My Dream is Telling Me [...]
October 13, 2011 8:04 PM   Subscribe

How to Become Better at Dream Analysis

a) Any fundamental books to recommended (apart from Freud's works)?

b) Are there specific approaches that you use to successfully better understand your subconscious? It'd be appreciated if you don't mind sharing a personal dream

c) What (from the dreams) should I pay attention to?

d) I started keeping a dream log recently and have been paying attention to sequential dreams and patterns. Any more suggestions?
posted by easilyconfused to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

c) What (from the dreams) should I pay attention to?

The single most important thing to consider when trying to analyse dreams is how the things you saw and heard made you feel. It's not really relevant if your sister and a unicorn in a tutu sang a duet together. It's far more important to consider what emotion that evoked in you. If your brain is trying to do anything with those images (and it's hotly debated as to whether it is), it is to get you to raise new thoughts or put together ideas in a way you hadn't done before.
posted by Gilbert at 8:18 PM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I read a book many years ago I can't find now that basically stated that "dream dictionaries" are nonsense. If you have a dream about a tiger, then go look it up in a book that says tigers represent power, but that doesn't take into account your own personal experiences with tigers. Like maybe that was the name of your school's baseball team or you had a tiger stuffed animal that meant something to you or you harbor worry about tigers becoming extinct. The context of the other elements of the dream and what they mean to you (and how they make you feel) and how you fit them together is what's important.

The other thing the book said was that keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings during the day is a good way to help you figure out what's going in your dreams. It gives you something to correlate to.
posted by bleep at 8:34 PM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Regarding d) your dream log, I suggest noting what activities or events took place the day before you slept. I can't say for sure, but sometimes I've felt that my dreams or the dreams of others can be associated with recent experiences in the waking world. It's usually not so immediate, maybe one or two days after something happened that made you feel a certain way or think a certain thing.

I don't know if it will ultimately help you, but there might be something that occurred, or something you thought, or something you felt in a waking moment that could account for certain aspects in your dreams. Can't say if it would be a literal relation or more empathic, though.
posted by CancerMan at 8:36 PM on October 13, 2011

I agree that dream dictionaries are hit or miss, but the point is to use them until you find a meaning that *clicks* with you. Sometimes I'll see something in a dream and I'll go hunting for a dictionary answer, but the answer doesn't feel right. I have to dig deeper until I find what I'm looking for, either just through internal monologuing, dialoguing with a friend, or by doing some other reading.

When I was really into paying attention to my dreams, I went to bed each night asserting to myself that I would remember my dreams. That helped me be much more aware that I was dreaming when I was, and suddenly I found that I was able to remember my dreams and interpret them more closely. Immediately when I woke up, I'd write down absolutely everything, and then go about my day.

For example, during a very terrible time in my life I spent a lot of my dreams chasing after my boyfriend at the time. Dream after dream involved us being stuck in different elevators going in different directions, us flying but him falling, etc, etc. It was hard, because consciously I was fighting the loss of him in my life but subconsciously my brain and my heart genuinely knew that things were over, that he was toxic. I started to meditate on the dreams in order to understand myself a little better, and when I was honest with myself about the symbolic interpretation of those images, I found I was so much more at peace.

YMMV. :)
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:41 PM on October 13, 2011

As Gilbert said, when dreams have been interpretable, keeping aware of the emotions is most important.
Then, pick out the themes, meaningful-objects, and start brainstorming as to what it might mean.

And because I, and others, tend to be blind to the significance of our own lives (ie in denial about what is affecting us), brainstorm 'as-if' - as if you were not yourself, as if you are fellow person on metafilter, who has an intimate knowledge of your life, and is making a stab at an answer.

So, you might think, oh, someone else would probably think that that relates to my ex-boyfriend, because of the x symbol, but I don't think that's true in my case - and then catch yourself. Look for the really, blinding obvious answers that you would naturally discard, and re-think it. That's also a common thing.

And the only reason dream analysis is done by other people, because they'll just suggest the blindingly obvious things to you that you are, blind to, but they cannot be aware of the specific meaning a symbol has for you, they can only make general guesses based on cultural norms.
posted by Elysum at 8:54 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

P.S. Although, by now, most of my dreams are uninterpretable.
I remember too much of them, and they're generally obviously my brain entertaining myself, because they're like this. But more along the lines of me being an Indiana Jones/spy/whatever person in a sci-fi or fantasy setting, say finding some item, defusing the bomb, fighting dragons/vampires/cannibals, being a dragon/vampire/bird/hobbit/blue-ibook-laptop (no, really).
And really, really, really long.
posted by Elysum at 9:01 PM on October 13, 2011

The best advice I got about dream interpretation was very similar to Elysum's suggestion. Ask questions about the imagery, events, etc, and answer quickly, without thinking too much about the answers. If your friend from 6th grade is in the dream, ask yourself questions like "what's he wearing? Why is he wearing that? What's he doing? How did he get there?". Do it with inanimate objects, too. Of the black staircase covered in blood "What would it say if it could talk? Where did the blood come from? Why was it painted black?" etc.

