Debunking Misunderstandings About Dreaming

Lady

(From Transformational Dreamwork)

I Can Interpret My Dreams

Yes, you can, and you will most likely be embarrassingly wrong. This is because “you” did not create your dream.  Until you listen to the parts of yourself that did, you will probably be mostly projecting your own meanings and biases onto your dreams and pronouncing those to be what they mean.  You can easily test this approach.  Simply take a dream of your choice and come up with your best interpretation.  Write it down.  Then either create a Dream Sociomatrix about the dream, which has the advantage of interviewing a number of characters in the dream, or simply interview one of them.  Compare the answers you get from the characters with your interpretation and see what you find.  If you end up wondering, “How could I have been so wrong?” you are on the right track.  You are beginning to wake up to the fact that you do not know yourself.

Interpretation of your experience is inevitable, so you are going to interpret your dreams.  The question is, “Are your interpretations informed by the preferences and perspectives of those parts of yourself that created the dream or not?”

Dream Characters are Symbols

That dreams are symbolic is one of the oldest, most entrenched, most widely accepted, and most misleading partial truths about dreaming.  We find dream interpretations in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tablets, Egyptian hierglyphics, the temples of Aesclapius in ancient Greece, the writings of the Roman Artimidorus,  works on Hindu and Buddhist dream interpretation, on up until the highly influential writings of Freud and Jung in the 20th century.  A look around the internet today will find the majority of resources on dream content taking a symbolic approach.  People seem to associate broad historical acceptance with truth, but then people had broad historical acceptance of slavery, the minority status of women, and the acceptability of forced child labor until modern times.

Viewing dream images as symbols has certain advantages.  It is an evolutionary improvement over a naive assumption that dreams are literal.  It shifts the emphasis from objective truth to subjective meaning, which is an important step in taking responsibility for one’s own experience.   Then too, a study of the meanings that people have given to common life experiences, whether in dreams or in waking life, as Mircea Eliade did in his classic, Patterns in Comparative Religion, helps to create informed opinions, when they must be offered. However, there exist broader approaches that transcend and include a symbolic approach to dreaming.  These in no way negate the value or importance of symbolic approaches; they merely relativize them so that they become one perspective or strategy among many.  This having been duly noted, here are some of the problems created when dream characters are viewed as symbols:

1) Dream Characters are discounted.  If I say that you, a reader, symbolize certain aspects of myself, such as my receptive, learning aspects, I speak a truth that is both partial and misleading.  This is because I am making your beingness secondary to your function in my life.  What I thereby emphasize is what you represent, not who you are. This is backwards. What is most important about you is your beingness itself, not your function in my life, which is of minor consequence to you.  In fact, it is incredibly narcissistic for me to imagine that your worth is primarily about what you represent to me.  This is exactly what we routinely do to dream characters when we assume that they are symbols or approach them primarily as symbols. This is not to say that dream characters are not symbols or that their presence does not have symbolic significance.  It is to say that if discounting is to be avoided, such realities must be placed within a context that validates the character’s being in itself, independent of its supposed meaning.

2) Projections and secondary interpretations are mistaken for truth.  Projections are assumptions, generally unconscious, that we make about people and things, usually to validate life script assumptions that themselves are typically unconscious.  For example, if I assume that dreams are good, I will find evidence that supports my bias and ignore or rationalize away evidence that threatens it.  If I assume dream spiders are symbols of evil, I will favor interpretations that agree with my own assumptions.

3) Once dreams have to be interpreted, I have to find the right interpretation.  Most people quickly find themselves confused by the plethora of conflicting meanings assigned to almost any dream image.  Is fire purifying or destructive?  Is water healing or murderous?  Which is better, East Indian or American Indian dream interpretation?  Freudian or Jungian?  In the final analysis, the interpretation is yours.  How do you know it is right?  How do you know that it is helpful?  Can you trust yourself to judge whether an interpretation is helpful or merely a sophisticated form of self deception?

4) Approaches that represent a particular perspective are biased toward that perspective. Symbolic approaches are egocentric.  They are centered on the perspective of waking identity, not the perspectives of those other self-aspects that appear in the dream or that created the dream.    When our waking self takes an approach to understanding dreaming that is representative of that waking perspective, it lacks the objectivity necessary to see the whole and to get unstuck.

