The ancients knew that dreams were important and provide a rich source of information about our inner worlds. By dismissing them as “just dreams”, we can lose touch with the more creative, less conscious part of us that can contain a lot of useful energy. The dream is a lived experience that can come alive through it’s telling.
In a sense we all live in a dream world; we construct our perception of reality according to how we want it to be. Freud believed that in our dreams we got what we wish for. As the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas wrote in his book “The Shadow of an Object”, “we need the inspirational drive of the wish to fuse a multitude of thoughts into the living theatre of the dream”. Sometimes fears, hopes and wishes come alive in hard to read ways through dreams; it can be hard without a companion to decipher them. Through patiently associating to them, sifting through seemingly unimportant elements, the important messages can reveal themselves. Freud believed in a kind of negative capability when it comes to dreams; the freedom and space to associate freely to their images and what aspects remind you of can surprise and delight.
Christopher Bollas wrote that dreams are a kind of grammar of the ego. They reveal how an individual experiences desire or aggression. Just as grammar functions to structure a language, dreams and the way they work can show how someone is in their unconscious imaginative life. What happens in an individual’s recurring dreams are often themes that permeate their waking life too. However in dreams, events don’t come out in the ways that they are experienced when awake. Dreams seem to get the facts wrong but the themes right. If I’m afraid of secrets, I’ll have secrets in my dreams. If I’m afraid of loss, I’ll experience loss in my dream. And if I’m afraid of hurting people I love, I will hurt them all, in all the ways, in all my dreams.
People often report finding it difficult to remember dreams, this improves with practice as well as knowing you have someone to tell them to. They become more significant when you begin to notice repeated themes and symbols. Books on symbolism can be a useful starting point to think about a dream but it is always more useful to think about your own personal and idiosyncratic associations to a symbol. Be careful what you wish for because you may see it in your dreams before it runs away in the cold light of day.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats