Dream interpretation is enjoying a fabulous liberation from so much of the superstition and simple bad information that historically has drained the field of its natural potential. Recent advances in sleep disorders medicine have enabled us to peer for the first time beneath the surface events of sleep, to understand the physical causes of some of our most powerful dreams. The Internet has allowed us to gather very large quantities of data about dreams that demonstrate, very convincingly, the relationship between their metaphoric language and the everyday thoughts and concerns of dreamers. Houses in dreams are consistent metaphors for the self. Cats are feminine symbols associated with pregnancy and childbearing. Dreams about being unprepared for an exam in high school reflect feelings of being tested in our waking lives. Tornadoes represent fears of families being separated due to violent emotional storms. It's all there in the data, and today we can prove it.
The "Ask the Dream Doctor"
web site first appeared on-line on March 15, 1998. Since its inception, over three hundred thousand dreams (and growing) have been gathered from Internet visitors from over eighty-five countries around the world. The resulting database is the largest collection of dreams in the world. The database is searchable by keywords, by age, sex, gender and relationship status, and by geographical location: city, state, and country. Today, to learn what single female teens in Australia are dreaming about, we need merely to enter search parameters and let a computer quickly sort the dreams. We may not be surprised to learn that the girls are dreaming about boys, but perhaps our eyebrows will raise when we read consistently about symbols such as water and vampires, throwing punches that can't connect, about flying high above the Earth, and about friends and loved ones dying. These are the same themes we see in teens from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Malaysia, Japan, and India. In fact, these common dream themes appear in every culture. The evidence is overwhelming. Beneath the surface of our geographic and cultural diversity, we are all speaking a common language.
As a person who spends his entire life communicating about dreams on the Internet, through books, and on the radio, the most fascinating aspect of the current state of the art is how little most people know about using dreams in their practical, everyday lives. Despite the pioneering work of Drs. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and in part because of the recent work of Drs. Francis Crick and Alan Hobson, who have proposed that dreams are meaningless, the value of dreamwork today is suspended in limbo. Many people believe that dreams are random events whose contents possess no correlation with their daily lives. If you are suddenly afflicted with nightmares since your divorce, the reasoning goes, perhaps this is only a coincidence. The information contained in this book, however, powerfully demonstrates that random theories are last century's news. Ask the Dream Doctor
instructs us that dreams are honest and intelligent portraits of our inner emotional lives. Dreams are practical tools to improve self-understanding, to enhance communication in our romantic relationships and with our children, to identify dangerous and unhealthy relationships in our lives, to broaden our spiritual perspective, and to empower ourselves to become the people we truly wish to be. Understanding the images of our dreams is the key to understanding better the artist who is their creator: our self.
The first step on the road to empowerment is to learn how to recall dreams better. To this end, "How to Remember Dreams" follows this introduction. Read it through and put it into practice as you enjoy this book. In two short weeks, you will have recalled more dreams than you ever imagined possible.
The second step is to learn to understand the meaning of your dreams on a daily basis. Most of us miss the connection between our dreams and our everyday lives because we focus on the literal, surface appearances of dreams. Dreams, however, express their meaning in the great economic language of metaphor, a basic language that allows human beings in a dizzying array of cultures to grapple with the same universal life issues: birth, death, pain, separation, identity, family, status, self-esteem, love, and romance, to name but a few. As you read this book, the outlines of this universal language will gradually become visible to you. Indeed, by sharing our dreams, we learn that we all have much more in common with each other than we do differences.
I have been moved to tears many times as I have sat at my computer, reading the powerful and heroic tales of everyday people faced with burning life decisions--all revealed in their dreams. Souls are in progress, decisions are being forged, and attempts at sense and understanding are being made. You, too, will share in these honest and courageous dreamers' lives, and in their accounts will witness your own reflection. Their willingness to share their stories is a selfless and generous gift to us all. All the names and identifying information in the dreams have been changed to protect the privacy of the dreamers.How to Remember Dreams
The key to remembering dreams is to learn how to wake up slowly--so that you prolong contact with your subconscious mind. Waking up S L O W L Y means that you lie still in bed, keeping your eyes closed, not talking or worrying about the schedule of the day, and working diligently to try to remember what it was you were just dreaming about--because you always dream just before you wake up in the morning.
