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My Guide to Dream Interpretation:
Dream interpretation is a nearly universal human subject: although different cultures have different ways of looking at dreams or thinking about dreams, nearly all cultures place some importance on dreams. How does one distinguish superstitious ways of looking at dreams from the legitimate ways in which we can learn from our dreams? I am not convinced that all ways of viewing or interpreting dreams are equally valid: over time I have come to favor some approaches more than others.
How not to interpret dreams:
A lot of books present what I think of as a "canned" approach to dream interpretation, typically listing collection of objects, topics, and occurrences, and then providing an interpretation for what each of these various objects symbolizes or represents in the dream. While there is sometimes good reason behind the pairing of objects and their supposed symbolism, this approach generally does not work for two reasons: (1) different objects have different meanings to different people, and (2) much of the material in dreams, whether specific objects, or themes or concepts, tends to reflect what a person has experienced recently (usually, in the past few days) in their daily life.
How I interpret dreams:
My approach to interpreting dreams involves the following guidelines:
- The interpretation of dreams is subjective, so you want to interpret dreams in as empowering a way as possible. Ultimately, being aware of the subjectivity of dream interpretation leads to more empowering interpretations.
- Dreams typically contain random material (imagery, ideas, etc.) from the recent few days leading up to the dream: identifying this material and separating it from material with deeper meaning is an important step.
- The process of thinking, talking, or writing about your dreams will shape your future dream experiences. Dream interpretation is less about finding the "true" or "correct" interpretation of a given dream, and more about training your mind to think about dreams in a certain way. In a sense, dream interpretation is like looking at a nature scene and painting it: the dream is the scene and your interpretation starts with a blank canvas.
One of the most important aspects of dream interpretations, in my opinion, is that you be able to take something positive from your reflection on your dreams.
Since your interpretation is necessarily subjective, it makes sense to create an interpretation that is empowering, in the sense of having a positive effect on your life. If you find the dream funny or amusing, this in itself can be positive. Other times, if the dream has frustrations or fears in it, the dream can be empowering by making it into something silly, or merely, by noting that it is a dream, and that the fears in a sense are not real.
I find it important to avoid rigid interpretations of dreams, because these can be restrictive of your thoughts and actions in real life. If you have a dream and think something like: this means I "should" do this, I find this to be less empowering. I find the worst possible interpretations to be ones in which you interpret a dream as meaning that something bad will necessarily happen in your future--believing that something bad will happen can make it likely that you actually cause something bad to happen. I find it more empowering to treat negative events in a dream as a potential warning, something that can give you insight that can help you to avoid or more gracefully handle problems that might arise in the near future.
Identifying material in dreams from your day:
Often, random material from your day makes it into your dreams in strange and unusual ways. Sometimes the relationship to the material is direct, but a small item that you did not even notice in your day becomes the focal point of your dream. For example, I've had times in which I read a newspaper headline about a military coup or civil war, and then dream involves my own participating in some sort of resistance movement. Other times the relationship is oddly indirect and not always apparent, such as when I have a phone conversation with a friend with whom I have not spoken in a long time, and then I have a dream about a place which I associate with this person, even if I did not explicitly talk or think about this place.
It is usually relatively easy to uncover the origin of material in your dreams if you stop to reflect on it.
Just because material seems random and is from your daily life does not mean it is not important. I actually think that uncovering relationships between your daily experiences and the subject of your dreams helps give deep insights into your mind. For one, it lets you know that some part of your brain sees importance in certain events, often, more importance than you realize. In the case of the newspaper headline, I may have only glanced on it but on some level, I think I realized subconsciously that the article was describing noteworthy events, something worth remembering and thinking about. IN the cases of the more distant connections, reflecting on the material in your dream and its relationship to your recent experiences helps you to become more aware of the associations your brain makes. Both of these processes go a long way to promoting self-awareness.
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