Dreams are messages designed for you

It should immediately be obvious that this is a very self-centered approach to dreams and dreaming.  You are the center of your universe and everything that goes on in your world is designed for you and for your benefit.  This is a “personal” approach to life.  Personal approaches assume that life is “all about me.”  My self and its interests are what are important.  I structure my reality to validate this assumption.  Of course God wants me to be happy, healthy, and prosperous.  Of course I must take responsibility for everything that happens to me, because in some way I created these experiences.  I dismiss all evidence to the contrary, such as the fact that my body routinely does things that have nothing to do with what I want or at times directly threatens my waking agenda by getting sick and eventually dying.  I dismiss the fact that I am not always happy, healthy, and prosperous despite reading many self-help books, go to positive thinking groups, and think happy thoughts.   That I am not happy, healthy, and prosperous is no fault of God’s; I just haven’t watched The Secret often enough.  I need to read one more self-help book and attend one more life-changing seminar by an inspirational speaker.  That will do it.

It is a blow to our narcissism to think that perhaps our dreams aren’t primarily messages designed for us, that our bodies do not function primarily so that we can achieve our ends, that we are not responsible for everything that happens to us, and that God may have better things to do than to worry about whether we should sell or buy a stock, whether someone is or is not our soulmate, or whether we are sick or healthy.  Consider the possibility that your dreams exist for their own purposes and that those interests are often autonomous and take your interests and concerns into account rarely, if at all.  Consider the possibility that your heart keeps beating whether you want it to or not and that your hormones, white blood cells, amino acids and digestive peptides all function quite well without any consideration whatsoever of your interests.  Consider further that your conscious intervention in their realm is like so much back-seat driving; it only serves to interfere with processes it has no business involving itself in.

You can benefit by paying attention to the interests and needs of those aspects of yourself that you interview.  The assumption is that as you help them meet their needs, as you empathize with their interests, you gain allies in your growth while broadening your own sense of self.  This is a core evolutionary task, and any activity that claims to further it, like Dream Yoga, should be carefully evaluated.

Dreams Require Interpretation

While interpretation is unavoidable, it can be approached in ways that minimize the risks associated with partial or misleading interpretations.  Understanding the four main sources of interpretation is essential to this task.

External sources, such as dream interpretation books, books on comparative cultural symbology, such as  Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbols, by Mircea Eliade, and the writings of brilliant observers like Carl Jung, are quartiary sources of interpretation.  They are the least authoritative because they are the furthest removed from the part of you that knows: the you that created the dream.

While your waking identity must finally be the determining voice that decides what weight to place on all interpretations coming from all sources, in the end it is a tertiary source of interpretation.  This is because it not only did not create the dream; it is generally not privy to the scripts that drive the roles of the individual dream characters.  Therefore, your waking assumptions about the meaning of a dream must always be supposed distorted and misleading if they do not take at least several secondary sources of interpretation into account.

Secondary sources of dream interpretation are those provided by the dream characters themselves.  These include not only the people, animals, places, and natural phenomena in your dreams, but visits by deceased relatives, channeled entities, extraterrestrials, and the like whether in dreams or in other states of consciousness.  As discussed above, at the moment when they are directly experienced they are not symbols; they are authentic beings, just like you, speaking freely their truth, whether or not it agrees with yours.  While dream characters may tell you voluntarily why they are in the dream, it is much more likely that you will need to interview them to discover their interpretations.  Most lamp posts and jars don’t volunteer their interpretations – you have to ask for them. When you combine the interpretations of several of such secondary sources you are much more likely to reach conclusions about the dream (or life experience) that approximate its original intent, although that is forever lost to us and can only be partially reconstructed, much as physicists do with the big bang or paleontologists do with fossil fragments.

