If you’ve ever doubted the value of dreams, consider this: Elias Howe credits a vivid dream with helping him invent the lockstitch sewing machine; some prophets and great authors are also said to have been inspired by their dreams.
What’s that? You’re not planning to create large machinery, major world religions or timeless works of art this week? That doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your dreams. Looked at properly, they can assist you in everyday life–by shedding light on your inner and outer worlds and giving a truer sense of how you feel about the things and people around you. They might even help you solve problems.
There’s a new tool on the market that makes the dream-interpretation process a lot easier. In her new book, All About Dreams (HarperCollins), Gayle Delaney shares a technique she calls the dream interview. The purpose of the four-step process is to ask yourself questions that “explore the dream images and reveal their metaphorical similarities to people and situations in the dreamer’s life.” Translated, that means to figure out how things in dreams relate to your life.
Anyone can learn the language; dream reading is fun and a terrific way to spark up a boring conversation. It takes a little effort, but if you want to figure out why you missed the train, had lunch with the Queen or found yourself standing nude in a public park, try the following tips.
Elicit a good description
First, keep pen and paper beside your bed. As soon as you wake up, give your dream a title and start writing. Don’t worry about completing the narrative in its proper order. Simply identify as many elements from the dream as you can recall–people, animals, objects, actions, plots and feelings. These give you a starting point for the dream interview.
Now ask yourself questions about the images as if you were describing them to someone who had never heard of them before. If you dreamed about Richard Nixon, for example, ask yourself who was Richard Nixon? What was he like?
“If your dream is about an animal, consider its personality in waking life and what its personality and traits seem to be in your dream,” says Delaney. Be specific. If the feeling or tone of your dream was one of frustration, was it based on anger, jealousy, hopelessness or something else?
Restate the description
Write down as accurately as possible what happened in the dream. What did you do first? what happened next? As Delaney says, using waking language to describe dream language has a powerful effect.
Bridge to waking life
This is the stage at which you begin to interpret the possible meaning of your dream. Upon reflection, ask yourself whether or not it reminds you of anything in your waking life. If this seems too complex, try doing the bridge with each dream element.
“Let’s say you dreamed of a tidal wave,” says Delaney, “and your description of it is that it is overwhelming; it is something you can’t protect yourself from and it comes out of nowhere. Now ask yourself, is there anything in my life that is overwhelming, comes out of nowhere and that I can’t protect myself from?” You’re asking yourself to identify the dream metaphor and note what relevance it has to real-life situations or attitudes and feelings.
Ask yourself if there are any parts of your dream that remain unclear. This may result in a correction or new insight. If you still are uncertain about parts of the dream, leave it for a while. You don’t want to overanalyze; a dream’s meaning may pop up unexpectedly when you’re busy doing something else. If you keep notes, you’ll find it easier to remember, even weeks after the actual dream.
On the other hand, you may have an interpretation but feel unsure whether or not it’s correct. No matter. Psychologist and dream researcher Ann Faraday, in her book The Dream Game, says, “the only `correct’ interpretation of a dream–that is, an effective interpretation–is the one that gives the dreamer a joyful `aha’ experience of insight….”
That insight often comes when we take a unique voyage into our psyches in pursuit of the meaning of our dreams. “When we dream, we’re more honest with ourselves by far than when we’re awake,” maintains Delaney. “We’re more insightful, we get a chance to overcome our inhibitions, to resolve our conflicts and come up with wonderful new ideas.”
That seems as good a reason as any to “wake up” to our dreams.
Tricks to keep by the bedside
There are about as many ideas about dream interpretation as there are dream researchers. Here are a few more tips you may want to incorporate:
* Try having a conversation with one of your dream characters. Ask “Why are you in my dream?” and “Why did you behave that way?” When answering, pretend you are that character and write what pops into your mind.
* Don’t assumes everything in your dream must be profound or symbolic. Consider literal meanings. I once dreamed my eyeglasses had fallen onto the road and shattered. The next day I noticed both arms of my glasses were loose. I could imagine how, while biking, the spectacles could easily have fallen off and been crushed by a passing car. I immediately had them fixed.
* When repeating your dreams aloud, see if any puns strike your ear. A dream of a one-armed man, for example, could reflect a feeling of being disarmed. Puns may be verbal, visual (did you `miss the boat’?), based on proper names or slang expressions.
* Dreams don’t merely highlight problems. They can enlighten you about some positive aspect of yourself–reminding you of hidden talents, for instance, or prodding you to pursue your interest in music or nature. We can grow as people by realizing what is right, as well as what is wrong, with ourselves.
Tips for dream recall
* Keep a pen and paper of tape recorder by your bed.
* Before going to sleep, write a few sentences about what you did during the day, emphasizing any emotional highlights.
* Once in bed, relax, says psychologist and dream researcher Ann Faraday, and encourage your dreams by saying something like, “Dreams, I’m ready for you. If you send me a message tonight, I’ll do my best to remember it and write it down.”
* Get enough sleep.
* Wake up naturally and before getting out of bed, ask yourself what was just going through your mind.
* Take an interest in your dreams; you will recall them more easily.