holding up a mask of a man's face
Image by Gerd Altmann

Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Video version

The most important thing to consider right off is that there is no right way to interpret a dream, because interpretation, a form of translation, is entirely subjective. I remember an assignment in a Chinese language course where we had to translate a poem called “The White Pony.” There were five different translations turned in and the teacher said every one of them was correct. Translating or interpreting dreams presents the same problem. However, you will find that some ways to interpret dreams are more useful than others for specific dreams.

The next most important thing to consider is that when you give others the authority to interpret your dreams, you are buying in to their beliefs, expectations, biases, and prejudices, instead of yours. What they may say about your dreams might or might not be useful, but it can never be as good as what you yourself might think, because, after all, they are your dreams, not theirs.

Dreams as Metaphor

A metaphor is a word or phrase used to describe something to which it does not directly apply. Many dreams can be interpreted in this way. Diving deeply into an ocean can relate to diving deeply into one’s subconscious; rising high in an elevator could mean a desire to elevate oneself; losing one’s keys might mean the fear of not being able to unlock a problem; clothing issues could refer to habits, since habit is also an old word for clothing, or it could refer to covering up something or revealing something; urination might be the need to get rid of something toxic in your life; and so on.

Commonsense Interpretation

This is something anyone can do. All you have to do is to look at your behavior and the behavior of others in your dream, as well as the things you interact with, and interpret them the same way you would for what happens in Waking Life, ignoring any strangeness. Encountering obstacles could reflect frustrations you are feeling. Intersections could represent choices you have to make. Friends could mean available help, and enemies could be conditions or even people in your way. Here are some more specific examples.

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I am at a big party. At some point I take a motorcycle for a ride and have a confrontation with someone.

This means that I am tired of being with people and I want some alone time, but I’m having a conflict about it with someone.

I am at a conference with my wife, a female friend, and another woman I am attracted to who resembles Megan Fox. We all have dinner in an eatery at the conference hall at a table composed of smaller tables that are black and white. The next morning my wife and I come down for breakfast to the same place, only she chooses a different table. We are the only ones in the eatery and have to wait for the others.

Obviously, I love my wife, I like my female friend, and I think Megan Fox is attractive. Also obviously, my wife would rather be alone with me.

A long dream involving a dark-haired man in his thirties who hid his dead wife, wearing a red dress, in the bleachers of a stadium, and rode off on a horse with someone else into the mountains.

I haven’t a clue as to what this was all about.

Dream Dictionary Interpretation

Dream dictionaries are lists of symbols that appear in dreams and their meanings, according to whoever made the list, and there are many, many lists with different meanings for the same symbols. For instance, in one list the appearance of a bear in your dream represents things like a mother relationship or protection and in another it might represent independence, strength, death, and renewal. These, of course, are only what the authors of the lists think of bears. Even when a list states clearly that these symbols may not apply to you, they are given as if they are absolutes.

Interestingly, I have found that if you pick one of these dictionaries and use it exclusively to interpret your dreams, your dreams will have a strong tendency to conform to the list. That is, until you have what I call a breakout dream, one that refuses to conform and that confuses you completely. Picking one of my dreams at random, let’s see how one list might interpret it:

I’m with an Asian woman in a park trying to get to a place to buy tickets for a ride of some kind. I see other women taking a shortcut through a screened chicken pen, so I follow them. When I enter the pen there are more than chickens—there are unhappy geese that I have to get past and just before the far opening I have to walk on top of a pile of chickens and geese and I say “Sorry, guys.”

According to the dictionary I chose, something Asian signifies “spiritual awakening, wisdom and intuition.” A woman either “refers to your own female aspects or your mother” or “indicates temptation and guilt.” A park is “a temporary escape from reality” and “renewal, meditation and spirituality.” A ticket represents “the price you need to pay to attain your goals.” A ride “symbolizes the path and direction of your life.” No meaning for the type of pen in my dream is given in this list. No meaning for a chicken is given, either, but wearing a chicken suit “implies that you are lacking confidence in yourself.” Geese can mean “your tendency to go with the crowd” or that “you are well grounded.” But unhappiness or sadness for someone else “may be a projection of your own feelings.” Walking on top of something, that is, walking with ease, signifies “a slow, but steady progress toward your goals.”

So, according to the list, at the time of this dream, “I was combining my female aspects with a spiritual awakening through a renewal of meditation and spirituality and willing to pay the price to move forward on my path in life. To bring this about I was overcoming my lack of self-confidence and my tendency to go along with what others want in order to achieve my goals.” Not bad, really, but to be honest, I didn’t need my dream to tell me that.

The Parallel Interpretation

Actually, I am really tempted by this one. The idea is that during dreaming, some insubstantial part of ourselves (call it whatever you want) goes off exploring alternate worlds, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as a participant. These worlds may have different laws of physics than the world we are used to, and this would explain many of the strange properties of dreams. Some worlds may be so different that we can’t relate to them, and this would explain why we forget them so fast or are unable to record them.

If you are a fan of far-out physics, science fiction, or fantasy, there is a lot to like about this interpretation.

A Shamanic Interpretation

A fundamental shamanic idea is that everything is alive, aware, and responsive, which would have to include dream people, places, and things. Shamans are comfortable with talking to trees, rocks, wind, mountains, and so on, and listening to them as well. They can do the same with all the objects, characters, and even events in a dream.

I have found that one of the most insightful ways to interpret a dream is to get yourself into a nice, quiet state of awake awareness with your eyes closed, recall a dream, and ask the different parts of a dream what they are doing and why. You can even talk to the dream as a whole and ask what it is all about. Once you get over any resistance to the “weirdness” of having a conversation with dreams and their content, you might receive some fascinating revelations.

In the Final Analysis

Almost all dream interpretation systems are biased toward learning something about ourselves so that we can improve ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, or, in some cases, morally. They are supposed to occur for the purpose of guidance, but since dreams are usually so different from ordinary Waking Life experience, many people feel the need for “experts” who can tell us what they mean and what we need to do. Quite often they are interpreted as lessons from higher beings or mysterious parts of ourselves.

None of that makes any sense to me. We can consciously learn far more from Waking Life than we can from trying to find some obscure meaning in a dream. Interpreting dreams can be fun, but most people get along fine without it.

©2017, 2020 by Serge King. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher
Bear & Co, an imprint of Inner Traditions Intl.

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Dreaming Techniques: Working with Night Dreams, Daydreams, and Liminal Dreams
by Serge Kahili King

book cover: Dreaming Techniques: Working with Night Dreams, Daydreams, and Liminal Dreams by Serge Kahili KingDreams can change our lives in profound and tangible ways. In this guide to mastering the art of dreaming, Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., explores techniques to harness the power of dreams for healing, transformation, and changing your experience of reality. Drawing on his analysis of more than 5,000 of his own dreams as well as those of students and clients from his almost 50 years of clinical work, he examines the types of night dreams we have, how to remember them better, how to make use of them to improve our health and well-being, and how to interpret them. The book also explores daydreams in depth, including fantasy, guided imagery, meditation, visions, and remote viewing and provides techniques for using daydreams for healing, insight, and creativity. 

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition. 

About the Author

photo of Serge Kahili King, Ph.D.Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., is the author of many works on Huna and Hawaiian shamanism, including Urban Shaman and Instant Healing. He has a doctorate in psychology and was trained in shamanism by the Kahili family of Kauai as well as by African and Mongolian shamans. He is the executive director of Huna International, a non-profit worldwide network of individuals who have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place. He lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. Visit his website at http://www.huna.net/

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