So many people I speak to say “what does it mean when I dream of…?” If you have been reading these posts for a while, you may know that I don’t believe anyone else can tell you what your dreams mean. But beyond figuring out a bit of symbolism, how can you really make sense of all those strange night-time imaginings?
Let’s go back a few steps and start at the begining. When we talk about understanding our dreams, what we are really talking about is understanding ourselves. Think of dreams as a movie that is playing back to you the story about your life as it is right now. It does not just play back to you everything that you have seen, heard, physically felt, smelled or tasted, for what would be the point of that? It would just be like a re-run and very boring, with nothing new to add. Instead, your dreaming mind looks not just at what your physical body did and where it went, but what was going on inside your mind at the same time. When you went to work in the morning, how were you feeling? When you drove past your old school what memories did that provoke? When you and your partner had that argument, how did that connect to previous arguments in your mind? Your dreams will play back the things you felt emotionally, the thoughts you had, the memories that came up and anything else that was goingon inside your mind that is important. Maybe you were frustrated at work. But how do you show “frustration” in your dream movie? It is an abstract concept, not a thing. So your dreaming mind will create something to symbolise this feeling in your dream story. It may be a character, an animal, a colour, a situation. Your dreaming mind will go through all the memory files in your mind and think, “hmm, what is frustrating? Where have I felt frustrated before? Who has frustrated me?” This then becomes your own dream symbol. Maybe it is your old sports coach who wouldn’t let you on the field so you could show everyone what you were made of. So Coach becomes a symbol of frustration. Maybe it is being stuck at the traffic lights which has made you late for work in the past, so red traffic lights become your own symbol of being frustrated. This is the process where in your mind, “a picture can tell a thousand words.”
But of course, you have many different feelings and thoughts in a day. Knowing which feelings and thoughts from the day are in your dream is a little bit trickier. You have so many in one day, it would be difficult to dream about them all. So which thoughts and feelings are the most important from your dreaming minds point of view? There are a couple of things that it is worth knowing to help you get your focus right:
- Our dreaming mind will try and point out the things that we didn’t pay much attention to, but maybe should have. Too busy on the phone to play ball with your child, and didn’t really notice how sad it made him? So used to your usual exercise routine that you didn’t really think much about the niggling pain as you were running? This is where your dreaming mind may say – hey! Stop a second and think about this! Is this really what you want to keep doing? Have you thought about the repercussions of this?
- Our dreaming mind will go the next step and make us recognise things we are actively trying to ignore, are procrastinating over or are in denial about. Know you should really give up smoking, eat a bit healthier or attend to those finances? Your dreaming mind won’t let you rest until you do. Where do you suppose those thoughts you had but didn’t want to face, go when you aren’t thinking about them any more? They go to the “back of your mind.” Of course, they can’t live there forever, so our dreaming mind will remind us very diligently about all those thoughts we “put off till later.” It can get very crowded there in the back of our mind. Our dreaming mind wants us to clear it out.
- Our dreaming mind will always look at things we feel conflicted about. If we are unsure, hesitant, undecided, confused or reluctant about anything in life, our dreaming mind will try and help us resolve these feelings. It likes nothing better than play out little scenarios that help us look at all the different things we need to consider in order to make a decision. Many times it already knows what the answer is, and will show us interesting symbolic dramas that play out not only what the best decision might look like, but also where our wrong decision might lead us. Some of these dreams can be quite disturbing, but this is just our sleeping minds way of saying to us, hurry up and do what we need to do. Sometimes it is not about a “wrong” decision, but just helping us realise that we are in charge of our own destiny, and that even if the decision seems difficult, it is ours to make. Sometimes we just have to decide, even if there is no right or wrong.
- Our dreaming mind will try and fix what is wrong. If we are feeling hurt, fearful, anxious, angry, guilty, depressed, lonely or any other of those really unpleasant emotions, our dreaming mind will explore the causes for this in an attempt to put things right. Sometimes this can seem the opposite of what it is doing, as these dreams may seem as dark and upsetting as our moods. But look at it like surgery. The dreaming mind has to open the damaged area so it can get in and see what is wrong, take out whatever is poisoningus or causing us pain, and then close the wound again. In surgey there can be a lot of blood, but it is necesarry to heal in the long term. Confusing and unsettling dreams when you are going through tough emotional periods can be like this. But ourn dreaming mind is just like our waking mind, it wants us to be happy. But properly happy, addressing the things that might cause us trouble in the long term.
- Our dreaming mind likes to look for connections. So much of what we do in life, we do because we have learned it. This means we don’t have to think about how to react to something every time it happens, which can save us a lot of time. But sometimes the lessons we learned originally aren’t working for us any more. Maybe we learned to emotionally “shut-down” when people were angry or upset around us. This may have been helpful as a child in a family with much shouting and fighting, but as an adult it may prevent us from forming close relationships. Our dreaming mind will look for patterns in our life, and play these back to us to try and make us realise what we are doing by instinct now. This is an opportunity to decide if we want to keep this behaviour pattern, or change it for a new one.
- Our dreaming mind likes to seize on opportunities to celebarte progress and growth. If you have made progess in confronting a fear, healing a wound or in some way learning more about yourself and how you relate to the world and people around you, your dreaming mind likes nothing better than to have a symbolic party to recognise the great achievement. This will often appear in dreams as the opposite of what was bothering you before – instead of feeling ashamed and naked, you are wearing beautiful new clothes, instead of being stuck at the traffic lights, you are coasting down a highway. Our dreaming mind, like our waking self, doesn’t like to take things too seriuosly all the time either!
The things that is worth remembering, is that your dreams are really just a part of your mind that wants to communicate with you. Whenever we use words like “the back of my mind”, “I knew deep down”, “I had a feeling”, or other similar phrases, we are talking about our subconscious, and our subconscious is where our dreams live. It’s the part of our mind we ignore, don’t listen to, to or hide things in. But it is still a part of our own mind, And we can’t hide from ourself forever. It is also the part of our mind that comes up with great creative ideas, solves problems and nutures our most fundemental needs for love and belonging. It is nothing to be afraid of, it is only our selves we see.
So when you next go to try and understand your dreams, stop a moment and think about what is really going on in your life, what are the major issues in your life; but also, what have you put off thinking about or don’t want to face? When we start to admit these things to ourself, we bring the dark and mysterious things from our subconscious into the light of our awareness. And understanding our dreams from there becomes a whole lot easier!
(Other possibly related posts are “Your Dreams Want to Be Understood” and “A Word on Recurring Dreams”)