. Another view is held by the Inuit of Hudson Bay in Canada, who believe that when a person falls asleep and dreams, their soul goes wandering.
The Egyptians are thought to have been the first to develop a system of contrary dream interpretation; a positive dream, for example, predicts misfortune and a nightmare predicts an improvement in waking fortunes. They produced the earliest known dream dictionary, written approximately 4,000 years ago. Now called the Chester Beatty Papyrus, it came from Thebes in Egypt and is kept in the British Museum. It was the ancient Greeks, however, who first proposed the theory that dreams were not from some external, divine source but internal communications, or the divine spark within. Plato (427-347 BC) suggested that dreams were expressions of a person’s hidden desires, whilst his pupil Aristotle (384-322 BC) speculated that dreams shared similar themes and were not divine oracles but coincidences. It was the ‘father of medicine’ Hippocrates (460-377 BC) who proposed that dream symbols reflect the state of the dreamer’s body-for example, fire denoted indigestion-and should be regarded as valuable diagnostic tools.
The first fully-fledged dream researcher to focus on dream symbols and dream themes was a Roman living in Greek Asia Minor called Artemidorus (AD 138-180), who wrote a book about dream interpretation that is still in print. As far as Artemidorus was concerned, dream symbols had certain meanings but the most important aspect of dream interpretation was the symbols’ personal significance to the dreamer, along with the dreamer’s personal circumstances.
In much of Europe, even though the early Christians respected dreams for their spiritual significance, the repressive control of the Roman Catholic Church put a stop to any attempts at dream interpretation. By the fifteenth century, dreams were regarded as no longer significant or important. Even a century or so later, Shakespeare called them ‘children of the idle brain’. This school of thought persisted into the eighteenth century, when dreams were still thought to be meaningless. In the early nineteenth century, when the restrictive influence of the Church began to wane and members of the German Romantic movement-in their quest for spontaneous expression-rediscovered the potential of dreams, a revival of interest in dream interpretation began to trickle into the mainstream with the publication of popular dream dictionaries such as Raphael’s Royal Book of Dreams (1830). The stage was now set for Freud and Jung; two men who continue to have the greatest impact on the way we interpret dreams today.
The Freud and Jung Revolution
‘Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.’ Sigmund Freud
Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1858-1939) opened the door to the scientific study of dreams with his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). In a relatively prudish age, he caused general outrage with his controversial theory that dreams are wish-fulfillment fantasies that have their origins in our infantile urges, in particular our sexual desires.
Freud believed that the human mind is made up of the id, the primitive or unconscious mind; the ego, the conscious mind which regulates the id’s antisocial instincts with a self-defense mechanism, and the superego, which is the consciousness that in turn supervises and modifies the ego. According to Freud, the id is controlled by the pleasure principle (the urge to gratify its needs) and the instinct that the ego finds hardest to manage is the sexual drive first awakened in childhood. The id comes to prominence in dreams, when it expresses in symbolic language the urges repressed when we are awake. Symbols are used, because if these drives were expressed literally, the ego would be shocked into waking up. To successfully interpret a dream the symbols need to be uncovered and their true meaning discovered. The way that Freud suggested doing this was a technique called ‘free association’ or spontaneously expressing the responses that immediately spring to mind when certain words relating to the dream are put forward. The aim is to limit interference from the ego to discover the dreamer’s unconscious instincts.
Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1965), although an initial supporter of Freud’s ideas, could never fully agree with them. He felt there was far more to dreams than hidden sexual frustration and put forward the theory of the ‘collective unconscious’: a storehouse of inherited patterns of experiences and instincts common to humans and expressed in dreams in universal symbols, which he called ‘archetypes’. According to Jungian theory, the psyche is made up of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious, and when a symbol appears in a dream, it is important to decide whether it relates to us personally or is an archetype. The way Jung suggested we do this is by a technique called ‘direct association’, i.e. concentrating only on the dream symbol when you think about the qualities associated with it.
Jung speculated that the unconscious mind projected dream symbols in an attempt to bring the conscious and unconscious mind into a state of balance he called ‘individuation’. According to his theory, the only way the unconscious mind can express itself fully is in dreams, so it will flood our dreams with symbolic messages that reflect our current progress in waking life. These messages can bring comfort and guidance, or bring repressed urges to the fore, but their aim is the same-to lead to our fulfillment. However, before we can benefit from such intuitive wisdom, we first of all need to understand the language of symbols.
