As a young Psychology student in college, I was taught that researchers still don't really understand dreams, but the predominant theory was that they're just how your brain processes information from the day - tossing out what's useless and keeping the knowledge you'll need in order to function tomorrow. No hidden meanings, no prophetic qualities - just an overnight update like the one your computer makes.
I felt sad and conflicted to learn this, and yet, I believed it for a very long time. I'd have dreams and hardly even pay attention to them because I figured that they were just nonsense.
That's unfortunate, because I think I could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache had I paid attention to this vast resource that we have access to every night.
I don't believe that every dream I have holds some major "aha!" moment, but for me, it's this amazingly easy, simple way to stay aware of what's going on for me at a level below my consciousness.
Carl Jung, one of the most incredible thinkers (and feelers) of our time, believed that dreams were the process by which you become conscious of unconscious thoughts and feelings. He taught that dreams reveal much more than they conceal, and that their interpretation is highly personal - no one can tell you what your dream does or doesn't mean for you.
I think this is why we've poo-pooed dreams in our modern culture. Since we couldn't categorize, measure, and standardize their meanings, we tossed them aside as neurological waste.
That's nonsense, and I believe it's high time we included dreams in our personal and professional development work.
Since I've reconnected with my own dream life, I've been able to understand personal changes I'm going through, have gained insight into my business, and have been able to process old pain that was keeping me stuck, all of which is pretty amazing.
At this point, I should note that for some people, dreams just don't really resonate with them, or they never remember their dreams when they wake up. That's totally fine, and those people have other ways to access their subconscious, intuitive sides. Jung taught that even if we don't remember our dreams, they're still working their magic and helping us become aware of what's going on beneath the surface.
If you're curious about the dreams you have and are wondering how you can start tapping into their wisdom (your wisdom), I've got one trick that I've found incredibly helpful.
The technique is attributed to Carl Jung's dream analysis method, but I wasn't able to find any hard evidence of that online (fear not: I've reserved almost all of his books at the library and will let you know what I find out later). Luckily, papa Jung encouraged people to just figure it out on their own and not overthink this, so here goes:
My version of a "cut to the heart of the symbolism in your dream" analysis technique:
Step one: When you wake up from a dream, it's helpful to do something that solidifies it in your consciousness since so often we fall back asleep or go about our day and forget the details that were so vivid while we were sleeping. Some people write in a dream journal that they keep by their bed, put a note in their phone, or just try to remember it once they're awake. Do whatever feels easy and light to you.
Step two: As you remember the dream, take any symbol or character from it (it can be a person, animal, stone - whatever interests you) and pretend you are that symbol.
As you take on that symbol's persona, pretend that symbol has a message for you, the dreamer. What does this symbol want you to know? What does the symbol say? What is that symbol trying to make you aware of?
That's it. That's the trick. And it's revolutionized the way I understand my dreams.
I'll give you an example that helped me understand where I was getting stuck in my business:
A few months ago, I had a dream that I was in charge of a downtown revitalization project, and one of the larger art pieces for the downtown square was an iron sculpture of an Orca whale. I watched sadly as workers welded on its rusty fins and tried to make it appear alive and majestic even though it was a sorry representation of the whale's true beauty in its natural state.
That was basically it - the rest didn't really feel important to me, so when I woke up, I just focused on that image of the steel Orca and how sad it made me feel (we don't have to conduct a 5-hour analysis on our dreams, we can just take the snippets that really speak to us).
As I sat remembering the dream, I pretended to be that iron Orca. I pretended it had a message for me, and the message came through clearly: the Orca represented my worklife, and while it wanted to be wild and alive, it was becoming a mechanical, stiff shadow of its real nature.
Message received: it was time to loosen the reins, step aside, and stop trying to force my career into a small, lifeless box. This totally resonated with me at the time, and it was exactly what I needed to be made aware of.
Now, on another day, maybe the Orca would have meant something different to me. Maybe Orcas represent something else entirely to you. And that's all fine and well. You can scoff at this entire idea - part of me does sometimes, too - it goes against what we've been taught about external, "objective" truths, and it can feel silly to try and bring our dreamlives into the professional arena.
But give it a try - even if it's just once. Play around with analyzing a part of a dream you had and see what you find.
Learning how to remember and interpret your dreams is a skill, but it's not one you need to fret over or feel any sense of "not good enough" about.
Your dreamlife is yours, and it's simply a resource that's available to you if you want to tap into it. It will always be there, and if you can just be soft and playful with it, you'll gain the insights your consciousness needs. Trust yourself with this process - whatever feels like the right interpretation is the right interpretation...with one big caveat:
The right interpretation, the one stemming from your intuition, will feel good - it will feel peaceful, clarifying, and calming, even if you get the sense that you need to make some changes, like I did with my Orca dream. Interpretations that make you feel afraid, bad about yourself, or fearful are coming from your ego - the part of you that hates any kind of change.
So trust the sense you're getting, but try to make sure it's from your growth-oriented deeper self, not the fearful part of you that wants to stay exactly who and where you are forever.
I hope you'll give this a try if it fits for you, and I would love, love, LOVE to hear from you if you gain any insights about your career by using this technique!