© 2003

"Naturally nature has so disposed me."
- Leonardo da Vinci

My fascination with dreams actually began nearly two-and-a-half decades ago when, seemingly out of nowhere, a torrent of unusual dreams roared into my life. It was as though somewhere in my psyche, someone had opened an inner floodgate. Even though I was unable to interpret this inner, symbolic language at first, my intuition told me that these dreams were far more than just my brain purging residues from the day. They contained thematic images, symbols, and dramas that moved through my life, leaving strange tracks, exotic fragrances, tearing down old buildings, setting fires. I was captivated. I committed myself to understanding their real meaning and gradually filled five dream journals with thousands of dreams, all the while voraciously reading everything I could find on dreams, symbols, the imagination, and theories and techniques of dream interpretation.

In the late seventies, I began working with others’ dreams and with numerous dream study groups, filling several filing cabinets with fascinating examples of individuals’ dreams. I realized early-on that dreams held many valuable keys to understanding life and especially the choices we make that inevitably chart our future course.

Over the years I discovered a something quite remarkable about dreaming: Our dreams relentlessly identify those essential, extraordinary qualities that make us unique and authentic individuals. At the same time, dreams are ruthless and often shocking in exposing influences from others, from society, from family, from groups, from ideologies, that threaten our ability to live our own lives. Any technique of dream interpretation that ignores this powerful dream dynamic is like a child playing in the shallow end of the pool—safe and secure but missing something tremendous, a priceless tool for helping us to avoid living someone else’s life.

On one overcast, windy morning I decided to stop wearing my glasses and as I walked down the hill and toward the street I noticed the colors were more vibrant and, without my eyeglasses on, it felt like I was about a foot taller. I realized that my glasses helped me to see better but they also distorted my perception of the world.

So I’m walking along and I’m thinking how we all see the world through glasses of some sort: we put on our religious lenses that see life through a particular religious viewpoint; or we put on our political glasses and see the world through one political viewpoint; or we put on our familial glasses and see life through the expectations of our parents; or we put on societal glasses and live our life by adapting to social pressure to conform to popular ideas. Or we interpret our dreams through the thick dark lenses of some theory. Our dreams carry the awesome potential to help us to see clearly who we really are, our natural, inborn potential and unique character without anything “put on” us.

Our family’s hopes and expectations for us, while usually well-intended, become one of the “things” we put on. For example, not long after the September 11th tragedy, a good friend, clearly upset, told me about a dream that appears to have a literal warning. Aaron, a soft-spoken young man in his late twenties was in the midst of struggling with what to do with his life. His dream appeared to be predicting a terrorist attack:

The Time Bomb:
"Someone keeps showing me a map. I notice it’s a pie-shaped area and realize it’s somewhere around the Great Lakes area, maybe Chicago. An unknown man’s voice tells me that a nuclear bomb is going to be detonated there on November 1st and I should make sure that I’m at least fifty to a hundred miles away from there."

Aaron’s family, particularly his mother, wanted him to follow family tradition and go into the medical field. But he had always loved art and architecture and felt a frustrating split between giving in to his family’s expectations and following his own passion.

Dream images constantly clarify what belongs to the dreamer’s Authentic Self or essential nature and what symbolizes outside influences. I asked Aaron to describe what it would be like to imagine being that part of the country, and, as the land and the waters, what had happened. “The water has been polluted,” he replied. “And if I’m that land, I’ve been overrun by civilization, covered up.” Then I asked him to describe what it would be like, from the land’s viewpoint, to experience a nuclear explosion? He explained, with an sudden smile of realization, “Everything that’s been put on me is gone!” A few days later I received an excited call from Aaron, who couldn’t wait to tell me that November 1st was the final deadline for him to enroll in dental school and that he had just decided not to register.

Aaron’s dream, one week before the school deadline, dramatically showed him the power of this decision on November 1st. It had the potential to clear away all the attitudes and expectations from his family that were preventing him from living his life—everything that had been “put on” him, that had “overrun” and “polluted” his original, natural landscape. His “nuclear” family’s influence was about to be exploded. Moreover, atomic fission, a nuclear reaction, promised to release tremendous energy, energy that would now be available to begin a new life—energy no longer tied up the exhausting effort to conform and to live someone else’s life. And his dream also warns him to keep his distance from this event, to be aware of the “fallout”—the reaction from his mother and his family to his decision. Aaron avoided making a disastrous career choice.

Over many years of working with dreams, first as a hobby and then as a psychotherapist, I realized that a major category of dreams focused on defining and extracting our unique potential from the miasma of collective, outer-world influences and authority that divert all of us at one time or another from living our own creative life. Moreover, I found that dreams were relentlessly purposive in seeking to move us into living our own authentic life, releasing dormant, inner potentials so that each one of us can add unique values and characteristics to society and to our world.

Dreams are the ingredients creating the healing elixir; Dreams are the gateways into the Royal City, our passport into the Special World—and our passport into a meaningful life that makes a difference. I invite you to embark on an amazing journey, to explore the miracle of dreaming—that continuously flowing vessel pouring the water of life, freeing the tall ship from the sands of the ordinary world.

Author's Bio: 

John Goldhammer is a dream researcher, psychotherapist and author of three books. He lives in Seattle, Washington. (206) 306-0322. jgoldhammer@mindspring.com Adapted from the new book: "Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life." It is the culmination of over two decades of dream research and study of 23,000 dreams. Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press, (July 2003), 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022.