Drifting off to sleep, your mind wanders away from the stresses of your day, your body relaxes and your mind begins moving toward the deep recesses of REM sleep. Look out Alice, Wonderland is going bye-bye!
Dreams are one of the ultimate mysteries; if you’re able to remember your dreams you’re one step ahead of many people, though in some cases you might be better off in the dark. Esoteric fantasies, wet dreams, nightmares, fright-mares, night terrors and just plain weirdness invade your mind when you fall asleep. It all begs one question…what the hell did that dream mean? Though, before we can really explore the meaning behind dream imagery, we need to first identify what dreams are.
Psychologists and other doctors and scientists believe that dreams serve several purposes, not the least of which is essentially a decompiling of the information, emotions, stresses and happenings of our conscious world, by our subconscious supercomputer of a brain. Think of your personal computer’s defragmentation process, moving segmented bits of information around on the hard drive, arranging them in a more logical manner, scanning for errors and bits of missing information, resolving computing conflicts and making things just a little more efficient. For the most part that’s what’s happening inside your head when you slumber, though, like a young child watching a complicated horror-suspense film, it’s hard to comprehend the flashing images, intense smells (and sometimes sounds) and just plain strange situations we find ourselves in throughout the dreamscape that is our subconscious mind.
While the purpose of dreams can be answered easily through a little well directed research and a whole lot of reading, deciphering the meaning behind the highly variant and subjective symbolism in dreams is a very different story; a story with only one character and many different sub-plots.
The first thing to remember when interpreting dream imagery is that virtually all dreams are representations of some part or several parts of your own personality. This means that the horrible dream you refuse to admit you’ve had, the one that had you fornicating with a person or persons whom you find completely unattractive or even repulsive in real life, is not what you think it is.
The purpose here is not to provide yet another dictionary of dream imagery; rather, it is to provide some basic interpretive tools that can be used to shine some context or perspective on the dark places of the mind, and ultimately to better understand ourselves in the process.
A dream dictionary is only as useful as the understanding we have of why we dream what we do. Specific definitions for dream imagery are not possible due to the entirely subjective and personal meanings that various events hold for each of us, though in many cases those definitions can be used, together with a broader understanding of our moods, stresses and motivators, to gain a relatively accurate idea of what a dream means to the dreamer.
Let’s think for a minute, about how our subconscious mind works. Most scientists believe that the subconscious mind is a sort of filing system, or a bank of memory circuits that store our memories, experiences and essentially house the instructions for responding to various stimuli in our environment. It operates in much the same way as the memory of a computer. It holds no context, no sense of self and no reason. It cannot operate without the conscious mind any more than a desktop computer can operate without a user. The subconscious mind exists in the “now” only; its basic save-and-store functionality demands that it work as a symbiotic with our conscious mind, which is where reason and context are applied to give objectivity to raw information. It is the cooperative work of these two parts of our mind that allow us to experience, remember and choose within our environment.
Every minute of every day, we are bombarded with new information, some of it contradictory to what we already “know”, some of it easily reconciled, and other bits are totally irrelevant to our life circumstances. None-the-less, we collect and store all of this information through sensory input, all the time. What we see, hear, smell, touch and “sense” is all contributing to the second-by-second choices we make in our daily lives, all of it interacting with information we gathered previously, and only a fraction of it actually being considered by our conscious though processes. Herein lies the dilemma.
If we continually fill our subconscious with essential and superfluous information, and only actually deal with a small part of that information consciously…what happens to the rest of it?
The simple answer is that it is saved, to be called into to consciousness at a later date, to reconcile or refute some new information that becomes important to our life circumstances. But, there must be a process to it. Enter the vast dreamscape of the human mind.
Quite often when we remember a dream images are blended together, the context of the various events we experience in the dream are blurred and make little sense, and ultimately we have difficulty assigning any real value to the meaning behind the overall dream. While there are ways to improve dream cognition and retention, we’ll leave that subject to another article. What we’re interested in here is the ever elusive context of the details.
Many of us, when remembering a dream, get stuck on a particular item, or event, or person and through that process inevitably lose sight of the bigger picture. Though often that bigger picture holds the key to understanding what your subconscious mind was trying to tell you or better yet, the conflict in information it was trying to resolve.
As mentioned previously, the ultimate credo of dream analysis is that everything you experience in your dreams is a representation of a specific segment of your own personality. Now, to give Dr. Freud his due, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar; but it would be a valuable endeavour to test each cigar, just to be certain. This can be a difficult concept to wrap ones head around, the idea that when I dream of my mother, my child or my spouse, they are not my mother, my child or my spouse, but actually a part of myself, which I identify through a particular characteristic that I see, or rather, sense, in my mother, my child or my spouse. This generally applies to people, places, objects and even actions in the dream world.
It’s safe to say, though not always correct, that the peripheral importance of an item in your dream signifies the relative meaning (or the importance of the meaning) of that object in the interpretation. If an item was only peripherally noticed in the grand scheme of the dream, then it most likely holds very little meaning for the overall interpretation
The reason we can rely, somewhat loosely, on the general or relative meaning of dream dictionary definitions, is because of social context. Generally speaking, all of the people within a specific society will experience and/or assimilate the same relative social context for various objects, events and actions. We may not all agree on the specific meaning of a thing, but often times we can agree on broader contexts, i.e. the historical reference to the moon as “Luna”, inferring a female, mothering connotation to the moon in a general social context. We might not even realise our own awareness of that social context, but it is prevalent enough to be considered a likely possibility for the meaning of that imagery in our dreams. This means that one of the more likely interpretations of seeing the moon in your dreams is that you are processing subconscious information that relates to a mother figure in your life. This of course depends on cultural relevance, personal beliefs and exposure to various other elements of your own environment.
Perhaps with a righteous purpose, dreams engender a certain level of introspection in order to fully understand their meaning. Especially under the consideration that the same dream can hold multiple meanings. As humans, living in ever expanding and overlapping communities and not in our own little bubbles, our minds tackle many issues and reconcile unfathomable amounts of information against so much previous experience that we must assume a layered duplicity to our dream imagery.
A step-by-step instructional on dream interpretation might begin with the notion that you must weigh each element (dominant element anyway), against the events, conflicts and relationships in your life at the time of the dream, and with those ideas in mind, only then compare the dream to the subjective definitions found in dream dictionaries.
It is vitally important to recognise the potential in better understanding the voice of our subconscious mind, if only for the reason that it has access to far more information than our conscious mind does. There’s benefit to understanding that the subconscious mind is not only free from context, reason and self-awareness, but it’s also free from the crippling boundaries of ego. Dreams can present us with options, scenarios and dilemmas that we hadn’t consciously considered for problems or situations we may not have even realised were relevant to our circumstances.
In the very least, understanding the meaning behind our dreams, be they frightening, emotional or just plain weird, can be a very cathartic and therapeutic experience, and is worth the introspection needed to gain that understanding.