I’m a lucid dreamer. That means that I dream vividly, and always in color, remember my dreams in great detail, and can sometimes change the action of a dream in real time, or wake up a little and then go back to sleep and pick up the same dream where I left off. I’m often aware that I’m dreaming, and have the same thought processes within the dream as in waking life. I had no idea that this was unusual until I was in my late 30s – I had assumed that when people talked about their dreams, they were all using the same frame of reference.
We all dream, whether we remember them or not. I know people who swear that they “never” dream, but most scientists agree that it’s part of the human sleep experience. And we’re not alone – studies have shown that animals dream as well. Dreaming may even be necessary for the health of our mind and brain. The loss of dreams altogether may occur only after a brain injury. Dreaming has health benefits, such as stress reduction, desensitization of traumatic memories, and enhancement of creativity and problem-solving skills.
Interestingly, there are some common themes to the things that most people dream about. Everyone knows the terror of dreaming (even as an adult) that you’re late for school, then miss the bus, get to class and find you forgot about the test scheduled for that day, and, oh yes, you’re naked. Typical stress dream. Sometimes we dream that we’re with our secret crush, and at long last are in that magical embrace – often waking up to the evidence that the reaction was physiological as well. Wish fulfillment dream. Or just going through a daily routine – maybe trying to resolve issues (or chores) that remained undone at bedtime. And, of course, the wild and crazy moose with an elephant trunk eating the flowers at your doorway while you eat peanut butter out of Jimmy Carter’s tool belt. No explaining those. Don’t judge.
Though there are many theories about what some common dream images mean, I tend to fall back on the ones from the book I literally carried around everywhere as a child (The Dreamer’s Dictionary, Lady Stearn Robinson and Tom Corbett, Warner Books, 1974; since republished numerous times), since they made logical sense to me. Through the years I’ve developed some of my own interpretations, based on my education and experience. Of course, common dream imagery and interpretation varies from culture to culture. Interestingly, common dream images vary widely between areas of the world, with some of the most common being teeth falling out, and snakes. I don’t ever remember ever dreaming about either of those things, but this is coming from someone who has dreamed of moosiphants.
Here are my interpretations of a few more common in my culture:
Dogs: Dogs in a dream signify friends and companions. If you’re dreaming about your pet dog, or just dogs in general, the dog’s demeanor and actions will give you a clue about how you’re seeing the people who are close to you. If the dog is happily joining you or helping you along your way, it’s a suggestion to draw your friends closer to allow them to help with any difficulties you may be having. If the dog is vicious, snarling or frightening in some way, reevaluate your friendships and look around for those who may need to be cut loose. If a dog speaks to you in your dream, take note of what it says, and, if possible, try to remember it and write it down when you wake up. It’s a message with your best interest at heart.
Houses/Buildings: Houses and buildings in a dream signify your current life situation – where you are in life and how it’s changing. Make note of whether the home is a pleasant or uncomfortable place. Is it clean, organized, opulent, warm, welcoming? Large and with lots of beautiful rooms? Things are going well for you right now, and your unconscious is happy with where you are going. Is it haunted, dirty, confusing, scary, dark, cramped, in disrepair? So is your life right now, or at least that’s how you’re seeing it. Find out what’s not working in your life and try to fix it.
Stairs: Whether you’re going up or down is the key here, and the implication is obvious. When you’re going downhill, things are easy, and it’s smooth sailing for an endeavor you’re undertaking. If it’s a hard, sloggy climb uphill, you’re afraid that the task ahead of you is going to be arduous and difficult. But WAIT! Some of us think of things “going downhill” as a bad thing, and “I’m climbing the ladder to my goal” as a good thing. Take note of how you are feeling in the dream, and other aspects of what’s around you as you move up or down on the stairs, especially if the steps get treacherous or there are some treads missing, or a huge drop-off.
