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Organic Dream Integration:
Dream Interpretation & Meaning
written by Craig
a creative dream integration / interpretation exercise
Four blind beggars come upon an elephant
and share their experience. " It’s much like a snake",
says one by the elephant’s trunk. "Not at all," replies
the second, pushing against the elephant’s leg, "it’s large
and solid like a temple pillar." "You’re both mistaken,"
says the third, holding its tail, "it is just like a rope."
"How can this be?" asks the fourth man, feeling its ear,
"when to me it seems identical to a rug."
Interestingly, all four are correct, yet even all their experiences
put together does not give anywhere near a complete picture of what
an elephant is. And so it is with dreams. In saying that the reason
for dreams is this or that, or that they mean such and such, we
often limit our overall experience of them. This is not to say that
many very true, insightful and useful dream theories and methods
don’t exist, but rather to give a hint of perspective on the incredibly
vast, diverse, and enigmatic nature of the what, why, and how of
In line with our analogy, renown European physician Dr. Sigmund
Freud, with his focus on phallic imagery and repressed wishes in
dreams, perhaps had the proverbial elephant by the balls. Though
quite true that male and female elements appear in dreams, and that
dreams often bring up strong connections with our desires or have
emotional roots our childhood, Freud’s is but one viewpoint. Carl
Jung, perhaps the best known contemporary of Freud’s, put forth
some very insightful frameworks for understanding the symbolism
and nature of dreams, including his concepts of universal personality
archetypes and the collective unconscious. Yet Jung himself wrote,
"I have no theory about dreams. I do not know how dreams arise.
I am altogether in doubt as to whether my way of handling dreams
deserves the name ‘method’. But...if we meditate on a dream sufficiently
long and thoroughly…something almost always comes of it." Jung
added that this something is rarely of rational, scientific nature,
but rather "a practical and important hint which shows the
patient in what direction the unconscious is leading him."
Jung observed that dreams perform restorative, corrective, compensatory,
prophetic and developmental roles in the psyche and believed that
we must be ready at any moment to construct and entirely new theory
Dream Analysis vs. Dream Integration
Rather than lumping all importance on analysis or having to figure
"out" what a dream might mean, it helps to see dreams
as experiences valid on their own. Experiences which can be cultivated
organically whose roots delve into the rich depths of the psyche
as they stem outward into the light of conscious awareness and begin
forming their leaves of thought. Truly, they are an art form of
the soul for creative self-expression, self-discovery and self-healing,
and much benefit and fulfillment comes simply by remembering, writing,
tape-recording, sharing, painting, enacting or otherwise birthing
them into the physical world. It can be greatly worthwhile to harvest
the dream fruits of personal insight and practical guidance, yet
every dream affects us physiologically, emotionally, psychologically,
and/or spiritually, and becomes part of our being, changing us regardless
of whether we make any logical waking connections or not. Even when
we spot such connections, it can be limiting to assume that this
was the sole ‘point’ of the dream, and therefore drop further exploration
or creative expression; carrying away golden coins, we may miss
the priceless and treasured jewel fashioned or concealed within
the chest itself. Psychologist/author Jill Mellick goes as far as
to say that the long term effects of dry interpretation can "too
often preserve the piece in intellectual formaldehyde when it could
have led a long and vibrant life."
In one of my classes, during discussions about interpretation, one
student dreamt: "All I could see was a
hair from an elephant." (A.P. Montreal, Qc).
She chuckled when the insight came that this might be her analogy
for what portion of her entire ‘dream elephant’ a linear one-line
interpretation might represent.
So improve your inner green thumb by gardening your dreams organically.
Till the soil using dream recall practices to help seedlings break
the surface of forgetting in order to reach the light of your attention.