The primary source of dream interpretation is always the consciousness that created the dream in the first place.  While it can be interviewed, and routinely is interviewed in Dream Sociometry, it is rarely done so in the regular interviewing questionnaire most commonly used by IDL Practitioners.  This is because Dream Consciousness provides a perspective that tends to be causal and without form. Therefore it is not realistic to expect most people to be able to easily access it.  Even if they do, it is singular; there is no “peer” perspective by which to authenticate its interpretations.  Therefore, the danger is that one becomes Dream Consciousness, the perspective that created the dream, and assumes that they now know the truth of the dream with certainty.  This is generally dangerous and always foolish. The only reason interviewing Dream Consciousness is even attempted in Dream Sociometry is that a number of perspectives have previously been interviewed. Each has the benefit of the perspective of the last, generally creating a growth in breadth and width of perspective which makes the testimony of Dream Consciousness appear more credible, as it generally is even broader and wider than any of the component perspectives.  For example, say you have a dream in which one of the characters is God.  Because Dream Consciousness created the dream, in order to identify with that perspective, you would have to identify with a space that includes and transcends God.  This is not easy for most people to do.  In general, interviewing Dream Consciousness is useful for expanding consciousness but less helpful from an interpretive point of view. This is because Dream Consciousness is so broad, so abstract, that it generally does not have the degree of investment in the practical life issues that are generally the business of dreams that is found in the elaborations of self-aspects.  Therefore, secondary sources of interpretation turn out to be more beneficial than the primary source most of the time.  In conclusion, while interpretations are unavoidable, some have more legitimacy than others and it is well to keep this distinction in mind.

There are personal dream symbols and there are archetypes

Dream archetypes, a popular creation of Carl Jung and one aspect of his theory of genetically inherited cultural images, are a fun way to explore the commonality of roles and symbols among cultures, historical epochs, religions, stages of life, individuals, and dreams. They can also be a useful tool in some types of counseling.  However, the distinction between personal dream characters and archetypes is not supported by the testimony of self-aspects interviewed in Dream Yoga.  This is because this distinction is not innate; it is a distinction made by the waking mind to help it in ways that are largely irrelevant to your self-aspects.  Don’t take our word on this.  Interview your own and draw your own conclusions.

Some dreams are day residue and are relatively meaningless

This is a common and ancient misperception about dreaming.  It is based on the assumption that your waking perspective is the true and valid vantage point from which to evaluate a dream when in fact it is not only one of many valid point of view but typically the least reliable of all interior (primary, secondary, and tertiary) perspectives.  This distinction between meaningless and meaningful dreams is an assumption.  You do not know if it is correct or not until you interview one or more “meaningless” characters from several “meaningless” bits of day residue.  For example, one person dreamed about being sucked up in a tornado.  She woke up and thought, “I know what that’s about!  I was watching The Wizard of Oz last night!  Then she interviewed the tornado, which proceeded to tell her that she was getting caught up in the turmoil of her daily life and forgetting to stay centered in the “eye of the storm” of her life by meditating. She came away believing that the dream was not about The Wizard of Oz and that it had a profound and spiritual message for her life.

It is in your best interest if you take a phenomenological perspective toward the relative meaningfulness of any dream.  Suspend all assumptions about the relative meaningfulness of any and every dream and any and every dream character until you have done some interviewing.  To do less is to pontificate and to perpetuate myths about the relative value of types of dreams, views that are based on ignorance.

Some dreams are more spiritual than others

Some people get in the habit of only paying attention to dreams that have Jesus or Bodhisattvas or white light experiences, or concrete life instructions in them.  They assume that if the theme of a dream doesn’t appear to be spiritual then it isn’t. If a dream theme does appear to be spiritual, they assume that it is a spiritual dream.  Dreams and visions that have spiritual figures in them tend to be more dangerous than mundane ones, because they reinforce our limited waking biases and misperceptions about life.  An excellent example of this is Saul on the road to Damascus.  He got knocked to the ground and temporarily blinded, says the Book of Acts, in the New Testament,

when he saw a bright light and heard Jesus say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Because he took this as an external event and never considered how his own mind might have played a role in generating it, he became a zealot, creating a new religion, “Christianity,” that had little relationship with the teachings of Jesus himself.  In other words, because he lacked the background and the tools, he totally misunderstood the message, with huge consequences for the world that continue to reverberate today.

