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Your brain's eccentric sleep stories say a lot about you. Sometimes.
by Alicia Kania
April 26, 2016 at 10:35 am
We’ve all had those mornings.
You wake up, flip off your alarm clock, brush your nasty morning-breath teeth, un-hex the cat, eat breakfast if you’re one of those people with your shit together, listen to the ravens singing or whatever. AH, MORNING.
And then, somewhere in there, it hits you. Maybe you’re washing your face. Maybe you’re getting dressed. Maybe you’re already climbing onto the ol’ broomstick. But you remember: I had the weirdest/coolest/sexiest fucking dream EVER.
A dream like that stays with you all day, and maybe for weeks to come. You might even tell someone about it, and that someone should be me, because DREAMS ARE MY JAM. I’m the friend who wants to hear every detail about your dream. I mean, no offense to your real life, but given a choice between an update on your mold problem or a dream where you went roller skating with Beyoncé on the moon, MY MIND IS MADE UP.
I see dreams as weird stories my brain weaves out of miscellaneous bits of information while I’m sleeping, and for more insight into where those stories come from, and why those particular bits were chosen, I turn to dream interpretation.
This is the part where I tell you that it’s easy! And anyone can do it! And it’s true: you need no qualifications to interpret your dreams. You just have to remember a dream and then have at least a slight interest in exploring the possible meaning behind it. (Now I’m imagining Dream Experts scoffing at me. “How dare she claim that no qualifications are needed!” I’m not ignoring that there are people who are much more knowledgeable about this topic, just that anyone with a casual interest in dreams has access to resources that can help them gain further insight! Are we cool, Dream Experts?!)
I most regularly use DreamMoods.com to facilitate my interpretation, and it even offers a handy phone app that keeps track of the symbols you look up. One thing I really like about Dream Moods is that it interprets the symbols as representations of your current life, whereas most of the published dream dictionaries I’ve encountered treat the symbols as advice for the future.
I don’t mean to say dream interp can’t be predictive or spiritual—analyzing your dreams will be exactly as spiritual as you’d like it to be—but I tend to lean toward a more “scientific” understanding of dreams. I see them as my brain’s way of processing information it has gathered, and I’m fascinated by how that process manifests itself while I’m sleeping. I’m not inclined to see dreams as prophesies or omens, but they can certainly be reflections of how I’m feeling. Of course, that doesn’t mean the published dictionaries aren’t useful to me—if a dream guide describes something as “a good omen,” I could interpret that as “I’m feeling optimistic,” rather than taking it literally.
Now, you may be wondering, “How can any dictionary tell me what a symbol really means?” And the simple answer is that it can’t! It’s important to consider the analysis as just one possible explanation for the dream. Only you know for sure what a specific location, object, or person truly means to you. For that reason, I don’t consider all dreams (or all aspects of a dream) open to interpretation—many can be taken at face value, such as dreams about being at work or hunting for a toilet or, I don’t know, kissing a dreamy celebrity?
Let’s say, just as a totally hypothetical example, that I had a dream where Mads Mikkelsen asked me if I wanted to go to Whataburger. This is what I’d consider a “brain gift,” or a really pleasant dream that makes me smile all day. Hypothetically! I already know that I have positive feelings about both Mads and Whataburger, so I don’t need to analyze those aspects of this dream. However, if we happened to be in a crowded lecture hall at the time—OKAY FINE, IT WAS A REAL DREAM, YOU CAUGHT ME—I might still look up the entries for “lecture hall” and “classroom” and “crowd” to see what was going on in the background of that beautiful brain gift. (For the curious, it seems likely that this dream was a reflection of my perceived “self-discovery” via the Hannibal fandom . . . which is honestly more embarrassing than the dream itself, oh god.)
On the flip side, if a dream feels totally random, it can work really well for interpretation. I once had a dream that film negatives floated to me in a swimming pool, and when I picked them up, I recognized the people in the photos as some friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. That dream is loaded with symbols—water, swimming, film, photographs, old friends—and, at the time, the interpretation (that I was attempting to cleanse myself of past emotions, yet still preoccupied with old relationships) rang true for me.
Now for the fun part: Let’s try an example analysis. As mentioned before, I’m going to use Dream Moods, but I encourage you to explore multiple outlets to find one that best suits you.
Step 1: Write Out the Dream
Even if interpretation turns out not to be your thing, I highly recommend recording your dreams somewhere, if for no other reason than reading them later on can be incredible. When I re-read the dream entries I made years ago and marvel at the forgotten details, I wonder about all the dreams I never bothered to write down. Write the dreams in a place you have easy access to, such as a Google doc, tumblr sideblog, personal notebook, actual dream journal, etc. Don’t worry about your writing style, grammar, or making sense. Just write down everything you remember about the dream. (If writing your dreams is an intolerable task, at least recall as many details as you can and make a quick list of things you remember seeing/doing.)
For this analysis, I’m going to use one of my own favorite dreams:
I’m invited to a wedding on a space station. This space station has an exact replica of Earth gravity just like in movies. While I’m there, I realize the bride looks like Taylor Swift. At one point on the space station, I look out the window and can’t believe I’m looking into space. I take pictures of space through the window. When I get back to Earth, my mom picks me up at the rocket launch site (looks like a small airport), and as we’re driving home, I ask her if she wants to see my pictures of space. She says, “Not right now, Alicia.”
As you certainly noticed, this dream was rad as hell. Of course, the dreams you interpret can be anywhere on the ridiculousness scale, from ridiculously cool to ridiculously not cool. Regardless, any dream that makes you go, “Wait a minute, brain, what even?” is a great place to start.
