I have always dreamed vividly, and often with bizarre features that leave friends and family shaking heads as I recount the details. My husband probably frames it best. When I ask him if I can tell him about a dream, his usual response is, “Can I have the Cole’s notes version?” In trying to decipher the meaning of my unusual, sometimes uncomfortable, and always very detailed dreams, I have encountered two distinct camps.
The esoteric approach places meaning on symbols in the dream with an arbitrary (or perhaps just ancient) connection. Dreaming of a snake, for example, is said to represent impending trouble. I do believe in the esoteric – to me the super natural is just a natural we haven’t explained yet – but somehow I have trouble investing belief in the predictive powers of seemingly disconnected symbols in dreams.
The second camp takes a psychological approach. Depending on the psychologist, the meaning and function of dreams is seen in vastly different ways. Freud saw dreaming as a process of wish fulfillment. Jung felt that dreams were a result of repressed development of the conscious self. William Domhoff stated that we should just forget about our dreams all together; unless we find them personally entertaining, as they have no function.
I tend to believe most in the approach that was outlined to me by a woman many years ago. She had completed her PhD in psychology with a thesis in dream interpretation. Her theory was that the meaning behind symbols and people in dreams are as individual as the dreamer him/herself. She believed that each person who is present in a dream, with a few exceptions, actually represents a part of personality of the dreamer him/herself. If one can immediately pull out a few key attributes of the person one dreams about, one can see what part of her own nature the dream is dealing with.
Example 1: I dreamed last night of one of my students, of whom I am very fond, but he tends to be immature and emotionally needy. Let’s call him Johnny. If I follow this woman’s approach, I will look at his presence in my dream by asking who is the “Johnny” in me? Since for me, Johnny is very little, needy, and demanding, this dream may be addressing my needs for care and nurturing. Other people may view Johnny in a different manner, so his presence in their dreams would mean something different from his presence in mine. It is also helpful, she said, to look at how the person (if familiar) is present in one’s waking life. Johnny is one of my students, so it is possible that the dream is processing feelings I am having around work. Going through this process with each person who is in the dream should quickly reveal the meaning of each person’s presence.
Following completion of the character analysis, the dreamer should then look at each noun that is in the forefront of the dream. Each noun will also have a role in exposing the meaning of the dream. Sometimes the noun is fairly self-explanatory, but at other times a short word association practice is necessary to help reveal the meaning of the object.
Example: Last week I dreamed that I had purchased an old Victorian house in an estate sale. Many of the original owners’ possessions had been left in the house. Some of the items were family photo albums and diaries, which told me the story of the family that had owned the home. I wanted to collect them all to return them to the adult children of the owner. There were also vast collections of rare items throughout the home, which was full to capacity. I didn’t want the children of the previous owner to try to take these away from me. It looked like an over-filled antique store. As I wandered the home with my mother, one door opened upon another and yet another. She was pointing out the valuable objects and identifying them to me. There were enormous china cabinets in nearly every room, filled with rare china and crystal. I found collections of antique posters in nearly perfect condition. My mom told me that I should call an antique dealer to get these collections appraised. The home was far larger than I had ever believed, and I came to realize that there were homeless people squatting in several bedrooms of the home. I found them sleeping in gigantic antique beds, in bedrooms the size one might find in a castle. Some people ran out as soon as they saw me enter the room. There was one homeless woman, who was in a huge bed, curled around her sleeping child. When I saw the fear in her eyes, I decided I would act like I didn’t see them, and let them stay. I walked by them, ignoring them as I talked to my mother. The young mother in the bed kept her eyes on me the whole time. I wanted her to know she had nothing to be afraid of. As I continued through the home I began to think through the renovations I could make to turn these areas into small apartments for these homeless people. I could make a bathroom here and a kitchen there. I had enough room by far.
The woman I spoke to would suggest that I pull out the salient nouns of the dream.
Estate sale = will = death = loss of parent
Old, enormous house with many rooms = home = heart = parts of myself
Antiques = old but valuable = rich in heritage and quality = important history
Bedrooms and beds = comfort and safety
Collectibles = valued things I want to keep
Homelessness & fear = homeless is being without family or being alone in the world.
Family photo albums = my history
There were two mothers in my dream, so mother is another noun I will consider as important.
If I look at the dream in this way, I come to see that I may be processing my feelings around my mother aging and losing her some day. She is my home and my comfort and the dream itself actually deals with a death of a parent. My mother is my history and I want to keep her. In my dream, she is a source of information to me, as she is in waking life. I’m afraid of the day when I won’t have her anymore. I feel that there is much more to this dream than I have processed. This analysis is just the result of a quick demonstration.
One strange dream that I had recently involved seeing children from my school walking up the centre of a road. I was driving in my car and I had to go around the children in order that I didn’t run over them. I gave them a look that was meant to say, “I know who you are and so you should be acting more safely.” I didn’t want to stop because I knew that spikey stems were growing out of the top of my head, and I didn’t want the children to see them. I was trying to get rid of the plants and had pulled off all the leaves. I was now left with broken woody stems about four inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, growing up out of my skull. I began yanking at the stems, pulling them out by the roots, when a huge piece of my scalp came off. It was attached to the root system of the plants and broke away from all my pulling. I was holding the stems and staring in shock at the chalk white triangular chunk of boney scalp. There was very little blood. I even remember noticing a pit in the bone. Then I woke up.
That one I think I’ll leaf for another day. 😉