To celebrate World Sleep Day, we asked expert in dream meanings and author of Dream Therapy: Dream your way to health and happiness, Dr Clare Johnson what those recurring dreams mean
Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling sad or anxious? Chances are you had a bad dream. And perhaps you sometimes wake up smiling or feeling wonderful? Dreams speak in a rich mixture of images, metaphors, and emotions, and they can powerfully influence our waking moods.
An ancient Jewish proverb says: ‘An unexamined dream is like an unopened letter.’ When we work with our dreams and unwrap their symbolic imagery, we get to read this ‘letter’ from our unconscious mind. In doing so, we gain insight into how we are really feeling, or what we really need right now in our relationships and in our lives.
Dreaming is a universal language. Yet although there are recurring themes and images that emerge in the dreams of people all around the world, dreams are also highly individual. Ultimately, you are the only person who can correctly interpret your own dream, because it emerges from your unconscious mind.
But how do we decipher the symbolic language of dreams? When we work with our dreams in simple ways, we can unpack the personal meaning they have for us. Let’s look at the symbolism of seven common dreams and some different ways of working with them. We’ll see what our dreams can reveal to us about our lives and our true feelings, and how we can use this knowledge to empower ourselves to live happier lives.
1. Teeth falling out
Strange though it may seem, this is an extremely common dream. We have all had the actual experience of losing a mouthful of teeth as we grew up and our milk teeth fell out, but it’s still quite distressing to have your teeth fall out in a dream! I had this dream for the first time when I moved away from all my friends when I was six, and I can still recall anxiously trying to cram my teeth back into my gums.
A dream of losing teeth is often linked to feelings of insecurity, instability, life changes, and loss. It can also be linked to a sense that we can no longer hide how we really feel – we can’t smile and pretend all is well, because we have no teeth to smile with!
Ask yourself: ‘Am I doing what I really want to do with my life?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s time to prepare the ground for change
This dream can be a wake-up call to examine what is currently happening in our life and see clearly our true feelings about it. Find out what this dream means for you personally by identifying your emotions in the dream and asking yourself if you feel a sense of loss or insecurity anywhere in your life. Ask yourself: ‘Am I doing what I really want to do with my life?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s time to prepare the ground for change.
Flying can be linked to powerful sexual and creative energies
Dream flying can be the most incredible feeling. Flying can be linked to powerful sexual and creative energies. In dreams, flying is often connected with a sense of freedom and self-confidence, but it’s important to take note of how you are flying. Are you flying effortlessly, or are you struggling and flailing through the air?
In any dream you ever have, one of the golden keys to its meaning is the emotion you experience. If you are soaring joyfully, this is one of the best dreams you could have, as it is so life-affirming and positive. It suggests that you are at ease with yourself and that you are on track with the most important aspects of your life.
If you are flailing and sinking, ask yourself: ‘Where else in my life do I feel I am flailing and sinking?’ Making a bridge between the dream feelings and your waking life can reveal exactly how you feel about your life situation. Once we have clarity on where we are in our lives, we are far more capable of acting to change things for the better.
3. Running away
How many dreams have you had of running away? In dreams, we run from the monster in the closet, the beast in the jungle, or the nasty man in the alleyway. This is such a common dream action, as is that dreadful feeling of trying to run away but finding that our legs are moving in slow motion, or are bogged down in quicksand, or have turned to jelly. We wake up from such dreams with a pounding heart, thanking our stars when we find ourselves lying safely in our beds.
Nightmares can be very helpful. They flag up how we are really feeling inside
We all have fears, and such dreams are gifts because they show us when unconscious fears are rising inside us. With dreams like these, we can re-enter the dream imaginatively and either face the ‘dream monster’ and ask it why it was chasing us, or intuitively change the ending of the dream so that it has a happier and more empowering outcome.
Psychologically, these dreamwork techniques can be very useful as they can reveal the core of our fear, point to the reasons behind it, and offer us solutions. In this sense, nightmares can be helpful. They flag up how we are really feeling inside. After a bad dream like this one, ask yourself: ‘What am I running from right now in my life? What am I afraid of? How can I release my fear?’
4. Buildings and vehicles
Some dreams emphasise our physical health, or lack of it. The body is often represented in dreams by buildings or vehicles, so if you find yourself dreaming of a run-down house, a powerful, shiny motorboat, or an old banger that doesn’t work properly, these dreams could be reflecting the state of your body.
