This second post in the Dream Analysis 101 blog series is all about the content of your dreams. By this point, you should have a good, meaty dream from the past week that's got you revving to go. If you're still struggling to remember your dreams, keep at it! This work is all if-you-build-it-they-will-come stuff, so don't give up.
But let's say you've got a dream to analyze. Awesome! In my view, there are two primary ways to unlock a dream. One is by deciphering the meaning of your dream symbols. The other is by taking the dream's overall feel and applying that to a relevant aspect in your life. This week, we'll focus on the first strategy.
A quick and effective way to unlock your dream's meaning is by understanding your Unconscious's unique language. When you hear people say you're your own best analyst of dreams, it's because only you truly understands the people, objects, and landscapes - i.e. the "symbols" - that are featured in your dreams. After all, this is YOUR creation. Somewhere, deep down, you totally get the whole thing. Really!
Let's start with an example. I had this dream a few years back when I was pondering some life adjustments:
John is worried. He needs to get the Board of Directors together to explain the situation. I tell him not to worry. It's easy! You invite them to a meeting. As I say this to him, I see a conference table with the Board members sitting around it. The meeting is taking place at a rooftop restaurant that overlooks the ocean. We are outside.
The Board members appear to be all female. John begins, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid that we have to cut Alcatel. It was losing money and is no longer a viable business." A woman that I used to work with, Donna, is there. She's John's counterpart but much more experienced. She says, "Honorable Board Members, Alcatel was simply a drain on our resources."
One of the Board Members, an African-American woman, raises her eyebrows in shock. I now realize that the bigger company was failing and we were brought in to save it. End.
First, what are the symbols in this dream? Let's see. If I assume every person, landscape, and object has value (and I should), my list of symbols would look like this:
- Board of Directors
- conference table
- African-American woman
Second, I will then ask myself the question, "What is X symbol to me?"
- What is John to me? (John is a person I know in waking life.) My ex-boyfriend's twin brother
- What is a Board of Directors to me? A group of people that make major, strategic decisions
- What is a meeting to me? A bringing together of views/opinions
- What is a conference table to me? A place for serious work-related gatherings
- What is a restaurant? A place of nourishment and enjoyment
- What is the ocean to me? My emotional depths
- What is outside to me? Involving my public life
- What is female to me? My emotional, creative, intuitive self
- What is Alcatel to me? Argh! No clue!
- What is money to me? what I need to live happily
- What is Donna to me? (I also knew Donna.) a serious, professional woman
- What is the African-American woman to me? (a stranger) a shadow part of my personality
- What is a company to me? a place of work and productivity
At this point you may be saying, "Wait, a second, Amanda. How do you know that the ocean represents your emotional depths? Or that the African-American woman represents a shadow aspect of yourself?" Good questions. Carl Jung thought that some of the symbols in our dreams were derived from a universal dictionary of sorts. For instance, the "stranger" is an aspect of yourself that you do not know. The "ocean", or "water" more generally, represents your emotions, etc.
At the end of this post, I'll give you some of my generic definitions for certain, well-worn dream symbols. Another great resource is www.dreammoods.com, which is where I go when I'm truly stumped. However, don't ever take someone else's definition for a symbol, even a staple like "the ocean", without some skepticism. Try it on for a few dreams. If it seems to work, then it's a keeper. If not, toss it aside. It's not speaking your language.
So, back to our process. At this point, you may totally get what this dream is about. Indeed, this revelation can happen at any point in the process. If you're still stuck, continue to the third step.
Third, revisit some of the unique symbols in the dream, i.e. things that you won't find in any dream dictionary, or ones whose definition above didn't feel quite right.
- John: he's a twin. I dated his brother. He was the other one. In this way, he was an "alternative" of sorts.
- Donna: something unique to my brain is that whenever I see the word "donna", I think of the Italian word for "woman". So, even though I knew Donna, what I thought was most important is that she represented the female aspects of my personality.
- Alcatel: If your brain is like mine, it does this all the time in dreams. A word will come out so clearly and yet mean absolutely nothing in reality. Honestly, I only probably unlock words like these 50 percent of the time. My best advice is to look for similar sounding words in your day-to-day life. This one became clear to me because it sounded like something else that was relevant to my life at the time. Alcatel=Alcohol.
Now it's Mad Libs time!
Fourth, substitute your symbol definitions into the dream as you wrote it and see what it says.
My alternative self is worried. It needs to get the part of me that makes major, strategic decisions together to explain the situation. I tell my alternative self not to worry. It's easy! You invite them to a bringing together of views/opinions. As I say this to my alternative self, I see a place for serious work-related gatherings with the part of me that makes major, strategic decisions sitting around it. The bringing together of views/opinions is taking place at a place of nourishment and enjoyment that overlooks my emotional depths. We are involving my public life.
The part of me that makes major, strategic decisions appears to be my emotional, creative, intuitive self. My alternative self begins, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid that we have to cut Alcohol. It was losing what I need to live happily and no longer a viable business." A woman that I used to work with, the female aspects of my personality, is there. She's my alternative self's counterpart but much more experienced. She says, "Honorable the part of me that makes major, strategic decisions, Alcohol was simply a drain on our resources."
One of the part of me that makes strategic decisions, a shadow part of my personality, raises her eyebrows in shock. I now realize that the bigger place of work and productivity was failing and we were brought in to save it.
At this point, the dream had revealed itself to me, as it totally echoed some questions I was mulling in real life about alcohol consumption. At the time, I was socializing more than usual and, as a result, was considering foregoing the stuff altogether. Then I had this dream. From the dream, I knew it was a rather controversial issue for me and that the emotional part of me was making the decisions. But I felt it was "draining my resources" and so needed to do something about it. I honored the dream by moderating my consumption, and I never had a dream about this again.
There's even more to this dream beyond this central message, but we'll talk more about that next week when I talk about the "layers" in dreams. But now it's time for...Bradley Cooper...err, I mean, my definitions of some of the most basic dream symbols. :)
20 Generic Dream Symbols
Cars: the physical body.
Strangers: aspects of your personality that you keep hidden from others, i.e. your "shadow self."
Celebrities: The celebrity's personality, as you see it, reflects aspects of your own personality. For example, Bradley Cooper, who I consider to be a gift from God that I couldn't date in a million years, often appears in my dreams (lucky me!). But in these dreams, he's usually judging me for something (bummer). In that way, he reflects a part of me that's critical of myself.
Female: emotion, creativity, and intuition. Aspects that are private or internal. Nurturing, fertility, and maternal instincts.
Male: enterprise, analysis, and society. Aspects that are public and external. Hunter, provider, and fatherly instincts.
Inside: what is internal to you, private.
Outside: what is external to you, public.
House: one's life.
Boat: a vehicle for navigating your emotions.
Food: what you're internalizing, what's informing you; the specific food may have a distinct meaning for you.
Day: what's conscious to you.
Night: what's unconscious to you.
Front yard: your conscious mind.
Back yard: your unconscious mind.
Rain: sadness, cleansing.
Ice: frozen emotions, depression.
Fire: anger, passion.
Sex: the act of accepting the part of yourself represented by your sexual partner.
Animal: energy that is foreign to you, potentially your intuition; the specific animal is likely to have a distinct meaning to you.