Department of English

Fall 2011 Edition

In My Wildest Dreams: Insightful Messages

Tonya Stratton
Argumentative 2010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Julie Combs

A few weeks after her grandfather died, Jennifer Lambert had a dream. In her dream, her grandfather visited her at home. She recalls being so excited to see him that she ran to him and hugged him tight. His first words to her were, “Don’t be angry with your sister anymore.” When she awoke, she cried for 30 minutes. At the time, she and her sister couldn’t be in the same room together. Calling her sister a few days after the dream, she told her that she felt bad about how neglected their relationship had become. She expressed a desire to have a relationship like their mother and aunt always had. She said that things have been better since that dream and that phone call. Jennifer found both clarity and courage in her dream to fix the relationship with her sister (Howard, 2011, p.116). This ability isn’t unique to people like Jennifer. Dreams can be the brain’s way of clarifying what is really important to us and can give us courage to improve matters (Howard, 2011). Dreams can be messages from the subconscious that can help to clarify daily problems and innovations, to heal emotional stress and trauma, and to examine true thoughts and feelings.

Everyone dreams. Some people don’t recall their dreams and assume that they didn’t dream. The reality is that everyone dreams. It could be that a person who can’t remember any dreams is unmotivated to recall them. Reed (1978) believed that when a person is more motivated to remember dreams, he or she will remember more dreams and in greater detail. Incentives for remembering dreams vary. Each person has his or her own reasons for wanting to remember dreams. Some may only wish to be entertained by them, while others are looking for deeper meanings behind the images.

Throughout history, a variety of people and cultures have used dream interpretations. All the Aboriginal societies in Australia believe that dreams are of significant importance. They believe that dreams come from external sources like deceased relatives, spirit beings, and ancestral figures (Glaskin, 2005). Like the Aboriginal people, other diverse peoples such as Mexican villagers, Haitian peasants, Zulu tribe members, and Moroccan Arabs also believe that dreams are received from external sources containing messages from spirits who can predict the future (Robbins & Tanak, 1991). Over time, this belief has slowly changed. As recorded in an article titled “Theories of Dreams Held by American College Students,” Robbins and Tanak (1991) surveyed American college students to measure their beliefs about what is the purpose of dreams. The majority, 91% of students surveyed, believed that dreams are related to the events of the day preceding the dream or events of the recent past. Of the students surveyed, 63% believed that dreams help the dreamer to work through problems. Only 17% believed that dreams can predict the future. A low 6% believed that dreams were messages from an external source. This study suggests that American students have fairly sophisticated ideas about the meanings of dreams. Their theories relate closely to leading dream theorists’ current views. Though the reasons to interpret dreams have changed over time, people looking to dreams for clarity of personal issues continues.

As early as biblical times, records show that kings, pharaohs, and common people also used dream analysis. Dreams were believed to be messages from their God or predictors of the future. Men who claimed to interpret dreams were in high demand (Gregory, 1999). People then didn’t think they could self-analyze their dreams. Over time, this belief has changed. Now, a person can use a dream dictionary, either in print or online, to find meanings to their dreams. This technique brings the dreamer the most direct meaning of a dream image (Jennings, 2007). Most experts agree that the details of a dream are symbolic of greater meaning. They argue over whether these details are disguised or not. Many experts believe that dream dictionaries are not necessary for meaningful analysis to occur. They feel that dreams simply need further study by the dreamer to link the dream content to their waking life (Jennings, 2007; Pesant & Zandra, 2006; Reed, 1978; Syboda 2009).

Several experts suggest keeping dream journals to help retain dream details. They advise that upon waking, a person should write down their dreams with all the details that they can recall (Gregory, 1999; Jennings, 2007; Pesant & Zandra, 2006; Schredl 2000). Jennings (2007) warns not to make immediate judgments about what the dream or dreams mean. He suggests coming back to the dream journal later in the day. Then, explore the details. Consider the emotions of the dream. Look for links to recent events that the dream could be pointing towards. While analyzing dreams, remember to watch for recurring elements. Notice characters, places, and patterns in dreams. Don’t skip details that seem mundane; they could hold great insight later. Don’t take dreams literally. Dreams are seldom straightforward (Syoboda, 2009).