Water them with curiosity and fertilize them through natural creative
expression and contemplation, yet being careful not to overdo it
such that the rest of your life falls out of balance. Learn to prune
back overgrowth and distinguish weeds from fruits and flowers (and
keep in mind that your neighbor may have different tastes). It’s
wonderful to share with others the beauty and abundance you find,
yet use discretion as to who you invite inside your protective fence
— trespassers may unknowingly trample months of careful effort.
The Benefits of Dream-Sharing Partners
A group of individuals or friends with a like interest can bring
wonderful benefits, allowing you to observe others’ unique styles
and preferences. Natural interactions between members also brings
great insight and life to exciting new dreams, inner developments,
and especially to synchronicities. You can also gain appreciation
for and experiment with the different goals group members have.
Those with an introspective inclination may simply be inclined toward
the peaceful joy of the dream recording and sharing process, while
others may be focused more on the harvest — one might express the
beauty of dreams as an artist, another looking for business advice
or creative problem solving, and another still may be natural at
cultivating dreams to heal self and others. One thing is certain,
anyone embarking upon such a co-operative inner exploration will
find themselves with abundant food for thought and likely have much
greater discipline and success, thanks to the support of the group.
Why are Dreams so "Weird"?
"Wow, I had the weirdest dream last night," is a phrase I hear often.
Rarely do I get, "Oh I had this normal dream," yet if
someone began speaking Sanskrit, we would also find that it sounded
strange, unless we'd taken the time to learn the vocabulary, grammar,
mythology, and culture of the Sanskrit language. So it is with dreams,
granted that we take time to learn the language of symbols, the
associative logic of dreams and some principles and differences
of sleeping and waking consciousness.
Dreams generally speak in a multi-dimensional language of feelings,
images and multi-level associations rather than linear words and
concepts. Says author Bernie Siegel, M.D., "While our minds
and our bodies communicate constantly with each other, most of this
exchange occurs on an unconscious level. That’s why I often advise
patients to start recording dreams, because the body cannot speak
except by using symbols."
Dreams often come as series, throughout the night, for a few nights
in a row, and/or within some natural cycle of weeks or seasons.
They are also intimately interconnected with events in the dreamer's
life, and often even with events that are yet to occur (which can
make literal interpretation a challenge). Edgar Cayce wisely insisted
that one should "interpret the dreamer" and not just the
dream alone. Trying to understand a single isolated dream without
any life context or a look at other dreams can be like trying to
understand a weekly show from a single episode — not pointless,
but quite often incomplete.
The dreams that are meant to assist you in waking life, hence which
are the most important to contemplate, understand and act upon are
recurring dreams, nightmares, and dreams which you've asked for
or incubated. Otherwise, any dream which impacts you strongly or
sticks with you clearly— especially the dream you remember
just before getting up in the morning— along with dreams
or dream fragments which spontaneously come to you later in the
day, are the ones that your unconscious is trying to bring to your
conscious attention. Dreams which have a powerful positive impact
and leave you feeling uplifted, inspired or even completely awestruck
can be understood, but better yet they can be integrated and have
their beneficial impact magnified if you express them creatively
(as with this dreamwork
exercise) by allowing them to blossom into a poem, painting, story,
dance, song, collage, sculpture, or other art form. This same technique
is also an excellent type of art therapy to express the fear and
difficult feelings from less pleasant dreams.
Note the level of the psyche from which dreams come, which tends
to be deeper at the start of the night (and often 'weirder') and
closer to our waking awareness as morning approaches (dreams which
are more likely to lend themselves to conscious understanding).
Look first for simple practical advice about your daily routine
such as diet, exercise, and challenges you face at school, work
or in your relationships, yet trust that deeper issues are likely
also undergoing resolution.