Other Important Dream Theorists
Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler (1870-1937) suggested that dreams are all about wish-fulfillment because they allow the dreamer to have skills and powers denied to him or her in waking life. According to Adler, ‘the purpose of dreams must be in the feelings they arouse.’
Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls (1893-1970) believed that dreams project hidden aspects of our personalities and the best way to interpret them is to use a non-interpretative interviewing technique. In other words, you ask your dream character or object what they are trying to say. Then you try to adopt the dream’s mindset and answer the questions.
Australian dream expert Gayle Delaney suggests using an interviewing technique that addresses questions such as ‘how did the dream make you feel?’ or ‘how can you connect your dream with your waking life?’
Some dream theorists believe dreams deal with problems we can’t solve in waking life and offer solutions. Looking at them in the light of waking day, and believing them to be full of insight, we may sometimes come up with new ideas or insights while studying and interpreting them.
Thanks to the work of Jung and Freud and other influential dream theorists, dream interpretation is now accessible to everyone. It’s as popular today as it has ever been, with people from all walks of life using dreams as unique and personal sources of guidance and inspiration, or as tools for change, growth and personal development. As we’ve seen, there are many approaches to the study and interpretation of dreams and you’ll find a fusion of all of these in this book.
Through the centuries, the dreaming mind has been credited with being the source of ideas, insights, revelations and guidance, some of which have changed the course of history. Here are just a few well-known examples:
Julius Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon is attributed to a dream in which he saw himself in bed with his mother (Mother Rome, the seers told him). His assassination was foretold in his wife’s Calpurnia’s dream. ‘She held him in her arms, bleeding and stabbed.’ Another Caesar, Caesar Augustus, is said to have walked the streets as a beggar because of instructions he received in a dream.
St Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order because of a dream in which Jesus Christ spoke from the cross, telling him to ‘go set my house in order’. Dante relates that the whole story of The Divine Comedy was revealed to him in a dream on Good Friday in 1300. When he died in 1321, part of the manuscript was lost. His son Jocojso found the manuscript after a dream in which his father showed him where to look.
Genghis Khan is reported to have received his battle plans from his dreams. He is also reported to have been told in a dream that he was a chosen one. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, ‘Kubla Khan’, was written upon awakening from an opium-affected dream.
Robert Louis Stephenson believed that his best stories came from his dreams. He reported that the theme for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was derived from a dream. He also reported other breakthroughs in his writing that came from his dreams. He suffered as a child from nightmares and learned to control his dreams to change the nightmares. He said he used his dreams to revise plays and stories while asleep.
Abraham Lincoln dreamt, days before his assassination, of great cries coming from the East Wing of the White House. When he investigated, he was told by soldiers on guard that they weeping for the president who had been assassinated. Days later, his body was held in state in the East Wing so people could pay their last respects.
Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz was a chemist working on the chemical structure of benzene. He reported that he got fed up with his data, which made no sense interpreted as a ‘long string’ molecule. He was dozing in his comfy chair when he was startled by the image of a snake biting its own tail. He woke and worked out the mathematics of the benzene molecule as a ring rather than a long string.
Guiseppe Tartini (Italian violinist and composer) composed one of his greatest works, ‘The Devil’s Trill’, as a result of a dream he had in 1713. In the dream, he handed his violin to the devil himself, who began to ‘play with consummate skill a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flights of my imagination. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted; my breath was taken away, and I awoke. Seizing my violin I tried to retain the sounds I had heard. But it was in vain. The piece I then composed…was the best I ever wrote, but how far below the one I heard in my dream!’
Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, wrote that he got the core idea, the breakthrough concept, from a dream. It was a nightmare. He had been captured by cannibals. They were preparing to cook him and they were dancing around the fire waving their spears. Howe noticed at the head of each spear there was a small hole through the shaft, and the up and down motion of the spears and the hole remained with him when he woke. The idea of passing the thread through the needle close to the point, not at the other end, was a major innovation in making mechanical sewing possible. Niels Bohr reported that he developed the model of the atom based on a dream of sitting on the sun with all the planets hissing around on tiny cords.
