With most dreams, you have to use everything you’ve got: your analytical ability, your experience of the world, your general feeling of reality, your best understanding of the workings of the unconscious mind, whatever knowledge of symbolism you have, and more than anything your intuition. And beyond all that, you have to try to get to know the dreamer, yourself if that’s who it is.
For most of my life, the great majority of my dreams have consisted of surreal adventures into strange situations. Most have taken place in the country, surrounded by forests, valleys, sky, odd houses, small villages. I’ve always been amazed by the beautiful colour in them, the detail of the leaves in the trees, their shimmering movement, the feeling of walking through them. I grew up on a farm, so all this makes sense. Even after living out the bulk of my life in cities, I still feel like a farm boy. An outsider in the city. In my dreams, I've sometimes found myself walking into a city, or into city-like buildings, and they would always be strange and surreal, as would the few people I would meet, or pass, in them.
I assumed dreams worked like this for everyone. Until, in my enthusiasm, I started asking people to tell me their dreams. Here’s how it went with three of those people:
One good friend, a very bright, very practical guy who worked for many years as a tree planter, and who built by hand a beautiful house for himself out in the forest, insisted that none of his dreams contained symbols. None. He said there was no way you could find a symbol for anything in any of them. Most of his dreams were forests, literally. He would be moving through a forest, which consisted of trees, undergrowth, ground, air, and some sky. Period. I had a hard time believing him. I assumed he was just being difficult for some reason. But I stored it away.
A woman I met at one of the few parties I’ve ever gone to had just the opposite kind of dream. She said that every single object in her dreams meant something. You just had to search it out. No doubt she was exaggerating. Or was looking too hard. In my own dreams, situations might be symbolic, and a few objects, but not every one. And not even every situation. Or every dream. I pushed this woman pretty hard on the problem and she refused to budge. Later I heard her mention that there was nothing coincidental in life. That every person had a destiny, a fate.
Another woman described to me in loving detail a long dream that was very obviously full of symbolism. She walked across a little bridge. Over a bubbling stream. Stepped into lush grass and flowers. Saw something sparkle in it. Reached down and lifted out a skull. Which was black. It had writing around it in some strange language she couldn’t read. The language looked very old. As she held the skull up in the sunlight a beam lifted out of it straight up into the sky. She was transfixed. And woke up. She was desperate to know what it meant. Felt it would change her life. I puzzled over it for the longest time. How could I not see what it was saying? It was obviously a symbolic story, saying something to her. But what?! Finally I gave up and told her I just couldn’t figure it out.
Some time later, the answer dawned on me. I was remembering her instead of the dream. She was a hippie. I mean, this was long after the 60's. But she was still in love with mysticism, wiccah, magic, new age philosophy, deep feelings, the oneness of everything, the wisdom of the ancients, and so on. Aha! Her dream didn’t have any symbolism at all, in itself; it was just an expression of her love of mystical symbolism. It simply was providing her with the landscape she loved and could relate to.
And then I thought about the other people. The woman who believed that everything in life was put there for some reason had dreams in which everything really did have purpose and meaning. Everything. And the guy who just believed in what he saw had dreams which contained only what he saw. I, who loved to analyze and puzzle over things until I came up with an understanding (as I’m doing here in this posting about dreams) had dreams which contained situations that were understandable but only after if I really applied myself to them.
So the answer is that dreams are only a reflection of one’s outlook, one’s world view.
You don’t look to your dreams to understand your life. You look to your life to understand your dreams.
And then, if you’ve really been ignoring your life as hard as you can, which is the case with many of us, you can go the one step further and look to your dreams to understand your life which explains your dreams.
At any rate, it works that way for me. My dreams have always showed me to be calm and comfortable only by myself out in nature. I could have learned about this extremity in myself if I had really wanted to. Yet most of my life I’ve worked hard at ignoring my painful shyness, even while analyzing the dreams that were telling me about it. Instead of looking at my shyness, I would accuse myself of weakness, try to strengthen myself in artificial ways, which never worked, or just distract myself from everything.
But finally, approaching old age, I looked myself squarely in the eyes and decided to tackle shyness the only way it can be tackled, by moving toward people instead of always fleeing from them. The result presented itself to me very obviously in my dreams. After some months of social organizing, getting London Open Mic Poetry Night going, which consisted to a large degree of communicating with people, then people started showing up in my dreams. Suddenly I noticed that every single dream I woke with contained people, nearly all with two or more, each beautifully detailed, looking nice now, not surreal and weird, and all talking. Discussing. Figuring out things together. We're near the end of Season Two now. So that's dreams full of people for at least a year and a half. A lot of socializing.
Just this morning, for instance, I stopped in front of one of the city’s old buildings and turned around to look at the square in front of me, at the stonework lit yellow in the early evening light. I looked up at the sky, such a beautiful colour, subtly different than I had ever seen before. There were two men standing there beside me. I said, “The colour of the sky is very nice here.” The man nearest me said, “They call it ‘Arctic Star’.” I leaned my bicycle against the wall and thought that yes, then I was right, the sky here does have a special colour. And, as I was beginning to wake, I thought that since their special sky-colour was called ‘Arctic Star’ I must be in a northern European city. Yet the old square in the evening sun looked like maybe a street in Rome. He said, looking up, “It has a special hint of orange.” I thought that’s odd. To me it had seemed to have a hint of pink, not orange. I looked back up at it and thought, why does he see any colour in it at all? It’s practically dark now. As I woke, the sky in that big square of nature above the city seemed surreal, shifting, quickly becoming black with maybe some stars. It was tilting, changing.