Work with the dream to discover more about the metaphorical meaning of these images. One good way of doing this is to imagine that you are the high-rise flat you dreamed of, and to speak from its perspective. This playful technique can be hugely insightful.
The body is often represented in dreams by buildings or vehicle
Dreaming of driving a car whose brakes fail could point to failing health, or to the dreamer’s current inability to slow down in their life. People constantly ‘drive’ themselves to work harder, do better, achieve more. A dream like this can flag up the need to stop driving ourselves and take a break!
Rather than being too quick to assign a particular meaning to your dream images, it’s good to take a moment to work with the dream, as sometimes what we then discover can be quite a revelation.
5. Partner cheating
When we dream that our loving partner is having hot sex with somebody else, we may wake up feeling betrayed, upset… and suspicious. But mostly, such dreams won’t be pointing to a literal infidelity, so do unwrap the dream to find out more.
The people in our dreams may symbolise an aspect of ourselves. Ask yourself: ‘Am I being untrue to myself in some way?’ This type of dream may reflect an overall feeling about life, so ask yourself: ‘Where in my life do I feel cheated right now?’ If you feel the dream is related to your partner, ask yourself: ‘Do I feel unsupported by my partner? Are we happy together? Do we need to change anything about our relationship?’
Re-enter your dream imaginatively and interview your cheating partner. Ask him or her why they are behaving this way. This dream interview technique can result in powerful insights.
6. Spiders and other bugs
Spiders and all sorts of other creepy-crawlies are fairly common dream images, but as with any dream, their meaning can be highly personal. A dream spider will likely have a very different meaning for an insect enthusiast than it will for someone with a spider phobia.
If you dream of a bug, ask yourself what’s bugging you.
To interpret this dream, pinpoint the actions of the bug and your reaction while you were in the dream. Is the bug doing something revolting or is it cute? Does it make you feel scared, or curious? If you’re stumped by any dream, try the ‘alien from another planet technique’ – pick the main dream image and explain aloud what it is, as if you are telling an alien who has never come across it before. For example, when you ask yourself: ‘What is a spider?’ your answer may be: ‘It’s a bug. It’s something unpleasant I don’t want near me.’ So then, using those same words, as yourself: ‘Is there something in my life right now that is unpleasant and that I don’t want near me? Often, this will result in an instant answer: ‘Aha – my co-worker – she’s been bugging me so much lately!’ Dreams love puns. They love wordplays and idioms. If you dream of a bug, ask yourself what’s bugging you.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing a huge, glittering tidal wave sweeping in from the ocean? This common dream can be experienced by the dreamer as terrifying or fascinating. It can provoke feelings of profound dread, resignation, or excitement.
whenever I dream of tidal waves, I know that change is coming in my life
When you attempt to decipher this dream, focus on the emotions present in your dream, but also the perspective in the dream: are you standing on the shore as the wave bears down on you, or are you watching it from a place of safety? Are you running from it in desperation, or gazing at the way the sun sparkles on the tips of the waves? Dreamwork is a bit like detective work. Gather the clues in your dream, and piece them together to find out what’s going on. Is the water crystal clear (this usually has very positive connotations), or is it dirty or murky?
In dreams, the ocean can symbolise unconscious processes, and personally, whenever I dream of tidal waves, I know that change is coming in my life. Tidal waves are by their nature overwhelming and unstoppable, but this certainly doesn’t mean that changes heralded by dream tidal waves are negative. Waves can also symbolise amazing creative surges and big emotions. If you have a tidal wave dream, ask yourself: ‘Am I feeling overwhelmed?’ ‘What will the next creative wave in my life bring with it?’
Dreams as honest mirrors
When you begin to work with your dreams in some of the ways listed above, you are beginning a deep conversation with your own unconscious mind. It is so fascinating to pay attention to our dreams because they are honest mirrors of our lives. If we take the time to understand our dreams, they can offer solutions to everything from life crises, relationship troubles, bereavement, ill health, unhappiness, depression and chronic anxiety.
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Dr Clare Johnson is Vice President of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and author of Breathing in Colour, Dreamrunner, and Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming. All of her books have a strong practical focus on health, happiness and wellbeing. Dream Therapy: Dream your way to health and happiness (published in the USA & Canada as Mindful Dreaming) has chapters on getting lucid, exploring sexual dreams, healing from loss, resolving nightmares, improving pain and health, and dreams in the dying process. Visit Clare: www.DeepLucidDreaming.com
Buy Dream Therapy: Dream your way to health and happiness for £14.99 on Amazon