Dreams – The Royal Road To A Knowledge Of The Unconscious Mind


Have you watched the movie called ‘Inception’? It is a movie about the depth and complexity of dreaming and how it affects the human mind.

To some, space may be the final frontier, but to many of us, especially psychologists and scientists, the dream scape of each individual is far more compelling. What is a dream? They can be exotic and sexual, strange, filled with symbolism that is difficult to define. Why? Because the meanings of these symbols depend on the inner workings and the belief system of the person in question. Many scientists believe that dreams are merely a composite or jumble of thoughts and impressions from the previous day, and that the dreams are our way of processing this information.

The Origin Of Dreams

Where do dreams originate? It is thought that dreams are conceived by bio-chemical processes in the brain and the central nervous system. There are a number of characteristics that most dreams have in common-

Intense emotions– we can experience the raw pain of grief, the embarrassment of being nude in public, the fear of being unprepared for a test, or the terror of being chased by people who would harm us. In fact, these emotions can be so strong that we awaken from the dream.

Odd content– when asleep, we tend to accept odd or muddled content without question. Upon waking, the dream may be very difficult to explain, or to recall.

Odd sensory experiences– The sense of falling , or freezing to the spot, unable to move are just two such experiences. Others report being able to fly, or swim, or to suddenly begin running on all fours like an animal.

A problem with recall– 95% of our dreams are forgotten when we awaken, according to researchers.

Disorganization– Illogical scenarios and disorganized happenings are a characteristic of most dreams.

Freud’s Interpretation Of Dreams

Sigmund Freud wrote “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1899. He saw dream content as being a type of “wish fulfillment”, that is, the subject dreams about things that he/she wants to manifest in their life, or perhaps things that they would prefer not to bring about in reality. The fact that they often relate to the events of the day before he referred to as “day residue”and the day before a dream he called “dream day”. Freud stated that the dreams of children were straight forward and easier to understand. However, with adults, he said that dreams are distorted and the “manifest content” is covered by thoughts in the unconscious mind. The message in the dream, then, or “latent dream thought” was held in check by an “intra-psychic force” that he called “the censor”. In his later writings, he changed these terms to the “ego” and the “super-ego”. He stated that when the subject is awake, these “resistances” prevented the unfulfilled wishes from entering our conscious mind, and that they also hid the true nature of the dream .  Therefore, in order to understand the true meaning, each individual component needed to be analyzed . Freud recognized three operations  that the “resistances” used to hide the manifest content-

Condensation– one object (in the dream) stands for several ideas , and therefore, they are brief and laconic

Displacement– the object’s emotional meaning can be separated from it’s “real object” and attached to a completely different object in order to get it past the “censor”.

Visualization– thoughts are changed into visual content

Symbolism– these replace ideas, persons and must then be interpreted.

Freud felt that dream analysis and interpretation as “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious mind.”

Carl Jung’s Analysis Of Dreams

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) , a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He is accredited with founding the field of “analytical psychology”. Jung admired the work of Freud and the two were colleagues until Jung wrote “Psychology of the Unconscious”, which differed greatly from Freud’s point of view, and this led to the end of their friendship.  He coined the term “Individuation”- which is a process of transformation where by the unconscious and conscious minds are blended together . Jung believed that dreams, like our unconscious, have a language of their own. He also believed that dreams may contain truths, thoughts of philosophy, fantasies, memories and even intuitive visions.

Calvin S. Hall (1906-1985) was an American psychologist who studied dream interpretation . He considered that dreams are actually a cognitive process . He saw dreams as a series of thoughts that occurred while asleep, and that the visuals represented personal conceptions. He studied at his Institute of Dream Research in Miami and found that dreams are very similar across cultural, religious and racial lines, more alike than different.

His chapter in the “Handbook of Experimental Psychology” is seen as one of the corner stones of behavioral genetics. Hall developed a “cognitive theory of dreams, and he felt that our dreams reveal how we see ourselves, and our social environs. According to his theory, dreams reveal weakness, assertiveness, unloved, domineering, and hostile traits that we see in ourselves or that are revealed when the dream is analyzed. Hall also developed a “metaphoric theory of dream symbolism”and maintained that a dream is simply a series of thoughts we have while asleep. Dream content reveals how we see ourselves inwardly, as told to us by our unconscious.