Paul McCartney heard a haunting melody in one of his dreams, confirmed that none of the Beatles had heard it before, and wrote it down. It became the tune for the famous song, ‘Yesterday’.
‘I can never decide whether my dreams are a result of my thoughts, or my thoughts the result of my dreams. It is very queer. But my dreams make conclusions for me. They decide things finally. I dream a decision.’ D. H. Lawrence
Just as there are different types of music-classical, rock, jazz-there are different kinds of dreams. Although different types of dream can blend and merge, modern dream researchers tend to break dream types into the following categories:
These can exaggerate certain situations or life attitudes in order to point them out sharply for the dreamer. For example, someone who is very shy may dream that they have become invisible.
These are dreams that may alert us to possible outcomes in situations in our waking life; for example, passing or failing an exam.
Such dreams evoke extremely emotional reactions, when the unconscious is urging us to relieve pent-up feelings we may feel unable to express in waking life. For example, you may find yourself bursting into tears on a packed commuter train in your dreams, or you might punch your irritating neighbor or tell your boss exactly what you think of him or her.
There is a big difference between daydreaming and dreams when you are sleeping, even though the physical state we enter when we daydream has much in common with the relaxed state we assume during sleep. However, when you are daydreaming, you are not actually asleep. When you are asleep, your defense mechanisms are down and you are psychologically more vulnerable. In other words, we shed the masks we wear in public. Therefore what is expressed in night dreaming is probably a better representation of whom we are, not just our waking hopes and fears. Feelings and thoughts we might be unwilling to acknowledge in waking life often surface boldly in dreams. Night dreams also speak to us in the powerful language of symbols, whereas the language of daydreams tends to be more tangible, reflecting events that have a clearer reality to them.
CONTRARY OR COMPENSATORY DREAMS
In these types of dreams, the unconscious places the dreaming self in a totally different situation to the one we find ourselves in waking life. For example, if your day has been filled with unhappiness and stress due to the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship, you may dream of yourself spending a carefree, happy day by the seaside. Your unconscious may also give you personality traits that you haven’t expressed in waking life. For example, if you hate being the center of attention you may dream about being a celebrity. Such dreams are thought to provide necessary balance and may also be suggesting to you that you try incorporating some of the characteristics that your dream underlined in your waking life.
DAILY PROCESSING DREAMS
Also known as factual dreams, daily processing dreams are dreams in which you go over and over things that happened during the day, especially those that were repetitive or forced you to concentrate for long periods; dreaming about a long journey or a tough work assignment, for example. These kinds of dreams don’t tend to be laden with meaning, and most dream theorists think of them as bits and pieces of information your brain is processing.
v DREAMS OF CHILDHOOD
Dreaming about your childhood may reflect a childhood dynamic which hasn’t been worked out yet and requires a resolution.
It is thought that many reported sightings of ghosts are caused by false awakening, which occurs when you are actually asleep but are convinced in your dream state that you are awake. This is the kind of vivid dream in which you wake up convinced that what happened in your dream really happened.
This is when you set your conscious mind on experiencing a particular kind of dream. For example, you may incubate a dream of a loved one by concentrating on visualizing your loved one’s face before you sleep, or you may ask for a dream to answer your problems immediately before going to sleep. The theory is that your unconscious responds to the suggestion.
Many great works of art, music, literature have allegedly been inspired by dreams, when the unconscious brings a creative idea to the fore. For example, English poet and artist William Blake said that his work was inspired by the visions in his dreams. One night in 1816, Mary Shelley, her husband and a group of friends were challenged to write a ghost story. That night Mary Shelley dreamed of a creature that would later become the monster created by Dr Frankenstein in her yet-to-be-written novel.
These occur when you become aware that you are dreaming when you are dreaming. It takes time and practice to stop yourself waking up, but it is possible to learn how to become a lucid dreamer and control the course of your dreams.
When two people dream the same dream. Such dreams can be spontaneous or incubated, when two people who are close decide on a dream location together and imagine themselves meeting up before going to sleep.
Dreams that terrify us or cause distress in some way by waking us up before the situation has resolved. Nightmares occur during REM sleep and typically arise when a person is feeling anxious or helpless in waking life. Once the dreamer has recognized what is triggering this kind of dream, and worked through any unresolved fears and anxieties, nightmares tend to cease.