It's easier for me to talk it out with another person, and I've had some pretty amazing insights (and helped other people understand their dreams) by free associating with the imagery. I think that because the content of your dreams comes from your subconscious, allow that part to come to the surface by not thinking for too long about the answers.
posted by Gorgik at 9:09 PM on October 13, 2011

I agree with Gilbert. The most important thing is to 1) remember your dreams and 2) assess how the things that occurred in the dream made you feel. For 2), I don't mean how it made you feel after you woke up and realized it was a dream, I mean how it made you feel while you were dreaming.

I'm no official scientist, but I have done a lot of reading about dreams, and my conclusion on how they work is as follows:

You are bombarded continuously during waking consciousness with billions of bits of sensory information. You are only aware of a very small portion of these billions of bits - this is called your consciousness. The rest of the bits do not simply vanish - a great many of the bits of sensory info that you do not consciously notice and process are stored by your brain. This is your subconscious. While asleep, your brain's freed-up RAM (computer analogy - i.e. consciousness) processes this extra data (your subconscious) - i.e. you dream. There's a ton of info to get through, a ton more than we deal with in real life, so dreams can be wacky.

You might want to read up on lucid dreaming. If you are writing down your dreams, you will probably start to realize when you are dreaming once in a while. That is very useful for trying to figure out what your dreams mean. For example, if you are having a nightmare where you are being chased by an unknown entity, but you realize you are dreaming, you may be able to simply stop, face the entity, and ask it why it is chasing you. The answer may surprise you. I did this recently, and my masked pursuer turned out to be a kid in a halloween costume. Lots of great people (e.g. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Salvador Dali, Aphex Twin, Nikola Tesla, James Cameron, etc.) use(d) lucid dreams as a way to explore their thoughts and creativity.

Since you are keeping a dream log, I would recommend that you review the dream log for patterns. Let's say you realize, "Hey, I always dream about Bob even though I haven't seen Bob in years." Brainstorm why you might be dreaming of Bob. Do you love Bob but are repressing it? Did Bob represent some ideal that is missing from your life? Think about it with an open mind. Further, since you know that you always DREAM of Bob but never see him IN REAL LIFE, next time you "see" Bob, you know you are probably dreaming. Bob would then be a "dream sign", a signal to yourself that you are dreaming. You could then act accordingly - "Hey Bob, what do you want? What should I be learning from you? Why are you here? Are you trying to tell me something?" etc.

Now I am getting rambly - sorry, I could talk about dreams all night. PM me if you want.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:15 PM on October 13, 2011

I'm not sure how helpful this advice will be since I can't be descriptive, but...

I've noticed that certain dreams, the ones I think really mean something, have a different feeling, a more...deep, intense, profound feeling? I just can't describe it. They are also the dreams where reoccurring symbols and patterns keep popping up. (For example, right now I'm going through deep life changes, and I'm constantly dreaming about houses -- the house changes from dream to dream but it's always about moving to a new house and (often) being unsure about the house.)

Then there are what I call gobbltygook dreams. For example, if I read Facebook before I go to bed, and dream about someone who was on the newsfeed but that I don't really interact with otherwise, I view that as simply my brain processing stuff it saw and experienced that day, and I don't attach any particular meaning to those dreams. (And again, they lack that deeper feeling that I don't know how to describe.)
posted by unannihilated at 9:27 PM on October 13, 2011

I've done some very valuable dream interpretation as a student of Jeremy Taylor. He takes a Jungian approach to unpacking the multiple layers of meaning encoded in the symbolic language of dreams.

Here is his basic toolkit for dream work.

Here are some tips on group dreamwork, which I found an extremely interesting and useful practice.

Recommended books by Jeremy Taylor: The Wisdom of Your Dreams, Dream Work, and The Living Labyrinth.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:03 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dreams are generally formed through the connections you make every day between your own thoughts, memories, desires, and experiences. I think it is more important to pay attention to your conscious thought associations to understand your subconscious. So many thoughts are fleeting but as you walk down the street and see something you may remember your grandmother which leads you to trace what generated that connection.

Don't waste your time looking for books on general dream analysis based on symbolism.
posted by JJ86 at 9:16 AM on October 14, 2011

I once had a book that reiterated that dream dictionaries are nonsense. It encouraged telling your dreams to other people as if they were aliens from another planet (bear with me here). The idea is that the listener would have no idea what or who any of the things in your dream were until you explained it in your own words. For example: "I dreamt that George W. Bush was giving my elderly dog a bath." The interviewer from another planet would ask who George Bush was. You might say, "Bush was the president, and I really hated him, because he seemed to get us into wars without really thinking through the consequences. In my dream I was surprised because he was so caring and competent when bathing my arthritic dog. It meant a lot to me that he was so careful, and I realized there was a lot more to this person that I had despised for many years". The interviewer is then supposed to ask you something like a "bridging" question, like, "is there anyone in your life that reminds you of?" or something. So basically, you explain everything in your dream in great detail, how you personally feel about these things, and try to draw parallels to something in your life. The interviewer is to play the role to ultimately help you become more skilled at learning how to query yourself more objectively.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:34 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Meant to add: they would ask you what a "dog" was, you would explain what dogs are and then what your dog meant to you, ask what a "bath" was and why this dog needed to be bathed, &c. So you really work out what and why you may be thinking about these things.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:36 AM on October 14, 2011

a) Any fundamental books to recommended (apart from Freud's works)?

Man and his symbols, by Jung!
posted by Tom-B at 8:58 PM on October 16, 2011

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