Dreams, like many other aspects of sleep, are mysterious. Robert Gongloff, author of Dream Exploration: A New Approach talks about ways to find meaning through dream themes.
Interview with Robert Gongloff
Dream Incubation: Making Sense of Nonsense
LoveToKnow (LTK): Can people find meaning even in the most nonsensical dreams?
Robert Gongloff (RG): I guess you could say all dreams are nonsensical…and no dreams are nonsensical. They seem nonsensical because they come in strange forms. They don't always provide us with the nice, neat story and a wonderful conclusion that we are used to in a movie or TV drama.
Many times, people just get fragments of dreams. They tend to discard them because they seem nonsensical and that there is no way to get any meaning out of them. Jeremy Taylor, in his book, The Wisdom of Your Dreams, speaks to this and tells of a dreamer who said the only recollection he had was that there might have been pastel colors in the dream. From that tiny "nonsensical" fragment they worked on the dream and got profound insight.
Your question leads me to think about what we call dream incubation. If you are dealing with a perplexing problem and can't seem to find help with it anywhere, you can ask for a dream. You can incubate a dream. The process is simple. You write down your problem or issue, and say to yourself before going to bed that you will have a dream that will help you with this issue.
Some people include a step in the process whereby you ask yourself these questions:
- What is the benefit to me for not having this problem solved?
- How do I benefit by being in this situation I don't like?
The reason I mention dream incubation in relation to nonsensical dreams is that I always tell the dreamer, no matter what you dream, no matter how crazy or farfetched the dream is, assume that the dream is providing what you asked for and work with it in that context.
LTK: How can people discover dream themes?
RG: There are books that talk about dream themes. An especially good one is Patricia Garfield's The Universal Dream Key. In this book, she describes the top ten themes that are dreamt all over the world. One example is a common theme of being naked in public. When she talks of this, she also talks of the converse theme of being well-dressed in public.
In my research, I came to the conclusion that what Garfield and others are calling "themes" are actually the activity that describes the inherent theme - like the characters and activity in a book develop a theme.
LTK: Dreams are visual in nature. Can some meaning be lost as the dreamer tries to put the dreaming experience into words?
RG: People have come to me saying that they don't dream stories with dialogues. Many artists dream primarily if not solely in imagery. There is no plot or storyline. They dream more in what I would call ideas and perspectives. So what they dream can be difficult to put into words. I think it is possible to find themes in these dream messages. These would be found more in the feelings and emotions associated with the dream.
To answer your question more specifically, it is possible to get too mental in working with a dream. Well, a car means this, or a horse means such-and-such. So we can get all tangled up in words and meanings. That is why I try to emphasize that we are not interpreting or analyzing. I believe that is working outside the dream. When I seek the theme, I am letting the dream speak to me. I am not "working" the dream, but listening to what the dream is attempting to communicate to my conscious mind.
Making Connections with Dreams
LTK: In the process of dream exploration, should the dreamer consider each dream independently, or should he look at them as a body of work?
RG: Another temptation to say "yes" again. I like to look at a dream as an independent reality, but I believe that dreams are constantly adding to our knowledge about specific aspects of our lives. As we recognize and acknowledge what the message a particular dream is offering and make attempts to carry that message over into our waking lives, we are given another message in a later dream that further builds on the other message. By the same token, if we choose to ignore a significant message being presented in a dream, we may keep getting that message in different forms until we "get the message."
- A basic element of my theme theory is that the theme is the important message, idea, or perception a story, waking-life event, or dream is attempting to bring to your consciousness.
- Themes deal with our issues, the questions in our lives, the mysteries of our adventures.
- Themes are different from story lines or plots - these provide the information we need to determine the theme.
- Dreams can be interpreted symbolically - like, we can say a car has to do with our mobility in the world, or water may deal with emotions. But symbols can be misinterpreted; they don't always mean the same thing dream to dream.
You can have three different dreams with entirely different symbology, but all three can express the same theme, deal with the same message or issue the dreams are asking us to address. For instance, your car losing its steering wheel, your rabbits getting out of their cages, and your groceries spilling all over the place could all deal with situation-out-of-control issues.
So I think it does help to look at dreams as a body of work. By recording your dreams in a journal and identifying the themes, you can begin to see patterns emerging, identifying recurring themes. These may be issues you are facing or having trouble facing. Perhaps my dreams are trying to alert me to an issue in my life I may be ignoring or not willing to face.
International Association for the Study of Dreams
LTK: You are the President of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). How can readers learn more about this organization?
RG: Visit the International Association for the Study of Dreams' website. We also have a FaceBook fan page and group page. We have a presence on Twitter; our user name is "Study of Dreams IASD" and our handle is @DreamScholars.
Using Dream Themes to Answer Life's Questions
Before you lay your head down tonight, think about the information you've read here. Soon you may be able to use your dreams as a way to explore the many questions you have about your life.