Dreams: The guiding forces of one’s unconscious

Everyone dreams.  

According to the American Psychological Association, our brain conjures up these fantastical images more apparently during rapid eye movement sleep—a deeper stage of sleep. However, while everyone dreams, not everyone has the capability of recalling their dreams. There are those who do not remember the adventures and misadventures that occurred while they visited the lands of Morpheus. 

In general, it can be said that dreams have been an important driving force and a source of inspiration for people throughout the ages. Dream interpretation has played a significant role in many stories and cultures. Joseph the Dreamer is remembered for interpreting dreams for the Egyptian pharaoh during Biblical times, for example.  

Dreams are deeply cemented in the world of creativity and imagination. Many of the things that occur in our dreams may seem fantastical and random, but the practice of dream interpretation maintains that analyzing them opens the door to making sense of the underlying meanings behind our dreams. 

What dreams are for  

While some psychologists believe that dreams are simply a mechanism of the brain to reorganize information, this is not the case for those who subscribe to Depth Psychology. This approach believes that dreams serve as a medium through which the unconscious or subconscious self can communicate with one’s conscious self. 

Dr. Raj Mansukhani, a dream interpreter and associate professor from the Philosophy Department, explains that dreams are the guiding forces behind one’s unconscious. According to Mansukhani, connecting with those “better parts” of one’s self—which lies in the unconscious—can be done by interpreting one’s dreams. 

The unconscious, he furthers, is more than just the general understanding that it is the state of not being conscious, or a part of the mind that is wild or uncontrollable. While these are possible definitions of the concept, Mansukhani thinks it best to regard it as the “wiser” guide inside all of us. 

“When you see someone for the first time, sometimes you know instinctively, ‘We’re going to develop a very deep friendship,’ but it’s just the first time [you’ve] met. So experiences like that make you understand [that] there’s a part of you that’s wiser and more intuitive than you are,” he says. Through interpreting dreams, Mansukhani says that one can further develop one’s intuition and have more of these kinds of encounters. 

The act of dream interpretation 

Interpreting dreams, primarily, allows a deeper understanding of one’s current situation. Mansukhani sheds light on his experience as a dream interpreter, stating that usually, very important insights come up for people when he helps them interpret their dreams. The people Mansukhani help would sometimes say that they “didn’t see it [that] way,” or sometimes, they would discover that they were actually in a particular situation. “[If] you interpret the dream, suddenly you get the insight to the problem…and allows you to break particular [detrimental] patterns,” he explains. 

Mansukhani himself has benefitted from the process of dream interpretation. Many years ago, while working on his dissertation, he found himself in search of a new topic, as his original one fell through. Pressed for time, Mansukhani was desperate for a new topic.  

One evening, his friend Sophie appeared in his dream. “The interesting thing is, it seemed like a very important dream so the next day I got up, still with that dream in mind, and I just went to the library,” he recounts. He aimlessly wandered around the library, until his eyes fell on a random book. He picked it up, flipped it open, and the paragraph he read allowed him to generate ideas for his dissertation. The book was entitled Sophia, which means wisdom in Greek. The meaning was not lost on Mansukhani.   

“That evening, I get a phone call from my friend, Sophie. Random, alright—and I knew I had to write on wisdom.” 

He says that if he didn’t think dreams were important, he wouldn’t have worked that out. When we have dreams, Mansukhani says, “You have to ask yourself: Are those just coincidences?” 

Although a majority of dreams may contain unrealistic images, Mansukhani says that the lessons and meanings we attribute to them are very much real, and cannot simply be regarded as mere fantasy. “When you read a book which might be very meaningful for you, even though it’s fiction, it’s hard to just say it wasn’t real. You pick up something very important from that,” he emphasizes. 

While all these may persuade some to believe in the value of dream interpretation, there will always be skeptics. To them, Mansukhani only says one thing: “The best way to convince someone that dreams are important is for them to actually try [dream interpretation] out.” 

Interpreting the symbols 

Mansukhani encourages everyone to try and interpret their dreams, advocating for the use of a dream journal. “The mere fact that you’re attending to your dreams will make you more intuitive,” he explains, adding that the simple act of recording these dreams makes one’s unconscious more receptive. 

When using the dream journal, Mansukhani advises to write in the present tense—as if one is reliving the dream. This allows for greater recall. Mansukhani also stresses the importance of details, such as colors and movement, as these seemingly unimportant symbols are essential to dream interpretation. “When you associate each of these symbols, and you put them together—something usually clicks,” he explains.  

The right interpretation, oftentimes, won’t jump out immediately. That intuitive “click” of reaching the correct interpretation, he says, could take days or weeks. “It’s like reading poetry; sometimes, you find certain things you haven’t seen before,” explains Mansukhani. He also advises against the use of dream dictionaries, as dreams’ symbolic meanings are not set in stone. “Some people think losing a tooth means this, and flying means that, but that’s not always correct,” he furthers. 

In the end, he stresses that dreams reveal a lot of things that might slip by unnoticed if we neglect to contemplate them seriously. “Some people think, ‘I was chased by a monster [in my dream]—whatever.’ But if you ask yourself why there was a monster, and why you reacted to the monster in a particular way, it might be very important,”  Mansukhani affirms, suggesting for instance that the monster can represent “a part of [oneself] that [one is] denying” and running away from. 

Regardless of what monsters or other dream elements truly signify, interpreting one’s dreams allows great solutions and answers to arise—which otherwise might not have come about without the insight from our wiser selves. 

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