These are similar to nightmares, but because they occur in deep sleep (stage four) we rarely remember what terrified us, although we may be left with a lingering feeling of unexplained dread.
Also known as astral travel or projection, out-of-body experiences are thought to occur at times of physical and emotional trauma. Researchers tend to dismiss the idea but those that experience such dreams say that their mind, consciousness or spirit leaves their body and travels through time and space.
If you dream of being in a historical setting some believe this is evidence of past-life recall, although most dream theorists dismiss the existence of past-life or far-memory dreams, or genetic dreams when you assume the identity of an ancestor.
These dreams reflect the state of your body, so, for example, if you have an upset stomach, you may dream that you are being violently sick. These dreams may highlight the progress of serious physical conditions or in some cases predict the onset of them.
Most dream researchers dismiss these dreams but precognitive dreams are thought to predict real-life events of which the dreamer has no conscious awareness. These dreams tend to happen to people with psychic abilities. They are extremely rare but there have been many instances when people claim to have dreamt of things before they happened. For example, many people reported dreaming about 9/11 before it occurred. Other people tell of cancelling trains or flights because of a foreboding dream. There are also reports of people who dreamt the winning numbers of the lottery.
These occur when you have gone to bed mulling over a problem and found the answer in your dreams. This could be because your unconscious has already solved the dream and sleeping on it gives your unconscious a chance to express itself. Many famous inventions were allegedly prompted by a dream. For example, Scottish engineer and inventor of the steam engine James Watt (1736-1819) dreamed of molten metal falling from the sky in the shape of balls. This dream gave him the idea for drop cooling and ball-bearings. The model of the atom, the M9 analogue computer, the isolation of insulin in the treatment of diabetes, and, as we have seen, the sewing machine, were also ideas that sprung from inspiration in dreams.
These are dreams that bring things we would rather not think about to our attention. They make us face an aspect of ourselves or our life that might be hindering our progress. They are often about our fears, anxieties, resentment, guilt and insecurities. For example, if you dream of yourself running around and around on the wheel of a cage unable to stop, this could suggest that in your waking life you are taking on too much and not giving yourself enough time to relax.
Dreams that reoccur typically happen when the dreamer is worried about a situation that isn’t resolving itself in waking life. When the trigger in waking life is dealt with the dreams usually end. Recurring dreams can also occur when a person is suffering from some kind of phobia or trauma that has been repressed or not resolved. If this is the case the unconscious is urging the dreamer to consciously receive and acknowledge the issue and deal with it.
In dreams, sex can reflect the archetypal pattern which underlies the waking sex life or may represent a hoped-for reunion with another part of ourselves into a whole.
This is the kind of dream when someone you know appears in your dream in acute distress and you later learn that that person was experiencing a real-life crisis at the time, such as extreme unhappiness, an accident or even death. It is thought that telepathic dreams are a meeting of minds between two people who are close to each other emotionally.
These are processing dreams that involve your senses. For example, if your mobile rings or a picture falls to the ground while you are asleep, the sound may be incorporated into your dream but appear as something else, such as a police siren or a broken window. The smell of flowers in your room may also become a garden scene in your dreams.
These are the kind of dreams in which we quite literally live the dream; we might win the lottery, date a celebrity, ooze charisma or simply go on a long holiday. In these kinds of dreams our unconscious is trying to compensate for disappointment or dissatisfaction with our current circumstances in waking life.
Walking and talking in your sleep
Sleepwalking or moving is an attempt to put a dream into action. Most likely you have grown out of the habit, if you ever had it, but if an occasion arises which is very stressful, we may, like Lady Macbeth, re-enact the nightmare in this way. Talking in your sleep is similar in cause to sleep movement. It is an attempt to carry a dream on verbally. You are more likely to walk or talk or move in your sleep when you are under mental pressure. Most of the time this is totally harmless but some sleepwalkers and talkers can put themselves in real danger. Precautions should therefore be taken. Make sure windows are closed and, if stairs are a hazard, doors locked. If you’re really worried about your sleepwalking, seek advice from your doctor and if someone you know is sleepwalking don’t try to wake them-just guide them quietly and gently back to bed.
