What Does My Dream Mean?

That’s always the first question. But, sorry. There is no standardized meaning. Dreams can’t be interpreted once and for all because they are many-faceted, their images rich in associations. To begin to understand a dream, spend time with the images the same way you would with a person you want to get to know.

Using your imagination—that other way of knowing—step back into the dream without the pressure of having to find a “meaning.” Hang out there, watch it unfold. Study the characters, including your dream self. Learn what’s important to each, how they treat each other. Try on the emotions in the dream. Practice holding various points of view shown in the dream. Feel what it’s like to be each of those characters. Notice who and what you draw away from, and wonder why. Have frank conversations with the dream characters and listen to their responses. Allow yourself to be touched in whatever way the dream touches you.

Spending time with the dream alters us, just as developing relationships broadens us. We begin to consider attitudes and behaviors that were not part of our consciousness. Our emotional palate is enriched; new ways of relating suggest themselves.

Bring new awarenesses from the dream into waking life. By practicing and integrating them in the daylight, you are becoming more whole.

Animals in Dreams

Even sixteen years later, this dream and the helpful greyhound still engage, refresh and guide me:

I am waiting in an airport check-in line. Even though travelers at the head of the line finish their check-ins and walk away toward the gates, I never move forward. I rush to the end of another line. The same thing happens. I try another. Again, my turn never comes.  I have no idea what to do. I give up and slump into a chair.

A greyhound materializes out of the crowded terminal and walks toward me. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, she sits down in the orange plastic chair beside me, tilts her head close to mine and says, “I understand your situation. You don’t have to stay here, you know, waiting for a turn that never comes. You don’t even have to go home. You could do a world of other things. It’s up to you.”                                                                                                                                                   

In the art of dream interpretation, very little can be pinned down to mean this or that. An exception is the appearance of animals in dreams. Animals are us at our deepest level. They present our instinctive selves, and the helpful animal is a great gift and a powerful ally.

I Had a Dream, But…

I, and most of the people who talk to me about their dreams, tend to separate them from the rest of our experiences. We don’t let them take up space in the part of the world we call Real. We treat them like cartoons, or fairy tales. Sometimes interesting, but merely a joke the unsupervised mind plays on us.

In short, we resist our dreams. I hear, “I don’t dream” or “It’s only a dream.” Or “I had a really strange dream. You’re going to think I’m crazy,” or “I had a dream but it didn’t make any sense.” There are endless ways to minimize these nightly course corrections.

There’s plenty of cultural support for denying our dreams. They are messy, unmanageable, even subversive. They are entirely personal and idiosyncratic. They rely more on instinct than intellectual prowess. The daily demand for logic and unquestioning productivity erase their significance and lead us to devalue them.

But they are real and have been since humans began reflecting on their beings. Dreams are imagination at full tilt, an elegant blend of chemicals and electric, memory and instinct, emotion and narrative. Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t asked yet. They are another way of knowing the life we’re living and invitation to expand our awareness of who we are.

Just for this month, notice, welcome, your dreams. Allow that they are. Try not to dis them.