It's the same 'ole dichotomy. In this corner, we have the
scientist who focuses on dream stimuli and claims that dreams
have no meaning. In that corner, there is the psychologist who
claims that a focus on stimuli robs the dream of meaning. Why,
oh, why, does it have to be the battle of the either-or?
I believe I need both. Knowing what induces, triggers or
stimulates a dream does not rule out an awareness of
meaning and significance for me. In fact, I don't think that a
method or theory (either stimulus-based or symbol-based) that
ignores the life of the dreamer can be very meaningful. In
order to explain flying dreams, I have come up with a schema
that differentiates between stimulus connection and the sort
of symbolic interpretation that's bereft of connection. It may
seem ironic, but the interpretation of flight needs to be
grounded before it can soar.
First, I present an example of a symbolic interpretation
plucked from a source that doesn't bother to look at the
dreamer's life for correlation. Second, I show what stimulated
the dream. Third, I put daytime event together with dream
stimuli to produce an explanation that includes both.
However, my search for meaning doesn't stop there. For me,
the significance of an event involves its total context: past,
present...and future. I might come up with an interpretation
that satisfies me as I contemplate my dream while curled up in
bed. But it isn't truly significant for me unless it
changes me. It's what I do after I get out of bed
that's the deciding factor. It's the follow-up that provides
the finishing touch.
Here's some examples.
A) Dream: The wind kisses my face as I soar
over the city skyline.
1. Symbolic Interpretation (Freudian):
- A concealed wish for an orgasm. Now, let's talk about
the Oedipus Complex.
- There is little attempt at correlation with a dreamer's
life. In my opinion, the idea that everyone has an Oedipus
Complex or that every flying dream involves a concealed wish
for sex has not been adequately demonstrated. It's a
2. Stimuli: I won $5 in the lottery. Because it was warm
night, I had the fan on.
- Day residue, emotional: My exuberant response to winning
- Current event, tactile: The passage of air over my skin
from the blowing fan.
The still-present echo of exuberation from the day combines
with the nighttime tactile sensation of flowing air to evoke a
picture of soaring, sensual flight. The hypothesis that
emotions and touch influence dreams has been borne out by lab
experimentation and case studies.
Winning small amounts of money gives me a "high," but it's
not one that lasts long or can be counted on to be repeated.
What else can I do that can give me more substantial
exuberance, one that I value "highly"? Like joy?
4. Follow Up:
Emotion plus sensory movement turned out to be a fruitful
avenue of exploration. I came to realize that every time I
finished writing an article, I had a sense of satisfaction
that I could turn it into glee if I ran up the stairs like a
kid. Allowing my Inner Child an opportunity to indulge in that
sort of activity resulted in more flying dreams.
B) Dream: A huge black cat hovers in the air over a
young blonde girl.
1. Symbolic Interpretation (Jungian):
- The Shadow is threatening my Anima. Now, let's go on a
encyclopedic search for examples of Animas and Shadows and
felines throughout mythic history.
- No attempt at correlation with dreamer's life;
2. Stimuli: Several years ago, my car's paint job had been
ruined by the spray that was dropped by helicopters as they
were dusting for med-flies. Today, I sprayed my hair, then
went to play with one of our cats, Endora, who scratched me. I
didn't wash the wound and later wondered about the wound being
infected by either the hair spray or the cat. Endora had been
atop a ledge, peering down on my daughter below. Endora was
preparing to jump because she'd had enough of the two of us
and wanted to escape. I didn't want her to let her go.
- Past visual memory and associated concept: Overflying
helicopters = threat to my car, which protects me like a
skin from a spray.
- Day residue, tactile: Hair spray and scratched skin.
- Day residue, visual: The cat, my daughter and
Pictures from the distant past plus associated concepts are
combined with echoes of daytime events, both tactile and
visual. My dreaming mind often ignores daytime inanimate
objects (like cars and walls) and concentrates on the animate
ones, instead. Thus, animals and people (including me) can
seem to "hover" in my dreams. In this case, the background
prop (the ledge) didn't have enough energy to etch an
impression on my inner picture screen.
I realized that Endora needed some time off from our
overwhelming attention. I value dreams for pointing out
4. Follow-up: The next day, I was more respectful of her
C) Dream: I flew at head level, watching the
scenery go by.
1. Symbolic Interpretation (If This Were My Dream
- "Flew" = "flu" or the feeling of an upset stomach.
- "Head level" = "a level headed response to a dilemma."
- To the members of a dream group, I read a report that
included both my dream and notes on the daytime event that
preceded it. The hypothesis that my dream contained these
particular puns was based solely on their associations
between the dream and daytime event. There was no attempt at
correlation with me (the dreamer).
