The dream is a nudging from the unconscious in the form of a symbolic story. Its purpose is to awaken us to something out of sight that is going on in our life: our body, our mental state, our social life, our environment, our psyche's need, our spirituality, our unfinished business from the past, our future's call to us. Toward what end? Toward our well-being in some ultimate and/or immediate sense. Why? That we might complete our lives in the pursuit of authenticity, health, and happiness.
Now the question becomes, how do we arrive at some sense of the meaning of the dream? While this seems like a great mystery, usually a meaning of the dream lies openly in front of us. But it helps to remember these steps in approaching this understanding.
1. Notice what you are feeling when you hear the dream -- the emotions and the
sensitivities in your body.
2. Observe the action of the main character in the dream and imagine the emotions,
perceptions, sensations that character must be experiencing. Feel them in your
3. Reflect upon the main character's waking life. What is happening or not happening
to bring that person authenticity, health, happiness?
4. Now consider, what is the mood of the dream as a whole, the "feeling tone?" This
will probably help us identify the psychological complex in which the dream is
embedded, another way of catching a glimpse of where the person's life is stuck,
not moving forward with life's tasks.
5. Look for ways in which the dream appears to compensate the dreamer's waking
life, leading the dreamer through an impasse toward a state of resolution,
completion, fulfillment, a reorientation, a new identity, or a peace of mind.
6. Keep in mind that in the great majority of dreams, each image, each action, is a
part of the dreamer's inner life. In other words, when you dream about another
person, that person represents some part of yourself that has not been allowed
some conscious recognition in your life. When you dream about a "house," it may
re-present a state of mind; when you dream about "falling," it might reflect the
sensation of being out of control, etc.
In short, listen and "feel" the dream with your whole being. Do not overthink. Listen as you would to a good story. You will come to see the playing out of life's universal themes, especially the theme's of power, sex/love/affection, religion, and relationship with people and objects.
For example, with the dreamer's permission, let's consider a specific dream. The dreamer is a striking fifty-nine year-old professional woman. She has worked at a top level ad agency for thirty-one years, rising to the rank of senior sales person with a salary providing her a comfortable life-style and relative financial security. However, her accomplishments and rewards came with a high price of stress in the form of more "wear and tear" on her body and mind than she had acknowledged. At the point where she came to me for analysis, she felt burned-out and was ready to retire. This dream occurred a month following her resignation and her residual uncertainty about what life would be like for her following the intense life she gave to the agency. Again, with her permission and some abbreviation of details, this is her dream.
Betty is driving my car. She parks it at a large car dealership, and I see that
part of the paneling inside the left front door is damaged. I ask her what she is doing
driving my car and where she got my key. She tells me Bob gave it to her. I go
into the dealership to order repair parts for my door and tell them to send the
bill to Bob. Noticing a ceramics shop that is part of the large complex housing
the dealership, I go in and browse around the knick-knacks before leaving.
Outside in an adjacent field is a vegetable garden that draws my attention.
Going over, I pull up a Swiss chard. As I examine the leaves I say to a young
woman who has come up behind me, "This will make a delicious meal."
I proceed to give her a recipe, a delicious dish I actually enjoyed last night.
Notice the dramatic story line of the dream. The action moves from a confrontation around the dreamer's "hijacked" car and key to a vacuous passage through the world of the ceramic knick-knacks to the very pleasant experience in a vegetable garden and the sharing of a favorite Swiss chard recipe with an unknown young woman. The characters, the actions, the buildings, and the garden -- all are symbols that reveal something about the dreamer's life at this moment in time. What do the symbols reveal?
- A reorientation of her life?
- A change in her attitude, her "use of time?"
- Her personal power and how it may have been "hijacked" by some part(s) of herself that have not been conscious?
- What really gives her life meaning?
Those are the same kinds of questions that might come to us as we read any story. Like detectives, when we consider a dream, we have to "snoop" around the scene.
- Who are Betty, Bob, the mystery woman?
- How were the car and key taken over by Betty and Bob?
- What has happened to the dreamer's "car" if it represents her power and sense of identity as cars do. (We buy our cars with some attention to their power and also how they represent us and our values.)
- What is the appeal of the vegetable garden to the dreamer?
And so, like good detectives, we learn from the dreamer the following:
- Betty is an older employee in the ad agency, going through her duties as a "hired hand" captured by the company, performing tasks that are really meaningless to her.
- Bob, not surprisingly, is the executive president of the agency, a typical corporate executive, driven by an ever-increasing need for greater numbers and productivity.
- The car dealership is where our dreamer had some of her more successful sales.
- The vegetable garden is where she feels "drawn" whenever she gets near one.
Given that background, a gestalt of the dream begins to emerge. We can see how our dreamer's life was commandeered by the "Bob" part of her personality, a kind of tyrant who drove her to perform in a work that really was not her deep source of authenticity, health, and happiness. In fact, her health -- emotional, mental, and psychological -- was at some risk in the work. But her "Betty" part of the personality continued to "churn" out the work by pushing the "car" on and on even as it was beginning to come apart on the inside. And, finally, there is an image of the "garden," a symbol of new life, verdancy, nourishment, and happiness.
How, then, might the dreamer restate her dream's meaning for her life at this moment? It could sound something like this:
My work drove me relentlessly to produce more and more. I felt angry,
frustated, and confused. Like the ceramic knick-knacks, I had turned it into a
caricature of myself, dead inside while presenting a painted-on expression of
what I might be supposed to look like. But when I come to my garden, I come
alive again. It nourishes me and feels as if it takes years off my life.
So what has changed? She already had resigned from her work. But the dream helps her to "make sense" of what had happened to her and how she might live her life onward in her "garden." Without this reminder, she might lapse back into working part-time in her old position, or even doing the same work in another agency that would love to have her skills but which would re-create the same old expectations of driven-ness that broke down her car in the dream.
The dream, considered, serves both as a warning and an affirmation of what her life may yet be -- in the garden of her delights.