My Connection To Dreams
Over the years I’ve held mixed feelings about dreaming, at times relishing it and at times detesting it.
When I think of dreams that I can still actively remember throughout my life, they tend to be negative or traumatic. Some are legitimate nightmares, others are rather despondent and disheartening.
Nonetheless, in much of my young life, I longed to dream. I wanted to dream every night, though the science would really say I wanted to remember them instead of having them (we often dream without recollection). This may seem odd as the dreams that stand out were never particularly inspiring or pleasant. Nonetheless, I was wishful for a pleasant escape from reality, a taste of surreal entertainment. I think in part I was also looking for something revelatory, something that might speak an important message of my world, myself, etc.
In my teenage and college years I began to develop some resentment towards dreams as they spurred me with false pleasantries and disturbing images. I’d grow frustrated either from what I’d wake up without or perturbed to have been subject to horrific nightmares that would haunt me throughout the day. My interest in remembering my dreams died out for a time.
Upon my approach to seminary, my interest peaked once more in dreams. I’ve tried taking their meaning with a grain of salt, though I couldn’t–and still can’t–help but wonder if there’s some utility in them. I’ve found it’s safer to consult others when it comes to our dreams as the messages can sometimes deceive us. We should be careful when attributing a source to our dreams lest we be mislead that God is telling us something that may not come from Him. Though I think there’s precedent to believe God can use and speak through our dreams, I would caution anyone who reads this to not self-assume the role of a prophet when examining their own dreams, but rather become curious as to what implications the dream has for the individual’s own soul and personal development.
Scriptural Precedent for Dream Interpretation
Scripture certainly affirms a utility in dream interpretation. That being said, the dream interpretation we see in the Old Testament have a lot more to do with prophecy than that of personal revelation.
Joseph and Daniel are the big figures of dream interpretation we see the in the Bible, and the circumstances of their dream interpretation follow closely together. Joseph and Daniel’s dream interpretation came with a risk should their interpretation prove wrong. Their interpretation was used on behalf of pagan tyrants, typically to warn of some gruesome fate that was to befall their empire. The dream interpretation seems to have led such leaders in a state of humility (temporarily at least). And most importantly, the dream interpretation of both these figures was done by consulting God in prayer.
We also read in the Book of Joel, echoed in the Acts of the Apostles, of prophecy being something to be expected of the elderly, that they will dream dreams (in addition to the youth prophecying). This detail seems to affirm a utility in dreams, that the old men will discern important themes and wisdom much like the youth on behalf of God’s glory.
Keeping in mind this Scriptural precedent, I find it important we use the aforementioned criteria in dream interpretation so that we become not misguided or deceived. Dream interpretation should always lead to the glory of God and its pursuit and end goal ought to be done with humility.
How I see dream interpretation acting towards the glory of God is when we look into the themes of our dreams and how they might communicate growing edges of ourselves, or insight us to work on something, specifically to work towards something we are neglecting.
Secular Precedent and Application of Dream Interpretation
Dr. Jordan Peterson in his lectures talks at great length about dream analysis, and shared in one instance how dream analysis helped his client in a psychotherapy session confront a fear of death she had. Dreams may not always seem straightforward in what they are communicating to us to address, but in that instance it seems the dream was quite explicit about the need of the individual in conquering a fear. When we are awake, our body and mind are quite adverse to approaching things that we hold staunch phobias or trauma over. I believe that a wandering mind without inhibitions or distractions (ie, our minds in this dream state) boldly ventures to our fears, our shame, our concerns either through the explicit image of what we need to confront or by veiling it in a symbol of something we can more properly digest or encounter.
Peterson has also likened daydreaming and the act of thinking as the projection of an avatar, the imaginary insertion of ourselves into a circumstance that has not occurred that we nonetheless expect may happen or fear may happen. A concrete and positive example of this is thinking of hypothetical situations for emergencies, such as checklists and step-by-steps of fires, natural disaster, etc; though we don’t typically dream about such complicated issues, we nonetheless “daydream” or think out loud, and these become strategic dreams. Less useful instances of this is when we walk away from an argument and think up what we could have said or done differently.
I mention these forms of “daydreaming” to show how our minds see a utility in reflecting on the past and thinking on the future. Our wakeful mind sees utility in these thoughts. Nevertheless we ought to be discerning of our thoughts, examine their source and intention, weighing whether or not they are for our betterment and God’s glory or if they will only lead to distress and sin. In the same way we see utility and potential for distress or distraction in daydreaming, we can see our dreams at night as both a utility but also as a hazard that should be handled with great care. But even the hazardous nightmares that unnerve our peace and cause us to fret can still tell us something important about our attention and concerns when we are awake.