Beware of any system that claims to be able to tell you what dreams are spiritual and which are relatively mundane.  You cannot know, they cannot know, until at least some of the characters in the dream are interviewed.  When this is done, you will discover for yourself that there are just as many spiritual self-aspects in “mundane” dreams as there are in “spiritual” ones.

Dreamwork needs to be based on theories about dreaming

Jeremy Taylor, a well-known authority on Jungian dream work, postulates five basic assumptions about dreams: 1) that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness; 2) that no dream comes simply to tell the dreamer what he or she already knows; 3) that only the dreamer can say with certainty what meanings a dream may hold; 4) that there is no such thing as a dream with only one meaning; and 5) that all dreams speak a universal language, a language of metaphor and symbol.  Taylor and I share a belief that regardless of the actual intent of a dream, it is in our best interest to assume that there is some benefit to be gained by looking at that. To do otherwise is to never look in the first place.  The emphasis for Taylor is on meaning, symbol, and the dreamer as both the recipient of the meaning and the final judge of its meaning.  Dream Yoga focuses on multiple perspectives and multiple meanings that coexist.  One common indicator of maturity is the ability of a person to entertain several conflicting perspectives at the same time.  Such a perspective would hold that the dreamer is never able to say with certainty what meanings a dream may hold. This is because those meanings are not within the dream; they are projected upon it by the dreamer.  However, a dreamer can always say with certainty what meanings he or she holds.  These are called biases and prejudices in Sunday clothes, and the sooner that one recognizes them the more likely they are to be able to see beyond them.  Self aspects say nothing about a universal language of metaphor or symbol.  This is a projection, and one that has demonstrated a remarkable survivability.

IDL is itself based on a theoretical foundation, a theory that tells us to defer to the interpretations and feedback provided by those sources most likely to know:  the characters in the dream. While familiarity with different theories can help guide dreamwork, it should primarily be directed by the advice of interviewed self-aspects in consultation with your waking identity and respected quarternary resources.

Dreams require analysis

It is said that the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung in his lifetime analyzed over 80,000 dreams. During analysis, Jung kept asking the dreamer, “What does the dream say?”  Both these statements assume that dreams require analyzing. More than that, they assume that the dreamer is the appropriate and best source to go to for information about the dream.  But, of course, the dreamer is one character within the dream, a subset of the set which created the dream.  Asking the dreamer about the meaning of a dream is like asking a flatworm to describe three dimensional reality.   Don’t be surprised or disappointed when you get the two-dimensional response reflective of a flatworm’s reality.   What requires analysis are the responses of interviewed self-aspects and their patterns of interdependent co-origination as revealed in the Dream Sociogram.  Beyond analysis, it takes work to tie these findings back into daily life in a practical and measurable way.  This is the test that changes dreamwork from a parlor game for the intellectually curious or those charged with fear or hope.  It differentiates a post-prepersonal dreamwork from a prepersonal variety while laying the necessary foundation that is required if a truly transpersonal dreamwork is to be attained.

“I will innately know what my dreams mean.”

While you will grow in wisdom as well as other core spiritual qualities, your understanding of your dreams will always be only one perspective of many on the dream.  Other aspects of yourself will always provide other perspectives on a dreaming whole that by its nature is greater than your waking perspective.  Therefore while you may come up with more satisfying meanings for your dreams you will never incorporate those into your waking perspective until and unless you interview a representative cross-section of characters in the dream.   New dreams that come will always transcend and include your waking perspective, causing them to be inherently beyond your waking ability to grasp their meaning prior to interviewing.

“I will become lucid in my dreams.”

Expect that as you wake up you will become lucid more often in your dreams and that you may even choose to remember more of them.   Expect also that you will never become completely lucid in your dreams, because to do so would mean the end of evolution. It would mean that you were totally awake and aware.  Lucidity is about both frequency and degree.  If you interview extremely talented lucid dreamers you will find that they rarely remember a lucid dream every night, although some remember two or three in one night on occasion.  Remember that the average person dreams two and a half hours every night, which means that very, very good lucid dreamers are still spending a small percentage of their time lucid.  You will also find that experienced lucid dreamers are often themselves working on becoming more lucid, that there are forms of lucidity that they have not yet mastered.

