Symbols & Dreams

Symbols & Dreams

Dreams have been objects of boundless fascination and mystery for humankind since the beginning of time. These nocturnal vivid images seem to arise from some source other than our ordinary conscious mind. They contain a mixture of elements from our own personal identity which we recognize as familiar along with a quality of `otherness' in the dream images that carries a sense of the strange and eerie. The bizarre and nonsensical characters and plots in dreams point to deeper meanings and contain rational and insightful comments on our waking situations and emotional experiences. The ancients thought that dreams were messages from the gods. Today we know that they are messages from a deep source of wisdom and understanding within ourselves. Every dream is a message from some deeper unconscious part of myself to the more conscious everyday part of myself expressed in a language that needs to be learned and understood. The dream has been called the royal road to the unconscious. A modern way of saying that would be that the dream is the window to the soul.

There are many different ways of approaching dreams as their meaning is often on many different simultaneous levels. On the most superficial level we can look at the dream as a commentary on some ordinary everyday experience or situation that the dreamer is dealing with. On a deeper level we can explore the drama taking place in the dream with each image and symbol in the dream representing some psychological aspect of the dreamer. It can be looked at as a dialogue among the characters and feelings that inhabit our inner world. Dreams can be extraordinarily elusive like trying to catch a butterfly just always out of reach. Our conscious mind seems to be reluctant to allow us full recollection or understanding of our dreams. Because dreams talk to us in a strange and foreign language of symbols and images they disturb our conscious preconceptions of who we are and what we are about. Dreams are like looking down into a deep chasm into our souls. We sometimes are afraid we will fall into the abyss if we look too long or too deeply into ourselves.

It is often helpful to make a conscious reminder to oneself before retiring for bed by saying `I will remember a dream tonight'. It is important to lie still for a few moments when awakening from a dream and to stay with the feelings and images of the dream. Then record in a notebook by the bedside a few key words from the most vivid images or symbols that appear in the dream. Later that day when convenient one can fill out the plot and action of the dream in more detail. It is very difficult to try and hold a dream in memory if it is not first written down. Dreams tend to evaporate quickly with the light of day just like the morning dew. It may be useful too to write down any immediate associations or reactions to the dream. Start to reflect on the separate images in the dream and see what comes to mind. Take note of the feelings and associations that flood your mind as you pay attention to the images. Examine action that takes place in the dream which is often like a play or movie with a plot and sub-plots. It is important to remember too that the images in the dream are not to be taken literally. The dream will often exaggerate images and feelings in grotesque and bizarre ways to try and get our attention. Understanding dreams is more like reading poetry than prose. It is a world of imagination and fantasy that can show us aspects of ourselves that are like long buried treasures waiting to be discovered.

I would like to explore some of the possible meanings and associations to some common dream images and symbols that most people will have experienced at one time or another. One caveat is that each dream is the unique personal experience and possession of the dreamer and that the same image may have different meanings for different people based on their own individual experiences and the context of the lives and the context of the dream in which it occurs. Only the dreamer can ultimately know the correctness of any particular interpretation of an image or symbol that occurs in a dream as to the meaning for that particular dreamer. We can look at some of the universal images that commonly occur in dreams and reflect on the possibilities that the image suggests. This can be a way of amplifying the image to enrich and deepen its significance and to present deeper layers of meaning.

The number of images or symbols in dreams is countless. Anything that can be 'dreamed' of can carry a deeper psychological and emotional significance for us than what may be first apparent on the surface. An example might be a dream about a house. This is a very common dream motif as often the action in a dream will take place in a particular setting. A dream of a house may be about a particular place we know or have lived in or may be a fantasized unreal place that we might never have imagined in waking life. The meaning of a house often suggests either the psychological or physical place that we inhabit. The house and what is going on in it may suggest something of what is occurring in our body or our mind during our waking life. The house may remind us of our childhood home with its attendant feelings of belonging and alienation, security and insecurity, conflict and harmony. The house is a psychological extension of our identity and physical being in the world. The different areas of the house may represent different areas of our inner psyche. Sometimes the house or some of its rooms may be unfamiliar representing unexplored areas of potential within the personality. Exploring an unfamiliar house may represent a new journey of exploration into our own personalities or to work out some psychological problem that resides within our emotional living space. It is fairly common to dream of returning to a house that you knew in childhood. It may represent a return to a familiar situation but with new possibilities. The feelings and reaction to the house and its inhabitants or contents is crucial to understanding the significance of the house in the dream. It may represent a wish to return to a time of childhood innocence or of a need to move on and leave home by getting on with some unfinished part of one's life.

We know that dreams provide us with a unique view of ourselves that often comes from a deeper and wiser part of our psyche and that tends to counterbalance and moderate our conscious waking perceptions. Dreams sometimes also comment on the larger cultural and worldwide issues that may be constellated within the psyche of our entire community.

Richard J. Corelli, M.D.