Dream interpretation is something that is commonly asked about. The truth of the matter is that dream interpretation is something that you must learn to do for yourself. No other person or book can interpret what is going on in your dreams but you. Now, others can help you figure it out, as this article will intend to do. But, things like books or people that tell you what your dreams mean based off of their interpretation are completely useless. To understand why we must first look at the mind and what dreams really are.
Your mind takes in a vast amount of information every second. Every nerve in your body is constantly sending data to your brain. Also, your conscious mind is creating thoughts and sending them to your subconscious as well. Now, most of this data we are not consciously aware of. If we were aware of all of it we would soon overload. All of this data is stored by the subconscious for processing. We will look at the actual process of going over the data and keeping important information shortly. Suffice to say that there is a lot of data about the functioning of your body, your environment and your thought process going on.
Now, when you are born, you have some basic programming in your mind. Things like how to keep breathing, keep your heart beating, digestion, etc., are all programmed in. But, for the most part, our mind is a blank slate. You immediately begin filling that slate with experiences, ideas and thoughts. Essentially, this becomes your internal language. This internal language is unique to you. There are a few concepts that are included in the programming you are born with, but how you relate to everything that your mind takes in is unique to you. This is why two people can see the same thing and have two very different reactions to it. The internal language is different. This is also why no one else can tell you with any degree of certainty what your dreams mean. They don't have the same language.
When you take in information, your subconscious mind compares it to the information it already has and makes a judgment about it. If it is in harmony with what is already in your mind, it is good. If it is not, it is bad. Once this initial judgment is made, your subconscious mindsets that information in a holding pattern to be sorted and filed.
Now, your holding pattern is finite in size. I sometimes call this holding pattern the critical factor. Once this critical factor is full, the information must be processed or you go into overload. For many, this happens around 2 or 3 PM when you get tired at work or school. You are trying to pay attention and work, but you keep falling asleep. Your critical factor is trying to dump. This is why taking a 15-minute power nap is so beneficial in these times. Your mind can not dump the critical factor when you are awake in normal consciousness. So, you take a nap, it dumps, and you awake refreshed. The information is dumped into the subconscious mind for further processing.
Now, when you go to sleep at night, you typically go through three REM cycles of about 90 to 120 minutes each. There is a period of time between these where your sleep will become shallower, and then become deeper again for REM. These REM cycles are when all of the information in the subconscious mind is processed, sorted, stored and disposed of. It is these states that dreaming occurs. It is important to realize that everyone dreams. Now, there are people who say that they do not because they do not remember them. Nonetheless, the process of sorting out information through dreams takes place.
Now, your mind takes in information in six ways: through the five senses and through your conscious mind creating thoughts. It must process through them the same way. This is why REM cycles occur when you are not conscious. It requires re-experiencing the information to analyze and process it. So, with the conscious mind turned off these sensory methods can be employed to process this information. Of course, you do not react to re-experiencing these stimuli like you do when you are awake. You can thank Tonic Motor Inhibition for that. TMI is a buffer that keeps you from getting up and walking around when you are dreaming of walking. Some people do have a low TMI will experience talking in their sleep and sleepwalking. What is relevant to our topic at hand is that the data taken into the brain is re-experienced in the way that it was originally experienced, allowing the subconscious to review it.
As was mentioned earlier, there are three cycles of REM sleep. For the purpose of dream analysis, we will call these stages the Wishful Thinking stage, the Precognitive stage and the Venting stage. These stages become longer and more intense as they progress. The first cycle, called the Wishful Thinking stage, is the one we care about the least. In fact, we want to make sure not to worry much about it. This is the stage where the brain goes through all the data that is taken in and decides what is useful and what is not. Much of the data that comes in does not need to be kept, such as how long your digestive tract took to digest lunch, the temperature of the air in your socks and other data. This is all promptly discarded so that only the useful, relevant information is kept. Because this stage occurs early in the night and least intense, it is the least likely to be remembered.
The second is the Precognitive stage. In this stage, the mind starts to take the important data that is left and place it in your understanding of reality. Think of your memory as a jigsaw puzzle. Your mind will have many puzzles in it. It goes through the process of sorting all the information and placing it in the proper puzzle. Just like when you are doing a puzzle you reach a point where you get an idea of the image in the puzzle. Now, this image may or may not be correct. It is, after all, just a guess of what the completed picture may be. These are the process of changing your mental programming. This is more intense than the Wishful Thinking stage and generally lasts longer.
The third stage is the Venting stage. At this stage, any data that you have saved in your memory that is no longer needed is discarded. It may be data that is no longer relevant, or it may be data that you did not need in the first place. It is all purged out of your memory in the same way it was gathered: through the nervous system. Because it is basically venting out junk, you may experience it as random bits of unrelated information. Once the picture is finished and has served its use, it is cleared out. Because this is so close to the end of the night it is most likely to be remembered. It is also the most intense of the REM cycles.
You can not determine which dream cycle you are in by the content. You must look at the time of night that the dream occurs. As a general rule, you can divide your sleep period into thirds and assign each third to one of the cycles.
To interpret the meaning of the dream there are seven steps. These are:
1. What stage of the night did the dream occur? If the dream occurred early in the sleep cycle the dream was probably a Wishful Thinking dream. This means that the mind is simply sorting through data. If it is in the middle of the sleep cycle it is probably a Precognitive dream. The mind is organizing and putting pictured together. May have some use in understanding, but it does not necessarily mean that the picture is accurate. If the dream occurred toward the end of the sleep cycle it is probably a Venting dream. These are very important in dream analysis. It shows what you no longer need because you are getting rid of it. That means that you are working and making progress in that area.
2. Is the dream psychological or physiological? By this, we mean is the content of your dream coming from inside your mind or from something you are experiencing while you sleep. Examples of dreaming of something while you are experiencing it are incorporating sounds from your TV while you are in a sleep state, or incorporating a phone ringing when you are dreaming. This is called stimulus incorporation dreams, and this is a physiological experience. If it is a physiological dream, you can disregard the dream.
3. What time indicator of the dream? In the dream, what stage of your life were you in? Was it a dream about childhood? Or as an adult? Or, maybe, was it set in the future? When you vent out things you don't need anymore you re-experience it. This mental image may be one that you have worked on for a long time, and it may have elements from different points in your life. The dream will reflect those points in your life that you markedly changed your mental image. You can actually look at your progress in this belief by studying this.
4. What is the content of the dream? Is it literal or symbolic? The easiest way to determine this is to get a piece of paper and draw a line dividing it in half. On one side, list all of the literal things in the dream. On the other side, list all the symbolic things. For example, let's say that you have a dream about your mother, but she is a witch. She is green, with a wart on her nose and flying around on a broom. So, you take every element of this. Do you have a mother? Yes (literal). Is she a witch? No (symbolic). Is she green? No (symbolic). Does she have a wart on her nose? Yes (literal). Does she fly on a broom? No (symbolic). Continue in as much detail as possible. Write all of the literal things on one side and all the symbolic things on the other. The literal things are given. We would know that this dream is about your mother and that she has a wart on her nose. Now, we must figure out what the symbolic parts mean. Then, you need to figure out what the symbols mean. So, you have to ask, because a symbol may mean one thing to one person, but something different to someone else. You have to find out how the dreamer relates to the symbols.
5. What emotions do the symbols invoke in the dreamer? How does it make you feel? Figure out what the symbols mean to the dreamer, and how they relate to them. Then you can give a preliminary interpretation of the dream. Basically, tell the dream back to the dreamer, but with the meaning of the symbolism included. This is to help translate the dream for the dreamer so that the dreamer, not the interpreter, can realize the meaning of it.
6. What are you venting out? If you have a particularly negative dream it is good. It means that you are venting out things you do not need anymore. This tells you what you have worked through and that you are moving on from it to new things.
7. Finally, after you have retold the dream and you, or the dreamer, understand the symbolism, ask What have you experienced recently that triggered the dream? This can produce a Gestalt moment that will help the dreamer relate to and understand the dream.
Now, many will say that dreams are messages from spirit, or higher realms, or some other being. That may or may not be true. Let us assume for a moment that it is true. These messages do not enter the conscious mind. They enter the subconscious mind where they are processed by the programming and thought patterns already in the subconscious. The way you see the world colors messages received in this way unless you have trained the subconscious to properly relay the information. The subconscious mind must then relay the message to the conscious mind. This is done through symbolism, the language of the subconscious mind. The way that the subconscious mind communicates those symbols is through dreams. So, it may be entirely possible for a dream to contain messages to you. Going through this process will help you to see what the subconscious is trying to tell you. It will help you translate the language of symbolism into the logical thought process of the conscious mind.