Another theory worth mentioning is the “primitive instinct theory of dreaming”. It has been theorized that dreams serve a biological function, and they do not require further analysis. When we dream, our bodies react by physiologic response. That is, if we are frightened, our bodies produce and release adrenalin to prepare us to run away. This is a primary instinct of self defense and survival.When young women dream of giving birth, the urge to reproduce is preparing them for this event . Their bodies give a bio-chemical and hormonal response to these dreams as well. This means that we may well be rehearsing for actual events that might take place in the future. This could relate to intuitive dreams in which the dreamer keeps having the same reoccurring dream every night, perhaps of being held up at a local store. A week or two goes by and the dreamer has played the scenario out in every conceivable way. When this event finally occurs, he knows what to do in order to survive. Such dreams have happened and this may well signify that Heaven is helping to instruct us and to keep us safe in such a scenario.

Dream Interpretation

But what of dream interpretation? In the past and in places such as Egypt and Greece, dream interpretation was seen as a supernatural communication between man and the divine, or worse, between man and evil forces. Some native american tribes believe that the way that a person conducts himself while asleep is as important as the way that he conducts himself during his waking hours. Children are taught to always try to get the upper hand in their dreams, especially if it is a sinister or frightening one.From this the idea of a “dream warrior” was born. It was also believed that the dream land is as real as the earth we stand upon in the light of day, and therefore, it is an important thing to master. Dream catchers are frequently found in stores, these days. However, the story behind them may not be as well known. The Ojibwe tribe is thought to be the first to employ these charms. As the story goes, the spider woman, known as Asibikaashi took care of all of the children for the people of the land. Eventually, the Ojibwe Nation grew and it became very difficult for the spider woman to visit the children. So mothers and grandmothers began weaving magical webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew or cordage made from plants. The dream catchers filter all bad dreams , so that only good remain and the bad ones that are caught in the web will evaporate in the light of day.                                                                                                                        

In the seventies, Ann Faraday helped to popularize dream interpretation by publishing books that helped people to analyze their own dreams. During this period, it was not uncommon for people to form  groups and to share their dreams and to analyze them. In the 1980’s and 90’s, Mr. Wallace Clift and Jean Dalby Clift studied further the imagery and content of dreams and in their books explored ways to approach the analysis . They also focused more on moving ahead and healing.

How To Analyze Your Dreams

One popular website offers four steps to take when analyzing your own dreams-

Make a list of the images that you remember . Take the strongest one to begin with. As an example, I will take a spider.

Start by doing word associations that relate to the symbol, in this case, the spider. Ask yourself- do you immediately see the spider as a predator, or do you admire it’s creativity? Spiders steadfastly create their webs , and wait patiently for their food to come. Which do you need more at this time- patience, or creativity?

Think of popular expressions that relate to spiders. If you have just awakened from a “spider dream”, are you finding yourself in a sticky situation or are you caught in a”tangled”web of your own making? Are you weaving a web and setting a trap for someone?

Think of the location of the symbol,in this case, the spider. Is it in your home, or at work? Are you afraid of it, and is your fear appropriate?

When experimenting with dream interpretation, it is wise to keep a dream journal by your bed side. As soon as you awaken, try to jot down everything that you can still recall. It is a good idea to add your interpretations of the symbols to the same journal, if possible. You just might find new insights into your own mind.

Mankind has tried to explore all of the frontiers of the planet Earth. It is ironic that the final frontier to conquer may be found right at home.

The Spiritual Side Of Dreams

Our dreams are eternally connected in a spiritual aspect with our daily human experience. However, many spiritual leaders are not seem amenable on this since dreams happen when the dreamer is in touch with the spring of his own understanding, wisdom and certainty. Thus, it created conflict between public dreaming and authoritative priesthood.

On the other hand, a person who uses his own approach to find God in his dreams might question the authority of priests. There are people who frequently and deliberately use the idea of having dreams about God in order for them to establish themselves and to be listened to. But despite that it is also noted in the Bible that Matthew have actually dreamt of angels appearing to him in his dreams. Joseph on the other hand has experienced being warned by God through his dream to move and save Jesus from his oppressors.

Nowadays, some people were largely questioning the concept of human spirit, as modern scientific approach did not concur to the idea of the eternal aspect of human life. The study of human brain functions and biological activities shows that human personality is composed of a series of biological as well as biochemical events.

Hence, the result of these studies on the communication between doctors and patients has changed. For example, a psychiatrist will tell his client that depression is a result of a brain malfunction or a biochemical condition. If someone is introverted or autistic the condition will be scientifically described as caused by a physiological or biochemical condition and not because there is a vital foundation of human nature that choses to avoid connection for some peculiar reason. Thus, the scientific remedy for such condition is to take certain pill in order to improve the biochemistry because you’re not really a person.

The thing is, while we accept that as humans we sometimes encounter the catastrophe of biochemical malfunction, we must also accept that the physiological and biochemical process can be greatly changed by our human courage and will most specifically by the transformative effect of the spiritual aspect of human experience.