Introduction/ What Are Dreams?/ Understanding Symbols/ Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious
Discovering the Inner Self/ Last Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

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The Importance of Dreams


Interpreting the Dream

The Dream Is About You

The first thing to remember about interpreting a dream is that the contents within the dream are about the dreamer, the life as it really is at the time of the dream. As a rule of thumb all the characters and images in the dream symbolize one or more aspects of the dreamer's psyche; the ego, the psychological, physical spiritual, or a combination. Unknown people, unrecognizable friends often point to qualities or aspects that govern behavior but perhaps which where there may not be a conscious awareness of. Even when a dream produces images of a known person of the waking life, it is most often the characteristics of or relationship to that person that the dream uses to represent an aspect{s} of the dreamer, and not that person. The dream is about the dreamer. But even with that there are always exceptions and any symbol that is set in concrete will come up short.

Dreams compensate the waking conscious with information of the dreamer's life, the present and past. And any experiences in life including those that may have been repressed, forgotten, ignored or stored away for later use. Dreams often present answers to unrecognized aspects of the dreamer’s character or emotional state, even solutions to the problems that the dreamer may have been unable to resolve in a waking condition. But dreams rarely predict future events. But their compensatory function does provide insights to future possibilities and as with any computer, and the mind is the greatest of computers, if enough information is given a solution can be evaluated and a solution found. If you correctly understand the dream. All that is 'within' {psychological and physical} is available to the dream.

The imagery of symbols exhibits a central theme {motif} within the dream, a plot of sorts that depicts the life of the dreamer. It is as if the life is a stage production with all the characters symbolizing some aspect of the dreamer. Following the plot and the sub-plots, one finds insights to the true nature of the dreamer's inner and outward waking life, beyond what the ego self is aware of. It is the third person {the dream} watching the first person {the dreamer} in action and re-action to the second person {the waking ego condition}. The production is an x-ray of the unconscious, and as with a trained physician the imagery can be understood and interpreted.

The second thing to understand about interpreting a dream is that the imagery {images, people, places, things} are most often symbolic, a metaphorical reference to an aspect{s} of the dreamer's condition. Metaphorical means the same as. The house as the symbol therefore would mean the 'same as' the dreamer, the house is the dreamer, or more precisely an aspect{s} of the dreamer. The rooms in the house may symbolize the different emotions, the complexes, or traits, or stages or events in the dreamer's life. Exactly what the rooms may represent are predicated on the life of the dreamer, and by comparing actual known events in the dreamer's waking life to the players and events within the dream will help determine what the dream message is. There may be more than one theme {motif} within the dream but all are addressing aspects of the dreamer's life.

In interpreting the dream we must understand that the unconscious possesses its own language, the symbolic language, pre-logic, allegoric. The dream means exactly what it says, except it uses its own language of symbols to express itself. It is the 'inner' voice, the unconscious, that knows better than the waking ego conscious mind. The dream thus has the value of a positive, guiding idea or of an aim whose meaning would be greatly superior to that of the conscious ego. Dreams are a product of nature and as within all of nature there is a functionary process that balances all things so that survival is guaranteed. Those unrealized contents, repressed, ignored, sometimes stagnated within the unconscious are served up in the dream, with the intent to inform the dreamer of aspects that are out of balance. It is a counter-balance that when understood and listened to will provide harmony to the life, and a life with meaning.

Determining the Role of an Image

Knowing that dreams have their own language the question arises as to how that language is organized within the dream and what do the symbols mean. Adhering to the principles of Jung we separate the imagery into four distinctive characteristics. The first is that of the shadow. The shadow constitutes all that is opposed to the persona {ego-centric personality}. The shadow exists because the ego has experiences which the ego deems 'inappropriate'. As such, the shadow is nothing new but has been known for ages. However, the shadow is most often visible in masses, where the shadow can be personified. This is why so many people were taken in by Hitler. Because it is unpleasant to face the shadow, most people try to get rid of the shadow by ignoring it. Still, it is possible to assimilate the shadow into the conscious personality, but this requires recognising the dark characteristics of the personality, an act of self-knowledge which will meet with considerable resistance. In dreams your shadow may be represented either by some figure of the same sex as yourself (an elder brother or sister, your best friend, or some alien or primitive person) or by a person who represents your opposite (but of the same sex). More typically the shadow carries negative or evil qualities or what was deemed as evil by the ego at some time in the waking life {most often childhood}.
A clear example of this in literature is Robert Louis Stevenson's 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', in which Mr Hyde may be seen as Dr Jekyll's unconscious shadow, leading a separate and altogether different life from the conscious part of the personality. Mr Hyde was the alter-ego, the negative aspect of Dr Jekyll. We all possess this dark side.
Another example of the dark side is 'Star Wars' the trilogy. Here we see all the characteristics of the psyche at play. Darth Vader is not only the 'dark side' but also the father of the hero. In many instances the actual experiences of a childhood would have the father as the 'negative' aspect if there is not that required love and acceptance between child and father.

