Updated: Feb 1, 2021
I just did a Google search on the phrase how to interpret dreams. Google came up with 16.2 million hits in less than a second. Thank you, Google.
Even in my dreams I don't have enough time to read 16.2 million articles. I don't think you have the time, either.
Instead, I offer three principles to help you interpret your sleeping dreams:
In your dream-state you experience imagined events that are emotionally similar to those you experience in real life. These dream events help you better manage comparable events in your future.
The real-life events that inspire your dreams occurred either 1) decades ago, or 2) in the past few days.
Your sleeping dreams are presented from the perspective of a small child with little experience, but one who possesses unlimited, creative description.
Knowing these three principles will greatly help you interpret your dreams.
What are dreams?
Dreams are medicinal devices that provide practice sessions for our subconscious. In our dreams, how we feel and react to events will help our subconscious perform better for us in the waking state when faced with similar events.
Most people know that wisdom comes from experience. Dreaming is a way of gaining experience before gaining experience.
Dreams are our subconscious mind practicing how to handle events in the waking state.
If you remember dreaming over the next few mornings, try matching the feelings from those dreams to either recent experiences in your life (within days) or very old experiences. The specific events in your dreams--their plots--aren't important. How you feel during dreaming is what matters.
If you're honest with how you feel about yourself and your life, the feelings felt in your dreams will match those felt during waking events. The word honest here is paramount. Most people are not accustomed to brutal honesty.
We don't usually fall out of airplanes, get eaten by a swarm of spiders, or are strangled by our mass-murdering neighbor. But our subconscious minds do not know how rare such real-life events are.
Our subconscious mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.
How to interpret dreams?
To interpret your dreams, you must be brutally honest with how you feel about yourself and what is happening to you.
If you’re unwilling to admit that you’re nervous about dating girls, you won’t understand why you dream about flocks of purple jellyfish stinging you when they get too close.
If you’re not honest about the anxiety you feel when speaking at meetings at work, you may not understand why you dream about driving a car at high speed when the steering wheel disappears or when the brakes stop working. (The latter is common for me.)
For me, missing steering wheels and failing automobile breaks represent anxiousness about the possibly of losing control of what is around me. The fact that I sometimes dream specifically about steering wheels or breaks is not relevant.
What matters is how you feel, not what happens.
If you are not honest with yourself, you will have no idea why you dreamed about walking naked across your local park.
Having just gotten a new work assignment or new job or promotion is stressful. I don’t care who you are. Having a new baby, buying a home, or getting married will greatly affect your life. You are supposed to be concerned. Your mind will practice handling these events in advance while you sleep so when you face these events in real life, you will handle them better.
One night years ago I dreamed I was under a threat of some kind, and was therefore hiding under a wooden patio deck. I didn't know what to do until I heard two female voices humming a soothing tune. I felt that if I got closer to the sound, all would be right. The voices turned out two be two female angels dressed in white, humming in a major key a third apart from each other (harmonizing) the following tune. I wrote down the tune the moment I woke up:
I've done a fair amount of research trying to find where this melody came from. While not a musically interesting tune, I have a hard time believing my mind composed it in my sleep, complete with harmony.
I have not yet interpreted the meaning of this dream, other than music can be a calming influence, and it is a big part of my life. When I was a child, performing music on a musical instrument was the one thing I was good at.
They are you
Your psychedelic dreams are simply you dolled up in metaphor. You are always the main character, even if the character is a different gender or species. This applies to all dreams ever experienced by all human beings who have ever lived. You are not an exception.
Why are dreams cryptic? Maybe it's just how your subconscious thinks. I'm guessing on this part. But your dreams are you. Each character in your dreams--the butcher, the cat, or the mean mother--represent either 1) real people in your life or 2) you in different states (happy, anxious, etc.)
The only person who can interpret your dreams is yourself. Think about your dreams right after they happen. Their explanations will come to you if you spend time thinking about them because YOU are who created the dream.
You, and not books, will discern the meanings of your dreams. I assure you that you can do it.
Your subconscious has no concept of time
Not only does your subconscious not differentiate between reality and fantasy, it has no concept of time. To your subconscious, what happened twenty years ago is just as impactful and relevant to you today as it was twenty years ago.
Replace old experiences with new ones
The only way to correct and improve your subconscious over time is to replace out-of-date and invalid experiences with new, valid experiences. Old fears diminish over time only when they are replaced with new ones. It is not the passage of time that does this, but the replacement of outdated experiences.
Once we’re afraid of strangers, public speaking, or ballet dancing, we tend to avoid those things in the future to protect ourselves from future pain. Our natural tendency is to flee from bad experiences rather than replace them. This allows improper experiences to influence us indefinitely.
Most people avoid what they're afraid of doing. This avoidance only reinforces and deepens the fear. We must face them if we're to become better, wiser people
We experience a bit of what it would be like after having a frontal lobotomy every night when we dream. The frontal part of our brain shuts down when we dream. Our frontal cortex is what helps us be sensible and rational in the waking state. While your dreams are always about you and deal with real concerns, they're portrayed to you when you're in a senseless and irrational state.
What if you don't like what you discover?
Full disclosure here. Most of my night dreams are either about feeling hurt from rejection, or feeling guilt or embarrassment for not sufficiently managing my life.
I do manage my life properly. I don't know why my mind frets so much.
Your subconscious mind is going to lag your waking conscious mind. It will always be behind. Instead of feeling badly about whatever it is you dream about, consider the information revealed from dreams as insightful tips, even if they are a bit out-of-date. You may still work on improving those areas in your life.
How to make use of this new understanding?
