When out and about in the world, people find out what I do, I am immediately branded as someone interesting to talk to and I am asked a variety of questions. This may be one of the reasons I was drawn to devoting my life to dreams in the first place; this universal fascination with dreams has offered me a lifetime of turning small talk into an opportunity to express about what I'm most passionate. There are several questions that I am always asked with great consistency. The first is usually, "Does every dream mean something?" to which I always reply, "Only if you ask." The second most frequent question goes something like this: "I hear that everyone in your dreams is really part of you. Is that true?"
The answer to that could be looked at as foundational to not only my approach to dream work, but also to the notion that there are many different ways to approach the dream—and all of them are valuable to consider. These distinctions have led me to create an image that best describes the various levels of interpretation that one can do when faced with a dream. I call them the Three Circles of Interpretation.
Simply put, the inner circle is the one where the dream and dreamer are one whole entity, and everything that appears within the dream should be considered as reflecting a part of the dreamer; scenarios are landscapes within the dreamer's psyche and the people found there are character aspects of that individual's personality. The second circle of interpretation is home to the way in which dreams interact with and reflect the dreamer's personal life. In this approach, the people and situations that appear in a dream may also be reflecting the dreamer's waking life circumstances and relationship dynamics. In this circle, the movie you watched before you went to bed shows up in your dream and the fight you have with your spouse is playing out some of the daytime dynamics that are occurring. The third and outer circle is where the dreams we have as individuals are connected to things happening in the collective or the world at large.
My work operates exclusively in the inner circle of interpretation. This is partly due to the fact that many of the people I work with I only interact with for a very brief time, and without more information about their lives, working in the second circle is, essentially, impossible. However, this is also where I work with others with whom I share more intimate knowledge as well as where I place my own focus in my personal dream work. This is because I have a personal belief—based on years of satisfaction derived from working this way—that the inner circle of dream interpretation offers us the most, in a sort of time-spent-value-gained rationale. Having said this, I feel almost like we're back to the original question: Does every dream have a meaning?
Dreams can reveal so much. They emerge from the depths of our soul under the veil of sleep. Inside them are hidden treasures both wondrous and terrifying. Looking inward is not for the faint of heart though, for sometimes dreams expose much more than you might imagine possible.
I’m reminded of a joke I just love to tell about Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna when she was about eight years old. Of course, it works best when I do it with my best little girl’s voice and German accent, but here’s how it goes. Little Anna came down to the breakfast table one morning and sits on her father’s lap. "Oh, Papa! I had the strangest dream last night!" "Really, little Anna?" Sigmund replied. "Tell Papa your dream." "Well," she starts, "it was with you and me. First, you bought me an ice cream cone. And you licked it and then I licked it and then you licked it and I licked it." "And then we went for a walk in the woods and you had a very big stick and I asked you if I could hold it and you let me hold your big stick. And then we were on a train and the train went though a long, dark tunnel…and then there was this BIG explosion, and then we both smoked a cigarette!" "What does that mean, Papa?" Freud thought for a moment, then grumbled uncomfortably as he hid behind his morning newspaper and grunted, "Ah…nothing!"
This joke exemplifies the notion I mentioned earlier that if you choose to ask your dreams if they have anything to offer you, the answer is always yes. At the risk of being redundant or overstating the obvious, I love dreams. I love having them, I love hearing them from others, I love interpreting them, I love working on my own dreams and I love (perhaps more than anything else) that moment when a dreamer looks at me utterly flabbergasted by the insight they just received from the process of interpreting a dream. I wrote Dream Sight to share this love with anyone open to having even the slightest bit of the experience I have with the dream world. And, so here we are at the nuts and bolts of it all.
There are several things that are really important for you to know about doing dream work. First and foremost is that there is no single way of working with your dreams; there are, in fact, many. There is no way of working with your dreams that is better than any other. Different people and different schools of thought may present themselves in such light, but I think this does a disservice to anyone interested in using their dreams to gain insight and self-awareness. Any consideration of a dream, no matter what the perspective is and what specific tools you use, is valuable and important. I am presenting the work that I do because it is just that; the work that I do. I would be hard-pressed to present work that I haven’t practiced myself. And I would be egregiously presumptuous if I told you that my way was the only way of value.
Secondly, there is no such thing as a wrong interpretation. That’s why it’s called an interpretation. In fact, I detest the phrase "dream analyst" and much prefer "dream interpreter." Ironically, no matter how many times I have told people in the media to please refer to me as a dream interpreter, more often than not, I am introduced as a dream analyst. It may seem insignificant, but to me there is a huge difference.
An analysis is the separation of the whole of something into its parts. It is finite. If you analyze something, you find out exactly what is in it; no more no less. To interpret is to present the meaning of something convoluted in understandable terms. There is nothing finite about that. An analysis is complete when every part is discovered and labeled, and then it is done forever. An interpretation is complete when some level of understanding is reached, and new levels of meaning can be reached over and over again by going deeper with your exploration. Can you see why I love the one and loathe the other?
Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of your dream work. I like to think that there are five different steps, or levels, of working with a dream, each one slightly more beneficial than the one that precedes it:
- Remembering a dream brings it into consciousness, thereby elevating the value it can offer in the search for personal understanding.
Thinking about and processing the information it presents by ruminating on your dream will deepen the experience.
Writing your dream down will reinforce the impact of your effort and lock the unconscious expression in your conscious mind.
Discussing it with another person is going one step further, as an objective viewpoint is always going to help you see something that you would be unable to see on your own.
Responding to your dream with a creative endeavor, such as drawing or writing a poem takes this to its highest level. The unconscious mind expressive itself through creative means and this kind of dream work is the most powerful there is.
It is not necessary to work with every bit of a dream. Whatever fragments you remember or choose to work with will always lead you to the perfect level of insight that you are currently ready to examine. Feeling frustrated or doubtful of your accuracy only undermines your sense of well-being and is in opposition to the way in which unconscious material becomes conscious. Do not try and over-complicate the process. Go slowly if necessary. Be open-minded. Be patient with your dreams and, most of all, be patient with yourself. And remember, how you interpret the dream becomes part of the process itself. The scenes you remember, the words you use to describe them, and the way you choose to work with it is both significant and revealing.