Often dreams replay events that need further reflection. Perhaps the dreamer missed an important perspective during a conscious event that the subconscious brain is working through. Dreams often solve problems, which cannot be solved during consciousness. Dreams are personal to ourselves and our experiences. Auguste von Kekule, a German chemist, had been diligently working to figure out the structure of benzene molecules. Exhausted from the work, he took a nap. During the nap, he had a dream in which a snake seized ahold of its own tail. This was the solution to his problem. He discovered the ring structure of the benzene molecule (Schredl, 2000; Ruggiero, 2003). His dream helped him to clarify his breakthrough work.

Ruggiero (2003) suggests that “The unconscious mind may simply have completed a process that was begun by the conscious mind.” He continues by saying that these insights seem to favor people who have devoted years to an area of expertise. Essentially, what Ruggiero is saying is that dreams continue the thinking of the day. A person who has dedicated years of work in a certain field is more likely to have an insightful dream in that area. For instance, a musician is not likely to have a breakthrough dream about chemistry. The musician is more likely to have a dream about musical melodies and song lyrics. An example of this happened to a famous musical artist. He dreamt a melody that intrigued him. When he woke, he searched musical records to see if this melody had already been written by someone else. It had not. He then wrote the music out on paper and created lyrics to compliment it. That famous artist is Paul McCartney, and that song is “Yesterday” (Schredl, 2000). It is experts who tend to have these breakthrough dreams about their life’s works and passions. It is what is on their mind most, conscious or not.

Dreams could be the brain’s way of helping people with emotional stress and traumas, which will help them sleep better, feel happier while awake, and answer bothersome questions about their lives. Dreams can be a healthy part of their emotional coping process (Syoboda, 2009). Cooper (1999) asserts that dreams can help anyone, but especially children when there is a death in the family. Feelings related to the loss of a loved one must be expressed before a person can heal. Dreams can help children to start to express such feelings. Often, children are more comfortable discussing a dream and the emotions in it over their real life experiences and emotions. Dream analysis can help therapists begin the coping process while building the confidence for expressing emotions of these patients.

In Howard’s (2011) article called, “Field of Dreams,” she mentions some real life examples of dreams helping people with their daily problems. In one of the samples, Lisa Espich tells about her dream. She wakes in the dream. She notices that her husband isn’t in bed, and she can hear loud buzzing. She goes downstairs to see where the buzzing sound is coming from. In the dark backyard, a spotlight hangs from a large tree. In the middle of the lit up area stands her husband running a table saw. As she walks forward, she can make out the bloody trunk of a woman’s torso as he cuts off a limb. Then she notices severed limbs all over the lawn. A panic feeling comes over her as she looks around. She sees her neighbor peering over the fence and knows that he’ll call the police. She runs to her husband and tells him that they must bury the evidence; the police are coming. Together they dig but in the process they are unearthing other dismembered body parts. Sirens fill the air, so she runs to the front door to meet the police. She answers the door acting as though everything is all right. The police make her drink a truth serum, and she tells them everything. At this point, Lisa really wakes up. She states that she felt sick to her stomach.

Lisa visited a dream expert, named Dr. Emery, to learn more about the meaning of her bizarre dream. Dr. Emery helped her to see that the spotlight is symbolically shining on her life. She had been hiding something. During the digging, the severed limbs that keep turning up are the facts that are becoming known with the people who are closest to her. The truth serum actually represented the truth. If she could tell people the truth about what she has been hiding in her life, it would set her free. Lisa did open up about the truth. It turned out her husband had a drug addiction that she had been hiding from her family and friends. From her dream, she realized that she had to tell them the truth. Her family was supportive of her. They helped her when she decided to leave her husband. He was devastated by her leaving him, and he finally found the courage to seek out drug treatment. He has now been clean and sober for over five years, and their marriage is stronger than ever (Howard, 2011, pg. 114). Lisa solved a big problem in her life by analyzing and listening to the message of a dream. Dreams are honest. If a person can be open to an honest interpretation of the dream’s message, he or she can gain valuable insight into what really matters.

