Dreams have long been the purview of shamans, healers, witch doctors, psychoanalyists, and newpaper columnist. What these “dream experts” all have in common is a desire to understand dreams and interpret their meanings.
The goal, of course, has always been to extract from the sleep shrouded one-third of our lives something of value. Dreams are important. If they weren’t important, then our evolutionary biology would have eliminated them over the milenium.
And yet, evolution has not stepped in. Everyone dreams every night. Paradoxically, a very small percentage of people remember their dreams, no less understand the practical value of dreams.
Does a house represent the personality? Is a train symbolic of sex? What does it mean when someone from the past appears in a dream? The interpretations of dreams is as varied as the person doing the interpreting. What is similar to any dream interpretation by a “dream expert” is that it isn’t practical.
After studying thousands of dreams, Transformative Dreams as published in Journal of Clinical Psychology my collegues and I came to the conclusion that we dream because they are important to our physical, intellectual, social and spiritual health. In fact, we found that dreams were in many ways an inner self talking to us about all of those things. Now Freud thought this inner self was trying to tell us deep dark secrets. Some of that is true. Jung throught this inner self was trying to tell us universal truths. Some of that is true.
In a five year study we presented the research facts behind what we saw as A Practical Approach to Dreams. First, of all let’s discuss the word practical. If you have to pay a psychoanalyst $250 an hour to explain your dreams – that is not practical. Or if you need to go to Haiti and dance around a bonfire in jungle – that is not practical.
My collegues Joseph Hart, Werner Karle and I practical meant, what can an average person do to tap into his or her dreams; how can an average person understand his or her dreams, and finally, what can a person do to take value from dreams.
Here is what we found. A practical approach gives you a way to recall dreams, understand dreams and use dreams.
Recalling Dreams: It is actually easy to begin recalling dreams. All one needs to do is asking yourself, “What did I dream last night?” That may sound simplistic but in fact it is like learning to stretch. If you ask yourself the question, you begin to think about it. We found that people could not only learn to recall their dreams but they could in time, recall multiple dreams from a single night.
Understnding Dreams: To understand dreams our focus was counter to Freud, Jung and Shamans. What the content of dreams change frequently, we found HOW the dreamer was in his or her dream was very consistent. We know WHAT a person dreamt about changed every night. One night you might dream of work and tomorrow night you might be in a strange city fighting gangs. HOW you were in the dream was the key to understanding your dreams.
The Practical Approach to Dreams simply has dreamer ask him or herself a few dream questions. Over the years, I have taken the liberaty to simplify and reduce the questions we used in our research. In that regard here are three useful questions to help understand your dreams.
1. Was I ACTIVE or PASSIVE in this dream? If one is active in dreams then you are in control of the dream. When one is passive you are the victim in the dream. Think about it this way, if you HOW you are is PASSIVE in your dreams then you can literally dream up all kinds of scenarios where you are the victim. By asking the ACTIVE/PASSIVE question one comes to understand dreams in a new way – “when I am passive in my dreams I am a victim in my dreams.” Conversely, “when I am active in my dreams I am in control.”
2. Was I EXPRESSIVE or NON-EXPRESSIVE in this dream? If one is expressive in dreams then you are in control of the dream. When one is non-expressive in dreams you are often the victim in the dream. By asking the ACTIVE/PASSIVE question one comes to understand dreams in a new way – “when I am passive in my dreams I am a victim in my dreams.” Conversely, “when I am active in my dreams I am in control.”
3. Are the people in my dream KNOWN or UNKNOWN to me? If the people in your dreams are KNOWN to you then you have a greater chance of understanding how you are thinking and feelings about these real-life people. On the other hand, if the people in your dreams are UNKNOWN to you then look see if you find yourself PASSIVE and NON-EXPRESSIVE.
These Practical ideas about dream are more fully describe in my three books on dreams: The The Dream Makers, Dreaming and Waking, and The Functional Analysis of Dreams, The Functional Analysis of Dreams.