- A person's unconscious mind contains an image of the way they are supposed to be, and continually works toward expressing this potential.
- Dreams help fine-tune a person's direction and reveal unfinished business.
- One can work directly with dreams by asking for guidance before going to sleep and asking specific questions.
Some years ago, a Johns Hopkins University study found that pregnant women who had an intuition about the sex of their baby were correct 70% of the time—but women who had a dream about the sex of their baby were correct 100% of the time!
We have access to very deep knowledge in there, and we’re sleeping through it most of the time.
Dreams never lie
Dreams tell you what you really know about something, what you really feel. They point you toward what you need for growth, integration, expression, and the health of your relationships to person, place, and thing. They can help you fine-tune your direction and show you your unfinished business. They’re meaning machines. And they never lie. Author Tom Robbins once said that dreams don’t come true; they are true. When we talk about our dreams coming true, we’re talking about our ambitions.
Dreaming is ultimately about awakening. The unconscious, from which dreams bubble up, seems to contain an image of the way you’re supposed to be, and continually works toward the expression of this potential, day and night. It often knows things about which you’re otherwise in the dark, things which in the broad daylight of consciousness remain invisible, just as the stars play to an empty house during the day when the sun is shining. Some things can only be seen when it’s dark. Trying to solve your problems or make your way or get a grip on your priorities without the information that dreams provide is like being a judge with only half the facts of a case.
To ignore dreams is to tear out pages from your own unfolding story, which winds right on through the night shift, and cut yourself off from that place from which passions and callings emanate. Most spiritual traditions clearly regard dreams as revelations from the gods and goddesses and consider the act of separating the waking life from the dreaming, the conscious from the unconscious, as not unlike separating a plant from its roots.
Dreaming is metaphoric communication
The Jungian author James Hillman has written, “When I ask, ‘Where is my soul, how do I meet it, what does it want now?’ the answer is, turn to your images.’” By which he primarily means dreams and art, since both speak a visual language. So if you want a homing beacon to help you know your soul and navigate your life, you can't do much better than turning to your dreams.
For one thing, they're masterpieces of metaphoric communication:
- You’re trying to decide between following passion or security, and dream of throwing a rock through the window of a bank, and then burying your briefcase in the backyard.
- You’re following a call toward a very public life, and don’t realize your true feelings about sacrificing privacy until an anxiety dream shows the island you live on being towed toward the mainland.
- Someone with whom you’re considering teaming up appears in a dream wearing costume jewelry and fake leather shoes.
- You’re postponing an important decision, and dream of “missing the boat.”
- You’re unsure whether you have the ability to handle what seems like an impossible task but then have a flying dream.
- In the weeks prior to losing a job early in my journalism career, one I was hanging onto primarily for security and status, my dreams were splitting at the seams with portents of how I really felt about trading off integrity for comfort and a dollop of renown. And though I faithfully recorded them in my dream journal, I did absolutely nothing about interpreting them. At some level, I didn't want to know what they had to tell me. Which is another way of saying I knew what they had to tell me.
- In one dream, I was handed a stack of hundred-dollar bills and later discovered that I’d been cheated: Only the top bill was a one-hundred; the rest were ones. In another, I lost my wallet with all my identification cards in it. In another, I found a golden calf, deformed and chained to the ground. In yet another, I was invited to the boss’ estate for an extravagant pool party, but the pool was empty.
This is not exactly rocket science. The meaning of these dreams couldn’t have been more obvious if it was tattooed across the bridge of my nose. I was being invited to take a good look at what I was doing at that job, how I felt about being there, and because I didn’t want to look, the sudden loss of the job—the official reason, appropriately, was that “there isn’t a fit”—came as a complete shock to me when it shouldn’t have.
Dreamwork and avoidance
Contrary to the rationalist hooey that dreams aren’t real (“You’re just dreaming”), dreams are very much real. They convey real information, real impact, real emotions, and have real consequences if ignored. If you don’t honor your dreams, you’ll at the least dream them until you do, or the unconscious will “dream up” other channels for their messages to come through, such as symptoms, neuroses, and compulsions. As with anything you avoid, the more you ignore dreams, the more insistent they become.
A tribe in Malaysia called the Senoi puts great stock in their dreams and gathers each morning to share them. When they dream of being chased, they assume that whatever is chasing them is an ally rather than enemy, and so turn and face their pursuer to inquire what the chase is all about, what the message might be that the pursuer bears.