Every person can look at the details of a dream and find applicable meaning in them. According to Jennings (2007), there are certain techniques that therapists use to help interpret dreams. These techniques could also help the dreamer to explore their dreams thoroughly. Once dreamers are aware of the techniques and begin to practice them, they can start to self-interpret their own dreams. Through these techniques, the emotional quality of the dream is relived, and pinpointing the meaning is easier. Chronology of the dream is one important technique. That is why the phrase “Start at the beginning” is so frequently used. Describing as many details as possible will help to bring the best results. Nothing should be overlooked. A technique used by therapists is to repeat important details. By repeating key words from the dream, a person can hold onto his or her dream image longer. By reflecting on the emotionally themed or emotional message, dreamers can often find meanings that they weren’t even aware of. Another technique, reviewing, can help the dreamer to find any patterns in the dream (Jennings, 2007). These methods all use a trancelike state called awake dream to get closer to the original dream.

In an article written by Deborah Gregory (1999) titled “Sweet dreams?” she shares her personal experiences with dream analysis. After a troublesome dream when she was young, Deborah sensed that her younger sister was in trouble. The sisters had been placed in separate foster homes miles apart. She tried to contact her sister, but the foster mother blocked her attempts. She later found out that her feelings were right. Her sister was so unhappy that she had tried to commit suicide. Bothered for many years by these events, Deborah decided to do some research into dreams. She found a dream therapist who would teach self-interpretation skills to clients. When Deborah called to make the appointment, the therapist told her to begin a dream journal and bring it to their first session a week later. The therapist told her to write down four important elements of each dream; she said to title each dream, determine the theme of the dream, describe the general feeling or emotion of the dream, and ask herself, “Why am I dreaming about this?”

Over the week, Deborah noted tidbits of the dreams she could remember. With the therapist, the dream-bits were analyzed. She noticed that these bits of dreams really were relaying things that were going on in her life. She decided to meet with the therapist for five more sessions. Deborah’s dreams developed during this time. When she began the therapy sessions, her dreams were anxious and somewhat negative. In one dream that she recalled, her teeth were shedding layers. Big chips of her teeth were falling out of her mouth into her hand. She was standing on a busy street in New York City. She tried to get help from the strangers passing by, but no one would look at her. Together, Deborah and her therapist unraveled the dream. It related to her foster mother who would take out her teeth at night. Sometimes she would yell at Deborah with her teeth out, which would scare Deborah to death. The lack of help from the people passing by related to her lack of control in her life at the time (Gregory, 1999). After therapy, Deborah’s dreams became more positive. She went from having nothing to having everything she could desire. She has gained confidence in her real life by looking back at her childhood through dream analysis.

While reading all of this research for my essay, I have been growing increasingly excited to try some of these suggestions to analyze my own dreams. I found that the process is harder than it sounds. I have tried for weeks to write down a dream that I could use for analysis like Gregory (1999), Jennings (2007), Pesant & Zandra (2006), and Schredl (2000) all suggested. I noticed right away that if I moved around after waking, my dreams would disappear. I had to hold still and just think about the events of the dream. I learned this technique after reading Reed’s (1978) article titled, “Improved Dream Recall Associated with Meditation.”

This process led to oversleeping on several occasions. I’d lay there thinking about my dream and its details in such a state that I’d end up falling back asleep easily, which also resulted in the loss of the dream. I was getting frustrated. In a way, I’d given up. I started to look to family and friends for their dreams to analyze. Without the urgency that I’d been feeling earlier, I had a dream that I could completely remember. I woke up about 30 minutes before my alarm was set to ring. Doing what Reed (1978) recommended, I was able to lay still, to think about my dream, and to write the dream down. I wrote a full page of details in the correct chronological order like Gregory (1999) and Jennings (2007) suggested. I included all the details I could remember. I titled it and thought about the overall emotion of the dream the same way Gregory’s (1999) therapist instructed her to do.

My dream was quite long in relation to the dream journal information that I read about. I was very pleased with the details I’d been able to remember. Though the dream wasn’t very bizarre or flashy, it was a great example of an everyday dream. My dream began in the Kanarraville Town Hall. I grew up in Kanarra, and this location is a sentimental place where everything related to the town seemed to happen. I have thousands of memories in this location, second only to my childhood home. In my dream, I’m sitting in a crowd of people. A wedding starts to take place on a stage. The bride is my childhood best friend and cousin. She is wearing a large curtain-like wedding dress. Her hair is exactly how I’d pictured her in my conscious mind. I don’t remember the groom. I’m not sure if it was her real life spouse or not.

