Dreaming, we find our inner compass and the larger story of our lives, from which we can draw courage and clarity to make better choices when confronted with everyday challenges.
The wake-up call may come in a sleep dream. It may come in that liminal state of hypnagogia when we are drifting between sleep and waking; this is a marvelous space for creative discovery, when we can make connections that escape the ordinary mind, as I explain in my Secret History of Dreaming.
We may receive the wake-up call in the midst of everyday life, through the play of meaningful coincidence or a pop-up symbol from the world about us; navigating by synchronicity is the dreamer’s way of operating 24/7.
We can learn to travel into the dream world wide awake and conscious, in the way of the ancient shamans, as I teach people to do in my Active Dreaming approach. In this way, we can journey to places of healing and guidance in nonordinary reality and bring back gifts.
In my new book, Dreaming the Soul Back Home, I explain how we can develop the skills of lucid dream travel to find and bring home parts of our vital energy and identity that may have gone missing in life, so we can be whole and strong.
Q: Why is it important to analyze our dreams?
A: For starters:
- We solve problems in our sleep
- Dreams coach us for future challenges and opportunities
- Dreams show us what the body needs to stay well – and get well
- Dreams hold up a “magic mirror” to our current actions and attitudes, helping us to take an objective look at ourselves and make wiser choices
- Dreams are a creative studio where we develop new ideas – as inventors, scientists, writers and world-changers have always done.
Beyond all the above, dreams put us in touch with our BIGGER story and our larger purpose.
Q: What are the best ways that readers can start analyzing their dreams?
A: First, consider your feelings on waking. Those feelings will be your first and best guidance on the nature and meaning of the dream – whether it is negative or positive, literal or symbolic, urgent or important or trivial.
Then, do a reality check: Compare the contents of the dream with your waking life and compare the situation and behavior of your dream self with that or your everyday self. If you are running away from something in your dream, where may you be running away from something in regular life?
Ask, of any dream: Is it possible that any part of this could manifest in the future? Dreams are constantly rehearsing us for challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. If you feel that a dream may portend an unpleasant future event, you may be able to work with that dream to avoid that unwanted possible future.
A good game to play is to ask “What part of me?” is each of the characters and elements in a dream. However, we also want to remember that dreams are transpersonal as well as personal, so that your deceased grandmother in your dream (for example) may not only be a part of you that is like Grandma or carries her attitudes – but your actual grandmother making a visitation, which is the kind of thing that goes on very frequently in dreams.
Learn how to share dreams with a friend in a mutually helpful way. I have invented a simple four-step technique for doing this that I call the Lightning Dreamwork. We start by learning to tell our stories to each other simply and clearly. We ask each other a few essential questions (“Feelings?” “Could any of this happen in the future?”); then we offer mutually empowering feedback by saying, “If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such.”
Finally, we encourage each other to take action to bring guidance and energy from the dream into regular life. I explain this technique in my book The Three “Only” Things.
Q: Is there such a thing as a right and wrong interpretation of one’s dreams?
A: What is always wrong is to tell anyone else what their dreams (or their lives) mean, or to let them do that to you. We must become authors of meaning for our dreams and our lives. In our efforts to understand our dreams we often get it “wrong” because the dream reflects a situation that hasn’t developed yet, and we fail to look carefully enough at how the dream may reflect something that is developing in our world but is not yet manifest.
We may also get it “wrong” by failing to discern whether a dream is literal, symbolic, or an experience of a separate reality.
Q: Many people say that they don’t dream, which probably means that they simply can’t remember their dreams. What can readers do to remember their dreams?
A: Before you go to bed, write down an intention for the night. Make sure your intention has some juice. Don’t make dream recall one more chore to fit in with all the others.
Ask to meet your dream lover, or go to Hawaii without paying for the plane ticket, or to have fun in the night and remember. Keep pen and paper (or a recorder) next to your bed so you are ready to record something when you wake up.
Record something whenever you wake up, even if it’s at 3 a.m. If you don’t remember a dream when you first wake up, laze in bed for a few minutes and see if something comes back. If you still don’t have a dream, write something down anyway: whatever is in your awareness, including feelings and physical sensations.
You are catching the residue of a dream even if the dream itself is gone. And as you do this, you are saying to the source of your dreams, “I’m listening. Talk to me.”
Don’t give up on fragments from your night dreams. The wispiest trace of a dream can be exciting to play with, and as you play with it you may find you are pulling back more of the previously forgotten dream.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about analyzing their dreams?
A: Dreams require action. If we do not do something with our dreams, we will not dream well. The action might be as simple as Googling a funny word, as I did while doing this interview (see my blog post).
We might decide to wear the color red because we were flaunting it in the dream, or to get in touch with an old friend who showed up, or to avoid that road accident in a possible future previewed by a dream.
As we grow our practice as active dreamers, we may want to reenter a dream to resolve nightmare terrors, talk to a dream guide, go on with an adventure, or access sources of healing and guidance or reclaim a child self or a connection with the Greater Self.