If you don't immediately recall a specific image or sequence from a dream, it is important nevertheless to remain still, and allow yourself time to evaluate your feelings. Dreams always leave us with an emotional hangover. Did you wake up feeling tense, frustrated, happy, sad, or worried?
Once you've tuned in to your feelings, you want to answer four questions about your dream in a dream journal that you keep faithfully at your bedside.
What was the key image in the dream? What was the key feeling? Where was the dream located? What situation in my waking life does the dream remind me of?
These four questions and answers will help identify the dream's meaning, and will help you recall the dream later, when you have more time to reflect on it in a clearheaded state.
The next step to having a rich dream life is the simplest of all. Before you go to bed at night, confirm your intention to remember your dreams and to wake up slowly the following morning.
It sounds simple--and it is! I have taught thousands of people to successfully remember their dreams using this same method. If you follow these easy steps for two weeks, I guarantee that you will soon be starring in your dreams. This daily practice is the foundation of an active, exciting, and deeply rewarding relationship with your subconscious mind.Dream Symbols
Airplanes: Because of their associations with big trips, airplanes frequently symbolize significant transitions and attempts to reach new destinations in our lives. Common destinations include career goals--a new job position with "elevated" responsibility, recognition, or financial reward--or a change in social status, such as marriage or a committed relationship.
Plane crashes, losses of power, and trouble in flight are common dreams that reflect anxiety about our ability to reach a destination. If a dreamer has a fear of flying, the dreams may reflect literal anxieties prior to a trip, or may occur when a child is traveling. Plane crash dreams should not be interpreted as precognitive.
Interpretation Tip: If you dream about flying in a plane (or of watching them fall from the sky), ask yourself what goal--career or social--is weighing on your mind?
The dreams that follow illustrate different aspects of airplane dreams. In the first, a dreamer's life is turned "Upside Down" by an illness in the family. In "Falling Plane," a hopeful young woman wonders if a romantic reunion will lead to a committed relationship. "Plane Crash" instructs us that flying dreams can also represent the routine stresses of everyday living; major issues are not always indicated. In yet another romance dream, "Boyfriend Dies" reveals a deeper fear camouflaged as concern about air travel. Finally, "Crash Landing" shows us a woman in transition, nervous about her ability to achieve the "lofty" career goals she has set for herself. Will she survive her big debut?Airplane Dreams
Last night I had a dream that was quite disturbing. I boarded an airplane, but it was a small, older plane with approximately ten seats and no roof. I was nervous getting on because of the plane's appearance, but I went anyway even though I knew it was odd.
As soon as the plane took off I was dangling upside down and hanging on by wrapping my knees around a bar above me. I had to hold on to another bar below my head with my hands. There were other people doing the same thing but I have no idea who these people were. The pilot's back was turned to me because he was flying this plane and he never turned around or uttered a word--but he did have a scarf flying in the wind like an old-time pilot in an army movie.
We landed and I remember thinking, "Wow, we made it." But I knew I had to go back the same way I had come, and I was planning to do that even though the ride was horrible.
The next thing I knew I was standing in what was supposed to be my bathroom (but the colors were different and the dimensions too) but the toilet was smashed in four pieces and it appeared my ex had done this.
Let me tell you what has been going on in my life recently; this may help. I am trying to leave a five-year failed relationship that has been mostly unhappy. My mother passed away five years ago of a stroke and my father had a severe stroke this year. I am currently moving into my father's home to help care for him because he cannot be left alone. I am also a single parent of a fifteen-year-old and I work full-time. Perhaps this dream signifies the turbulence in my life. But I do not quite understand the toilet part.
