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The Llewellyn Journal
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The Theme of a Dream

This article was written by Robert P. Gongloff
posted under Self-Help

In a dark corner of a crowded night club, Trinity presses Neo against the wall and whispers, “It’s the question that drives us.” The Matrix, the movie from which this scene was taken, has become a classic. It has a dream-like quality, demanding us to question: What is reality? The point Trinity makes is what educators and great thinkers have known and valued through the ages: While the answer may impart knowledge, it is the question that leads us to understanding.

Over the years, I have found my nighttime dream experiences present more questions than they do answers. Perhaps their purpose has always been to lead me to understanding—about my life and about what drives me. Questions are what led me to write my book, Dream Exploration: A New Approach. And questions form the basis of the approach itself.

Certain questions have always persisted in my work with dreams: Is there some easy, logical way to examine my dreams? How can I relate my dream life to my waking life? Can dreams give me guidance on what to do next when dealing with life’s issues?

My research into these questions helped me realize that I needed to change my outlook about dreams. Like most of us, I had always viewed dreams as a mass of symbolic data to be analyzed. I came to realize that dreams are stories to be enjoyed and understood. I had always seen dreams as providing answers to my questions. I found that dreams are showing me the questions I need to deal with in my waking life. Storytelling versus analysis; questions versus answers; understanding versus knowledge—the key to this new outlook is the exploration of themes.

The theme is the important message, idea or perception of any story, any waking event, any dream. Exploration of themes is easier and more logical than the tedious, ofttimes misleading examination of symbols. Themes throw you right into the middle of the questions of your life. Themes lead you to understanding. For example, the theme of a dream in which you find yourself naked in public might be, “I am vulnerable and need protection.” This dream is leading you to examine areas in your waking life in which you are vulnerable.

Once I had become comfortable with this new approach of “theme” work, I began to ask myself, “Is there a set of common core themes—general themes that can address any event or experience? From this, can we create a model of universally accepted messages, ideas or perceptions that will help us to evaluate and explore the themes of both our dream lives and waking lives?

I found the answer in the following sources: the twelve houses in astrology, the twelve archetypes of every hero’s journey as presented by Carol S. Pearson in her book Awakening the Heroes Within, and the twelve universal dream themes identified by Patricia Garfield in her book The Universal Dream Key.

Each of these sources describes twelve distinct groupings of human activity. And the activity descriptions of each are amazingly similar. The correspondences of each source are such that they can be used collectively to describe each of the twelve basic life activities—or themes.

Astrologers divide the heavens into twelve sectors, called “houses.” Each house represents an aspect of life. For instance, the first house deals with who you are—your self-image. The second house deals with what you have—your personal possessions and resources. Pearson identifies the archetypes that influence each person’s life journey. They can be seen to correspond to the houses in astrology. For instance, the first archetype deals with your persona, your self-image; the second with your personal needs.

Garfield identifies twelve “universal” dream themes that are found the world over, across different cultures and classes. These “themes” present excellent examples of the twelve areas of human activity as seen in the houses of astrology and Pearson’s archetypes. For example, the common dream of being naked in public corresponds to the first “house” theme as it relates to your self-image. Dreams in which you have car trouble correspond to the second theme relating to satisfaction of personal needs.

My book, Dream Exploration: A New Approach, builds on these sources and offers a universal set of common core themes that apply to your dream life and waking life. This model, called The Theme Matrix, provides the questions that plague all of us. It can be used as a guide for dealing with the issues raised in your dreams. The book provides guidance on how to use themes and The Theme Matrix to take positive action on these issues—the questions you face in your waking life.

It’s the question that drives us. Live in the questions your dreams present. Enjoy the mystery. I guarantee you will come to new self-understanding and true wisdom.

Robert P. Gongloff


Dream Exploration
Dream Exploration
A New Approach
Robert P. Gongloff
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