Understanding Dreams

First, relax your mind. Dream interpretation is a right-brain activity, like understanding a joke or writing song lyrics or sketching a face: you need to use intuition rather than logic. The clue to a dream symbol or event usually comes with an “Aha!” feeling rather than as the result of figuring.

Pay attention to the emotional atmosphere of the dream: the way you felt about the dream event is often a better clue to the meaning of it than the event itself. Ask yourself, What is there in my life that has that atmosphere about it? For example, you may dream you discover a new room in your house. How do you feel about the discovery? Is it a happy or a fearful or burdensome one? Is the new room cluttered or empty? Light or dark? Clean or dirty? Orderly or chaotic? What is happening in your life that matches those qualities?

Don’t worry if you dream something shocking: your dream self is not concerned with the rules of morality or respectability, but with meaning. For example, if you dream of killing someone you love, it doesn’t mean you want to kill that person; it may mean you are angry at them, or you wish they would go away or not be involved in a particular situation. If you dream you are naked, it’s not a sign of exhibitionism; it probably means you feel vulnerable or embarrassed or perhaps that you need more privacy in your life.

Many dream symbols are universal, but they still have to be applied to you, the dreamer, in an individual way. Water, for instance, can have many meanings. If you dream of being swept away in a flood, it might mean fear of losing control, hope of falling in love, desire for escape, excitement about a new beginning, or any one of many other meanings. And some symbols are your very own. I once dreamed of the letters “IMF” and I couldn’t imagine what meaning they could have, till suddenly I realized they stood for the International Monetary Fund, which was my own personal symbol for things I could never possibly understand!

Most people dream in black and white most of the time. If you dream in color, or if there is one thing in your dream that is colored, look for some special significance. In fact, pay special attention to anything out of the ordinary in your dream life. If your dreams usually take place indoors, and you have an outdoor dream, or vice versa, that’s significant.

Pay attention to names, numbers, letters, shapes, and odd or meaningless-sounding words. They almost always mean something special. Try free-association: think of the word or image, and say whatever comes to your mind. Try to keep free-associating till something rings a bell. Your dream mind likes to play hide-and-seek: a person’s name may be hidden in a word that rhymes with it, or a nonsense word that connects somehow with the name.

Not all dreams have deep significance; if you’re going through a dull time in your life, the dullness may be reflected in your dreams. And not all dreams are serious: if you have a sense of humor in waking life, jokes and puns may appear in your dreams.

Try applying these suggestions till you begin to get the hang of it. Let your dreaming self speak to your waking self; you’ll be surprised what it may have to say.