Dream interpretation leans heavily on symbols, of interpreting what an image is standing in for. A father may not necessarily be your mind telling you about your actual dad, but using the facade of your dad to articulate something more complex. Abstract thought is not a feat we humans gain early according to Piaget’s theory of stages of development, and so it is not so obvious that our thoughts have to do with lists and math but rather deal in images that stand in the place for more complicated themes and ideas. But it is truly wondrous how quickly children pick up on symbols, doing so not merely in language but through their imagination and using toys, shapes, etc to manifest invisible themes and realities.
Dream Interpretation For Self-Improvement
While we have mentioned that God has used dreams for His divine purposes, again, I believe we should take caution in assuming the dreams we have possess a prophetic purpose. It’s safer for us to be discerning and mistrustful of visions lest we be deceived by something spiritual that is counter to the divine (demonic). Included in this, I believe we also should be cautious of actively seeking out dreams and especially careful to avoid dream manipulation. Actively seeking out such experiences seems reminiscent to me of Adam & Eve’s desire to have secret knowledge they weren’t ready for, something ultimately distracting them from God’s revelation to us. It is better for us to seek out God’s revelation and ask for His protection at night, and what dreams may come let them be.
That being said, the themes of the dreams we have will undoubtedly tell us things about ourselves. Even in the Ladder of Divine Ascent a monk describes the dream of flight having to relate to the sin of pride we can suffer from. It is more likely that our dreams–both good dreams and bad dreams–will tell us something we need to work on rather than provide us some sense of intuition or privileged wisdom. We can think of it as a subtle friend who is talking about something indirectly as that we can digest the hard message they are trying to get across to us, that we need to be mindful of our attachments, of our neuroticisms, to pay attention to the passions and fears that we are absorbed by.
In all things, we ought to bless and hand over that which we engage in. If our intent is to look at our dreams as opportunities to lead us to sainthood, to perfecting our souls that we may have a more open relationship with God, then we have baptized the utility of the dream. The danger of dreams can be neutralized when we take a pulse of our ego that it may not inflate and when we ask God to bless our discernment. More importantly, should we pray before drifting off to sleep for protection we can hope for a night free of misleading dreams and to hand all our pursuit of wisdom into God’s hands.
Are Dream Symbols Universal?
There seems to be some suspicion of “dream interpretations” due to seemingly arbitrary “handbooks” on what specific images relate to specific concepts/themes. From what I’ve seen, a lot of online dream “handbooks” seem to borrow from Frued and Jung’s school of dream interpretation which also deals with objective themes and archetypes common to all humanity and culture. To those who have put forth the effort and study into the field, I think at least credence should be given to their input.
That being said, I’ve heard compelling arguments that some of these themes may be mere extrapolation, or that some images may represent different themes based on individual and
cultural contexts; ie, dreaming of a cow in a Western farming context might have more to do with livelihood whereas dreaming of a cow in India may have something to do with the sacred, or dreaming of a father for most might be a symbol of tradition and order whereas someone with an abusive father may see said image as a symbol of tyranny or a looming threat.
Again, this is why dream interpretation is best paired with discernment and prayer that any possibility of subjectivity can be sorted out with true humility and wisdom.
That being said, I think a strong case can be made for universal symbols considering how certain images seem to mean the same thing to all of us regardless of culture and context. An egg, for example, always infers new life and snakes–even in cultures that have divine snakes–represent danger given the deep human fear built into us of snakes. Pyramids and Zigarauts across cultures are representations of humanity’s attempt to ascend and the divine nature we ascribe to mountains, and even within cultures that find their livelihood through the ocean still face the common threats of the ocean that we all see: storms, sea beasts, drawing.
I would argue symbols diverging in their meaning is more of an exception than a rule, that our minds and psyche are all inclined towards finding the same meaning in the symbols we see and dream of despite our culture and upbringing.
My Intention of Dream Interpretation
My goal in this series is to place my own dreams under a public microscope. I’ll be writing out with as much detail as I am able some dreams that have stuck with me that I believe are significant to my own life. I plan to also include dreams others have shared with me, though safeguarding those individuals’ identities as I speak about them.
My hope is that some of these dreams resonate with you, that the symbols manifest within them have an application for my readers for everyone’s edification.
I also hope to example healthy dream interpretation, explore images and themes that might be common to others.
I am open to others commenting and sharing their dreams in this series. This is a public laboratory that I hope we all learn from one another on.
Again, all this I hope is done with utmost discernment and humility, and I hope through this series we can begin to see–especially for those of us who have developed a resentment for dreams–a utility that these dreams have, and what our souls may be begging us to address in our wakeful lives.
So let us humbly and carefully listen to our souls, all for God’s glory.