The ceremony is going through the usual process, and as it nears the “I do” part, someone in the foyer yells something. I don’t hear the exact words, but from the crowd’s reaction I can tell that the building is on fire. It is chaos. The adults are screaming and running towards the doors. The children are smiling and running away from the doors. I see that the children will be trampled. I yell over the noise for everyone to calm down and walk towards the exits. Surprisingly, everyone listens to me. The crowd calms down and I start to see parents picking up their children and walking to the doors. I head for a door too. I see that the sky is orange and smoky. I remember that there is a wildfire near New Harmony, a neighboring community. I think to myself that an ember must have blown over to the town hall and started the fire. I hear someone in the crowd say that the bomber is coming to hit the town hall with mud. They continue by saying if anyone has a white vehicle, they’d better get it out of there quick. The mud that the bombers use is orange, and it stains quite badly. Now, I feel panicked. My truck is white. I start pushing on the crowd to break free of them. I can hear the bomber getting closer. Once I’m free, I run towards my truck. This is where I wake up.

I had to keep reminding myself of Jennings’ (2007) advice to not analyze the meaning until later in the day when I came back to my dream journal. Finally, I decided that it was time to analyze it. My son was in the room. I decided to share my dream with him because he has been reading my essay as it has evolved and has an interest in the process of dream analysis. I think it really helped me to have someone to discuss the possible meanings with orally. He was great to just ask me what I thought, rather than push his ideas onto me much like Gregory’s (1999) therapist did. It seems that my dream had three different parts: the calm wedding, the panicked crowd, and the incoming bomber.

The beginning, a calm wedding, seemed to relate to a wedding I’d recently attended in that building. My cousin got married there a few weeks earlier, and I attended it. He is a brother to the dream’s bride. I believe that is why that connection can be made. The second part, the panicked crowd, seemed more symbolic. After discussing it with my son, I decided that the crowd represented all of my major assignments that are coming due at the end of the semester. They are out of control until I decide to take control of them. I’ve recently gotten on top of some big assignments in my waking life. My time is more organized. I have felt more in control and better about what still lies ahead. The third part, worrying about my white truck getting stained by the fire retardant mud, represents the deadline of this essay. I have been worried that I won’t be able to write a thoughtful ten page paper by the time it’s due. I know the due date is coming and I’m doing what I can to be ready when it gets here.

By analyzing my dream, I feel more confident about my impending assignments. I’m in control, and knowing that my truthful subconscious seems to agree with me is so reassuring. I will continue to look to my dreams for any insight that they could be declaring to my conscious self. Dreams have been used in nearly every culture and time throughout history. Dreams obviously hold great wisdom. As more research is completed in this area, dreams could be found to have even more potential than is currently thought. The brain is so complex. Its capabilities seem limitless. This means that each dream’s messages are also limitless.

References
Cooper, C. A. (1999). Children's dreams during the grief process. Professional School Counseling, 3(2), 137-140.
Glaskin, K. (2005). Innovation and ancestral revelation: The case of dreams. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, 11(2), 297-314.
Gregory, D. (1999). Sweet dreams, Essence. 98-100, 155-158
Howard, B. (2011). Field of dreams. Prevention, 63(2). 113-117.
Jennings, J. L. (2007). Dreams without disguise: the self-evident nature of dreams. The Humanistic Psychologist, 35(3), 253-274.
Pesant, N., & Zadra, A. (2006). Dream content and psychological well-being: A longitudinal study of the continuity hypothesis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(1), 111-121.
Reed, H. (1978). Improved dream recall associated with meditation. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 34(1), 150-155.
Robbins, P. R., & Tanak, R. H. (1991). Theories of dreams held by American college students. Journal of Social Psychology, 131(1), 143-145.
Ruggiero, V. R. (2003) Making your mind matter: Strategies for increasing practical intelligence. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Schredl, M. (2000). The relationship between dream recall and dream content: Negative evidence for the salience hypothesis. North American Journal of Psychology, 2(2), 243-246.
Syoboda, E. (2009). Dream up better health. Prevention, 61(3), 88-91.