Interpreting Your Dreams
‘If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.’ René Magritte
If you have ever wondered why dreams often appear so difficult to make sense of, it is because the information they contain is presented in a different language; the language of symbols: of people alive or dead, known and unknown, animals both domestic and wild, landscapes and buildings familiar and strange, or any number of symbolic objects such as shapes, colors, signs, numbers, jewelry, food, clothing and so on.
These images are your own thoughts, feelings and ideas turned into a series of pictures like ordinary scenes in your daily life. For example, if you feel overwhelmed you may have a dream you are swimming but finding it hard to keep your head above water. If you feel confused you may have a dream when you are wondering about lost in a dark forest. The number of symbols and images that your mind can translate into dream pictures is practically endless.
Words just can’t convey the countless powerful feelings that symbols do. These symbols are often chosen from something that has caught our attention in waking life, triggering a memory, conflict or concern that resonates both in the present and in the past. One tried-and-tested way to uncover the meaning of your dream images is by direct association. You simply go with the first thing that pops into your head when a trigger image from your dream is given. If you don’t immediately get an associative thought, try working through all your feelings about that image. For example, if you saw a caterpillar in a dream. Do you like caterpillars or do you find them a bit creepy? Try to discover what the image means to you right now, for the meanings of your symbols will change over time.
The more you work with your dreams, the more familiar you will become with your personal images. You’ll probably find that you dream the most about the things that you are familiar with every day: your family, your colleagues, your friends and your pet. Each time you dream about these familiar things they will have personal significance to you alone.
The great majority of dreams are not to be taken literally and you need to do a bit of detective work to get to the real message. Just because you dream that a friend is dying does not mean that he or she will die, but rather that they are going through a period of enormous change. In fact, interpreting dreams literally can be harmful. As pointed out earlier, you have your own set of unique dream images and symbols. If you love dogs, what a dog means to you and what a dog means to someone who can’t stand dogs will be very different. Always bear in mind that your dream symbols and images are unique to you.
Although the images and symbols in your dreams do need to be interpreted, their purpose isn’t to mystify you. They are simply trying to get their message across in the best way that they can. If you do find yourself getting tense, confused or frustrated when trying to interpret a dream, let it go. Dream interpretation is best approached with an open mind and in a relaxed state.
You don’t need to interpret every single dream you have. In the same way that some movies are more compelling and thoughtprovoking than others, some dreams, like those when you do fantastic things like flying into space or surfing in Hawaii, are simply to be enjoyed. You don’t always have to dig deep for meaning. It’s good to be aware that a dream might contain a message of importance, but don’t get obsessed with finding meanings for every single detail-just interpret what you can. Dreams, like life, are full of big and little stuff. Don’t sweat the ‘small stuff’.
Capturing Your Dreams: How to Recall and Record
‘Dreams are illustrations…from the book your soul is writing about you.’ Marsha Norman
We all dream several dreams a night and it’s been suggested that we each have 100,000 dreams over the course of our lives. So you might be wondering why you can’t remember a single one. Medications, alcohol, too little sleep and anxiety about the content of our dreams can all block dream recall.
We’re most likely to remember the dreams closest to awakening, but with a little effort you can boost your dream recall. In fact the more attention you pay to your dreams, by thinking about them, writing them down, working with them, the more likely you are to remember them. Keeping a note pad and a pen beside your bed and recording your dreams immediately on waking is one of the best ways to help your dream recall. Some dreams fade quickly from memory, so it is crucial you capture them as soon as you can. Immediately on waking, write down your dream or dreams-even if this is in the middle of the night; don’t brush your teeth first or leave it until your alarm clock goes off. If you do that, you’ll probably forget all about it and will lose a valuable dream. If you record your dreams in words, you create permanent reminders that you can use to help you figure out what they are trying to tell you.
Later in the day, transfer the information to a dream diary, specifically set aside for your dreams. In this diary include: the date of your dream, any people involved, the moods and feelings expressed, prominent colors, numbers, or shapes, the problems and conflicts encountered, prominent symbols or stories, information about the dream landscape, whether it was past, present or future and, finally, how the dream ended.
With practice, you will soon get the hang of remembering and writing down your dreams. Use this encyclopedia to help you unlock the meaning of your dream themes and symbols, but never forget that the best book you will ever read about dreams is the one you write yourself: your dream journal.
