The art of dream interpretation

Dreams behave like a warped mirror to daily life, a window to the subconscious that, through emotions and archetypal symbols, can lead to a greater understanding of the self. Wikipedia defines dream interpretation as ‘the process of assigning meaning to dreams’, but anyone who’s spent any time trying to interpret their dreams will appreciate that it is more a process of deciphering meaning from them, rather than assigning meaning to them.

When it comes to interpreting your own dreams, they are rarely literal. Say you dream of a postman knocking on your door with a package – this is unlikely to mean the postman will arrive with a parcel that morning (though not impossible!), but potentially that good news is on its way.

A beginner’s guide to dream interpretation

• The first thing you should do is get a notepad. As TM Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, writes in The New York Times: ‘Many years ago, I joined a group that decided that we would write down our dreams. And my dream life changed. I seemed to dream more. I remembered more detail. I sometimes had dreams of mythic intensity.’

• When you awake, be this in the middle of the night or with your morning alarm, record what you have been dreaming. (Psychotherapist Jeffery Sumber suggests if you don’t remember anything write ‘no dream’ to encourage future recollection.)

• Start identifying clues and symbols. They may seem mundane, but even the most boring dreams contain clues to our subconscious. For example, if you dreamt you were sitting at a table drinking tea, observe the kind of table – large, small, of natural or man-made material? Were you alone or with company? What was the room like? What was its presiding colour? Small things in dreams can be indicators of larger situations or issues in life.

• Observe how you felt in the dream – that is the key to understanding the relevance of the dream to your life. Notice any personal associations in your dream, what significance do they have for you?

• Use a dream dictionary such as The Book of Dreams by Brian Innes, or sites such as, to help decipher the universal meanings of the dream. But always relate it to your own life and the emotions felt in the dream.

Try to create a real-world narrative for the dream. However, there is still the underlying question of where dreams come from. The responses vary from visualisations of our deepest desires, an expression of an unfulfilled wish, a release of emotion, the voice of God, to plain old brainwave activity. As with the dream itself, that is for you, the dreamer, to decide.

This article was originally published in Issue 6, Breathe Magazine – Personal Reflection.