Your own gut feeling is always the best source to trust for understanding
your dreams, and should also have the last word as to whether any
interpretation is valid. As the Sufi saying goes, "only a fool takes
the words of another over his own experience." This said, dreams
are often meant for sharing and it's a practice I heartily encourage
when done in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. Clear insights
often pop up simply in the telling, and interestingly, these vary
in the presence of different people. Sharing a dream not only refreshes
it in your memory and gives you a chance to gain insights while
viewing it more objectively, but you may also begin to glimpse how
the source from which dreams come is so wise that it knows in advance
who you will meet on any given day and often cooks up dreams that
are also of benefit, if not sometimes mainly intended for those
you later share them with. When sharing a dream, or especially when
listening to someone else share a dream, take special note of body
language, face expressions and voice intonation/fluctuation since
these often reflect related unconscious elements.
A good rule of thumb to find out what a dream may relate to in your
life is to look at the feeling present in the dream and search daily
life, especially the previous day (and six days earlier, as research
has shown) for the same feeling. This greatly helps you tie together
the dream symbols and their waking counterparts. On the other hand,
if the feeling shocks you, such as is sometimes the case of dreams
with a strong component of anger or sexuality, for example, then
the dream may be a safe outlet for such feelings which have been
denied healthy expression in daily life.
Time and time again I meet people who bemoan how difficult dreams
are to understand, and I've noticed that this stance fulfills itself
excellently, since such people end up distrusting or completely
blocking any insights as or before they come. Author Richard Bach
sums this up nicely in his wonderful book Illusions,
"Argue your limitations and they're yours." The solution and best
overall method to improve your ability to understand dreams, though
deceptively simple and perhaps tough to accept initially, is simply
to believe that it is easy and natural to know what your dreams
are saying, and that you are already good at it. Along with this,
give yourself the suggestion that important dreams will start coming
accompanied by a narrative or explanatory thoughts. You can even
request dreams that interpret earlier ones. I made such a request
once about a very important dream, and a friend I met later that
week who often shares his dreams with me, told one he’d had that
morning very similar to mine with the same characters and setting,
and which clearly explained mine to me; I felt he 'unknowingly'
dreamt it for me.
Some Universal Dream Symbolism Tips
While interpretation is not the only tool for working with dreams,
it can be very useful and fun to boot. Here are some guidelines
to ponder. Keeping a collection of self-interpreted personal symbols
can be quite helpful, but when it comes to using a dream dictionary,
remember that every dreamer is unique and each dream dependent not
only upon what's going on in life at the time, but also upon other dreams and things such as age,
religion, upbringing, language, sex, culture, political, social,
and seasonal climate and particularly upon the individual’s interests
It is very helpful to take note whenever a symbol becomes very specific
such as names, numbers, colors or detailed or out-of-place symbols.
Contemplate why the dream chose something so precise. Experimenting
with word plays in such cases can often bring surprising insights.
Following are some symbol associations to keep in mind, and though
somewhat universal, they are certainly not etched in stone (see
nightmare themes and how to resolve them):
Directions are perhaps one of the most
insightful, though often overlooked dream elements. Forward
or in front of often represents forward in
time (i.e. the future), and similarly, backward
or behind often symbolizes the past (the back
yard of your home is your personal past, for example).Upward
or high often represents the spiritual, or
intellectual (i.e. flying above the roof tops), while downward or
low suggests more physical, instinctive, and being grounded. Less
universal but still helpful, to the right
often points to logical, reasoning or outward world power focus
(right hand man), while to the left suggests
emotional, inner, artistic aspects. Underground,
or in the dark, is the symbol of something
being subconscious or unconscious (e.g. basement, nighttime), since
light usually symbolizes consciousness. Colors
can mean many things, often more individual than universal, though
black can depict guilt or other heavy feelings
(the black ball and chain you keep dragging around) while white
may indicate purity, and the realm of the spirit. Pure green
can suggest healing, and the healing power of nature.
Your viewpoint or perspective
in a dream can be insightful. First person,
where you play ‘yourself’, shows that you have a fixed identity
or character. This is particularly common in nightmares and anxiety
dreams where you are quite caught up in your role as dream actor.
