The Meaning Of Dreams

Everyone dreams. But why do we dream? What do they mean? Should we bother paying any attention to them? And how on earth do we interpret our dreams and nightmares?

Some people believe that dreams are irrelevant stories our mind tells us when we are asleep; like going to a movie marathon in our own bed. Others theorize that dreams simply occur as a result of excess neural activity as the brain unwinds from our busy waking life. I guess if you are reading this article then you probably already hold a different belief about the value of dreamtime. And there is much evidence to suggest that dreams are more significant than either of these theories.

Sigmund Freud spoke about the purpose and meaning of dreams. He saw them as a gateway to our unconscious. Now, for those who haven't studied undergraduate Psychology, the unconscious according to Freud is the attic of the mind - the place we store all the stuff we don't know what to do with. Freud specifically saw the unconscious as the storehouse for all the repressed thoughts and fantasies we have in relation to our parents. According to Freud, dreams are trying to help us clean the attic of unwanted or unsavoury material.

Carl Jung was a follower of Freud's until he realised that the purpose of dreams was far greater than Freud's original conception. Jung's ideas deepened our understanding of dreams. He saw them containing unconscious material like trauma, forgotten events and parts of the self we dislike (our shadow). Jung also discovered a collective element to our dream material - this simply means material with which we have had no direct personal experience.

To give an example of this collective aspect to dreams: I saw a young man recently who dreamt about the 7 Chakra's (Indian energetic fields in the body). Interestingly, in his waking life he knew nothing about Chakra's and only discovered what they were through explaining the dream to a friend! This kind of information Jung said comes from a part of consciousness that we all share and have access to, a little like a collective information storehouse.

Author and psychotherapist Arnold Mindell was a student of Jung's and has developed his ideas even further. Mindell has observed that the patterns and themes that occur in our dreams also occur in our relationship problems, body symptoms, personal conflicts and other problematic areas of our life.

His findings suggest that dreams are actually forerunners to other problems. They operate as blueprints; detailing patterns and processes which are occurring in our waking life. This way of thinking is very similar to the Aboriginal Australian idea of Dreamtime - where an energetic field or force exists which pre-empts real life events. For example, an aboriginal elder might say that if Kangaroos were to become extinct, then kangaroo Dreaming would still exist.

This might seem doubtful to the average Australian, and yet you may have had experiences where you feel 'in the flow' and everything just falls into place; as though some magical force sets up the perfect conditions. And I have spoken to many folk who have had the experience of wanting to catch up with a long lost friend and then run into them miraculously in the next few days or weeks. We tend to write off these experiences as coincidence or luck, yet Jung and Mindell suggest that these amazing coincidences are more than luck - they are part of how the universe works.

This view of life, in which there is a purposeful connection between all events and beings, has been referred to elsewhere as the Tao (in Chinese philosophy) or the Quantum Field (in Physics) or as Gaia in Environmental Sciences (Lovelock). So it is not only psychology which is pointing to this way of thinking.

Throughout these different approaches we find a stunningly similar core belief - that there is in fact a layer to reality which is not seen but sensed, felt or dreamed and which creates and reflects the observable and tangible universe that is around us.

In essence, dreams are meaningful and purposeful; they are actively attempting to bring our conscious mind back into relationship with aspects of self we have marginalised, disavowed and avoided.

If we learnt to interpret our dreams, we could actually prevent many common problems, including relationship issues, body symptoms, and emotional symptoms like depression and anxiety. Our dreams are like messengers from within, trying to communicate information that we have become disconnected from, trying to make us complete once again.

You may have become disconnected from your dreams because you are unsure how to interpret them. Your dreams probably seem mysterious, confusing, and in today's busy life, are easily relegated to your mental trashcan. But if you want to stay healthy and feel clear you are on your true path, you need your dreams.

Books on dreams can be used as guides to the common symbols (or archetypes) that we find in our dreams. However, you will also need to develop a conscious relationship with your own unconscious symbolism. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain such techniques, but explore anything by Jung or Mindell, especially Dreaming While Awake (Mindell), The Dreammaker's Apprentice (Mindell), and Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Jung).

Words by Michelle McClintock

Posted on 20 March 2005