Dreamwork: Making Sense of Your Unconscious World

woman sleepingWe all lead double lives. Our “real” life unfolds during our waking hours as we go about our daily business of working, learning, and playing, our ego-defenses safely in place. But at night our secret life begins, full of wonderful fantasies, magical symbols, and archetypal images. This mysterious world where our dreams are acted out can play an important part in our lives. According to the Talmud, a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read. If we learn to listen to our dreams, we embark on the journey of a lifetime: the journey back to wholeness.

Have you ever wondered what messages your dreams may have for you or why certain images and situations are played out sometimes over and over again while you sleep? Although we spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping and tend to dream several times a night, we rarely accord much importance to our dreams, frequently forgetting them as soon as we wake up. And yet our dreams can unlock the secrets to our unconscious and teach us valuable life lessons, if we learn to interpret their meanings.  

In ancient times, many cultures accorded dreams an important place in their lives. They would share their dreams with their community, explore the symbolism therein, and even seek out life-changing dreams by spending the night in the wilderness or in sacred places in an attempt to connect with the spirit during their dreamtime.

In our modern society, however, we have forgotten the connection with other aspects of our being that our dreams can provide and tend to discount the messages they have to offer. But dreams can be an incredible gateway into our unconscious minds and can help us to deal with many of the problems that we encounter during the day, if we take the time to try to understand them.

Where else but in dreams can we fly over magical lands, go on endless journeys, be chased down hallways, fight epic battles, or walk naked in public? Our dreams present us with images and symbols that usually correspond to an inner state of being, as this is the language that our psyche speaks through. It is important to note, however, that our dreams should not be taken literally, but rather that they indicate on a symbolic level that which is happening within ourselves and issues that we are trying to work through.

Learning to understand the imagery presented through dreams is similar to the difficulties involved in learning a foreign language. It takes time and practice, and especially an openness and willingness to discover a new method of communication. Yet, just as the mind is enriched by the knowledge gained by a new language and culture, so too is the soul rewarded many times over by its contact with the numinous images within.

Some of the ways to start to work with your dreams include beginning to keep a dream journal and according your dreams more importance. Try placing a notebook and pen on your bed stand and consciously setting an intention for yourself to remember your dreams before you go to sleep. By doing so every evening, you will soon start to recall your dreams much more frequently. It is also important to write your dreams down immediately upon awakening, as we otherwise tend to quickly forget them if we become busy with other things first.

In order to begin to understand your dreams, it is important to look at each element in the dream and to make associations about it. For example, if you dream about being near the ocean, what does that make you think about? Do you have any particular memories about being by the sea? Do you love being in the water or, on the contrary, are you afraid of it? What is the state of the water? Is it calm or are the waves huge and about to engulf you?

By examining each element of your dream and starting to look at the associations or memories you have about each one, you will begin to learn to work with the imagery and discover the messages that your psyche is trying to communicate to you. Obtaining a good dictionary of symbols (not your typical dream symbolism dictionary) can also be useful, as well as working with a therapist who has experience with dream analysis.

Learning to understand your dreams can be fun and rewarding, as it can provide you with insight into your inner world. As we allow ourselves to be touched and moved by our psyches, we can discover aspects of ourselves that were previously unknown and/or rejected and open up to a whole new way of being in the world.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Selena

    February 20th, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    I have this problem of waking up and knowing that I dreamed about something significant and maybe that I have dreamed about this same thing several times, but then I can’t remember the details and sometimes I can’t even remember the gist of what I dreamed. I just know that I felt like I should remember this because it was important. So I would like to know if anyone has any thoughts about how I can get a clearer picture of my actual dreams so that I do have the material to try to work with when I want to process them and figure out what they could mean. I am not sure that even keeping a notebook beside the bed would help because usually by the time I wake up clearly they are already gone.

  • Dillon

    February 20th, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    I knew that interpreting these things is complicated but I have never heard it compared to learning a foreign language. I think that is a pretty apt comparison!

  • harold

    February 21st, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    Supposing that this kind of work was something that I wished to pursue, who would I go to? A therapist or someone else like that who specializes in this sort of area? And how would I go about finding that? I have always been very interested in this subject and readingt his just piqued my interest even more.

  • JERI

    February 22nd, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    I never realized just how much our day to day lives are actually then played out and sometimes worked out while we sleep. You take all of this crap going on in your day and you try not to think about it all day long and then when you go to sleep theer it is all over again! It’s like your bodies message to you that hey this isn’t going to go away on its own and you have got to figure out a way to work through some of this. And if you aren’t going to do it while you are awake then we are going to let it creep in on you while you are trying to sleep. Not quite as malicious as I made it sound, but just your mind’s way of telling you that these things do have to get some attention from time to time.

  • Annette

    February 24th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    When I was drinking pretty heavily on a daily basis I would use sleep as an escape, because when you have had enough to drink and then you pass out then you sleep but I certainly wasn’t dreaming about anything! Or if I was I was too drunk to remember it. And I am sure that was by design, this was my way of escaping a life that was uncomfortable and had been like that for a long time. So sleep was my time to actually hide and not have to deal with the day to day problems of my life, a chance to escape the unpleasantness. But I was digging a hole of addiction for myself too, and that ended up being just as bad.

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