The second characteristic in understanding symbols within the dream is that of the masculine/feminine {anima/animus} qualities within the psyche. Every man has a feminine component in his psyche; every woman has a masculine component in hers. The anima is the feminine aspects of a male psyche: for example, gentleness, tenderness, patience, receptiveness, closeness to nature, readiness to forgive, and so on. The animus is the male side of a female psyche: assertiveness, the will to control and take charge, fighting spirit, and so on. It is our soul-image. With the exception of the mother figure, the dream symbols that represent the soul-image are always of the opposite sex to the dreamer. Thus, a man's anima may be represented in his dreams by his sister; a woman's animus by her brother. But any person {or animal if sex is determined} could symbolize the anima/animus. Symbols that are often seen within a man's dream that represent the anima include a cow, a tiger, a cave, and a ship. Some other symbols of the animus are an eagle, a bull, a lion, and a phallus (erect penis) or other phallic figure such as a tower or spear.
We look for our 'soul mate' in love relationships and the dream produces a 'soul image' in quest of the love within ourselves. The soul-image, is a mediator - a go-between or middle-man (or middle-woman) - who establishes communication between the conscious ego and the unconscious and reconciles the two. Your soul-image has characteristics which are the opposite of those possessed by your persona. For instance, if your persona is an intellectual one, your soul-image will be characterized by sentiment and emotion; and if you are the intuitive type, your soul-image will be earthly and sensual.
One common representation of the anima is the figure of the damsel in distress, frequently appearing in the myth of the 'hero'. The recurring theme here is that of the hero rescuing a beautiful young woman. Sleeping Beauty is the story of the hero awakening the maiden from the sleep of death with a kiss. This symbol of the damsel in distress represents the man's anima, which, because of neglect or repression, is - metaphorically speaking - either 'dead' or in danger of 'dying'. The rescue or kiss of life means that the man has now lifted his femininity out of its dark imprisonment.
An animus figure is the dwarf {Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs}. Dwarfs work underground in mines {the unconscious}, for which they bring forth gold and other precious substances. This illustrates how the animus, if cared for and nurtured by a woman, will bring up from her unconscious many valuable things that will serve her well in her daily life and her quest for a harmonious life.

The third characteristic in the dream is that of the 'power and wisdom aspects'. Jung calls these the 'mana personalities', because in primitive communities anyone with extraordinary power or wisdom was said to be filled with 'mana', which means 'holiness' or the 'divine'. These characteristics of power and wisdom reside in the depths of our psyche and like other things in our unconscious they may be projected. For example, instead of making contact with this inner store of power and wisdom, we may choose to disown it and see it as the property of someone else, some national leader or some superman figure.
We must be weary of these aspects because we can be 'possessed' by the 'mana' personalities which would be dangerous { letting these powers subdue the conscious mind and ignore all reason}. It commonly results in megalomania. An example is where a woman allows her conscious mind to be subdued by the Great Mother. The dreamer will begin to believe herself able and destined to protect and nurture the whole world. A man who allows himself to be taken over by the Wise Old Man is likely to become convinced that he is some sort of superman or great guru, filled with heroic power or with superior insight into the meaning of things.
The right thing to do with the 'mana' personality is to to integrate it into your consciousness and not to reject or suppress these characteristics. This means enriching your life with a wisdom that is not accessible to intellect but comes from the unconscious, the intuitive self. It also means that from now on, conscious and unconscious are no longer seen as opposites, but as two cooperating and complementary parts of one and the same psyche.
Common symbols of the Wise Old Man include the king, magician, prophet or guru and guide. Common symbols for the Great Mother include a goddess or other female figure associated with fertility, priestess and prophetess.

The fourth characteristic in the dream is that of the 'Self'. The Self has to be distinguished from the ego. The ego is the conscious mind. The Self is the total, fully integrated psyche, in which all opposing or conflicting elements are united and co-ordinated. The Self is the ultimate in your experience of the psyche and although few people attain this degree of balance in their waking life in dreams it represents the quest to do so.
The fourth characteristic is where the integration of conscious and unconscious becomes complete. It is therefore the stage at which all that was evil has now become good. It is where the 'Devil becomes God', the evil within you has been confronted and has become your greatest power because you are no longer afraid of it. Another way of expressing it is to say that the Devil no longer exists - because there is no longer anything evil in the psyche, and therefore no need to project that evil on to some external being.
The Self may be symbolized by a transformation processes, like the Ugly Duckling's transformation into a beautiful white swan, or the changing of a frog into a handsome prince. Mandalas represent the Self. Any church or temple, or indeed any room - so long as it is square or circle - may be a mandala figure. So may a garden, especially if it is square or round and has a central point - for example, a fountain or a bird-bath, or in a pool.

