Wednesday, 17 February 2016

How to analyse dreams

For some reason, dream interpretation has a bit of a bad rap - it's easily seen as fluffy and vague pseudo-psychology or New Age mumbo jumbo that's at best harmless and at worst, laughable.

I personally think interpreting - or rather, analysing - dreams is a very useful tool for self-exploration and knowing what's going on in your life, mind and heart.

People have interpreted dreams as long as the human kind has existed.

Apparently there have been times and cultures where talking about dreams has been the first thing to do among the family or tribe members in the morning. I love doing this with my partner - whenever I can remember my dreams - because it's an interesting topic, a nice way to connect over breakfast (on weekends when we're not in a hurry to get to work) and it's also a practical way to get to know what's going on in your partner's or family members' subconscious.

When I talk about dream interpretation, I don't mean referring to dream symbol dictionaries. I find them indicative at best, but they should not be used as a bible. I think everyone knows their own symbols without a dictionary, but it requires a bit of imagination, effort and putting your mind to it.

In my opinion and experience, the most useful method for analysing a dream is:

When you wake up, go through the dream while you're still laying down, or immediately after getting up. Don't let the feelings and images fade.

Think carefully what you felt in the dream. Don't focus on the images, people or actions in the dream yet, just think how you felt. Was the vibe uplifting, happy, content, neutral, anxious, scared, what?

Now look at the actions that you did or happened to you in the dream. Try to ignore the imagery again, just focus on the actions. Say, you were chased by a dragon. Ignore the dragon and focus on the feeling of being chased.

Scan through your life: what is causing you to feel like you'd rather flee? Is it your boss? Colleague? Partner? Life's pressure in general? The presentation you're supposed to give next week? Clearly you'd rather avoid something in your life and that's what the dragon symbolises.

Combine the action and the feeling, and again, ignore the imagery. What did you do or what happened to you and what it caused you to feel? This tells you the core of the issue. Scan your life again to recognise what matches or reminds you of this action and feeling in reality.

In my opinion, often in dreams, the look of the objects and/or people is of secondary value and the feelings they evoke are the focus point.

People and objects in dreams can be almost disposable or interchangeable with other people or objects, and the message would still be the same. It's like you need to strip the mask of the elements or actors/actresses in your dream to see the real meaning behind them.

An example: 

I still dream about my first boyfriend from my teenage years. I don't miss him - awake or in the dream-, but still he is a regular character in my dreams, playing the part of my partner.

I've had other partners since and I don't have any regrets about not being with this person anymore. I was baffled for a long time: why do I keep seeing him, even in intimate dreams, when he doesn't really matter to me anymore?

Finally I figured: it's not about him, it's about what's happening and what I'm doing and feeling in the dream. 

My mind has a habit of casting him into a generic role of the "opponent" to deal with issues I nowadays encounter in relationships (romantic, friendship, family, or work life) in general.

In that relationship, I often felt I was not heard or seen as I really was, I was misunderstood, or I was treated in an unfair manner. Whenever I'm feeling the same in my current life, the ex-boyfriend pops up to play the part so that I can practise dealing with these elements of misunderstandings or unfairness in my dreams.

In these dreams I've screamed, yelled, cried, walked away in puzzlement, walked away in disgust, stayed silent, tried to reason, tried to justify or explain, stood up for myself... It's like am trying every possible coping strategy to see how it works and feels to be able to use it in real life to solve the real life relationship issues.

And my ex-bf just happens to be cast in the role because my mind can easily recognise him as an "opponent" to practice with. It could be anyone else, really, or even an unknown person, but clearly my mind finds it easy to picture him for this purpose, so him it is.

In my opinion, the imagery of the dream does matter, but dreams should not be interpreted with a dictionary of readymade explanations. Yes, images symbol different elements in life, but I think they can be highly personal and one size does not fit all. Hence, it is worthwhile to study your own dreams to build a personalised alphabet for what the different elements can mean.

Some examples about what imagery can mean, based on my own dreams.

Landscapes in general tell what is my overall internal state: calm, happy, content, neutral, bewildered, anxious or something else. A beautiful landscape with nature, trees, flowers, water etc. tell about content and joy, whereas any type of a threatening landscape (including city scenes with scary people) indicate anxieties, worries or fears - either specific and topical, or general, underlying fears.

Interestingly, in dreams I sometimes see objects, events or people afar (veiled in blue haze) that will appear in my life in the future - geographically distant objects in a dream are distant in time in real life.

A house tells about my physical and mental state. If I've had a few drinks or I'm ill, there are bugs in the house. If the house is in order and tidy, I feel organised and in control. If it's in various states of disrepair, something needs to be fixed in my life or body. If there's water on the floor, I need to wake up to go to the toilet :D

A car tells about whether I feel in control or not in life. If I'm driving and it's going fine, all is under control. If the car is misbehaving or someone else is driving, I feel that I'm lacking control. This can be positive, negative or neutral, depending on who's driving and how's it going.

A train is about life and direction, too, but it's about focusing less on direction and more on who's on board with me. Life is on track, going where it needs to go, but who's with me (friends, relatives, partner, unknown people) can tell who matters to me in this moment or whom I should focus on.

Water is about emotions and thoughts. I've had some beautiful dreams about standing at the shore of a water body (lake, river or ocean) and I can see golden fish through the pristine water clearly. After those dreams I know I'll soon get an epiphany of some sort - there's absolute clarity of thought; and stillness or calmness of emotions.

Dreams, in essence, are metaphors for different situations in life and not everyone has the same metaphors or symbol library. It can be hugely informative and entertaining to recognise your own symbols. Next time you have a dream you remember, why not have a crack in analysing it instead of letting it disappear!

Something visible and useful can crystallise out of a dream if you take a close look. 

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