--Lauren, Age 35, Single, USA
Given the background Lauren provides, this dream is not difficult to understand. Lauren's life has been turned "upside down" by a stroke in her family. Because Lauren is the primary caregiver for her father, her life will be impacted the most.
Lauren's airplane dream functions as a metaphor for the change in her life caused by her father's illness. The pilot of the plane--now determining the course of her "life path"--is almost certainly her father. In the dream, Lauren notes his age, lack of movement, and absence of speech--all characteristics associated with stroke.
Even though the ride is "horrible," Lauren plans to return the same way. This segment of the dream reflects Lauren's resolve to complete the trip (take care of her father), despite the fact that the "journey," right now, is rough. Her father is fortunate to have such a loving daughter.
The toilet in Lauren's dream appears incongruous, until we recognize toilets as common symbols for the "release" and "elimination" of private and "pent-up" emotions. Lauren reflects that the toilet, which no longer operates, appears to have been smashed by her ex. Is it a coincidence that Lauren also tells us she is trying to leave a five-year failed relationship? The toilet (that no longer functions) reflects Lauren's difficulty "eliminating" this relationship from her life.
Lauren's dream reflects her concerns about two primary relationships in her life: her father, and her ex. The dream confirms Lauren's commitment to her father, whose life has been thrown into chaos by illness, and it identifies an area of lingering emotional irresolution with her ex. What is the message of her dream? The journey that lies ahead will not be easy. If Lauren wishes to arrive safely, and turn her life "right-side up," she needs emotional strength and clarity. Lauren will lighten her load considerably if she can resolve her relationship with her ex.
I had a boyfriend my freshman year of high school who I went out with for several months before he had to move to Georgia. We didn't talk for five years, but in May of my freshman year in college, I found his E-mail address and we've been talking via E-mail for eight months now. We are going to be seeing each other for the first time in years over my winter break (he goes to school in Florida, and I go to the University of California). Although we are three thousand miles apart and haven't seen each other in years, I have always thought he was "the one," and my feelings have never changed.
I had two of the same dreams--one was a few weeks ago, the other occurred last night. I was dancing with him and having an incredible time. But then suddenly the dream flipped around, and I was in an airplane flying to meet him. However, the airplane started having trouble, and the engines went out. The plane began drifting aimlessly through the air, but it never crashed. All I could think about was him as I was sitting in the falling plane, but I wasn't scared or anything.
In the first dream I had, the airplane made an emergency landing and I was all right. But in the second one, the plane never landed, but also never crashed.
I woke up before I could finish the dream, but when I awoke, I wasn't in a panic or anything. Is there anything significant to this?
--Kayla, Age 19, Single, USA
Kayla's airplane dream, like Lauren's "upside-down" dream, functions as a metaphor for a big change in her life. Kayla is excited, and nervous, about reuniting with an old boyfriend--a boyfriend whom she secretly has considered "the one" for many years. Will Kayla arrive at her hoped-for destination--a committed relationship?
Kayla's dream begins by reflecting her excitement and anticipation of great times ahead. She and her crush dance together and have "an incredible time." Soon, however, a shadow of uncertainty enters her dream. Will this romance really "get off the ground"?
The dream shifts suddenly. Kayla is now flying on a plane, alone, en route to meet her old boyfriend. At this point in the dream, the airplane functions both as a literal allusion to her upcoming plane flight (she will fly home to see him over winter break) and it symbolizes her fears for the relationship. The engines soon quit, and the plane enters a free fall. Falling in dreams symbolizes insecurity (lack of support) and uncertainty about the future. (We don't know where we are "going to land.") Significantly, though, Kayla does not panic, and her plane never crashes. Indeed, Kayla's response appears to be one of levelheaded coolness in the face of an honestly recognized unknown. Kayla has no reason to panic, and she has every reason to be hopeful.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Ask the Dream Doctor by Charles McPhee. Copyright © 2002 by Charles McPhee. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.