This is the heart of dreamwork, of revealing the nature of the calls whose fins break the surface in your dreams, of deciphering the messages they bring. The challenge lies in turning around and facing whatever is there, rather than running from it. The fact is, there’s gold in them thar hills, but it takes some nerve to study your dreams, the same nerve it takes to examine a firecracker that didn’t go off.
This certainly helps explain why dream recall is such a slippery affair. A part of us doesn’t want to remember them, because of the messages they bear, the things they reveal, the directions they point us. The truth may set you free, but there’s an even chance that first, it will scare the daylights out of you.
As for the dream material itself, some of it is like junk mail, only a small percentage being truly useful and worth slogging through. Some of it also comes in such a crazy mambo of images, vignettes, metaphors, and other psychic ephemera, that trying to make any sense of it is like running down the street trying to grab the loose papers of a manuscript the wind has snatched out of your hands.
But don’t necessarily run with the first interpretation that comes to you. Brainstorm all associations you can conjure about the dream images or events, especially the most potent one in the dream. What words, ideas, people, memories and feelings does it remind you of? Then go with the one that elicits the most energy from you, that has the most oomph.
Avoid a dream-dictionary, this-means-that approach to interpretation. Dreams are far too subjective for that. Water, for instance, will mean something very different to someone who almost drowned as a kid than to someone who feels more at home in water than the fishes.
Since most dreams (though not all) seem to relate to something happening in present time, ask what, if anything, the dream ties into in your life right now. Where have you seen this particular scenario playing itself out lately? What is it trying to tell you? What is its central message? If you dream of flying, falling, conquering foes, being unable to find something, having extraordinary powers, being chased, ask how these may be symbolic of aspects of your life. But check the physical world first, before settling on an interpretation. If you dream your car loses its brakes, check your brakes. If nothing shows up, check where in your life you perhaps feel unable to stop, out of control.
Dreams and your attention
It isn’t even necessary, though, to understand dreams or mine them for meaning, writes Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul. Merely giving your attention to them, granting them their autonomy and mystery, goes a long way toward opening the portals and shifting from analysis to responsiveness. In fact, what largely determines whether you recall dreams at all is simply the amount of interest you pay them.
Not only do dreams respond to attention, but they also respond to direct requests. In other words, you don’t have to wait around for them to appear. You can draw them to you by petition. You can bargain with them. If you get in the habit of asking for dream guidance as you’re dropping off to sleep, dreams will fairly beat a path to your door. Just be prepared to take dictation: keep a pad and pen by the bedside, or a tape recorder. Promise yourself that if you're sent a dream, you’ll write it down upon waking, even if that’s at 3 a.m. Prompt them with specific questions. Ask for directions. Ask for clues. Ask what your next step should be. Ask for clarification of last night’s dream.
Just get to your dreams before the world does. Write them down before you even get out of bed, because the moment your feet hit the floor, you literally ground yourself, and the lightning energy of dreams disappears into the earth.
Finally, consider conducting a ritual to help concretize a dream, bringing it out of dream-state and into waking life, from the abstract down into your muscles, emotions, and physical life. A ritual is an enactment of the dream message, of whatever change the dream is calling for. It’s a way of taking a small step in that direction, making an outward sign of an inward intention. It’s a little rite of passage.
There’s an old tradition in the Christian Church that one hadn’t prayed unless one’s lips had moved. It expresses the psychological truth that something physical has to happen to establish that you mean business, that your devotion to growth is real and not merely a high opinion you have of yourself.
If you dream of the necessity of choosing passion over security, for instance, you might ritually burn a one-dollar bill, while entreating the gods of courage. If a dream points to the need to make a break with tradition, take a stick of wood and break it in two. If your dream shows you flying over obstacles, set up a series of rocks in the backyard, give them the names of your obstacles, and make broad jumps over them.
A ritual can be as simple, too, as putting a flower in a vase, making a circle of stones, burying something that represents an old habit, kneeling down in prayer, washing yourself in the river, anointing yourself with oil, visiting the zoo to spend some time with the animal in your dream, planting something, drumming or singing, feasting or fasting, making a mask, lighting a candle.
“I can light a candle because I need the light,” says writer Christina Baldwin, “or because the candle represents the light I need.”