Water: Water signifies our emotional side. If you’re swimming along pleasantly, or floating in a warm, comfortable pool, or taking a hot bath with bubbles, a glass of wine, lit scented candles, soft music, you’re feeing relaxed and your emotional life is fulfilling and manageable. If the water is murky, icy cold, turbulent or scary (i.e. full of sharks), or if you’re drowning, it may be time to reach out for some help to manage difficult emotions.
Flight/Activities impossible in waking life: When I was younger, I had a lot of flying dreams, and they were wonderful. I remember reading an article that said if you “set up” a dream during the day before going to sleep, you may be able to get your brain to dream the way you want. The example was “tonight, I fly!,” repeated at various times during the day. Unfortunately, I was never really able to “make” my brain dream what I wanted it to, but it shows how universal the love of dream-flying is. Flying in your dreams, or being able to traverse long distances in an instant, or going through walls, or otherwise performing superhuman feats is a sign that you are pleased and satisfied with the way your life is progressing, and feeling powerful and in charge of your life. The carefree, superhuman feeling of being able to do whatever you want is your unconscious mind telling you to keep doing what you’re doing when you’re awake.
Falling: Do you remember the playground rumor that if you’re dreaming that you’re falling and don’t wake up before you it the ground, you’ll instantly die? I think there may even have been a horror movie (or two) to that effect. Falling in your dreams brings to light a feeling of helplessness or a loss of control over feelings or a situation. It may be your body’s cry for you to find an anchor during your waking hours – someone or something that can help you through that hurtling feeling that you’re not at the helm of your own ship.
Slow Mo/Can’t get there from here: Then there’s that part in the movie Poltergeist when Diane is trying desperately to get to her children’s room and the hallway keeps getting longer and narrower and her legs are lead weights and she just can’t get there fast enough. Wow, can I ever relate to that dream. That scene always gets me in the pit of my stomach – recalling those dreams in which I can’t get away from something scary no matter how hard I try. I also often have dreams in which I’m climbing a mountain and it gets more and more treacherous as I progress, and get to what I think is the top but it isn’t where I wanted to go. Or when you’re on a bicycle and can’t get it moving forward, or your car keeps breaking down, or you realize you’re on the wrong train, or in the wrong classroom for a crucial exam (that you didn’t study for anyway). It’s a sign of being in a situation and looking for a way out that’s moving way slower than you need it to, and you’re feeling stuck. Try to figure out what is vexing you – relationship, job, living arrangement, mindset – and decide whether it’s worth staying. Sometimes the best way to escape something is to face it head on.
Toilet dreams: Don’t be embarrassed – we all have them occasionally, and they’re not as gross as they seem. Aside from those times when you’re desperately looking for a bathroom in your dream and you wake to find that the need is real, using the toilet in a dream is often a metaphor for your need to create. Whether you’re trying to complete a project and you’re blocked up by worry or fear or a lack of self-confidence, or things are moving in a free-flowing relief, it may show up in your subconscious in this way.
Parallel/Past Life dreams: Ok, you knew that eventually I’d get to the weird stuff. But did you ever get the feeling of déjà vu during or after a dream? Have you dreamed of a place that you know – walking through rooms or down streets that are so familiar that you know what’s around the next corner? How about having a dream that seems so incredibly real – a dream that haunts you for the next few days or weeks? Some people believe that we’re sometimes transported back to a previous life in our dreams. Some even think that the places we go to in our dreams are current, parallel lives, and sometimes those two places in the multiverse align to help us work through issues in one or both of those lives that we’re concurrently living – quantum-style. As someone who dreams some real craziness a few times a week, I often think that these undercover processing sessions in my brain serve the purpose of spurring me along on my Spiritual journey.
The Ojibwe people viewed dreaming as an important connection to the spirit world and a route marker for life. They created the dreamcatcher, an item made to catch bad dreams and let good dreams pass through, which was adopted into some other First Nations’ traditions, and eventually became the universal symbol of sweet dreams and protection while sleeping. Although they don’t prevent all nightmares, they may act as a safety net and reassurance that we are insulated from what may happen to us while we’re in our vulnerable slumber. What are some of your common dreams? Feel free to share them and maybe we can come up with an interpretation together!
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