Step 2: Identify the Significant Symbols
This is the part where you want to “customize” or tailor the analysis to yourself and your experiences. For instance, if mermaids were featured prominently in my dream, I might not need to interpret that symbol, since I spend loads of time thinking about mermaids in my daily life. (Also, full disclosure, I am one.) On the other hand, if I dreamed about fish, I would definitely look that up, since fish don’t have any particular personal connotations for me. It’s all about you and which symbols/moments stand out in your mind.
In this instance, the following symbols stand out to me:
- Space (I do have positive feelings about space, but let’s see how this goes!)
- Space Station
- Taylor Swift
Step 3: Define and Refine Your Symbols
This is the really fun part, because you get to imagine yourself as part of a RESEARCH MONTAGE of furious typing, book pages flying, and wild scribbling against intense and/or mysterious background music. OR MAYBE THAT’S JUST ME.
Start checking each of your dream symbols in the dream dictionary of your choice. As mentioned before, I like to use Dream Moods, but try exploring and finding the best resource for you. If dream interp is something you view as spiritual, or if you see your dreams as potentially prophetic, there are many published dictionaries that may suit you better than the site I use.
During this part, you may find that one of the symbols brings up a description that is very much in contrast to your experience with that symbol. In that case, I suggest trying an alternate option. For instance, if you dream of your beloved pet snake, the entry for “Snake” might not fit as well as simply “Pet.”
Applicable portions of the descriptions for these symbols have been excerpted from DreamMoods.com:
To see or attend a wedding in your dream symbolizes a new beginning or transition in your current life. A wedding reflects your issues about commitment and independence. Alternatively, your wedding dream refers to feelings of bitterness, sorrow, or death. Such dreams are often negative and highlight some anxiety or fear. . . . If you dream that you are attending a wedding, consider how you feel at the wedding. If you are upset or sad, then it means that you are unhappy about the current status of your life. If you are happy, then you are embracing a new change in your life.
To dream of outer space represents your boundless creativity. Alternatively, the dream may be a metaphor that something or someone has just came out of nowhere. . . . To see or dream that you are in space represents exploration and independent thinking. You are broadening your horizons and view. Alternatively, the dream may be a metaphor that you are “spacing out”. You need to return your concentration back on your future and goals. Or the dream may be a pun on your need for more “space” in a relationship or situation.
- Space Station Spaceship
To see a spaceship in your dream symbolizes your creative mind. It denotes a spiritual journey into the unknown and signals self-development and self-awareness. Alternatively, the dream suggests that you need to take on a different perspective, no matter how bizarre or unusual it may be.
- Taylor Swift Celebrity
To see a celebrity in your dream represents your beliefs and understanding about her or him. Consider what the celebrity is famous or known for and how you relate to that quality. Something in you waking life has triggered these similar beliefs and feelings. It is not uncommon that your obsession with a certain celebrity may carry over onto your dream world. Celebrities are often seen as heroes and all that is mighty. Also consider any puns within the name.
To see a camera in your dream signifies your desires to cling on and/or live in the past. Alternatively, it may indicate that you need to focus on a particular situation. Perhaps you need to get a clearer picture or idea.
To dream that you are taking a picture suggests that you need to focus more attention on some situation or relationship. Perhaps, you feel that you need to recapture some past moments in a relationship. Alternatively, taking a picture refers to your desires to hold onto a certain moment in your life. If you are trying to take a picture, but people are standing in your way, then it means that outside influences are not letting you focus on your goals and what you really need to do.
To see your mother in your dream represents the nurturing aspect of your own character. Mothers offer shelter, comfort, life, guidance and protection. Some people may have problems freeing themselves from their mothers and are thus seeking their own individuality and development. . . . To dream that you are having a conversation with your mother denotes a matter that has preoccupied your mind and you are not sure how to deal with it in your waking life. It indicates unresolved problems that need to be worked out with your mother.
To dream that you are traveling represents the path toward your life goals. It also parallels your daily routine and how you are progressing along. Alternatively, traveling signifies a desire to escape from your daily burdens. You are looking for a change in scenery, where no one has any expectations of you. Perhaps it is time to make a fresh start.
Step 4: Interpret Your Weird Subconscious Collage!
Here’s where it all comes together. You have your list of symbols and their respective meanings. What’s the “big picture” that you can discover by putting them together? Are you able to draw various possible conclusions? (Hint: Probably, yes.) If so, which one rings most true for your life at the moment? And how can you use these insights moving forward?
One drawback of interpreting my old dream is that I can’t really apply it to my current situation. (It also happened years before the song Wildest Dreams existed, so that’s not a fun coincidence.) Still, here’s what I glean from the symbols above:
I’m ready to embrace new changes in my life, which are possibly unexpected. I also feel that my creativity is a great tool I have to my advantage, and/or that I may need to consider alternate ways of thinking about my current situation. Since I honestly have no strong feelings about Taylor Swift, her name could be my brain’s sneaky metaphor for some “swift” changes in my waking life. (Also, it’s worth noting that the bride looked like her, but may not have actually been her, so I might consider this my brain’s way of throwing a familiar face onto a random person and take this aspect of the dream with a grain of salt.) I have a tendency to focus on the past, or certain memories (extremely true!), and I may need to pay closer attention to details. I may also need to strive to be more independent and break away from my comfort zone as my adult life unfolds.
Even now, years after that dream, I can tell you that this interpretation rings very true. It’s so fun to see how well a weird, fun little brain story can yield itself to better understanding the things that get your gears turning.
So, what are you waiting for? That weird-ass roller-skating moon dream isn’t going to interpret itself. Get crackin’, and have fun!
Oh . . . and tell me all about it!