The other most common perspective is third person
where you witness the dream from an audience viewpoint as a disembodied
watcher or point of awareness. Sometimes, though not always, this
can point to feelings or situations which are not being felt or
experienced (i.e. ‘you’ are ‘removed’ from the scene). A balanced
blend of these two perspectives is a good step toward lucid dreaming.
Setting is an extremely key dream element
since it provides the backdrop for the scene and often provides
the link about what aspect of your waking life the dream relates
to. Deserts have no water
(feeling, emotion, life force), and generally denote some area within
ourselves which we have not paid too much attention to (usually
in regards to our feelings). Oceans suggest
the vast stretches and depths of the soul and of psyche.
Powerful weather or nature
elements (i.e. tidal waves, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes
- interestingly there happens to be a thunderstorm happening as
I write this sentence) generally symbolize powerful emotions, and
change, while seasons can point to a certain
mood or phase of experience: winter as an
unconscious time of hibernation/incubation, spring
the beginning of new life, summer the height
of activity growth, freedom, expression, and fall
can often signify a time of harvest or a natural ending.
The type of room(s) you are in suggests the
portion of your ego (house/appartment) that
the dream’s about. Some common ones are the basement
or cellar as the subconscious, the kitchen/dining
room as the place of self-nourishment or social nature, the
bedroom as a place of relationships or unconsciousness
(sleep), the bathroom as private and where
you cleanse yourself and dispose of waste, and the garage
as the place where action/achievement (car) stems from or where
we have things stored or piled up.
Dream elements that transform from one thing to another
are pointing to a connection between the two. Elements of distorted
size (especially in childhood home setting dreams) may sometimes
denote that the dreamer's perspective is different as it would have
been at a different age (i.e. the very high window might represent
that the dream is pointing to feelings or experiences when the dreamer
was very young).
Perhaps the most universal symbol of all, is the
human body, and much light can be shed upon dreams by knowing
about palmistry, face-reading, body-language, ayurvedic body types
and symptoms. Some of the most common elements are dreaming of someone
asleep (a part of us that is unconscious),
dying, being dismembered or
buried (going unconscious - the opposite of remembered),
or dreams focusing on body parts. Skin often
represents ‘feeling’s (skin problems may point out emotional challenges),
blood is what brings us oxygen and energy
and often figuratively stands for life force. A very common dream
image for new dream explorers is feces, representing
something natural but which is past and usually something we need
to clean up, let go of, get out of our system. It's often a shocking
sight, and means some work will be involved, but just remember that
it is also wonderful organic fertilizer for new inner growth. Hands
are our tools for creation and work in the world, while feet
may describe one’s current life path.
Animals embody strong character aspects too,
especially of an instinctive or emotional nature. Birds
generally denote freedom, a perspective of increased awareness (from
a bird's eye point of view), and also lucidity, as hinted at by
the Sufi saying, "When a bird lands on your outstretched hand, then,
my friend, you will understand." Dinosaurs
can show up in a dreamer's early stages of becoming aware of powerful,
deeply-seated "prehistoric" (i.e. childhood) emotional or instinctive
feelings, and often "evolve" in successive dreams.
An interesting enigma exists as to whether characters within a dream
depict our own inner aspects, qualities or abilities, or whether
they represent their waking counterparts — the people from
our daily experience. If we were to view life as a dream, the differentiation
somewhat falls away. But for simplicity and practical purposes,
it is sometimes accurate to treat them as relating to the actual
person (and check our dream against actual waking events), and sometimes
better (more often than not) to understand them as own inner characters
or personality aspects. At times, characters can be composites (e.g.
he looked like my brother, but I knew it was Markus) and/or may
shift identity as the dream progresses which again points to a connection
between the two. An in-depth look at animals and dream characters
is the subject for further dreamwork training,
but for the moment, investigate
both potential aspects, and try engaging in a written dialogue (where
you "make up" their answers) to find out what makes them
tick and why they are doing and saying what they are. This technique
can be very insightful.
So have some fun inner conversations, and visit again soon.
a creative dream integration / interpretation exercise