We all have a wealth of knowledge that we may or may not use to gain inner understanding: our dreams. We spend about one-third of our life sleeping. Using our dreams to learn more about ourselves brings in opportunity for spiritual growth and deeper understanding of our daily life.

Dreams have been said to come to us in our sleep for many reasons. Dreams can help us work through and process our day and what has gone on in our waking hours. Dreams can help us solve our problems. Dreams can help us answer difficult questions or give us validation that we are on track with new ideas or projects.

Many of our great inventors have reported having a dream to work out the solution to their inventions. Thomas Edison kept a cot in his work area. Whenever he faced a problem, he would take a nap, dozing lightly with his mind focused on the solution. He knew that relaxing would allow his body and mind to unwind so he could then receive new ideas.

Learning to pay attention to our dreams, remember our dreams, and interpret our dreams is a process that we can develop with practice. Remembering our dreams is the first feat. This can be encouraged by telling yourself you really want to remember your dreams. This helps you to program your subconscious that it is to remember your dreams and gives it the message you want this to happen. As you awaken in the morning, lie quietly and allow yourself to bring back your dream. Awaken gently and slowly so as to allow the time to recall the dream. Immediately record the dream in a journal that you keep by your bed. We all have had experiences of remembering a dream only to have it fade away as we moved into the day. Write down the dream.

Dreams often refer to the events and problems of the day, so you may want to make a habit of journaling at night and paying attention to how you are feeling about your day. When you record your dream, include details of colors, names, numbers, and all the details you can recall. If you have only a fragment of a dream, start with that. Work with what you have. Add to your journal your feelings about the dream and the main action and important symbols that were seen in the dreams. This, along with the information you journaled about your day will help you put it into perspective. Remember, there are no “silly” or invalid dreams. Dreams are made of symbolism — coded messages to yourself, from yourself, for yourself.

So how do you interpret a dream? Every symbol in your dream, whether it is a person, object, or a situation has meaning. The dream is telling you something about you, your attitudes, habits and your relationships. Sometimes our dreams will be literal about the people we dream. However, most of our dreams are telling us a story about our inner self, our subconscious, and that is well worth listening to and learning from.

So to look at the symbolism and to try to understand what your dream is telling you, ask yourself, “What does it mean to me; what do I associate with it?” and “How do I feel about it?” Remember that the death of someone in a dream does not mean someone is going to die. It can mean that there is a death of a part of you such as you are changing a bad habit, thought or attitude. Death in a dream can mean many things and can even be a positive message. It can be a sign of the end of the old and the beginning of the new you. It can also mean that something within you is dying because you aren’t taking care of it and nurturing it (e.g. your playful self). So once you start to look at dreams and how each part of the dream corresponds to a part of yourself, you can really look at the dream in a new and different way.

Questions that you can ask to clarify dreams include the following:
What is the major action or dream theme? (Who is doing what to whom?) Are you involved? How much?

Does the dream make a point?

Who is in control?

What kind of dream was it? Symbolic? ESP? Physical?

Did you express your feelings? How well?

Did you touch someone? Did someone try to get “in touch” with you? Do you move towards or away from contacts?

What is the major concern in your life right now?

Does the dream tie in with this concern in any way?
(Tanner, 1988)

To give you a little more of the flavor of how to look at a dream, consider these symbols and how they relate to you. A car in your dream is said to represent your body. Just as the car is used to move from one place to another, the soul uses the body in much the same way. Vehicles, in general, can represent your lifestyle, your body and its condition. If you are not driving the car, it may mean you are not in power of something in your life.

Nudity in a dream may imply that you have feelings of being exposed, unprotected and vulnerable. Watch for word plays and puns in dreams. People generally represent some aspect of you, such as the irritable self, the comedian, the adult self, the critic, etc.

You may want to get a reference book regarding symbols. Just make sure it comes from a positive perspective and does not indicate negative views such as seeing a black cat in your dreams is bad luck. I like the book The Mystical Magical Marvelous World of Dreams by Wilda B. Tanner. She presents a positive perspective on symbols found in dreams. It may be a nice guide to use as you begin to delve into the idea of understanding your dreams. But remember, dreams are about you and all parts of it take you back to the parts of yourself. So as you look at a dream, you will have the final say in what the dream means to you. Good luck and sweet dreams.

Tanner, W. B. (1988). The mystical magical marvelous world of dreams. Tahlequah: Wild Comet Publishing.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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