Determining the Dream's Message

Understanding that there are different aspects within the psyche that end up as products in dream imagery, the task is to determine the dream's message. Jung thought that all dreams had at least two meanings. One is the personal meaning, what events in the dreamer's life are causing conflict or concerns that have enough psychic energy to become a part of the dream. One way to determine this is the age of the dreamer. If the dreamer is under the age of 35 then life is more concerned with career, achievements and more ego oriented. If the dreamer is past the age of 35 then there is more of a reflective attitude; the children are grown, the career is set and retirement is on the horizon, there is a desire {often at first unconscious} to gain an understanding about life {the meaning in life}.
If the dreamer is under the age of 35 then the first thing to do is focus on the events in the dreamer's waking life. What corresponds in the waking life with the dream imagery? What themes in the waking life can be metaphorically represented in the dream? If the dream is of the house on fire then look at the waking life to determine what in the dreamer's life is pre-occupied with; anger, greed, passion, love {these are symbols for fire}. Is there something that is destroying some aspect of the dreamer's life {house being destroyed by fire}? Often images are used in the dream that are borrowed from actual persons, places, things or events a few days prior to the dream. Examine the dream and then compare it to the waking life to see what may match.
If the dreamer is past the age of 35 then there may be a deeper meaning to the dream, as well as what was stated above for the younger dreamer. This is the second meaning within the dream, one that deals with the 'inner' condition more so than the outward waking life from day to day. The house would still symbolize the dreamer and the fire may also symbolize the same as in the above but the dream message may be directed toward past experiences in life, or unresolved inner conflicts that have been repressed or never fully acknowledged. The house would not only be the present self but would represent the dreamer in the past {often childhood}, those experiences from the past. If there is mental conflict from childhood then the fire may symbolize that conflict.
These experiences are stored in the unconscious and often have unconscious control over the waking life throughout the whole life. At midlife we begin to reflect, meaning becomes important, why things are as they are require answers. Our dreams attempt to work through these inner conflicts and if we consult our dreams we can gain insights to those things which have been repressed, forgotten or stored away because they are too painful to confront or no longer hold enough energy to make it to consciousness.
As far as determining which message is of greater importance often depends upon the age of the dreamer. Someone over 35 will have more meaningful dreams that have to do with inner turmoil because of past experiences, especially if that turmoil is so great it is a controlling agent in the personality. But the activities in the waking life often determine the first interpretation of the dream. After that is accessed and worked through then the dreamer should evaluate the deeper possibilities to the dream message.
Anyone past 35 should look to the deeper meaning in the dream as much as the associations to the waking life. Both hold insights to a better understanding of the events and emotions within the dreamer's life. Both should be evaluated and considered. If there is cause to think there are past experiences that hold traumatic emotions for the dreamer, the deeper meaning should be investigated to determine what are the underlying conditions.

Dream Dictionaries

The first impulse of any serious interpreter of the dream would be 'NO' to dream dictionaries. And that is with good reason. Most are not psychologically oriented and are very superficial. But those few dictionaries that look at the dream on the level of psychology, use Freud and/or Jung as a basis for understanding symbols, have merit. That is, as long as you use them as a starting point from which to investigate the dream symbol and not as a fixed object. Perhaps the most effective dictionary you can obtain is Eric Ackroyd's 'A Dictionary of Dream Symbols'. It discusses both Freud's and Jung's theory on dreams and provides insights to the psychology of the dream. The dictionary is mostly Jungian based with explainations that fit well with most dream symbols.

Dream Diaries

If you are serious about understanding your own dreams, the best way to accomplish this is to keep a dream diary. Dreams often run in sequences and comparing the different dreams can afford some degree of reference that makes more clear what the dream{s} is trying to convey through its symbology. Keeping the diary by the bedside within easy reach is important. The dream will be lost on most occassions within a few minutes if you do not take the time to remember it.
The first thought when you awake should be the dream, what was the dream you were having before you awoke? Lying still in the same position in which you awoke and going over the dream for a couple of minutes will let you focus on the dream and provide a better memory of the actions within the dream. Then you should immediately write the dream down just as you remember it. Once the dream is on paper you should go back and make any mental notes of emotions that accompanied the symbols or motifs. Also, if there is an emotion upon awaking about the dream then that should be noted also.
If you prefer, instead of writing the dream down you can use a tape recorder to record your dreams. Again the recorder should be at hand upon awakening so that the dream is not lost.

Introduction/ What Are Dreams?/ Understanding Symbols/ Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious
Discovering the Inner Self/ Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

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