Programing your mind for dream recall
Some dreams are so vivid you can’t forget them but many are so fleeting they can vanish without a trace. One way to make sure you remember them is to talk to yourself in a positive way. Before going to sleep tell yourself that you will remember your dreams on waking. Try this visualization technique.
When you feel sleepy, turn off the lights and settle down in your favorite sleeping position. In a relaxed way, think about your dreams. Breathe in for a count of five, and out for a count of ten. Repeat this, and then breathe normally. Now imagine you have just woken in the morning and, as you slowly move back into consciousness, you reach for your pen and write down your dream. Bring your attention to the present again, and feel comfortable, warm and sleepy. Tell yourself that in the morning you will remember your dreams.
‘The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.’ Anaïs Nin
Some dream experts believe it is possible to take charge of your dreams and turn them into creative and helpful experiences that can help solve problems in your waking life. To do this you have to get your waking mind to work more fully with your dreaming mind; you need to think about what problem or issue you want your dream to resolve. This is a process called dream incubation.
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO DREAM INCUBATION
Step 1: Decide what you want to dream about, what you want your dream to resolve or help you with and what question you want answered.
Step 2: Write down your question or desired dream on a piece of paper as if you were chatting to a friend-because that’s what your dream self is. Be as specific as you can, but don’t ask about silly or trivial matters, such as should I go to this or that party.
Step 3: Read this over and over again during the day and keep it in your mind during the day and again as you get ready for bed.
Top tips for perfect sleep and dreaming
Before you go to bed, lessen tension with a relaxing massage or warm bath, some gentle stretching exercises or a short walk. Avoid taking a shower as this will invigorate you.
Ensure you leave at least two hours between sleep and your last meal. Food and the process of digestion can encourage strange dream images. If you want a snack, make it light: a biscuit and a glass of milk.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes if you want to have a restful, untroubled sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant, and alcohol and cigarettes will inhibit REM sleep when dreaming occurs.
Make sure your bed is comfortable, your bedroom well aired and neither too hot, nor too cold. A temperature of 65°F (18°C) is about right. Keep the room dark, as light is a cue for waking, and block out any unwanted sound.
The calmer and more relaxed you are the better. Cleanse and calm your mind with some reading, meditation or listen to some relaxing music. If any worrying thoughts refuse to leave, jot them down in a note pad beside your bedside and consider the matter closed until morning. If you want to sleep and dream well-don’t take your worries to bed.
Step 4: Once in bed read over the question again and ask your dreaming self to bring you the answer during sleep. Put the paper under your pillow or near your bed.
Step 5: Tell yourself before you go to sleep that you will have the dream you want and trust yourself to dream the dream that you ask for.
Step 6: Tell yourself you will remember your dream. Be prepared to write down the dream when you wake up and be open to whatever comes to you.
Step 7: Leave your dream intention to incubate. What you are doing here is programing your dreaming self-giving it a particular task to focus on.
Step 8: Stop thinking about your intention to dream. Let it go. Relax and calm your mind before you sleep and don’t stress about whether or not you are going to have a dream. Step 9: Be willing to experiment and try again if necessary.
You may not want to ask your dreaming self a question and may simply want a happy, harmonious dream. If this is the case think of a place or person you’d like to dream about-perhaps a holiday or loved one-write down a simple description and ask your dreaming self in the same way to give you a happy, inspiring dream.
‘One of the most adventurous things left us is to go to bed. For no one can lay a hand on our dreams.’ E. V. Lucas
Whether you decide to practice dream incubation or not, remember that any dream you have has the potential to take you to a world of mystery and wonder that can keep you spellbound for days trying to understand it. The dream interpretations that follow will help you unravel some of the mystery, but never forget that you are the dreamer and you do the dreaming and that in understanding your dreams, you can reach a better understanding of yourself.
Use the explanations offered in the pages that follow for the interpretation of your dream symbols, and combine them with your own circumstances to work out an understanding of the likely significance of your dreams. In this way, your innermost feelings, hopes and fears can be highlighted, hopefully resolving issues in your waking life and enriching it by revealing your hidden strengths and creativity.
Dreams offer you an incredible opportunity to connect your outer and inner worlds to illuminate your waking life. So, try to take the time to enjoy the excitement, mystery, wonder and magic each and every dream brings. Dare yourself to discover and believe in your creativity and your dreams-wherever they may lead you.