Dreams are particularly useful tools for developing self-understanding and self-awareness. Because they happen in sleep, in an altered state of consciousness, they often give us the side of the story that is outvoted when the rational, word-oriented brain is in control. Thus, they become a way of looking at a neglected part of ourselves.
There is a universal fascination with the content and meaning of dreams. We know their power because we have all awakened in terror, exhilaration, or sexual excitement as a result of one. Supermarket booklets of dream symbols offer elementary equations (for instance, an ocean means you want to take a trip) that generally leave the seeker dissatisfied. Since dreams are such highly personal experiences, simple explanations will not apply to everybody.
A dream that is not understood is like a letter that is not opened. —Talmud
Theories regarding the meaning of dreams range from mechanistic (the mind is categorizing and filing the information of the day) to psychoanalytic (dreams express hidden desires that the conscious mind is afraid to face) to psychic (dreams are modes of spirit travel and ways of predicting the future). All of these are probably partially true.
A dream is like a movie, written, directed, and acted out by a whole range of characters in your personal consciousness. The parts you will remember most vividly are the parts that have something to say to you at the moment. You can, therefore, use them to great advantage.
Many years ago, Regina was at the point of going back to school to pursue her doctoral studies. She had a dream in which she needed to get to the airport to catch a plane for a very important meeting. These are the details she remembers most clearly: The plane would not take a direct route. To get to her destination, Seattle, she would have to go first from Denver to New Orleans - quite a circuit! The taxi to the airport never arrived, so she had to rely on hitchhiking. As she opened her suitcase, she found it filled with religious objects - rosary beads, prayer books, long black dresses, like the habits she had worn as a nun.
The dream had a powerful impact on her. In writing it down and telling it to her friends, she became aware of how many times she said things like:
I feel pressured."
"I'll be late."
"Why do I have to take such a roundabout route to my destination?"
"I'm not ready."
"I have to get rid of this old junk before I can put in my new stuff."
The more she dealt with these reactions, the clearer it became to her that these were the same feelings she had in planning for graduate school. One week after this dream, she withdrew her application for admission - and breathed a sigh of relief.
You can interpret your own dreams. Carl Jung speaks of the "Aha!" experience that accompanies dealing with dream content. "Aha!" means "Yes, that feels good to me," or "That applies to my life now," or "That's just the piece of the puzzle I've been looking for." Although experienced analysts can prove helpful, you are the only one who can generate "Aha!" about your dreams. So, become your own expert.