Do you own a dream encyclopedia or a dream dictionary? Throw it out! I’m serious. Using a dream dictionary to try to interpret your dreams is like reading the Sunday horoscope in your newspaper. Are we really supposed to believe that all Aries on the planet are going to have friendship conflicts on the same day? Or all Libras should kick up their feet with a good book this weekend? Likewise, just because you dream you’re on a train going through a tunnel doesn’t mean you’re having a sex dream.
Dream interpretation is not about universal symbols. To interpret your dreams you need to understand what the dream elements mean to you. I’ll expand on this in a moment.
In junior high I made a study of dreams for a science fair project. I learned how to interpret dreams and started doing it for all my friends, and even my teachers. As the years went by I just got better and better at it. It’s hard to interpret someone else’s dream without knowing the person really well, so usually I have to ask questions to elicit the information I need for a proper interpretation. I can’t just automatically assign a meaning to a dream symbol based on some universal interpretation.
Interpreting my own dreams is very easy for me because I know me so well. The other night I had a dream about a lilac bush with a bunch of bees on it. One dream dictionary I looked up online says it means good luck is coming my way. That’s not what it meant to me though. Earlier that day I was sitting at a red light and looked over to my left where I saw a lilac bush with bees buzzing around it. I am really afraid of bees and I remember feeling glad I was in my car with the windows closed so one didn’t buzz in. So dreaming about bees in a lilac bush was simply my subconscious mind reliving a fearful experience from earlier in the day. If a florist had the same dream, it would mean something else. If a beekeeper had the same dream, I’m sure it wouldn’t have the same meaning as it did for me.
There are common dream themes, however. When I first learned about dreams I read that there were eight of them actually. These eight dream themes are supposedly so common that most people will have all of these dreams at some point in their lives. They are:
- Dreams of falling
- Dreams of flying
- Dreams of finding money (usually coins)
- Dreams of losing money
- Dreams of being naked in public
- Dreams of losing your teeth or having them fall out
- Dreams about being chased
- Sex dreams
But just because you have a dream that falls into a common theme category doesn’t mean it will have the same meaning for you that it will for someone else. If you’re a dentist and you dream that your teeth are falling out it could mean that you feel inadequate as a dentist, or you feel like you’re a fraud, or you feel like you want to stop being a dentist … or any number of interpretations.
In order to interpret your dreams properly you have to know what the dream symbols mean to you.
Let’s take an example. The dream is that you are sitting on your couch when all of a sudden you feel something slithering around your body, and you hear a rattling sound. In a moment, you see it’s a rattlesnake!
Are you afraid of snakes or do you like them? If you’re afraid of them then I might suggest you are coming face to face with a fear. Or I might suggest you feel like you are in the grip of fear.
If, on the other hand, you love snakes, the dream will have a different meaning. Maybe it’s an expression of courage. Maybe the snake in the dream reminds you of a deceased pet snake you had and you’re happy to see it.
The emotion you feel from a dream is the most telling element of what the dream means. It’s important to identify how the dream made you feel. Often it’s difficult to figure out what each and every symbol in a dream means. But knowing the emotion is probably the most critical element. Did you feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, depressed, defeated, afraid, overjoyed, hopeful? That alone can be enough of an interpretation.
A great technique to figure out what your dream means is to tell it to someone else. The words you use are often indicative of the meaning. Example: I was with my father and then all of a sudden his head just came flying off. “Hmm, did you have a fight with your father the other day?” “Why yes, I did, and he really just flew off the handle. Oh, I get it… ”
Try this one: I dreamed I was in a boat and was floating gently down a stream. All of a sudden there was a thunderstorm and lightning and the river started moving more swiftly. I felt like I was out of control, like I couldn’t get control of my boat. All I wanted to do was get back to safer waters, but I saw rocks ahead and knew I was going to crash. When I woke up I was so anxious.
Now let’s take the same dream and describe it a different way so you can see how the emotion is different even with the same elements. Dream: I dreamed I was in this boat and was floating meekly down the stream. But a powerful thunderstorm was brewing; I could just feel it’s power. Then lightning struck and all of a sudden I was barrelling down the river faster than I ever had before. I could easily see the obstacles ahead of me but I was so powerful that I knew I could easily face and overcome them.
In the first dream, our dreamer is expressing anxiety over something in their life that probably happened suddenly, without warning, that is scaring them. Our dreamer is not feeling in control of his life and probably wants things to go back to the way they were. He thinks tragedy looms before him.
Our second dreamer is having a different experience. He went from being meek to getting a great idea that is propelling him forward in life. He is feeling courage and power, not anxiety, about the obstacles ahead.
Telling your dream to your partner or a friend is a good idea. The words you choose are often insightful. Sometimes I’ll tell Steve a dream that was very emotional for me and he can interpret it as I go because he’s hearing the words, not seeing the images I saw. While I’m caught up in just describing the scene, he is hearing my words. This works when you write it down in a dream journal too.
It takes practice to interpret your dreams. You’ve got to just keep working at it.
Being able to intrepret dreams has actually helped me considerably with my psychic readings. When I tune in to the spirit guides they will often send me a metaphor for my sitter’s life and current circumstances. I have to figure out what the imagery means just by seeing the symbols. If I didn’t know how to interpret dreams I might be really lost.
Not all dreams require interpretation. Sometimes I will dream that someone calls me on the phone, tells me something, and hangs up. The message comes through cleanly and with no symbolism. Saves time.
Some dreams are communications from spirits or deceased relatives and also do not require much in the way of interpretation. And some dreams are premonitions so where you might see something symbolic it could be literal.
If you’re not used to remembering your dreams you may find them very disjointed in the beginning (e.g. “There was a flying monkey and then it was in my bath tub. A second later I was back in high school with my old boyfriend, Fred. He was annoying me. Then I saw that he had a butterfly tatoo, which started singing to me in Latin…”) Don’t be discouraged. Keep on dreaming! Share your dreams with a partner, or just say them out loud to yourself. The words you choose are important. In time you’ll get to know what your dreams mean to you. If you feel fear in your dream, ask yourself what you’re afraid of in your life. If you feel excited in a dream, ask yourself what you’re feeling excited about in your life, and so on.
But throw the dictionaries away. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.