If you hear that someone is doing “dreamwork” it can mean they are working on interpreting their dreams. Today, this differs from the classical dream interpretation that we associate with people like Sigmund Freud.
Freud and others explored the images and emotions that a dream presents and also evokes in order to come up with a meaning for this kind of dream or dream symbols that could apply to other people too.
When I wrote earlier about a dream I had and the symbolism that is associated with it, I relied on some “classical” interpretations, but modern dreamwork is more individualized.
A book on dream interpretation may tell you that dream of a pregnancy (yours or someone else’s) usually has nothing to do with pregnancy and is a symbol of something new being “birthed” in your life. It certainly could be about a new project but it could be literally about someone being pregnant. Dreamwork now is more about discovering each person’s own dream language. That pregnancy could be about an inner transformation or connecting to your inner child.
A book of dream symbols might suggest some interpretations and they might seem relevant but you need to write your own dream dictionary. A child dreaming of feeding a giant giraffe is not the same dream if I dream about a child giving some food to a giant giraffe. Maybe the child is feeling different from everyone. Maybe I am dreaming about exaggerated, oversized desires.
I have been keeping dream journals for many years and I now know that certain things reappear. After decades of teaching, classrooms are often the setting for my dreams. If you read common interpretations of classrooms in dreams, you won’t find what they mean to me.
A friend once compared dreamwork to doing horoscopes. She said that you can read horoscope websites or books about your sign and sometimes what’s there will make sense for you. But to those who believe in astrology, only a horoscope done specifically for you will make sense.
I think interpreting a dream is like interpreting a poem. If you read a poem about a child exploring a basement, the basement of the poet may be quite different from any basement associations you have in mind. I looked up “basement” in several dream books and they say that it represents a deep level of your subconscious mind – your deepest darkest thoughts, emotions, and memories. But maybe your basement was where your recreation or play room was as a child. I had my workshop for building models and my little chemistry lab in the basement. There was nothing deep, dark or secretive about it.
Many years ago, I gave a poetry reading and afterward a woman came to me and said that she enjoyed the reading and particularly my poem “Weekend with Dad.”I really identified with it because I am a divorced parent too.” I thanked her, but I am not a divorced parent and the poem is not about a custody weekend with my son. Or is it? For her, it was definitely about that kind of weekend, and looking back at the poem I realized she was right. That interpretation is valid. For her.
Any place, person, or object can differ in its meaning for different dreamers. The meaning can even change throughout your life. The classroom in my dreams when I was 11 is not the same one I saw when I was in college or is it the classroom I occupied as a teacher. Dreamworkers consider a dream to be alive after it ends and that it can have a variety of meanings and that those meanings may change.
Can’t a dream “just be a dream?” I have many dreams I have recorded that I cannot interpret. They seem to be just brief stories that are unconnected to my life – at least at the time I had dreamt them.
Freud’s theories are frequently dismissed today by modern science and psychology, but what he wrote about dreams is still influential. He didn’t know anything about REM and the NREM sleep cycles. His theory that dreams are wish-fulfillment partially came from his time spent analyzing children’s dreams. Freud also believed that dreams are very much about sexual or aggressive nature and that is why we repress them in our waking life.
When I started my first dream journal t age 13, I bought Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. It was way beyond my comprehension but it got me thinking about what my dreams might be telling me about myself.
Freud’s student, Carl Jung, became a successful and famous psychiatrist too. Building on Freud’s ideas about the unconscious, he took different views about the meanings of dreams. He believed dreams express aspects of our personality that we haven’t developed in our waking life. Jung believed dreams were the way to see into our unconscious mind and provide us with guidance for our conscious life.
There are those now that dreams are not encrypted and don’t require interpretation because they have no other meaning. But they’re not useless because they are the way the brain attempts to convey information to its conscious self.
Freud called the dreamwork “the essence of dreaming.” They are “a particular form of thinking.” Dreams are very much about images created from abstract thoughts. In dreamwork, you reverse the process and turn the images into language. Freud compared dreams to picture puzzles like rebuses.
One thing I have not found to be true in my dreams – though I wanted it to be true at times – is that they predict the future. They are all about the past. Oneiromancy (Greek oneiros = dream, manteia = prophecy) is the practice of using dreams to predict the future. I think it is a superstition, but it might only take one or a few coincidental dreams that accurately seem to predict the future to make you a believer. Dreams foretelling the future appear in the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey, and in Shakespeare’s plays.
There are plenty of websites and books about interpreting dreams and even dream journals with suggestions about what you should try to record. But all you really need is a pen and notebook and to develop the practice of recording dreams and then considering the people, places, and objects that appear in them in the context of your own life experiences.