Dreams are powerful, if sometimes mysterious, ways to connect with our sub-conscious or the super-conscious of the universe. There is certainly plenty of research and information to explore the nature of dreaming, the mechanics of the brain while dreaming and the interpretation of dreams. Like any complex task, with effort, and practice, we can learn to master the task and break through the mystery. Mastering the dream world can be done by carefully interpreting your dreams after you wake up.
Beliefs and Science About Dreaming
Before the development of psychology and neuroscience, dreams were considered to be part of divine intervention or spiritual communication. With the emergence of the field of psychology at the turn of the 20th Century, dreams came to be seen more as semi-conscious expressions of deeper conscious feelings and issues. Neuroscience and neurobiology attempt to monitor and assess biochemical reactions within the body during the dreams state to understand the impact dreaming has on the body, while in the dream state and afterward.
Dreams fascinate us, probably because they can stretch far beyond normal reality and invoke powerful feelings, ranging from the terror of nightmares to the euphoria of sexually charged dreams strong enough to make us orgasm while sleeping. A quick search in the books section of Amazon for “dreams” yields over 90,000 results and “dream interpretation” over 7,000 results. We want to know the meaning of our dreams.
Remembering the Dream
Sometimes we can remember a dream very clearly; other times we wake up and know we had an intense dream but cannot recall any of the details. There are two distinct types so sleep: Non-REM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). We do not dream in Non-REM sleep. WebMD identifies 3 stages for Non-REM: 1. Falling asleep, eyes closed, easy to wake up; 2. Light sleep, the heart slows, body temperature drops; and 3. Deep sleep, during which your body works to repair itself (regrows tissue and boost the immune system).
About 90 minutes into the sleep cycle, you can enter REM sleep and begin dreaming. REM sleep has stages as well based on duration, starting up in the first phase for 10 minutes or so and progressing to up to an hour. In these cycles your brain is very active, creating images and showing you events. The further into the REM cycle you go, the more intense your dreams can become.
If you wake up in the middle of a REM cycle, it can be easier to remember your dreams. Sleeping all the way through the cycle may only leave you with the ability to feel like you had a strong dream without being able to pull out any of the details.
Psychological Interpretation of Dreams
Regardless of the type of dream, something happy or scary, modern dream interpretation relies heavily on psychological principles largely delineated by the work of Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. Freudian interpretations tend to focus on the suppressed emotions the dream is trying to reveal or help the individual process. Jungian interpretations favor more spiritual messages that help guides us to emotional and psychological health.
Dreams can be literal: I am riding a horse across a prairie in Montana. They can be more imaginative: I am riding Pegasus across the sky over Montana. Or they can be extremely fantastical: I am Pegasus flying alongside the Greek God Hermes. In any case, all pieces and parts of the dream can have potential significance, and effective interpretation involves asking thoughtful questions to get deeper meaning out of the dream than just, I am riding a horse.
You may not realize how much you can recall from a dream until you start asking yourself some questions or by having someone familiar with dream interpretation ask you questions to fill in details. Each detail can help you gain more insight into the potential meaning of the dream and how the dream can, perhaps, help you in some way.
Getting the Details of the Dream
When you recall a dream, try to give as much detail as you can, and when you are satisfied to go back over the details and see if you can answer some of the following questions. Let’s use the mundane dream as an example: I was riding a horse on a prairie in Montana.
First, how did you feel about the dream? Were you enjoying the ride? Were you surprised because you have never ridden a horse before? How was the weather (weather patterns are often good markers for emotions and moods)? Could you smell the horse? If so, did you like the smell?
Getting to the Interpretation(s)
The key or keys to the dream may fall in any number of details. The landscape that is wide open could represent open possibilities; and the fact that you were riding a horse, and not walking or driving a card, could represent a connection to the earth and practical matters. Could you say if the dream was in the past or the present, could you recall what you were wearing, or if you were even “you.”
In some dreams, you are participating and others you may be observing. But often we remember or want to remember dreams because, intuitively, we know that may have a meaning that could be useful to us in our current lives.
One of the best ways to seek meaning is to see if it is possible to connect a dream with an event from the day, before going to sleep at night, or to an ongoing situation. Recurring dreams, especially ones that are anxiety-filled (I keep swimming for the shore and it gets farther away from the harder I swim), let us know that we have a persistent problem that we need to address; and until we do, the dream will keep recurring.
Often when helping clients interpret dreams I will return again and again to a common question, which is, “how do you feel now about what you are remembering and how did you feel while you were in the dream?” Making the connection between the two can help us identify if the dream is something we can use to help us deal with a problem in our waking lives. Becoming more accomplished in interpreting our dreams is just another way to live a more mindful and satisfying life.