“I will stop dreaming.”

This myth assumes that because dreaming is obviously a series of self-created illusions based on delusional thinking (that we are awake when we are not and that we are experiencing objective, rather than a self-created reality), that as we awaken that dreaming must therefore either stop (when we become enlightened) or change into something non-illusory and non-delusional.   The problem with this idea is that it assumes that illusions, delusions, and self-deception is a bad thing and something that we should and can outgrow.  A more realistic view is that we will always be embedded in contexts that are relatively illusory and in which our waking perspectives are relatively delusional.  Therefore, as long as broader contexts exist, you will always continue dreaming.  Those who believe that it is possible to outgrow all contexts carry the burden of proof.  They need to be able to show how outgrowing one context is the same as outgrowing all contexts.  The simple answer is that they cannot; they have simply confused an experience of outgrowing one context with outgrowing them all.

“I will have dreams of receiving teachings from masters.”

Most everybody on a spiritual path has dreams of receiving teachings from masters from time to time.  Even those who are not consciously on a spiritual path can have such dreams.  If you ask experienced meditators about their dreams you will find that they have many other types of dreams, (although they may report that they only remember such dreams).  It is indeed possible to so convince yourself that those are the only types of dreams that you should be having that you repress memories of any other sort.  That would be a pity, because dreams of tragedy, monsters, and fear often turn out to be the master teachers.

“I will no longer have nightmares or bad dreams.”

This is wishful thinking.  It is about attempting to make over dream reality into your waking vision of what reality as a whole should look like.  Because illusion and delusion are built into the structure of human development, so is the Drama Triangle.  This means that you will never outgrow your need to experience dreams in which you are playing the roles of victim, rescuer, and persecutor. Your challenge is to become mature enough to understand that this is a good thing.

“I will no longer have mundane or senseless dreams.”

As you evolve spiritually you will learn that you lack the ability to judge what is and is not a mundane or senseless dream.  You will learn to suspend such biases in favor of listening to whatever is present.  The result is that you will slowly become convinced that there is no such thing as a senseless or mundane dream, that such conclusions only reflect your waking perspective.

“I will know what my dreams mean while I am dreaming them.”

This is your basic problem.  You already think you know what the dream of your life means while you are dreaming it.  You already are sure what your dream means while you are dreaming it.  For instance, you are sure that the ground under your feet has nothing to tell you.  You are sure that your house burning down is a bad thing.  You are sure that the Evil Ghost wants to hurt you.  Integral Deep Listening demonstrates that people do not know what their dreams mean, even if they have been meditating for decades, and that the assumptions that they make while they are dreaming about what is happening to them and how they should respond are generally mistaken as well.

“I won’t be confused, scared, or sad in my dreams anymore.”

This would be a pity, as it would be to live in a monochrome dream universe in which there only exists light but no darkness.  It is as if you were to say, “I will only see the bright and happy colors of the spectrum.  I will no longer see the muddy shadings of colors.”  What is much more likely to occur is that you will learn to look forward to and celebrate such feelings in your dreams because they indicate a major growth opportunity for you.  Instead of wanting them to go away you will grow into a respect for how necessary they are for your continued evolution.

“I will do miraculous things.”

Since you have already most likely flown in your dreams and survived deadly falls, you have already done miraculous things in your dreams.  So what?  Doing miraculous things in your dreams signifies…what?  Miraculous dream events mostly serve the purpose of inflating your ego and your delusion that you really are a special, unique, and spiritual person.  The only problem is that if you interview the crabgrass in your dream you will probably find that it is special, unique, and spiritual, too.

“I will be meditating all the time in my dreams.”

Self-aspects are supportive of meditation anytime, whether in dreams or otherwise.  Meditating in the face of danger or fear is an excellent choice.  However, once this ability is mastered, the ideal response will not be to sit in meditation all the time in your dreams but to experience dream events within and from a meditative consciousness.  Such consciousnesses themselves evolve, expressing more of the six core qualities and bringing more of a sense of abundance, joyful absurdity, and luminosity into your dream experience.

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