2. Daytime events: I was a passenger in a car that was
swerving along a winding road. I almost got car-sick until I
opened the window.
- Day residue, tactile (interior): The queasy feeling.
- Day residue, visual: The scenery passing by as I "flew"
down the highway.
I certainly did have the feeling of an upset stomach and
some people in the group claimed that I had a "level-headed"
response to my dilemma. But I had not written, "I flew," I'd
actually written, "I fly," because I always use the present
tense to record a dream. "Fly" was converted to "flew" by the
members of a dream group because, to them, the dream was past
tense. Also, I rarely use the phrase "level headed" in waking
life, and have never applied it to myself. I think the level
of flight above the ground relates directly to the height of
my head as I "flew" down the highway. Once again, an inanimate
object, the car, was left behind when my daytime event was
transposed to dreamspace.
3. Significance: This is the reason why I find the "If this
were my dream" approach to dream interpretation to be so
problematical. It's not the group's dream. It's my
dream. How come they weren't paying attention to me? Why
weren't they asking my opinion and discovering my associations
instead of projecting theirs?
4. Follow-up: At a succeeding meeting, I demonstrated the
"dreamer interview" method of interpretation to the group.
This method does pay attention to the dreamer.
As you can see, symbolic interpretation systems might
acknowledge the underlying stimulus. But more often, they
ignore it in favor of their own theory-story about the overt
imagery. They interpret the "movie" without paying attention
to the dreamer's life or to the dreamer's associations between
dreams and waking life.
Now let's say, just for the sake of argument, that a dream
has nothing to do with a dreamer's waking life. So
whose life does it have to do with? Freud's? Jung's? The other
members of the dream group? Some nebulous something in the sky
or under the sea?
You might contend that I'm being very ego-centric by
linking dreams with my mundane waking life. That I'm ignoring
the larger "meaning" of life. Are you surprised to know that I
agree with you? But probably not for the reason you think.
Contemporary dream theories often act as though they have a
real meaning, a real significance, a real realness. For
instance, Jung would have us treat his theory and the
archetypal attributes of his theory as "real." And not just
real, universally real. That's a pretty powerful claim to
make. But I'd like to point out that it's the waking ego who
speculates and makes this claim. And who gets left in the
lurch? Anybody who lives in the land of the dream, that's
Now, as far as this discussion goes, I don't care if you
think that a dream is a real reality of its own or not. Nor do
I care if you think there are significant others living there.
Contemporary dream theories tend to ignore this possibility.
But what they do acknowledge, even depend on, is that there is
a self in the dream. Granted, it may be an unconscious self,
but it's a self, nonetheless. So, at least one person lives in
the land of dreams: the dreaming self.
My question is very simple: if we want to understand the
meaning of the dream, why don't we consult the dreaming self?
Well, Freud and Jung seem to think that we do. But I think
they confuse states of consciousness.
Jung had plenty of altered state experiences (other than
dreams) in his life and his theory of archetypes basically
comes from that source. Freud suggested that the "meaning" of
dreams could be found by seeking answers in a state between
waking and dreaming. The actual in-the-dream-self is not
supposed to be conscious. As in, poor thing, it has no voice
of its own. We, the great and powerful Oz-egos (and our waking
altered state cohorts), must speak for the dreaming self
because it can't speak for itself. Wanna make a bet?
Well, I can understand that Freud and Jung didn't
understand nor appreciate lucid dreaming; its popularity
didn't spark until after their time. Thus, the idea that you
can become aware enough to ask the dream, to ask dream
characters, questions (like "What does this dream mean?")
wouldn't have occurred to them. But the practice of incubating
a dream has long been known. The practice of consulting the
dream (as an oracle) has been around a long time, too. Jung
and Freud may have retained the latter, but they ignored the
former. I'd like to bring it back.
So here's a formula to consult the dream if you don't have
lucid dreams. You ask a question (like "What does that dream
mean?" or "What's your opinion about my interpretation of that
dream?" or even, "What do you think about this theory of
dreams?"). Then, you wait for a dream to respond. Not
a waking visualization. Not a waking free association. Not
waking automatic writing or channeling. You wait for a
And that way, you can discover that your dreaming self has
her opinions, too. And that they don't necessarily correspond
with Jung's. Or Freud's. Or yours.
Or they might, after a fashion. For instance, I have
discovered that, like me, my dreaming self really enjoys puns.
I don't mean the puns that I discover when I'm awake and
compare dreams with my waking life. I mean that my dreaming
self has made up and pointed out and laughed at puns while I'm
still dreaming. In the land of dreams. Whether I'm lucid or
not. The dream may be mine to manipulate, but it's her life to
live. And life is meaningful, in and of itself.