Dream interpretation has always fascinated me. As a very young person, I got my hands on a dream interpretation book, but I rapidly found that the ‘answers’ were a bit too tidy, and most of my dreams did not include things that could be readily picked out as symbols and interpreted that way. I’ve always tended more towards narrative threads, and my symbolism is pretty personal. My impression is this is generally the case. We all have symbolic languages in which our unconscious minds try and talk to our waking ones. Life experience, belief, preference and so forth contribute to make this personal symbolism work. Unravelling it is a journey into the self. The first question to ask is not ‘what does the book say?’ but, ‘what does that mean to me?’
I studied Freud a bit at uni, which confirmed my feeling that trying to impose meaning from the outside, is reductive and pointless.
That said, there are trends that stand some consideration. Firstly, if you are learning something, your brain will consolidate that during periods of rest and sleep. We aren’t conscious of much of the process inside our own minds. This is distinct from your Freudian unconscious, which has its own drives and agendas. It’s more like the way in which you can’t see what your computer is doing to make these words visible to you. That much self awareness would drive us crazy. So, we have a functional, not-conscious element to the mind that handles the sorting, storing, and comprehension without our conscious thought processes getting involved. One of the signs that you truly know a thing is being able to do it without consciously thinking about it. Dreaming can be part of the consolidation process, so what you dream may reflect what you’re learning.
Now, that Freudian style unconscious, that place of repressed emotions does seem to exist. If we are deep in denial about something, it bubbles up eventually. Dreams can express to us the things we are consciously trying not to be aware of – fear, desire, need, insecurity, all that kind of thing. There’s scope for self knowledge here, because if we can acknowledge the dreams that manifest what we’re refusing to deal with, we get closer to dealing with it.
The person who does not get enough sleep, also doesn’t get enough dream sleep, so having and remembering dreams is a good sign of sufficient good quality sleep. It’s worth considering your dreaming in this very pragmatic way, because it can give you some useful information about the state of your sleeping.
I also think that dreaming is a good indicator of your state of mind generally. Drab, dull, repetitive dreams – such as dreaming in extra days at work, do not speak of a happy and fulfilled mind. Anxiety dreams can be very telling. Having the same set of dreams can be suggestive that something in your waking life needs tackling, and that you are trying very hard to flag this up to yourself. The person who dreams strangely and widely, drawing on all kinds of experience, is probably in better shape than not, between the ears.
Rich dreaming can be emotionally rewarding, as well as going alongside good sleep. It is worth paying attention to dreams. You don’t have to believe in much, or see any magical component, to be able to notice that they are a function of the mind, and that something is going on there. Stay away from Freud though, unless you’re reading him for giggles. Don’t assume there is one right answer to your dreaming and that someone else can tell you what it is. The only right answers are the ones that make sense to you, and sometimes dreaming has no discernible meaning at all. Some of it is white noise. Some of it is prompted by external things. (The boat rocks and I dream of an earthquake, for example). We can get so bogged down in the question of what things mean that we forget that sometimes things just are, and that no extra layers need to be added.