Dreams have always fascinated me. So, 25 or so years ago, in an effort to learn more about dreams, I embarked on an exploration of sleep and dream research. I worked with dreams more and more over the years, interpreting my dreams and those of others.

I have learned some fascinating things about dreams over the years, one of which is that what we lump into the category of dreams are actually different phenomena. One commonality among these phenomena is that while we are dreaming our body is quiet – unless, of course, we are sleepwalking (or daydreaming). Aside from this commonality, however, there can be great variability in what we call “dreams.”

So, one of the first things to remember is working with our dreams is that there are different types of “dreams.”

1. In some, our consciousness, unbounded by our bodies and not continually bombarded by noisy feedback from our bodies, is actually off exploring other realms. These “dreams” are actually experiences, some of which we may remember as dreams and others we may have no recall about at all. The illusory veil of time can be lifted and we can be experiencing other times, including past lives.

2. Some dreams actually are just a sorting out of our day’s activities, as our brains sort and correlate experiences and information.

3. Some dreams may actually be communication experiences in which we are communicating on various levels with other people, both those living and those transitioned. We may also be communicating with our guides and others who wish to get through to us.

4. Some dreams are precognitive and actually give us information about the future.

5. In some dreams, we are being given messages from the universe and our higher self or other levels of our own consciousness. These dreams tend to be about our personal and spiritual growth issues and can be the richest for us to work with on our paths.

6. Some dreams are one-time dreams and others are recurring. Recurring dreams are usually, but not always, more significant than single dreams and can represent general issues that we are working on (whether we are consciously aware that we are working on them or not). In these recurring dreams, we may have elements that repeat as themes, sort of a nocturnal reverie leitmotif.

These represent some general types of dreams and it is important to note that any one dream can actually be a combination of different types, sort of a cross-breeding of genres.

It can further us greatly as we evolve and grow to work with our dreams, and understanding them is the first step toward this. This can be tricky in and of itself, as many of our dreams are cloaked in symbols. Thus, dream interpretation becomes essential in working with our dreams.

I consider dream interpretation to be similar to explication of literature (which I did a great deal of and loved in high school and college) – with one major difference: it is critical to bring intuition to the task. Whereas in explicating literature we look for all possible meanings for all possible readers and applications, in interpreting dreams we look for the interpretations specific to the dreamer. And please note that it is “interpretations” in the plural sense. One wonderful aspect of dreams is that any one dream can have several different – and all equally valid – meanings for the dreamer.

Intuition is further essential in interpreting dreams because we all have our own vocabulary in dreams, and our dream symbology and language will be highly individual. Thus, dream “dictionaries” that list symbols and universal interpretations are no help at all in interpreting a particular person’s dream. We have to uncover the meaning of symbols specific to the dreamer, his or her own vocabulary.

Although it may take more effort to use our intuition and come up with the meanings of a dream specific for the “dreamer,” the rewards can be rich and varied as we mine information and gain insight for ourselves and others on their paths.

Aside from working on and developing our intuition, there are some questions we can ask and some pointers in working to interpret dreams:

1. How did/does the dreamer feel about the dream, both upon waking and in retrospect – pleasure, fear, anxiety, optimism, relief, etc.?

2. What type of dream does this seem to be? (See above.)

3. Allow yourself to get into a very relaxed state of consciousness as you go over the dream’s unfolding sequentially in your mind (or as the dreamer relates the dream to you, if it’s not your dream). What things go through your mind or are evoked as you review or listen to the dream? What percolates up from your subconscious?

4. Instead of focusing on how “bizarre” the dream seems, approach it as a very rich, cogent, and, yes, respectable, event. Focusing on the bizarre quality alone serves to distract us from the credible validity of the dream and the richness in insight it can offer.

5. Work with each symbol independently in the dream. Focus on a symbol, while asking yourself (or the dreamer), “What does this mean to me (or you)?” I once had someone tell me she had had a dream with a cat in it and was worried because someone had told her that a cat in a dream means death. When I asked her how she felt about cats, she replied, “Oh, I love cats!” Remember that any one symbol can have more than one valid meaning.

6. What is the general theme of the dream? What area(s) of your (or the dreamer’s) life is it related to (work, relationships, childhood, etc.)?

7. Go over each “story” segment of the dream and work to understand it as a discrete little unit.

8. Put all the pieces, or segments, of the dream and their meanings together. What picture emerges? How does each segment relate to other segments?

9. Pay attention to any words or phrases that are prominent in the dream. Puns and plays on words are often meaningful in dreams.

10. Look for any elements that may have particular significance for you (or the dreamer). What do these elements mean? (For example, a numerologist may have numbers pop up in dreams and these numbers may have numerological significance that contributes to the dream’s meaning(s).

11. Look at the other people who appear in the dream. How do you (or the dreamer) feel about each person? Further meaning may be gained by also looking at each person as you (or the dreamer). Are these people parts of you (or the dreamer) that are embraced, disowned, or suppressed?

12. Remember, again, that any one dream can have several different meanings. What different meanings does the dream have? What pictures emerge? What is the dream telling you?

Working with our dreams can be extremely rewarding as they further our process and facilitate our personal and spiritual growth. They can point out issues we are working on or need to give attention to. Dreams, indeed, can be great gifts.

Happy dreaming!

This article was first published in Innerchange Magazine in the August-September 1997 issue.

Author's Bio: 

Diane is an Integrative Intuitive Counselor, Intuition Expert & Teacher, Radio Host, Personal Growth Facilitator, Speaker, & Author. She's the host of "Living Your Power" on the Health & Wellness Channel of VoiceAmerica.com, a show devoted to useful information, tools, and resources for improving one's life. More information on her personal consultations may be found at www.dianebrandon.com and on her corporate work, at www.dianebrandon.net. Her expert's page on SelfGrowth.com is at www.selfgrowth.com/experts/diane_brandon.html. She may be contacted at 901 752-5052 or diane@dianebrandon.com.