Dreams are a fascinating subject. We all have them (even if we don’t remember them) and they play an important role in our lives, but they are also very elusive and mysterious – especially if you don’t know how to speak their language.
The language of our subconscious mind (where dreams stem from) is one of symbols and allows us to understand and deal with our emotions. While this makes sense at the subconscious level, our conscious mind has to interpret it. This is why they can seem perplexing or nonsensical. Sometimes we’ll have a dream and it seems fairly obvious what it was about – like having a stressful dream the night before you have to give a speech. But dreams have layers of meaning, so even when we think we know what they are about, there is always more.
What your dreams are trying to tell you
Big dreams – the really potent ones that stick with us – are especially significant. These dreams are usually characterized by strong imagery and emotion. It’s often easier to remember them and they may stick with us throughout the day. These dreams are trying to get our attention, to convey a message. When the dream is intense, then we remember it and stay connected to it. We may feel the emotional texture of that dream for a while. There are even some dreams you may remember from 10 or 20 years ago! Or the ones when dream and reality are blurred… anyone else ever dreamed of fighting with someone and then you are grumpy or hold a grudge the next day?
The difference between dreams and nightmares
Nightmares often fall into this category as well, especially if they are disturbing or intense. Nightmares can be really scary and upsetting, but they are also very powerful for our growth and healing. After doing dream work for many years, I actually get excited when I have a nightmare because I know something big is surfacing – a chance to nourish self-awareness. That doesn’t mean that when I wake up in the middle of the night I don’t feel scared, but I am able to talk myself through it and relax back to sleep.
People who have chronic nightmares may be drawn to learn more about dreams and how to interact with them. Lucid dreaming (being conscious in your dreams) can help you to change the story line or make different decisions in your dreams. Understanding and resolving the messages of your nightmares can be effective as well. Once we integrate what these dreams are trying to show us, then there is no longer a need for them to continue.
How to remember your dream
Learning to work with and understand your dreams can greatly enhance your life. Dreams bring us guidance and insight. They can be healing or can wake us up to something important in our lives. They help us process emotions and subconscious material. Dreams can bring an “aha” moment, or they can be subtle and deeply transformative, and they are something that connects every human being in a shared experience.
If you don’t remember your dreams, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them. If you want to train yourself to recall them, you can set an intention every night before you go to sleep that you will remember your dream in the morning. Then, upon waking, lay there and take a moment to see if you can recall anything – even a flash or a feeling. Write this down and repeat the next day. You can actually train yourself to start recalling your dreams more and more. This is true even if you do remember your dreams. By writing them down in the morning, you will start to remember more dreams and details.
How to work with and interpret your dreams
Working with dreams is a very intuitive and sensory process. Our rational mind cannot grasp the depth and richness of the dream space. We have to intuit and feel it. Then we can understand with more clarity and engage our minds in the process.
1. Write down your dream first thing upon waking. And write it as if it is happening now (present tense). Be sure to note any emotions you felt in the dream or are feeling upon waking.
2. When you are ready to work with your dream, read through your dream two times. The first time just read it through. The second time, notice what parts of the dream feel the most compelling or alive. Is there a certain scene or character that you feel drawn to. Is there a part of the dream that is more emotionally charged? Make a note of what these parts are because this is what you will work with.
3. Choose a scene or character from your dream and do some free association – meaning just start making a list of things that come to mind when you focus on this part of your dream. Fill a whole page. It doesn’t need to make sense; it’s just to get your intuition flowing.
4. Take the dream fragment you did the free association with and go a little deeper. Ask yourself what it feels like in this part of the dream. You can even imagine going back into the dream and looking around. Start to explore the details and people by asking what qualities they have and what they might represent for you. Ask yourself if the way you feel in your dream reminds you of anything in your life. Notice how you feel in your body. Ask if there is another layer of meaning. Start to intuitively allow the dots to connect.
5. Take any insights you receive from step 4 and explore them further. Maybe through writing or art process, or through tracking how you feel and allowing that to shift and unfold. This is where you get to be creative.
Here is an example from my own life of a nightmare I had, and what I discovered by working with it:
My dream (present tense) - Women are being harmed in a very specific way by someone who loves them. They all have a cut on their upper thigh. They look peaceful and that one cut is the only damage. The texture and mood of the dream is dark and mysterious. I feel afraid, but also curious to solve the mystery, to figure out who is doing this and why. I am intrigued and I also feel I may need to protect myself. One night, I notice my neighbour doing something suspicious in his yard. I realize he is the culprit. It all makes sense to me now. I try not to let on, but I think he sees that I know. He is outside my house, and then he is in my house. I try to protect myself by pointing an unloaded weapon at him. He does not attack me, but instead we spend some time together.
I worked with this dream by using my intuition and tuning into my body to feel the dream. I also put myself back in the dream (in my imagination) to experience it. The image that stood out to me the most was the cut on the upper thigh of the women. I asked my intuition what it meant and sat quietly, still connected to the feeling of the dream, until I received some answers.
This is what came: The dream seemed violent and dark on the surface, but when I explored it more deeply, it was actually about intimacy, love, and surrender. It was about my desire for vulnerability and connection, and my need to release my fear and my past hurts. My fear was present in the dream, but my need to protect myself is not as real and significant as it seems (unloaded weapon). Kind of wild that a nightmare can actually be a dream about love and vulnerability. But that’s the world of dreams and why it’s so powerful to work with them.