It's handy to know what truly bothers you. This knowledge can be used to your advantage. Suppose that because you have analyzed your dreams, you realize you're afraid of buying that new car. Armed with this understanding, perhaps you should do a little more research before making that purchase. Talk to some trusted friends. Spend more time studying the idea before committing to it.
Actual example of interpreting a dream
Here is the telling of an actual dream and its interpretation. This demonstration is meant to show how easy it is to interpret an imaginative and cryptic dream. It is presented in the first person of the dreamer:
I’m driving a car remotely from hundreds of feet in the air. The car is alone on a two-lane highway running alongside a wide river winding through a deep canyon. I’m nervous about trying to control a vehicle from such a distance and fear I’ll wreck it at any moment.
I have no idea where I’m supposed to be going or how I got into this predicament
The next thing I know is the car is gone and I’m under water in the deep, clear, slow-moving river. I see an entrance to an underwater cave lit from the inside. I swim into the cave and discover an orderly underwater elementary school classroom complete with rows of desks and chairs. The teacher’s desk is at the back of the classroom and the walls are lined with chalk boards and typical classroom paraphernalia.
No one is in the room but me.
The only strange thing about the room is a neat row of a number of small human skulls arranged on the teacher’s desk. This does not concern me. The room feels familiar and I am calm.
I swim out of the cave and climb out of the water. At this moment I turn into one of the 12-year-old boys who attend my church and remain that young person for the rest of the dream. The “camera” stays behind me, watching me for the rest of the dream.
I tell my young friends about the cave. We return, and I show it to them. We hold our breath as we swim in and out of the cave. There are no slimy plants or worms. Even the classroom lights are turn on.
I tell my parents, who happen to be Andy Griffith and Mary Tyler Moore.
They walk with us down the road toward the the cave. I’m leading everyone else. Before getting there, and ahead of us along the river, I see numerous military personnel and vehicles who blow up the cave. I run back to my family and friends, screaming, “They’ve destroyed it!”
I’m angry. Destroying the classroom was pointless and heartless. It wasn’t hurting anyone.
My parents console me by saying, “We knew about the cave all along. It is all right. I then remember that behind the teacher’s desk in the classroom was an office room where bees lived in beehives." (No matter that bees can’t live underwater.)
My parents walk me to a nearby shack alongside the road. The shack is full of supplies and clothing necessary to care for bees. They tell me it is okay that the classroom is gone. The bees can live somewhere else.
I feel a terrible loss, but I’m surprised by how calm my parents are. They seem to have been expecting the inevitability of the cave’s demise.
The cave was my special place. There is no talk of a new cave. It will be gone forever.
The cave represents my young youth (5 – 12 years old). Moore and Griffith are iconic parent-figures from my childhood. The loss of the cave is the loss of my young childhood.
The bees are my imagined way within the dream to explain and deal with the loss of the cave.
In my dream, the 12-year-old version of myself comes up with imagined bees as a way of lessening the blow. I need that extra explanation, like a security blanket, to help me handle the tragic loss.
The scene in the beginning of driving a car with difficulty is my adulthood, where life’s events are handled more distantly and with less control.
The sculls on the teacher’s desk are both a foreshadowing of the death of my young youth, as well as the death of other young children’s youth before me. It is easier to handle such events when one realizes that others have similar experiences.
The military personnel and vehicles may be me trying to get rid of my own young youth. My parents in my dream may also be me trying to convince myself that my young youth is gone, or even that it is no longer relevant and should be forgotten.
The latest understanding of dream interpretation by professional psychologists is that every character portrayed in a dream is a different representation of the dreamer herself/himself.
Do not be concerned that you did not come up with the same interpretation of the dream that I did. This is because the dream told above was my dream, and not yours. It is not easy to interpret some else’s dream because, as a listener, you don’t have the same connections (emotional baggage?) to the dream’s events as the dreamer.
IN REAL LIFE
Do not think for a moment that during my daily life I think about my lost youth or any other event portrayed in this dream.
When interpreting your dreams, it is critical that you don’t get defensive about them. Never say in disgust, “Why, I’m not that way at all!” You may not be consciously, but your subconscious is. What your subconscious worries about affects your current life.
Write them down immediately
It is possible to remember a dream only when you awake during that dream. And when you do, the process of forgetting begins immediately. If you want to remember it, you must write it down as soon as you can because you'll have only minutes before it's gone. Grab the closest piece of paper and the nearest pen or pencil and start writing. Don't worry about using correct grammar or writing neatly because every second counts.
Keeping a written record of even a few of your dreams will help you understand what's most important to your subconscious. Wouldn't that be helpful information to have?
You think you already know what's bothering your subconscious? You likely don't because unlike your conscious state, your subconscious is a young child who has no concept of pride, vanity, vengeance, tradition, ambition, or motive. That is the person who is really running your life. Set your pride aside and get to know him or her.
Microdreams are what you experience briefly (lasting a second or two) when you start to doze off during a boring meeting at work or when you first start to fall asleep at night. They are extremely difficult to remember because they're forgotten in a second rather than in minutes. When you're in such a relaxed state your mind won't recall much of anything. But if you can manage to remember one or two, you'll discover that the real you doesn't have any concern about the day's financial numbers or the latest Human Resources policy.
What happens to me at night is when I'm about to fall asleep I'll have microdreams about fictional, stressful situations. Then I'll lay there worrying about them without realizing they were just made up. I must give myself a figurative slap and say, "Stop thinking about that. It's not real." Then I usually go to sleep within seconds.
What do we do now?
Once you realize that your subconscious worries about matters of which you are not consciously aware, take extra steps to bolster those areas of your life. Make an effort to become better and more fulfilled in those areas.
Change cannot happen all at once. But ignoring everything but the outer surface of yourself won't get you far for a very, very long time.
For more information on emotional habits, see the following link: Emotional Habits.