There are many ways of looking at dreams — these are my thoughts. The important thing to remember is that dreams are very personal. If you find a way of relating to your dreams that works for you and makes sense, stick with it. Because, while there may be common themes in culture and ideas about how to understand our dreams, it all comes down to our individual understanding. I share these ideas with you in case you are still seeking understanding in this area; these thoughts may help you. 🙂
Dreams come in three categories for me. First, there are the dreams that result from brain clutter — usually a meaningless jumble of stuff from the last day or two, and my mind’s attempt to clear things out. I seldom remember these. Then there are the dreams where my subconscious or Higher Self (whatever works for you) is trying to get my attention and let me know something. This may be in answer to something I am dealing with in daily life, or even a commentary on something I need to pay attention to (like cutting back on caffeine). Finally, there are the prophetic dreams, or dreams that definitely come from outside of me. I rarely have these dreams, and when I do they have a different quality about them — they are sharper, or feel far more real. Some have suggested those are astral travel. I don’t know, but I do treat them as messages and act accordingly.
When we try to make sense of a dream, most of us are dealing with something in the second category, where our unconscious or Higher Self is trying to tell us something. Thing of it is, our subconscious tends to give us messages in symbols. When I first tried to make sense of my dreams years ago, I bought those little dream dictionaries . . . you know, the ones that say water represents sex and frogs are fertility symbols and so forth. What you need to remember is those dictionaries are based on cultural symbology, and while some of it may work for you, some of it may not. Sometimes we read a certain item symbolizes something, and our subconscious will assimilate that information and use it.
The best book I have ever read on dreams is Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, by Robert A. Johnson. It was last published in 1989, but there are still lots of used copies around (Amazon even has them). Most of my ideas about understanding dreams come from this book.
When I have a dream I want to understand, I usually start by writing the dream down as soon as possible after waking up. If you have a problem remembering your dreams, as soon as you wake from one lay quietly in the same position you were upon waking. Rehearse the dream in your mind, several times if need be. Then write it down. Now, if at any point in the following process you find yourself stuck or frustrated, you can walk away. Coming back to it in minutes, hours, even the next day, you will still have the essentials written down, and may be able to see a fresh take on the dream. Take a look at the dream, and notice which symbols seemed most important to you. For instance, you noticed the room you were in was red. Write that down; make a list of symbols that stood out in your dream. Now look at that list, and think about what each of those symbols means to you. That is the essential part, where dictionaries do not really come in handy. For instance, what does the color red mean to you? Does it remind you of blood? Anger? Having lots of energy? Being happy? Of a dress or shirt you really enjoy(ed) wearing? Write down the meanings that come to mind, then move on to the next symbol and do the same for it. Now go back over your list; what meaning stands out for you for each symbol, the one that feels right? Circle that.
Look back over your circled words or phrases . . . is a general meaning beginning to gel? Here is another level to consider: Johnson suggests everything in a dream represents some part of our Self. You dream your car runs out of gas; it could mean you no longer to have the desire to accomplish something, or maybe you aren’t giving your body the food it needs to be healthy. This is where your personal symbolism is most important. Also figure in what is currently happening in your life, and how this dream may deal with that.
When you first try to understand your dreams it helps to go through each step of this process on paper. After you have done it for a while, you will begin to make the connections more easily, and not need to write all of it. It still helps to write down the original dream, so you can return to it. I have had fresh insights a day later, just by glancing over the dream and noting a detail I had not considered before.
The important thing is to act on what you have learned from the dream. Sometimes our unconscious or Higher Self speaks in whispers, sometimes in shouts, but if we ignore the messages after a while it may give up trying to let us know things. Our dreams can give us insights into daily problems, inspiration for creativity, even warn us about health issues. To nourish that connection, we need to pay attention and then act on what we learn. Dreams are like another sense given us by our bodies and/or Deity, to help us be healthy and grow as human beings. Trying to understand them is no more “mystical” than seeing with your eyes or hearing with your ears. It is using what we have been given. 🙂